Planning to fly to Mickey’s home in Southern California for a vacation? Even though my family lives in Northern California, we fly to Anaheim much more often than we drive. Flying to Disneyland is a totally different ballgame than flying to Walt Disney World in Orlando. Air travel to the Los Angeles area may seem daunting if you are not a frequent flyer or do not know the area well. There are numerous airport choices, big city traffic, and more challenging and often more expensive ground transportation choices.
But never fear! Here are the essentials you need to know to make your flight arrival and departure logistics on your Disneyland trip much, much easier. (Note that this guide has been fully updated with pricing, rules and regulations as of October 2019 so you can have the most up-to-date accurate information to plan your trip!)
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Flying to Disneyland: Which Airport?
If you are not familiar with the geography of greater Los Angeles, it is important to learn a little bit before booking your flight. Southern California has a lot of airport choices. And traffic can be quite bad in LA. This means you really need to choose your airport carefully or you may find yourself stuck on the freeway rather than in line for Space Mountain.
Here are the major airport options to consider when flying to Disneyland:
1. John Wayne Orange County Airport (SNA)
Orange County’s John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana is my personal pick for the best airport to use when headed to Disneyland. Located just about 13 miles from the main gate, you can often make it from the airport to your hotel in under 20 minutes.
SNA is a small airport, meaning that walks are short and lines are reasonable. I’ve never waited for checked bags for more than 5-10 minutes and am usually out the door and at my hotel in record time.
John Wayne is served by many airlines, but some of the airlines with the most service include Southwest, United, Alaska and Delta. Other airlines operating at SNA are: American, Frontier, JetSuiteX, and WestJet.
2. Long Beach International Airport (LGB)
Long Beach is a close second choice. LGB is just about as close to Disneyland than SNA, but it usually takes about 10 minutes longer of a drive to Disneyland. There is not as direct of a freeway route to take and the roads can have a little more traffic some times of day. LGB is even smaller and more navigable than SNA. Expect short TSA lines and very quick bag handling.
Long Beach is a JetBlue hub, but Southwest has recently snagged some additional slots and has increased its service. Other airlines operating at Long Beach include: Hawaiian, Delta, and American.
3. Los Angeles International (LAX)
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is one of the largest airports in the United States, so it goes without saying that it will have the most flight choices from the most destinations. Its larger size also means more airline competition so prices may often be cheaper here. For larger families on a budget, those flight savings can really add up.
LAX is huge and at times, incredibly inefficient. Give yourself extra time for security and check-in lines and plan for generally tougher logistics. At about 33 miles from Disneyland, plan for about an hour from the airport to your hotel, although it can sometimes be shorter if you are traveling at a very low traffic time. Nearly every major airline in the world has a presence at LAX.
4. Ontario (ONT)
LA’s Ontario airport is 35 miles away – not much further than LAX – but that trip usually takes longer given LA traffic patterns. Ontario is smaller and easy to navigate like SNA and LGB. I personally wouldn’t recommend using it for Disneyland, however, due to distance and fewer ground transportation options unless prices are much, much cheaper than your other options.
5. Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR)
Burbank’s Airport (formerly known as Bob Hope) is the furthest of the bunch at 41 miles. The trip is often well over an hour to Disneyland because of traffic. I’d consider using it in the same circumstances as ONT – for great deals only – because the distance and ground transportation is harder.
If you plan to combine your Disneyland vacation with a trip to Universal Hollywood, however, Burbank could make very good sense for your travels. It’s just minutes away from Universal. Like John Wayne, Long Beach and Ontario, the airport is small and easy to navigate.
6. San Diego International (SAN)
Seriously, San Diego? Yes! I wouldn’t recommend this airport to someone flying in for a quick weekend trip to Disneyland, but visitors who plan a longer Southern California trip should consider it if prices are right. If you are headed to Legoland California in Carlsbad (just north of San Diego) in addition to Disneyland, keep SAN on your radar.
Flying to Disneyland: Rental Car or Not?
If you are only planning to visit Disneyland during your trip, you almost definitely do NOT need a rental car. There are numerous other ground transportation options to get you from the airport to your hotel. In addition, most hotels in the vicinity of Disneyland have their own shuttles or are on the Anaheim resort shuttle stop system. These same hotels almost always charge for parking, so you’d be paying twice if you rented a car. Save yourself the money!
If you are planning to visit other attractions in Southern California before or after your Disneyland visit, a rental car is nearly a necessity. Let’s face it: the Los Angeles area is not known for its spectacular public transit. You’ll need a car to get around.
Quick tip: If you are staying at Disneyland for most of your visit and only need a car for a day or two to go elsewhere, there’s another option: rent from Alamo. Alamo has a rental car office located right in the lobby of Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel. That way, you avoid parking fees and can have the car for the day or two you need it.
Flying to Disneyland: Other Ground Transportation Options?
