This is an article written by my wonderful reader Amy who is currently enjoying Disneyland with her 4 kids.
GETTING THERE—In just 7 short days, my family and I will be making the drive from Tacoma, WA to Disneyland. This is our third trip to Disneyland in 4 years, and we have learned a few tricks along the way. My husband and I have 4 kids, ages 11, 8, 5, and 3. We have compared airfare rates from every single carrier, and it is still far more economical for us to drive than fly. We have a 2008 Chevy Suburban, and round trip cost for gas was right about $600 last time, with gass at about $4/gallon. We choose not to travel during any potential Spring Break, even though air rates might offer a kids fly free deal. It’s worth the drive for the lighter crowds, believe me! We went on Memorial Day week in 2007, and it was complete chaos. I would also advise to steer clear of high school graduation time for the same reason.
LODGING—We have compared rates through a great travel agency, and we have found that staying outside the park is much more affordable for our large family. Because of the occupancy guidelines, we can’t stay in a traditional room in one of the on-property hotels if we are honest about the number of people in the room (6), and a suite is unbelieveably expensive on-property. Many smaller families can get great deals for on-property lodging, but these deals don’t usually apply to suites, we would have to get two rooms which is more trouble than it’s worth for me.
My moms best friend works for the Disney corporate office, and she said that she recommends the Doubletree Anaheim Guest Suites. The hotel is about 5 years old, and is very clean and modern. They have a pool, in-house full service restaurant and bar, and kids under 12 eat free! (one free kid per paying adult). Another nice thing is the size of the hotel; they have 251 rooms, which is remarkably smaller than the majority of the on-property hotels. This means a lot when you have a stroller full of kids who are hungry/tired/have to go potty and you DON’T have to wait for an elevator! This will be our 3rd stay there, and we won’t consider anything else. We also got a AAA discount, which was around $110 for the week. Not too shabby!
After breakfast, which is an all-you-can-eat buffet of very good food, we walk to the park. It is 3 long blocks away, about 1/2 mile, but we have a double stroller that the little girls can sit in. There is also the option of taking Anaheim Resort Transit, but sometimes they fill up at the hotels that are closer to the park, and we have to wait. It really is no big deal to walk there in the morning, and 1/2 mile is nothing compared to all the walking you’ll be doing inside the park. It would be worth it to take the resort transit back to the hotel at night, though, to give those tired legs and feet a break.
TICKETS AND LENGTH OF STAY—The first year we only spent 2 days at the park, which wasn’t nearly long enough. We didn’t get to see all of Disneyland, let alone California Adventure. In 2008 we spent 5 days, and it was just right. We went Monday-Friday, and by Friday we had done everything we wanted to do, and we got to repeat our favorites.
This time we’re going for 6 days, Sunday through Friday, and we got 6 6-day Park Hopper Passes for the price of 4-day passes. Oh, kids 10 and older are considered adults, so factor that in when you price tickets.
I would highly recommend getting your tickets the evening before you actually enter the park–even if you have paid in advance, like we always do, the line at “will call” is very, very long.
Magic Mornings are usually included in a ticket package of at least 3 days, and it’s when they let you in an hour before the park opens to the public. However, they are usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so everyone else who got a Magic Morning will be lined up early. Last time we were there for a Magic Morning I stopped counting at 500 people in the various lines, and it was growing by the minute.
You can get tickets from Costco for incredibly cheap prices, but be careful, sometimes they are limited to people who reside in CA, and proof of address is required. AAA offers ticket discounts, even Disney offers discount prices if you buy online in advance. We went through a different travel agency though, and got the 6 day passes for the price of 4, and got discounted Character dining and Princess packages for the girls. We also got 5-day unlimited Anaheim Resort Transit passes for all 6 of us for $30.
FIREWORKS AND PARADES- Get a spot well before the parade starts, and on Main street inside the Disneyland park, you have to get there about an hour before if you want to be in front. There are spots that the parade goes through that are less crowded than Main Street , and those are best to avoid frustration and to allow for some space. Try over near the Matterhorn, that’s where we sit, it’s less crowded and you’re right up against the action as it goes by!
The Pixar Play Parade is in California Adventure, and if you have a “Cars” fan, this is perfect! The real Lightining McQueen, along with Mater and the rest, will come right past you, revving their engines as they go. Most Pixar characters appear, and it is a blast! And who could forget the “Toy Story” cast? Buzz, Woody, Slink, etc are all there too. Sully and Mike and Roz from Monsters, Inc, The Incredibles, all there!
