Let’s just knock the elephant out of the room right away – planning a fairy tale trip to Disneyland fit for a princess can be very intimidating. Where will you stay? What kind of transportation will you use? What should you pack for your kids (nevermind yourself)? Will you have time for everything? And those questions barely scratch the surface. HOWEVER, I am here to tell you that it’s actually not that scary to plan and is way more doable than you think! We recently took the plunge and planned a MAGICAL 48 hour Disneyland trip to celebrate Zelda’s fifth birthday.
She had no idea it was happening and watching the surprise unfold was one of the best experiences I’ve had so far as a parent. It was quick, but the memories we made are ones I’m going to hold onto forever! Which is why I knew I had to put together a comprehensive guide for anyone with a special princess in their life who needs a trip to Disney! I tried really hard to take note of every detail, so hopefully this Disneyland guide answers all your questions. I dive into where to stay, transportation, hacks for the park itself and, of course, all the activities we did. Buckle in, friends, we’re going to Disneyland!
48 Hour Disneyland Guide
Because our trip was such a quick one, there were two things I knew right away were non-negotiables. First, I wanted to stay as close to Disneyland as possible. Ain’t nobody got time to waste on unnecessary shuttles and sitting in the car. Second, everything had to be magical for Zelda. This trip was about her and her only – not about Sprio and I experiencing Disneyland as adults, but Zelda turning five and being a princess for the weekend. If I sound like a crazy mom then you haven’t seen her other birthday celebrations. Anyway, these two things kind of set the tone for all our plans, which I’ve broken down below.
First and foremost, you’re going to want to decide how much you want to spend on your Disney experience. It’s easy to get carried away if you want to go all out, but I will say, I was honestly surprised at what you could get for the money at Disneyland. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a pretty pricey trip but I think they are very transparent and don’t try to pull bait and switch situations.
Once you set your budget, start planning your activities. There are all kinds of options and different packages to choose from at various price points, so don’t feel like you have to spend a million dollars to have a good time because you truly don’t.
We stayed at Disneyland Hotel and I have nothing but positive things to say. They just know what they’re doing and it shows. Our room was beautiful, clean and exactly what we were expecting, which is always a huge sigh of relief when staying at any hotel. You also want to stay here because it is attached to the park. This is a must – especially if your trip is short like ours. It gives you complete access and you can come and go from the park as you please. It does come at a premium, but you really get to immerse yourself in the full Disney experience while you’re there.
We booked a room that had access to Club Amenities and I highly recommend it. This will save you money on breakfast, snacks, drinks – all those little expenses that add up very quickly in the park. You’ll also get access to a wine and cheese cocktail hour (you know mama needs a drink) and a little dessert social in the evening. The employees at the Club level were also just really helpful and kind, which is always a nice bonus. To make sure you get Club Amenities, just mention it when booking. Our favorite perk was having a room with a view of the fireworks in the park – so worth it!
I also just have to call out the attached waterpark at Disneyland Hotel. It’s an experience within itself that really made out stay even more fun and special. If you’re looking for that little extra something with your hotel for the trip, this is it. They also offer a great selection of life jackets at the pool so no need to haul yours from home.
Long story short, we had a great experience at Disneyland Hotel and I would stay here 100x over. If you’re debating, this is the place to book. Trust me.
Tip: If you haven’t already purchased your park passes when checking in, mention it to the front desk and they will take care of it for you. The last thing you want to do is buy your passes at the entrance of the park. If you do, you’ll be starting your magical experience with a long line and no one wants that.
What you decide to do for transportation can have a big impact on your trip. For our 48 hour weekend, we decided to cut the noise, skip the rental car and just take the Disneyland shuttle. I’ll admit, initially, I was very nervous about this decision because all I could think about was this hot, crowded bus that smelled funny. It could not have been more different. The shuttle was a beautiful greyhound bus with AC blasting and there were more seats than people. All you had to do was stow your bags, find a seat and chill until the bus takes you exactly where you need to be.
