Mommy Frog's Note: We know these are trying times. Some of us are facing major challenges, whether they be from illness, the economy or simply the unknown. All of us are living under a new normal. While the parks are currently closed, they will reopen soon. In the meantime, we're looking for ways to help keep the magic hoppening at home. One of the ways we're doing that is by helping you plan your next trip!
If you are a lover of Walt Disney World Resort and are making your first trip to Disneyland Resort, you’ll want to know what to expect. The good news is that all that planning and stressing that you might have to do before a Disney World vacation is not quite as necessary for Disneyland. We hear from many Disney World fans that Disneyland feels a lot more manageable than a trip to Disney World, and a lot of it comes down to size and the types of visitors who frequent Disneyland. Yes, some planning and research is definitely smart and recommended, and that’s why we are here going over this together. But in general, Disneyland is a simpler place, especially if you are already a pretty savvy Disney Parks fan. We bring you the Disney World fan’s guide to Disneyland ... hop along! (And if you're looking for the Disneyland fan's guide to Disney World, we've also got you covered.)
The Disney World Fan’s Guide to Disneyland
Disneyland is the original Disney theme park and the only completed Disney park that Walt Disney ever got to set foot in. A lamp remains lit for Walt in the window of his apartment above the fire station in Town Square, and we gaze up at it every time we visit. Disneyland is the place that was transformed from orange groves into what is lovingly called “The Happiest Place on Earth.” There’s something special about Disneyland being Walt’s park. Some of the attractions and lands were created by Walt Disney himself, and there is something heartwarming about that.
Planning for Disneyland
First of all, Disneyland is more low-key and generally a little less crowded than Disney World. Many visitors to Disneyland are locals and annual passholders (APs). They know if they miss a ride or character or dining experience on one visit, they’ll catch it next time. No big deal. That leaves space for the first-time visitors and vacationers to get those dining reservations, character dining experiences and other in-demand opportunities. On the other hand, that high percentage of APs can be frustrating to newcomers because APs will happily sit on a curb or bench for hours before a parade, leaving vacationers who do not want to lose valuable vacation time waiting for shows scrambling to find a viewing spot closer to parade time. But don’t worry, we frogs are here to let you in on our Disneyland secrets so you can be in-the-know, too, and get the most from your visit.
Be sure to hop over to find out the best time to visit Disneyland to learn more about crowds (and how to avoid them) and cool Disneyland special events, festivals and holidays that may bring super fun seasonal foods, entertainment and ride overlays to the parks during your visit. Another useful planning tool is to follow our tips to maximize your time at Disneyland.
You'll also want to plan for weather at Disneyland. Disneyland has a drier climate than Disney World. Summers in Southern California are dry and warm, the hotter months being July through October. It rarely rains during those months. May and June are cloudy and have earned the nicknames "May Gray" and "June Gloom." For most of the winter and spring months, you can expect most daytime temperatures to reach the 60s and 70s. November through April can bring rain, but you can expect more sunshine days than rainy days. No matter when you visit, bring a sweatshirt because warm days can quickly cool off quite a bit once the sun sets. Remember those hats, sunglasses and sunscreen because Disneyland has many more outside and uncovered ride queues than Disney World.
Buying Tickets for Disneyland
You'll want to follow some tips for saving money at Disneyland, especially when it comes to buying tickets. Disneyland 1-Day tickets have variable prices based on expected crowd levels. There are usually no discounts or deals for 1-Day tickets, so your best way to save money is to purchase discounted multi-day tickets. (Your favorite frog friends have hopped into selling discount Disneyland Resort tickets to save you a little extra green!)
Did you know that the price difference to upgrade a 1-Day ticket to Park Hopper ticket and the price to upgrade to a 5-Day Park Hopper are the same? That's like getting four days of Park Hopper access for no extra charge! So if you think you might want to park hop even one of the days, it's best to buy when purchasing the ticket for the best savings.
Also, Disneyland Resort offers an optional paid service called MaxPass. You can find out more below under Understanding FASTPASS and MaxPass. You can purchase a ticket in advance that is loaded with MaxPass, or upgrade through the Disneyland app after you have entered the park for the day.
