Our 2021 Disneyland and California Adventure Planning Guide covers everything you want to know about planning a vacation here: 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. But first let’s look at how the global pandemic is affecting Disneyland.
COVID-19 AND DISNEYLAND
Cleary these two things do not go together well at all. In fact, COVID-19 has kept the Disneyland Resort closed for almost a year now and we anticipate it will, going well beyond March of 2021, most likely ending sometime around late Spring or early Summer.
The only thing currently opened at the Disneyland Resort is Downtown Disney which is running at limited capacity but open for business. In November Disney extended Downtown Disney into California Adventure Park which saw the reopening for several dining and merchandise shops in the park. No attractions or shows are currently open.
Disneyland has a long ways to go in its fight with California before reopening. The state has basically made it impossible for theme parks to reopen until herd immunity is achieved via the new vaccines. This means about 75% of the population will have needed to receive it before the state will even look at Disney.
Basically all of this has thrown planning a Disney vacation for a whirl, but it’s still possible. One thing we would suggest is joining our monthly newsletter to stay informed of when reopening will occur and how to start planning.
When Disneyland does reopen guests will see changes in how to plan including required park reservations and possibly a nix of the park hopper option for a time. Fastpass and MaxPass may also be gone for the foreseeable future. New health guidelines like temperature checks, masks and possibly even a vaccine card will be introduced.
Park capacity will be reduced to 25% to allow proper social distancing throughout the parks and in lines for attractions and shows. The capacity decrease will also apply to Disney property hotels including the Disneyland Hotel, Paradise Pier and Grand Californian Hotel.
Don’t let any of this get you down or discouraged as Walt Disney World has been operating this way for several months now and is very manageable.
DISNEYLAND PRIOR TO COVID-19
The resort had experience quite the changes before it was interrupted by COVID. The biggest was Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge which opened in 2019. While that may not seem “recent”, its biggest attractions, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance only opened in January of 2020. Thus this attraction only saw about 2 months worth of guest time before COVID 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? Now way. It was with this attraction that Disney introduced the virtual queue; a way for guests to “get in line” for the attraction and return to experience it assuming they actually got into the queue.
We realise this sounds a lot like Fastpass and it sort of is but isn’t. While Fastpass allows 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 are given priority or a faster way to experience the attraction. It also keeps guests from just walking up and getting in line.
This was introduced because of the attractions popularity (and rightfully so) and will continue to be the way guests get to experience it for the foreseeable future. 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 new additions to the resort including Avengers Campus and a new hotel. While these were all delayed for a time, Avengers Campus is back in full swing and is slated to open when the resort does.
The new hotel which is an extension of Disney Vacation Club hadn’t made much progress other than being announced and a possible opening in 2022. Our guess is that this has been pushed back to 2023 or later.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF DISNEYLAND
Disneyland is Walt Disney’s original Magic Kingdom and opened in 1955 with just one park. Over the years it has grown immensely (to a certain degree) and added an additional park, California Adventure, in the early 2000’s. Disneyland Park is where the magic lies with 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” with so many original attractions like Peter Pan, Snow White, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, and Space Mountain to name a few.
Directly across from Disneyland Park is California Adventure Park. It was originally built to represent the state of California and 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:
- Cars Land
- Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!
- Pixar Pier
- New Orleans Square
- The original World’s Fair version of “it’s a small world”
- The Blue Bayou Restaurant (yes, this makes our list)
- Avengers Campus
- World of Color
COMING TO DISNEYLAND IN 2021
Outside of all the new COVID guidelines that we already mentioned, Disneyland is expecting some big changes to the parks in 2021. The biggest of all of these will be 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 is slated to open when the resort reopens and will feature 1 new attraction, a dining location, shopping and character meets. There will also be a stuntronics Spider-Man swinging from rooftop to rooftop which will be really cool.
Avengers Campus has an opening date of Summer 2020 but as you can guess, COVID-19 really threw that off. While no exact date has been set, again, we believe it will open when the resort is finally reopened which we would guess could be around early summer, maybe later spring 2021.
