To reach the Disneyland Resort by car from LAX, take I-105 east to I-605 north, then I-5 south. From Downtown Los Angeles, take I-5 south until you see signs for Disneyland. The drive from both Downtown L.A. and LAX takes approximately 40 minutes with no traffic. (Right!)
If Anaheim is your first -- or only -- destination and you want to avoid L.A. altogether, consider flying directly into John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana (tel. 949/252-5200; www.ocair.com), Orange County's largest airport. It's about 15 miles from Disneyland at the intersection of I-405 and California 55. Check to see if your hotel has a free shuttle to and from either airport (some will pick you up at LAX), or call a shuttle service: Disneyland Resort Express (tel. 714/978-8855; www.coachamerica.com); Xpress (tel. 800/427-7483; www.execucarexpress.com); Prime Time (tel. 800/733-8267; www.primetimeshuttle.com); or SuperShuttle (tel. 800/258-3826; www.supershuttle.com). Car-rental agencies at the John Wayne Airport include Budget (tel. 800/527-0700; www.budget.com) and Hertz (tel. 800/654-3131; www.hertz.com). To reach Anaheim from John Wayne Airport, take California 55 north to I-5 north, and then take the Harbor Boulevard exit and follow signs to THEME PARKS. You can also catch a ride with Yellow Cab Co. (tel. 877/733-3305), whose cabs queue up at the Ground Transportation Center on the airport's lower level (reservations not necessary). Expect the fare to Disneyland to cost about $45.
For information on the Disneyland Resort, including show schedules and ride closures that apply to the specific day(s) of your visit, call tel. 714/781-4565 for automated information or tel. 714/781-7290 to speak to Guest Relations (but expect a long wait). Better yet, log on to the Disneyland Resort's official website at www.disneyland.com.
For information on the Anaheim region, contact the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor and Convention Bureau, 800 W. Katella Ave., inside the Anaheim Convention Center (tel. 714/765-8888; www.anaheimoc.org). It's open Monday to Friday from 8am to 5:30pm. Staffers can fill you in on area activities and shopping, as well as send you their Official Visitors Guide and information on the AdventureCard, which offers discounts at dozens of local attractions, hotels, restaurants, and shops.
You can find out everything you need to know about the Disneyland Resort online, beginning with the official site, www.disneyland.com, which contains an interactive trip planner, plus special offers (sometimes on airfare or reduced admission). You can also contact a Walt Disney Travel Company specialist at tel. 866/60-DISNEY (603-4763) and ask about money-saving package deals.
Numerous unofficial Disney websites provide very detailed -- and often judgmental -- information about the Disneyland Resort. The best I've found are Disneyland: Inside and Out (www.intercotwest.com), an active and friendly website filled with detailed information on every corner of the Disneyland Resort; LaughingPlace.com and MouseInfo.com, which both feature daily updated headlines and columns on all things Disney; Mouseplanet.com, a comprehensive Disneyland information resource that offers features and reviews by guest writers; and MouseSavers.com, which helps users save money on lodging and admissions.
Admission, Hours & Information -- As of press time, admission to either Disneyland or Disney California Adventure, including unlimited rides and all festivities and entertainment, is $87 for adults (technically adults and children ages 10 and over), $81 for children (ages 3 to 9). Children 2 and under are free. Parking is $15. A 1-Day Park Hopper ticket, which allows you to go back and forth as much as you'd like, is $125 for adults and $119 for children. A 2-day Park Hopper ticket is $200 for adults and $188 for children. Other multiday, multipark combination passes are available as well. In addition, many area accommodations offer lodging packages that include admission for 1 or more days. Note: Prices change frequently; be sure to check the Disney website, www.disneyland.com, for the latest prices and for seasonal ticket specials.
If you plan on arriving during a busy time (when the gates open in the morning, or 11am-2pm), purchase your tickets in advance and get a jump on the crowds at the ticket counters. Advance tickets may be purchased through Disneyland's website (www.disneyland.com), at Disney stores in the United States, by calling the ticket mail-order line (tel. 714/781-4043), at any nearby Disneyland Resort Good Neighbor Hotel, or as part of your travel package.
Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are open every day of the year, but operating hours vary, so be sure to call tel. 714/781-7290 before your visit. The same information, including ride closures and show schedules, can also be found at www.disneyland.com. Generally speaking, the parks are open from 9 or 10am to 6 or 7pm on weekdays, fall to spring; and from 8 or 9am to midnight or 1am on weekends, holidays, and during winter, spring, or summer vacation periods. Tip: The park's operating hours can give you some idea of what kinds of crowds Disney planners are expecting: The later the parks close, the more people will be there.
CityPass Savings -- If your vacation includes a visit to San Diego, look into purchasing a Southern California CityPass (www.citypass.com). It includes a 3-Day Park Hopper ticket to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, plus a 1-day admission to Universal Studios Hollywood, SeaWorld Adventure Park, and the San Diego Zoo or Wild Animal Park. It costs $250 for adults and $235 for children, and if you visit all these attractions, you'll save more than $100.
