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Disneyland Trip Planning: Save Money and Maximize Your Trip

Disneyland Trip Planning Goofy

The Disneyland Resort is amazing. The parks are fun, the weather is awesome, everything is conveniently located, and you have almost no chance of being attacked by an alligator on your way to Tom Sawyer Island. It is definitely worth a trip. There is no shortage of information about planning a trip to Disney World, but what about Disneyland trip planning? What do you need to know?

What Are The Must Dos When Disneyland Trip Planning?

1. Check A Crowd Calendar for Disneyland in California

2. Book a Disneyland Hotel in California When Disneyland Trip Planning

3. Purchase California Adventure Tickets and Disneyland MaxPass

4. Research Nearby Tourist Attractions When Disneyland Trip Planning

5. Make a List of Disneyland Packing Essentials

6. Make Touring Plans Disneyland California When Disneyland Trip Planning

7. Book Reservations for Disneyland Dining

8. Download the Disneyland App When Disneyland Trip Planning

9. Book Flights

10. Arrange Disneyland Airport Transportation When Disneyland Trip Planning

Save Disneyland Tickets Downtown Disney

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Disneyland Trip Planning

1. Crowd Calendar Disneyland Resort

I love waiting in line. Said no one ever. So how do you avoid them? Generally speaking, the parks will be less crowded when kids are in school. Weekends are more crowded than weekdays. Holidays are bananas. Spoiler alert: Don’t visit the week of Christmas.

If you are not a slave to a school or work schedule, by all means, check the Is It Packed crowd calendar California and the Disney California Adventure crowd calendar. Visit during a less busy time. Not only can you save money, but you can save sanity. Choosing the right dates for your trip is key in your Disneyland vacation planning.

2. Book Your Disneyland Hotel California

Grand Californian in Disneyland

Everything the Disneyland Hotel Resort has to offer is within throwing distance. You can walk from your hotel to Downtown Disney and both theme parks in minutes. You will never step foot on a bus if you stay on property. The convenience cannot be understated.

Direct Reservations for Disneyland Hotels

As evidenced by the Disneyland prices, the mouse got the memo about the whole convenience thing. While Disney World has over two dozen hotels, Disneyland has three. Your choices are limited.

The least expensive prices for Disneyland hotels on property will be found at Paradise Pier. The Disneyland Hotel Anaheim will generally be in the middle, and Grand Californian Hotel Disneyland is consistently the most expensive. Except it’s not, if you know how to book.

Disney Vacation Club Rentals Grand Californian

Grand Californian Disney Hotel can be booked using Disney Vacation Club reservations for rent. The program is basically a timeshare. If you are not a member, you can rent these points from people with buyer’s remorse. This cuts the cost of this Disneyland hotel price significantly. Brokers like Disney Vacation Club Rental Store and David’s Disney Vacation Club point rentals can make these Disneyland hotel reservations for you.

While this will undoubtedly save you money, there are some downsides of which you should be aware:

1. You need to book in advance as Disney Vacation Club points rental availability is limited (11 months before your trip)

2. You cannot get a refund (Buy trip insurance if this makes you nervous)

3. You get limited housekeeping

4. The room types may vary (Your kids may have to sleep on a pullout couch. Get out the violin).

Extra Magic Hour

On property guests also get an extra hour at the Disneyland theme parks for each day of their stay. Disneyland and California Adventure are basically ghost towns during this hour. You get so much more out of this extra hour than you would at Disney World. Try to stay on property if at all possible.

california adventure disneyland

Disneyland Trip Planning – How Long Should You Stay?

Is two days enough at Disneyland? There are two parks, so it is doable, but you will probably not be able to do everything you want to do. I recommend three total days if this is your first trip. This will give you enough time to hit your favorites multiple times and not feel rushed.