Snow White’s Scary Adventures, a dark suite attraction in Fantasyland will also be “new” to guests as it received a major makeover inside and out. While nobody has seen it and experienced it per se, Imagineers have given us a good look at what to expect including new animatronics, new music and really a new story overall. From the images we’ve seen, it looks like it’s been improved drastically and we’re really excited to experience it when the resort opens.
It’s exciting to plan a vacation to Disneyland for the first time but may seem overwhelming. 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
- Fastpass and MaxPass
- Magic Morning Early Entry and Extra Magic Hour
- Entertainment including World of Color, Fantasmic!, parades and fireworks
Currently, you can purchase tickets that range from 1-day to 5-days. Depending on how long you want to play for it’s always best to purchase as many days as possible as the price per day drops the more you add.
For instance, the 2-day ticket costs about $99 per day but the 4-day ticket costs about $72.50 per day. So the more you play the less you pay! Tickets can be purchased as either 1 Park Per Day ticket or as Park Hopper tickets. 1 Park Per Day tickets give you access to one of the 2 parks each day of your visit. You CANNOT visit both parks on the same day.
The 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 change parks when one is busy. We recommend getting your Park Hopper tickets using our recommended third party ticket seller Undercover Tourist.
For more information on discount Disneyland tickets be sure to read our guide so you can save the most money. We talk about many different places including Sam’s Club, AAA, and Costco. Tickets are only valid for 13 days after first use unless you have an annual passport. Tickets cannot be used by different people, it must be used by the same person on each day of use.
Disney takes this very seriously and will revoke tickets if you’re caught doing this. Only buy your tickets from vendors who are authorized.
Get the Magic going all year-round with an annual passport! These give you 1 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 each individual Passport. You can also read our guide here for picking the best annual pass and how to save money when buying one.
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 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 the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. While these hotels tend to run a bit pricier than most hotels near the resort, they also offer a lot of extras for guests including short walks to the parks, package delivery from the parks and Extra Magic Hour each morning.
Most hotels surrounding the resort but not owned by Disney will most likely fall into the Good Neighbor Hotel category. You can read about these and the Disney Hotels in our complete Disneyland Hotel Reviews guide. There are some great ones out there like Desert Palms Hotel and Suites, Residence Inn Marriott and the new Westin Resort by Marriott.
3 airports service Disneyland within a 45-minute drive or less:
SNA is the closest airport to Disneyland and typically takes about 15 minutes to drive from there to Disneyland with clear traffic. While the airport is a smaller one it 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 Disneyland Resort Express motorcoach program which you can read more about below.
The best way to score some serious discounts on airfare 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 3 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, they are a good option if you plan to leave the resort a lot and head to the beach or other So. Cal attractions.
The Disneyland Resort Express Motorcoach used to be a great way to go from SNA and LAX to the 3 Disney Hotels and surrounding ones including Good Neighbor Hotels.
As of early 2020, the Disneyland Resort Express is no longer running. It was managed by a third party who decided to forego the service. Thus far no one else has picked up or partnered with Disney to continue running something similar.
Guests who booked but never used their tickets should have received a refund.
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. If you’re staying at a Disneyland Property Hotel ask the bell desk for a flat rate coupon upon departure.
An urban legend would have you believe that this service only comes with certain tickets or costs extra. Let us assure you, this is not true. Fastpass comes on EVERY ticket no matter where you get them!
It’s like a “save your place in line” service where you get the Fastpass, leave, and come back later to skip the mainline and get on the ride! It saves a lot of waiting time and allows you to go do something else until your return time.
We suggest always using it! Fastpass machines can be found outside of most major rides. Simply insert in a valid theme park ticket and receive the Fastpass. Return during the posted time and skip the line!
An update to Fastpass happened in 2017 that now makes the entire service electronic, meaning, you no longer need your little slip of paper for your Fastpass. It goes directly on your park ticket which is now scanned at the Fastpass entrance to each ride.
Be sure to have your tickets out and ready to scan at the Fastpass machines. You’ll thank us and this Disneyland Planning Guide later for that!
MaxPass is also new to the Disneyland Resort as of 2017 and has made things interesting. This new service enhances the current Fastpass system in that it allows you to make Fastpass reservations without actually having to go to the Fastpass machines and scan your ticket.
