Planning a trip to a Disney Park can be a frustrating and confusing experience. Part of the reason we started this blog was because we saw others frustration with planning a trip to Disney. Wandering in Disney sadly doesn’t have all of the answers when it comes to trip-planning but we will by the time Star Wars Land is completed (that was a joke). One aspect I do feel comfortable addressing is a timeline for trip planning to both Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World. The question of when to do and reserve what is a common one as vacationers plan a trip to Disney Parks. In this post, I’ll give an estimated timeline of the most important aspects of trip planning.
Planning a trip for Disneyland and Walt Disney World are very different tasks. Walt Disney World requires far more planning. Not only does it take more planning but it also needs to be done further in advance. In true procrastinator fashion, I’ll write today’s post with a trip planning timeline for Disneyland and then have a similar post for Walt Disney World in the next week.
Going to Disneyland is much like planning a regular vacation. There aren’t a variety of different deadlines to meet and wait for. The planning vibe is much more relaxed because Disneyland is still a big draw for locals. Thanks to decent offers on annual passes, Disneyland draws many locals throughout the year. This, in turn, means that there isn’t as much of a demand for a top-tier restaurant. That isn’t to say Californians don’t love their park and quality additions, they do. They can just go to them nearly anytime instead of people who travel there that have a tighter window. This makes almost all aspects of planning a Disneyland vacation easy.
If you are going with a small group (for the sake of clarity I’ll say 5 or less, but that number ebbs and flows) you can probably plan a Disneyland trip on the fly. There are a bevy of hotels in the Anaheim area and tickets, reservations and flights aren’t hard to get. For the sake of this post, this timeline will match those who are planning on a taking a Disneyland trip with a bigger group (6 or more). Of course, locals go on a whim whenever and that goes to show that Disneyland can be done without much planning. Anyway, here is a rough timeline on how I would plan out a Disneyland trip with a big group.
3-6 Months Until Your Trip
- Decide When You Are Going – Obviously any trip planning begins by deciding on when you are going on your trip. While this post isn’t about that specific topic, I recommend that guests decide on when they’re going to Disneyland at least 3 months out (2 months will probably be fine but probably wouldn’t maximize savings). Planning a Disneyland trip more than six months out is probably excessive but something I’m completely guilty of. There is no problem with deciding on when you’re going on a trip well in advance, it just isn’t a necessity.
- Price And Book Your Hotel Stays – There are so many hotels in the Anaheim area that it can get slightly overwhelming when looking for a hotel. I recommend deciding what the most important aspect of a hotel is to you – location, luxury, amenities, price, etc. – and narrowing down the hotels that way. For example, location is the most important aspect of a hotel for me at Disneyland. With that in mind, I look for hotels within half a mile walking distance to the main gate and then decide between those based on best reviews. TripAdvisor is my favorite website for reviews, although it does have faults.
Once you have narrowed down your hotel choices, price out the different rooms and decide what fits your budget. Depending on the season that you decide to go in, prices will vary. If you’re going to Disneyland during a busy season (holidays and summer) try to book a hotel as far in advance as possible. If you’re going during a less busy time then hotels will sometime offer better deals a few months before your trip depending on how much vacancy they have. The best advice I have to offer in this category is to check prices often. Check the dates around when you plan to go to see trends and don’t hesitate when you see a good deal. Most hotels don’t charge for cancelling a reservation.
2 Months Until Your Trip
- Book Airfare – There are a lot of theories about when to book airfare. There are the websites out there that have done the math and figure it out – book on the Tuesday 8 weeks before your trip at 9:58 AM (this is an example, not actually true). It doesn’t really need to be that complicated. Like the hotels above, start monitoring airfare about 3 months in advance (or 5 to 6 months if you are going at a busy time). When you find a price that fits, then go for it. I would advise to not get within 50 days of your trip without booking airfare because prices can, and usually will, jump in a hurry. Matrix ITA Software to check airline prices for your dates. The only major airline that doesn’t include is Southwest and the website offers a clean, easy to read site full of airfare prices for your dates.
- Decide On Popular Restaurants To Go To And Book Dining – Making dining reservations at Disneyland is extremely easy compared to Walt Disney World. The demand for the restaurants isn’t nearly as intense. That doesn’t mean the dining is worse by any means. Around the two month before your trip phase start to discuss dining with your group. If it’s a really large group and you know that you want some sit down meals then it’s smart to reserve a few restaurants especially the popular ones. Restaurants that may need to be booked in advance include Napa Rose, Steakhouse 55, Carthay Circle, Blue Bayou and Cafe Orleans. Again, this isn’t the most urgent part of trip planning but it is smart to get reservations, especially for groups that have more than five people.
The Month Leading Up To Your Trip
- Buy Park Tickets – Deciding on what park tickets to get is fairly straightforward. How many days will you be at Disneyland? Do you want any rest days or days to do other activities in Southern California? Consider those topics and then decide on tickets. I prefer at least 3 days at the parks with a park-hopper but understand that isn’t an option for everyone. There are many ways to buy tickets. Go through the Disneyland website, check discounted tickets (mousesavers.com will have some options), or get them at your hotel if you are staying at a good neighbor hotel. I don’t recommend waiting to get them at the gate because of the long lines.
- Plan What Else You Want To Do In Southern California – I just mentioned this briefly, but Southern California offers some great activities outside of Disneyland. Other theme parks like Universal Studios and Knott’s Berry Farm have unique offerings. There are touristy things to do in Hollywood and LA. There are great National Parks and beaches to visit in the area. Check out this post from Disney Tourist Blog for more specific offerings.
- Make A Gameplan For The Parks – In the few weeks leading up to your trip (or even the night before) make a quick plan of what you want to do with your park days. This doesn’t need to be a minute-by-minute schedule but instead just an idea of where to use your first few FastPasses and what attractions are ‘can’t miss’. Here are our FastPass Guides to Disneyland and DCA. I think it’s wise to schedule out the first hour of your day because that is usually the least busy time in the parks. Get as much done as possible in that hour and then go from there. Be aware of what everyone in your group would like to do and then go from there.
Those are the most important aspects of planning a Disneyland trip. Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments. If you need help planning your trip please leave us a comment or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.