Phoenix With Kids Guide to Disneyland
Spring Break is right around the corner and that means the perfect time to take a family vacation! One of the most popular spots for AZ families to visit is Disneyland. From Phoenix, Disneyland is either a short flight away or a 6-7 hour car ride. So I thought I would share tips to plan that perfect Disney trip!
My best suggestion for Disneyland is to plan ahead- download the Disneyland App and familiarize yourself with the park, shows, and activities that occur every day. You can use the app to make dining reservations, mobile-order food, see wait-times and more.
The Disneyland Resort is made of two theme parks- Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure. There are also three on-site hotels (you can eat at any of the restaurants without staying there) as well as Downtown Disney shopping, entertainment, and dining district. Dining reservations open 60 days in advance and the popular spots go fast (Blue Bayou, Carthay Circle, Oga’ Cantina & character dining)!
The same goes for some of the activities- Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, Droid Depot, & Savi’s Lightsabers. Know the park opening times and what time the events and shows are taking place. During peak season there will typically be parades, fireworks, World of Color, Fantasmic, and more every day! Off-peak will have fewer weekday activities, but the weekends typically have it all! These schedules may determine which of the two parks you visit that day. You can read about the various dining locations, entertainment and activities to do here.
My favorites: We love Minnie’s Plaza Inn character dining for breakfast (read below for a great tip on dining here)!! You get to meet so many characters and the food is delicious (Mickey & Minnie waffles)! We also have built a Droid at Droid Depot, which was a great one time experience (the Droid sits on a shelf now). With younger kids, we chose to build the kid-friendly toy lightsabers in the Star Tours gift shop instead of the more adult souvenir lightsaber from Savi’s ($30 vs $200).
Where to Stay and How to Get to the Parks
There is no shortage of hotels around the Disneyland Resort. There are three on-site hotels (the Grand Californian, the Disneyland Hotel, and Paradise Pier). All three are within walking distance (between 5-15 minutes depending on which hotel) and the benefits include being close to the park and having an extra Magic Hour every morning where you can enter a specific park one hour early (typically Disneyland is T/Th and Sat, and California Adventure is MWF & Sun). The downside is the high price for these rooms. One night at an on-site resort can cost as much as 3-4 nights at on off-site hotel, so my suggestion is to stay off-site unless this is a very special trip!
Off-site does not mean less fun! Disneyland has many “good neighbor hotels” that are within walking distance, have a hotel shuttle to the parks, or for a small fee on the ART (Anaheim Resort Transporation line https://rideart.org/) helping you get to the parks quickly. You can see all of the “good neighbor hotels” on the Disneyland app and then from there navigate to the hotel’s website to get booking info as well as how to get to the park from your hotel. Driving and parking at the parks will cost you $25/daily and you will still need to walk and ride a shuttle to the security gates, which probably will take you more time than if you walked or used the ART.
My favorites: My personal choice for a Disney stay is the Howard Johnson (Hojo) Anaheim! The hotel is across the street from Disneyland and takes about 10 minutes to walk from the hotel to the park entrance. The hotel offers an on-site waterpark, Castaway Cove and has just as much Disney magic as an on-site hotel (balloon swords in the lobby, complimentary tattoos, monthly face-painting, gift shop with Disney merchandise, etc). The rooms are decorated in Disney and Building 1 has been renovated to a retro-style with bright colors that the kids’ love (Building 2 is close to being done)! If you can get a theme park view room, you get a mountain view (Matterhorn Mountain) and a great view of the fireworks! We even have a discount code for Phoenix with Kids readers – use this link! And use the codes below:
20% off Disneyland Annual Passholder Discount – Corp code: 1000025935
15% off Discount for everyone! Corp code: 1000022077
Buying Tickets and Booking
There are a lot of ways to buy tickets for the Disneyland Parks! You can buy them ahead of time through third-party travel sites, such as Undercover Tourist, which is the cheapest I typically find. You can also use your Target Redcard and buy tickets for 5% off. Also, Costco Travel, Getaway Today, and Undercover Tourist offer great booking packages that include hotel and tickets. Sometimes it is cheaper to buy everything separately, but sometimes a package gives you a better deal. There are a lot of different ticket options, so let me explain below.
Park-Hopper- Gives you the option to go back and forth between the parks. The parks are close enough together to let you easily go between the two. It allows you to move to the other park if one is more crowded or you want to eat or catch an activity at the other park.
