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Disneyland Trip Planner Guide – Plan The Best Trip & Save Money


From transportation to tickets, there’s a lot to wrap your head around before you can experience the magic of the happiest place on Earth.

a woman's hand holds a Mickey Premium Bar at Disneyland

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We all know Disneyland is the happiest place on Earth – but it’s important to plan your trip carefully to ensure that you can enjoy everything the park has to offer.

One detail going wrong can derail a whole vacation, and it can be hard to know where to start planning.

After visiting Disneyland many times, I’ve learned how to plan a magical trip to the Dsneyland theme parks like the back of my hand.

There are a lot of factors to account for, from budget planning to reservations, but you’ll thank yourself later for coming up with a great Disneyland plan.

Making a good Disneyland plan isn’t just useful for making sure your trip goes smoothly and stress-free. It can also save you a ton of money while giving you access to some of the park’s most exclusive attractions!

The early bird gets the worm and that’s especially true at Walt Disney parks.

With all of the tips and tricks from my Disney vacation planner, you’ll be able to make a smart and early plan that will make your Disneyland trip absolutely enchanting.

Why Visit Disneyland?

Disneyland park is the original Walt Disney theme park, and it’s a beautiful sight to see.

It opened its grand doors in 1955 and includes nine lands: Main Street U.S.A, Adventureland, Frontierland, Tomorrowland, Critter Country, New Orleans Square, Mickey’s Toontown, Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, and Fantasyland.

The classic Disneyland is more popular than the Disney California Adventure Park since Disneyland offers classic attractions like Haunted Mansion and Space Mountain.

Disney California Adventure Park is becoming increasingly popular, however, as Disney improves the theming of the park and guests flock to visit lands like the Pixar Pier and Avengers Campus.

When you’re planning your first Disneyland park visit, it’s important to be thorough and make sure that your vacation turns out as stress-free as possible.

Researching and planning your visit date, transportation, hotel, tickets and add-ons, and any extras is a great way to ensure your vacation is completely magical.

Many people debate whether they should visit Disneyland vs. Disney World, and that’s because both offer a wonderful experience.

But once you know the differences between Disneyland and Disney World, you may find that Disneyland is the right park for you!

Disneyland theme park in California

Budgeting for Disneyland

The most important thing to do before you visit Disneyland is budget for your magical Disney vacation.

Knowing how much your Disneyland trip will cost will allow you to make sure that you prioritize the things that will make your vacation the most memorable while putting aside attractions and activities that just aren’t as interesting to you.

Whether you want the most luxurious hotel available or an exclusive piece of merchandise, budgeting (and using the Disney payment plan) can bring this dream into reality.

You should budget for tickets, food, hotel, transportation, and souvenirs, plus any extras such as renting strollers at Disneyland.

Ticket Prices

Ticket prices vary by length of stay and time of year and there are certain times of the year when you can visit the happiest place on earth for much cheaper!

Also be on the lookout for package deals, which can save money when you bundle tickets and lodging.


Food can vary based on the venue, with Disneyland offering many quick-service food venues with affordable prices and also providing luxurious restaurants with high price points.

Best of all, there’s a ton of variety available at any price point. We have a list of the best Disneyland foods and the best food at Disney California Adventures to help you get started.

Also, many of the servings can be a little too magical!

If you’re looking to save money on food, considering kids’ meal options or sharing a full-size meal with a friend or partner is a great way to practically halve your costs.

And remember, water bottle refills are free!

Hotels & Transportation

Hotel prices can vary based on popularity, quality, and how far the property is from Disneyland park.

It’s worth considering what amenities you’d like from your hotel, and whether you would rather walk or drive to the park.

If you’re planning to fly or take another form of transportation to the park, you’ll need to account for that in the budget as well.

Don’t forget extraneous travel costs like food and baggage!

Also, using discount services where you can is a great idea to pinch pennies.

Many visitors find that Get Away Today is the best platform for discount Disneyland park tickets, and they also partner with many nearby hotels.

By using discounts where you can, you can put more of your budget towards delicious meals or fun activities. And if you’re a California resident, remember that you’re eligible for extra discounts on tickets!

Of course, using a travel agent is another great way to ensure you’re getting the best deals on your Disney vacation. An authorized Disney vacation planner with plenty of Disney experience is your best bet.

