2023 Disneyland Planning Guide – Plan the Best Trip & Save BIG
The Park Savers 2023 Disneyland Resort Planning Guide covers everything you want to know about planning a vacation to this fun-filled destination: crowds, dining, best hotels, saving money on tickets and other tips & tricks. We also cover how to get on Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance so you don’t leave disappointed. (updated January 27, 2023)
But first, let’s look at how the global pandemic is affecting Disneyland.
COVID-19 AND DISNEYLAND
Going to Disneyland during the COVID-19 pandemic – clearly, these two things do not go together well at all. In fact, COVID-19 kept the Disneyland Resort closed for over a year before it finally reopened on April 30th, 2021.
When the resort did reopen, several new health and safety measures were put into place, very similar to the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. Some, like only California residents being allowed into the parks, are thankfully no longer in effect. While others, like an indoor mask mandate (for guests ages 2 and up) regardless of vaccination status, are still required.
Previously, the parks reopened at 15% capacity, though guest attendance has since largely returned to pre-COVID levels. Having said that, guests are still required to make advanced theme park reservations before entering the parks.
For more details on the COVID changes that have happened at Disneyland, be sure to see our complete COVID-19 Planning Guide.
Currently the only COVID restrictions in place are Park Reservations and masks being worn indoors.
DISNEYLAND PRIOR TO COVID-19
The resort had recently experienced quite the change before being rudely interrupted by COVID. The biggest was Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which opened its doors to guests in 2019. While that may not seem “recent,” its biggest attraction, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, only opened in January 2020. That’s right, this attraction only saw about two months’ worth of guest time before the pandemic forced the parks to close.
Rise of the Resistance is one of Disneyland’s most immersive attractions and by far one of the most popular. When the attraction first opened, there were no standby lines for guests to enter. FastPass? No way. With this attraction, Disney introduced the virtual queue, a way for guests to “get in line” for the attraction, keep exploring the park while they waited, and then later enter the queue to actually ride.
We realize this sounds a lot like FastPass (and the new Disney Genie+), and it sort of is, but sort of isn’t. While Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane Selections (and FastPass before them) allow guests to come back during a scheduled period and go through a faster queue, the virtual queue only represents a line where all guests must enter. No guests receive priority or a quicker way to experience the attraction. It also keeps guests from just walking up and getting in line.
This was introduced because of the attraction’s popularity (and rightfully so) and will likely continue to be the way guests get to experience it for the foreseeable future. That is, unless the attraction goes the way of its Disney World counterpart and nixes it. So when it comes to planning and hoping to score a boarding group in this virtual queue, you may want to see our guide for getting a guaranteed boarding group for Rise of the Resistance.
Disneyland was also in the middle of several other new resort additions, including Avengers Campus and a new hotel. While these were all delayed for a time, Avengers Campus actually opened to guests on June 4th, 2021. The new hotel, which is an extension of Disney Vacation Club, hadn’t made much progress other than being announced. Our guess is that this has been pushed back to 2023 or later.
Amazingly, Disney even managed to reimagine the Snow White attraction in Fantasyland during the resort’s closure into something magical. With all-new scenes and audio-animatronics, Snow White’s Enchanted Wish is significantly better than its previous iteration, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, and guests can finally enjoy the full story of Snow White.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF DISNEYLAND
Disneyland is Walt Disney’s original Magic Kingdom, opening in 1955 with just one park. Over the years, it has grown immensely (to a certain degree), adding an additional park, California Adventure, in the early 2000s. Disneyland Park’s abundant charm flows through each of the theme park’s lands: Main Street U.S.A., Adventureland, Tomorrowland, Frontierland, New Orleans Square, Critter Country, Mickey’s Toontown, Fantasyland and Galaxy’s Edge.
Most guests find this park to be the most “magical” of Disney’s two California theme parks, with many original attractions like Peter Pan, Snow White, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, and Space Mountain, just to name a few.
Directly across from Disneyland is Disney’s California Adventure Park. Initially, the park was built to represent the state of California. After that pretty much failed, it was revamped to make it more “Disney” in 2012 and has since grown in popularity with the help of new lands and attractions.
Some of our reasons for visiting Disneyland over Walt Disney World include:
The original World’s Fair version of “it’s a small world”
The Blue Bayou Restaurant (yes, this makes our list)
World of Color
NEW TO DISNEYLAND
Besides all the new COVID guidelines we already mentioned, Disneyland saw significant changes to the parks in 2021. The biggest of all of these is the opening of Avengers Campus in California Adventure Park. This new land took the place of A Bug’s Land and will soon connect Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout! to the rest of Marvel.
