This guide for planning your vacation to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure offers tips and tricks for dining, saving money on tickets, best hotels, experiencing seasonal events like Christmas & Halloween, and more. We also cover what’s happening in 2019 once Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens. (Last updated October 1, 2018.)
We first posted this guide when Disney California Adventure had its big reboot, and have updated it multiple times per year since. Our tips have been refined based upon weekly visits to Disneyland Resort. We are Disneyland Annual Passholders who live in Southern California, and we go to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure regularly to tweak and refine this guide (and our other Disneyland posts) to provide you the best info and strategies.
If you’re just learning the basics of all things Disneyland and want an overview of the parks, hotels, and other info, we highly recommend that you start by ordering a free copy of the Disney Parks Vacation Planning video. That free video is a good overview with fun footage from Disneyland. It’s really helpful to give you a visual feel for the layout of Disneyland Resort…
As for starting your planning, you might be wondering if now is a good time to visit, given the ongoing construction of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which won’t open until Summer 2019. We’ll answer that question at the end of this post for those of you who are on the fence. If you’ve already decided now is the best time, we have all the resources you’ll need to plan your Disneyland Resort vacation, including when to visit, where to stay, what to do, and much more. We also recommend signing up for our free email newsletter so you can stay updated with all the latest changes, events, and more info on the parks!
Despite there only being two parks at Disneyland Resort, there’s a lot to know. It may seem silly to point this out, but this planning guide applies to the Disneyland Resort. The one just south of Los Angeles, in Anaheim, California. If you are visiting Florida, please consult our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide instead. 🙂
Speaking of Disneyland’s younger sibling in Florida, I know a lot of Walt Disney World fans never visit Disneyland Resort, basically, because it’s smaller than Walt Disney World, not as isolated from the real world, etc. Likewise, a lot of non-fans who are considering a Disney trip as a once-in-a-lifetime, rite of passage vacation for their kids default to Walt Disney World. This is understandable, but there is a case to be made for Disneyland, too.
For many fervent Walt Disney World fans, considering a Disneyland trip is tantamount to treason–like “cheating” on Walt Disney World with another park (which really makes no sense given that the same company owns both, but whatever…). Believe me, I’ve been there. In our Why Every Disney Fan Should Visit Disneyland post, we debunk the myth that Walt Disney World is far superior.
With that out of the way, let’s get down to business: what you need to plan a Disneyland vacation…
Disneyland Trip Planning Resources
If you’ve already made up your mind that now is the time to go to Disneyland and are digging into planning, here are our posts that you need to read when preparing for your Disneyland vacation. Think of them as like the 10 steps to follow to plan your Disneyland trip. If you are trying to decide whether you should visit Disneyland in the near future, jump down to the sections below titled “When Should You Visit Disneyland?”
These posts will take you through the planning process to make your visit to Disneyland more enjoyable, helping you save time and money. Armed with knowledge (the most powerful weapon!), you will have a much better vacation. Yeah, it’s going to take a couple of hours to read this stuff so you know the basics for visiting, but that pales in comparison to the time you’ll needlessly waste in lines if you go blindly, without doing your homework.
Each link will open in a new tab, so feel free to click away and go down the rabbit hole of Disneyland trip planning…
1. Saving Money on Disneyland Tickets – Our recommendations on what type of Disneyland tickets you should buy, including how many days, whether you should get Park Hopper, and where you can buy Disneyland tickets to save some money!
2. Disneyland Restaurant Reviews – The stereotype that all Disney food is unhealthy food like burgers and hot dogs is entirely false. Disneyland has inexpensive unique dining options as well as expensive fine dining. Good dining can help define a trip! Read about which restaurants are best in our dining reviews.
3. Disneyland FREE Crowd Calendars – The single most important part of planning a trip to Disneyland is determining when to visit to avoid crowds. Our totally free Disneyland crowd calendars offer day by day guides as to when the parks will be least busy and busiest.
We also have a Best & Worst Months to Visit Disneyland, which ranks every month, and also shares our 3 favorite weeks of the year to take a Disneyland trip!
4. Rankings & Reviews of the Best & Worst Hotels Near Disneyland – Depending upon where you stay, your hotel room could be the costliest aspect of your trip. This post ranks ~40 hotels near Disneyland at which we have stayed, along with room photos, pros & cons, and other useful information.
In our Where to Stay at Disneyland: Off-Site v. On-Site post, we also cover why “on-site” hotels are not as important at Disneyland as they are at Walt Disney World, and how to score a good deal on a hotel that’s close to Disneyland!
5. Disneyland 1-Day Recommended Itinerary – Only have one day to visit Disneyland? This is a step-by-step plan of attack for which attractions you should do, where you should eat, what to see, and more.
Likewise, we also have a Disney California Adventure 1-Day Itinerary if you’re trying to do that park in a single day. Our DCA 1-Day Touring Plan includes strategy for beating the crowds at Radiator Springs Racers, World of Color, and more!
