If you know me at all you’ll definitely know that our family ADORES all things Disney and that we visit Disneyland nearly every year. Our very first trip as a family was when our eldest Emma was 3 years old!
Needless to say we’ve got a few years under our belts and have figured out the best way to navigate a trip that sticks to our budget and ensures a great time!
I also want to add the disclaimer that nothing in this post is sponsored (though maybe it should be LOL!) and this is purely my experiences that I’m sharing with you.
Ok, let’s dive in!
We ALWAYS fly out of the US. Not only are flights significantly cheaper when you fly out of Bellingham or Seattle, but you skip the customs part by crossing the border so checking in at the airport takes way less time – and with kids, it can be the difference between a major melt down with long line ups or a smooth transition onto the plane!
We also have carry ons for each of us so this saves us the baggage fees AND 9/10 the plane is full so they end up offering free checked bags which we always take advantage of!
We also usually fly with Alaska Air and they periodically send one day sale emails where I’ve scored HUGE on flights to LA from Seattle, we’re talking somewhere along the lines of $120 CAD round trip! With a family of 5, this is a big win!
As much as we’d LOVE to stay at a Disneyland Resort Hotel (maybe when I win the lottery one day LOL) we usually stay at the Howard Johnson which is about an 8 minute walk from the front entrance to Disneyland.
I watch prices and signed up for their emails as sometimes they have deals where nights are 50% off! It is an older hotel that’s gone under some major refurbishments so it’s a great deal for a family oriented, Disney themed place to lay your head. Their Castaway Cove water park is SO. MUCH. FUN!!
We are ones that will visit Disneyland during their “off-season” so prices are definitely better. (More on that later!)
We always buy our tickets on the Disneyland website as we’ve been able to take advantage of the Canadian deal. At minimum I suggest you get the 3 day, one park per day, pass as that will give you a good experience of the parks. I also suggest you spend one day at California Adventure and two at Disneyland as it’s much bigger and you’ll want to do the rides more than once there!
Remember with the Canadian deal, you’ll have to provide a proof of residence so on your first day, bring your passport and then you’re good for the rest of the trip! There’s nothing worse than realizing this at the line up first thing and having to run back to your hotel to grab them!
Side note- people always ask when the best age for kids to go to Disneyland and I ALWAYS say, under the age of 3!! For that exact expression above! This was when Elias met Kylo Ren and he was a few days shy of 3… it was absolutely MAGICAL and I guarantee your little one will be filled with such joy when they meet their favorite characters for the first time!
Oh also? Because it’s FREE for them!! Our first trip with Emma was before she turned 3 so we only had to pay for 2 adult tickets and she absolutely loved it. There is PLENTY of rides and attractions that will make a little one happy so don’t worry about whether or not it’ll be worth it- it totally will.
Back to “off-season” travelling. We’ve gone at different times of the year to be able to experience Halloween, Christmas and their original set up and we make sure to time it around American school holidays- this is key, including reading breaks for colleges and universities!! My favorite time of year to go is September- even if it means I’m pulling the kids out of school when they’ve just started! The weather is perfect, the crowds have died down a bit and it’s likely that all of the rides will be up and running.
If you go earlier in the year (Jan-Apr) there is a good chance some major attractions will be closed for refurbishment- I always recommend checking the website to see what rides will be closed and for how long so your kids aren’t disappointed!
We’re technically still in umbrella stroller phase so having one that we can take into the parks to cart Elias around and have a place to store our goods has been so great, however rules have changed for the size of stroller that’s allowed in the parks so be sure to check the website to make sure you aren’t disappointed when you arrive.
They do have strollers to rent which is great but if you end up buying souvenirs and they take up space, it’s gonna suck when you have to drop off that stroller and cart a sleeping child plus your goods all the way back to the hotel.
Items we always pack with us:
– sunscreen- hats & sunglasses
-a water bottle
– leggings and a sweater or PJs (temperatures do drop after about 6pm and there’s always a breeze so don’t get caught without a sweater atleast!)
-snacks of all kinds
When we travel to Disneyland we always plan that our first day (we usually arrive in the afternoon) is spent relaxing and prepping for the vacation and that means hitting up the local grocery store or in our case TARGET!! to grab some healthy snacks, lunch items, fruit, chips, drinks and alcohol (for the hotel of course!)
And if a few clothing items make its way to the checkout.. I’m not mad about it LOL! It’s also a great place to snag some Disney themed clothing at a fraction of the price too.
