Disneyland 101 – An Introduction to the Happiest Place On Earth

Disneyland can be a confusing place if you have never been there before, or if it has been many years since your last visit. Plus, if you are a Disney World pro Disneyland can be a jarring change. So let’s get into the details you need to know before you visit Disneyland. 

Disneyland first opened its gates in Anaheim California in 1955 and was the creation of Walt Disney and his team. It was the first Disney park and the first theme park of its kind. Disney Parks continue to set the bar for the theme park industry. While Disneyland still maintains the quaint charm it had in the 50’s and still has some of the same attractions, it has continued to evolve and change and today it features cutting edge attractions along with the classic. 

If you are used to Walt Disney World, located in Orlando, Florida, Disneyland may seem small to you. It is true that Disneyland is physically smaller, with less theme parks, resorts and activities. However, Disneyland is an experience of its own with a charm and feeling of nostalgia that is stronger than that of Disney World. Disneyland is also much easier to get around, which is great for families with young ones. While Disneyland and Disney World have a lot in common they are each their own exciting destination and each offer different opportunities for your vacation. 

What Is On Disneyland Property?

The theme parks are located across an entry plaza from one another. You can see and easily walk from one park entrance to the other. Downtown Disney is located a very short walk from the entry plaza. The three Disney owned hotels are located with-in walking distance as well and right off of the Downtown Disney District. Everything at Disneyland is easily walkable and close by. 

Theme Parks

Disneyland Park  – This is the park that you see when you think “Disneyland”, it is the original Disneyland theme park. This is where you will find Sleeping Beauty castle, the tea cups, Dumbo, the Matterhorn and so much more. This theme park is stuffed with amazing rides around every corner. The themed lands in the park are Main Street U.S.A. , Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Frontierland, Mickey’s Toontown, Critter Country, New Orleans Square, Adventureland, and Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. There are parades, stage shows, rides of all kinds and on select nights, mainly weekend nights, there are fireworks and projection shows viewable from Main Street and the Castle Hub. At night you can also enjoy the Fantasmic stage and projection show on the  Rivers of America. All the while Mickey and all of his Disney friends are wondering around ready to meet and greet guests. 

California Adventure  – California Adventure is themed of course to California, and celebrates the vast and varied landscapes of this great state. These include, the mountains, Hollywood, the San Fransisco wharf and wine country. It is also home to Cars Land, Pixar Pier, and Avenger’s Campus. If you want to meet Marvel or Pixar characters this is the place to be. You can even meet Lighting McQueen and his friends. California Adventure is also where you will find the night time spectacular World of Color a must-see light and water show. 

Downtown Disney District – This is a shopping and dining district located between all of the Disney owned hotels. This is a great place to spend your arrival day, or to take some time away from the parks. A great option to hop over to for dinner after a day in the parks and then back to the parks for the night. This is a real perk of Disneyland over Disney World that it is easy to hop back and forth. For shopping you will find Disney centric stores as well as shops like Pandora Jewelry,  Sephora, or The Lego Store. For dining you will find quick bites at places like Earl of Sandwhich, Starbucks, and Napolini Pizzeria. Have a full table service meal at places like Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen or Catal. Find treats at places like Sprinkles, Salt & Straw and CrazyShake. Or grab a drink at places like Ballast Point Brewing Co. and Uva Bar & Cafe. You can even watch a move at AMC or go bowling at Splitsville.  


Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa  – Themed to the great lodges of Northern California this hotel is the most elegant of the three. The hotel has a direct private entrance to California Adventure park and is a short walk to Disneyland and right off of Downtown Disney. The lobby is stunning and the theming throughout is beautiful. The hotel offers rooms from standard, to multi-room suites, to club level. There are even theme park view rooms available. This is a Disney Vacation Club (Disney’s time share program) property as well. The hotel offers a spa and themed pool area with waterslide. The dining available includes Princess breakfast opportunities, up scale meals at the award wining signature restaurant Napa Rose, or sit down to a table service meal at Storytellers Cafe complete with Disney characters. There are also several lounges at the hotel to grab a drink. There is also the grab-and-go or quick service option of GCH Craftsman Grill or get in-room dining. 