6. Ultimate Guide to Disneyland at Christmas – There are a lot of great times of year to visit Disneyland, but our favorite time of year is Christmas-time at Disneyland. The decorations are beautiful, the spirit is festive, and there are some fun attraction overlays and seasonal foods to enjoy. It’s also one of the busiest times of year and there’s a lot to see and do, so read this to prepare.
If Christmas isn’t your thing, consider Halloween Time at Disneyland, and check out our Ultimate Guide to Disneyland at Halloween for assistance planning a trip during that specific time of year.
7. Disneyland Ride Reviews & Guide – Disneyland has a ton of attractions, and a lot of visitors only have a day or two to spend at Disneyland. The article reviews every attraction at Disneyland, giving each a numerical score out of 10, plus highlights key attractions that we consider the best ones, which should be prioritized if you have limited time at Disneyland.
We also have a Disney California Adventure Ride Reviews & Guide, which does the same thing for that park. That guide now includes the new Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!
8. Guide to FastPass & MaxPass at Disneyland – Last year, Disney California Adventure and Disneyland debuted the new paid MaxPass service. While we were initially against this, it offers some great upsides–you’ll want to read about the pros and cons using this new service before deciding whether to buy it.
That post also contains a list of FastPass priorities (so you choose the FastPasses that run out first and have a solid strategy) and other ins and outs for using both the free and paid services.
9. Disneyland Discount Guide – There are a variety of ways you can save money on a trip to Disneyland. From vacation packages to Costco discounts to off-season percentage off discounts to even discounts for military personnel, this page covers every way you might be able to save money on a trip to Disneyland!
If you’re looking for a quick way to save on an entire vacation package, many of our favorite hotels near Disneyland can be booked via Get Away Today at a discount. If you bundle tickets into your hotel stay, you’ll get an even better deal. You can check package prices here.
10. Our 101 Best Disneyland Tips – This is not nearly as structured as our other advice, but these tips offer great advice and sometimes obscure little things that will help you visit the parks like a local. This is more granular advice than what you’ll find in our other planning articles, but we’ve had a lot of positive feedback from readers who really got a lot more out of their trips because of those tips.
BONUS: What to Pack – Packing for Disneyland is comparable to packing for any vacation, but with a few twists. Here’s our list of “unordinary” items to pack that will help enhance your Disneyland trip!
If you want to determine when you should visit Disneyland, keep reading…
To Visit Disneyland…Or Wait?
Even before you dig into those planning posts to which we’ve linked above, the threshold question for you might be whether you should plan to visit this holiday season, in Summer 2019 when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens, or wait until 2020 when the crowds from Star Wars land “die down.”
Let’s start with the upside of visiting Disneyland now, pre-Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. It’s the calm before the storm. Crowds won’t be low in October through December 2018, but they will be lower than in 2019, especially as Disneyland starts thinning its herd of Annual Passholders and other tourists delay visits in anticipation of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Without question, lower crowds and prices are the reasons to visit this year as opposed to 2019.
We want to underscore the fact that crowds will not be low at Disneyland and DCA for the remainder of 2018. Halloween Time at Disneyland is now underway, and almost immediately after that, Christmas begins. Sure, there are lulls in the crowds during both seasonal events, but they are also both immensely popular, and big draws for tourists and locals alike.
Nevertheless, crowds will be lower now and than at the same time next year. Once Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens, Disneyland is going to be crazy-busy with unprecedented crowd levels. It’s also very likely that Disney and third party hotels in the area will raise their prices fairly significantly. That’s what we witnessed a few years ago when Cars Land opened, and that was not nearly the draw that Star Wars Land will be.
As we report in our FREE Disneyland Crowd Calendars post, both Halloween and Christmas experienced heavier than normal crowds last year, but thus far crowd levels have not been too bad for the fall (we know it’s only a couple weeks into Halloween season, but so far so good).
Year over year, Disneyland crowds have definitely been lower–so that’s good news, but also keep in mind that last year was slammed, so it’s all relative. October through December is generally moderately to very crowded, depending upon exact travel dates.
In terms of new things right now, Pixar Pier and the Incredicoaster are now open. We’ve experienced this re-imagining of Paradise Pier, and discussed it in detail in our Pixar Pier Review. Suffice to say, this is not worth planning a trip around.
As noted, it’s currently Halloween Time at Disneyland. This is a great special event, and most of the popular aspects of this (aside from Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland) are included in the price of normal admission. This means Haunted Mansion Holiday, Ghost Galaxy, Nightmare Before Christmas and spooky Cars Land overlays, plus other decorations. There’s also a huge new lineup of special Halloween foods in both parks.
