Everything you need to know about visiting Disneyland
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June 15, 2021: That’s the day the State of California is reopening its theme parks to out-of-state guests. So, if Disneyland has been on your family’s summertime to-do list, it just became a possibility.
Disneyland is one of those rare places that offers fun and entertainment for everyone, from bright-eyed kids to well-traveled adults. A trip there is on every kid’s wishlist and planning a trip to The Happiest Place on Earth is a rite of passage for every parent.
Now that California is fully reopened for U.S. residents, out-of-state travelers will likely start to flock to Anaheim to experience the happiest place on Earth.
From figuring out the type of tickets to buy, where to stay, how to get around and avoid long lines, a lot goes into creating a seamless experience on your trip to Disneyland. Lucky for you, we’ve done all the research to help you make those decisions.
Here’s everything you need to know about booking a trip to Disneyland.
How to start planning a Disneyland vacation
While a Disneyland vacation won’t require as much planning as Disney World, a little organization can create a more enjoyable experience. You need to determine when you’re actually able to travel.
The park, which is operating at 35%, may increase capacity in time for peak travel season. In other words: You might want to avoid planning a Disneyland vacation until late summer. Crowds are typically smaller (though this is far from a normal year), tickets might be cheaper and so will airfare and hotels.
If the planning process is still overwhelming, you can actually hire professionals to do it for you, free of charge. TPG’s Summer Hull and Richard Kerr have both utilized Mouse Counselors to plan their Disney vacations and swear by it.
The planning service is free since the planners make their money via commissions paid out by Disneyland.
All you have to do is submit a request for a quote and they’ll plan your entire vacation, down to a park itinerary to minimize lines. They’ll even look for discounts, so you get the best deal possible.
FOR NO-COST ASSISTANCE WITH PLANNING AND BOOKING YOUR NEXT DISNEY VACATION, CHECK OUT TPG’S DISNEY BOOKING PARTNER, MOUSE COUNSELORS.
Choosing the best hotel for your Disneyland vacation
There are lots of hotel options for your Disneyland vacation, depending on your budget and needs. You can pay a premium to stay on-site (which includes some added perks) or you can stay at a budget limited-service hotel within walking distance of the park that lets you book with points and provides access to a kitchen, laundry and more space to stretch out with the family.
Here’s an overview of the best hotel options near Disneyland:
Disneyland operates three on-site hotels. The main benefit to staying at a Disneyland resort is proximity to the park, Extra Magic Hour (admission to the park an hour before it opens to the public), preferred dining and shopping reservation access, character wake-up calls and more. Extra Magic Hour has been temporarily suspended, so it’s worth keeping in mind when deciding whether to pay the premium for a Disneyland hotel.
While rates at Disneyland properties tend to be higher than off-site hotels, TPG contributor Leslie Harvey recommends booking your stay through Get Away Today, which offers discounts that work out better than booking directly through Disney.
Operating since 1955, the Disneyland Hotel is the first and oldest property within the Disneyland theme park. The hotel was last renovated in 2009 and is next to the Downtown Disney shopping district.
The Disneyland Hotel is currently closed due to the pandemic and no reopening date has been announced. Room rates typically go for around $445 per night.
If you want a slightly more upscale experience in a better location, look no further than Disney’s Grand California Hotel & Spa. The hotel is behind California Adventure Park and offers guests an exclusive entrance to the park.
While rates at Disney’s Grand California Hotel & Spa start at $586, they go as high as $780 per night for a standard room as we get closer to California’s June 15 reopening date.
Across from the Grand California Hotel, Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel is the cheapest Disneyland hotel option, if you can call it that. Rooms start at $339 per night, though during the peak summer months, you’ll see rates closer to $450. The hotel is currently set to reopen on June 15, 2021, with reduced capacity.
Disneyland Good Neighbor hotels you can book with points
There are currently 54 designated Good Neighbor hotels near Disneyland. These are hotels recommended by Disneyland for offering convenient locations and overall value. Many of these hotels can be booked with points and at some, you’ll even find special deals and packages.
For example, when I recently stayed at the Raddison Blu Anaheim, the hotel offered a “Magical Reopening” package that included a $25 Disney gift card, daily free parking and $100 daily dining credit for just a $30 nightly upcharge. It’s definitely worth keeping an eye out for deals like this when you’re conducting your hotel search.
