Planning a family vacation to Disneyland in California takes time, money, and effort. Many parents feel overwhelmed with where to start planning a Disneyland trip. I’ve been in your position, so I figured out how to make the Disneyland planning process as stress-free and enjoyable as possible. I have created a Vacation Countdown, which provides a Disneyland Trip Planning Timeline, so you know what to do in the months and weeks leading up to your Disney vacation.
In this article, I share a step-by-step guide to everything you need to do before going to Disneyland. This shows you what to do to help make your family vacation to Disneyland go smoothly.
If you want more in-depth information, get our Disneyland Planning Guide with Printable Worksheets to help your family plan a fun, easy, stress-free, and magical vacation to Disneyland in California. It includes our best tips when going to Disneyland with children. The 75 printable pages include a selection of Disneyland vacation planning information, Disneyland vacation planner templates, and printable worksheets.
Let’s get started!
Disneyland Trip Planning Timeline
8 – 12 MONTHS BEFORE TRIP
The first thing to do before you begin research for a Disneyland vacation is to start a Disney Planning binder. This is where you can store all the printed pages and research you will gather over the months ahead as you plan your Disneyland vacation. If you prefer to go paperless, make a Disneyland folder on your computer and save important documents and information in one place.
Go to our website, BEFamilyTravel.com/disney, where you will find free resources and helpful tips about traveling with children. You can also join our email list, where we send a weekly email to help you simplify your family adventures.
Join the BE Family Travel Facebook community at facebook.com/befamilytravel, where you can ask questions about traveling with kids and share about your Disney vacation experience.
Consider contacting a Disney travel agent. They are a helpful resource, and their services are free to you.
Disneyland Crowd Calendar
Use our 2023 Disneyland Crowd Calendar to decide on the best dates and how many days your family will visit Disneyland. To learn more, read this article When Is The Best Time To Visit Disneyland?
Disneyland Vacation Budget
Establish a budget for your Disneyland vacation. This should include an estimated expense for the following items:
- TRANSPORTATION – including airfare and baggage fees, taxi/shuttle, car rental, gas, tolls, and parking fees.
- LODGING – including hotel/resort, taxes and fees, parking/valet, and tips.
- TICKETS – Disney park tickets, special experiences, and other entertainment.
- MEALS – Disney dining plan (if available), table service meals, quick service meals, snacks and drinks, groceries.
- OTHER – Passport/Visas, travel insurance, clothes/accessories, travel supplies, luggage, souvenirs, and gifts.
As you get further in the planning process and start making reservations, keep track of what you ACTUALLY spend on each of these expenses, so you know how closely you’re sticking to your vacation budget. Make a list of the payments you have made, on what date, and with which payment method, plus a list of the balance still due for any entries.
Research resort options and decide whether you will stay off-property in the Anaheim area or on-property at a Disneyland Resort hotel. Price out the best package for your family’s needs. Read this article to help you decide Where To Stay at Disneyland California?
When making your Disneyland vacation package comparisons to decide on the best package you should make a note of the package name and dates. Make sure to compare the following details:
- Number of days/nights
- Room Type and Room Cost
- Benefits of the Resort
- Cost of tickets – number of park ticket days. Does this include Park Hopper or Genie Plus?
- Flights / Transportation Costs
- Additional Transportation / Parking Fees
- Food Budget per Day – is there a dining plan included?
- The total cost of each vacation package
If available, decide if the Disney Dining Plan is right for your family.
Maybe it’s important for you to stay at a Disneyland resort hotel so you can easily walk to the theme parks and return to your room in the afternoons for your little one to nap. Or maybe you don’t want to pay for Disney park admission every day of your vacation, and you prefer to save that money and take a rest day to enjoy your resort, explore Downtown Disney, and go for a Character Dining experience. If you live within driving distance, maybe you prefer to drive to Disneyland with your family and save from paying for flights and transportation.
Every family has different wants and needs. That’s why the cost of a Disneyland vacation can vary significantly. There are plenty of ways to save money on a Disneyland vacation. You have to decide what’s right for you and where you’re willing and able to cut costs. Once you’ve compared Disney vacation packages, decide what details are most important for your family.
The Disneyland Resort hotels get booked up far in advance. That’s why it’s important to book your accommodation as soon as possible, especially if your Disneyland vacation dates are not flexible.
