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Planning a Trip to Disneyland (2023): The Best Tips + Free Checklist

Posted by Dianne Chen on
The best tips for planning a trip to Disneyland
**Thanks to Xo Livi for this photo!

Let's get one thing straight: Disneyland Resort is temporarily closed until further notice. Now, Disneyland may be currently closed, but the happiest place on earth sure isn't! It's right where you are, safe and sound with your family. But don't put those plans in the trash, just on hold. When Disneyland reopens, all systems go!

To refresh your Disneyland knowledge, there are two different theme parks that are a part of the Disneyland area, and they are located side by side one another in Southern California.

Disneyland Park is Walt Disney's original theme park, which includes everything from Main Street, U.S.A., Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Mickey’s Toontown and of course the famous castle. This park is a classic if you have never been before, and a must see for the little ones.

Disneyland California Adventure Park kind of acts like Disneyland's awesome older sister. This park is able to create feelings of nostalgia and childhood, while taking Disney to the next level. The fun boardwalk creates a more mature feeling (especially since you can purchase a drink), while still maintaining a friendly vibe with your favorite movie characters having a presence. Today, there are 8 different lands in the park dedicated to characters from your favorite recent movies.

Tips on How to Plan a Trip to Disneyland

What you need to know before you bring your kids to the stunning Sleeping Beauty castle in Disney

More than a magic spell, a good deal of strategic planning is what you need to fully enjoy a trip to Disneyland with your kids when they reopen. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt if you have a few must-knows up your sleeve. Follow our guide on how to plan a trip to Disneyland and you'll be the star of the family in no time!

Here are some important Disneyland COVID-19 updates you must know:

⚠️COVID-19 Updates on Disneyland

✔️ The Downtown Disney District, including a variety of shopping and dining experiences, has gradually reopened. Learn about their newly implemented health and safety measures right here.

✔️ Disneyland Park, Disney California Adventure Park, and Hotels of the Disneyland Resort remain closed and will reopen at a later date. They are still waiting for state and local government approvals to operate again.

✔️ There will be some changes or temporarily suspension of certain parks, hotels, restaurants, attractions, experiences, and other services when the resort reopens. Expect limited capacity and availability on these offerings.

✔️ The resort strongly recommends their visitors to follow all posted instructions regarding their enhanced health and safety measures while visiting the Disneyland Resort.

Best Time to Visit

Lines are very long but waiting time can be shortened. The good news is, the park is trying all kinds of line management schemes to shorten the average wait times for rides. The bad new is, it looks like they still haven't found the right one yet.

Crowds and queueing lines in Disneyland

So until the day you don’t have to wait an average of 65-minutes to experience all 2-minutes and 30-seconds of Space Mountain, keep your kids tantrum-free while in line with these Disneyland trip tips:

Tip #1 - Go when the crowds are low.

The best months to go are March through May to beat the spring time and summertime rush. Temperature's around 60 to 70°F, perfect for walking around. Lines might be still a bit long but more bearable than during peak seasons.

Late August to early September is also perfect as the crowds die down for kids to go back to school. Traffic has also calmed down during this time but temperature might be slightly uncomfortable at high 70s and low 80s. Just don't forget to bring sunscreen and sunglasses!

If you're planning to go on October (which is usually considered as an off-season), consider Arizona schools' fall breaks, Gay Days, Columbus Day weekend and Halloween. The crowds might start to swarm during this time.

November through February is also a great time to visit if you're ready to brave the crowds and long lines. Events and holidays surrounding these months may pose increased prices as well. Just make sure to book well in advance.

Check out this crowd calendar to help you plan your visit.

Some rides, such as Haunted Mansion, King Arthur Carrousel, and Gadget's Go Coaster may be closed in January. Visit this website to see Disneyland's refurbishments and closings.

Tip #2 - Get there early.