Fireworks take place right in fromt of the Sleeping Beauty Castle inside Disneyland, and it is amazing. Well worth staying there until 9:30! That said, if it’s at all windy, they will cancel the fireworks show. Always check the official Disney Parks calendar for schedules for parades, fireworks, even ride closures. Something is always being refurbished and is closed, it seems.
DINING-You can always exit the park to eat, and Subway is right across the street. There are a few inexpensive restaurants and fast food places right outside the park. We bring in our own bottled water and small snacks (Power Bars, fruit snacks, etc) and haven’t had anything confiscated as of yet. The park policy does state no outside food or drink, so depending on who checks your bag might make a difference. We like the Carnation Cafe and The Plaza Inn, both on Main Street, they offer good portions for reasonable prices. Frankly, though, they know you have to eat sometime, so there isn’t much of an incentive to offer screaming deals on dining inside the parks.
CHARACTER INTERACTION AND PHOTO OPPS- Of course, my little girls are head over heels for the princesses. They want to see them, touch them, hug them! From time to time you will see one of the princesses out and about, but they are quickly mobbed and a long line forms. The thing is, they are usually on their way to make an appearance, and when time’s up, they have to go, no matter how long the line. Your little girls can certainly see them at Fantasy Faire, and there are always 3 Princesses there. Lines are also long there, and they do not announce which Princesses will be there, so if your girls have a favorite, they may or may not get to see them. If you can handle the line, it’s well worth it for the photo opps and the look on your daughters face as she hugs her Princess. You WILL cry out of sheer joy for your daughter, so be prepared! :-)
Character dining is something that we do, because the characters come around to your table, you don’t have to hunt them down. Goofy’s Kitchen is inside the Disneyland Hotel, and has good buffet food, and great character interaction. It is very, very expensive (close to $40 a person) but keep in mind you are paying for the character interaction.
Ariels Grotto is inside California Adventure, and this is where Ariel “lives”. You will wait on a spiral staircase to have a turn for a picture with her, and it is also well worth it if your daughter even remotely likes the Princesses. After the picture, you are seated, and as you eat there is a costumed knight who announces the arrival of each Princess. They also go from table to table, so these are prime opportunities for photos and autographs. The only Princess who wasn’t there for our lunch was Sleeping Beauty, but we saw her at Goofy’s Kitchen the night before. Many of the little girls dress up as their favorite Princess for this character dining, and although they sell dresses at the resort, you can get a decent dress at Target for about $20, as opposed to $60 inside the resort.
SOUVENIRS- This time, we are dealing with my husbands layoff, so money is much tighter than in recent years. We paid cash for the hotel and the tickets before we knew he was getting laid off, so the vacation is still a go. Not a lot left over for the spendy resort shirts, trinkets, etc. I went to the Disney Store online and bought a bunch of clearance T-shirts (and a Hoody for each kid) for us. The shirts were less than $7 apiece, and are far less expensive than anything sold in the Emporiums on Main Street. Now they each have a few special shirts that are fun, and have the characters on them, for a fraction of what I’d pay inside the park. Plus, I went through Ebates, so I get some money back! The same goes for Princess stuff—I bought the tiny little Princess dolls, toys, jewelry etc. at Target last week, and each night the girls will be given a small toy as their souvenir for the day. They are 5 and 3, and won’t know the difference!
You can also make a pretty cool photo book yourself after you get home, using one of the many great photo sites. There is always someone offering a good deal on a discounted photo book.
RESOURCES/WEB SITES-I highly recommend the Disney park blogs, the posts are usually from people who have just been there, so you’ll know what to look for, make a beeline for, avoid, etc. Just make sure that you’re looking at Disneyland, and not Walt Disney World–it’s easy to go to the wrong blog site! I also like Mousesavers.com, there are a ton of useful tips for dining, lodging, etc on there. Again, make sure you click on DisneyLAND, not WDW.
Disneyland is the Happiest Place On Earth. Be sure to learn how to make the most of your trip by reading the Disneyland Training series. You can also browse all the articles I have posted in an easy to use outline. And if you are ready to book your trip, be sure to read about the perks of using an authorized Disney vacation planner (plus it’s FREE!).