Disneyland Resort has fewer special parties and separately ticketed events than Walt Disney World Resort. Disneyland hosts a few Disneyland After Dark parties per year, and the themes can vary. The Disneyland Halloween Party is the Oogie Boogie Bash, which takes place at Disney California Adventure Park on select nights during Halloween Time. You won't find a Christmas party at Disneyland; however, holiday time at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure is quite festive. You'll find special foods, entertainment, decor and more.
Disneyland Park Hours and Entertainment
Part of your planning process is to get to know Disneyland's operating hours and entertainment. You'll want to identify your must-see shows and parades. Set an itinerary to incorporate your show schedule. Show and parade times can vary throughout the year. The Disneyland site offers an entertainment calendar. It provides a look at park hours, Extra Magic Hour/Magic Morning days and showtimes for about six weeks in advance. Be sure to hop back frequently because as holidays approach, Disneyland tends to add more special holiday entertainment (especially for the week of Christmas and New Year's Eve) as the events get closer. In general, Disney California Adventure Park closes little earlier than Disneyland Park. We love late nights at Disneyland because the crowds really drop off after the fireworks end.
The top Disneyland Park nighttime shows include fireworks and Fantasmic! You'll find the beautiful World of Color show at Disney California Adventure Park. During busier times, you may find nightly fireworks and Fantasmic! shows. At off-peak times, you might see Fantasmic! and Disneyland fireworks scheduled for Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. During these less-busy times you might get treated to a projection show, Mickey's Mix Magic, without the fireworks. At times, you'll want to budget an hour or two to get a good spot to watch these shows. The better the spot, the more time you have to spend waiting. We have a post on the best places to view Disneyland fireworks so you can find the best spot with the least amount of wait time.
The Fantasmic! show at Disneyland Park takes place at Rivers of America and does not have seating. You can get a FASTPASS by collecting it in person or via the Disneyland app when using MaxPass. Other ways to get a spot include standby viewing areas and dining packages (which offer the best views).
While at times either park (or both!) can host a parade, Disneyland is usually the main parade park. The newest parade is Magic Happens. Hop over to learn about this colorful parade and learn tips for getting the best view of it!
Get to Know the Disneyland Parks
As you know, Walt Disney World Resort consists of four theme parks, two waters parks and numerous hotels and transportation options. Disney World sits on nearly 30,000 acres. Well, in comparison, Disneyland has two parks that are a quick hop, skip and jump across from one another, a neighboring Downtown Disney District and three Disneyland Resort hotels all within walking distance of each other. The Disneyland property sits on about 500 acres. The Disney World fan will find Disneyland very tiny in comparison to Disney World. But don't worry — Disneyland really offers a lot of experiences in that small space!
The Disneyland Resort is surrounded by city streets of Anaheim and has no place to expand horizontally, so that’s how it will stay. But Disneyland packs a lot of punch into that tiny space. There is so much to do! In addition to the on-site hotels, you have many hotels that are literally across and down the street within walking distance of the park entrances. If you need to run to the store or want to go to a non-Disney restaurant, there are a lot of choices just outside the park gates.
The two Disneyland Resort theme parks are Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park. Disney California Adventure has rides and lands unique to that park, as well as a few rides you might recognize from various Disney World versions. Disney California Adventure is home to the following lands:
- Buena Vista Street
- Grizzly Peak
- Hollywood Land
- Pacific Wharf
- Paradise Gardens Park
- Pixar Pier
- Cars Land
- Avengers Campus, a new Super Hero–themed land that opens soon
Highlights of this park include the popular Radiator Springs Racers ride and Frozen - Live at the Hyperion (a Broadway-like show in Hollywood Land). Thrill-seekers enjoy heart-pounding rides such as Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout!, the Incredicoaster and Grizzly River Run. Disney World fans will recognize Soarin’ (with a Disneyland ending), Toy Story Midway Mania! and The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure. The nighttime spectacular, World of Color, is a breathtaking show highlighting favorite Disney moments ... on a screen of mist, with vibrant water effects and music.
Disneyland Park is most like Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.
Disneyland's lands include:
- Main Street, U.S.A.
- Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
- New Orleans Square
- Critter Country
- Mickey's Toontown
Disney World fans may notice that the Disneyland lands not found at Disney World include Critter Country and Mickey's Toontown. Disneyland's big shows are the Disneyland fireworks and Fantasmic! Plus, there are parades and smaller shows and musical acts throughout the park.