One Park Per Day- Exactly that! You can visit one park each day (and exit and return to the same park). These tickets are cheaper, but once you enter the park, you can’t go to the other park that same day unless you upgrade your ticket.
It is beneficial to buy 3-5 day tickets. This will lower the “daily” cost of admission, with the 5-day ticket having the lowest daily admission price. A 1-day park-hopper can cost $199 alone and the gate price of a 3-day park-hopper is $350. Also, tickets that are 3+ days give you the option of having a Magic Morning at Disneyland, where you can go in 1-hour early (typically either, T/Th or Sat).
You may also find the option to add Maxpass to your ticket. This is an added $15/day and can be a part of your ticket or purchased separately on the Disneyland app. Maxpass allows you to make mobile Fastpass selections instead of having to go and get the paper option (I’ll explain more below). I highly recommend using Maxpass, but it can be easily added to your ticket after you enter the park. It is best used when spending the full day in the park, so I only pre-buy it with my ticket if I know I am not doing any half-days (sometimes we get into town around 1/2pm and go for the evening, and then spend 3 days in the park, so we buy a 4-day ticket).
Once you buy your tickets and have the barcode, you can and should add them to the Disneyland app! You can add your whole family’s ticket on one app (or even two) and that makes it easy to scan in at the gates, use Maxpass, or scan the barcodes for the traditional Fastpass system.
Getting to Disneyland from Phoenix
Getting to Disneyland, located in Anaheim, CA is an easy drive or flight. I prefer to drive and just take the I-10 West and head toward LA. Right after Cabazon, CA, you will typically venture off the 10 and head towards Anaheim. The route can change depending on traffic and construction, so just follow Google Maps and you will get there! If you fly, I recommend flying to John Wayne Airport, Orange County (SNA) and if you are just doing Disneyland, take an Uber to shuttle to your hotel or rent a car if you will be traveling around. Make sure you double-check hotel parking prices (Hojo is free!!). If you are adding beach days to your trip, I typically recommend switching hotels and moving closer to the beach. SoCal traffic can be tough, and although Disney isn’t far, it isn’t beachside!
My favorites: We drive and I always make my children little travel bags with fun activities and a few snacks for the car. I use the Bulleye’s Playground/Dollar Spot from Target and just fill it with car-friendly toys. We always stop in either Quartsite, AZ (always get your gas in AZ if possible- much cheaper) or Blythe, CA for lunch, and if we leave by 7am, we arrive at our hotel by about 3pm! My kids will still nap in the car, so it gives my husband and me the chance to just chat and listen to our favorite music!
My Disneyland Tips
Packing- Depending on the time of year, pack for the weather. It tends to be chilly at night, even in the warmer times of the year, so bring a light jacket for everyone! For rain, ponchos and stroller covers are saviors! You can bring strollers (there is a size restriction, but most doubles still fit) into the park as well as bags/food. They do check at security. I always wear a fanny pack with essentials (some cash, credit card, ID) and then a bag with sunscreen, snacks, and extra clothes. I leave the bag on the stroller during rides but wear my fanny pack. I always pack a power bank charger, as I tend to use my phone a lot for pictures and navigating the Disneyland app! Most hotels have laundry rooms, so I always keep that in mind so I don’t overpack. You can prebuy souvenirs at Target or online, which is what I always do to save on costs at the park!
Dining in Disney- As I mentioned, you can make dining reservations up to 60 days in advance! There are a lot of great sit-down restaurants and five character dining experiences (all for breakfast except one offers dinner). Character dining is a buffet-style meal and can be a bit pricey, so we normally choose one meal during our stay. Minnie’s Plaza Inn Breakfast is always our go-to as it is the only one inside the parks. On the days Disneyland opens early, Minnie’s opens at that time, so I try to get reservations for the earliest time and then use the special line (located at the far left side of the entrance gates). We get in early, eat, and are ready when the park officially opens to start our day! We only do this if we do not have a Magic Morning left (save your Magic Morning for rides). Also, there are so many quick service options at Disneyland that I never feel like I need sit-down dining. You can now even mobile order at many of the restaurants and completely avoid lines and save a lot of time!
Also, Disneyland lets you bring in your own food and drinks! You can bring full meals or just snacks. I have seen families bring fast food in, grab a table and eat somewhere! Bring portable water bottles as they can be refilled and avoid the costs of bottled water! There are also dining packages available giving you reserved seating for parades, Fantasmic, World of Color, or Frozen musical. These cost anywhere from $30+ per person but give you great seating. If you are really interested in a nice event, check out the World of Color Dessert Party- you get dessert, champagne, and a seat to watch World of Color. At $75 a person, it is a bit of a splurge, but worth a bit of fun!
