A friend recently posted a question on Facebook asking whether they should take their girls to Disneyland or a beach in Mexico. I immediately said, “Mexico”. Better value, more fun. But then I realized something: Disneyland is a vacation every family should take at least once. There is something magical about taking your children through the gates, hearing the music, and feeling the excitement.
So while there are vacations that are a better value, and I personally prefer a day at the beach to a day standing in lines and paying for overpriced food, you can’t capture the same magic of Disneyland any other way.
If you want to enjoy Disneyland, you have to plan your Disneyland vacation with your budget, priorities, and family preferences in mind. Disney provides tools and resources for planning your Disney vacation. These can be found at http://disneyparks.disney.go.com/disney-vacation-planning/. But here are my tips:
1. Plan WHEN to go:
People always try to plan when to go to avoid the crowds. This can be challenging to do as it is always busy. Keep in mind Disneyland is busiest when school is out. If you can go during the school year, do so. My advice is don’t get too caught up in the when. We have been at Christmas, which is lovely, and the decorations are awesome, the seasonal foods amazing. We have been at Halloween when the park is all decked out. We have been mid-summer, and we have been during the school year. It is always crowded. It is always fun. We take advantage of fast-passes, rider-switch passes, and plan our ride priorities to maximize our fun without over-worrying about when to go.
2. Plan WHERE to stay:
The biggest question is on-site or off. At Disney World, staying on-site is key, but at Disneyland it is not as important. If you want to save money stay off-site. It is possible to stay close by for $50/night for a family of 4. When we go to Disneyland we usually stay in our Worldmark Timeshare. However, we have tried other options. We have stayed in a cheap hotel right outside the gates. We have stayed in someone’s home which we rented through VRBO.com. We have stayed further away and driven in for the day. However, my favorite way (besides our timeshare) is booking through GetAwayToday.com. It is the lowest cost, as it combines tickets and hotel. I am not getting paid to say this either, I just have done the research and if you are paying for tickets and a hotel, they are the cheapest option.
Try to stay in a hotel within walking distance of Disneyland (there are lots to choose from) or with a free shuttle, as this will save you time and money.
3. Plan HOW to get there:
Drive or fly? Rent a car or use public transit? This is really up to you, the cost, and the time. If you live far away it may be time prohibitive to drive. But if you live in Southern CA or nearby, driving can save a lot of money, depending on the number of travelers. Weigh the costs and benefits to you. When searching flights, remember there are many airports close by. Search for flights flying into LAX, SNA, LGB, and BUR, as all are close to Disneyland.
Once you get there, ground transportation needs to be considered. For those who drive, don’t worry, you have your car. If you fly in, consider using a shuttle. It is about $10/person/way. However if you book through SuperShuttle online you can use the code UYR59 to get $3 off each way. If you have a group larger than 3, consider taking a taxi or limo, as it will be less expensive, and faster.
4. Plan your TICKET expense:
Tickets to the park can be one of the costliest parts of the trip. Be careful when looking online, as there are many scammers or people trying to sell partial park hopper tickets. DO NOT BUY tickets from eBay, Craigslist, or through ticket “rentals” they are scams. Disney has cracked down on these, and you will end up paying full price at the park and losing your money if you buy these scam tickets.
If you want to get a discount on tickets, go through an authorized retailer, and buy 3-Days or more. The fact is, it is unlikely you will get more than a few dollars off on a one or two-day pass, single park or hopper.
Discount Disneyland tickets can be found online at Disneyland Good Neighbor Hotels in Anaheim, AAA, Safeway, Costco, and other authorized websites (Like GetAwayToday.com).
I suggest buying your tickets with GetAwayToday.com and combining with hotel for a great discount.
5. Plan what to EAT:
DO NOT BUY the Disneyland Dining Plan. It is a lot of hassle, and considered not worth it. Unless you want to eat Character meals for every meal, just pay for food with cash/card, or plan to eat elsewhere. Hopefully they will improve their dining plan soon, but for now it is not a good value. You really won’t save by buying it.
I think it is important to mention that while you have limited options for discounts on tickets, and hotels are often dictated by group size and budget, food can be variable and is a great place to save big.
Eating at the park can be very costly, and so I suggest taking in some food with you. Or at the very least some water or a reusable water bottle that can be filled at the park. This will help you save on snacks, time, and the like. We love eating our prepared snacks while waiting in long lines, making the wait less frustrating, and saving big bucks. This doesn’t mean we don’t indulge in some fun Disney snacks, as that is part of the experience. I would feel ripped off if I didn’t get a Dole-whip, or a churro, or a turkey leg. But you don’t have to eat every meal and snack at the park. Packing some crackers, string cheese, apple slices, or PB&J can help you maximize your vacation dollars.
Bonus tip: Plan the RIDES.
Take some time to put together a tentative schedule. Know what rides will be open, what height kids have to be to ride them, and locations. Educate yourself on what fast passes are, how to get them and use them. If you are traveling with kids unable to ride certain rides, be sure to learn about Rider Switch Passes, which allow one adult to stay with the kids while the other adult waits in line and rides, then switch so the other adult can ride without having to wait in the long line.
There are tons of attractions at both Disneyland and California Adventure. Knowing which appeal to you, and how to prioritize, especially if you have limited time can really add value to your vacation. But when it comes down to it, if you are there, and having fun, go with it, throw out the schedule and just enjoy your time!
And let’s not forget our Mother’s May Highlight: Aimee Ahlgren
Aimee was nominated by Victoria Johnson. This is what Victoria had to say:
“She is amazing. Seriously. She is a strong, loving, doting mama of quadruplets and they are her world!
As with many high-order multiples she had options and choices in the hospital and decided to keep all of her babies and give them all the best life she could.
I have known her since she was the very first person to talk to me in the 4th grade after moving stateside from Japan. That’s been nearly 20 years ago and she has been so genuine and such a great friend ever since!
She works sun up to well past sun down (and sometimes throughout the night) caring for her quads, keeping the house clean, cooking all of the meals and doing family photography on the side to help contribute to the household income.
She is a super mom, and like most moms, doesn’t get much time for herself or treat herself to little gifts so I know she would love and truly appreciate the recognition :)”
She sounds amazing! Let’s all give her a virtual pat-on-the-back or high-five by sharing some comment love!!