Here’s my 5-step process for planning a Disneyland vacation:
1) Choose your dates. Refer to my crowd calendar to help pick the best dates for your trip. You’ll find that typically weekends are always busier than weekdays. Certain times of year are traditionally more crowded, including spring break in March/April, the summer months, and around holidays.
2) Choose your resort or hotel. You have three resort options for staying on Disney property: Disneyland Hotel, Paradise Pier Hotel, or the Grand Californian Hotel. Click on the links for overviews of the on-property hotels.
There are also dozens of off-site hotels that are classified by Disney as “Good Neighbor hotels” or “independent hotels”.
I recommend if you are staying off property that you choose a Good Neighbor hotel because that means that they have a relationship with Disney and the accommodations are up to a certain standard. I have learned the hard way about this! I stayed at the Del Sol Inn (Independent) and it was NOT GOOD. The next couple times I stayed at the Fairfield Hotel (Good Neighbor) and it was wonderful.
If you choose a Good Neighbor hotel, pick one right across the street on Harbor Blvd – you’ll be right at the park entrance! Click on the link for a listing of Good Neighbor hotels and details about the best ones.
3) Develop your daily plan. Decide where you will be on each day you are on vacation. It’s a good idea to purchase park hopper admission tickets (also includes a Magic Morning!), due to the close proximity of California Adventure to Disneyland. Click on this link for my best overall daily plan. It also includes a day at Universal Studios!
4) Choose your dining options. All of the wonderful dining options at Disneyland will make your head spin! I’ve helped boil it down for you between the Character Dining Experiences, Table Service options, and Quick Service options. You’ll want to reserve at least one character dining experience and also make reservations at a couple other must-eat-at restaurants! Click on the links to find my favorites and to help you decide on the best options for you.
5) Develop your touring plan for each day. Take into account the following:
- Which park you’ll be at on a particular day.
- Attraction likely wait times, locations, fast pass availability.
- The dining options you chose in Step 4.
- Character greeting locations & times.
- Parade times and routes.
- Fireworks & Fantasmic times.
- Other shows or events.
I’ve developed my favorite touring plans for both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.
If you haven’t already purchased your park admission tickets, do so after you complete Step 5.
6) Add some magic. There are a number of things you can arrange to make your Disneyland trip extra special. Here are a few ideas:
- Book an appointment at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique in the morning so your princess can be dressed up all day.
- Make reservations for a character meal. I personally love character breakfasts! A link is above in #4.
- Reserve a spot at the World of Color Dessert Party. You’ll pay about $80 per person, but you’ll get a lovely dessert tray and preferred seating for the World of Color show. This sells out quickly, so book as far in advance as possible! Sometimes this is offered for the Wishes firework show as well.
- Visit during a birthday, Halloween, or Christmas. Disney will make it extra special!
- Don’t miss the parades, World of Color, or the Disneyland fireworks.
- Watch for Hidden Mickeys! They are everywhere.