A year ago I never would have thought we’d be going to The Happiest Place on Earth…
The first thing you need to do is to choose a date. If at all possible, choose an off-season date. The prices of everything go up during the peak season. Not to mention the crowds!
This time we went with an on-line travel agency called Get Away Today. We found out about them through our credit union. They have blocks of rooms in some of the area hotels. Try to find one with breakfast and free parking. Also try to find one within walking distance or that has a free shuttle. Those that need you to rely on public transportation are challenging to say the least and very inconvenient with kids. Through Get Away Today you can buy a package with both your room and passes to the parks. They send your travel voucher for the hotel in the mail along with lanyards complete with Disney pins for each member of your family. (We used some of our pins to trade for other ones once we got to Disney. See below) You then pick up your tickets at a ticket window upon arrival at the park. Not only did we get a fantastic deal but the customer service at Get Away Today was very impressive!
My plan for an affordable trip to Disneyland, recommends that you are within reasonable driving distance from Anaheim. I would say anything less than 24 hours is a reasonable drive. We currently live only about 16-17 hours away, still close enough to do in only one day with an early enough start.
While on the road you have a couple of options for food. One is to eat both breakfast and lunch on the road. Yogurt, granola bars and muffins make a nice on-the-road breakfast. Sandwiches and chips are our typical lunch. But don’t forget about snacks. A second option is to eat both breakfast and lunch out. Dinner is best eaten out. It’s good to have a break and some good hot food.
If you just can’t do it in only one day, choose a nice inexpensive hotel. Preferably one that serves breakfast.
The best way to save money is to eat in while you’re staying at Disneyland. Food can suck your budget dry before you know it. Even if you spend an average of only $8 a meal, a family of four can spend nearly $100 a day eating out. And that’s if you’re REALLY frugal! To learn about my plan to eat home cooked meals and snacks “in”, check out my posts on Hotel Home Cooking Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. It’s totally worth it and there’s nothing like coming back after a long day at the park to a hot home cooked meal without actually cooking!
I would suggest going out for at least one meal while you’re at the park. I would also suggest doing it on a day that you know will be busy or towards the end of your trip. It can be hard to go back to eating in front of the tv while sitting on the edge of the bed after you’ve eaten out. :o)
We like eating at the Pacific Warf at California Adventure. Our favorites are the free samples of warm freshly made flour and/or corn tortillas at the Mission Tortilla factory. They use those fresh tortillas at the Mexican restaurants at both parks! The other is the sourdough bread bakery. Once you’ve had the free sample, you have to have more. Thankfully, the Pacific Warf Cafe is right there and they serve several soups and salads in fresh sourdough bowls. They are amazing and really filling!
For great money saving tips while at the park, visit Mouse Savers .com. He has some really good recommendations, too! One example: if you order at coffee at the Market House General Store on Main Street, you can take your receipt back any time the same day for a free refill. You don’t even need to have your cup! They also have some lovely flavored coffees!
You’re also going to want to bring home some mementos from your trip to The Happiest Place on Earth. Don’t forget to take lots of pictures and pick up a Photo Pass from one of the friendly professional photographers you see all over the park. Just hand them your card and they will take your picture for free (they will also take a picture with your camera, so have them do that as well). Although the pictures they take are not free to print or download, they are free to share as a slideshow online or to capture. Just log into the website and enter the number on the back of your Photo Pass when you register.
Souvenirs at the park are not cheap! But if you really want something, just remember to set a spending limit before you go. We got a set of mouse ears for every year we’ve been to Disneyland. This year, we did two sets for our last two trips that were custom made. At the Mad Hatter shop at the beginning of Main Street, they have a whole make-it-yourself hat bar. You choose your base, add a patch and the ears of your choice. They have lots to choose from and ours were about the same price as a ready made set of ears. I also like shirts and caps as souvenirs, they are a little more practical than a spinning light-up Buzz Lightyear toy. :o)
You can also try stores outside of the parks or Downtown Disney for souvenirs. We found some fun Disney stuff at a 99 cent store, including some journals that would be perfect for autograph books! I don’t think there is anything for 99 cents in the park…
Here are just some other little tips we’ve learned…
* Take advantage of the Magic Morning (early entry) at Disneyland. The lack of lines is worth getting up a little early!
* Hit the big rides as soon as the park opens to avoid the long lines later on. The afternoons are the perfect time to go back to the hotel for lunch and start dinner!
* Take your own picture of the screen where they show you the picture they take of you on the ride. They turn out pretty good and it’s free.
* Bring your own water in disposable water bottles. You will get thirsty and they do let you bring a minimal amount of food and drinks into the park. The California water is yucky and you don’t want to accidentally leave your expensive fancy BPA water bottle on Splash Mountain! These water bottle holders work great and they are super easy to make!
* Have your bags/backpacks open and ready to search when you get to the security check point. And don’t have anything that you can’t take into the park! You do NOT want to have it confiscated or have to take it back to your room!!!
* Use your lanyards for your tickets, it saves time in the entrance line if you aren’t digging to find it. You always know where it is if it’s around your neck…
* And to keep staying on budget easier, use cash. And don’t bring more cash than you are willing or able to spend.
* Last of all… HAVE A SUPER FANTASTIC TIME MAKING MEMORIES THAT YOUR FAMILY WILL HAVE FOR A LIFETIME!!!