Disneyland 101: Things to Know Before You Go & Advice I’d Give a Friend : )

Hello friend ; ) People that know me “in real life” usually know me as “the Disney girl” which usually makes me the first call people make when they decide to do a Disney trip. 

Now, I’ve been going to Walt Disney World in Florida since I was itty bitty, and I would definitely proclaim myself an expert on that coast. But even though I’ve only been to Disneyland a few times, I know more than people who have never been and I definitely just have a knack for planning Disney trips in general. 

So after just recently spending a few days at the parks earlier this year, here’s the advice I would give to a friend who’s planning a trip to Disneyland for the first time: 

#1 The Disneyland Resort is located in Anaheim, CA just outside of Los Angeles. John Wayne Airport-Orange County (SNA) is the closest airport and about 15-20 minutes away. LAX is usually about an hour away (with no traffic). 

#2 There are two separate theme parks at the Disneyland Resort. Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure. The entrances to the two are right across the main plaza from each other though so it’s very easy to visit both on the same day and hop back and forth between the two. 

#3 You can do a LOT in just one day here especially if you have a plan. If you’re a casual Disney fan, want to hit the highlights, and you’re willing to do a full day, you can definitely get by with one day at Disneyland. If you’re a big Disney fan and want to really have a great trip, two days is perfect. 

#4 No matter how many days you’re going to spend, I think a park hopper ticket is a must. It lets you visit both parks on the same day. Since they’re so close to each other and they compliment each other well, so being able to do both in one day is a nice option. I’d rather do two days of park hopping instead of one day at Disneyland and one day at California Adventure. 

#5 You MUST have reservations to enter the theme parks! This is a new rule post COVID. They’re supposedly limiting capacity in the parks to offer a better guest experience and it’s not done on a first come first serve basis the day of. Park reservations open up a couple of months in advance and they do sometimes sell out before the day of. So it’s possible to show up and not be able to buy a ticket. When you buy park tickets in advance, you have to select which park you want to visit on which day. 

#6 If you buy the park hopper option for your tickets (the ability to go to both parks in the same day), your reservation is for the first park you’ll be visiting. You can “hop” to the other park after 1PM and then go back and forth as you please. 

#7 There are three official Disney hotels (Disneyland Hotel, Grand Californian Hotel and Paradise Pier Hotel) and guests staying at those hotels get a 30 minute early entry perk in both parks every day. Since it’s limited to just three hotels (not that many people), I don’t think it’s as necessary to stay at a Disney resort as it is when you’re visiting Walt Disney World (25+ hotels worth of people) and there are a LOT of chain, name brand, and small hotels within walking distance to the parks at all price ranges. 

#8 If you’ve never been before or this is a trip where you’d really like to do as much as possible, I HIGHLY recommend purchasing Genie+. I’ve written a lot about how it works here, but basically it’s a system that allows you to skip the lines at a lot of the rides. And it works really well at Disneyland. If you work Genie+ right (and the Individual Lightning Lanes you can buy for Rise of the Resistance and Radiator Springs Racers) you can ride a LOT without waiting in lines. 

#9 Plan to arrive well before the park opening time. Even with using Genie+, you can get sooooo much done during the first hour or so that the park is open. I would prioritize attractions that don’t have Genie+ or things you think you’ll want to do twice. If you’re arriving by car, don’t forget to allow for time to park, take the tram, and go through security. 

#10 Whenever I’m doing a big Disney day, I always like to make a dining reservation. It’s nice to have a break scheduled into the day when you can sit down and take a load off. But I only like to have one dining reservation because otherwise you can feel like you’re spending the whole day sitting in restaurants. There are plenty of counter service options to fill in with and of course SO MANY SNACKS. 

#11 If you’ve been to Walt Disney World before/go often and you’re short on time, focus on doing things that are unique to Disneyland. There are a lot of similarities between Disneyland and Florida’s Magic Kingdom and while some of the “same” rides are different versions (Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, Soarin’ etc.) a lot of rides are similar enough that I don’t feel like I need to do them. So I like to focus my time on attractions that don’t have a version in Florida (Indiana Jones Adventure, Alice in Wonderland, Radiator Springs Racers, Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout, etc.).

#12 Character interactions are a LOT different at Disneyland than Walt Disney World. Basically, they’re a lot less organized. Some characters just kind of walk around and put on more of a show and some will stand in a line and take pictures. It’s always fun to see what you’ll run into. Last time I was in Disneyland, I ran into Jessie on the way to Frontierland, she gave me as kiss on the cheek and I didn’t even get a picture!

#13 I do think the parks are more crowded on the weekends since more locals frequent the parks here, but don’t expect it to be dead during the week. But it’s NOTHING like Walt Disney World in Florida. Generally speaking, lines are a LOT shorter. 

#14 The California parks tend to have a lot of seasonal events since so much of their attendance comes from locals. From mid September through the beginning of January, the parks are pretty much decked out for Halloween and then Christmas and they even give some of the rides holiday overlays. My personal favorite time of year to visit is in April when everything is BLOOMING. 

#15 If it’s your first trip (or you’re celebrating something special), stop by Guest Relations at the front of the park and get a button!

For specifics on how to plan your days at Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure, read this post

Want more Disneyland posts? Check these out…

Disneyland 101: Advice I’d Tell a Friend Going the First Time

One Day at Disneyland: MY Perfect Day

Cars Route 66 Road Trip: The Real Life Places Behind Radiator Springs in Disneyland

P.S. If you want to follow along on my travel adventures in real time, you can follow me on Instagram (@caitylincoln). My post captions are full of travel tips and I have a ton of story highlights and videos with great info. And share my account with your travel loving friends! Your support really helps me keep this blog running!