Disneyland Hotel – The original hotel of Disneyland the Disneyland Hotel is a real showcase for the history and theming of Disneyland itself. Located a 5 minute walk to both parks and right off of Downtown Disney. The hotel itself is modern with magical touches throughout the resort and rooms. The hotel is a series of three towers with a pool area in the middle. The towers are themed to Adventureland, Fantasyland, and Frontierland. The hotel is a short walk to both theme parks and right off of Downtown Disney. The hotel offers standard rooms, theme park views, multi-room suites, and club level options. Each room features headboards that can display your own private firework show. The dining options include the up-scale Steakhouse 55, the quick service Tangaroa Terrace, and the casual Goofy’s Kitchen where you can dine with Goofy and his pals. You can grab a drink and relax at the popular Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar or The Lounge at Steakhouse 55. You can even grab a quick bite at The Coffee House or enjoy in-room dining. 

Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel – This tower hotel is the most price conscious hotel of the three on property Paradise Pier is themed to the beach, with Disney flare. This hotel is about a 5 minute walk to Downtown Disney and 10 – 15 minute walk to the parks. With standard, multi-room suite and club level rooms available, you can even get a theme park view. The pool here is the smallest of the three at the hotels and is located on the roof-top, it also features a slide. The lobby here is small, but it is home to the dining options. Disney’s PCH Grill offers sit down dining, with a character breakfast hosted by Donald Duck. Grab a drink and hang back at Surfside Lounge. By the pool grab some quick eats at The Sand Bar. There is also in room dining available. 

Good Neighbor Hotels – Disneyland is surrounded by the city of Anaheim which means there are many many not Disney owned hotels within walking distance. The best of these hotels have been given “good neighbor” status and can be booked through Disney with ticket package options. Many of these hotels provide complimentary shuttles to and from the parks and many are within quick walking distance. Some are just as close at the Disney owned hotels are. These hotels include brands like Hilton and Marriott which can be a great option for those who collect and use reward points at these major brands. You can also find a wider price range, as well as amenities such as complimentary breakfast. Another perk of staying at a good neighbor hotel is easy access to many chain restaurants that surround the Disneyland property, this is a great way to save some money on food. 

Perks of Staying At A Disney Owned Hotel

In addition to easy park access, and not having to leave the Disney magic at any time during your stay, and character dining at your resort.  Here are the more tangible perks.

  • Early Park Admission – Morning Magic / Extra Magic Hour – Everyday get into one of the two theme parks 1 hour before the general public. See the schedule to see which park opens early on which day. That hour allows you to beat the crowds and the lines and get to the most popular attractions first.
  • Disney Character Wake-up Calls – Schedule a wake up call from Mickey of one of his pals. 
  • Package Express – Have your in-park shopping delivered directly to your hotel. 
  • Preferred Reservations – Get access to preferred reservation spots for select restaurants, plus Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique or Anna and Elsa’s Boutique.
  • Key To The Magic Card – Travel light with one card acting as your room key, park ticket, and credit card. 
  • Purchase A Package – Purchase a package with hotel and tickets for ease or travel. 

Tickets & Park Reservations

Tickets are available in single day and multi day up to 5 days. The per day price goes down the more days on the ticket. 

Pricing is based on the age of the ticket holder. 

  • Adult – 10 and Up
  • Child – 3 – 9
  • Infant – Under 3 – No Ticket Required (Free) 

Single day tickets are priced on a tiered system based what dates you will be visiting. With pricing higher during the busy season and lower at less popular times. 

Multi-day tickets have a set pricing. 

Multi-day tickets for 3 to 5 days include access to Magic Mornings / Extra Magic Hour early admission. 

You also have the option to get tickets good for one theme park per day, either Disneyland Park or California Adventure, or you can get a Park Hopper ticket that will allow you after 1:00pm to go back and forth between parks as many times as you want in the same day.

In addition to tickets, park reservations, are required for entry into either Disneyland. Reservations must be made online prior to arrival. You will need park tickets to make a reservation. Reservations can be made up to 120 days in advance. You will make a reservation for either Disneyland or California Adventure. If you have a park hopper at 1:00pm you can start hopping to the other park as long as you have started your day at the park you have a reservation for.

Getting to Disneyland 

If you are driving to Disneyland from your home or you rented a car at the airport you will be able to drive right onto property. If you are staying at any of the Disneyland hotels you will be able to self-park in the hotel’s lot. All of the hotels also offer valet parking. Both parking options come with a fee. If you are staying at a good neighbor hotel, or another area hotel, be sure to check into their parking policies.  If you are visiting as a day guest see below for the theme park parking details.