If you decide to opt out of a rental car, there are a lot of other options for getting from the airport to the parks and your hotel. Note that not all airports have every option (or at least every option priced competitively), so choose carefully.
1. Disneyland Resort Express
A third-party company offers scheduled motorcoach service via the Disneyland Resort Express to and from LAX and SNA airports. If you are used to the Magical Express at Disney World, just be aware that this is definitely not the equivalent and it is not run by Disney (Disney licenses the name only).
Rates are as follows:
- Round Trip to/from SNA: $35 per adult, $11 per child
- One Way to/from SNA: $20 per adult, $7 per child
- Round Trip to/from LAX: $48 per adult, $14 per child
- One Way to/from LAX: $30 per adult, $9 per child
My family finds the once-an-hour departure times inconvenient, particularly from SNA where the trip could otherwise be quite quick. The prices are also not particularly competitive for families. A taxi, ride-sharing service, or many other shuttle services would certainly be cheaper for an average family of four.
That said, the Disneyland Resort Express has one major advantage for families. Because service is on a motorcoach, you do not need car seats for kids. For families with several kids of car seat age who don’t want to worry with lugging multiple seats on their air travels, this is an important benefit.
The Disneyland Resort Express doesn’t stop at every off-property hotel, so check the maps carefully to find the closest stop to your hotel. Additionally, be aware that the DRE doesn’t operate at all hours, so travelers taking early morning and late night flights may find it unavailable at their needed times.
Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are allowed to operate at all Southern California airports for both pickups and drop offs. My family has used ride-sharing services at both SNA and LGB regularly and very successfully in our Disneyland travels. Fares for a standard UberX or Lyft are about $20-25 to SNA, $25-35 to LGB, and $50-75 to LAX.
As with all passenger vehicles, you’ll need a car seat or booster for kids under the age of 8 as required by California law. There is no “Uber Car Seat” option in Southern California like a few other US cities offer. You must bring your own.
I highly recommend the inflatable and very compact Bubble Bum Booster Seat for travel with kids who are over 4 years old and 40 pounds. For younger kids needing a convertible car seat, my top travel pick is the Cosco Scenera NEXT, which is very inexpensive and lightweight. Make sure to get the full scoop on using Lyft and Uber with kids before your trip.
But ride-sharing is constantly evolving and sometimes controversial, resulting in battles that passengers need to know about and monitor. For example, early in 2019, SNA moved its ride-sharing pickups from the arrivals curb to somewhat less convenient top level parking deck pickups. Look for the signs to head to the right place for each of the three arrival terminals.
In summer 2019, Uber stopped operating entirely at ONT due to a disagreement over fees the airport assessed the service. Lyft, however, still operates at ONT.
****BREAKING!*** And starting October 29, 2019, an even bigger ride-sharing change is coming that affects Disneyland travelers. LAX will change make ride-sharing pickups by making travelers take a shuttle to a parking lot near Terminal 1 in order to catch a ride. Expect for this step to add 15-30 or more minutes after arriving at LAX. Families with a lot of luggage or kids of stroller age or anyone with mobility issues should consider carefully whether this is a convenient option. Ride-sharing services will still be able to drop off curbside at LAX at least.
There are numerous other shuttle companies operating in the LA area that offer flat rate transportation from area airports to your Disneyland hotel. Most of these companies operate 15 passenger vans, so you’ll need a car seat for your little ones if you use them just like you would in ride-sharing vehicles or rental cars. You’ll also be sharing space with others and may have to make a few stops along the way. Prices vary a bit, but here is the pricing to and from the Disneyland Hotel as of fall 2019:
- Prime Time Shuttle: $36.67 per person each way to/from LAX.
- SuperShuttle: $14.35 per person each way to/from SNA, $43.80 each way to/from LAX.
The advantage of shuttles can be cheaper pricing, especially for solo travelers. For families, however the cost of multiple people may cancel out any savings, and make a ride-sharing service more economical.
4. Car/Limo Service
If you prefer the certainty of having a private ride booked in advance with a driver meeting you at baggage claim, consider a private car or limo service. There are numerous options in Los Angeles.
The service is certainly pricier but is more full-service for families that may be juggling a lot of bags. In addition, some car services offer extra conveniences that matter for families. Lansky Transportation, for example, will provide car seats upon request and also make a quick stop at a grocery store so you can stock up your hotel room refrigerator with snacks. Additionally, a representative for Lansky confirmed that their drivers are able to do in-airport pickups at LAX and are not affected by the new rules limiting the location of ride-sharing pickups.
Last but certainly not least, taxi service is available from all area airports. The cost, however, is simply prohibitive from airports other than SNA or LGB that are very close to Disneyland (SNA and LGB fares are about $40-45). From the next closest airport (LAX), a cab would cost about $100. Always compare them to their ride-share counterparts to maximize savings.
Note also that at LAX, the taxi services are similarly being affected by the new pickup limitations that require guests to take a shuttle to a parking lot near Terminal 1.
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