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 December 5, 2018.)
We are Annual Passholders who visit 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. Our most recent trip was for holiday season, which you can read about in our Disneyland Christmas 2018 Trip Recap and Disney California Adventure Christmas 2018 Trip Recap.
As for starting your planning, you might be wondering if you should visit before or after the debut of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which won’t open until Summer 2019. Right now, that is the single biggest Disneyland trip planning question, and we answer that in our “To Visit Disneyland Now…Or Wait?” section about halfway down 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 have an array of resources from Disneyland crowd calendars to thorough restaurant reviews to comprehensive info about every holiday and special event at Disneyland and DCA.
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. That’s where we share our latest reports from the parks and construction updates–Disneyland is rapidly changing, and those updates cover important things you’ll want to know if you’re visiting soon, or planning a trip.
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, 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. 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.
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 for Christmas 2018, but they will be lower than once Star Wars land opens in 2019. Without question, lower crowds and prices are the reasons to visit this year or early in 2019 as opposed to next summer or beyond.
We want to underscore the fact that crowds will not be low at Disneyland and DCA for the remainder of 2018. Holiday Time at Disneyland is now underway, and Christmas is one of the busiest seasons of the year at Disneyland. It’s popular with locals and tourists alike, and you can expect parking closures and long lines at security–headaches even before you enter the parks this time of year. (Obviously, it should go without saying that in-park crowds and wait times for rides will be long.)
On the other hand, January and February 2019 should largely be quieter times to visit. We’ve already seen Disneyland start to offer aggressive discounts for dates leading up until May 2019, and the most logical expectation for that is there are internal projections showing guests are planning on postponing visits until Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge debuts.
These discounts should help lure some guests who are on the fence to Disneyland early in 2019, but many others will wait. If your priority is avoiding crowds, we’d highly recommend visiting in before start of Summer 2018 (while also avoiding popular holidays and school breaks). We’d highly recommend consulting our FREE Disneyland Crowd Calendars post to choose the very best travel dates.
After the grand opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, crowds at Disneyland are anticipated to be heavy–unlike anything we’ve experienced. 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.
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.
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. The holiday ‘Season of Light’ version did not kick-off the Christmas season in November, but it still might return in time for Christmas. At this point, though, that’d be a true Festivus miracle.
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.
Given all of this, you still might be thinking about waiting until Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge 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 2019? Will you go before May 2019, or are you hoping for a Summer 2019 or later visit to experience Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge? Are you excited for relatively new additions, such as Incredicoaster, Guardians of the Galaxy – MISSION: Breakout!, or the holiday season? 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! 🙂