The parks will be quieter the first few hours after its opening. It's the perfect time to ride the most popular rides with the shortest lines. If you're staying in one of the many budget hotels outside the resort, up your chances of being first in line by being at the gates at least 30-minutes before it opens.

Tip #3 - Avoid the weekends.

As a general rule, weekends are specially busier than weekdays at Disneyland. People usually have their days off on Saturdays and Sundays. Be sure to crush dates that fall on a weekend out your planning list.

Things to Do Before You Go

Mom planning packing items for Disneyland vacation trip

Include your kids in the planning stage of your trip. Ask their opinion for which attractions, events, and rides they want to see! Involving them at this stage in the process will give them a sense of ownership about the plan. Because it was their idea after all, right? *wink, wink* 

Here are things you need to do before you leave:

Tip #4 - Measure your kids' heights.

It would be a good time to sort out all the little things, like questions about why they won’t be able to ride Space Mountain just yet, before you go. Explain how there is an age limit (and height restriction) but give them hope by telling them when they are all grown up they will be back!  Trust us, you'd rather have this conversation now than while you're already in the park, and a tantrum is approaching. Check this list for which rides they make the cut for. Some rides have specific height requirements.

Tip #5 - Make reservations.

And we're not kidding, months in advance for any restaurants (mostly for nice places) at the park and at the hotel. And, if your plans include a character dining experience, best to book that early too.

Tip #6 - Download the park's map.

Print or screenshot the map on your phone and mark all the important locations using different colors. Label all the rides you're planning to go on that day, where the bathrooms are, charging stations, first aid stations, baby care centers, police, etc. Create one map for each day, if you're planning multiple visits during your stay, to pace your day.

Getting to Disneyland

A car and two packing cubes

One of the best ways to truly enjoy a hassle-free trip to Disneyland is to know the fastest and most convenient way of getting there. Here are some tips and an overview of the available transportation you can use to get to Disneyland.

Tip #7 - Choose the closest airport to Disneyland.

Spoiler alert, the closest one (travel time-wise) to Disneyland is John Wayne Airport (SNA). You can get there in 17 minutes because it's only 14.3 miles away. If you just can't wait to get to the happiest place on earth, make sure this is where you land.

Although technically, Long Beach Airport is the closest to Disneyland (only 12.6 miles away), it will take you longer (about 23 minutes) to get there due to traffic.

But if you're going to disembark from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), it will take you about 30 to 40 minutes to get to Disneyland since it's approximately 33.3 miles away. You must also consider high traffic times of 7-9am and 2:30-7pm for your drive estimation.

Tip #8 - Know the fastest way and route to take.

Here are the different ways and transportations that can take you to Disneyland:

① Get an UberA simple and affordable yet very efficient way of going to Disneyland from the airport. Just download the app (before your trip), and book a ride going to the happiest place on earth. Check out their promos and you might just get a free / discounted ride!

② Take a Taxi - Taxi service is available in all airports, however they can be quite expensive. If you're traveling with more than 4 members of the fam, you're going to need a seven passenger van. It's a much better deal than getting an Uber!

If you're taking a taxi from John Wayne Airport/Orange County, it would cost you about $40. And from LAX, it would be about $100 with traffic and $80 without.

Pro Tip: If you're going to take a cab with children, be sure to bring your own car seats.

③ Rent a Car - If you have other destinations in mind aside from Disneyland, renting a car would definitely be a good option. There are a lot of car rental services in airports that you can avail.

kids with clear packing cubes and a car

However, if you're planning to visit Disneyland only and you're staying in one of the Disney resorts, you most definitely don't need to rent a car. Consider other modes of transportation if that's the case.

④ Use Shuttle Services - 
Most of the shuttle services, including Disneyland Resort Express and Super Shuttle have ceased their operations. Here are the available shuttles you can take:

✔️ Karmel ShuttleA cost-effective shared ride service to or from the airport and hotels around Disneyland. They don't have booster or car seats for kids so be sure to have yours ready, if you're traveling with children. Check out their website for more detailed information. 