If you are flying into one of the surrounding airports there is not a Disney operated bus or shuttle system, like you see in Orlando. Though many private companies offer bus, shuttle, or car transportation to Disneyland. LAX is the largest nearby airport and is about 45 minutes away from Disneyland. Check the airports websites to see what current transportation offerings are available. If it is in budget renting a car at the airport and driving yourself to Disneyland is the easiest option.

Another option is to take the Amtrak train, Pacific Surfliner line, to the Anaheim station from which you can grab an Anaheim Resort Transit (ART) shuttle at a low cost. Take the Anaheim Resort Transit Route 15 and it will take you right to Disneyland. 

Internal Transportation

Once you have arrived at your hotel how will you get to the parks?

If you are staying at a Disney hotel you will be able to walk to the theme parks. You will also have access to the Monorail station that picks up in Downtown Disney and will take you straight into Disneyland Park to the Tomorrowland station. This can be a great way to skip the main gate lines as you will go through security and ticketing when you board the monorail at Downtown Disney. 

If you are staying at a good neighbor hotel, some are still within walking distance and many offer shuttles to the park. The shuttles will drop off right next to the entrances to both theme parks. Parking does come with a fee. 

If you are driving onto property to visit the parks you will be parking in one of three large parking garages. You can then walk or take a tram to the park entrances. 

  • Preferred parking is an option for an additional fee, this will get you a spot closer to elevators and escalators. 
  • Parking lots open 90 minutes prior to park opening.
  • Handicapped and wheelchair/ ECV accessible parking is available. 
  • There are electric charging stations available. 
  • There is separate limited time parking for those just visiting Downtown Disney as well.

Once you are at the parks for the day if you want to park hop it is as easy as exiting one park and taking the very quick walk “across the street” to the other park. If you are at Disneyland and want to get to Downtown Disney you can hop on the Monorail and take it from Tomorrowland to the Downtown Disney station. You can also walk easily from the theme parks to Downtown Disney or any of the Disney hotels.

Disneyland App

Before you leave for vacation download the official Disneyland app on everyone’s phones. Also before your trip make sure to go online or on the app and set up a Disneyland account and link your tickets and hotel reservations. 

While using the app in the parks you will be able to see wait times, PhotoPass photos, reserve dining, order food with mobile order, see park hours, see all your plans, use the park map and more. 

Genie+ and Lightning Lanes  

Part of the Disneyland App is the Disney Genie which will help you optimize your day in the park with real time updates. Disney Genie will look at wait times, ride locations, your schedule and your preferences and tell you what you should do next to optimize your time in the parks. It will also show you current wait times and forecast future wait times.

Genie+ is the optional paid system that allows you to skip the regular line on specific attractions. Genie+ gives you access to the Lightning Lanes, which are significantly shorter than the standard lines.

You can make your first selection starting at 7:00am from anywhere and then throughout the day as you use your selections you can make another, one at a time throughout the day. You can only make a Lightning Lane selection for each ride once. So no riding the same ride again and again through the Lightning Lane.

If you park hop you are able to make selections at the second park as well.

If you make a Lightning Lane reservation with Genie+ and the reservation time is more than 2 hours away then you are able to make an additional reservation that falls within those two hours.

Genie+ comes at a per person per day cost of $20. You can book Genie+ for the entire length of your ticket in advance or for a specific day on that day.

Individual Attractions Lighting Lanes are in addition to Genie+ the most popular rides in each park offer the purchase of individual Lighting Lanes. These rides are not included in Genie+ they are extra. Or you can choose not to get Genie+ and just purchase an individual attraction Lighting Lane.

You can make two individual Lightning Lane reservations per day. These are on top of any Genie+ reservations you may have made.

Reservations can not be canceled once they are purchased.

Disney hotel guests can make these reservations starting at 7:00am day of. All other guests have to wait until the park opening time. Reservations can be made from anywhere.

The cost of these will fluctuate based on the ride and the day but will range from $7 – $15 per person per ride.

Which rides are included in Genie+ and Lightning Lanes are subject to change.

All rides with Lighting Lanes will continue to also have either transitional stand-by lines or virtual queues.

Virtual Queues

Some extremely popular Star Wars attraction such as Rise of the Resistance in Star Wars Galaxies Edge uses a virtual queue system. With this system you sign up for a “boarding pass” which will give you access to the ride. When you get a boarding pass you will be given a group number and when you group is called you can proceed to the ride and enter a fairly short line to wait for the attraction. 

You obtain a boarding group through the Disneyland app that day.