Stroller and Wheelchair Rentals- You can rent single/double strollers or wheelchairs just to the right of the Disneyland Park entrance. Or you can have an off-site company deliver a stroller/wheelchair to your hotel. This is a great option if you are limited on space but it is an added cost!
How Many Days at Disney? This is a question I am always asked! I think the ideal trip is 4 nights with 3 days in the park. Arrive in the afternoon, grab dinner at Downtown Disney or do character dining at Goofy’s Kitchen, go home and REST, and be ready for 3 days of fun. I always park hop but spend more time at Disneyland than California Adventure.
Best Ages for Disney? I think Disney is for ALL AGES! Younger kids will love the characters, parades, and shows. There are also so many rides that are all ages. Older kids will love the thrilling rides. Parents just love the magic they see in their kids’ eyes (or just love reliving the Disney magic of childhood). Disneyland offers baby-care centers where you can nurse, change diapers, use highchairs and just relax with the babies! You can find these locations on the app. Also, with the littles, parents have the option to do Rider Switch, so both parents can ride. Ask a cast member at the entrance of a ride and they will explain how it works and get you set up for rider swap! Bring noise-canceling headphones for sensory children so they can enjoy rides and shows without loud noise that can be sensitive to those little ears.
Maxpass- Maxpass is a great way to enjoy the parks on busy days. You pay $15/day per ticket and can make mobile Fastpass selections to skip the long ride lines (you get to make Fastpass selections throughout the day depending on availability, etc). You also get access to any photo taken of your family that day (check the app for locations). It can be pricey, but worth it, especially for older kids. Not all rides are included, but most of the longer-line rides are. If you don’t want to pay the extra price you can still scan your ticket at Fastpass kiosks and get a paper ticket to skip the lines. Use your Maxpass or Fastpass right when you enter the park to get access to World of Color and Fantasmic as these go FAST and will help you have reserved seating.
When to Get to the Parks- ROPE DROP!!! Get there early! The parks are quiet in the morning and pick up in the afternoon. Go and get your Fastpass for Fantasmic or World of Color at park opening. In the afternoon, when it gets busy, go back to the hotel to rest, swim, etc. Then go back in the evening for parades, shows, and fireworks. My biggest piece of advice is to get there early and enjoy the lower crowds!
What is the Best Time of Year To Go- Disneyland is busy all the time! It is slower during the school year on weekdays, but it still can be busy! Weekends and school breaks are the busiest. There are a lot of events at Disney throughout the year, like Halloween at Disney and the Holidays. From mid-September to the second week of January can be a busy time of year with the parks decorated in either Halloween or Christmas. These times have a lot of fun events, but the crowds will be there.
Target RedCard- If you have a Target RedCard, you can buy Disney gift cards at 5% off! I normally stock up before a trip. These cannot be used for mobile ordering (which I use a lot), so just remember that, but these can be used on almost everything else!
Star War’s Galaxy’s Edge- This new Disneyland addition opened in May of 2019! It is literally out of this world! The cast members stay in character, so if you mention a Star Wars movie, they will look at you quite confused! There are two rides in this area (both for ages 4-5+), a reservation-only cantina (Oga’s Cantina- make reservations on the app), many shopping experiences, a life-size Millennium Falcon, the opportunity to build a lightsaber or droid, and a few quick-service restaurants. They offer blue and green milk, which is a foodie favorite! Right now, the newest ride, Rise of the Resistance requires a boarding pass system, which means you have to get a boarding pass right at park opening (normally they are gone within minutes) for a return time later in the day. This will change once the hype has slowed down, but be sure to check and learn about boarding passes before you go! It is a really awesome addition to Disneyland and if you wander through you may just get to meet Kylo Ren, a stormtrooper, Rey, R2D2, or Chewbacca.
Planning a trip to Disneyland can be overwhelming at first! Just be sure to do research and download the app! Join Facebook groups and follow Disney Instagramers.
If you have any other questions about this Phoenix With Kids Guide to Disneyland, reach out to me on social media and I will answer the best I can! It truly is a magical experience that your family will cherish forever!
For more Spring Break ideas, browse our popular blog post listing Phoenix and Arizona locations!