A few months ago a friend invited me to go to Disneyland, and after crunching some numbers and looking for flights, I decided to finally take the plunge and visit the Happiest Place on Earth for the very first time! Many of you are veterans of both Disney World and Disneyland, but since this will be my first time planning such a trip I’m in unfamiliar territory. This is the first time in many years I’ve felt overwhelmed planning a Disney vacation since I know Disney World like the back of my hand. I thought some of you may find yourself in a similar situation someday, so I thought it would be fun to document it for our TouringPlans blog readers.

The first thing I did was a bit of online research since I could do that instantly when I had free moments here and there. My first stop was, which is fairly similar to what I’m used to at I don’t find these sites particularly helpful, but I do like to see the photos they provide. Checking out pictures of attractions unique to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure got me all kinds of excited for my trip! Next, of course, was, where I could see menus, check out the crowd calendar, and get a whole host of information. I also ordered the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland so I could get the whole skinny on rides, restaurants, and hotels. I think with all of the available information I should be well prepared for this trip!

One thing I definitely wanted to read more about was tickets. The only other time I’ve had to even think about tickets was when I took my family to Disney World earlier this year, so this is very unfamiliar territory for me. I knew I’d be in the parks for about four days, I knew I’d want to park hop, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to really tour as opposed to my usual relaxed plans at WDW. What ticket was best for me? Even after the recent price increases, I concluded I’d go ahead and get the Premier Passport, which allows entry to all Disney Parks in the United States. It may not make sense for all visitors (even Disney World annual pass holders), but it makes sense for this one. Since I am already a Premium AP holder at Disney World, the price difference isn’t that dramatic.

Now that I had that all sorted out, where will we stay? Luckily, I didn’t have to think about this too much since my friend will be using his Disney Vacation Club points to get us a room at Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel for most of our stay. On-site amenities for Disneyland Resort hotels include: early entry to one of the parks each day (as of June 18, 2012), room charge on your Key to the Magic card, and package delivery to your resort. I will, however, have to find my own way to and from the airport since Magical Express is exclusive to Disney World. It seems that my best option is to take a shuttle at a reasonable price, so that’s probably what I’ll wind up doing.

We’ll also experience one of the nearby off-site hotels my first night there. My friend found a decent rate at a Best Western nearby, so we’ll spend a night there before moving to Paradise Pier. As long as it is clean and fairly close by, I’ll be happy. Like this Best Western, there are several hotels which Disney considers to be “Good Neighbor Hotels” outside the Disneyland Resort. Many of them are within walking distance of the parks or provide a shuttle to the entrance. You may want to keep some of these in mind for your trip if budget is a concern. It is my understanding that staying on property is much less of a big deal at Disneyland than it is in Disney World. There are plenty of options available through the Good Neighbor program, so there should be something to suit any taste or budget.

Being the Touring Planner that I am, I made a list of all the attractions I MUST experience during my trip. Obviously World of Color is at the top of the list along with Disneyland’s version of Fantasmic! I’m especially interested in seeing all of the rides we don’t have in Disney World, so things like the Matterhorn and Indiana Jones are must-dos. While I want to do as many rides as I can, I also want to take some time to stroll around and really take in the atmosphere at both Disneyland and DCA. As a complete Disney nerd, I want to walk where Walt walked and appreciate everything about Disneyland. I also want to experience all of the newer creations in DCA, especially Cars Land. And, of course, I’ll be consulting my handy Touring Plans to figure out the best plan to experience all my must-do attractions.

Also in my planning I’ve noticed the park hours have not been posted for the period during my trip yet, and it’s less than two months away. As a Disney World regular, this blows my mind since the Florida park hours are usually posted at least six months out. I’ll have to make tentative plans for each day until I can get concrete park hours. This is just one of the differences in planning a trip to Disneyland versus my home turf in Disney World.

I couldn’t be more excited for my very first trip to Disneyland! I can’t wait to experience something new yet familiar. Do you have any tips for me in planning my first trip? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

 A special thanks goes to Neil Citro for providing this week’s photos!



  1. I went to Disneyland for the first and only time last summer. It was one day, at Disneyland (no DCA so no World of Color.) I was in Los Angeles for a family event and only had one day to do everything I could at Disneyland AND had to do a lot of it with other far less Disney obsessed family members in tow.