Getting a boarding pass does not guarantee you will ride that day. If you have a higher number your group may not be called. The ride has a lot of different aspect and is prone to “breakdowns” which can delay groups being called.

Which rides use a virtual queue and what time the boarding groups are released are subject to change so make sure to check before you visit on the current specifics.

PhotoPass & Photography 

PhotoPass is Disney’s standard photography service available to all guests. Photographers stationed around the park will take your photo using professional equipment. They are often with characters and in front of iconic or picturesque locations. Recognize the photographers from their khaki vests. Photographers will capture a “standard shot” and often then coach you to take a few different poses. Sometimes they even have props for you to hold. There are also Magic Shots where props are digitally inserted into the photo.

The first photographer you work with will give you a PhotoPass card. They will scan this which will link your photos to the card. You can then link the card to your My Disneyland account, or Disneyland app to view the photos. The photos will show-up for viewing within minutes to 24 hours. Every time you take PhotoPass photos the card will be scanned linking them to your account.

*** After they take your photo with their camera the photographers will be happy to use your phone or camera to take an additional picture. ***

You can pre-order and pre-pay for various PhotoPass packages, or order them after your visit. For the best discounts you should pre-order them. When you are downloading photos you also have the option to add banners and frames digitally.

PhotoPass is included if you have purchased MaxPass

For even more details see my post all about photography at Disney Parks.  

Disney Parks Vacation Photography

Dining At Disneyland

Where Can You Eat?

Everywhere! There is food around every corner, you will definitely not go hungry at Disneyland. There are locations in the theme parks, at the Disney resorts, in Downtown Disney, literally everywhere. There are many styles of food locations.

If you have allergies or special dietary concerns check out my post all about that issue:

Allergies and Special Dietary Needs at Disney Parks

Styles of Dining

Table Service – These are your traditional sit-down restaurants where you have a server come to your table and you order off a menu. These also include the styles of dining below. 

Buffets – Locations where you are assigned a table and a server, but are able to help yourselves to all you can eat buffets. These are typically also character meals. 

Character Dinning – While you enjoy your meal Disney characters will mingle with guests offering you the opportunity to meet and greet and take photos. There are normally 3 – 5 characters you are able to meet depending on the location.

Counter Service – These are locations where you place your order at a counter, pick it up and select a table yourself.

Snack Stands – These are counter service locations that sell smaller fare, like scooped ice cream, pastries, fruits, and other snacks and treats.

Snack Carts – Located throughout the parks these snack carts mostly serve popcorn and ice cream bars.

Bars/ Lounges – Enjoy drinks and some food at bars and lunges in California Adventure, Downtown Disney, and the hotels. There is no alcohol in Disneyland Park, with the exception of the Cantina in Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge.

Mobile Order 

Through the Disneyland App you have the ability at some counter services restaurants to order your food in advance. Find the restaurant you want to order from   in your app and select order food. Make your selections and once you have arrived at or are approaching  the restaurant click the “I’m Here” button. Grab a table and you will get a notification when your food is ready and you pick it up from the pick-up area designated for mobile order.  It’s that easy! Make sure you have a credit card linked in your Disneyland account. 

Dining Reservations

Dining reservations can be made at all table service locations.  Reservations in advance are recommended if you want to eat at any of these locations. Though for those used to Disney World where dining reservations are an absolute must, you are likely to see more flexibility and availability at Disneyland. There may also be walk up availability day-of. That being said I still recommend making advanced reservations as early as you can. 

Reservations  can be made up to 60 days in advance. If you are staying on property you can make ADRs for your entire trip 60 days from the first day of your visit. Reservations can be made online starting at 6:00am PST though the Disneyland App of website. They can be made over the phone at 714-781-DINE starting at 7:00am PST? 

You can also book same day reservations at City Hall, Guest Relations at both parks and the restaurant at which you wish to dine.  Disneyland Resort hotel guests can also contact Guest Services in their resort.

Planning A Trip 

When to visit – We all want to avoid lines and crowds. The easiest rule for how to track crowds is that if school is out crowds are higher. This means weekends, summer, and holiday breaks are the busiest times. The internet is full of more specific crowd calendars to help you decide. Prices are typically higher during the busy seasons as well. This question of when to visit is a great reason to work with a travel agent as they can provide insight into how to best build your trip from both a crowd and budget perspective. Certain times of year also mean special celebrations, see below the festivals and holidays section. Don’t let the idea of crowds get you down, a little planning ahead of time will pay off greatly in having a fantastic trip even with crowds.