You can now schedule a Fastpass from your phone anywhere in the park. There are a few exceptions to this but for the most part that’s how it works. Read more about MaxPass, how it works, and if it’s worth the extra money or not in our MaxPass Guide.
Currently, MaxPass costs an extra $20 per person per day. New to MaxPass since April 2019 is the option to get Entertainment Fastpasses directly from the Disneyland app on your phone. What this means is that guests who have purchased MaxPass for the day can now pick up a Fantasmic! or World of Color ticket without having to visit the Fastpass machines.
As soon as you enter the park you can select to get a Fastpass and choose Fantasmic! if you selected Disneyland Park and World of Color if you selected California Adventure Park. Entertainment Fastpasses do not take away or count towards attraction Fastpasses. They are completely separate.
WORLD OF COLOR
The most amazing and wonderful show you’ve ever seen! Lights, colors, water, fire, and all your favorite Disney characters set to classic Disney music! Wow is right! It’s something you have to experience!
A ticket for a showing is required. It works just like Fastpass: It comes on every valid theme park ticket! The machines to get your tickets for a show are located right next to the entrance of Grizzly River Run in California Adventure Park.
Show tickets go fast so get there first thing! You can also purchase a meal and receive a special seating ticket to a show by visiting here.
New to the Disneyland Planning Guide is Fantasmic!, a nighttime spectacular that takes place around the River of America in Frontierland and New Orleans Square. You won’t want to miss this one-of-kind show featuring Mickey Mouse and some nasty villains.
The show includes some of your favorite characters and the Mark Twain Riverboat! Singing, dancing, and even fireworks make this show a must-see. Fastpass tickets can be obtained during the day time by visiting the Fantasmic!
Fastpass machines are located next to the Mark Twain Riverboat loading area OR if you have MaxPass you can now reserve it from your phone via the Disneyland Parks Mobile App.
PARADES AND FIREWORKS
These changed seasonally and yearly so it’s important to stay up to date on what’s currently being presented at each park. Disneyland Park is home to the firework shows and is the best place to view them. Since there are no fireworks done at California Adventure Park don’t worry about that. Fireworks are typically done in the later evening and mostly likely occur on the weekends though during the summer time and major holidays they tend to run more. 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 their own. Currently at Disneyland the Magic Happens parade is running in the evening times. It features new parade floats, music and tons of characters. Check out our guide to the best viewing places for parades at Disneyland to help enhance your experience.
Be aware that these types of entertainment are subject to change, mostly due to weather. High winds will cancel a fireworks show and rain will cancel a fireworks show and a parade.
MAGIC MORNING EARLY ENTRY
This feature comes on 3-day tickets or higher only. It allows you entrance into Disneyland Park 1 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 3 Disneyland Property Hotels.
EXTRA MAGIC HOUR
This is only available to guests staying at one of the Disneyland-Owned Property Hotels including Paradise Pier Hotel, Disneyland Hotel, and the Grand Californian Hotel. Extra Magic Hour is every day at a different park.
It typically follows the schedule of Magic Morning Early Entry which is Disneyland Park on Tues, Thurs, and Saturdays. On all the other days Extra Magic Hour is for California Adventure Park.
Times are subject to change to 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.
BEST TIME TO VISIT DISNEYLAND
There’s a lot to be said about visiting Disneyland. We all want to visit when there are smaller crowds and shorter wait times. 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 hard but it’s possible.
We’ve studied the crowds over the last several years and have broken down each month; what you can expect during each one and when the best weeks are to visit Disneyland.
In a nutshell, these are the best times to visit:
- January & February (minus holiday weekends)
- May (first half of the month)
- September (after Labour Day)
- Early October
- Early November
- Early December
Avoid major holiday weeks like Christmas and Thanksgiving. Summers are crazy because kids are out of school. March and April are full of spring breaks and late may is full of graduation nights. Honestly, anytime that’s not convenient for a family to go is the best time to go.
Read our Best Time to Visit Disneyland Guide for the answers to all these questions and more! You can also check out our Free Disneyland Crowd Calendars to see which days are going to be the busiest and which ones will be slow.
Another option is to subscribe to a crowd calendar like Touring Plans who’s made it their business to call how busy the parks will be, using science!
These calendars can help you determine the best days to visit!