Hyatt has three hotels near Disneyland and all of them are designated Good Neighbor properties. The Hyatt House at Anaheim Resort Convention Center is the closest to the park entrance, just a block away. I stayed here three years ago and found the rooms spacious enough to accommodate three kids and two adults. Our room had a small living area separate from the bedroom and a pullout couch for an extra person.
Everyone gets free breakfast regardless of Hyatt elite status, which is great for families. Overall, this is a solid choice for a Disneyland hotel. You can redeem 15,000 Hyatt points or an annual free night award from your World of Hyatt Credit Card.
The nearby Hyatt Place is a block further and a good option if you want a slightly cheaper limited service hotel. Room rates tend to be $20 to $50 cheaper than the Hyatt House and a free night will set you back just 12,000 points per night.
If you want a more upscale experience and don’t mind not being within walking distance of the park, the Hyatt Regency Orange County is the way to go. The hotel is in the Anaheim Resort area, about two miles from the hotel. Standard rooms at this Category 3 hotel require 12,000 Hyatt points per night. You can also opt for a Kids Suite for 20,000 points per night, which offers a king bed, bunk beds for the kids and a microwave and fridge for those late-night snacks.
The Hyatt Regency Orange County operates a shuttle to Disneyland every half-hour. The cost is $6 per adult and $3 per child (aged 4–10). You can often find package deals that include shuttle service for four and a Disney-centric welcome amenity for an extra $20 per night.
IHG has two Good Neighbor hotels near Disneyland: the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Anaheim Resort Area and Holiday Inn & Suites Anaheim. The Holiday Inn Express has a better location near the park entrance, though award rates can be steep at 45,000 points per night.
Marriott has 11 Good Neighbor hotels near Disneyland, ranging from Category 4–7. The closest properties to the park entrance are the Fairfield Inn by Marriott Anaheim Resort and the Courtyard by Marriott Anaheim Theme Park Entrance. The Fairfield Inn is a Category 5 hotel, meaning you need 30,000 to 40,000 points for an award night. The Courtyard is a Category 7 hotel requiring 50,000 to 70,000 points per night.
Depending on the date of your stay, you might be able to redeem your up to 35,000-point certificate from the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card or the up to 50,000-point award from the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card. This could be a great redemption considering both hotels go for more than $250 per night in the summer months.
The hotels offer similar amenities and are next to each other, making the Fairfield Inn the better value. Just keep in mind that the hotel has temporarily suspended its complimentary breakfast service due to the ongoing pandemic.
Hilton has eight Good Neighbor Hotels in the Disneyland area, but only four of them are really worth it for proximity. Based on hotel rates in June, here’s what you can expect to redeem at each property
- SunCoast Hotel (37,000 points per night)
- The Hilton Anaheim (50,000 points per night)
- Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton Anaheim Resort Convention Center (34,000 points)
- Homewood Suites by Hilton Anaheim Resort Convention Center (43,000 points)
The SunCoast Hotel is the best option here, just a mile from Disneyland park entrance, which you can get to by taking the ART bus that stops outside the property. The SunCoast is a Tapestry Collection property offering beautiful, light-filled rooms with bright pops of color to give you that Disney vibe.
Most of Hilton’s Good Neighbor Hotels are not the closest to the park. For the best location, you’ll want to consider the Home2 Suites by Hilton Anaheim Resort, which is right across from the park entrance and offers standard rooms for 50,000 points per night.
A standard room at this hotel sleeps up to six, offering two queen beds, a sofa bed and a full kitchen. Even though the award rate is steep at 50,000 in June, it could be worth it since most families will need just one room. That being said, TPG values Hilton points at 0.8 cents each, so it’s generally not a good idea to redeem points unless standard rates are at least $400 per night.
Types of Disneyland tickets
There are four types of Disneyland tickets available and which one you should get depends on factors like which park(s) you want to visit and for how long, how often you plan on visiting Disneyland and your budget.
Disneyland tickets fall into five tiers, with Tier 5 being unrestricted and the remaining tiers being subject to increasing blackout dates. Before you purchase a ticket, be sure to check the theme park calendar for availability.
Let’s take a look at each option.
Disneyland’s single-day tickets provide admission to one park only (either Disneyland or Disney California Adventure). Disney classifies children as age 3–9 and adults as 10 and older. Children aged 2 and younger do not need a ticket.
