Disneyland 101 – We’re Going to Disneyland!

| February 6, 2013 | 2 Replies

We’ve all heard the phrase.  It’s become almost a standard for the ultimate reward, the ultimate celebration.  It’s been used by Super Bowl victors, and the lead in question (“What are you going to do next?”) has been transformed to precede almost any major accomplishment.  The phrase itself generates anticipation in every age.  I must admit that I’m definitely one of those fans, and I react just as strongly as the millions of others who know just what it’s like when we say the phrase…

We’re going to Disneyland!

We’re calling this series of segments, Disneyland 101.  You can also listen to the full “We’re Going to Disneyland!” segment on our recent episode of the DIS Unplugged Podcast: Disneyland Edition.


This series is intended to be an introduction for folks who have never been to Disneyland.  For you Disneyland veterans, you may find some helpful hints or a new trick or two, but my intent here is to provide you the basic information for visiting the Disneyland Resort.  We’ll cover several topics over several episodes.  We’ll go into detail on some things, but I’m not going to spoil all the details and fun for your first visit.

This blog is just a summary of the podcast episode.  Please listen to the podcast for the full segment and to get the most information.


Where is Disneyland?

The Disneyland Resort is located near Los Angeles, California.  It’s just off Interstate 5 in the small city of Anaheim, which is just south of downtown Los Angeles.  Disneyland is not in the countryside (like Walt Disney World), but right in the center of the city.  Disneyland is bordered by Harbor Blvd., W. Katella Ave., S. Walnut St., W. Ball Rd.

Disneyland was once just a single theme park with a large parking lot in front and was surrounded by orange groves.  But the area grew fast and the city grew up all around it.  Now Disneyland is surrounded by hotels, restaurants, small shops, residential neighborhoods, and lots of commerce.  The area is actually pretty dense, and that is why Walt wanted to move to an area that had much more room (Florida).

When you drive south down I-5 (from L.A.) and get off at Harbor Blvd. you will see the Matterhorn or even the Monorail just off the street.  This used to be a favorite landmark when visiting Disneyland.  But now you see the big Team Disney building and the park is hidden much more by the surrounding buildings.  In fact, now they have you exit on Disneyland Drive and head to the main parking lot.


How do you fly to Disneyland?

There are several airports around the Los Angeles region.  The biggest is Los Angeles International Airport or LAX.  LAX is where most folks fly into when they are going to Disneyland.  It is a very large airport and handles a large number of flights per day.  Because LAX is a major destination, air fare will generally be less expensive and you will have many more airlines and flight schedules to choose from.

LAX is BIG and hectic.  It is located near the far west coastline, almost adjacent to downtown.  LAX is 36 miles from the Disneyland Resort.

LAX started small (many many years ago), but now has spread out and is almost too big and overcrowded.  But if you are prepared, it’s just like any big airport and you will have no trouble finding shuttles or rental cars.


For those that are staying on property at one of the Disneyland Hotels, I would recommend using the Disneyland Resort Express.  This bus service is not operated by Disney; it is a private coach operated by Southern California Gray Line and is an excellent service from LAX to the Disneyland Resort.  The cost is $30 round trip for adults.

For rental cars at LAX, look for the purple “Rental Car Shuttles” signs on the lower/arrivals level, on the islands just outside baggage claim.  They will take you to the rental car areas.  When returning, follow the signs for Rental Car Return.

The other airport you might want to consider is John Wayne International (SNA), which is also called Orange County Airport.  This airport is closer to the Disneyland area and is smaller and easier to deal with.  The airport is south of Anaheim, in the city of Santa Ana, and is 15 miles from Disneyland Resort.  I always try to use John Wayne when I fly, but that depends on rates and flight times.  The Disneyland Resort Express also goes to John Wayne and costs $25 round trip for adults.


The Burbank, Ontario, and other area airports offer flights into the L.A. area, but I find that LAX and John Wayne are the best options and are the easiest to deal with.

Road Trip – Let’s drive to Disneyland

I’m a traveler (I am not local to the Los Angeles area).  So that means I have to get a hotel, get to the Parks, and pack for my entire visit.  And for me, that means I drive!

Don’t dismiss driving.  The advantages are that you have maximum flexibility.  Travel is at your schedule, you come and go as you please, and you can go to the store when you need to (like for extra food or drinks).  Many folks will drive a couple days to get to Disney World; I recommend considering driving when you go to Disneyland.


On the podcast episode I give you lots of good suggestions and information about driving to the Disneyland Resort.  I don’t want to cover all that here, but let me mention some key items.

There is traffic in the Los Angeles area almost all the time.  Just stay calm, drive reasonable, keep alert, and pack your patience!

Once you get to the Los Angeles area, try to avoid the weekday commute times.  Traffic congestion goes into downtown Los Angeles in the morning and outbound in the afternoon/evening.  But remember that you will eventually get there, so try not to stress.

If passing through the San Francisco area, don’t forget to stop for a day and visit the Walt Disney Family Museum.  It’s the perfect start to your trip and will be well worth the visit.

Once near Anaheim, look for the signs to the Disneyland Resort and to the parking lots.  You will not see a specific sign to “Mickey and Friends,” but the road signs will direct you to “Theme Park Parking.”

For traffic reports, you can tune to 980 AM (KFWB), and 1070 AM (KNX).


In Los Angeles it is common to refer to the freeways by name and number (as in “The 101”).  Here’s a list of some of the most common freeways.

