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I was five years old when I rode Space Mountain for the first time. Then, 25 years later, my youngest daughter climbed on for her ride at five years old. It was a full-circle moment — and one that motivates many parents to brave the crowds and ticket prices to recapture the magic with their own children and families. We’ve been to many Disney parks, but there’s something really special about going to the original.  That’s why we put together this Disneyland Trip Planning Guide!

Disneyland Resort opened in 1955 and has inspired more Disney parks including Walt Disney World Resort, Disneyland Tokyo, and more! In 2018, approximately 18.6 million guests flocked to the Happiest Place on Earth. With the addition of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and recently renovated rides, the amusement park has more to offer than ever.

In this post, we will share Disneyland trip planning tips for making the most of your visit to Disneyland Resort. We’ll provide guidance for how to get there, how to buy tickets, best times to go, ride height requirements, and how to get it all done in one day. Ready? Let’s do this! 

 

Where is Disneyland Resort?

You’ll find Disneyland Resort just south of downtown Anaheim, California. Unlike Walt Disney World Resort, it’s not spread far apart. It’s all really compact and easy to navigate. If you’re staying nearby (at a Disneyland hotel is best!) and only visiting the parks, you really won’t need a rental car and getting from park to park (or to Downtown Disney) is a breeze.

How to Get to Disneyland Resort

Flying in from out of town? There are a couple options and you’ll have to make the best decision based on fares and convenience. 

  • John Wayne Orange County Airport (SNA) – This is one of the closest airports to Disneyland Resort (15 miles away). It’s a little smaller, so it won’t be as chaotic. You might have fewer flight options going to this destination, though. 
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) – Whether you’re flying in from Boise or Tokyo, you’ll find plenty of flights to LAX. It’s a massive airport, though, so be prepared for sheer madness and lots of traffic on the 40-mile trek to Disneyland.
  • Long Beach Airport (LGB) – We don’t know as much about this airport aside from the fact that it’s 13 miles from Disneyland, and seems to have fewer options for ground transportation.
  • Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR) – You’ll be the farthest from Disneyland Resort (42 miles) if you fly into this airport. 
  • Ontario International Airport (ONT) – The number of flights going to Ontario International Airport might be fewer than LAX, but it is a little closer (34 miles from Disneyland). 

Here’s an important Disneyland trip planning tip: Unlike Walt Disney World Resort, there is no Disney-run Magical Express motorcoach service from the airport anymore. Now, you’ll need to look into other options including Uber, taxis, shuttle buses or renting a car. 

How to Buy Disneyland California Tickets

There are a number of ways to get tickets for Disneyland California. What you choose will depend on a number of factors. First, you’ll need to decide what kind of ticket you need. At Disneyland Resort, you can visit either Disneyland Park, California Adventure, or both. You can purchase tickets for just one park or do the Park Hopper option. Here are some things to consider before making a decision.

Disneyland Trip Planning Front Gate Train

At Disneyland Park, you’ll find popular attractions such as:

  • Sleeping Beauty’s Castle
  • Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
  • Space Mountain
  • The fireworks display and parades

At California Adventure, you can experience (among other things):

  • Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout (Tower of Terror revamp)
  • The Incredicoaster
  • Soarin’

Next, this is one of the most important steps in your Disneyland trip planning — you’ll have to take into consideration how many days you want to be at the parks. While we’ve easily done both parks in one day, that may not be realistic with smaller children. Once you have a clearer picture of the types of tickets you’ll need, check out the following:

A quick note about the CityPASS option — you can save money and bundle with other attractions in the area. So, if you’re also interested in visiting Universal Studios Hollywood or LEGOLAND, for example, that might be a good option. 

 

How to Do Disneyland on a Budget

There’s no avoiding the truth — Disneyland is expensive. You’re going to spend a lot of money on your vacation, but that doesn’t mean you can’t look for ways to save. Spend some time researching ahead of time, and you could lower your costs significantly. You should definitely factor in time to hunt for deals when doing your Disneyland trip planning.

Save on Flights to Disneyland

One of the easiest things you can do is save on flight costs. First, definitely check to see if there are any “Kids Fly Free” promotions going on. Then, visit a flight booking site, such as Google Flights or Kayak to start your search. We’ll use my process on Skyscanner (my favorite for this step) as an example:

  • Go to Skyscanner.com
  • Choose your departure and arrival cities
  • Instead of putting in dates, click on the field and choose “Cheapest Month”
  • Review the results and start packing! 

Of course, not everyone has the flexibility to plan their vacation around the cheapest times to fly. If you can swing it, though, it will probably be worth it! 

Discount Flights, Hotels and Car Rentals

The above method is preferred, but there are other ways to score cheap flights to Anaheim, California. You can also use these resources to search for car rentals, hotels and other types of accommodations in the area. 

While we strongly recommend staying at a Disneyland Resort hotel for convenience, I’ll say that the first time I took my three oldest kids we rented a condo nearby. It was two stories, clean, and had in-suite laundry facilities. We saved a ton by eating some meals at the rental, and they even threw in four Park Hopper tickets! Do your research and choose what’s best for you!

Have a Disneyland Vacation Plan

Every time we travel without a plan, we spend a LOT more money. When you haven’t mapped things out ahead of time, you end up choosing whatever is quickest (this is especially true when you’re looking for places to eat). 

Having a flexible itinerary can provide much-needed structure, which might be particularly helpful if things go off the rails. Here are our tips for Disneyland trip planning:

  • You probably get to do everything — and that’s okay.
  • Prioritize by polling your group. Choose a few must-do activities and go from there.
  • Check ride height requirements (see below). Let your too-short kids down gently before they get to Disneyland.  
  • Skip the stuff no one cares about. Encourage everyone to be honest about what they aren’t interested in seeing/doing.  

You will be amazed by how much having some discussions ahead of time can whittle down your Disneyland to-do list. Simplify whenever you can, and collectively breathe a sigh of relief. 

 

Disneyland California Adventure Pixar Pier

 

The Best Times to Visit Disneyland

Nothing kills the magic of Disneyland quite like prohibitively long lines for attractions and restaurants. You may not be able to avoid them, but trying to book during a time when crowds will be smaller could make a huge difference in your trip. 

Best Disney World Dates in 2020 and 2021

 

We always trust the guidance on Undercover Tourist when it comes to Disneyland trip planning. They have predictions for the best times to visit in 2020. This is a great guide, but be sure to also check out the site’s Crowd Calendar.

The best times to visit Disney World in 2020:
  • January: Weekdays
  • February: Weekdays (except President’s Day weekend)
  • March: 1-7
  • April: 20-30
  • May: 1 + weekdays all month
  • August: Last two weekends
  • September: Any day during the first half + Monday to Thursday for second half
  • November: Monday to Thursday (except Thanksgiving)
  • December: Monday to Thursday for first half
The best times to visit Disney World in 2021:
  • January: Weekdays from the 6th (except MLK Day)
  • February: Weekdays (except President’s Day weekend)
  • March: 1-6
  • April: 12-30
  • May: Weekdays
  • August: Last two weekends
  • September: Any day during the first half + Monday to Thursday for second half
  • October: Monday to Thursday 
  • November: Monday to Thursday (except Thanksgiving)
  • December: Monday to Thursday for first half

 

What to Pack for Disney World

While our Disney Packing List is geared a little more towards Walt Disney World travel, it mostly works for Disneyland too! There are many people who like to pack light — we are not those people. Between my OCD and our shared travel anxiety, we focus on bringing enough to feel secure. We’re not the type to use public laundry facilities (more power to you if you do!), so this is what we bring:  

    • T-Shirts: One per day, plus at least one
    • Shorts: Two pair, plus at least one
    • Underwear (adults): One per day, plus one pair
    • Underwear (kids): Two for every day of travel
    • Socks: One pair for every day
    • Pants: One long pair of pants
    • Outerwear (warmer months): One hoodie, sweater or sweatshirt
    • Outerwear (winter months): Lightweight, but warm jacket. Preferably something with wind blocking.
    • Hat: Sun blocking for summer, warm for winter
    • Sunglasses: For the whole family. The sun glare is real in Florida, folks! 
    • Comfortable travel clothes for the trip home

Despite how much we pack, we usually get by with just a carry-on and a backpack for two to three of us. We accomplish this by using packing cubes and being well organized. 

Staying Healthy at Disneyland

There are a LOT of people at Disneyland and California Adventure, which means we make an extra effort to keep our hands clean. We do our best to avoid germs at theme parks, and we’re discovering that many travelers (especially parents) share this concern. Here’s what we carry with us at all times:

Disney Family Packing List

Not everyone visits Disneyland with kids (our favorite trip to Disney was as a couple!), but if you’re bringing little ones, be sure to pack accordingly. When doing your Disneyland trip planning for a family vacation, here are some things you might need:

  • Foldable Travel Stroller: You can rent a stroller from Disney, but we recommend bringing your own. Get a small, umbrella stroller and just call it a day. We’ve got twins (almost triplets) and you can do a double and a single, if need be. 
  • Stroller Fan: It can get really hot and sometimes shade is hard to find. Our son got really hot one time, and we regretted not having one of these!
  • Pacifiers. Years ago, when my oldest was a baby, we forgot hers. It was not fun trying to find one in the middle of the night!
  • Car seat backpack bag: Keep the seat clean and your back happy.
  • Swimming Diapers: in case you go to the hotel pool or water park. 
  • Kids Poncho: For Splash Mountain. Really, we’ve seen many kids upset because they got drenched.

