How to do Disneyland if you’re a Disney World veteran

(Article last updated: April 13, 2016)

I go to Disneyland at least a couple of times a year because I love it so much, and I recommend that EVERYbody consider going. It's hard not to compare it to Disney World when there are so many similar things in each park.

Today I have advice for how to do Disneyland when you're a Disney World veteran so you can prioritize your time there.

Booking your hotel

When booking your hotel, there are 3 on-site resorts, but there are also many off-site Good Neighbor Hotels that sell Disneyland tickets and are within walking distance of Disneyland.

We usually stay at off-site resorts because they are so affordable (we once paid $84/night and got 2 rooms for our family) and have easy access to the parks (most are within walking distance). Since many resorts are a 30 minute walk away, we use Uber several times a day to get us to and from the parks. The rate was about $4-5 each way and there were always cars available within 5 minutes.

Making your daily plan

Disney World veterans can probably plan to spend 1 day in each park. If you want to visit other things in southern California, our family finds it helpful to do 1 park day, then 1 visit to a nearby city, another park day, and then a visit to another nearby area.

This really helped us balance sleeping schedules (because we stay up late on park nights but can sleep in the next day) and driving time (traffic is crazy and it's nice to only have to deal with it every other day instead of multiple days in a row).

Planning dining reservations

Dining reservations for Disneyland restaurants can be booked up to 60 days ahead of time, although park hours are often not available at that time so you kind of have to plan blindly before knowing the hours.

Touring the parks

As you look at a list of Disneyland attractions, you'll notice a lot of similarities with Disney World. Some of those are worth skipping but many are actually much better at Disneyland so you shouldn't miss those.

You will also notice that there aren't as many FastPass options at Disneyland, but there are more single rider options than Disney World.

Here's how I'd tour Disneyland (Disneyland park map PDF)

  • Arrive about 30 minutes before the scheduled park opening
  • Matterhorn
  • Storybook Land Canal Boats
  • Optional: It's a Small World (interior is very similar to Disney World but the exterior is different. This ride also has holiday decor during the holidays so be sure to catch that if you're visiting then.)
  • Optional: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (similar to Disney World but I like the Disneyland version a bit better)
  • Grab a FastPass for Indiana Jones
  • Haunted Mansion (be on the look out for The Hatbox Ghost)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean (repeat if desired - such a good ride)
  • Optional: Jungle Cruise (similar to Disney World but not exact)
  • Ride Indiana Jones with FastPass
  • Early lunch in New Orleans Square or take monorail to Downtown Disney and eat at Earl of Sandwich (takes about an hour roundtrip to ride, eat, and return)
  • Get a FastPass for Space Mountain (which is now called HyperSpace Mountain and has a Star Wars theme!)
  • Astro Blasters (known as Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin at Disney World but I like the Disneyland version better)
  • Ride Space with FastPass
  • Grab another set of FastPasses before leaving for an afternoon break (available at Indiana Jones, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Royal Theater, Space Mountain, Star Tours, Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin, and sometimes available at Haunted Mansion). Just be sure to check the return times so the time on your FP is in the evening when you return.
  • Return in early evening, have dinner
  • Use FastPass from earlier and/or ride single rider at Indiana Jones, Splash Mountain, or Matterhorn
  • See Paint the Night parade and fireworks (check entertainment schedule for availability and times)

Touring California Adventure (California Adventure park map PDF)

  • Show up at least 30 minutes beforehand (they often allow people in early)
  • Grab FastPasses for Radiator Springs Racers (located near It's Tough to be a Bug)
  • Grab FastPasses for World of Color (located near Grizzly River Run). These FastPasses are disconnected so you can get them even if you have other FPs.
  • California Screamin'
  • Mickey's Fun Wheel (the swinging cars are a wee bit nauseating!)
  • Any other Paradise Pier attractions that look fun but I'd skip Toy Story Mania because it's the same as the Disney World version and always has a long line at California Adventure
  • Use FastPasses to ride Radiator Springs Racers
  • Explore Cars Land
  • Lunch or snack
  • See Frozen Sing-Along (same show as Disney World but in a beautiful theater where projections on the wall make it a better show, though I think the historians are funnier at Disney World)
  • Grab FastPasses for Tower of Terror
  • Use FastPasses to ride Tower of Terror
  • Leave for afternoon break (consider grabbing a set of FastPasses on the way out. FPs are available at Tower of Terror, Radiator Springs Racers, California Screamin' Goofy's Sky School, Grizzly River Run, and Soarin')
  • Dinner
  • Use FastPasses from earlier and/or use the single rider lines at attractions (single rider lines available at Radiator Springs Racers, California Screamin', Goofy's Sky School, Grizzly River Run, and Soarin')
  • If you got FastPasses for World of Color, get in line more than an hour beforehand. We were the blue group and found a spot on the bridge which we loved since it gave us a great view of the show.

Other bits of info

  • During 1 of our trips, we visited Hollywood 1 day and San Diego on another day. I used the DLR Prep School site to plan our whole trip, including these visits.

  • Don't forget a jacket! Temps in the mornings and evenings can be quite cool.
  • Pack a lanyard. I used to always have a lanyard for Disney World trips but MagicBands have meant that I no longer bring one. However, they are still useful at Disneyland.
  • There are several airports that you can fly into (see this post for all of your options). John Wayne is the closest to Disneyland and will help you avoid heavy LA traffic.

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Sooooo...anybody planning a trip to Disneyland and have other questions? I'd highly recommend that everybody consider a visit as we really, really love visiting. The 60th anniversary stuff is likely going to be around through September 2016 so I'd suggest visiting during that time period if you can.

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