Disneyland Hotel Good Neighbor

There is a list of hotels coined Disneyland Good Neighbor Hotels. These are not on property, and do not come with Disneyland hotel on property benefits. They are located close to the parks and are cheaper. These are the second best option if you cannot handle the on property cost.

3. Purchase MaxPass Tickets and Disneyland Tickets California

The Disneyland Resort has two theme parks, Disneyland and California Adventure. Disneyland has more to do, but California Adventure is not to be missed. There is some overlap with Magic Kingdom in Disney World, but there are plenty of attractions at both parks that you will not find in Florida.

Disneyland Tickets Anaheim

Types of Disneyland California Tickets

Disneyland offers both single park per day and Park Hopper tickets. Park Hopper Disneyland tickets cost more. They allow you to bounce between the two parks.

We do not bother with Park Hopper tickets at Disney World because it takes too long to switch parks. At Disneyland, you can walk between the parks in minutes. The Park Hopper may be worth it to you, but if you don’t get it, you can definitely fill a day.

There are multiple ways to purchase Disneyland tickets in California, some better than others.

Direct Sale Disneyland Ticket Prices California

Prices for Disneyland tickets are steep, but there are ways to save money. I prefer to purchase tickets from the Disneyland website using discounted Disney gift cards. This is not your best option unless you use gift cards on which you received a discount.

Disneyland Tickets and Passes from a Discount Ticket Broker

Brokers like Undercover Tourist and Viator offer Disneyland ticket discounts. This will not save you as much as discounted gift cards, but you will save time.

disneyland and california adventure rides Storm Troopers

Magic Morning Hour For Disneyland Trip Planning

If you purchase a Park Hopper that is three or more days, you get a Magic Morning Hour that allows you to arrive one hour early one time (as opposed to on property guests who can come early every day with the Extra Magic Hour).

Be aware that tickets to Disneyland California expire, so make sure you will be able to use them before you finalize the purchase.

MaxPass for Disneyland

Disneyland’s FASTPASS system is different from that of Disney World. Disneyland does not allow you to book anything ahead of time. Upon arrival, guests have to run around all 1998 style to collect paper FASTPASSES.

MaxPass Cost

To avoid an unnecessary foot race, you can buy MaxPass in Disneyland. This allows you to book FASTPASSES from Disneyland’s app upon arrival. As of the time of this writing, the MaxPass price is $20 per guest per day.

That sounds like a giant ripoff, but remember, you are not competing with everyone in the park on the app like you are at Disney World. You can get a ton of FASTPASSES and really minimize wait times. Is MaxPass worth it? Hard yes. There a quite a few Disneyland MaxPass rides. It will save you a ton of time and irritation.

Disneyland MaxPass Attractions

As of the time of this writing, the Disneyland rides with MaxPass are:

A. Autopia

B. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

C. Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters

D. Fantasmic!

E. Haunted Mansion

F. Indiana Jones Adventure

G. “it’s a small world”

H. Matterhorn Bobsleds

I. Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin

J. Space Mountain

K. Splash Mountain

L. Star Tours – The Adventure Continues

Disneyland Planning a Trip Cars

MaxPass California Adventure Rides

As of the time of this writing, the following California Adventure attractions accept the MaxPass system:

A. Goofy’s Sky School

B. Grizzly River Run

C. Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!

D. Guardians of the Galaxy – Monsters After Dark

E. Incredicoaster

F. Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!

G. Soarin’ Around the World

H. Radiator Springs Racers

I. Toy Story Midway Mania!

J. World of Color

MaxPass PhotoPass is Included at Disneyland

The MaxPass app also comes with free PhotoPass downloads. If you are someone who likes the pictures, this is a huge perk. We don’t buy Memory Maker at Disney World, because who needs photographic evidence of sweaty, frizzy hair? While the humidity is decidedly better at Disneyland, PhotoPass is not something for which I would pay extra.

