Hi there! I was wondering if I could get the low-down on parking to go to the parks? Im a WDW pro but have never been to Disneyland! There will be nine of us doing a two week California trip at Christmas! We’ve scheduled to be at an Airbnb near Disneyland from 1/4 to 1/7 during our trip, and I have been reading everything I can about the parks, but I can’t seem to find much info on parking and getting to the parks. We will have a one year old and three year old with us, so we can’t Uber. We want to try to get there at rope drop because of how crowded it’s going to be. Would it be better for one of us to drop everyone off in the front and then meet the party after they park, etc or would that not work? Our house is 1.8 miles to Disney. What time should we leave to get there for an 8 am opening? Thanks for any help on this question or any other tips for us!!
I am not a parking expert, as we always stay on property, however I have a friend who did exactly what you described (stayed in an ABnB and one person drops everyone off and meets up with the group after parking). Although they had 11 in their party, so the driver had to make two trips. She said it worked perfectly and wouldn’t hesitate to do it that way again. I think the key would be to do it early enough that the driver doesn’t get caught in “rush hour” at security. My friend’s dad was the driver and wasn’t interested in going on rides, so they just texted him what ride they were at and he met up with them there.
Not a parking expert either here as we always stay in walking distance because parking at DLR is a bit of a chore, but we have done each of the main parking lots at least 2 times & have paid attention from others’ experiences in parking (which usually points me to avoiding it all altogether if I can). I do think that if there is one person willing to drop everyone else off that it will be a better situation as parking is pretty far away from the parks. There is a Disneyland guest drop off area on Harbor but it can get quite backed up, but more so at night. I think if you plan to arrive at the drop off with an hour or so before reg park opening you should see very little traffic.
Then as for parking itself, the general advice I hear is that if you’re coming from the south Toy Story lot is easier & if coming from the north, Mickey & Friends is easier. During peak times, if the traffic going into Mickey & Friends is backing up too much then they will divert cars through to Toy Story lot as the resort is fined if they back up traffic to a certain extent. If coming from the drop off area, you’ll exit heading towards Toy Story lot so I would have whoever drops you off head to Toy Story.
Toy Story lot is a couple of blocks away & has free shuttles that take you from the lot right to security. Toy Story is only open 1 hr before regular park open so if you have a Magic Morning that allows you to go to Disneyland during Extra Magic Hour then you won’t be able to park here before the hour starts. But if you arrive about 15 min. before the lot opens, there is a small holding area before the gates & in our experience the lot is efficient at opening on time & the shuttles are ready to go right from the time it opens so if you are there early you can still make it to security pretty early. Note, that even though there is a shuttle, the route to Disneyland is totally walkable if you want to skip the process of folding up a stroller and/or waiting in a line for the shuttle (they can get very long but do move pretty fast).
Mickey & Friends parking garage is closer to the resort as a whole and has it’s own security checkpoint to enter the resort. There are also trams (after security) that take you very near to the park gates. I know there used to be a way to walk instead of take the tram (going through Downtown Disney) but we haven’t parked here since they expanded security to include Downtown Disney & I know that right after the security checkpoint changes, I had heard that the ability to walk from Mickey & Friends & skip the tram was impacted. I’m pretty sure that you can walk & aren’t forced to take the tram, but I don’t know that with 100% confidence & wouldn’t know what way to direct you to do so. The parking garage opens about 90 min before regular park opening so it’s the only option where you can still make it to the early entry hour (if you qualify for one morning of Magic Morning at Disneyland with your tickets). Because of this, there tends to be more traffic that comes here earlier & waits at the gates. Even so, the set opening time for the garage is only 30 min. before the extra hour starts & I hear pretty often that the opening of the garage is delayed and even if it isn’t, that is not a lot of time to get in, get parked, get through security, walk/tram to the Esplanade where the park entrances are located. Even if it all goes efficiently at best you’ll be at in line to go through the turnstile gates 10 min before. Most likely you’ll be joining that line just as the hour is starting (they can be pretty efficient at getting that line through so you may not arrive to a line, but some days they don’t start letting anyone through the turnstiles until the extra magic hour starts & sometimes the the lines are just slow/backed up and then you’ll be another 10 min-15 min before getting into the parks).
If you have the Magic Morning & have someone who is willing to potentially miss out on the first attraction of the day, I would recommend having them drop off everyone 45-60 min or so min early for the Magic Morning & then send them to wait for Mickey & Friends to open to park joining up with you as soon as they get through the process that is parking at Mickey’s. If you don’t have Magic Morning (or elect not to use it) then I would still do the drop off but avoid Mickey’s & use Toy Story the whole trip.
We always drive and usually park in the Mickey & Friends garage. Most recently was for 2 days in July. We were staying at the Homewood Suites by the Convention Center (which is literally right next to the Toy Story lot and we probably should’ve walked there and caught the shuttle, but for some reason we didn’t).
Both days had an 8am opening. The first day we were pulling out of the parking lot around 7:30am (we had an ant infestation in our rental car which delayed us a bit, but that also gave me timestamps) and we were inside DL at 8:05am. I believe it was a 10 min drive, so about 25 mins from when we got to the garage to when we got in the park. Once you go through security, you’re held in what I believe was a gated area to wait for the trams so I’m not sure if it is possible to walk to the parks from there or if you’re forced to take the tram.
Going to the parks, the tram wasn’t much of an issue. Leaving at night was chaos (we also took midday breaks and leaving then was fine, it was just the crowds at night). If you’re familiar with driving at WDW, then when you’re waiting for the trams, there are ropes up to separate each row (at lease there is at the TTC). At DLR, it is just separated into sections and is then a free for all when the tram comes. Leaving on our DCA day was awful. It was a CL 10 so it was packed and we left shortly after the park closed so everyone else was leaving then, too. There were 3 areas for trams to pick up for Mickey & Friends and they were all mobbed with people. When a tram would come, people were literally shoving and pushing their way on. We waited I think through 4 trams in our section, then got to the front, and when the tram came my sister got pushed out of the way and couldn’t get on (until 2 people decided to get off because the rest of their party couldn’t get on). There were 5 of us (all adults) and we ended up in 3 different rows, in between random people. So, basically if you are planning on staying until the end of the night and can have someone pick up the rest of you and avoid the trams with your whole party, I would go for that.
We’re also going to DL for a day on 10/11 and will be driving so maybe we’ll switch it up and try the Toy Story lot.