✔️ LanskyIf you don't mind splurging, Lansky is the best transportation service for you. You'll be taken from the airport to your hotel in style with luxury vehicles. Expect it to be pricey but if you're traveling with a large pack to split it with, it can be a grand one-time experience. They also provide booster or car seats for your little one.

Available at airports closest to Disneyland such as John Wayne Airport, LAX, Long Beach Airport, and Bob Hope Airport.

⑤ Take the Train

✔️ The CoasterIf you're up for some commuting adventure, taking the Coaster is the way to go! This train system runs through San Diego County and you can take this from Santa Fe Depot up to Oceanside, CA and back, which costs $5.50. This train doesn't go all the way to Disneyland so you must disembark at the Oceanside Transit Center and get on the Metrolink or the Amtrak to get to Disneyland. 

✔️ The Metrolink - This train system runs from Oceanside, CA to Riverside County or Los Angeles County and back. It will take approximately an hour to get to Anaheim from Oceanside and costs $12.75. Most travelers take this train to reach Disneyland.

✔️ Amtrak - This is the best (but quite expensive) option if you want to go all the way from the Santa Fe Depot to Anaheim (costs $28) without having to switch trains in Oceanside. This train system takes a longer route from Oceanside to Anaheim. But don't worry, you'll enjoy larger reclining seats, footrests, outlets for your mobile device at your seat, and free WIFI! 

For a complete list and guide of transportations and how to get to the happiest place on earth from other airports, please visit Disneyland's website right here.

Park Tickets

Little boy wearing Elmo costume counting money to buy tickets

There are different types of park tickets for your needs. Whether you'd like to stay for a day in just one park or two parks, or if you've prepared a 3-day itinerary, Disneyland's got just the right ticket for you!

Tip #9 - Save money & learn how the ticket system works.

Knowing the difference between a 1-Park Per Day ticket, a multi-day ticket, and a Park Hopper ticket can certainly save you some extra cash for Minnie ears. Read below to find out the different ticket types during a Disney trip.

① Any child 0-3 years old can enter for free. Adult ticket prices apply to kids 10 years old and above. Children's tickets (age 3-9) are slightly cheaper.  You can purchase your tickets here (when Disneyland reopens, of course!) or using the official Disneyland app.

② 1-Park Per Day Tickets get you into one park - either Disneyland Park or California Adventure - on the day of your visit. This is your best option if you're only staying for a short time.

If you're going for Disney California Adventure, we recommend going for rides like Incredicoaster, Toy Story Midway Mania, Pixar Pal-A-Round, and Jumpin Jellyfish in the morning while Grizzly River Run, Pixar Pier, and Goofy's Sky School in the afternoon. Check out this website for a complete one-day itinerary at Disney California Adventure.

If you guys prefer Disneyland Park, Fantasyland is great for starting your early morning adventure. Start with Peter Pan's Flight, Alice in Wonderland, Dumbo, Casey Jr. Circus Train, Mr Toad's Wild Ride, Pinocchio's Daring Journey, and a whole lot more in just an hour after the park opens. Also, don't miss out on Tomorrowland's Space Mountain! For a One-Day Disneyland Ideal Day Plan, take a look at this site.

Multi-Day Tickets get you in one park on one day and another park the following day. You have 13 days to use this ticket from the first day you enter a park. This is a better option if you're planning on doing other things aside from going to Disneyland, or want to stay two days.

If you're planning to have a 3-day adventure, we recommend spending each day at the two parks and then go back to your favorite rides or the ones you haven't ridden yet in both parks. For example, Day 1 will be spent in California Adventure Park, Day 2 will be for Disneyland, and Day 3 will be for both! If you want to have an idea what it looks like, check out this 3-Day Disneyland Itinerary for families.