It is nice to have the handful of Disneyland app photos taken on the rides and by the park photographers of our kids with characters. I am particularly grateful that PhotoPass with MaxPass captured this Mother of the Year moment when I made my son get on Splash Mountain when he wasn’t feeling it.

Disneyland Vacation Planning Checklist Splash Mountain

4. Research Nearby Tourist Attractions When Disneyland Trip Planning

If you want to extend your trip, consider getting a rental car and visiting other attractions in the area. San Diego and Los Angeles are both within driving distance. Some theme parks to consider are:

A. Universal Studios Hollywood

B. LEGOLAND California

C. SEA LIFE Aquarium

D. Six Flags Magic Mountain

E. Knott’s Berry Farm

F. SeaWorld San Diego

LEGOLAND California Entrance

5. Make a Disneyland Packing List

Packing for Disneyland can get out of control quickly. Resist the urge to overpack. You aren’t going to use half of that stuff. Juggling kids at the airport is hard enough. Don’t add extra suitcases to the mix. Free PDF downloads for both a Disneyland vacation packing list and a Disneyland packing checklist for day bags can be found here.

A good packing list will save you a ton of time when trip planning for Disneyland.

Planning First Disneyland Trip Minnie

6. Make a Personalized Touring Plan Disneyland

California Adventure and Disneyland get crowded. The keys to minimizing whining and maximizing your day are to arrive early and have a touring plan.

Make a tentative Disneyland touring plan before you arrive to map out what you want to experience and avoid lines. How do you know how to avoid lines? Consult Touringplans.com. This free site allows you to input what you want to do, then provides you with an itinerary. You can include breaks and meals in your schedule.

You can also update the plan throughout the day as your plans change or lines are longer than expected on the Disneyland Touring Plan app.

A touring plan for Disneyland may make the day sound less than fun to some people. This is too rigid! Those people must like lines more than I do. You can always deviate from your plan, but you will have a rough idea of what you want to do so you don’t miss things.

Generally speaking, you want to visit rides with the longest lines first thing in the morning or later in the day. Making a touring plan is my favorite part of Disneyland California trip planning because it gets us excited for what we are going to do while we are there.

Disneyland Rides with the Longest Lines

Most of the rides develop long lines, but some of the biggest culprits are:

A. Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run

B. Space Mountain

C. Matterhorn

D. Indiana Jones Adventure

E. Peter Pan’s Flight

Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide Castle

California Adventure Rides with the Longest Lines

Some of the California Adventure rides with the longest lines are:

A. Radiator Springs Racers

B. Soarin’ Around the World

C. Toy Story Mania!

D. Incredicoaster

7. Book Dining Disneyland Reservations When Disneyland Trip Planning

Disneyland food is better than that of the average theme park. There is the usual theme park upcharge, and it should not be compared to a fine dining establishment. With that said, the food at a lot of the restaurants is pretty good.

There is no Disneyland dining plan similar to the one that is temporarily suspended at Disney World.

Disneyland dining reservations can be made 60 days before your visit. Disney World has convinced all of its guests that they should get up at the crack of dawn on the day dining reservations become available to fight to the death to eat at Cinderella’s Castle. At Disneyland, nobody cares. Sleep in.

You should be able to get the reservations you want relatively close to your trip. Make them when you can, but don’t stress about it. You will very likely get what you want. Disneyland posts all of its menus on the website. Consult these in your Disneyland family trip planning so you can confirm your family will be happy with the choices before you arrive.

Our favorite California Adventure restaurant is Lamplight Lounge for table service (lobster nachos!). We love Cafe Orleans at Disneyland. Both have great gluten free options. For Disneyland quick service, we like Rancho del Zocalo, as well as Cocina Cucamonga at California Adventure park.

