You usually do not hear the words “Disney” and “budget” in the same sense, because “the most magical place on earth” comes at a real price.
But after two years in pandemic lock-in mode, and with the parks at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, fully open and continuing to modify their pandemic protocols, my family was more than ready to embark on a journey with newly vaccinated children.
A family trip to a Disney theme park can cost thousands of dollars. But there are tricks to keep the journey relatively affordable without sacrificing magic. Read on for these tips, as well as lessons to prevent your trip from becoming stressful and overstimulating.
1. Choose your park (and stay on the west coast)
Disneyland is smaller, less overwhelming and so much easier to navigate than Disney World. It is less walking because all the rides are closer to each other. Not to mention that it takes twice as long to fly to Orlando, Florida, as opposed to Southern California.
2. Choose a cheaper time of year if you can
There is no way around it: Entrance tickets are expensive. Prices vary, but going into the gates every day will cost at least $ 100 per person. Prices – and crowds – are highest during school holidays. If you have the flexibility to travel during off-peak hours, do so.
3. Stay close and know your limits
Book a room within walking distance of the attractions so you can take a break in the middle of the day and not feel like you’ve lost half the day. Stay on site – or better yet, in a hotel across the street. Some off-site hotels are as close to the parks as Disney hotels. And staying out of the box can save thousands of dollars.
Running around the park all day and trying to squeeze everything leads to sensory overload. Know when enough is enough; no ride is worth reaching the breaking point. You can go to your room for a nap or a dip or just to melt down for a little while. Return to the park in the evening when driving times are shorter and stay for fireworks.
4. Bring all snacks
Disney food is sweet but not good, and definitely not cheap. Not to mention seated meals that seriously cut down on your time doing fun rides.
Stay instead of groceries or have the basics sent to your hotel with a food delivery service like Instacart or Amazon Fresh. You can also sign up for Walmart +, which is free for 30 days, and they will deliver your groceries for free.
Stay ahead of the devotees: Bring string cheese, protein and chopped fruit to the park. Bread, lunch meat, baby carrots, bananas and trail mixes make light, portable lunches. You can bring all food outside the park, just no alcohol, no glass containers and no loose ice. Packing your own food and snacks is cheaper and healthier, a win-win.
You can ask for free water at any fast food restaurant instead of paying $ 4.25 for a bottle of Dasani as well. Have breakfast at the hotel and skip the expensive character dinner.
A princess breakfast costs $ 125 per person. Our food budget ended up being less than $ 10 per person per day.
5. Be smart to buy your souvenirs
Buy your souvenirs (needles, bubble wands, etc.) on Amazon or at the dollar store in advance to surprise your kids without breaking the bank. Those $ 30 ears you see everyone wearing in the park? They cost $ 4 on Amazon.
The Target and Walmart stores near the parks also have a large selection of Disney items, well below the Disney price.
6. Fill in gift cards
Gift cards can help you keep a budget because you can not spend what you do not have. Ask for Disney gift cards for birthdays and holidays. They can be used anywhere in the park, for anything. Professional tip: Disney gift cards get a 5% discount on Target with a RedCard.
7. Post viewing videos on YouTube
Some children are born tension seekers, others lean on the cautious side. You can reduce the fear of scary rides by looking for YouTube videos that show exactly what you’re getting into. You will know if there are any triggers, such as loud noises or pitch black sections.
Let your child knock out. Also know that if you come to the front of the queue and you change, it is perfectly OK to back off.
Noise-canceling headphones are a good option to have on hand if your child should be overwhelmed by loud music or fireworks. Some of the fields are much less intense if you can turn them off. Also pack some crafts for lines or meals.
8. Use your stroller as your photographer
You will want to remember your trip with cute family photos, and Disney has photographers stationed in the parks ready to take group photos – for a fee. You knew there had to be a catch.
Extendable stands and selfie sticks are not allowed in Disneyland’s parks, so we bought a miniature stand that attaches to the stroller. When we felt like taking a family photo, we set the camera to self-timer mode and our stroller acted as our photographer.
9. Families with special needs: Sign up for DAS
Disneyland goes above and beyond to make sure that guests with special needs feel comfortable as well.
Accessibility service for the disabled allows you to request a return time for tours via the Disneyland app. DAS is not for people with mobility impairments, but you may qualify for medical reasons such as autism that make it difficult to wait in long queues.
Getting started with DAS is like having Genie + and Lightning Lanes, Disney’s two paid line delivery options. DAS cardholders go through Lightning Lanes; you will not be convicted of using DAS for a hidden handicap.
You do not have to go to the ride to get the return time – it can be done anywhere once you are in the park. Once you have checked in for one trip, you can choose the next trip. The DAS card includes a total of six people, so your whole family can go together.
You can pre-register for DAS online two to 30 days before your trip via a text and video chat. The waiting time for online chat can take many hours, but once you are connected, you will explain why you need the accommodation and why long waiting times are challenging. The actors, as Disney calls their park employees, are kind and helpful.
It is easy to register for DAS personally in guest relationships, where there is almost no waiting. But if you pre-register online, you get two bonus advance reservations per day in the parks. There is no limit to how many tours you book once you are in the park.
10. Go with the flow
Do not over-plan. Mapping every minute of every day takes away from the magic. You will not fit everything and that’s okay.
Relax, be positive and see where the day takes you. Have fun! After all, that’s the point of a vacation.