General Disney Packing List

Some of these items are a little cheesy, but that’s part of the fun of Disney, right? Just let yourself be a kid again for a few days. You won’t regret it.

 

Where to Stay at Disneyland Resort

As mentioned, we stayed in a condo when we went to Disneyland as a family, so we can’t offer a firsthand account of what it’s like to stay at the park. We can, however, provide an a very quick overview of the available accommodations.

There are three official Disneyland Resort hotels: Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, Disneyland Hotel, and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel. You could always check out one of the Good Neighbor hotels, but only official hotels offer the following perks:

  • Very easy park access (the hotels are in walking distance!)
  • Extra Magic Hours (spend more time at one theme park per day)
  • Character Dining
  • Wake-up calls

The best way to book a Disneyland Vacation Package (including hotel) is through the official Disney site, Costco Travel, or booking sites like Priceline. Be sure to also check out our post The Ultimate Germaphobe’s Guide to Hotel Stays.

 

Ride Height Requirements: Disneyland Resort

When choosing a Disney vacation, there are a lot of families who feel that Disneyland Resort is a better option because it’s smaller and easier to navigate. We love the fact that you don’t need to use shuttle buses to get around and the Downtown Disney District is a short walk from the parks. As a result, families with smaller kids might choose Disneyland over Walt Disney World Resort.

It’s a logical but often overlooked step. Always be sure to check out the ride height requirements as part of your Disneyland trip planning to avoid any disappointed little ones! Nothing is more heartbreaking (or common) than tears at a Disney park!

Ride Height at Disneyland Park

There are so many classic rides at Disneyland and you might be surprised by the ride height requirements. Many young children won’t be able to ride Space Mountain, for example. It might seem like a tame, kid-friendly ride but Disney wants to make sure your child is safe. Don’t count on the ride operators being guilted into letting you ride, either. They strictly follow the rules and they are used to people getting upset over this.

Disneyland Trip Planning Ride Height

While you’ll love the old standbys, everyone is excited about the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge attractions at Disney parks. They’ve put a lot of work into these areas, from recreating food and drinks from the film franchise to replicating the impressive landscape. While they’ve done a great job of keeping it family-friendly, if your little one is looking forward to riding the Millennium Falcon ride, you’ll want to make sure they are tall enough.

32 inches (81cm) or Taller:
  • Autopia

*Must be accompanied by another rider 54 inches (137cm) or taller.

35 inches (89cm) or Taller:
  • Gadget’s Go Coaster

*Children under 7 must be accompanied by a Supervising Companion (14 years or older).

38 inches (97cm) or Taller:
  • Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run

*Children under 7 must be accompanied by a Supervising Companion (14 years or older).

40 inches (102cm) or Taller:
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  • Space Mountain
  • Splash Mountain
  • Star Tours
  • Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance

*Children under 7 must be accompanied by a Supervising Companion (14 years or older).

42 inches (107cm) or Taller:
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds

*Children under 7 must be accompanied by a Supervising Companion (14 years or older).

46 inches (117cm) or Taller:
  • Indiana Jones Adventure

*Children under 7 must be accompanied by a Supervising Companion (14 years or older).

54 inches (137cm) or Taller to Ride Alone:
  • Autopia

 

Ride Height at Disney’s California Adventure Park

As you may have noticed, it’s not just about ride height at Disneyland. Some attractions require kids to have a companion if they are under a certain age. The same is definitely true of the more daring attractions at California Adventure. For that reason, it’s especially important to make sure your child is tall enough for the Guardians of the Galaxy (formerly Tower of Terror) and Incredicoaster rides before they get too excited!

Disneyland Hayley Jeanne

Also, it’s worth noting that some of these guidelines may not make real sense to you. We were surprised by the relatively minimal height requirements for Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! (Tower of Terror). We are not ride engineers, though, and our limited knowledge of operations should not override those of the professionals. It’s best to just follow the rules.

32 inches (81cm) or Taller:
  • Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree
  • Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters

*Children under 7 must be accompanied by a Supervising Companion (14 years or older).

40 inches (102cm) or Taller:
  • Jumpin’ Jellyfish
  • Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! (formerly Tower of Terror!)
  • Radiator Springs Racers
  • Silly Symphony Swings (tandem swings only)
  • Soarin’ Around The World

*Children under 7 must be accompanied by a Supervising Companion (14 years or older).