Length of Trip – I recommend a 3-4 night stay in order to really enjoy and experience the entire Disneyland Resort.  If you are looking to just spend the day at Disneyland I highly suggest a park hopper ticket and upgrading to MaxPass. Plan to arrive at the parking lot at least and hour before the park opens to make the most of your day. 

If you are looking to make a week out of your vacation Disneyland is in the perfect spot for day trips to other California attractions.

Day Trip Ideas:

Theme Parks:

  • Knott’s Berry Farm 
  • Universal Studios Hollywood
  • Six Flags Magic Mountain and Hurricane Harbor
  • Legoland California 

The Beach  – There are tons of beach options near Disneyland! 

Los Angeles:

  • Griffith Observatory 
  • La Brea Tar Pits
  • J Paul Getty Museum
  • Los Angeles Zoo 
  • California Science Center
  • Shop on Rodeo Drive
  • See a live show at the Pantages or the Walt Disney Theater 
  • So much more! 


  • All located in the same few blocks
    • Hollywood Walk of Fame
    • The Chinese Theatre (famous handprints)
    • Disney’s El Capitan Theatre
    • Madame Tussades
    • The Dolby Theatre – Home of the Oscars
    • See the Hollywood Sign from afar
  • Tour a studio like Warner Brothers or Paramount
  • See a show taping
  • See a show at the Hollywood Bowl

Sports: See a game! 

  • Anaheim Ducks – NHL
  • Los Angeles Kings – NHL
  • Los Angeles Angels – MLB
  • Los Angeles Dodgers – MLB
  • Los Angeles Lakers – NBA
  • Los Angeles Clippers – NBA
  • Los Angeles Sparks – WNBA
  • Los Angeles Rams – NFL
  • Los Angeles Charges – NFL
  • Los Angeles Galaxy – MLS
  • Los Angeles Football Club – MLS 

** For those staying in the Disneyland area without a car, check out the Anaheim transportation system the ART (https://rideart.org). Their bus system will take you to many local attractions and connect you to rail options **

Festivals & Holidays

During special times of the year there is extra magic to be found at Disneyland. 

Lunar New Year (January) – Celebrate in California Adventure where you can visit Mickey, Minnie, Mulan, and Mushu in their Lunar New Year best. Special foods will be offered at food booths and select restaurants. There will also be celebratory musical and dance performances.   

Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival (February- April) — Snack your way through California Adventure at special food booths. As well as festival entertainment such as cooking demonstrations and mixology seminars. 

Easter (Spring) – At Disneyland Park you can take part in the Egg-stravaganza scavenger hunt. Plus special Easter bunny meet and greets. Also meet Disney bunnies and Mickey and Minnie in their easter best. 

Halloween (September – October) – Halloween is a huge holiday at Disneyland. You will see decorations, special food options, and special live entertainment, even meet characters in their Halloween costumes. There are even ride overlays adding an additional spooky element to existing rides. The most popular is the Haunted Mansion getting a Nightmare Before Christmas overlay. On select nights there is a special ticketed Halloween party the Oogie Boogie Bash at California Adventure. Guests of all ages can dress up and trick-or-treat through the park and enjoy special character meets and dance parties. 

Christmas (November-December) –   Disneyland celebrates Christmas in a big way. You will see decorations everywhere, special food options, and special live entertainment. You can meet Santa and special Christmas attired Disney characters, and see special fireworks and projection shows. There are even ride overlays adding an additional holiday element to existing rides.  The Festival of Holidays in California Adventure features holiday festivities from cultures around the world complete with special foods.

During other holidays you may see smaller celebrations.


There is so much to do at Disneyland and hopefully this has set you up to make the best of your vacation. You can now start planning your Disneyland vacation and I am here to help. As a travel agent specializing in Disney travel, it is my job to help you plan the perfect trip for you and your travel party.

Email me for a free no obligation quote today at katiev@themagicsyours.com

Published by katiethemagicsyours

Hi, I’m Katie! I’m an independent travel agent with The Magic’s Yours Travel. I specialize in Disney vacations but I book all sorts of travel all over the world. I book Disney, Universal, cruise, resort, all-inclusive, hotel, and guided travel. All of my travel agent services are FREE of charge to the traveler. You pay no extra fees for using a travel agent, but you get an expert in your corner to offer you VIP planing services. Contact me for a free quote today. Email me at: katiev@themagicsyours.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: