Disneyland… the happiest place on earth. It truly can be a magical experience for young and old alike. But if you’ve never been, planning your first vacation to Disneyland can feel a bit overwhelming. When is the best time to go? How long should we stay? Is it best to stay at a Disney resort or a non-Disney hotel nearby?
So if you’re ready to plan your first vacation to Disneyland, this guide is for you! It will cover all the basics of planning your visit! Plus, I will be updating it regularly to reflect any new and exciting changes.
*This post may contain affiliate links. Click here to read my full disclosure policy.
**The Disneyland Resort officially reopened to the public on April 30, 2021, and some experiences listed below have been temporarily suspended or modified due to the pandemic. Be sure to visit our official Disneyland reopening post for updated information to guide your vacation planning!
1) Choose a date.
Depending on your circumstances, this could either be the easiest step… or the most difficult! Here are some things to consider before deciding on a date:
- Work/School schedules – My husband and I both have jobs that make certain times of the year more difficult to travel. If you’re traveling with kids, school schedules may also be a factor. **Tip: While it may seem smart to plan a Disney vacation during school breaks when your kids are already out of school, keep in mind that everyone else will probably be thinking the same idea. The parks will always be busier during school breaks!
- Holidays – When it comes to holiday seasons, Disney is known for going all out! Keep in mind that Disney makes the most out of each season. For example, the Halloween season typically begins early-mid September and lasts through October 31st. And Christmas decorations typically arrive early-mid November. So if you’re itching to take part in all of the Christmas festivities at Disneyland, your window of opportunity may be wider than you may think!
- Events – My very first vacation to Disneyland was in October of 1996. In recent years, October has seen larger crowds due to all of the Halloween festivities the parks have to offer. But back then, we planned our trip believing it to be a slower time to visit the park as far as crowds were concerned. We were wrong! What we didn’t realize was that the Main Street Electrical Parade was completing its final season after a 24-year run. The park was BUSY! As much as we loved the parade, we may have done things a bit differently had we known. Be sure to check Disney’s event calendar before choosing a date! There may be events you don’t want to miss and others you may want to avoid.
- Budget/Travel Costs – If you’ve ever purchased airline tickets during peak travel times, you will understand why this is on the list. I often check flight prices as well as hotel costs before settling down on specific dates.
2) Decide how long you want to stay.
This will ultimately depend on three factors:
- How much you want to see and do – Are you planning on visiting both Disneyland and California Adventure? Are there any other parks or sites you want to see in southern California? Do you want to have a built-in “rest” day from the parks? (I highly recommend having a rest day for longer vacations. There’s nothing better than a day off from the parks to simply enjoy the resort pools and relax!)
- How long you can get away from work/school – Obviously, some of us will find it easier to get away than others. For example, we homeschool our daughters, so time away from school isn’t as much of a factor as it would be for others.
- How much you want to spend – Needless to say, the longer your vacation is, the more it will cost. Your budget may be a huge contributing factor to the length of your vacation.
3) Book your airline tickets or other travel arrangements.
I usually like to book my airline tickets before I book anything else. My reasoning is that airline ticket prices fluctuate quite a bit depending on the airline and date. I have literally saved hundreds by adjusting my vacation dates by even just a day or two. So I generally wait to book my hotel room until after I have secured my air travel.
The only exception to this would be if you were booking your vacation too far in advance to book your airfare. Certain airlines don’t always release their flights to purchase more than 6 months in advance.
(If you’re not flying to California, this is where you will want to secure your differing travel arrangements to Anaheim.)
4) Decide on a hotel and room type, and book your room.
This is probably my favorite part! When it comes to Disneyland in California, you have three Disney resort options:
- Disneyland Hotel
- Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa
- Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel
Nothing beats staying on actual Disney property. But if your budget requires a less expensive hotel option, there are many “Disney approved” Good Neighbor hotels to choose from. Some of these hotels are even within walking distance to the parks! And many of those that aren’t within walking distance offer bus transportation to the parks. *Be sure to look into what your specific hotel offers in terms of park transportation before you book. Some will be complimentary while others will charge a small fee.
5) Choose what type of theme park tickets to purchase.
Disneyland offers a few different options. First is a regular park ticket that allows you entrance into one park per day. You can also add on a park hopper option. This is a great choice for those who want to be able to switch back and forth between parks or who want to spend half-days in each park.
And finally, there’s the brand new Disney Genie+ option as well as Individual Attraction Selections. Disney Genie+ is similar to MaxPass in Disneyland in that it is a paid add-on to your park ticket. Guests are able to skip the standby line on select attractions for a daily fee. (MaxPass and FastPass have both been permanently suspended.)
6) Book your in-town transportation.
When it comes to getting to and from the airport to your hotel, my family has used both shuttle service and ride-sharing options. Both are good options for varying reasons. If you are planning to visit other parks and/or sites aside from the Disney parks, you may even want to rent a car for your stay. (Just be sure to check your hotel’s overnight parking rates.)
While some hotels are within walking distance to the parks, others definitely are not. Be sure to check your specific hotel to find out what they have available as far as shuttle service to the parks. Another option to consider is Anaheim Resort Transportation. This system provides transportation to and from the Disney parks from many of the hotels in the area. Be sure to visit their website for more information on fares, routes, and schedules.
7) Add the final touches. (This is the fun part!)
Are you ready for the best part?? Now that your transportation, hotel stay, and park tickets are all booked and paid for… the fun part begins! It’s time to plan your vacation days, make dining reservations, and begin dreaming about all the fun you will have on your first vacation to Disneyland! To help get you started, be sure to visit our guides below!