    My advice to you would be to definitely take in the headliners we don’t have in Orlando, Matterhorn and Indy for certain, and the rides that are quintessentially Disneyland like Pirates, Haunted Mansion, etc. But don’t get too obsessed with seeing everything we don’t have at WDW. The Storybookland Canal Boats were nice but looking back on it, I wish I spent more time just enjoying being in Disneyland than riding them, waiting in line for Alice in Wonderland, or walking through the Sleeping Beauty diorama. Disneyland has so much more spontaneous live entertainment going on constantly and so many better restaurants than the Magic Kingdom that I really wish I spent more time enjoying them and “taking it in” than racing from ride to ride to try to do EVERYTHING I possibly could.

    The last thing I will say is that Disneyland park feels SO SMALL compared to the Magic Kingdom. It really shouldn’t because it has more lands, more rides, and more “stuff”….but I think this is also why it does. There is something EVERYWHERE. In every nook and crany, everywhere you look, there are things squeezed in. Plus the most jarring thing is that Sleeping Beauty castle is legitimately incredibly small in comparison to Cinderella Castle and there is no castle moat. So you are literally standing in the hub, looking at this “tiny” castle, take two steps in one direction and you’re in Tomorrowland.

    You sound like you’ll have way more time than I did so you’ll definitely get to see more and do more without as much rushing and racing than I did. But my number one piece of advice is to make sure to not spend so much effort trying to have fun that you forget to have fun. It’s Disneyland. Just go enjoy it. It’s what Walt would want you to do.

    • Thanks for the advice! I’m really looking forward to seeing the “stuff in every nook and crany” since I think that’s what’s so great about Disneyland. I will make sure to have fun, I promise!

  2. I just returned from my first trip to Disneyland! We did 4-day park hopper which I think was enough time. We, too, stayed at Paradise Pier which was about a 10 minute walk from the entrances to both parks! So nice not having to ride busses. While it is smaller than Disneyworld, it was great being where all the magic began. Hope you have a fun trip!

  3. We are also Disneyworld veterans going on our first Disneyland trip in a few weeks. Visiting my brother and his family who live a couple of hours from there now. We are getting three-day park-hoppers passes (he’s military so we’re getting them through his base at a great price) and staying at a Best Western off-property as well. I’ve been looking through the Unofficial Guide too, but we are surprising my son (and my nephew in California) with this visit so it’s been hard to do much planning without ruining the surprise.

  4. I “grew up” at Disneyland, living on the West Coast, and heard for years and years how WDW was “soooo” much better. We finally went to WDW, and while we enjoyed it, there are several versions of rides that are better at Disneyland. So don’t skip anything just because it’s at Disney World. We feel this way especially about Buzz Lightyear Astroblasters, Space Mountain, and it’s a small world. The exception to this may be Soarin’ Over California, but the theming is so much better at California, from what little I remember of the queue at EPCOT.

    Also, I read recently (on!) that from the Paradise Pier, you can walk through the Grand Calfornian and use their entrance to DCA, which is a shorter walk than going around through Downtown Disney to the main entrance.

    The parades are really wonderful (usually). We were told by a CM once that they regularly have teams from Orlando come out and watch them to see how they’re supposed to be done. Apparently without the Orlando humidity they can do a lot more…?

    Just enjoy it! Try not to go around saying, “this is so much smaller!” Comparisons are inevitable, but you can enjoy yourself a lot more if you’re not focusing on the negatives.

    • Thanks, Kellie! I’ll try to check out the parades for sure. I’m not that big on them at WDW, but will give it a shot out west. I don’t think I’ll try to decide if I like WDW or DL better, I’m sure they are both wonderful at different things.

  5. As Uk visitors, we’re frequent WDW guests but recently visited DLR for 3 days.
    The main difference that I had to get over was how much of the line for each attraction was outside!
    I baulked at queuing for Pirates, Buzz and Haunted Mansion simply because I was used to the WDW set up where the majority of the line is indoors.
    That’s not the case in DLR, and whilst there are of course wait times posted outside each attraction, it took my a while to get used to the idea that we wouldn’t be waiting ages just to get inside where the “real” line began.

