Disneyland Vacation vs. Day Trip | Ciao Bambino!

Plan an Overnight Disneyland Vacation Instead of a Day Trip

In many families, a typical visit to Disneyland with kids is about packing in the most rides and attractions in a day and not wasting one precious moment of park time. By the end of the day the family is exhausted; the race is over and everyone is content but no one has seen much of the scenery along the way. Sound familiar?

The “one day and done” visit to Disneyland is challenging now that Cars Land and Buena Vista Street have arrived at California Adventure. It’s nearly impossible to fit in all that you want to do in both parks in one day. The best way to slow down and avoid the one-day mad dash is to stay overnight and make it a Disneyland vacation.

Disneyland Tom Sawyer's Island
First time exploring the hanging bridges of Tom Sawyer’s Island after years of Disneyland visits 

What Disneyland Hotel Guests Say

When I asked guests at the Disneyland Hotel why they choose to stay overnight, considering that the cost to stay on-site is not insignificant, the most popular answer was they like to get away from the crowds and relax for a few hours. The second most popular answer coming from families was that they like to take a mid-afternoon break for downtime with the kids in the pool or nap time so they can go back out at night for more park time.

The pool attendants also added that the pool starts getting busy at 2 p.m. when guests return from their morning at the parks for an afternoon swim.

Disneyland Hotel Pool Slides
Kids are entertained for hours on the pool slides at Disneyland Hotel

Seven Good Reasons to Stay Overnight

Staying at a Disneyland Resort hotel adds a little magic and excitement to your visit. Searching for hidden Mickeys and playing in Disney detailed pools and slides makes you feel like an in-the-know guest.

Princess Fantasy Faire at Disneyland
Storytelling at the Royal Theater at Fantasy Faire. Photo credit: Disneyland 

Visit at a relaxing pace. While it’s always a smart idea to plan out your day, the frenetic pace of a 1-day visit subsides when you have more time. In a 3-day, 2-night stay with park hopper tickets you can explore all that the Disneyland Resort has to offer and leisurely visit both California Adventure and Disneyland. There is always something new popping up and this Spring it’s Fantasy Faire, located next to Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. The mini-village dedicated to Princess fans, is the spot to meet and greet the princesses and see several new shows opening at the Royal Theater.

Benefits for Disneyland Resort guests. Staying on-site is not only convenient but brings added benefits for Disneyland guests. Favorite perks include direct access to California Adventure through the Grand California hotel entrance and the Extra Magic Hour that allows hotel guests to get into the parks one hour before they open to the public – this is a huge perk for popular rides like Radiator Springs Racers and Magic Mountain that have long wait times and never enough fast passes for everyone.

Experience the parks at night. The parks take on a different look and feel at night.  Cars Land lit up in neon lights is a “don’t miss” attraction and one of the best photo ops in all of the Disneyland Resort.  For kids, being able to stay up until 9 or 9:30 p.m. means they can see the Disneyland fireworks or the World of Color show in California Adventure.

Ride the water attractions anytime. The allure of water rides is undeniable but so is the fallout from walking around in wet shoes and clothes. Stay on-site and you can return to your room anytime to change into dry clothing.

See a show or parade. Shows and parades typically run 20-40 minutes not including wait time.  Many visitors skip these in favor of more action-packed thrill rides and in the process miss high quality entertainment that entertains kids and gives them a little rest time.

Enjoy a sit-down meal. The quality of the food in the parks is improving by leaps and bounds, especially in California Adventure.  Make reservations and treat yourself to a lunch at Carthay Circle Restaurant.  Sit in a small dining room off the main area where photos of Walt and company line the walls. The kids’ menu is one of the best in all of the Disneyland Resort.

Downtown Disney. There’s always some type of free entertainment in Downtown Disney, especially at night, and there isn’t a kid who doesn’t like playing with the Legos at the second largest Lego Store in the country.

Disneyland Carthay Circle Restaurant Crispy Chicken tacos
Crispy chicken tacos kid’s meal at Carthay Circle Restaurant in California Adventure 

Good Neighbor Hotels for Every Budget

Of the guests that I talked to at the Disneyland Hotel, almost all of them had previously stayed at Disney’s recommended Good Neighbor Hotels. These selected hotels are usually less expensive than Disney’s on-site hotels and if you book a vacation package, sometimes include Disney hotel guest benefits.  The hotels with proximity of “Across the Street” are the closest to the parks.

If you go: Check the Disneyland Resort website for pricing and vacation packages.

Editorial Note:  Ciao Bambino received a complimentary stay at the Disneyland Hotel and park passes for review purposes.  As always, our opinions and thoughts are our own. Photos by Kristi Marcelle except where noted.

Relevant Links:

Disneyland VIP Status Achieved on Adventures By Disney’s Southern California Tour

Review of Aulani Resort in Hawaii

10 tips for visiting Cars Land and Buena Vista Street

Review of Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel

10 tips for visiting Disneyland in summer

Start a Discussion

  • Thanks Kelly. We always go to the Tiki Room (and get Dole Whip) and Tarzan’s Treehouse on super busy days. Our family has a 30 minute wait rule – anything more and we skip it or get Fast Passes. That’s also how we ended up finally trying out Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island (now I understand why they have a pile of gold on the Island!). No wait time for all that fun time exploring and I was surprised that my 9 year old liked it so much – that’s Disney.

  • Totally agree! Living in SoCal, our family is lucky enough to have annual passes, so we’re frequent visitors. I can’t imagine trying to cram all the many nooks & crannies of the park (or California Adventure) into 1 day as a newbie. How tiring and frustrating! Not to mention, on a busy day it’s hard to get in more than 6-7 rides. And there is so much more to the parks than just the rides.
    P.S. Tom Sawyer’s Island is now the “Pirate’s Lair.” I don’t approve of the change just for the movie tie-in, but it’s still very fun!

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