The land features one new attraction, a dining location, shopping and character meets. There is also an impressive “stuntronics” Spider-Man swinging from rooftop to rooftop, which is truly amazing. Additionally, as we mentioned earlier, Snow White’s Enchanted Wish Wish, a classic dark ride in Fantasyland, is also “new” to guests as it received a major makeover inside and out.
It’s exciting to plan a vacation to Disneyland for the first time, but it can also seem overwhelming. Trust us, we get it: You want to see and do it all. It’s a worthy cause and very much achievable for anyone who plans correctly. If you want a detailed guide on how to spend your day(s), you can see our Disneyland Itinerary Guides for more information.
For your initial planning, however, here are the most important things to know about:
When to visit
Picking the right hotel
Saving on your theme park tickets
Transportation and airfare
Disney Genie, Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane Selections
Magic Morning Early Entry and Extra Magic Hour
Entertainment including parades, fireworks, World of Color and Fantasmic!
Currently, you can purchase tickets that range from one to five days. Depending on how long you want to play, it’s always best to buy as many days as possible, as the price per day drops the more you add. For instance, the 2-day ticket costs about $128 per day, but the 4-day ticket costs about $90 per day. So, the more you play, the less you pay!
Guests can choose from either 1 Park Per Day or Park Hopper tickets. 1 Park Per Day tickets give you access to one of the two parks each day of your visit. You CANNOT visit both parks on the same day. Park Hopper tickets give you access to both parks as much as you want for the length of your ticket.
We always recommend this ticket as it gives you a lot of flexibility to switch parks when the other is busy. For a great Disney deal, be sure to purchase your Disneyland tickets at a discount with our trusted partner online.
Remember that tickets are only valid for 13 days after first use unless you have an annual pass. Also, tickets cannot be used by different people; the same person must use them on each day of use. Disney takes this very seriously and will revoke your ticket if you’re caught doing this. Only buy your tickets from vendors who are authorized.
Keep the magic going all year-round with an annual pass, or Disneyland’s Magic Key Passes. These give you one year of access to the parks, some with restrictions and blackout dates. All offer discounts on food and merchandise, tours, and special events.
Please visit here for information on the Magic Key Program, including the four levels of annual passholder membership: Dream Key, Believe Key, Enchant Key and Imagine Key.
It seems like there are a million and one options for hotels at and near the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim. The city itself is basically made up of hotels with a few houses and apartment buildings sprinkled in between, so your options are immense. Having said that, there are ones you’ll want to avoid.
Disneyland has three hotels on property, including the Paradise Pier Hotel, Disneyland Hotel and Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. While these hotels tend to run a bit pricier then most hotels near the resort, they also offer a lot of extras for guests like short walks to the parks, package delivery from the parks, and Extra Magic Hour each morning.
SNA is the closest airport to Disney and typically takes about 15 minutes to drive from there to Disneyland with clear traffic. While the airport is a smaller one, it’s really nice and offers lots of places to eat, shop and, of course, catch your flight. It’s also part of the Disneyland Resort Express motorcoach program, which you can read about below. Airlines include Southwest, Delta, United, American, and Alaska.
LGB is the second closest airport to the resort and typically takes about a 20-25 minute drive with clear traffic. It’s also a smaller airport, but was recently re-done and has some great eating places. Airlines that service Long Beach include Southwest, JetBlue, Delta, and American Eagle.
LAX is the furthest airport from Disneyland and can take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to drive. This is a major airport with many airlines servicing it. We won’t list them all, but most likely, your airline will fly into it. It’s great for international flights. LAX is part of the Karmel Shuttle motorcoach program, which you can read more about below.
The best way to score some serious discounts on airfare is to use Google’s Flight Search, which compares most major airlines and allows you to track prices, all for free.
Getting to and from the airports can be pricey, depending on which type of transportation you take. Rental cars can be picked up at all three of the airports around Disneyland. If you choose to rent a vehicle, keep in mind that your hotel may charge a parking fee.
Disneyland also charges a parking fee if you’re thinking about parking at the resort. It’s approximately $20 per day for cars and motorcycles. However, driving your own vehicle or renting one can be a great idea if you plan to leave the resort a lot and head to the beach or other Southern California attractions.
Alternatively, the Karmel Shuttle Service is a great way to go from SNA, LGB and LAX to the three Disney hotels and surrounding ones like the Good Neighbor hotels.
Taxis, Uber and LYFT are great options if you don’t want to pay parking and rental fees. We highly recommend Uber and LYFT for getting to and from the airport. They are readily available and cheaper than taking a taxi. Use our coupon codes to get your first ride free with both companies!
If you don’t have these apps on your phone, we suggest taking a taxi. Many of them offer a flat rate to Disneyland and back – just be sure to ask them. Likewise, if you’re staying at a Disneyland property hotel, ask the bell desk for a flat rate coupon upon departure.