Credit Card Benefits

Lastly, it’s worth checking if your credit card offers any benefits for hotel or theme park purchases.

You may be able to get extra cashback and save money on your trip.

The Chase Disney card is a great option for getting extra perks for your Disney vacation.

Mad Hatter Teacup Ride at Disneyland

When Should I Visit Disneyland?

No matter when you visit, it’s always a great time to be at the happiest place on Earth.

But timing your visit to be on less popular days can help you avoid crowds and save a lot of money while you’re at it!

As a rule of thumb, crowd calendars show you can expect to find the park emptiest during September until mid-November and mid-January through mid-March. This is the best time to go if you’re hoping for fewer crowds.

That doesn’t include holidays or any park events, which you should avoid if you want low crowds.

Holidays off from school and work are the perfect opportunity to take the kids to Disneyland for most families, and the special events give an extra incentive for Walt Disney lovers to visit.

As a result, holidays and park events tend to result in huge crowds and enormous waits for most attractions.

When the park is less crowded, tickets are sold for much cheaper than on peak days, so it can be a good time to save some money..

Also, you won’t feel nearly as pressured to purchase add-ons like Disney Genie + and Individual Attraction Selections, which while convenient can quickly add up and sink your budget.

How Do I Find Lodging at Disneyland?

While there are hundreds of options available for lodging around Disneyland, choosing the right hotel can make a difference.

Whether that’s finding the best room you could dream of, or finding an option that works great with your budget!

Aside from the official Disney resorts, there are many unaffiliated hotels nearby that can offer affordable prices and great service.

Staying at a Disneyland Resort

It’s a good idea to first determine whether you would like to stay at an official Disneyland resort hotel.

These officially affiliated resorts do offer a lot of unique benefits which can add to your vacation.

For example, they offer things like an Extra Magic Hour every morning, and they tend to be themed around Disney content.

Also, you get the added benefit of being able to walk through the Downtown Disney District to enter the theme park.

All three Disney hotels, which are the Paradise Pier Hotel, Disneyland Hotel, and Grand Californian Hotel & Spa are popular for a reason — if you’re looking for a signature Disney vacation, staying at one of these resorts is practically a must.

Staying Outside of Disney

Unaffiliated hotels (which are off site hotels) are still a great option, though. As mentioned before, they can be comparably very affordable while still offering great services.

And there’s a variety of hotels to choose from, depending on whether you’d like a hotel room with full service and the best view or something simple and budget-friendly.

It’s important to read reviews about a hotel you’re considering staying at before committing, however.

Good Neighbor hotels are unaffiliated but are endorsed by Disney, which makes them highly reputable options for a medium budget.

The booking process depends on where you decide to lodge for your Disneyland vacation, but one thing is important regardless: you should be making reservations and preparing for your visit as early as when you’ve secured your Disneyland tickets and park reservations.

You don’t want to find yourself scrambling for any subpar place to stay the day that you should be going to the happiest place on Earth!

Paradise Pier at Disneyland at night

How Can I Plan Transportation to Disneyland?

If you’re driving to Disneyland, you should start by factoring in gas costs and the Disney parking fee (approximately $20 per day).

If you’re renting the car, you also need to include the rental costs in your estimate.

The roads can be fairly busy around Disneyland, but driving to the park does offer the added benefit of being able to visit other SoCal attractions easily.

Flying to Disneyland

If you’re flying to Disneyland, you should start by noting that there are three airports in service near the park.

Specifically, you can fly to the Orange County John Wayne Airport (SNA), the Long Beach Airport (LGB), or the Los Angeles Airport (LAX).

SNA is a smaller airport and the closest to Disneyland and includes Disneyland Resort Express motorcoach services.

LGB is slightly further from Disneyland, while LAX is the most popular airline but is also nearly an hour away from the parks.

As mentioned before, some of the airlines do provide complimentary transportation services to the Disneyland parks.

SNA provides Disneyland Resort Express motorcoach service, while all three airports offer Karmel Shuttle Service to Disney resort hotels in addition to Good Neighbor hotels.

There’s also always the option of using ride services like Uber or Lyft.

If you’re taking any other method of travel to Disneyland, it’s worth simply factoring in the direct expenses (such as train or bus tickets) in addition to what you might spend on food, toiletries, and other necessities to form an estimate.

If you aren’t brought to Disneyland, you will also need to include the cost of a taxi service or car rental.

How Do I Get Disneyland Tickets?

Right now, Disney allows visitors to purchase tickets for vacations ranging from one to five days.

You’re also given the option of purchasing a Park-per-day ticket or a slightly more expensive Park Hopper ticket.

You can only choose one park per day with the former, while the latter gives you the flexibility of switching parks on the same day.

Once you have an idea of when you’d like to visit the park and what type of park ticket you would like, you can go to the Disneyland website to purchase tickets.

After selecting whether you’re a standard or California resident guest, the website will prompt you to enter the number of days you would like to visit and the amount of child and adult tickets you would like to purchase.

Lastly, it asks whether you would like to purchase a Park Hopper pass.

After entering all of this information on the website, you’re almost ready to purchase your tickets.

The website will offer a calendar of available dates, which conveniently includes the availability status of both the Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Parks.

Once you’ve selected the dates that you would like to visit the parks, you can check out any desired add-ons (like Genie+) and finalize your reservation for a Disney vacation.

(It’s worth noting that the more days you purchase for a ticket, the cheaper the cost-per-day is. When you combine this with the savings on transportation, you might find that planning for a longer Disneyland visit is cheaper than taking several shorter vacations. It’s a hack worth considering!)

Lastly, you should remember two important rules about Disneyland tickets:

  1. Disneyland tickets expire 13 days after the first use.
  2. Disneyland tickets can only be used by one person!
Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bar with a bite taken out of the ear

What Special Offerings Should I Research Before Visiting?

If an attraction or restaurant you’re interested in is very popular, you should consider making a reservation beforehand.

Disney encourages early reservations, so it’s worth exploring the Disneyland website and making reservations for any experiences you just can’t imagine a magical vacation without.

Character dining experiences are a wonderfully magical thing to consider making reservations for, especially if your child has a favorite character that you just need to meet.

Character dining has the added benefit that you’ll get a lot more one-on-one time with the character, and won’t have to wait in line to see them!

Learn more about making last minute Disney Dining reservations.

Disney Genie + and Lightning Lane Passes

Determining whether you’d like to use Disney Genie + and Individual Attraction Selections is important to research because it can mean the difference between saving a lot of money and saving a lot of time (especially on Disney park peak days).

Disney Genie + offers lightning lane reservations for less popular rides, while Individual Attraction Selection allows you to purchase a lightning lane reservation for the most popular attractions available for a maximum of twice daily.

These services can get expensive since Genie+ is offered at $20 per person per day and Individual Attraction Selections can range from $7 – $15.

This is the best way to avoid long lines, and it may be a Disney splurge worth taking if you’re visiting on a busy day!

Fireworks Shows & Attractions

If you’d like to see a show like Fantasmic! or the World of Color, you should research when the show is going to be available and plan your trip around one of those dates.

Likewise, any limited-time show, attraction, or holiday festival should be planned for. It’s worth noting that if you choose to attend a Disney park special event, it’s likely to be much busier than usual.

Tickets may also sell for slightly higher prices.

If you’re planning to attend a firework show, in particular, making dining reservations or even purchasing a dining package to get a great view can be an excellent investment.

Many restaurants in the Disneyland parks offer wide-open windows and a beautiful view of any fireworks shows, and you won’t regret getting to enjoy these spectacles of color and light paired with a delicious meal.

Enjoy Your Disneyland Vacation Planning… And Have Fun!

Disneyland is the happiest place on Earth and it’s been attracting visitors from all over the globe since its opening in 1955.

With two parks in Southern California and over a dozen thematic lands to explore, there’s something for everyone in this enchanting theme park.

Planning out your vacation thoroughly will make sure that your Disneyland vacation is as magical as it can be.

While this may seem like an intimidating and complex process at first, it’s as simple as determining your budget and priorities and finding the lodging, transportation, time, and offerings that best suit your family.

There’s no wrong way to do a Disney vacation as long as it makes you happy.

And with nearly 70 years of history delighting and entertaining guests, Disneyland is sure to bring a smile to your face.

Once you’ve planned your trip to your Disney destination of choice, it’s finally time to let go of your worries and open your heart to the magic of Disney.

Related: Plan Your Disneyland Wedding

collage of two images of Disneyland--one of the theme park and one of Paradise Pier. An overlay reads, "Complete Guide to Planning a Disneyland Vacation"