Friday, February 11, 2011

Disneyland on the Cheap: Take two

It's official. We are going to Disneyland. Last night we booked our hotel (non-refundable), which pretty much sets it in stone. Of course, I've done an excessive amount of research to get ready for the trip and make sure we stay within our budget. Much like last year, our budget comes from money we've saved from coupons, change laying around, and stuff I sell on the side. It took us about a year to save up what we need, but it's well worth the extra planning.

I figure since I go to all the trouble of doing hours of research, I might as well document it here for my future reference as well as anyone else who might be wanting to save a few bucks on their vacations.

General Disney Stuff

  • Disneyland Crowd Calendar from Touring Plans-technically, you have to pay to see all of the dates, but if you check the site often enough, you will find that your vacation dates are eventually listed (about a month ahead of time). It rates them in terms of how crowded the parks will be-from 1-10. Two of the days that we will be at Disney are, thankfully, a 2. We should have no problem with lines.
  • Another helpful forum for determining if the park will be busy during your visit is here on MiceChat.
  • I like to know the times that the park will be open and what rides will be closed before we go. The Disney calendar was definitely an invaluable resource this year. Storey has been talking about the Pooh Bear ride since we mentioned going back to Disneyland a few months ago. I looked up the ride closures once we determined the dates we were planning to go and sadly, the ride is going to be closed. When I told her, she started to cry. Seriously, it was so sad. Instead we've opted to go to a character breakfast frequented by her favorite Pooh Bear characters. Call me crazy for planning ahead, but had we not looked at the calendar before, we'd have one disappointed, tantrumy toddler on our hands. See the calendar here.
  • I really like having an area map to refer to-this one is free and includes the location of Mimi's (I refer to a freebie there below) and all of the Priceline hotels. Where it says "East Shuttle Entrace" is the main walking entrance to the parks.
  • DisBoards was a fantastic resource for everything from restaurant reviews in the park to recent character sightings (Really hoping to see Buzz this year. Last time I was told that he was "in space at Star Command". People, I'm an adult and I don't believe you).
Places to Stay
  • The past two years we have gone to Disneyland, we have used the bidding feature on Priceline for hotel rooms. Both years we've stayed at a Holiday Inn (though different ones) that retails for about $90/night and both years we've only paid $35/night.
  • I was able to predict even before bidding exactly which hotel we were going to win by using the lists and forums on The forums are especially helpful because they let you know who has won what hotel and for how much recently. Here's a link to the Anaheim forum. It also includes auction information for Hotwire, but I have noticed that the prices are always higher through them, so opt to go through Priceline.
  • Predicting our hotel was important for us because we wanted to use the free Holiday Inn nights that we won a couple of months without having to switch hotels half way through the week. It's a 3 star hotel, but there are plenty of nicer hotels for just a few dollars more through the Priceline bidding feature. It's always good to read through the forums on betterbidding just to find out what resort fees/parking fees apply to your hotel. Otherwise you might be UNpleasantly surprised when you arrive to check-in.
  • I started my bidding very low-at only $30. Normally the rule through Priceline is-you can't bid more than once in a 24 hour period without changing something (besides the bid amount) about your trip. When my $30 big wasn't accepted, I just switched browsers and debit cards and tried again. The second time, my bid of $35 was accepted.
  • When you sign up for the Mimi's Cafe email club, you receive a coupon for a free breakfast! There is a Mimi's Cafe directly across from the park--and the breakfast is AMAZING. I haven't been impressed with the restaurant for other meals, but it is well worth going to Mimi's for this freebie. It filled us up for most of the day. Keep in mind that the coupon expires after 15 days, so plan when you sign up accordingly. Sign up for the Mimi's Club here.*POST EDIT-apparently they have changed this deal and it is now buy one breakfast, get one free. Still a good deal, but not as awesome as before.
  • Eating in the park can be very expensive, but sometimes it's a hassle to leave for a couple of hours to grab a cheaper meal. So, I was really excited to find that the House of Blues in Downtown Disney (not IN the park, but close enough) offers vouchers through I was able to get get a $25 voucher (with code LOVE, but codes change all the time-just Google it) for only $2!! I have to spend $35 total, but $12 out of pocket (plus tip) is a lot cheaper than what I'd pay anywhere else. Here's a copy of the menu and prices. They also have kids meals, though they are not listed on the online menu. You can purchase the voucher through here.