The key to a successful trip to Disneyland is going in with a plan. Fortunately, Disney’s newest piece of tech, the Disney Genie Service, helps guests to make the most of their days whether they did their research or not. Already launched at Walt Disney World but yet to make its Disneyland debut, this complimentary service will be incorporated into the existing Disneyland app.
Utilizing preferences like your favorite characters or attractions, along with current and anticipated wait times and your location in the park, Disney Genie creates a personalized digital itinerary just for you. This helps you to take advantage of short lines and skip out on rides that may not interest you so that you can make the most of your time in the parks.
DISNEY GENIE+ & INDIVIDUAL LIGHTNING LANE ATTRACTIONS
Unfortunately, you are no longer able to use FastPass or MaxPass to skip the line at Disneyland. Instead, guests will be able to fast-track their trip by purchasing Lightning Lane access. By upgrading their tickets with Disney Genie+ and/or Individual Attraction selections, guests can jump to the front of the line at some of the Disneyland’s most popular attractions.
Disney Genie+ will cost $20 per person per day and cover such popular rides as Haunted Mansion and Big Thunder Mountain. Meanwhile, guests will also be able to make Individual Lightning Lane Selections. Unlike with Genie+, you must buy Individual Lightning Lane Attraction access for each applicable ride you’d like to go on. While we don’t yet know how much this will cost, front-of-the-line access to some of Disney World’s rides are going for between $7-15 a pop.This skip-the-line option will only cover two popular attractions at each theme park, such as Radiator Springs Racers at Disney California Adventure Park.
WORLD OF COLOR
World of Color is, quite possibly, the most wonderful show you’ll ever see. With lights, colors, water, fire and your favorite Disney characters, all set to classic Disney music, honestly, what’s not to like? It’s something you have to experience!
Fantasmic! is a nighttime spectacular that takes place around the Rivers of America in Frontierland and New Orleans Square. You won’t want to miss this one-of-kind show starring Mickey Mouse and some nasty villains.
The show includes some of your favorite characters and the Mark Twain Riverboat, singing, dancing, and even fireworks, making it an absolute must-see.
The show made its return in 2022 after being on hiatus for over 2 years.
PARADES AND FIREWORKS
These change seasonally and yearly, so it’s essential to stay updated on what’s currently being presented at each park. If you’re looking for fireworks, Disneyland Park is the place to go, as there aren’t any offered at California Adventure Park. Fireworks are typically done later in the evening and are most likely occur on the weekends, though they tend to run more during the summertime and major holidays. Always pick up an entertainment times guide when entering the parks (or check the Disneyland app) so you know when these are.
Parades change often, and each park can have its own. The Magic Happens Parade will make its way down Main Street, USA once more beginning February 24, 2022.
Be aware that these types of entertainment are subject to change, mostly due to weather. For example, high winds will cancel a fireworks show, while rain will cancel a fireworks show and a parade.
MAGIC MORNING EARLY ADMISSION
Exclusively for Disneyland Resort guests, this feature comes on 3-day tickets or higher only. It allows you entrance into Disneyland Park one hour before it opens to the public. It only runs on certain days, typically Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. It comes on your ticket.
It is different than Extra Magic Hour (see below) that is offered only to guests of the three Disneyland-owned hotels.
It typically follows the schedule of Magic Morning Early Entry, with Disneyland Park on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. All the other days, Extra Magic Hour is for California Adventure Park.
Times are subject to change, so check with your hotel the night before to verify the time. Take it from us and this Disneyland Planning Guide, Extra Magic Hour is a must-do each day! You’ll get a lot done in just an hour because the park is pretty empty. This is currently suspended in 2023.
BEST TIME TO VISIT DISNEYLAND
There’s a lot to be said about visiting Disneyland. Of course, we all want to travel when there are smaller crowds and shorter wait times. But, we also want to go when it’s easy for families to travel and everything is open. Finding a balance between the two can be challenging, but it’s possible.
Over the last several years, we’ve studied the crowds and have broken down what you can expect each month and when the best weeks are to visit.
In a nutshell, these are the best times to go to Disneyland:
January & February (minus holiday weekends)
May (first half of the month)
September (after Labour Day)
Avoid major holiday weeks like Christmas and Thanksgiving. Summers are crazy because kids are out of school. March and April are full of spring breakers, and late May is full of graduation nights. In other words, any time that’s not convenient for a family to go is the best time to go.
Another option is to subscribe to a crowd calendar like Touring Plans, which has made it their business to project how busy the parks will be, using science! These calendars can be invaluable in helping you to determine the best days to visit.