- Tier 1: $104 adult, $98 child
- Tier 2: $114 adult, $108 child
- Tier 3: $124 adult, $117 child
- Tier 4: $139 adult, $132 child
- Tier 5: $154 adult, $146 child
To find out which ticket tier you need to purchase, you can search the ticket calendar. As you can see, June is already pretty much entirely booked, and two of the three days left require a Tier 5 ticket. Luckily, July has more availability overall with prices currently starting at Tier 3 for some weekdays.
The good news is that the ticket purchase and reservation process are now seamless. (Previously, you could buy a ticket, but then you had to make your park reservation separately. That meant park availability could change after you purchased your ticket and before you’ve reserved a date. That’s no longer the case and you can buy a ticket and make a park reservation at the same time.)
Multiday tickets are a good option if you want to visit Disneyland parks for several days, with prices being discounted the more days you add on. For example, if you go for the 5-day ticket, your per-day admission price drops to just $72 per adult or $68 per child.
- 2-Day ticket with admission to 1 Park Per Day: $235 adult, $220 child
- 3-Day ticket with admission to 1 Park Per Day: $310 adult, $290 child
- 4-Day ticket with admission to 1 Park Per Day: $340 adult, $320 child
- 5-Day ticket with admission to 1 Park Per Day: $360 adult, $340 child
Multiday tickets get you into both. Disneyland and California Adventure – but not on the same day. You’ll need to stick to a single park per day.
Park Hopper tickets allow you to visit both Disneyland parks on the same day. These tickets are ideal if you want ultimate flexibility in the attractions you visit in a day. The 1-Day Park Hopper tickets are especially ideal if you want to experience both parks on a short timeline.
California Adventure is fairly small compared to Disneyland, so some folks like to save that for the end of the day while spending most of their time at Disneyland. Other folks like to California Adventure out of the way early to really immerse themselves at Disneyland for the rest of their stay.
1-Day Park Hopper
- 1-Day Tier 1 Park Hopper: $159 adult, $153 child
- 2-Day Tier 2 Park Hopper: $169 adult, $163 child
- 3-Day Tier 3 Park Hopper: $179 adult, $172 child
- 4-Day Tier 4 Park Hopper: $194 adult, $187 child
- 5-Day Tier 5 Park Hopper: $209 adult, $201 child
Multiple-day Park Hopper
- 2-Day Park Hopper: $290 adult, $275 child
- 3-Day Park Hopper: $365 adult, $345 child
- 4-Day Park Hopper: $395 adult, $375 child
- 5-Day Park Hopper: $415 adult, $395 child
If you’re buying a Park Hopper Ticket, those are sold out for the rest of June. Once again, you’ll want to check the blackout calendar and the reservation system before buying your tickets to ensure availability.
Disneyland suspended Annual Passes during the pandemic and has been offering refunds to existing pass holders. Disneyland Annual Passes ranged from $400 to $1500.
Disneyland ticket discounts
While Disneyland tickets can be pricey, there are several ways you can save money. Some discounts are exclusive to members of specific groups, while others are open to the public.
Here’s a look at Disneyland ticket discounts:
California residents – Southern and Northern Baja residents living within qualifying zip codes can receive discounts of up to 40% on Disneyland tickets. Proof of residence and a valid government ID are required for purchase.
Military discounts – Military discounts on Disneyland tickets are not currently available, but they can save you up to 50%. Before the pandemic, qualifying military personnel were able to purchase three-day Disneyland Park Hopper Tickets for $184, which normally costs $365. Meanwhile, 4-day Park Hopper tickets were just $204 (normally $395).
There is a limit of six discounted tickets and blackout dates apply. These tickets are available to active or retired military members, including the National Guard, Reservists and the U.S. Coast Guard.
AAA – AAA members can currently save up to $35 on multi-day Disneyland tickets, including Park Hopper tickets. Membership fees vary, ranging from $56 to $119.
CityPASS – CityPASS offers Disneyland ticket discounts ranging from $5 to $20, depending on the type of ticket you buy.
Undercover Tourist – Undercover Tourist is a tried and true way to save on Disneyland tickets. The site is currently offering discounts ranging from $5 to $23 per ticket.
Best time to visit Disneyland
The best time to visit Disneyland depends on a variety of factors.
For the best experience, you’ll want to avoid school holidays, weekends and major ride openings. Late-summer and fall tend to have lower crowds and pleasant weather (though that’s a given year-round).
