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. And heck, let’s face it – air travel at all in 2021 can feel daunting!
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 May 2021 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: Allegiant, American, Frontier, JSX, Spirit, Sun Country, and WestJet.
For tips for flying some of these airlines, scoring good airfare deals, and flying with kids, check out these related posts:
- Complete Guide to Flying Southwest with Kids
- Top Tips for Baby’s First Flight
- How to Make the Most of a Southwest Fare Sale
- Tips for Flying United with Kids
2. Long Beach International Airport (LGB)
Long Beach Airport 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 used to be a major JetBlue hub, but the airline pulled out of LGB last year (see tips for flying JetBlue with kids). Southwest snagged a lot of the 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. (Editor’s Note for 2021: Paradise Pier is currently closed until June 15, 2021. The reopening plans for this car rental location are still unknown.)
Flying to Disneyland: Other Ground Transportation Options?
If you decide to opt out of a rental car, there are several 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.
Several of the ground transportation options you may read about elsewhere were discontinued in 2020 with no plans to resume, so take note. Those include the Disneyland Resort Express as well as several shuttle companies. The options that remain include:
Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are allowed to operate at almost 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 $25-30 to SNA, $30-40 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.
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.
And as of fall 2019, an even bigger ride-sharing change for Disneyland travelers came to LAX. LAX now requires that arriving passengers take a shuttle to a parking lot near Terminal 1 (LAX-it) in order to catch a ride on Uber and Lyft. This step adds 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 are able to drop off curbside at LAX at least.
2. Shared Shuttles
There used to be numerous shuttle companies operating in the LA area that offered flat rate transportation from area airports to your Disneyland hotel. Quite a few of them shuttered during the 2020 closures. Quite a few others are not offering shared vehicles at all in 2021 and are instead operating more like executive car services.
Regardless of the vehicle used (sedans or 15 passenger vans), 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. Here is the pricing of a few of these companies to and from the Grand Californian Hotel as of May 2021:
- Prime Time Shuttle: $58.78 each way to/from SNA in an executive sedan.
- SuperShuttle: $127 for up to 5 people in a large van each way to/from LAX (other airports not served)
- Karmel Shuttle: $75 for 4-6 people in a large van each way to/from SNA, also serves LGB ($85) & LAX ($125) (save by $5-13 each way booking with Get Away Today!),
The advantage of shuttles has traditionally been cheaper pricing, especially for solo travelers. For families, the cost of multiple people often canceled out any savings, and made a ride-sharing service more economical. In 2021, however, because shared rides that bring the price down are often not available, compare prices carefully.
3. Executive Sedan, Car, or Limo Services
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. Lansky’s vehicles transport up to 6 passengers $80 one way from SNA, $90 from LGB, and $140 from LAX.
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 $40-50). From the next closest airport (LAX), a cab would cost over $100. Always compare them to their ride-share counterparts to maximize savings.
Note also that at LAX, the taxi services also operate out of LAX-it and require guests to take a shuttle to a parking lot near Terminal 1. So there is no time-savings over ridesharing there.
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