Disneyland Trip Planning Guide Napa Rose

8. Download the Disneyland Experience App When Disneyland Trip Planning

The app for Disneyland has a ton of great features. This is a must download. Some of the highlights are:

A. Check Wait Times

B. Book MaxPass Disneyland Rides

C. Disneyland Restaurant Menus

D. Make Disneyland and California Adventure Dining Reservations

E. Mobile Order Disneyland and California Adventure Food for Pickup

F. Access Disneyland Ticket MaxPass PhotoPass Downloads

G. Map with a GPS to Give You Directions

H. Character Locator

You will spend the majority of your day staring at the app and ignoring your children, but you will probably need a mental health break from them by that point anway.

Pro tip: The app drains your cell phone battery faster than a group of middle aged moms can knock back a case of White Claw. Bring a portable charger.

Disneyland Trip Planning Tips Dumbo

9. Book Flights When Disneyland Trip Planning

Disneyland is located closest to John Wayne airport in Orange County. This airport is relatively small, so it often lacks nonstop flight options, and it is unlikely to have cheap plane tickets. If either of those are deal breakers, LAX is not much further.

You can generally find cheaper flights at off peak times. That Christmas Disneyland visit will cost you one semester of community college. You can check websites with cheap airfare like Kayak to compare prices, but it is better to book through the airline directly to earn loyalty points.

Consider using miles and points credit cards to save on airfare. There are several good options for beginners.

Pro tip: If you are having trouble finding award flights, try ExpertFlyer. You can set up alerts to let you know when things open up. It offers both free and paid versions.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest is a great option because its rebooking policy is flexible. Even before COVID-19, you could rebook Southwest flights without penalties. This means if you find a cheaper flight, you can get a credit for the price difference. Southwest offers several flights into and out of LAX and Orange County each day.

Chase offers the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Card. This card earns Southwest Rapid Rewards miles. 

Introductory Bonus: As of the time of this writing, you earn 40,000 Rapid Rewards points (worth approximately $600) after you spend $1,000 in the first three months.

Earnings: The card earns two Rapid Rewards points on Southwest and Southwest partner purchases, and one Rapid Reward point per dollar on all other purchases.

Annual Fee: $69

Save Money on Flight Tickets Southwest

United Airlines

Chase offers the United Explorer Card. This card gets you free checked bags for yourself and a companion.

Introductory Bonus: As of the time of this writing, you earn 40,000 United miles (worth approximately $520) after spending $2,000 in the first three months.

Earnings: The card earns two United miles per dollar on restaurants, hotels, and United Airlines purchases, and one mile per dollar on all other purchases.

Annual Fee: $95, waived the first year

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Chase Sapphire Preferred earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points which can be transferred to both Southwest and United, along with several other redemption options. It is one of the best credit cards for miles and points beginners because of its flexibility.

Introductory Bonus: As of the time of this writing, the introductory bonus is 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points (worth between $800 and $1200 depending upon your choice of redemption) after spending $4,000 in the first three months.

Earnings: The card earns two points per dollar on travel and dining and one point per dollar on all other purchases.

Annual Fee: $95

American Airlines


Barclays offers the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard. You receive a free checked bag for yourself and up to four companions.

Introductory Bonus: As of the time of this writing, the introductory bonus is 50,000 AAdvantage miles (worth approximately $500) after you make a single purchase and pay the annual fee.

Earnings: It earns two AAdvantage miles per dollar on American Airlines purchases and one mile per dollar on all other purchases. You also earn a companion certificate for a guest to accompany you on a domestic flight for $99 if you spend $20,000 in a year.

Annual Fee: $99

Disneyland Trip Planner Pluto


Citibank features the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard. Cardholders get a free checked bag for up to four companions.

Introductory Bonus: As of the time of this writing, you earn 50,000 AAdvantage miles (worth approximately $500) after spending $2,500 in the first three months.

Earnings: It earns two AAdvantage miles per dollar on American Airlines purchases, gas, and restaurants, and one mile per dollar on all other purchases. You also earn a $125 American Airlines flight credit after spending $20,000 in a year.