④ Park Hopper Tickets are a bit more pricey, but they allow you to hop from one park to the another on the same day. This is a better option if you have favorite rides located in both parks, or aren't sure which park you'll love the most.

We recommend taking turns in both parks and plotting out the rides you'd want to have. Make a checklist so you won't spend too much time thinking where to go next. For example, you start with Disneyland and accomplish at least 5 rides, and then hop to California Adventure and at least have a go at 10 rides, and then go back to Disneyland for the remaining rides. So you'll have a more concrete idea, visit this website.

If you're visiting for more than three days, consider getting three- to five-day tickets. These are also available in 1-Park Per Day and Park Hopper options.

If you're at Disneyland multiple times in a year, consider getting an Annual Passport. At the very least, all of them offer free parking.

You can also get discounts on your tickets if you're a resident of Southern California, if you're an AAA and CSAA member, or if you're a member of the military. You can even get a discount simply by being Canadian!

Power of the Passes

Using a fast pass service when planning for your Disneyland trip

Navigating Disneyland or California Adventure would be made extra special when you use the power of the passes. The key here is to have a strategy how to properly use these passes for the ultimate Disneyland experience.

Tip #10  - Consider buying passes when planning a trip to Disneyland.

A pass reserves you a place in line so you don’t have to be physically in line. You can use one type of pass or a combination of passes to beat the long wait times while making more use of your time.

① FASTPASS assigns a Return Time on your ticket. All you have to do is be at the entrance of the ride (at your designated time) to skip the line. Now you can go ahead and do a Disney Princess selfie spree with the kids.

We recommend getting a FastPass for rides that usually have longer waiting time. For example, if Haunted Mansion has a 10-minute wait while Indiana Jones Adventure has 60-minute wait, get a FastPass for Indy while you enjoy the Haunted Mansion. You can check out this website for a guide to using FastPass at Disneyland, if you're a newbie.

② Rider Switch or also known as the "stroller pass" are best for groups who have kids of mixed ages and/or heights. With this pass, one group goes on the ride first, while the next group waits until the "switch" to get on the ride without having to line up again.

Take a look at Disneyland's website to know which attractions offer Rider Switch. Take note of the height requirements so you can plan accordingly.

③ MaxPass combines the FASTPASS and PhotoPass and can be accessed using the Disneyland app.

The best rides to use this pass is for Radiator Springs Racers, Toy Story Midway Mania, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Space Mountain. Visit this website if you want to know the best MaxPass tips for Disneyland.

Where to Stay

clear cubes and a bed

**Thanks to Melissa from Polished Habitat for this photo!

Whether you've just arrived from the airport or exhausted from a fun-filled whole day of activities in Disneyland, what you want to do is just rest and relax. We've got just the right tips for you on where to stay.

Tip #11 - Stay on-site for a magical Disney experience.

If you have a couple bucks to spare, staying in one of the three-on site Disneyland Resort hotels will be a one-of-a-kind magical experience for you. You can choose among Disneyland Hotel, Disney's Grand Californian Hotel, or Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel. Whatever you choose, you'll get to enjoy their awesome Disney themes, which will be extra fun for the kids!

Note: All these hotels are temporarily closed due to COVID-19. Be sure to check their website for updates.

Tip #12 - Stay off-site if you're on a budget.

Staying on property is not the only way to fully enjoy your trip to Disneyland. There are a lot of budget-friendly places to stay near the park that will make the experience worth your while. And out of those many places, we rounded up the Top 5 Best Budget-Friendly Places to Stay Near Disneyland for Families.


Packing & Essentials to Bring

Packing essentials for Disney trip with clear cubes

Another important thing that will make your Disneyland trip a memorable and not stressful one, is having all the essentials packed and ready for your adventure. Trust us, it's not that difficult. Allow us to show you how to pack your travel essentials like a pro.

Tip #13 - Use a packing list.