42 inches (107cm) or Taller:
  • Goofy’s Sky School
  • Grizzly River Run
  • Redwood Creek Challenge Trail (rock wall and zip line only)

*Children under 7 must be accompanied by a Supervising Companion (14 years or older).

48 inches (122cm) or Taller:
  • Incredicoaster
  • Silly Symphony Swings (ride in single swing)

*Children under 7 must be accompanied by a Supervising Companion (14 years or older).

Knowing ahead of time can help you set expectations for your children. It’s better to let them know what they can and cannot ride prior to your visit in order to avoid a meltdown in the park. You can check the ride height requirements at Disneyland Resort and California Adventure together, so that they understand the process. Have a positive attitude about any disappointments because how you act will set the tone for your trip. 

For a list of all attraction requirements and accommodations, please see the Disneyland Ride Restrictions.

 

How To Disneyland In One Day

On our way to Japan, my daughter and I had a 24-hour layover in Los Angeles. Despite a sleepless night at the Crowne Plaza, we definitely made the most of it! Not only did we visit Universal Studios Hollywood, but we also made our way to the House of Mouse. 

Disneyland California Adventure Incredicoaster

It was an extra sweet trip because she had visited both parks when she was five years old, so to see her back on the grounds at 15 (she’d turn 16 just a few days later!) was pretty amazing. I’ll readily admit that I got a little misty-eyed a few times! Emotions aside, we learned a lot on our short trip. Here are 10 tips for Disneyland and California Adventure to keep in mind when you’re doing your Disneyland trip planning!

Buy your tickets online

Don’t waste precious time in line fighting with the crowds. Go straight through to the entrance and head straight to the rides. Plus, if you compare ticket prices online, you might even be able to save some money!

Stay at a Disneyland Hotel

This is a perk at any Disney park, but because everything is so close together at Disneyland Resort, you’ll be able to easily walk to your hotel room in minutes. You’ll also enjoy the Extra Magic Hour perk every single day among other benefits!

Prepare for security

Have your bags open and have your keys, phone, coins and belt ready to hand off to a guard in the security line. Not taking anything into the park? Look for the line for guests with no bags — so much faster!

Use MaxPass

For just $15 per day, per person, you’ll be able to make FASTPASS reservations from your smartphone, instead of having to wait in line. As long as you are in either park, you can book your spot! A huge benefit is that this add-on comes with unlimited PhotoPass downloads so you won’t have to buy the pictures individually.

Mobile Ordering Service

Planning to grab a bite while you’re in the park? Don’t wait in line — use Mobile Ordering Service! Using your smartphone, you can choose your meal, pay for the food and then select a pickup time. It’s that simple!

Download the Disneyland App

I’ll readily admit that this app frustrates me sometimes, but it can be helpful! It provides wait times, park maps and is necessary if you’re using the MaxPass or the Mobile Ordering Service. Be sure to download during your Disneyland trip planning!

Use the Single Rider Line

Wait times can get crazy at any amusement parks, especially Disneyland and Walt Disney World. One way to skip the queue is to make use of the Single Rider line. You won’t be able to sit together, but you’ll be able to continue on your adventure much quicker.

Pick a meeting spot

One of our most important 10 tips for Disneyland and California Adventure is to pick a meeting spot. That way, if you split up, you’ll know where to find each other.

Consider matching clothes

Hayley and I got separated at Osaka Station in Japan (on her 16th birthday!). The first thing they asked me was what she was wearing — and I couldn’t remember. Life can get hectic. Consider making things a little easier by wearing coordinating clothes at Disneyland.

Have a plan

Everyone knows which rides they want to hit, and which they could skip. When you all get on the same page and come up with a plan (including checking the ride height requirements!), you’ll save time and reduce stress. This helps a lot when you’re choosing FASTPASSes!

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of anxious parents stressing themselves (and their kids) out because they want their Disneyland trip to be perfect. Please, please don’t do this. It’s really not worth the “midday meltdown.” Instead, focus on gratitude and go with the flow as much as you can. Be sure to incorporate some downtime when you’re doing your Disneyland trip planning!

Disneyland Trip Planning California Adventure Front Gate

Look around and you’ll see a lot of children having a great time just looking around the park or waving to other kids. It’s often the parents who are putting stress on everyone, and expecting way too much from little ones. 

It’s exhausting and overwhelming to be at a park like Disneyland, and those long days can be so tough on small bodies. Be sure to schedule in enough breaks and be patient when those tiny legs say, “I’m tired.” 

There are so many people around the world who would love a chance to visit Disneyland. When it’s your turn, give yourself permission to have fun and live in the moment.