  6. If I didn’t know know better, I would have thought this blog was about my experience. I’m also a frequent WDW visitor planning my first trip to DL in a little over two months. It sounds like you have your ticket situation in hand but for anyone else planning a trip I suggest reading Tammy Whitting’s blog from June 1 about Disneyland tickets. Despite massive amounts of research, I had no clue about the Passport Plus tickets, which I was able to buy right before the price went up. By calling Disneyland instead ordering them from the website, I was able to save a lot of money and get tickets with some extra perks.

    The ride I’m excited about is Pirates of the Caribbean. When I found out that the DL version was 7 minutes longer than the one in WDW and that it was the last attraction Walt worked on personally, I decided that will the first thing ride the day I arrive.

    • Thanks for the tip about the tickets, Robert! Tammy certainly knows way more about DLR than I do! I’m definitely excited about Pirates too, and Matterhorn, and Indy, and California Screamin’, and Radiator Springs Racers, and…

  7. I was in the opposite boat last November. I’ve been a DL passholder for over 15 years and finally took my first trip to WDW last November. DL is definitely smaller, and you’ll feel it, but the nice part is you don’t have to walk as far to do as much!

    I also got the Premiere pass for my November trip. A tip on this pass – not many people have it here so some Cast Members have never seen it before. Don’t be surprised if they don’t recognize it as a pass at first. One Cast Member recently thought it was a credit card! Also, 8 times out of 10 the magnetic strip won’t scan for your pass discount. They’ll have to type the number in.

    I agree with Kellie. Don’t skip attractions just because they’re on both coasts. I liked MK’s Splash Mountain and Winnie the Pooh better, but I really like our Fantasmic, small world, and Buzz Lightyear better.

    You might want to download the Mousewait app for Disneyland, as well. Touring Plans was a HUGE help in WDW, but I’ve noticed it’s not as detailed for DL. Mousewait typically has more accurate crowd indices and wait times, probably just because more people use it here. Sorry Touring Plans! I still use both apps, but that’s how I’m able to notice that Mousewait is more accurate.

    A tip for Fantasmic, which is one of my favorite things in the park: If you want center stage viewing, stand on the bridge over the entrance to Pirates. The closer you are to the Haunted Mansion, the more center you’ll get. It’s perfect, because you’re elevated over the crowd in front of you, you’re dead center and can see everything on both sides of Rivers of America, and you’re far enough away from the water that you don’t get wet. If you want to sit down while watching, grab a seat on the little corner patio to the right of the entrance to River Belle Terrace. Try to stay closer to the front of the patio, but if you’re further back just make sure the light posts are strategically out of your direct view.

    Also, I was lucky enough to do a passholder preview for Cars Land this week. If you’re going to be there this summer, definitely do early entry and head straight there. If you want to get on all three rides, my advice is to grab a fast pass for Soarin’ on your way in, head straight to Luigi’s Flying Tires for a ride, then go on Radiator Springs Racers (single rider line is much, much faster), then go on Tow Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree. After that, you might be able to grab a fast pass for Toy Story or grab one for Radiator Springs Racers to go back on at night. Cars Land looks really different once it’s all lit up and I highly recommend going back at night to check it out. If you want to go on Toy Story, though, definitely get a fast pass. The standby line for that ride is usually SLOW. Little Mermaid is also a good ride and the line moves fast. On a busy day, I’ve seen it go up to an hour, but it’s typically at 20-30 minutes. Also, California Screamin’ has a great single rider line, or you can get a fast pass.

    Let me know if you have any questions. I’d be happy to DM you (if possible). I love helping out new visitors to our coast!

  8. There is the Disneyland Resort Express, a motor coach for ground transport to the hotels. We have used this service on each of our trips to DL and been very happy. It does not have all the perks of Magical Express (you have to get your own luggage) but it is a great way to get to and from the airport.

  9. Another WDW veteran here–also planning my first Disneyland trip! These are great tips! I’ve really enjoyed reading them. I don’t have a tip specific to Disneyland, but anytime I’m visiting a place for the first time I do always try to remember I can, and probably will, go back. It helps me relax and enjoy my time there without getting worked up about trying to see EVERYTHING.

    Thanks again for the tips! I’m off to check out Tammy Whitting’s June 1 blog, as suggested!

    • That’s a good point. I’m sure I’ll be back at Disneyland at some point, but I’m just so excited and want to take in as much as I can! I’ll try to remember that I’ll be back when I’m tired and slogging through the parks in August.

  10. We lived in California while my husband was teaching at DLI in Monterey. We had annual passes for our family of five. We got to know and explore Disneyland before retirement and our move to Florida where we regularly enjoy trips to WDW. We will always like DW better than WDW (mostly because it was our first experience with Disney and we made a lot of memories). We liked staying in an off site hotel that allowed our dog. We would wake up, have a small breakfast at the hotel and then walk the dog to the kennel. She loved walking with everyone else heading to the parks, I think she enjoyed her vacation as much as we did. Although she was kenneled during the day, they definitely spoiled her. She was always getting little treats and we were there about 3 times during the day to let her run in their playground. We liked being able to walk across the street to eat at McD’s, Tony Roma’s or IHOP. We ate many meals at IHOP after closing down Disney and spending a couple of hours in Downtown Disney. Breakfast at 3am…yum. Yes, the castle is smaller, but it’s the original. The rides are somewhat different. it’s a small world is amazing from the outside. Pirates is longer, with 2 drops. Indiana Jones is just awesome. Storyboat Canals and Casey Jr. Train…yes, experience them. And being able to walk back and forth between the two parks is a definite plus.
    Mostly though, it was immersing ourselves in the park that Walt built. Walking where Walt Disney himself walked. Wouldn’t trade it for anything and looking forward to going back one day.

  11. If you are not a timid driver, I would suggest you look into a one way car rental. We did that last time we went down, and it worked great as we were able to stop at Target to stock up on water, snacks and quick breakfast items, as well as run down to the Character Warehouse discount store for souvenirs (this was a few years ago, so I”m not sure that they are still there) I’m overdue for a DLR trip, and this post has me thinking!

    • The Character Warehouse store is still there, but it’s not owned by Disney. It’s a franchised store out in Fullerton, about a 15 minute drive down Harbor Blvd. They do have some cheap souvenirs, though I felt the two Disney-owned stores in Orlando had better content.

    • I’m from New Jersey just outside New York City where I drive all the time so I’m not timid! lol. I’ll look into that option and see how I wind up getting myself to the resort. Thanks for the tip!

  12. I have only been to WDW once, about 30 years ago, but I am a Disneyland Alumni. My best advice is to definitely see Fantasmic. Go to the second show and you won’t have to wait as long, and it is better to be a little ways back from the fence to really see everything without the bars in your way. If it is in the budget, the dessert buffet viewing is worth every penny.

    Touring Plans is right about the afternoon break, even if you don’t have kids. The two or things you will be able to see in the three hours between 12 and 3 are not worth giving up that rest/relaxation time at the hotel. My favorite thing to do is get popcorn at the hub on Main Street and watch the families. We have seen some truly magical “Disney Moments” that are some of our favorite Disney memories.

    We bought a small personal mister that my husband clips to his belt for those long, outside, lines.

    Don’t miss the animation studios at CA Adventure, or the Monster’s Inc ride. In the animation studio, my four year old was even able to draw Winnie The Pooh! I am constantly surprised by how many people miss the awesome stuff there is to do in the Hollywood back lot.

    The former “Tom Sawyer’s Island” and the redwood forest in CA Adventure are great places for families who need a rest from the lines for a while. And the Monte Cristo sandwiches in New Orleans’s square are to die for and are served only at lunchtime.

    Compare all you need to. Orlando and Anaheim may be twin sisters, but they each have their own magic and charm. Look for Betty in the Art Gallery as she can tell you what it was like when Walt was there!

    • Fantasmic is definitely high on my list so thanks for the tips there. I bet we will take a little break here and there since we know how great it feels to get off our feet. Thanks for all of your ideas and Betty sounds great!

  13. Over on the Disboards Disneyland forum Hydroguy had a great sticky for WDW Vets who are visiting Disneyland for the first time. Check it out; it’s full of worthwhile information. I grew up a Disneyland girl and then moved to the east coast. I have to say, Disneyland is still my favorite park. Have a great time!

  14. We also go to Disney World every year. I’m trying to talk my family into going Disneyland (where “the magic” all began) for next summer.

  15. There is one thing that isn’t small compared to WDW and that’s Fantasmic! I’m glad it’s near the top of your list. It’s at the top of mine every time I go.

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