Disneyland 101 – Everything You Need to Know
Do you want to take a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth?
Of course! Why wouldn’t you? It’s literally THE happiest place you can go on vacation.
Still, you’ll need to know some stuff about your trip. So think of this as an introductory guide to your trip, a Disneyland 101 class.
How to Get to Disneyland
The greater Los Angeles area has a population of 18.8 million.
You will find multiple transportation options getting to and from the airport, each of which comes with pluses and minuses.
Most people fly into one of the two major airports, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) or John Wayne International Airport (SNA).
Your instinct will be to take a flight to LAX because you’re likely to find more travel itineraries available.
However, John Wayne is actually substantially closer. It’s 15 miles away versus 35 miles away.
Factoring in Los Angeles traffic, we could be talking about 90 plus minutes of travel time.
Disney doesn’t offer free transportation to or from either airport; however, you’ll find various shuttles available.
For example, a quick Google search indicates one service provides a ride to Disneyland hotels for roughly $55 for up to six passengers.
You can also rent a car, but please remember that finding rental vehicles has proven challenging during the pandemic.
So, your best bet here is a shuttle unless you’re driving yourself.
If you’re driving into Disney, please understand that there is a self-parking charge. At the time of publication, daily parking rates are as follows:
- $30 per car or motorcycle
- $35 for oversized vehicles such as motorhomes or tractors without trailers
- $40 for buses for tractors with trailers
Disneyland Park is the world’s oldest theme park, thrilling guests since 1955.
It currently operates nine different themed lands, most of which you’ll recognize by name alone.
We’re talking about Main Street, U.S.A., Adventureland, New Orleans Square, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland.
The list of iconic attractions here will blow your mind. We’re talking about:
- Big Thunder Mountain
- Haunted Mansion
- Jungle Cruise
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Space Mountain
- Splash Mountain
- Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
Suffice to say that you will never lack ride options at the Happiest Place on Earth. But, somehow, that’s only a small part of the story as well.
The themed lands throughout Disneyland border on hypnotic. You may sometimes forget that you’re not really in a frontier town or on an outer space adventure.
A walk down Main Street, U.S.A., will transport you to a simpler time, one you didn’t need to live through to appreciate its gentility.
Conversely, once you enter Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, you’ll believe you’re wandering through a galaxy far, far away.
I’m always in awe of the architecture at Fantasyland. It feels straight out of a Disney cartoon.
What park officials would describe as the weak part is something else I enjoy about Disneyland resort.
Disneyland Park covers roughly 100 acres of land, and that’s after a recent 14-acre expansion. For comparison, Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World comprises 580 acres.
You could fit five full Disneylands in it with room to spare.
So, you’ll walk much less at Disneyland Resort than you would at Walt Disney World parks.
Disney California Adventure
In 2001, Disney built an even smaller theme park using the sparse amount of land they had at the time.
Disney California Adventure (DCA) started poorly, which is my polite way of saying disastrously, before Disney officials listened to critics’ concerns.
Starting in 2012 with the Cars Land expansion, this park has dramatically upgraded its offerings.
You’ll find entire themed Neighborhoods based on Pixar and the Avengers.
The latest enhancement, Avengers Campus, allows Marvel fans to live out their superhero fantasies.
Disney’s latest E-ticket attraction, WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure, provides visceral action and empowers guests with the ability to shoot webs, just like their favorite Avenger.
Meanwhile, the Marvel stage shows employ some of the finest stunt actors in Los Angeles.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Avengers Campus so far is that Disney has updated it each time a new MCU movie or television show has debuted.
This strategy keeps Avengers Campus fresh and current, no matter when you visit.
Even before Avengers Campus, guests still flocked to Disney California Adventure for Cars Land. This $1.1 billion expansion completely revolutionized the park.
Cast members lovingly recreated elements from the Cars franchise, especially Route 66 in the original Cars.
The showcase attraction, Radiator Springs Racers, carries guests through this Imagineer-crafted mountain range.
Even by Disney standards, this one’s a showcase attraction.
That’s not just me saying that. There’s also this guy, who’s ridden it more than 12,000 times.
You can think of Disneyland as the classic theme park, while DCA is the new hotness.
Disneyland Resort Hotels
Disney owns and operates three hotels at Disneyland Resort. They are:
- Disneyland Hotel
- Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa
- Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel
The cheapest of these is Paradise Pier, which wasn’t originally a Disney hotel. Instead, Disney purchased it from the Tokyu Group in 1995.
You’ll find it affordable, but you shouldn’t take that to mean it’s a low-rent resort. Nothing with the Disney brand in California will disappoint you.
Some Disney critics lament the lack of strong theming at this hotel. I believe that this location offers the best bang for the buck, though.
Disneyland Hotel didn’t open at the same time as Disneyland Resort, but the difference was only three months.
As such, it’s historic and prestigious, but also well-maintained. At a minimum, you should visit here to admire the various hotel attraction miniatures on display.
The Grand Californian is the newest of the three and the only one Disney designed and owned from the beginning.
The craftsman style, architecture, and rustic theme make this place feel like a deluxe national lodge. You’ll love this place.
The Grand Californian does cost more per night than the others; however, you will get what you pay for and then some.
As always, I suggest that you contact a MickeyTravels agent to get a free quote for the various hotels to help you plan your budget.
Admission Ticket Information
Disneyland vacation packages have been a thing since the 1950s.
You will find something that fits your needs and budget. Something I always emphasize to friends is the importance of Park Hopper.
With this amenity, you can switch between parks at will throughout the day.
Disney crowds vary wildly, so you’ll appreciate having the opportunity to switch parks if one is significantly less crowded.
Please understand that you’ll also need a Park Pass to visit on a given day.
You can book a Park Pass for free as soon as you own admission.
For this reason, you should plan ahead, as some longtime Disney fans have struggled to book Park Passes during the pandemic.
You may wonder how many days of admission to buy. Of course, every vacationer is different, but I generally instruct first-time/infrequent guests to buy four-day tickets.
You’ll have more fun when you stay longer, but you can easily do everything at both parks in four days… and then some.
Dining at Disneyland
You undoubtedly have a certain perception of theme park food.
I’m happy to report that Disney blows the curve in this regard.
Some places like Carnation Cafe and Plaza Inn have existed since opening day.
When you order the chili at Carnation Cafe, you’re eating Walt Disney’s favorite meal.
Meanwhile, Lillian Disney helped with the look and style of the Plaza Inn.
Foodies will delight in their dining options at Blue Bayou, Carthay Circle, and the new Pym Test Kitchen.
If you like to play with your food, Pym Test Kitchen will be your happy place. All the items here explore scale, with some super small and others comically large.
You can also dine at the nearby Disneyland hotel restaurants, where you’ll find classic spots.
I’m referencing places like Tangaroa Terrace Tropical Bar & Grill, Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar, Goofy’s Kitchen, Napa Rose, and Storyteller’s Cafe.
In short, you’ll eat better at a Disney theme park than you would during most beach vacations.