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. It's a happy place filled with nostalgia. but it also celebrates new Disney stories and keeps the park fresh with unexpected surprises.
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. 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 usually leaves space for the first-time visitors and vacationers to get those dining reservations, character dining experiences and other in-demand opportunities. (Following the pandemic and with the reservations system in place, even locals are planning their visits out in advance so you'll definitely want to book 60 days out for now.)
On the other hand, that high percentage of frequent visitors can be frustrating to newcomers because locals 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." (We Frogs enjoy the break from the sun in "gloomy" days before the summer heat and sun kick in.)
For most of the winter and spring months, you can expect most daytime temperatures to reach the 60s and 70s with just occasional hot days. 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 and even rides 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.
You can find out more below under Understanding Genie+ and individual Lightning Lane. You can purchase a ticket in advance that is loaded with Genie+, 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. In 2021, Disneyland launched its first Christmas party at Disneyland; however, holiday time at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure is already quite festive with parades and special fireworks. You'll find special foods, entertainment, decor and more.
Disneyland and Disney California Adventure 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 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.
During peak seasons the theme parks open at 8 a.m. (The turnstiles open about 30 minutes early.) Disneyland is open until midnight, whereas Disney California Adventure closes at 10 p.m. During less busy time such as early November or mid-January, the park hours may be more like 9 to 8 p.m.
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. To save time, see the later parade or show when offered. It's always much less crowded. 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. How should you see it? There is standby viewing areas and dining packages (which offer the best views). You may be able to join a virtual queue to see the show.
While at times either park (or both!) can host a parade, Disneyland is usually the main parade park. The newest parade before the pandemic was Magic Happens, but it has not yet returned. The Main Street Electrical Parade returns every few years and is back fr a limited time in spring and summer 2022! Hop over to our Main Street Electrical Parade post 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 with the new ride, WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure.
Highlights of this park include the popular Radiator Springs Racers and the festivals that occur several months a year. 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 and sometimes the return of Soarin' over California during Food and Wine Festival in the spring!). You fans will also recognize 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. Disney California Adventure is a foodie's park with many themed foods and good table-service restaurants.
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 (under refurbishment until 2023, which is also when Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway opens!)
Disney World fans may notice that the Disneyland lands not found at Disney World include Critter Country, New Orleans Square (home to yummy dining) 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 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 (it kicks off with the long hallways and floating candelabra) . 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 (it's our favorite!). 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 Enchanted Wish (formerly 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 but undergoing a retheming at the moment so that's something to look forward to)
- Sailing Ship Columbia (similar to the Liberty Square Riverboat)
- Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes
- Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough
- Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin
- 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
- 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
- WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure
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 individual Lightning Lane reservations as there are not perks for hotels guest for those or Genie+). However, there are a few benefits of staying at a Disneyland resort hotel, such as convenience, a sprinkling of Disney magic, character dining choices and(normally Extra Magic Hour for hotel guests to enter a park one hour early (but this has not yet returned). 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 ben undergoing a refurbishment.
- Disneyland Hotel — This original but newly refurbished 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, Monorail-themed water slides and character dining at Goofy’s Kitchen.
- 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.
All parks are within walking distance of each other, the theme parks and Downtown Disney. You do not need to worry about park transportation here. The Monorail does run from Downtown Disney into Tomorrowland for guests with park tickets. But it has shorter hours and doesn't necessarily save any time compared to walking. It does give your flippers a rest.
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 Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lanes
One of the big differences between Disneyland and Disney World is the way that Genie+ and individual Lighting Lanes works. All Disneyland guests must enter a theme park each day before making any selections or purchases. If that makes you planners nervous, don’t worry about it. You should have plenty of 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 Lightning Lane windows disappear more quickly than others, 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 Lightning Lane options since there are more rides on Genie+ at Disneyland park. There are no MagicBands at Disneyland, but they are expected to come soon!
Here are the differences between Genie+ at Disneyland and Disney World:
- You have to have entered the park that day to add Genie+ to your ticket and make Genie+ or individual Lightning Lane Selections.
- There is less pressure to make selections since the Lightning Lane selections do not fill up as quickly at Disneyland compared to Disney World.
- At Disneyland, Genie+ costs $20, but it comes with unlimited PhotoPass downloads. That is a great deal!
- All individual Lightning Lanes (and Genie+ Lighting Lanes) are released on a first-available basis. You cannot select a time.
- Most rides at Disneyland Resort are not on Genie+. Our Genie+ FAQ has the lists of included rides and those with only standby lines.
A Disney World Fan's Guide to Dining at Disneyland
Disneyland dining reservations usually open about 60 days in advance at 6 a.m. More popular choices may be show dining packages and Blue Bayou, Carthay Circle or Lamplight Lounge. If you cannot get a reservation, try joining the Walk-Up List in the Disneyland app. You will need to be near the restaurant to join. 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 Disneyland Hotel, two options in Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and one 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 or have you join them on a walk! You can usually find the general locations and meeting times for regular characters via the Disneyland app, but that is slowly returning. 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 Genie+ reservations for character meet and greets at Disneyland.
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!
Related: Top Tips to Maximize Your Time at Disneyland
Related: The Disneyland Fan's Guide to Visiting Disney World