  • Another great place to find coupons is the Anaheim tourism website. Right now there is a coupon for a buy one get one free Subway that we'll probably use. The coupons change every so often, so check back before your visit to see if there are any worth using.
  • I read recently that the cheapest place to eat in the parks Bengal BBQ, across the way from the Jungle Cruise in Adventureland. It's rumored that they have beef, chicken or veggie skewers for under $3.50 a piece and that two of them will fill an adult up. We may be checking that out!
Extra accommodations for Jakson
  • We learned a couple of lessons with Jakson the hard way last year. Jakson is extremely anxious in new situations, especially dark, new situations-something we did not even consider when choosing to go on rides like Peter Pan. He loves Peter Pan (the movie), the ride is fairly innocent, and we just assumed he'd be fine. Well, you know what assuming does.... Thankfully, a cast member was willing to lend him a flashlight for the ride, an accommodation that comforted him immensely. Whenever it got too dark for him, he just flipped on the light and calmed right down. What a lifesaver. But we are not depending on a cast member this year, instead we are packing our own flashlight. Who knew that flashlights were like Band-aids??? They cure everything.
  • Every ride I'm unsure of, I have Jakson watch on YouTube. A couple that we went on last year we've already ruled out (like Pirates and Nemo), but there are a few that he wasn't tall enough for that he can go on now-Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain Railroad and the like. Rather than throw him into a situation where I know he'll just refuse the unfamiliar, we sit down and watch 2 or 3 videos of the ride and discuss whether or not he wants to go on them. So far, he's agreed to go on all of them (even Tower of Terror-he claims he wants to "drop into a hole"). Obviously, his mind might change in line at the park, but at least we aren't facing anxiety brought on by the wholly unfamiliar.
  • Keeping in mind past problems we've had with public bathrooms, we're going to try and have Jak use the bathroom in the baby care center as much as possible. The toilets are smaller and hopefully won't be as loud when they flush.
  • We are going to take Jak's diagnosis paperwork and get the "guest assistance card" that is available for people with disabilities. Basically, it lets us enter lines through the wheelchair access, but our plans are to use it very sparingly. From everything I've read, the card has been pretty abused in the past and we want to make sure we only use it when necessary. Fast passes usually get us on the rides just as quickly, especially since we've planned our trip to fall on uncrowded days.
  • Jak tends to be very wary of loud noises and crowded places, so we're bringing our Zune (like an iPod) and earphones loaded with his favorite kid music to help him stay calm.
Other random tips/stuff we're packing
  • Autograph books and sharpie markers-there's a Target with an AWESOME Dollar Spot in Anaheim close to the parks loaded with tons of Disney related stuff. We'll probably pick up a couple of notebooks there if I can't find Disney themed ones here.
  • Kid cameras
  • We're going to let the kids each pick a postcard every day we are in the park. When we get back to the hotel, we'll write down their favorite things from that day on the card.
  • I'm planning on making luggage tag labels with information (parent cell phone number etc) for both of the kids to hang on their belt loops. It's a good idea whether or not your child has a disability, just in case. We'll also take a photo of each one in the morning as a precaution (that way if we misplace a child, we will be able to describe their clothing and have a photo from that day).
  • Because Disneyland doesn't change all that much in one year, I'm using my 2010 copy of the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland to help with the daily plans. I love this book and wouldn't make the trip without it.
  • I don't want to have to pay for Disney shirts at the park, so I'm making my own again. We got lots of compliments on them last time!


West Family said...

so you really are super mom! This is awesome info and I am sure I will refer back to it!

Erica said...

My brother and wife are taking their family in March! I refered them to your blog post from last visit (which was a huge help on our trip!) I already sent them this post to get them started! I am so glad you shared. I did not think abou the dark with Trevin. We went on Peter Pan first and he was shaking afterward, he was so scared. Erik's aunt (lifesaver) and brought glow in the dark braclets and necklaces! If he was scared he held it in front of his eyes or swung it like a sword in the "scary" parts.