Right now, the bigger and worse news is that World of Color’s technical infrastructure was damaged during its current refurbishment and is currently not running–and likely won’t run for the remainder of the Halloween season. The most likely scenario at this point would be World of Color returning for the holiday ‘Season of Light’ version to kick-off the Christmas season in early November, but even that might not happen.
If you were a fan of ‘a bug’s land’ at Disney California Adventure, we have more bad news for you. This land has now permanently closed to prepare for Marvel Land Coming to DCA. The first phase of that multi-year project won’t open until 2020, so don’t get too excited if you’re a big Marvel fan visiting Disneyland Resort in the next couple of years.
Still…you might be thinking about waiting until Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (as it’s officially going to be called) opens. The project is moving fairly quickly to meet its opening date, but Star Wars Land will not officially open until mid-2019, and that’s assuming all goes according to plans and there are no delays.
Star Wars Land is a massive development, and will expand the size of the park tremendously. Aside from a few construction walls–and the huge mountains rising in the distance–this isn’t noticeable in the park and the construction does not negatively impact the guest experience.
Whether you should wait until next year or plan a last-minute getaway to Disneyland this holiday season depends upon how much you dislike crowds, how much you like Star Wars, and if you plan on visiting again at some point. If you strongly dislike crowds and aren’t particularly keen on Star Wars, go at some point before Summer 2019.
If you’re only ever visiting Disneyland once in your life, wait until Star Wars Land is open–especially if there are big Star Wars fans in your party. This huge addition is going to blow people away. It’s possible that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will open in May 2019, but a safer bet is August 2019 if you’re planning a trip this far in advance.
If you don’t want to deal with the grand opening chaos but love Star Wars and are thinking about “waiting out the crowds” then you’re in for a real wait. We expect Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge to remain “hot” until at least 2021. Those crowds aren’t going to suddenly disappear come 2020. It’s likely that January 2020 will be less busy than October or December 2019, but it’s still going to be very busy.
That’s a long time to wait, especially if you have kids who are the “perfect” age for Disneyland right now. Heck, they’ll be shaving/driving/twerking/graduating/retiring in the blink of an eye, so waiting might not be an option. Plus, that 2-year wait is until Star Wars Land first opens. It’s going to be crazy-busy at least the first year it opens, so you may want to hold off visiting right away.
Southern California Vacations
Unlike Walt Disney World, Disneyland Resort is not a week-long vacation destination unto itself. It’s great for long weekend trips (something we did regularly before moving to California) and extended vacations that incorporate a multitude of sights. Fortunately, Southern California is one of the best places in the world to visit between Los Angeles, San Diego, and the beach cities in between, there’s a ton to do in the area.
If you’re planning a Southern California vacation beyond Disneyland, you’re in luck, as we give away a free eBook, 101 Things to Do in Southern California over on our non-Disney blog, TravelCaffeine. There, we also have a wealth of resources dedicated to visiting the state, including a series of blog posts on California points of interest and our Ultimate Guide to Los Angeles.
Between this blog and that one, you should be totally covered with what you need to know if you’re thinking about visiting Disneyland Resort and Southern California this coming year. We can’t encourage people enough to give Disneyland a try, especially Disney fans who are biased towards Walt Disney World as their “home” park. Disneyland is a totally different, much more relaxed experience. It’s intimate in both size and feel, and is oozing with history and incredible attractions.
On the topic of attractions, don’t worry, because there’s a ton of them (I feel like Stacey in the “Must Do Disney” video). Disneyland (the park) has a staggering attraction line-up, with almost every version of attractions that are offered in both Walt Disney World and Disneyland being substantially better in Disneyland.
In all honesty, comparing Disneyland and Walt Disney World isn’t that easy. It’s like comparing two of your children. Yeah, in the back of your mind, you secretly prefer one over the other (kidding, parents), but it’s a tough comparison because both have endearing qualities. Saying Walt Disney World is better than Disneyland due to the number of parks each has is about as arbitrary as saying your taller child is better than the shorter one. It reduces the comparison to simple terms that overlooks so much. It’s probably a comparison you shouldn’t even make since both resorts are so different. You simply need to experience both.
I could go on for pages and pages about why I love Disneyland, and why everyone owes it to themselves to visit Disneyland, but hopefully this is a good-enough jumping off point. If you’ve never been to either Walt Disney World or Disneyland Resort, it’s a good place to start as we attempt to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of each in an unbiased manner. If all of this is still overwhelming or you want personalized recommendations for Disneyland Resort, click here to get a vacation quote from a no fee Authorized Disney Vacation Planner.
Are you planning a Disneyland visit sometime in 2018 or 2019? Are you excited for relatively new additions, such as Incredicoaster, Guardians of the Galaxy – MISSION: Breakout!, or the holiday seasons? Have you previously visited Disneyland? Have any tips of your own to add? Any questions you still have that this guide did not answer? We really appreciate reader feedback and your thoughts, so please share in the comments below! 🙂