A great way to plan out the best time to visit Disneyland is by checking your desired travel against the IsItPacked crowd calendar. The calendar takes all of the previously mentioned factors into account to generate a crowd forecast.
How to reduce your time in line at Disneyland
Disneyland may be The Happiest Place on Earth, but it’s not immune to long, stressful lines. That’s especially the case on weekends, holidays and when it comes to popular attractions. Lines aren’t really an issue at the moment, with Disneyland operating at 35% capacity. In fact, some of the line-cutting tools below have been temporarily suspended due to low capacity.
But now that California is once again open for out-of-state guests, that may well change and you’ll want to utilize them to minimize the time you spend in line:
Start at the back of the park and move your way up front
If you arrive just before the park opens at 9 a.m., a good strategy to avoid crowds is to start at the back of the park and move your way forward. Many visitors (especially those with kids) will get caught up in the crowd-control mechanism near the entrance – character meetings, retail shops – before making their way to the rides that are closest in their path.
You can beat the crowds by moving in the opposite direction. The same goes with mealtimes: Plan to eat before or after the noon rush and you won’t encounter crazy long lines. You might also find shorter wait times at your favorite rides while most guests are preoccupied with lunch.
FastPasses are free to all guests and allow you to skip the line at popular attractions. FastPasses are available at designated kiosks throughout the park, though they’ve been suspended during the pandemic. This service will likely return once capacity controls are lifted.
Another relic of pre-pandemic Disney, MaxPasses are a great line-skipping tool once Disneyland starts operating at full capacity again. A MaxPass allows you to book FastPasses for both Disneyland and California Adventure via the mobile app. A MaxPass costs an extra $20 per person per day and is valid at both parks. I personally used these during President’s Day 2018 and it made all the difference in helping us avoid lines.
Extra Magic Hour
Before the pandemic, guests staying at Disneyland resorts could enter the park an hour before opening. Dubbed Extra Magic Hour, Disneyland suspended this service when it reopened in April. As COVID-19 restrictions lift, this benefit will likely make a comeback. When it does, it’s definitely worth taking into consideration when making your hotel reservations since an extra hour before park opening means virtually no lines.
Park guests who are not staying at a Disneyland resort can still enjoy an extra hour of line-free fun with Magic Mornings. As with Extra Magic Hour, Magic Mornings have been temporarily suspended. At the moment, it’s not a necessity anyway since reduced capacity means lines are much shorter. When Disneyland returns to full capacity, guests who book theme park tickets for three days or longer automatically receive one Magic Morning valid on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday visits.
Use the single-rider line
Pre-pandemic, single-rider lines were used to fill every seat on a ride and keep lines moving. Disneyland suspended this service when it reopened in April since seats are now filled below capacity to maintain social distancing.
Once capacity restrictions are lifted, Disney may bring back single-rider lines, in which case you can use them to cut down on lines at popular rides. The great thing about them is that they reduce your time spent waiting to board rides, while the downside is that you have to break up your group to do so.
Use the Disney app
The Disney mobile app is key to a seamless Disneyland experience. Aside from storing your park tickets, the app is helpful in making restaurant reservations, ordering meals to-go and giving you wait times for rides.
The Disney app can be an invaluable tool in avoiding lines for rides and restaurants, allowing you to enjoy your limited time at the park.
Use the Ridemax app
If you want to avoid lines like a pro, consider downloading and subscribing to Ridemax. The app creates a custom itinerary for you based on the rides you choose and the amount of time you plan on spending at the park, with the objective of minimizing wait times. A 90-day subscription costs $14.95, while an annual one costs $24.95.
There’s also a 30-day money-back guarantee, so if it ends up not being quite as helpful as you’d hoped, you can get a full refund.
Related: The best restaurants at Disneyland
How to save money on your Disneyland trip
There are many ways to save money on your Disneyland trip, whether it’s getting discounted park tickets or deals on your hotel bookings.
We’d be remiss to start the money-saving portion of this guide without mentioning points. Whether it’s your airfare, hotel or park tickets, you can use points to offset a large chunk of your Disneyland vacation. Disneyland has lots of point hotels starting at just 12,000 points per night for the Hyatt Place Anaheim.
With the 100,000-point sign-up bonus from the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening), you could cover up to eight nights at this hotel and have 4,000 points left to cover airfare, rental cars or even park tickets.