Brittany said...

I can't wait until I can take my family. Im re only one who has ever gone. Have a ton of fun!! Also, if you can't find autograph books we made some with normal notebooks and disney stickers. Then the kids can decorate them. :)

Can't wait to hear how it goes!

Diana Hawkins said...

This is great, Beth! We are planning a trip and this will give us a head start. Any tips on tickets? Thanks so much!!

sewdelightful said...

You are amazing Beth! You are the coupon/deal queen!

My kids make their own autograph books beforehand and they have fun doing it. All the talking characters commented to the kids how much they liked them.

Have a great time!!!

KatieB said...

we are going to disneyworld in two weeks so i hit the disney store outlet close to our house and bought a bunch of 99 cent trinkets that sell for lots more in the park. each night that the girls have been good in lines and the car etc and not begged for treats and stuff tinker bell will visit during the night and leave a small prize on their pillow. i'm hoping this works...

Audra Bollard said...

Amazing Bethy!

Bengal BBQ saved me a few times when I was doing South Beach and at D-Land. The meat & veggie skewers are tasty.

Random--but don't you love how Mimi's serves their Hot Chocolate in soup bowls during breakfast? So fun.

Can't wait to see you!

bethany said...

Erica-I love the glow in the dark bracelet idea. That's great for the faster roller coasters like Space Mtn.!!

Diana-I don't have any great secrets about Disney tickets-we're buying ours from ARES travel for about $4 less than they are on the Disney site. From now until April the park hopper tickets are discounted. If there are ever any great deals on tickets, you can find them on the Disboards.

Katie-I think we might be doing something similar. There is an outlet Disney store in Vegas (we are stopping there to spend the night on the way) and I think we might be picking up some things there-or the Dollar Store in Anaheim.

We might be making our own autograph books... that's a good idea. Last year, we were able to find some at Target for $1, so it will just depend on time.

Thanks for all of the suggestions guys!!

Jackie said...

Thanks for the tips! We have been going to disneyland for yars but never thought to use the priceline bidding feature.

I copied your shirts last year. Mine came out really cute but I made them the night before we left so I didn't have time to sew them I just ironed them on. they started to come apart but they lasted for the trip :) You can see pics on my blog if you look early june 2010. :)

We are hoping to go again this March so I am looking forward to your new shirts :)

Thanks for all of the great blog reading :) Hugs! Jackie

Jackie said...

Also, do you know about the "kid switch passes" when you combine them this a guest assistance or a fast pass it can really speed things up. When you get in line, make sure you tell the ride attendant that you need a "kid switch" pass. One parent will ride the ride while the other sits out with the small children. When the first rider is finished they give the pass to the parent who sat out and that parent usually gets to use the exit or the wheelchair line. It's great for the kids because they get to ride twice :) We have 4 kids and it has been a great feature for us.

Aubrey said...

Thank you! These are awesome hints! I deffinatly will be checking back to plan our trip this coming fall. I have 4 kids under 10.

this is audrey said...

If any of you are familiar enough with ebay, that's where I always buy my Disneyland tickets. There are always tons of options for quantity of tickets and quantity of days, and last time I bought mine, I saved over 100 dollars over buying them at the gate, plus scored a $30 gift card for souvenirs in the park!

bethany said...

We looked into Ebay, but the problem with that is you don't know if the actual days are on the tickets until you get to the park. So you could pay for tickets, get to the park, have nothing actually on them, and be out all of that money (which I'm sure you get back through Paypal, but in the meantime, you have to pay gate prices). Wasn't worth the risk to me. That and Disney usually has pretty good deals if you just buy the tickets before you arrive in the parks through them.

Anonymous said...

Found your blog on Pinterest...we love to save money at Disneyland too. We always get our tickets from You can save up to $80 over gate prices on hopper passes. Also, you can save a ton on food if you bring it into the park. When you have kids the employees are more than fine with you bringing in a soft sided cooler. They only turn away glass containers. Our kids are picky eaters, so this makes it easy to bring some food I know they will eat!

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if you bid on North Or South Anahiem? I have been trying, but haven't had any luck yet. We are going to Disneyland in October. Love your blog, thanks for all the great tips!

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