You can also do an online grocery shop at Vons and have it delivered to your hotel if you prefer to focus strictly on food and no frivolities 🤣
In any case, we do our best to only purchase dinner at the parks and some nostalgic treats as we’re the type of family that stays at the parks all day LOL! (If the weather is nice we will break for lunch at the hotel to take advantage of the pool but our kids are die hard fans!)
Disney Food hack: between the 3 kids we buy one adult entree and split it between them- the portions are pretty big and it’s less waste because the kids meals always come with a yogurt drink and a bag of carrots or apples which the kids get sick of. In the past we’ve learned that those usually accumulate and don’t get eaten so this route is much better, plus we encourage our kids to eat “adult” food anyways and we’ve found the kids menu options are pretty bland (but work for those who’s kids are super picky!)
The parks now have vegan options at almost every restaurant – it’s worthy of a blog post on its own, so I’ll share my favorites with you there, but in the meantime, check out this blog post with all the options!
Disneyland App/Max Pass
This is a new addition to the Disney Parks experience and in my opinion money well spent!! I recommend just adding it onto your park tickets so it’s not forgotten and already paid for but you can purchase it through the Disneyland app per day. You do have to buy it for each ticket, or at least each ticket that will want to Fast Pass a ride. The advantage of the Max Pass is that you can “check in” for a Fast Pass on your phone versus having to get to the various Fast Pass stations scattered around the park.
Depending on the time of day, the time will vary from 1/2 hour to 1.5 hours for when you can Fast Pass your ticket again, so this means you can plan your rides and where you’ll be in the parks based on what time you have to go back to the ride to use your Fast Pass.
Don’t know what a Fast Pass is? It’s a way to avoid waiting in line and gives you a time window to come back to line up for a ride with a shorter wait time. There are stations around the park for certain attractions and can be a huge time saver!
Back to the Max Pass- on our last trip in December, we managed to get on several rides multiple times in ONE day! This is usually unheard of!!
Another advantage is ANY photo taken by a cast member around the park (ie. Character photos or in front of landmarks) are automatically downloaded to your Disneyland app and yours to keep!
Disney Photo Hack: take a screenshot of your PhotoPass Code from the Disneyland app and make it your home screen for the duration of your trip, this saves so much time when the photographer scans the image to your code- you don’t have to keep logging into the app to get it!
The app also allows you to pay for food in some restaurants (it will tell you which ones!) and in instances such as the ever loved (and VEGAN!) Dole pineapple whip stand with the never ending line up, paying ahead and picking up at the counter is a huge time saver plus you can pop into The Enchanted Tiki Room to cool off and enjoy your treat!
There is an option to visiting the parks an hour before it’s open to the public and that comes with your multiple day park pass. Take a look at the calendar on the app when planning which days you’ll be visiting each park so you can take advantage of magic morning or things like fireworks or parades (as times differ on weekdays and weekends and sometimes fireworks or night shows don’t happen at all on certain nights)
If you didn’t know you could do this and you have smaller children not eligible for certain rides, both parks give the option to parent swap so both parents get a chance to enjoy every attraction!
Simply tell a cast member at the start of the line up that you want to rider swap and they’ll hand you a ticket that allows you to go into the fast pass line up right after you get off the ride. This means kids get to go on rides more than once and parents don’t miss out in case you have super littles with you!
Places to Chill at Disneyland
Our favorite spots to enjoy a snack or meal or simply a place to pause from the busy of Disneyland while in the park are the following:
Mark Twain Riverboat – it isn’t usually busy and it’s a short ride around the Rivers of America and you get a unique view of the parks from the boat!
Toon Town City Hall area – probably the most under utilized seating area I’ve ever seen!
Tom Sawyer’s Island – lots of shade, space to run around and even picnic tables to enjoy a packed lunch!
Disneyland Railway – taking a trip around the park is a great way to pause and enjoy the sights and sounds as well as rest your feet!
The Enchanted Tiki Room – air conditioned and right beside the Dole whip stand, need I say more?
Each one of us always brings home something from our trip whether it be a new mug to add to our already overflowing mug cupboard LOL or a little toy, a sweater or Christmas ornament (if the timing is right). We make it a point to visit the shops throughout the trip so the kids (and adult kids!) can scope out what’s out there and narrow down their decision. This is where Birthday money comes in for the kids and they decide how much they’d like to spend on a souvenir. Of course, we cap it size-wise 😂 because a carry on can’t quite fit a life sized Millenium Falcon, but you get the idea!
Ok friends, I think I’ve covered the basics 😂 on how to have a fun and cost effective trip to the parks. As always we do our best to stick to our spending budget so we don’t break the bank and have vacations’ remorse when we get back. If you have any questions please leave a comment and I’d be happy to answer them ASAP!
Have a wonderful vacation!