Our Disneyland and Disney California Adventure vacation planning guide covers the grand opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, offers tips and tricks for dining, saving money on tickets, best hotels, experiencing Christmas & Halloween, and more. We also cover what’s happening in 2019, and what to expect if you visit post-Star Wars land. (Last updated March 7, 2019.)
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. A lot is happening–and changing–at Disneyland right now as the resort continues its “Project Stardust” initiative ahead of the highly anticipated debut of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Summer 2019.
We update this post regularly with what you can expect, but we also recommend signing up for our free email newsletterif you’re planning a visit so you can stay abreast of all the latest changes, construction updates, events, and more info on the parks. Suffice to say, a ton is changing in the lead-up to Star Wars land…
Spring festivities are now underway, with “Get Your Ears On – A Mickey and Minnie 90th Anniversary Celebration” underway in Disneyland and the Food & Wine Festival at Disney California Adventure. These are relatively minor, and primarily aimed at offering new entertainment, food, and merchandise to drive attendance from locals.
The bigger good news is that World of Color has returned, after being absent from Disney California Adventure’s entertainment schedule for nearly a year! We are huge fans of World of Color, and its return is huge, making Disney California Adventure once again a great way to end an evening at Disneyland Resort.
The bad news is that this time of year also brings with it Disneyland’s annual refurbishment season, which is now starting to wind down as spring approaches. The parks use this period to schedule a lot of maintenance. You can read what’s currently down in our 2019 Disneyland Refurbishment Calendar post. Also, be aware that currently walls are up around Sleeping Beauty Castle, making it far less photogenic.
More minor events will occur between now and the debut of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, we’re expecting the beginning of the year through late May 2019 to be a relatively quiet time at Disneyland. If the ongoing ticket promotions are any indication, Disneyland management is clearly expecting the same. Suffice to say, if you want to experience Disneyland without intense crowds and congestion and don’t mind missing Star Wars land, visit prior to Memorial Day Weekend 2019.
We touched on this a bit in our Discount Disneyland Ticket Buying Guide, but the motivation for the current level of unprecedented park ticket discounts for the general public is low attendance projections between now and late May 2019.
If you’re starting your planning and wondering whether you should visit before or after the debut of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Summer 2019, the question is really which you like more: low prices & crowds or Star Wars? (If you want help answering this, jump down to the To Visit Disneyland…or Wait? section below.)
Regardless of how you answer that question, 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.
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 Guideinstead. 🙂
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 people 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 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.
4. 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.
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.
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.
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!
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 spring, 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. While the current ticket deal will boost crowd levels a bit, what you’ll encounter between now and May 2019 pales in comparison to the chaos that will ensue once Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge officially opens to the public.
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 before Memorial Day 2019 (while also avoiding popular holidays and school breaks). We’d recommend consulting our FREE Disneyland Crowd Calendars post to choose the very best travel dates.
Without question, lower crowds and prices are the reasons to visit early in 2019 as opposed to this summer or beyond. Disneyland is an old theme park, with much of its infrastructure having been built roughly 60 years ago. While a ton of the park has been modernized, the walkways and other aspects of the park simply were not built for today’s crowds.
When Star Wars land opens, you can expect daily parking lot closures, long lines at security, and jam-packed walkways. These are all headaches even before you enter the land. As for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge itself, you can expect a line or virtual queue to enter the park, plus wait times for the two rides better measured in hours, not minutes.
“Mickey’s Mix Magic” is now lighting up the night at Disneyland with music, projections, lasers and a limited amount of pyro on some nights as part of a dance party that takes over almost the entire park. (Although Disneyland has not yet announced it, we are anticipating fully-fledged fireworks shows to be largely absent from the schedule this year.)
Over at Disney California Adventure, 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.
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.
Disney just announced that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will open in California on May 31, 2019. However, this comes with a very big asterisk–it’s opening in phases. You’ll want to read our Star Wars Land Opening Date Announcedarticle, as that covers what this means, and how you’ll want to approach the debut.
With that said, we expect the finished land with both attractions, all dining locations, and shops to open by August 2019 at the latest. If you want to be “first” book Memorial Day weekend–if you want to see everything, early August 2019 is your best bet until we know more.
However, there’s no guarantee that Rise of the Resistance will be open by August 2019. In that case, January or February 2020 will be your safest bets. Be sure to avoid August 23-25, 2019, as that’s the incredibly popular D23 Expo, and crowds at Disneyland will be bonkers around that weekend.
After that, there’s a small window in early September when crowds aren’t too bad, but once the Halloween season starts, Disneyland is pretty much perpetually busy until the end of the Christmas season–hence our January 2020 recommendation. If you’re a local and can plan a last-minute visit, any day it rains. (It’s a little known fact, but Southern Californians are deathly afraid of precipitation.)
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.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is a game-changer unlike anything we’ve experienced and it’s difficult to predict exactly how profound of an impact it’ll have on Disneyland operations. Its impact is likely to go beyond the parks, and extend throughout Anaheim–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.
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 going on or after May 31, 2019 for 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! 🙂