Unfortunately the shuttle isn’t free, but it’s one of those things where it’s worth it for the convenience. And it’s cheaper than a rental car so that’s a bonus too. We paid $30 per adult each way and $9 for Zelda each way. You don’t even have to book online because they always have open seats. On the way home, it picks up from Disneyland Hotel every hour on the hour, so you just step out front whenever you need to go and it’ll drop you off right at your terminal.
Tip: My tip here is to just take the damn shuttle! It’s GOLDEN! Don’t pay to rent a car and then valet it the entire tri. Also, who wants to drive in LA traffic?! Now that sounds like a very unmagical buzz kill.
Disneyland is FULL of experiences, shows, rides, food, and an unlimited number of other fun activities. The best part about going is you can tailor your trip to be exactly what your family wants to do. I wish we would have had the time to see and do more, but the below activities are what we decided would make Zelda feel most like a princess!
We arrived to our hotel Friday afternoon, so we spent some time at the pool and then walked over to Goofy’s kitchen for dinner. It’s in the Disneyland Hotel but accessible to the public and you do not need a park pass to get in. This place was SUCH a great way to kick off our trip. All the classic Disney characters were there from Goofy himself to Mickey and Minnie to Dale and the Chipmunks. They all come around to your table so you can get photos with them and autographs without any lines!
They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, so you can go any time of day. The food is served buffet style and it is bomb!! You don’t need a reservation and they accept walk-ins all day. We went twice without a reservation – once at lunch with no wait time and once for brunch with a 20-minute wait (but they quoted us 45, so it wasn’t bad at all). This place is a must-visit. Put it on your list for sure!
Tip: If you’re celebrating a special occasion, be sure to tell them when you’re seated. They’ll make it extra special for you!
First thing Saturday morning we kicked off our Disneyland trip with the Princess Breakfast Adventure at Napa Rose. This experience was beautiful. I’ll be completely honest, it’s not cheap and came in at just under $450 for our family of three. We completely and totally loved it though and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
You’re served a gorgeous three-course breakfast that starts with an appetizer tower at your table, followed by an out-of-this-world buffet and then it finishes with a dessert tower also at your table. Your child will get to spend one on one time with all the Disney princesses along with storytime and then photos. It’s a legit, full-on Disney princess experience. It does eat up quite a bit of time, so I’d plan for about 2.5 hours.
You 100% need to book this in advance and set up a reservation. It fills up very fast!
Tip: No need to buy an autograph book for the trip because one is included in this experience. Your little princess will leave the park with all the autographs of her favorite characters!
Our next stop of the day was at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. This place is definitely a must if you have a little girl who loves princesses. And it wasn’t just an exceptional experience for Zelda, we all walked away just glowing! It was probably the highlight of the entire trip. Please book an appointment at Bibbidi Bobbidi! Plus I think it’s a really great value for what you get to do!
There are several different packages to choose from with prices starting at $65. We chose the Deluxe Castle Package at $230. Zelda got to pick the princess she wanted to be and then it included hairstyling, a princess gown (that she got to keep!), shimmery makeup, a princess sash and bag, a face gem, nail polish, coordinating accessories, a photoshoot in Cinderella’s carriage AND she got to meet all the princesses and jump the line. I mean, what?! I can’t even explain how special this was for Zelda. She truly looked and felt just like a princess.
This entire experience took about an hour and a half and it was probably the most magical hour and a half of not only Zelda’s life but mine and Spiro’s too. We really, really kicked off the day with a full-on princess moment for Zelda and it was so, so worth it!
Tip: They do accept walk-ins at 8 am right when they open, but you’d have to be up and at it to make it without a reservation, so do yourself a favor and just book it ahead of time to eliminate the stress! Trust me on this one because I did not make an appointment in advance. It was definitely a face palm moment.
