Updated July 2016
Today, I’m sharing the basics of Disneyland to get you started and/or to remind you of some essentials if you haven’t visited in a while.
There’s so very much to know. Let’s get started.
I devised a 6 Step Planning Process that simplifies what you need to do to plan a trip to Disneyland. Take each one at a time, show them the attention they deserve and if you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’m an email away at [email protected] I do my best to respond to most emails within 24 hours.
DLR or Disneyland Resort is comprised of 2 theme parks, 3 Disney hotels and Downtown Disney. Disneyland is a fraction of the size of Disney World. Check out the layout of the resort including details on parking, lockers and more.
Disneyland is the original park and it opened in 1955. In addition to Main Street, it includes 7 lands:
- Critter Country
- New Orleans Square
Review all Disneyland attractions prior to your visit.
DCA or Disney California Adventure opened in 2001 and enjoyed a grand “re-opening” in 2012 with a major transformation, which has brought the troubled park to life. In addition to Buena Vista Street, it includes 6 lands:
- a bug’s land
- Cars Land
- Grizzly Peak
- Hollywood Land
- Pacific Wharf
- Paradise Pier
Review all California Adventure attractions prior to your visit.
Transportation to the Disneyland Resort is fairly easy if you know what you’re looking for. There are 6 large airports that are all realistic options within 1.5 hours of Disneyland. You can get to the parks via car, shuttle, train, car service or Disneyland Resort Express.
For WDW Fans
Are you a WDW veteran visiting the dark side this time? Let’s go over a few differences:
- We don’t have a dining plan. We often walk up to counter service restaurants, order food and eat it. Don’t be scared of us. It works. Dining at the Disneyland Resort is fun.
- We don’t use FASTPASS+. You can’t schedule FASTPASSES ahead of time. And…..stay with me…….we still use paper FASTPASSES. Keep breathing. You can do this.
- If you’re looking for Value Resorts at DLR, consider staying off-site at a good neighbor hotel. We only have 3 Disney Hotels and 2 of them are 4 Star and all three are $300+ a night.
- Everything is in walking distance. No one hour trek from park to hotel and park again. You can leave one park and be at the next in 2 minutes because the two park entrances face each other. Most hotels are in walking distance. Downtown Disney is just outside the esplanade between the two parks. You can easily leave the park, run back to your hotel and be back in the park in a short amount of time. IT’S GLORIOUS.
- The weather here is lovely. We rarely see rain. Seriously. And, regardless of when you visit – even if it’s in the summer – you’ll likely need a sweater for early morning or late night. Know how to dress ahead of time. It’s quite different compared to WDW.
You have two options when choosing where to stay at Disneyland:
DLR Hotels – DLR hotels have many perks including always-good Disney service, Extra Magic Hours, on-site DLR Hotel dining, and package delivery from the parks to your hotel. One (The Grand Californian) is super close to the entrance of the parks and Paradise Pier and The Disneyland Hotel are a bit further.
Off-Site Hotels – Off-site options are typically much less expensive than DLR Hotels with many averaging around $100 a night. They’re very close to the entrance and several of these hotels have free parking and free breakfast. Review Step 2 – Choose Where to Stay for details on each hotel.
Each park has a different feel to it. I’d simplify it into this:
Disneyland is old school and sweet with lots of history and fairytale-esque rides. Main Street feels like a walk back in time and the entire park has a nostalgic element to it. The best attractions at Disneyland are easy to find, but explore more than what is on my list.
Disney California Adventure feels newer and more character focused. Buena Vista is lovely and provides the nod to Americana that Main Street at Disneyland does. You’ll find “bigger” rides that teens will enjoy more at DCA, however, there is still plenty to do for little ones. Find the best attractions at DCA, too, but branch out for more.
Beware: Some attractions are very “dark” (figuratively and literally) and can scare young children. Research those before you visit.
Fun fact: the food at Disneyland is one of my favorite parts of my visit. There’s so much to enjoy! And, while Disney dining plans are super popular at Disney World, they’re so very rarely used at Disneyland.
Disneyland Dining has several yummy options including Jolly Holiday Bakery, Hungry Bear Restaurant, The Plaza Inn, Blue Bayou and more. The park includes several table service options and many counter service ones, too. Character dining can be found at breakfast at The Plaza Inn.
California Adventure Dining feels a little more adventurous to me food-wise with options like Asian fare, high end Carthay Circle and delicious smoothies. California Adventure also serves alcohol, while there’s not a drop to be found in Disneyland. Character dining can be found at Ariel’s Grotto and serves breakfast and lunch.
Character dining can also be found at each of the DLR Hotels. In addition to the expected Disney service at each of these experiences, you can also:
- Interact with characters up close for more time than at the parks.
- Take fun photos with the characters.
- Gather autographs.
I encourage you to enjoy one (or more) character dining experiences.
Want to go one step further and enjoy some ‘specialty dining’ with reserved seating for one of the two best shows at the parks? Check out this post for more details.
Dining decisions can be stressful. I’ve compiled every single bit of dining and snacks at The Disneyland Resort into one post. I have included my favorites in each category, too. Check that out if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
- Absolutely become familiar with FASTPASSES and how they can make your visit less stressful by cutting down on wait time in line.
- Review park touring plans to determine which works for you.
- Consider buying the PhotoPass+ One Day package. I highly recommend it and consider it to be one of the best values in the parks.
- Be prepared for crowds. You have many options when the parks become overwhelming.
- Start early and know what to do first. Be there before opening. Know how to get started at California Adventure. Know how to get started at Disneyland.
- Toddlers and princess fans require extra planning. Be prepared.
- Plan on seeing Anna and Elsa? The best planning will make that happen smoothly.
- Add even more magic to your Frozen fan’s day by checking out Anna and Elsa’s Boutique in Downtown Disney.
- Know that no trip will ever be perfect. Check out some mistakes I made and some disasters, too.
- Check out which rides will be under refurbishment during your visit.
Relax and have fun. Disneyland is such a magical place to be. Have anything to add? Find me on DLR Facebook to discuss!
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Enter code DLRPS at checkout to save an additional $2 on each ticket.