Such a trip as magical as this deserves to be well-planned, let alone well-packed. You might be too excited to get everything in the suitcase so having a packing list will be best to make sure you've got all the essentials you need. Good thing we have a free printable Disneyland packing list at the end of this post that you can use. You're welcome!

Tip #14 - Prepare a Disney Daily Essentials kit.

This kit will have all the items that you'll reach for during your day at the park, such as: chargers, tissues, lip balm, snacks, reading glasses, poncho, hat, sunglasses, sweater, etc. 

Tip #15 - Organize with packing cubes.

Disneyland is a mission - and the only way to survive it is with careful planning and strategic packing. One organizing trick used by seasoned jetsetters is packing cubes. It will help you prevent over packing, save space, and organize items into different color cubes. Its see through design will also get you through TSA faster.

Organizing Disneyland Trip essentials on clear cubes

Here’s how you can use each cube in our Starter Set:

✔️ Extra Small Cube - Perfect to organize your toiletries (it's TSA approved!), makeup, first aid kit, cords and chargers, and other travel size items! 

✔️ Small Cube Roll your shirts, tank tops, leggings, tights, and other flimsy piece of clothing into this spacious cube.

✔️ Medium Cube - You can use this to organize your jeans, shorts, jackets, and it can also double as your Disney Daily Essentials kit.

✔️ Large CubePack a change of clothes, cardigan / light sweater, raincoat or poncho, some snacks and a hat.

Apps to Download

Disneyland vacation planning must-download apps on smartphone

Having trouble locating a ride? How about keeping track of your FASTPASS tickets? Wouldn't you love to know how long a line is before you get there? You’ll want to download some helpful Disney trip planner (and time saving) apps onto your phone pronto. Make use of apps when visiting Disneyland.

Tip #16 - Use a family locator app for kids' safety.

The GPS feature of Life360 lets you know exactly where everyone is in real time. You can upgrade to the premium version if you want to use it after your Disneyland visit. Make sure to install this on your kids' phones (if they're old enough to have one). Also a good tracker if ever they lose their phone.

Tip #17 - Get the official Disneyland resort app for park navigation.

The Disneyland Resort App can do it all - check wait times, buy park tickets, locate rides via GPS-enabled maps, monitor FASTPASS return times, skip ticket lines, make and manage reservations, order food ahead of time, locate favorite characters, and so much more!

Tip #18 - Download RideMax to create your own Disneyland itinerary.

RideMax is only $14.95 for 90-day subscription and it's available for Android & iOS. When you subscribe it can help you create a personalized time-efficient itinerary based on the attractions you want to visit. This will save you loads of time!

Tip #19 - Install SNOW to take fun selfies!

You can download SNOW for free on Android & iOS users. Up your selfie game with the kids by adding stickers to your photos. You can also use different face filters on your videos.

Tip #20 - Install FaceDance to keep the kids entertained in line

This app is free for Android users. It's like Dance Dance Revolution for your face. That alone should explain how this game will keep your kids entertained. It's a fun way to take their attention off the long line and just enjoy every moment. Check it out here.

Pro Tip: Just keep in mind, that the park-wide guest wifi service is still in the testing phase, so these apps' are still dependent on your data service in the area.

Where to Get Freebies

Extra small cube in Disneyland

Who doesn't love freebies!? And yes, there are still free things in this world. You just need the right tips to be able to find it. And we've listed some helpful tips down below just for you!

Tip #21  - Know where and how to get freebies!

While it may be the happiest place on earth, it certainly isn't the cheapest. So, if you're on a tight budget, make sure to load up on all the freebies you can get to enjoy your Disneyland trip. Make sure to do your research and try them out during your visit. We've got a couple of them listed here!

Tip #22 - Request a FREE planning DVD.

This planning DVD contains an overview of Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and Disney Cruise Line, which you can use to plan your upcoming trip. These videos help you prepare and get oriented before your appointed visit. Make sure to request the videos as soon as possible because it usually takes quite a while on Disney's end to process it.