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is another great option for earning and redeeming miles towards a Disneyland trip. The card currently offers 60,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
All you have to do is charge your Disneyland hotel or vacation package to the card and then redeem miles toward the expense. And if you don’t quite have enough miles now, you have up to 90 days after purchase to save up and redeem miles toward a travel expense.
Check for package deals
You can save a lot on your Disneyland vacation by booking a package deal through a site like Get Away Today. For example, a three-night stay in June at Disneyland’s Paradise Pier Hotel with 3-day (one-park per day) tickets for a family of four will cost $3,094.
Through Get Away Today, the same package deal costs $2,72.
Costco is currently offering Disneyland travel packages that include savings on Disneyland hotels, 10% dining and retail discount and a Disney gift card:
- Stay 2-4 nights and receive a $185 Disney Gift Card
- Stay 5 nights and receive a $205 Disney Gift Card
- Stay 6 nights and receive a $225 Disney Gift Card
- Stay 7 or more nights and receive a $245 Disney Gift Card
Buy Disney gift cards on sale
Buying Disney gift cards can save you about 5-10% on the cost of food and merchandise at Disneyland hotels. Sam’s Club, Staples, Target and Safeway occasionally discount the price of Disney gift cards by about 5%. Add additional cash back bonuses and savings from a card that earns bonus points at grocery and office supply stores and the savings stack up.
I’ve personally had success using my Chase Ink Plus Business card (card no longer available) to buy Disney gift cards at Staples, stacking the savings with 5% cash back through Dosh (Note: I will earn a $10 referral if you sign up with my link and make your first qualifying purchase).
The information for the Chase Ink Plus Business Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Bring your own swag
If you’re taking your kids to Disneyland, buy all your swag ahead of time. Everything is incredibly overpriced at the park and there’s no reason to spend $30 on mouse ears when you can find equally cute ones on Etsy or Amazon for $5.99. The same goes for all trinkets and toys that end up in a forgotten pile somewhere.
You might feel sentimental about bringing back a $40 snowglobe, but trust me – the memories you make are more important (and lasting) than the overpriced merchandise you buy at the park.
How to get around Disneyland
Unlike the sprawling Disney World park, Disneyland is easy to get around on foot. But if you get tired after a day of park hopping, you can take various modes of transportation around the park. The Disneyland Railroad offers an 18-minute ride with stops at Main Street, New Orleans Square, Tomorrowland and Mickey’s Toontown.
The high-flying Monorail is great if you want to take in the park via a faster mode of transportation. The Monorail makes the 2.5-mile journey through the park in just 13 minutes, stopping in Tomorrowland and Downtown Disney. Just keep in mind that the Monorail is temporarily closed due to the pandemic.
For a slow, fun ride you can hop aboard one of Disney’s vintage cars near City Hall and Central Plaza. They include the Jitney, a horse-drawn streetcar, the classic fire engine and omnibus.
Over at California Adventure, the Red Car Trolley makes four convenient stops throughout the already-walkable park. This mode of transportation is also temporarily closed due to the pandemic, but hopefully that changes when restrictions are lifted this summer.
The best credit cards to use at Disneyland
You may be surprised to find that the Disney Visa Card isn’t among the best cards to use at Disneyland, though it may be a good option if you’re looking to finance a Disney vacation. The best cards for booking Disneyland packages will be ones that earn bonus points on travel, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve. You’ll earn 3x points and use your $300 annual travel credit to offset part of the expense.
When it comes to spending at Disneyland theme parks, you’ll want to use a card that earns bonus points on dining. The Citi Prestige® Card is a great option, as it earns 5 points per dollar spent in this category. The American Express® Gold Card is also a great choice, earning 4x points on dining at restaurants.
The information for the Citi Prestige and Disney Visa card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Is it worth going to Disneyland during the pandemic?
With all of the planning and effort involved, is it worth visiting Disneyland during the pandemic? Two TPG reporters visited Disneyland on reopening day and the conses was yes, it’s worth it. Yes, ride and dining options are still partially down, but you also get lower capacity and more time to enjoy your favorite attractions without massive lines. That is unheard of, especially during the summer months.
Now that the state is reopened, we’re likely to see capacity limits increase and it may make more sense to wait until later in the summer and into the fall to book your trip.
While it’s not as large as its Florida counterpart, Disneyland does require some planning. With California now reopened, it’s is an ideal time to explore your options and plan your Disneyland adventure. Hopefully, this guide makes that process a little easier.
Featured image by Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort
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