Visiting Disneyland (or Walt Disney World if you live on the east coast) is practically a rite of passage for American families. First the not-so-great news: it is nearly impossible to visit the Disney parks on the cheap. Between park tickets, food and, if you’re visiting from out of town, hotel, it can easily be a $500/day undertaking for a family of 4.
Now the good news: if you do a little research and planning, there are deals to be had. I just returned from a trip to Disneyland Resort in Anaheim and have some tips that will help LATB readers get the biggest bang for their Disney bucks.
1. Stay at a “Good Neighbor” hotel rather than a Disney property. I’m not dissing the Disneyland hotels — they are awesome — but they are expensive. During our June visit, we stayed at the Hyatt Regency Orange County, 1.5 miles from the park, and it was AMAZING. I booked a “family suite” that had a king bed in the main room and a separate bedroom with bunk beds that comfortably slept my three kids (the bottom bunk is a double and the top is a twin). It was $159 a night — making it $125 LESS than a smaller room in the least expensive Disney hotel.
Bonus: at the Hyatt kids eat free for lunch and dinner when the parents have a meal. What a great deal! We planned our day so we could take advantage of this. We headed to the park right after breakfast, came back for a late lunch/early dinner and then returned to the park until closing. The Hyatt also had a FREE shuttle that took us to and from the park every day. Check it out!
One feature that I bet lots of guests might appreciate is that there is a bar in the hotel with a kids’ lounge and tv right in it. I know that sounds weird, but let’s just say you want to sit with your spouse and have a glass of wine after a day of rides and Disney fun. Well….in this groovy little bar, the kids are happy and so are mom and dad.
2. Make the most of the Magic Hours. At both Disneyland and Disney World, the parks offers “Extra Magic Hours” that give guests with Park Hopper passes a full extra hour of access to the park and all the rides. In June, Disneyland Resort opened at 8:00 am so Magic Hours started at 7:00 in morning. If you’re visiting from the east coast, and still on east coast time, you will have no trouble getting up! Unfortunately I couldn’t get my older kids out of bed to take advantage of this, but we talked to people on our shuttle who did and they managed to ride TEN rides in ONE HOUR! We were in the park during the last week of June and averaged ONE ride per hour because of the summer crowds. Here is a photo of my kids, after waiting 85 minutes for “Star Tours” wishing they could have arisen before 9:00 am to take advantage of short lines :).
Which brings me to:
3. If you can avoid visiting Disneyland on weekends and during the summer….DO IT. I realize that because of school vacation, summer is the optimal times for many families, but that means the parks are crowded. Plus, since the greater Los Angeles area is home to about 20 million people, lots of locals visit Disneyland during the summer. This isn’t necessarily a budget issue, but if you divide the cost of your ticket by how many rides you take per day then you will definitely not be getting a great deal during summer. Best months to visit Disneyland: September and October. BTW: Disney World doesn’t have the same issues with crowds because it is much, much bigger that Disneyland.
3. Pack a lunch. Guests are actually allowed to bring snacks and drinks into Disney parks (but coolers are not allowed). Near the entrance to Disneyland there are lockers where you can stow your food if you don’t want to carry it with you. This is a great way to save a BUNDLE on food so you can let the kids have a treat in the park.
4. Consider taking a veteran as your guest — you will save a ton on tickets. Disney offers GREAT deals on park tickets to veterans. My husband is a veteran so we were able to buy a three-day Park Hopper pass for $99/each for Disneyland (a four-day pass to the Disney World parks is $138) which gave access to both Disneyland and California Adventure. The veteran has to enter the park with you, and show his or her ID, but only on the first day. For more information
Here’s the last shot of our trip: it is nearly midnight and everyone is still smiling. Except Dad. He was fast asleep back at the hotel already, having had maxed out his Disney fun about three hours before everyone else.