The Art of the (Package) Deal -- If you intend to spend 2 or more nights in Disney territory, it pays to investigate the bevy of packaged vacation options. Start by logging on to www.disneyland.com to peruse the standard package offers, take a virtual tour of Disney hotel properties, and get online price quotes for customized, date-specific packages -- including airline tickets. The packages are value-packed timesavers with abundant flexibility. Rates are highly competitive, considering that each package includes multiday and multipark admission, plus keepsake souvenirs, preferred seating at Disney shows, Disney pocket guides, and coupon books. If you're staying in a non-Disney hotel (even those in Los Angeles or San Diego), ask whether they sell Disneyland admission packages; many hotels offer inclusive vacation packages that include Disneyland and Disney California Adventure (and other attractions). To make sure you're getting the absolute best deal, call the official Disney travel planners at Walt Disney Travel Co. (tel. 866/60-DISNEY [603-4763] or 714/520-5050) and compare their package deals with the ones you've already been quoted.
When to Go
The Disneyland Resort is busiest in summer (btw. Memorial Day and Labor Day), on holidays (Thanksgiving week, Christmas week, Presidents' Day weekend, and Easter week), plus weekends year-round. All other periods are considered off season. Peak hours are from noon to 5pm; visit the most popular rides before and after these hours, and you'll cut your waiting times substantially. If you plan to arrive during a busy time, buy your tickets in advance and get a jump on the crowds at the ticket booths.
Attendance falls dramatically during the winter, so the park offers discounted or two-for-one admission to Southern California residents, who may buy up to five tickets per zip code verification. If you'll be visiting the park with someone who lives here, be sure to take advantage of this promotion.
Another secret timesaving tip is to enter Disneyland from the turnstile at the Monorail Station in Downtown Disney. The line is usually shorter and the Monorail will take you straight into Tomorrowland (but it doesn't stop in Disney California Adventure). Another timesaver is booking your vacation through the Walt Disney Travel Company -- those package guests can enter Mickey's Toontown and Fantasyland 1 hour before the general public.
Many visitors tackle Disneyland (or Disney California Adventure) systematically, beginning at the entrance and working their way clockwise around the park. My advice: Arrive early and run to the most popular rides -- the Indiana Jones Adventure, Star Tours- The Adventures Continue, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain, the Haunted Mansion, and Pirates of the Caribbean, all in Disneyland; and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Soarin' Over California, California Screamin', Grizzly River Run, and It's Tough to Be a Bug rides in Disney California Adventure. Waits for these rides can last an hour or more in the middle of the day.
This time-honored plan of attack may eventually become obsolete, thanks to Disney's complimentary FASTPASS system. Here's how it works: Say you want to ride Space Mountain, but the line is long -- so long the current wait sign indicates a 75-minute standby. Instead, you can head to the automated FASTPASS ticket dispenser, where you pop in your park ticket to receive a free voucher listing a computer-assigned boarding time later that day. When you return at the assigned time, you enter through the FASTPASS gate and only have to wait about 10 minutes (to the envy of everyone in the slowpoke line). For a complete list for each park, check your official map/guide when you enter and look for the red FP symbol. Note: You can obtain a FASTPASS for only one attraction at a time. Also, the FASTPASS system doesn't eliminate the need to arrive at the theme park early, because there's only a limited supply of FASTPASSes available for each attraction on a given day. So if you don't show up until the middle of the afternoon, you might find that all the FASTPASSes have been distributed to other guests.
Relax . . . Think Fun, not Frantic
It's finally here, the dream vacation to the "Happiest Place on Earth!" Whether you're 6 or 60, it's hard to keep from getting caught up in the excitement, even when you're the one responsible for the (seemingly) endless planning stage.
Once you arrive and enter the theme park(s), kids -- and plenty of adults -- seem to kick into warp speed. But sensory overload doesn't mean you should abandon common sense. Here are just a few suggestions to avoid common pitfalls:
- Write Down Your Car's Location: When you're rushing to jump the tram for the park, it's easy to forget that your section/row/floor looks exactly like dozens of others in the parking lot or structure. Take a second to write down your parking location or snap a photo with your phone.
- Don't Overplan: Only the most stubbornly energetic parkgoers (and if you have small children in tow, this is definitely not you) can manage to see everything at Disneyland in 1 day. California Adventure is more manageable, but can also be time-consuming at peak capacity. Agree as a group to several "must-do" rides and activities each day, so no one is disappointed by missing their favorite ride or attraction.
- Pace Yourself: Why are those folks running to catch the parking lot tram? Relax, the theme parks aren't going anywhere, and trams run constantly during peak arrival and departure hours. While inside the park, stagger long waits in line with easy-entry shows and rides, and remember to sit with a refreshing drink every now and then. It may seem like a good idea to head right for another "must-do," but even the best ride is less fun if you've been cranky for 45 minutes in line.
- Set a Spending Limit: Kids should know they have a certain amount to spend on between-meal snacks and Disney souvenirs, so they'll look around and carefully decide which trinket is the one they can't live without.
- Dress Comfortably: We mean really comfortably, so you can stay that way throughout a long, hot day with lots of walking and lots of standing. Reliable walking shoes (sneakers or walking sandals are best), layered clothing (a sweat shirt or sweater for evening can be welcome, even in summer), sunblock (yes, even in winter) and a hat and/or sunglasses are all must-haves. And be advised, there are lockers inside the park near the entrance to Main Street, so you needn't weigh yourself down by trying to carry everything you brought -- and everything you bought -- with you at all times.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.