Important Travel Information
Decide how you will travel to Disneyland – fly, drive, or other?
Keep track of important travel information in one place. You will need to know the following details about your family vacation to Disneyland:
- TRAVEL PLANNING – including Travel Agency, Agent’s Name, Phone Number, Website, Username, and Password.
- ACCOMMODATION – including Resort, Confirmation Number, Physical Address, Phone Number, Room Type, Check In date & time, and Check out date & time.
- CAR RENTAL – Company, Phone Number, Confirmation Number, Rewards, Date and Time of Pick Up Location, Date and Time of Drop Off Location.
As you make these reservations, record important details about your travel planning, accommodation, and car rental.
Familiarize yourself with Park Hours and decide if you want to add the Disney park hopper option.
How to Plan a Disneyland Trip
6 MONTHS BEFORE TRIP
Now it’s time to book flights to Disneyland. Then arrange any other transport such as a rental car or airport transfers. Keep a record of important flight information, including details about airport transfers and flight details.
You will need to know the following details about your transportation to Disneyland:
- TRANSFER TO/FROM THE AIRPORT – including Date, Time, Service, and Reservation Number.
- AIRPORT PARKING – Lot Number and Location.
- EACH FLIGHT – Confirmation Number, Frequent Flyer Number, Date, Airline, Flight Number, Departure City / Terminal & Time, Arrival City / Terminal & Time, Gate Number, Seat Number, Flight Duration.
Ensure all passengers have a valid ID, and if you’re traveling from outside the United States, check the requirements for a passport or visa to travel internationally.
Research After Hours and Special Events at Disneyland that are happening during your visit, and note the date these reservations can be made and the cost of these admission tickets.
Take a look at these Disneyland height requirements to see which attractions your child(ren) will be tall enough to ride.
Start to think about your park goals and make a bucket list of the most important attractions and dining options for your family at each park.
4 MONTHS BEFORE TRIP
Decide which Disneyland theme park(s) to visit on which days and plan out your Travel Days and any Rest Days. Book your Disney Park Tickets. It’s important to know that you can make theme park reservations up to 120 days in advance.
Here is a Sample Itinerary for Disneyland that includes travel days, rest days, and four park days. This is a good place to record what time Disneyland opens and to record which nights, and what time Disney Fireworks occur.
Learn more about the Disney Genie Service – including Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lanes – to help you better understand their features and key points. Read this article about how does Lightning Lane work at Disneyland?
Use the free aspects of the Disney Genie app to start planning your itinerary. Consider if you want to pay extra to upgrade to Disney Genie+.
Plan out daily meals and snacks for each day of your trip. This will give you a better idea of what days/times/locations you want to make dining reservations (which become available 60 days before your trip).
Learn about MagicBands and decide if this is right for your family. If so, choose a color for each group member and place your MagicBand order at least 11 days before arrival to have them shipped to your house.
Disneyland California Planning
60 DAYS BEFORE TRIP
Make advance Dining Reservations, including available Character Dining experiences. Now available 60 days in advance, beginning at 7:00 am on the Disneyland app. Off-site guests must schedule day-by-day. On-site guest reservations are open for the entire length of your stay. Remember to record the date, time, and location for each restaurant reservation.
Join a cherished Disney tradition and start collecting pins for Disney pin trading.
Check the Disney parks hours for opening and closing times, published six weeks in advance. This includes Early Entry and Park Hopper availability times. Note any attraction or restaurant renovations/closures during your visit.
Make a Pre-Trip Shopping List and start shopping for any travel accessories or clothing needed for your vacation.
Decide if there are any After-Hours Special Events you would like to book.
Create a list of your must-see characters and their locations within each park.
Decide if Disney PhotoPass is right for you. Consider the Disney PhotoPass+ One Week option, the One Day option, or upgrading to Disney Genie+ to enjoy unlimited digital downloads.
Plan out any iconic photos that you definitely want to capture during your visit to Disneyland and any coordinating outfits.
Check-in online for your Disney Resort and submit any special requests to make your arrival as smooth as possible. Double-check dates when any final payments are due.
Disneyland Schedule Daily
30 DAYS BEFORE TRIP
It’s now less than one month until your Disneyland vacation! Contact your travel agent or Disney to make any final payments due (30 days before travel for packages).