The Disney World Fan's Guide to Disneyland Rides
You’ll find a lot of rides similar to Magic Kingdom classic rides at Disneyland with subtle differences that you Disney World fans will enjoy picking up on. Even though Disneyland has a lot of the same rides as Magic Kingdom, you’ll want to check out the Disneyland versions too because, well, many are considered better. What? Why is that? This is definitely not a Disney World vs. Disneyland competition, but remember those annual passholders and locals who frequent Disneyland? They make it easier for Disneyland to shut down rides for major refurbishments because fewer guests are making that trip of a lifetime than at Disney World. So that means rides get updated and modernized more frequently at Disneyland.
For instance, “it’s a small world” has a fabulous, iconic façade and Disney characters planted amongst the singing dolls. Can you spot them all? It undergoes a holiday layover for Christmastime at Disneyland. Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion also gets an exciting “The Nightmare Before Christmas” layover from the start of Halloween Time through the holidays into early January each year. If you visit during those times, you will get the layover, but you will miss the classic version.
Also, there are practical reasons some of the rides are different at Disneyland. Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean is longer, has a few drops and a climb so that the boats can get under the Disneyland Railroad train tracks to the ride buildings outside the park area. There’s also a newer magical transformation scene in the Disneyland version. The Haunted Mansion’s stretching room actually stretches for a reason. It’s an elevator that takes riders down so they can walk under the railroad track to the boarding area. That's pretty cool, but the Disneyland Haunted Mansion ride is a bit shorter than the Magic Kingdom version. Don't worry. It's home to 999 happy haunts, but there's still room for 1,000. Any volunteers?
Some similar Magic Kingdom rides have different seating at Disneyland. Guests sit side by side in Disneyland’s Space Mountain, doubling each vehicle's capacity. The Disneyland Space Mountain has a musical soundtrack. That ride is also known for its frogtastic layovers, sometimes getting a Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain version and a Ghost Galaxy layover at Halloween. On the other hand, guests sit single file when riding Disneyland’s Splash Mountain.
Despite Disneyland's smaller size, Disneyland Park has quite a few rides and attractions not found at Disney World you'll want to check out, including:
- The Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Alice in Wonderland
- Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
- Snow White’s Scary Adventures
- Pinocchio's Daring Journey
- Casey Jr. Circus Train
- Storybook Land Canal Boats
- Indiana Jones Adventure
- Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
- Tarzan's Treehouse (similar to Swiss Family Treehouse)
- Sailing Ship Columbia (similar to the Liberty Square Riverboat)
- Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes
- Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough
- Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin
- Gadget's Go Coaster
- Mickey and the Magical Map
- Royal Theatre
- Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln
Disney California Adventure also has a few rides and attractions that are not found at Disney World:
- World of Color
- Frozen — Live at the Hyperion
- Radiator Springs Racers
- Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters
- Mater's Junkyard Jamboree (similar to Alien Swirling Saucers)
- Pixar Pal-A-Round
- Jessie's Critter Carousel
- Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind
- Goofy's Sky School
- Grizzly River Run (similar to Kali River Rapids)
- Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout! (formerly the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror)
- Monsters Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!
- Silly Symphony Swings
- Jumpin' Jellyfish
- Golden Zephyr
- Avengers Campus, a new Marvel Super Hero land opening soon
Where to Stay at Disneyland
Staying at a Disneyland Resort Hotel
It is not as critical to stay at a Disneyland Resort hotel as it is to stay on property at Disney World (especially when it comes to acquiring FASTPASS reservations). However, there are a few benefits of staying at a Disneyland resort hotel, such as convenience, a sprinkling of Disney magic, on-site character dining choices and Extra Magic Hour for hotel guests to enter a park one hour early. Hotel guests can get some slight advantages for making restaurant reservations, but that’s about it. There are special events and entertainment that all hotel guests can take part in. The three Disneyland Resort hotels are:
- Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel — This is the hotel with the lowest price tag and the farthest walk, but we were talking a just a few minutes' difference. It’s home to a Seaside Character breakfast with Donald Duck.
- Disneyland Hotel — This original hotel is right next to Downtown Disney and is a short walk to the monorail into Disneyland Park. We especially love the Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar on site, character dining at Goofy’s Kitchen and dinners at Steakhouse 55.
- Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa — Designed after Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel, this is the most expensive and nicest of the hotels. We enjoy chilling in the lobby, getting warm by the giant fireplace and dining at two character dining locations — one with Mickey at Storytellers Cafe and the Princess Breakfast Adventures at Napa Rose. This park has its own entrance into Disney California Adventure Park and the shortest walk to either park and the heart of Downtown Disney.
Staying at an Off-Site Hotel
There are many reasons why you might want to stay off-site, and a lot have to do with budget. There are a number of hotels near Disneyland. Some are within walking distance of the parks and others have their own shuttles or are on the bus routes. Some make great choices for larger families.
Understanding FASTPASS and MaxPass
One of the big differences between Disneyland and Disney World is the way that Disneyland FASTPASS service works. You do not have to stay at a Disneyland hotel or sit on your phone or computer 30 to 60 days before your trip to get FASTPASSes. Why? Because you cannot make any FASTPASS reservations until you have entered a park for the day. If that makes you planners nervous, don’t worry about it. You should have plenty of FASTPASS options when you arrive, although the best selection is in the morning, especially at Disney California Adventure. We always recommend arriving early. Some more popular ride FASTPASS return windows disappear quickly, but overall there are many choices throughout the day.
If you plan to park hop, start your day in Disney California Adventure before hopping to Disneyland. That will give you the biggest selection of FASTPASSes.
To complicate things, there are two ways to acquire FASTPASS: the free way, and the paid option. For free, you can go to a FASTPASS kiosk, insert your park ticket and receive the first available FASTPASS return window for that attraction. When it’s time to ride, you can scan your park ticket at the FASTPASS return entrance. There are no MagicBands at Disneyland.
For an additional fee, you can make FASTPASS reservations on your smart phone via the Disneyland app with Disneyland MaxPass. MaxPass saves you from walking to a kiosk and allows you to make reservations from inside or outside the parks once you have entered a park for the day. We love Disney MaxPass because not only can we reserve rides in either park (when park hopping) and see all of our ride options at once, but MaxPass also comes with unlimited PhotoPass downloads from rides and PhotoPass photographers. That is a great deal! Hop over to our post on PhotoPass to learn more since pricing and getting photos does differ slightly compared to Disney World.
There are a few other differences regarding FASTPASS. You cannot choose the return time, your return times can overlap and you can have as many FASTPASS reservations at a time as you can collect. There are some short waiting periods in between collecting them, but you do not have to use the first one before collecting the next one. Also, only select rides at Disneyland Resort accept FASTPASS reservations. The majority of rides do not offer it. Many of those those rides without FASTPASS have short and manageable waits.
A Disney World Fan's Guide to Dining at Disneyland
Another difference between Disneyland and Disney World is that Disneyland dining reservations usually open about 60 days in advance. More popular choices may be dining packages and Blue Bayou, Carthay Circle or Lamplight Lounge. Some table-service locations accept walk-ins, but not usually Blue Bayou. Blue Bayou is located inside Pirates of the Caribbean, and you can watch the boats drift by in the perpetual evening romantic lighting. You can use the reservations system to make table-service reservations in the park, hotels or at some locations in Downtown Disney.
You can find character dining in each hotel and inside Disneyland Park. Hop over to our post on Disneyland character dining for all the details.
In terms of quick-service restaurants, you have a lot of choices, and many of them offer Mobile Ordering service. Here are some of our favorite Disneyland snacks and quick-service restaurants for your planning pleasure!
Meeting Characters at Disneyland
Meeting characters is a little different at Disneyland as well. Disneyland keeps things fresh with the characters. Some characters have general areas where you might expect to the meet them. Others are on the move. Rare characters pop into the parks from time to time. Some Fantasyland characters might even engage you in a game! You can usually find the locations and meeting times for regular characters via the Disneyland app. Hop over to our posts on Meeting characters at Disneyland and meeting princesses for some hoppin' tips on how to find them! You will not find FASTPASS reservations for character meet and greets.
Hopfully, this Disney World fan's guide to Disneyland has you excited for your trip to the West Coast! We know you are going to fall in love with this special park and appreciate the hidden gems and fun in store for you. What are you most looking forward to? Be sure to share with us in the comments below!