Tip #23 - Pick up Special buttons for special occasions.

Disney's Special Buttons (e.g. 1st visit to Disneyland button, Birthday button) entitles you to more free stuff. Like a makeover at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, a part in the Princess and the Frog show, autographed card from Disney characters, and so much more. You can find these buttons at your Disneyland Resort hotel, at the City Hall or Guest Relations as you enter the park.

Tip #24 - Visit Pacific Wharf for chocolates, bread, and more!

If you find yourself at the Pacific Wharf, don't miss out on free chocolate from Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop and free bread from the Boudin Bread Factory. Afterwards, if you're feeling thirsty, there are also places where you can get free water. But if soda is more your thing, Club Cool in Epcot’s Future World serves free fountain drinks.

Tip #25 - Find a cast member.

Finding a cast member almost always guarantees that you can get something for free. For example, you can get a balloon (as well as a replacement balloon, if the first one popped), stickers, trading cards, a map of the Jungle Cruise, ice cream, even cotton candy.


Other Tips & Hacks!

Here are other equally important tips and hacks that you can use for your Disneyland adventure!

Tip #26 - Pack your own snacks.

Snacks in a medium clear cube

Whether you're on the road to Disneyland or walking around the park, the last thing you want is a hangry pack of kids (and adults).

If you're coming from out of town, you can fill a Medium Packing Cube with all your snacks for the days ahead. If you plan to be at the Disney parks for more than a day, you can take a Small Packing Cube with the snacks you need just for that day and leave the rest in the hotel room!

When packing snacks, choose snacks that are in spill-proof containers, don't need extra utensils to eat, and that have some kind of substance (protein). Avoid the sugary snacks that will make the kids even more hungry the next hour. Some of our healthy favorites include granola bars, trail mix, nuts, dried fruits, crackers and sandwiches. 

Blue EzPacking cubes which can be used for Disneyland vacation planning

If you're on a budget, you can use a Large Packing Cube to pack a few breakfast items (granola, fruit, yogurt, etc) which will come in handy, if your hotel doesn't offer a complimentary breakfast.

Tip #27 - Prepare your kids for “getting lost”

Trip to Disneyland

We can share all Disneyland planning tips we have so you can enjoy your trip, but we all know that the only hack a parent really needs is how to keep a peace of mind. Pre-trip, prepare your children for the possibility that they might get separated from you in the park. Here are some tips on what to do in emergency situations. 

Print a map, marking a specific location where they should go to in case they get separated from you.

② Use a temporary tattoo to write your phone number on your child, or a lanyard or a button with all your important contact info.

Dress them in brightly colored or distinct clothing which you can spot a mile away in a crowd.

In case they need medical help:

Green extra small cube mini first aid kit
Although there are locations inside the park offering first aid, it doesn't hurt (no pun intended) to put together your own first aid kit using an Extra Small Cube.
 You can also include asthma medication, an inhaler, allergy medication, motion sickness patches, Band-Aids, etc.

In case they require special assistance:

Disneyland's website has a pretty comprehensive guide on the services they offer for guests that require special assistance, including suggested attractions that are safe to ride as per your child's condition.

Tip #28 - Expect that things will go wrong.

Disneyland castle with fireworks on background

If you're traveling with kids, this goes without saying. But it doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact you can use, what may seem like an unfortunate situation, as an opportunity to teach your kids valuable life lessons.

You can show them how to be creative problem solvers. Or how to exercise patience when faced with frustrating situations. Or simply how to appreciate the magic of being together at the happiest place on Earth.

Your Disneyland trip will definitely be made extra special when you follow these tips and tricks! Make sure to check their website or follow their Facebook page to get the latest updates on their reopening date.

Safe travels soon!

P.S. Want more travel tips? Check out our post on The Best Travel Tips: 100 Ways to Travel Smart (er)!

Disneyland planning tips

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