I would also recommend you stick to one park per day (with an afternoon break for rest time) and skip park hoppers. I also highly recommend skipping Downtown Disney (except for a quick shopping trip maybe), and spend the third day in DL. It is somewhere my teen loves to go, but there is nothing for small kids to do there that is anywhere close to exciting. We love all 3 onsite hotels, and if they are in the budget I say go for it. If it is too much of a stretch, there are many offsite hotels within an easy walking distance, we have been staying at the Grand Legacy at the Park multiple times a year with no issues. Disneyland is a much easier vacation to plan for small children, save WDW until they are older. Have fun!
Great advice, thank you!! Our plans for WDW weren’t for a few years when they were 5 and 3…so sounds like this may be the best way! I think we may try for an onsite as its all part of the experience, but will see what shakes out!
My 2 cents on the hotel cost.
We always stay at DLH because the early entry hour we get every day is worth it to my husband. This does mean we leave the hotel around 6 on the weekends to get to the gate early for a 7 am Early Entry. (its later on weekdays, but we’ve found Saturday EE at DL to be the best day for EE.)
DCA only has Early Entry for onsite guests.
This early morning touring is the best hour of the day to my husband. He won’t consider staying off site because of this. If this doesn’t sound that appealing, staying offsite might be a way to save money. If you purchase a 3 day pass you would still get Magic Morning at DL one day, and DCA isn’t as big of a deal for early entry. (although we can get a lot of rides in in that hour!)
So, if you are only going for 2-3 days, you could still get early entry at DL one day (three day pass) staying offsite. Offsite hotels can be very close. DLH is still a decent walk from DL.
We first went with kids 1,3,6, and again at 2,4,7.
Sorry that was a really random post! Hopefully it makes sense. We always stay on property, and love it! But, I think trips would be much cheaper staying at a close offsite hotel, you just wouldn’t have early entry everyday.
What a wonderful thread to find…I’m in exactly the same position and have found it very useful. I was planning to start visiting WDW in 5 years or so when the kids are older but owing to a quirk of international flights our flight from New Zealand to London has a four night stop in LA! So we’re going to Disneyland next July 15-19th 2019 with children who will be aged 18 months and aged 2 (but almost 3 - he turns 3 the day we leave LA).
I have been happily reading WDW blogs for years but know next to nothing about DLR. And we’re going in a busy hot month, is it terrible I hope SW:GE isn’t open for when we go? Our international flights can’t change, so we’re there July 15-19th whatever happens.
Anyway, we’re staying at the Anaheim Desert In & Suites with is directly over the road from DLR. it was cheap, $149 a night for a parlor suite, so we can put the kids in a different room to ourselves. It’s reviewed as very basic but clean and safe. Maybe this would be a good idea for you too?
I hadn’t thought about skipping the Park Hopper, but reading this thread it seems like a good way to save money. Thank you contributors! I also hadn’t realised we can get an early morning benefit with a 3 day ticket (without staying in a Disney hotel) until I read this thread. That’s the thing with reading so much about WDW, it has set some expectations up incorrectly for DLR.
Here’s a question…as we will never be returning to DLR - what attractions are must do’s? We will certainly be visiting DLParis and WDW and probably DLTokyo in the future. But not again to DLR (we are permanently moving from New Zealand to UK).
So glad the thread could help you too! Best of luck with your move! How exciting! I’ve been to the UK (amazing) but not yet to New Zealand…on my someday travel bucket list 100%! So interestingly our plans now have us going in December versus February due to some scheduling…so we’re doing 2 1/2 days and while we haven’t bought our tickets yet, I think we will spring for hoppers only because of how the dining I chose is and what all we want to do. I’m just thinking its worth it to splurge on hoppers so we can be more flexible given how little our time is. It sounds like we’ve had similar research up until now about Disney - loads about WDW and very little about DLR!!! I leave it to the experts to answer your questions about must-dos…but from what I’ve read, Carsland, Toontown, Mr Toads Wild Ride etc are exclusive to DLR so probably worth checking out as they don’t have those at WDW. Happy planning and best of luck with your move!!
Ha ha thank you. I’m finding it much easier and more compelling to plan for 3/4 days in Disneyland than I am about planning to move a household of four people halfway around the world!
I think we might end up with Park Hoppers too, I just don’t want to miss anything. I am getting excited thinking about the food we’re going to eat, American cuisine I only know from movies. I’m going to actually find out what these are… “s’more” “churro” “biscuits”(we call cookies biscuits but apparently US biscuits aren’t sweet) plus “Dole Whip” “grits” “hush puppies” (shoes?)
I’ve just been looking at transport to and from LAX. There’s a bus transfer which takes 90 minutes (approx) and will cost $124 round trip for two adults two children. Or I got an estimate from a taxi company including two child seats for about $120 each way, approx 45 each way. We are not hitting rush hour. It’s the whole money vs time thing. And of course with a taxi we can book it for when suits us, not on a bus schedule. But that’s $120 I could be spending on, say, MaxPass. Have you looked into transport options?
You could also consider a service like Super Shuttle for your transport needs. I did a quick pricing and found a price of about $66 for 4 people, round trip from LAX to Disneyland.
YAY! Disneyland’s birthday is on July 17th and that is always one of my favorite days to see the park. In the past couple of (non-milestone) years, they’ve done a simple little ceremony in Town Square, Dapper Dans sing happy birthday (along with everyone else) & then parade out however many characters that Disneyland is years old (next year will be 64) so you get to see some fun that you don’t see too often along with some good favorites.
Unless there’s serious delays, late June or early July 2019 is what is expected (based on Disneyland’s most recent structuring of their Annual Passholder blockout dates). But if you aren’t interested in SW’s I think you’ll find that’s where most people will want to be & can avoid it to stay out of the thickest of the crowds.
Great location & great prices for a suite. Other than that, it’s a very, very basic place with really the location being the best thing about it. We’ve stayed here once & I didn’t love it but I think we just had a really bad room (location & condition-wise) so I haven’t been motivated to book it again. Also it never comes out for me as the cheapest BUT I must admit I’ve never priced suites as we fit great still with 2 queens & my kids are all so tuckered out they don’t wake much after we transfer them from their crashed out stage in the stroller to under the covers.
It can save you money, but with SW:GE and the narrow walkways on the Disneyland side I would recommend one to be able to hop to Disney California Adventure (DCA) side away from SW crowds where the walkways are wider & can accommodate more traffic. Just something to think about.
You just need to make sure you purchase the ticket in advance. If you purchase it onsite at the ticket booths this benefit is not included (I learned this the hard way). You can purchase it literally almost anywhere else & get the benefit (in the app even directly from Disney or at the front desk of the Desert Anaheim Inn & Suites as they do sell tickets with Magic Morning included being a Good Neighbor Hotel).
In no shortage of words, here is my humble opinion on the matter:
Must-Do’s Unique to Disneyland Resort
(vs. WDW, there are some of these in overseas parks but I don’t know exactly which ones or the differences, so you may want to reach out to other sources for comparison to Tokyo & Paris that aren’t represented here)
- Indiana Jones Adventure (DL)
- Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout (DCA)
- Incredicoaster (DCA)
- Radiator Springs Racers (DCA)
- Matterhorn Bobsleds (DL)
- King Arthur’s Carousel (DL) - So technically there is a carousel at WDW too but this is the original one & my son calls it the heart of Disneyland so if you’re at all sentimental, this really is a must-do & unique in the fact that it’s Walt’s carousel.
- Storybook Land Canal Boats (DL)- must-do if you like miniatures/fairy tales but can skip if not, is also known as one of Walt’s faves so that to me makes it not skippable.
- Casey Jr (DL)- you see the same miniatures as in the boats above but while riding a train & from a different vantage so depending on if your kids love trains or not this can be skipped or take the place of the Boats above.
- Monster’s Inc (DCA)- dark ride relatively low on scare elements so good one to use as a test for your kids tolerance for other dark rides. Little Mermaid, Winnie the Pooh and Peter Pan’s Flight are also good tests, but also exist in similar/better versions at WDW so recommend starting with this one before proceeding to any of the rest.
- Alice in Wonderland (DL)- dark ride, 1 scary sequence with Queen of Hearts/cards but beautifully done all around- best Disney dark ride ever, and if your kids did alright on Monsters, this is a must-do! Could also serve as the initial test dark ride, however, if they scare easily (like 2 of my 3) the scene with the Queen/cards can be terrifying albeit quick. Monsters, Winnie the Pooh, Little Mermaid, Peter Pan do have more fun to them though so they are easier as a benchmark so the kids can see that dark rides are a lot of fun with smaller scares.
- (if running) Paint the Night (maybe DCA? has been at both parks in its 2 runs)- This parade debuted for the 60th, made a return during Pixar Fest earlier this year & is just phenomenal. I could write a book (or at least a blog) about how Paint the Night Ruined my adult financial & travel goals (and I’m not that sad about it) because it was just so great. Disney hasn’t announced what its fate will be after Nov 7th but I can’t imagine them taking away such a crowd pleaser after only a couple of years when Main St. Electrical Parade was around for as many years as it was.
- Sleeping Beauty Castle Walk-through (DL) -not a ride but a beautiful display of diorama’s inside the castle with some fun effects for Maleficent that is classic & charming.
- Mickey & Minnie’s houses (DL)- our kids LOVE it & it’s always one of our fave pastimes to watch them enjoy & take millions of photos as we explore through their houses even though neither my husband or I love Mickey or Minnie all that much. Mickey meets at his house all day & Minnie meets in her house until mid-afternoon.
Attractions That are not Unique to Disneyland but Inarguably Superior to their WDW Counterparts & Therefore Must-Do’s
- Pirates of the Carribbean (DL) 2x the ride & 1 extra drop than WDW version
- It’s a Small World (DL) totally different experience in DL with it’s own beautiful facade & some extra Disney character dolls in the same style included in the ride
- Space Mountain (DL) smoother track, side by side rather than WDW’s single row
- Fantasmic! on the Rivers of America (DL)- one of the best nighttime Disney shows ever & while this exists in WDW with a seated theater, the scale of the show was truly meant for being shown on the Rivers of America as it is in DL & it is immediately apparent it is the better version because of it. Does have scary moments with the villains & has scared my little ones but not nearly as much as the dark rides I have yet to mention.
- Big Thunder Mountain (DL) the only thing I know about DL Paris is that their Big Thunder is the best one in the world, but DLR’s is a great, fun ride so not to be skipped unless you have a trip planned very soon for Paris).
- Mark Twain Riverboat (DL) WDW’s equivalent is the Liberty Squre Riverboat and much smaller, much less history- the Mark Twain is a gem & integral part of the DL history.
If the Kids are OK for Dark Rides- add these to the Must-Do’s Unique to Disneyland
(And you should really try to do them for yourself if you find that you have time where they are napping in the stroller)
- Mr Toad’s Wild Ride (dark ride, some loud noises)
- Roger Rabbit’s Cartoon Spin (dark ride, very loud noises).
- Snow White’s Scary Adventure (dark ride, spooky content including the hag, skeletons & the forest from the movie)
- Pinocchio’s (dark ride, scary moments including almost being trapped in the salt mines followed shortly after with Monstro popping out- as 2 of my 3 kids got old enough to be scared this sequence was SO terrifying to them that for a long time later each of them has refused to ride, my middle one though was never scared of any dark rides, but tends to gravitate towards spooky/Halloween things as they fascinate her).
If Time Allows Extra things Unique to Disneyland that are (or are expected to be) Top-Notch
Nothing in here is a must-do by personal opinion, but your opinions may be different & something here may strike your fancy to add to the must-do’s above
- Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roasters (DCA)
- Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree (DCA)
- Inside Out Spinner Ride (DCA)- not opened yet & this isn’t the official name, but it will be open by the time you go & we loved this ride when it was themed for a bug’s land & are super excited to see its reincarnation with an Inside Out theme.
- Jessie’s Critter Carousel (DCA)- also not opened yet but will be by the time you go & I expect this one to be a hit with my kids as they loved the sea animal carousel that stood in its place so I’m certain it will be even more fun with specific Disney theming.
- Animation Academy (DCA) -inside the Animation Building where you can learn how to draw a Disney character from a Disney animator, the building lobby is really cool too & a great place to just take a break & let the kids/yourself be entertained by the continuous loop of clips from Disney animated movies accompanied by TONS of concept art/sketches shown 360 degrees in around the large lobby.
- Redwood Creek Challenge Trail (DCA)- the theming is on-point & so immersive & this is an area where the kids can run around & get out some energy, so a double bonus- if you like rapids/soak rides, the same theming continues to Grizzly River Run & has a single rider line for you & the husband to each take a turn while the kids run around on the trail!
- Disneyland Firestation- my kids enjoy playing on the carriage in here but what’s more important here is what’s above it, Walt’s apartment in the parks. The window above has a lamp that is always lit. When Walt was alive, the lamp being lit was a signal that he was in the parks. When he passed, the lamp was lit & has mostly been continuously lit as a signal that his presence remains. So at least glimpse at the window before you hurry in our hurry out.
- Pixie Hollow (DL)- not a must-do for me, but if you have a Tinkerbell-loving member of your family, the meet location is beautiful & well-themed.
- Royal Hall (DL)- this is a meet with 2-3 princesses and if you have any princess fans is a big hit. I always leave with such a perfect, happy feeling. WDW does have a similar setup with 2 separate halls with each their own separate queue that takes you to 2 announced princesses. DL’s is slightly different in that there’s 1 queue but you can meet up to 3 princesses, they will usually only post 1-2 of the princesses that you are guaranteed to meet leaving any others as a surprise. On a “standard” day the 3 you will meet are Cinderella, Ariel & Snow White but more often than not, we get a variation on one of those.
- Disney Gallery(DL)- inside the Opera House before Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln- has one of the Griffith Park benches where Walt dreamt up the idea of Disneyland as well as a bunch of cool things about DL history up to & including a cute film hosted by Steve Martin for the park’s 50th anniversary).
- Tarzan’s Treehouse (DL) - A lot of steps to climb so my husband hates it, but I love the vantage point it gives of the park from it’s upper area & then at the end there’s a little play area that is another fun place for the kids to run around (& a perfect diversion for them while you take turns riding on Indiana Jones Adventure next door).
- Davy Crockett’s Canoes (DL) You wouldn’t think this would be fun as you paddle the canoe yourself but it’s surprisingly easy, fun & just something different you don’t see at any DL park.
- SS Columbia (DL) Sailing ship with a lower deck area that’s a museum-like exhibit of what life on a ship was like in the late 1800’s fun diversion.
- All the rest of the ToonTown walkthrough attractions (DL)- Goofy’s Playhouse, Chip & Dale’s treehouse & the Post Office area- lots of fun places for the kids to run off steam, enjoy themselves.
- The daytime entertainment at DL/DCA including: Mickey & the Magical Map (DL Fantasyland Theater- stage show with quality singing, dancing, story & some rare characters, is a little Disney cheesy so may not fawn over it if that’s not your style); Storytelling at the Royal Theater (DL show done in the small Royal Theater which is near the Royal Hall where 2 Royal Storytellers use their antics, wit, a variety of props & no shortage of references to both literature & Disney theme parks to re-tell a princesses story with the help of the princess, possibly a guest & a plethora of Fair Maidens who also act as the ushers, stage hands and all-around add to the fantastic atmosphere of fun that is this show, there’s a live piano player for this show which really adds to it for me); Frozen Live at the Hyperion (DCA- a 1hr long large stage production that is Broadway caliber & has beautiful/impressive technological elements; the talent is great, there’s not a bad seat in the house but it’s just a little long & slightly flat compared to the Aladdin show that was done in this venue for years before Frozen outsted it, but it has served us well as a place to sit down for an hour in the AC when we’ve needed that to be a part of our park time).
Things at Disneyland that have WDW counterparts but are either Disney “Staples” or just a lot of Fun
If any of these seem more interesting to you than the lists above (the good stuff that wasn’t in the Must-Do & the rest of the dark rides) then fit them in ahead as they are all really awesome, but know you could do them in WDW with about the same
- Disneyland Railraod (DL) -for me this is special at DL as trains were special to Walt & DL was the original, but I haven’t ever ridden the railroad at WDW to know if it’s on par with DL’s railroad & haven’t heard enough opinions about it to really gather a sense of which is more preferred, but I do LOVE Disneyland’s railroad and it’s a huge hit with the kids!
- Soarin’ Around the World (DCA) Same version exists at WDW but it’s a fun attraction nonetheless & wait times/FP availability at DL are better/easier.
- Toy Story Midday Mania (DCA) - Exact same notes as Soarin’ above.
- Buzz Lightyear (DL)- Exact same notes as Soarin/Toy Story MM above.
- Little Mermaid (DCA) -queue is better at WDW and has a FP there as well but lines at DCA are never too bad and the ride is the exact same. Also a big hit with kids.
- Winnie the Pooh (DL) -same notes as Little Mermaid above.
- Peter Pan’s Flight (DL)- Like Little Mermaid & Winnie the Pooh the WDW queue is better & there is a FP for it but unlike the other 2 the lines for this one at DL are non-stop. Unless you are in the first 50-100 people (usually those that are run after the rope drops to open the park, some speedwalk but most really have to run to position for it) you’ll wait 25-40 min no matter what time of day you do it. So unless you love a competitive dash (and keep in mind with kids and a stroller you’ll be less competitive), we really don’t participate in this dash, but instead save PP for the very end of the night getting into line just before the park closes which is allowed & you’ll still get on the ride as long as you are in the queue. This means that the kids (and the adults) have to have the stamina to make it this long so it really requires us having had a good midday rest at the hotel to nap/refresh & that all of us have to happy to wait the 25-40 min. still.
- Splash (DL)- better ride setup at WDW (sit side by side & have a lap bar vs. DL where you sit single file in the log & no harness or lap bar which always makes the drop a LOT scarier for me) but still the same great attraction.
- Jungle Cruise (DL) -slightly better at WDW but is a Disney classic & if time allows a great attraction to do, and at DL it’s the original.
- Haunted Mansion (DL)- The differences between WDW & DL are purely the exterior, the interiors are the same ride version. Also (and maybe you are sensing a theme here) WDW has a better queue but both versions have a FP so at DL you can fairly easily skip the queue. This is also a Disney classic & of the ones on this list, this is my favorite.
- Dumbo (DL)- Same great ride in both parks. Again, WDW has the MUCH better queue having a playground in it where the kids get to run around while waiting for their turn to take a Dumbo spin. But your kids will love it the most at the ages they are now (it is my 17 month old’s absolute favorite) so don’t miss out on the chance to see their joy spinning above Fantasyland in a flying elephant.
- Mad Tea Party (DL)- spinning teacups!! really all the parks have this ride, but at DL it’s got much cuter character than the pavillion at WDW so I love to look at it much more at DL, but same ride either way & lots of fun for the kids with the spinning.
- Star Tours (DL)- exact same ride in both parks, both parks have FPs for this one & in both parks are most days fairly easy to obtain FPs so easy to work into the plan.
- Astro Orbiter (DL)- exact same ride in both parks, no FP in either one. This is like a higher, faster Dumbo but is ridiculous to climb in & out of & has earned the nickname from me of “The Spectacle to Watch Mom Struggle out of a Rocket” so I avoid it at all costs unless my children beg for it bc of that.
- Autopia (DL)- the track at DL has slightly more “decoration” around it as you drive around but on both coasts it’s pretty much just a car ride where the kids can get behind the wheel. I do like doing this one at night in DL bc when Honda became the sponser recently, they added a lot of retro lighting that really brightens up the queue area & brings some life to it. I think in WDW it’s still devoid of that kind of ambiance, but either way, the ride is pretty much the same concept on either coast.
And then, believe it or not, I haven’t covered every ride (just a handful or rides in DCA that I didn’t touch on but they are really not must-do’s even though they may be unique to DLR) but anything else that you have a question on, ask away!
Being recently returned from the parks in Paris, allow me to offer some commentary on your commentary…
Love this! Superior to its DLP counterpart, especially in that you have CMs narrating in DL. The only place that the DLP version is unavoidably superior is in its load speed.
In addition, different stories are represented at DLP from those at DL. Worth a ride both places.
Casey Jr. is really too fast a train ride to feel like you’ve gotten a good look at the models at DL. Casey Jr. at DLP is a far better speed for appreciating the beauty that is Storybook Land.
Another place where DLPs version beats out DL, hands down. And not only because of the dragon…
DLP wins on this one too. The length is similar, but the sequencing of the scenes at DLP works a lot better.
Agree that this is far superior at DL to WDW. DLP, however, is in a class by itself - it’s that good.
Well said! DLP’s Thunder Mountain is actually on the island in the center of the rivers. Not to be missed if you’re there, but if not, DL’s is a great choice.
And some points of either agreement or elevation:
Concur. Not to be missed.
Absolutely. WDW’s pales by comparison (for me)
So. Much. FUN!
These are two of my favorites when I’m at DL - because they’re so different from anything anywhere else. I recommend putting them into your plan.
All that said, I have love for all three resorts I’ve had the pleasure of visiting - each for their own reasons and each with their own charm. Have fun!
I’m so happy you chimed in with your Paris insights!! Once upon a time (in the era before PTN ruined my adult travel & financials goals) I knew more about the international parks but it’s been 4-5 yrs since I kept up enough to be helpful!
And then comments on your comments of my comments.
I didn’t realize DLP had:
((So glad DLP is spared the agony of the slow line! At DLR we get in line in the first or last 30 min. of the park or skip it. The line is so painfully slow & un-shaded so my boys that turn into warm puddles of melted person in too much sun don’t handle the line well during the day.))
DLP has now become a must visit for this alone:
I must find out what ^^this^^ is all about!
I think that there’s probably a good amount of people for which this is true. While I super appreciate the seating at DHS, it is a shell of the show at DLR, IMHO.
I know, right? Who knew?? We didn’t until we had been going 2-3 days ~1 trip/month for several years. It’s one of our favorites now.
I love Mr. Smythe & Mr. Jones SO much. They always have so much fun & am giddy the whole way through the show and I love it when we get a theater who really gets into the huzzah’s and fie’s (or when I sit with my kids and all the kids are into it even better!) And I feel like (& tell my husband all the time) that I missed my calling in life as a Fair Maiden because they just seem to have so much fun with it all.
Oh wow Wow wow, what a response, thank you so much. I’ve printed out your advice so I can build my touring plans from it. That must have taken you ages. Thank you so so much!
Oh I had no idea, I’ll have a look at them, thank you
You’re quite welcome!
As for the time it took me, time flies when you’re having fun! And for me, sharing the knowledge I’ve gleaned on our many trips as a family is certainly in my definition of fun!
I have seen people say positive things about Karmel Shuttle on DL chat.
I call @lolabear_la the Yoda of Disneyland! She is an amazing wealth of knowledge.
This is an awesome list and extremely helpful descriptions! Thank you @lolabear_la!
Haven’t read through all the other responses…but as a multi-year AP Holder At DL, we’ve seen and done it all for the most part. Here are my two cents:
They can ride more than they can’t. You won’t be at a loss for things to do. Plus rider swap is awesome.
YES. And No. We LOVE the DL hotel. It’s not as expensive as GC, but more expensive than PP. Usually we stay at DLH or PP when we have something to celebrate. $600ish a night is nothing to sneeze at. We have stayed all over Harbor Blvd and have never had a bad experience at any of the hotels. We’ve stayed at the Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hilton Garden In, Super 8…but our favorite “routine” place was a hotel called the “Pepper Tree” - was about a 10 min drive west, but it was cheap, clean, and had kitchens. I would suggest booking a Good Neighbor hotel within walking distance to the gate. Allows for mid day breaks, and a break on your wallet. But man, if your budget allows for DLH…go for it…and make sure to schedule. Little magic in your guest room for when you arrive! AND have a drink at Trader Sams for me!
2 days DL, 1 day DCA. 0 days dedicated to Disney Springs. It’s all torn up (apparently for no good reason now) and literally is just an outdoor mall. It’s good to go grab last minute gifts from WOD or getting dinner at Catal…but other than that… it isn’t worth allocating precious vacation time to.
HAVE SO MUCH FUN!!!
wow, that is an amazing list lolabear_la. We are also contemplating a trip next summer and I love your commentary and tips. One small question on a tidbit that you mentioned about the play area at the end of Tarzan’s treehouse. Can you get to it without going through the tree house? That sounds totally perfect for my daughter who’s too small for Indiana Jones, but I think we’d all like to walk through the treehouse together.
Yes you can access the play area by going up the exit. You can get to the exit by going past Indy and taking a left (if you walking towards New Orleans Square) at the next staircase/pathway on the same side as Indy. If you’ve get to the bridge passing Pirates, you’ve gone too far.