OK, so I didn’t know this before going on our trip, but Downtown Disney is actually a place you can access without a park pass. It’s located in the middle of it all between Disneyland Hotel and Disneyland Park. All you have to do to get in is go through security.
We found Downtown Disney to have some of the best restaurants AND they have cocktails – something you won’t find inside the park (except in the Star Wars area, but it’s very limited). There’s also a ton of shopping. It reminded Spiro and me of a mini Las Vegas situation.
Wait times are reasonable and prices are decent, so we ate in Downtown Disney quite a bit. It’s a nice little escape from the park where you can sit down and chill for a bit.
We rounded out our trip with a little bit more time at the pool on Sunday and a final visit to Goofy’s Kitchen. It was a quick little birthday vacay for sure, but we did SO much because we stayed on the property. That’s honestly my biggest tip – stay at Disneyland Hotel! It will add tons of time back into your day and make the whole trip all the more magical!
To wrap up my guide, I want to share a quick Q&A of questions submitted by you guys on Instagram and also some general Disneyland tips that I picked up during our trip! If you have any other questions, I’d love an excuse to keep talking about this trip, so please leave them in the comments!
Q&A Follower Roundup
How far in advance do you need to make reservations for Bibbidi Bobbidi salon and was it worth it?
Make this reservation as soon as you know you’re going to Disney! The sooner the better. And make the appointment for early in the morning so your little girl can spend the entire day running around in her princess dress, hair and makeup. Zelda was in character for two full days! And yes!! It was worth every single penny! Hands down one of the best experiences and you get so much for your money! The employees really go above and beyond.
The meal plans and fast passes, if you did them.
We didn’t do either of these because we were only there for 48 hours and knew we wanted this trip to completely be about Zelda. We only rode three rides and they weren’t ones that accepted fast pass. As far as meal plans, we had access to the Club floor at our hotel, plus we had some experiences that included meals so we knew meal plans weren’t necessary for our trip. I do think there’s a lot of value in them though depending on the length of your trip and the activities you want to do.
Was 48 hrs enough time?
Is there ever enough time at Disney? Ha! 48 hours is what we had, so we just wanted to take full advantage of it. I can safely say it’s one of the best experiences we’ve had as a family. So although we would have loved more time, we had a total blast with the timeframe we had.
Was the temperature too hot to handle during parts of the day? Is fall a better time to go?
We did really well with the heat. A lot of the rides have built-in shade and you can break up being outside with shows and other indoor experiences. It really wasn’t a problem for us.
Why Anaheim vs Orlando?
With such a quick trip, LA is only a one and a half hour flight for us so that was a big piece of our decision making, but also because we want Orlando to be a bigger trip, like 7-8 days. This was our opportunity to get our ears wet (get it?) as we look forward to A LOT more Disney trips as a family in the future!
Disneyland Quick Tips
Whether you’re spending a day in the park like us or an entire week, get your passes BEFORE arriving at the park (buy them here)! There was such a long line at the entrance and waiting in the heat sounds like a horrible way to start off such a magical experience. Buy them online or through your hotel concierge before showing up.
If you’re going with small children and making the trip truly about them and their experience, I recommend skipping the fast pass. We only went on three rides with Zelda and they weren’t rides that accepted fast passes anyway (do some research here to see what rides accept it and what ones don’t). Of the 12 hours we were in the park, our time went mostly to experiences, shows, eating and just walking around together.
Disneyland itself does not offer dining plans, so you’ll have to pay for your meals as you go. Don’t be afraid to step outside the park and hit up Downtown Disney. It has great sit down options and all the food we had was fantastic.
There is virtually no alcohol in the park. The Star Wars experience has a frozen drinks stand, but that’s it. Luckily Downtown Disney has lots of options, so if you find yourself needing a drink, just hop over there really quick.
There is 100% NO smoking in the park as of May 2019. If you’re a smoker, be sure to make plans based on the park rules.