Check the Disney website disneyland.disney.go.com for updated times for shows, parades, and fireworks.
If you’re not driving to Disneyland, schedule any Uber rides you will need.
It’s time to start thinking about packing for Disneyland. Create a packing list that includes your family’s clothing, shoes, toiletries, accessories, etc. Plan the outfits your family will wear each day during your trip.
Arrange a House Sitter and/or Pet Sitter if needed.
Popular Disneyland Attractions
Watch YouTube videos of the Disneyland attractions to help decide what your children want to ride.
Start planning out your daily itinerary at Disneyland. This should include your top 10 things to do at Disneyland, your favorite attractions, shows, restaurants, must-see characters, snacks to try, and photos to take. Make a list of your Big 3 Goals for each day at Disneyland.
Make a shopping list of any gifts or souvenirs that you want to buy at Disneyland.
Create a Kids Travel Journal that you and your children can use during your trip to make a record of special Disney vacation memories.
Check out our Printable Disney Games to entertain your child(ren) as you travel and while waiting in lines at the Disney Parks.
Disneyland Game Plan
2 WEEKS BEFORE TRIP
Your Disneyland vacation is getting so close. It’s time to purchase any last-minute travel accessories, clothing, toiletries, or snacks, from your Pre-Trip Shopping List.
Start to pack the suitcases and carry-on bags for your family. Use the Packing Lists you created to mark off items that you have packed, so you know what else still needs to be packed.
When packing your Park Day Backpack, read this article about Disneyland Tips for Families, which includes a detailed list of must-have accessories for Disneyland. It also has a list of Kid-Friendly Snacks for Disneyland, so you can shop for any snacks you want to take to Disneyland or make a list of what you will buy when you arrive in Anaheim.
Create a While We’re Away page with the house sitter and pet care information. This should include:
- Departure and Return Dates with Emergency Phone Number
- Instructions for the House Sitter – including trash/recycling collection day and plant care.
- Pet Care Information – including pet food, medication, and care instructions.
Schedule your mail to stop during your vacation.
Finally, download and familiarize yourself with Disney apps such as Wait Times & Touring Plans, Heads Up, Hidden Mickeys, and Play Disney.
Planning Disneyland with Children
1 WEEK BEFORE TRIP
Your Disneyland vacation with children is one week away. Review the Travel Information and Flight Information to double-check that no reservation details have changed since you booked your accommodation, car rental, flights, or airport transfers. Make sure you have recorded any confirmation numbers.
If necessary, refill prescriptions for your family.
Finish packing and review the packing lists. Double-check that you have packed Magic Bands / Tickets, Reservation Confirmation(s), and ID / Birth Certificates.
Download and print our Printable Disney Games to entertain your child(ren) as you travel and while waiting in lines at the Disney Parks.
THE DAY BEFORE YOUR TRIP
It’s almost time to head to Disneyland. Now you can do Online check-in with your airline and online check-in with your resort. Finish all your packing and add kid-friendly travel snacks for your journey.
Remember to empty the refrigerator and take out the trash/recycling. Connect with your House Sitter / Pet Sitter.
Review the travel details with your family members, so everyone knows what is happening tomorrow and what time they need to be ready to leave.
Now that you know what to do before going to Disneyland, you are ready to head to Disneyland, California, for an awesome family vacation full of fun and special memories!
Disneyland Planning Guide
If you’re looking for more in-depth help with getting ready for a Disneyland vacation, use our Disneyland Planning Guide with Printable Worksheets. This 75-page instant download will help your family plan a fun, easy, stress-free, and magical vacation to Disneyland Resort in California. It includes easy-to-use vacation planner templates for the Disneyland trip planning process discussed in this article.
For more about family travel, check out these posts:
Top 10 Best Things to do at Downtown Disney
When Is The Best Time To Visit Disneyland?
Disneyland Planning Guide with Printable Worksheets
Games To Play In Line At Disney
Disney Genie Plus Review
Which Is Better, Disney World Or Disneyland?
Can You Bring Food Into Disneyland?
Where To Stay at Disneyland California?
How Many Days in Disneyland?
How does the Lightning Lane work at Disneyland?
Disneyland Tips for Families