  • I-5 – Golden State (north of downtown)
  • I-5 – Santa Ana (south of downtown)
  • I-5 – San Diego (south of where I5 and I405 meet, but 405 is also the San Diego Freeway, but is most often called just “The 405”)
  • I-10 – Santa Monica Freeway
  • Hwy 110 – Harbor Freeway
  • Hwy 91 – Artesia Freeway
  • I-710 – Long Beach Freeway
  • Hwy 101 – Hollywood Freeway
  • PCH – Hwy 1 – Pacific Coast Highway

Once you are at the Disneyland Resort, you can either park at the Mickey and Friends parking lot (the big main one, opens 90 minutes before posted park times), or the Toy Story lot (just south of the Park on Harbor).  For short stays, you can also park in the Downtown Disney parking lot (3 hours free).  Do not park in the Disneyland Resort hotel parking lots (very expensive for non-hotel guests).

It is possible to use the Monorail to enter the Disneyland Park from Downtown Disney, but most first time guests will have a better experience by using the regular park entrance.  The Monorail is an attraction at Disneyland and although it does stop near the Disneyland Hotel, it is not really a transportation system like in Disney World

Where do we stay?

Accommodations are a huge decision and there are dozens (if not hundreds) of options.  This mostly comes down to cost, personal preference, convenience, and the type of experience you want from your hotel.


Disneyland Resort Hotels provide one of the best and most immersive experiences for the Disneyland Resort guest.  There are three hotels on property – the Disneyland Hotel, the Grand Californian, and the Paradise Pier.  The rooms are just wonderful and offer the full Disney experience.  Packages at these hotels offer early entry into the parks, and no other transportation is needed.  All three resorts are very close to each other (easy walking distance) and each has entertainment and food.  The Disneyland Resort hotels provide the ultimate Disneyland experience.

Anaheim area hotels are very near the Disneyland property and are generally less expensive, but still offer easy access to the parks.  They are located all around Harbor Blvd., W. Katella Ave., and all the adjoining streets in the area.  There are all price ranges and include hotels from Hilton, Marriott, Sheridan, Howard Johnson’s, Fairfield, and any number of lower priced and budget hotels/motels.  These are also called the “Good Neighbor Hotels” that you will find when looking at Disneyland vacation packages.  Most of them are within a reasonable walking distance, but do check the actual distance to the park entrances and consider that long walk back to the hotel after a long day.  Also, many of these hotels have a parking charge which may not be included in the rates.


Nearby cities offer an excellent choice of accommodations if you have your own transportation.  These include the cities of Buena Park (Beach Blvd.), Fullerton, and Placentia, which are all north of Anaheim, and the cities of Garden Grove, Orange, Santa Ana, Tustin, and Irvine, which are south of Anaheim.  I frequently stay in these areas because the hotels are just as nice as the Anaheim area, are often less expensive, are somewhat detached from the confusion of the Anaheim area, and are still an easy drive to the parks.

The Hollywood and Burbank areas are good to consider if you want to be close to those areas (for Universal Studios and the Hollywood area), but remember that you will be at least 40 miles from the Disneyland Resort area.


What about Tickets?

If you are traveling, your best option is to get your tickets online ahead of time.  This will provide you the best options and is about the only way you can get any kind of discount these days.  There are, of course, ticket booths at the parks, but most of the prices are identical (if not a little more at the ticket booths), and there is really no need to stand in line for tickets if you can get them ahead of time.

Ticket prices change all the time.  Please check online for the most current ticket pricing, options, and promotions.


In general, you can get a one park ticket or a “park hopper” ticket (which provide entrance to both Disneyland and California Adventure).  You can get from 1 to 5 days.  Multi-day tickets expire 13 days after the first use.

If you plan on visiting Disneyland multiple times per year, you may want to consider getting one of the Annual Passports.  There are several options depending on when you want to go and how much flexibility you need.  Some passports offer free parking, extended hours, and dining and merchandise discounts.  Again, check online for the most current pricing and options.

Let’s go to Disneyland!

Ok, it’s time, let’s go!  If you’re taking the Mickey and Friends tram, you will be dropped off at the far end of Downtown Disney (near the Security checkpoints).  The tram from the Toy Story lot drops you off near the park entrance, but on the other side.  Just after passing security you will hit the ticket booths.


Next you will come to the Esplanade.  This is where the old parking lot was located (before California Adventure).  Disneyland is on one side, and Disney California Adventure is on the other.  You will notice the monorail rushing around you from Disneyland and California Adventure.  The turnstiles for each park face each other.

At California Adventure, from the turnstile you immediately enter Buena Vista Street.  At Disneyland, from the turnstile you are at the foot of the Disneyland Railroad, with the famous Mickey flower bed.  You will walk under the train tracks and past the sign that says, “Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy.”  Under the tunnel, out into the light, and you are on Main Street USA.


So here we are – Disneyland.  We made it.  And now there is so much to explore.  The getting there took a bit of an effort, but now our adventures can begin.  There are so many ways to explore the parks and we’ll be talking about a bunch of different things and all kinds of different ways to play in the park.  In fact, now that we’re here, I think I’m a bit hungry.  So, on my next segment we’ll talk about one of our favorite topics – food and dining strategies.  But for now, I think I’ll stroll up Main Street, see what time the parade is, and start having a magical day.  See you all next time!

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