Annual Fee: $99, waived the first year

Delta Airlines

Delta SkyMiles Gold from American Express includes a free checked bag for everyone in your party.

Introductory Bonus: As of the time of this writing, you earn 50,000 SkyMiles (worth approximately $550) after spending $2,000 in the first three months.

Earnings: The card earns two Delta SkyMiles per dollar on groceries, restaurants, and Delta purchases, and one mile per dollar on everything else. You also earn a $100 Delta flight credit after spending $10,000.

Annual Fee: $99, waived the first year

10. Book Disneyland Transportation When Disneyland Trip Planning

There is no free shuttle to Disneyland hotels and resorts. There is public transportation available, but I would recommend just biting the bullet and hiring a town car if you don’t have a rental of your own.

If you aren’t planning to leave the resort, skip the rental car. You will not need it. We get a rental car for the first part of our trip if we combine it with a visit to a nearby location, but we return it when we get to Disneyland.

Parking for Disneyland Hotels

As of the time of this writing, parking is $25 per night for self parking and $35 per night for valet. There is no charge for parking if you are staying on Disney Vacation Club room rental points.

Planning Trip to Disneyland Grand Californian

Disneyland Trip Planning – Final Thoughts

Planning your Disneyland trip should be fun, because Disneyland is awesome. It’s reputation as Disney World’s red headed stepchild is completely unfair. It may be small, but it is definitely worth a trip. There are a ton of Disneyland attractions you cannot find in the swamp that is Orlando, not to mention that it is not located in the swamp that is Orlando. The convenience of everything Disneyland Anaheim has to offer cannot be beat.

Disneyland trip planning is important, but it does not need to be as intense as that of Disney World. Make a plan and enjoy yourself. Plan a visit to Disneyland park. You will not regret it.

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Grand Californian Hotel in Disneyland: Best Location Ever

Disneyland Anaheim Theme Park: Not Just a Smaller Disney World

Disney California Adventure Theme Park: Totally Worth It

Top Ten Disneyland Attractions for Toddlers

Disneyland Vacation Packing List for People in Touch with Reality

Is the Disneyland Hotel Worth it?: Things to Consider

Southern California Packing List: What Do You Need?

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  1. Wow! I’ve never seen a post so detailed and packed with relevant information! This is truly a share worthy post especially between moms with young kids! Great job creating such an awesome content!

  2. You always outline so much detail in your posts, and it is so helpful! I love how you catch every point, down to the airline and the food! Thank you for that!

  3. Wow!! This is an in-depth article! Great job!
    We’ve been to Disneyland Paris and planning to take my son to this one in California as well. Thanks for sharing and all the recommendations

  4. Wow, this has so much information! It’s very helpful for anyone planning a trip! I’ve never been to Disney land, but I have lots of info for when I do now 🙂 Thanks!

  5. Thanks for sharing all of these wonderful tips and suggestions! We have never been but hope to go some day. This has been so helpful for thinking about future plans!

  6. Such awesome tips as always! I have never been to Disneyland (only Disney World) but I would love to go someday. So much amazing Disney history there! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  7. What a complete detailed itinerary for families planning a trip to Disneyland! We haven’t been for many years, but would love to return for the fun and to see all the changes. Great job on this post! 🙂

  8. There is so much great information here. I grew up in Southern California and had annual passes to Disneyland every year. I didn’t know what an event it was to plan a trip to Disneyland until I moved away and decided to take my family. This list is valuable for anyone planning a Disneyland Vacation!

  9. This is GREAT information for anyone planning a Disney trip!!! Thanks so much for sharing so much detailed information that is easy to overlook!!!!!!!!!!

  10. Great planning tips! Loved the idea of including other parks to extend the fun. My littles can’t always handle multiple days at a single park. They get burned out pretty quick!

  11. One of my biggest dreams has always been going to Disney Land, it looks like so much fun! With this AMAZING post, I can see myself planning it in the near future… thanks for all the info!!

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