When we decided to plan a trip to Disneyland in 2013 my research skills went into overdrive! I had never been to Disneyland (DLR) as an adult, my kids had never been, and I felt a great sense of responsibility to give them a trip they would never forget. I also really wanted to have a great trip since going to any Disney park is pricey no matter what. I mean even if you aren’t temped to eat everything in sight and purchase a souviener from every ride you are still going to pay a pretty penny just for your tickets! I got a ton of great tips from other bloggers (links at end of post) on things to eat, where to splurge, what to skip, etc. Since these were SO helpful to me I thought I would share what worked for my family and a few things I learned while on the trip.
The first major decision is the time of year to go…. There are so many things to consider when choosing the time of year to go. For our family we decided that we did not want to go during a peak season. Crowds are one thing that we don’t really do well with and pulling the kids out of school for a few days to avoid the crowds was worth it. Additionally, we were able to get a good deal on a Disney hotel since it was off peak season. We ended up going at the end of September from Sunday to Thursday which gave us three days in the parks where we were literally walking on most rides. I think the longest line we stood in was 20-25 minutes, once for Grizzly River Run and once for Splash Mountain.
Now there are a few drawbacks to going during the off peak. First, more rides tend to be closed during the off peak times of year. Second, there are no fireworks shows and less parades during weeknights. Third, the parks hours are much shorter. When we went the parks were open from 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM but since there were less people we were still able to ride everything we wanted during those limited hours. **Tip** Use a website such as Touring Plans to get crowd estimates for the dates you are looking at, ride closures, and line times.
The next decision is where to stay while you are there. I looked into a lot of hotels. When I first started looking my critera was based on price, proximity to the parks, food offerings, and amenities. What I really wanted was fairly priced hotel that was possibly within walking distance of the parks, and had either a fridge and microwave in the room or free hot breakfast. Well all the hotels I had an interest in were passed on by my other half.
I was somehow pursuaded into staying at the Disneyland Hotel for the majority of our trip.. But we did end up saving a bit of money by staying the first night in an off property hotel and taking advantage of some Fall Deals and booking through Disney’s website directly but it was still quite expensive. The first hotel we stayed in was the Best Western Plus Raffles Inn. We stayed in one of their Childrens Suites which had two rooms. One with a queen sized bed and TV and the other had bunkbeds, TV, and pull out couch. They also had free hot breakfast in the mornings. The hotel is right next door to the Toy Story parking lot so it would have been easy to walk over there and hop on a free tram to the parks. For the remainder of our trip we stayed on property at the Disneyland Hotel.
The hotel was so magical, the room was roomy and comfortable for 5 people, and it had a great pool area. We were in walking distance to the parks, the room had a fridge, there were tons of places to eat right across the way at Downtown Disney, and we got Early Morning Entry in the parks for each day of our trip. They had a really fun Tiki themed bar called Trader Sam’s and a somewhat mediocre eatery called Tangaroa Terrace. We also ran into a few characters wandering around who were happy to pose for photos. I was so happy that we could walk to our room for a rest in the afternoon and right after the park closed without waiting in yet another line for the tram. **Tip** If you are going to stay on property book through Disney directly. This way if they run a special offer after you have booked you can call and have them apply that credit your existing reservation.
If you do stay on property take advantage of Early Morning entry which is available to all DLR hotel guests and allows you to enter the park one hour before the scheduled opening time. Both parks are not open early everyday they alternate so we had to take that schedule into consideration when deciding what to do for the day.
I really enjoyed staying on property but I am really not 100% sure that it was worth the price. I think next time I may check into staying at Paradise Pier which is still on property but a bit easier on the budget or at another hotel within walking distance. **Tip** Like to get everything in one package and aren’t planning on staying on property? Check out Get Away Today. It’s a great way to book online.
One thing that I REALLY wish I could have changed was our tickets. In order to save some cash I purchased 3 Day, 1 Park Per Day Tickets. This meant that we couldn’t hop back and forth between the parks. Bite the bullet and pay a little extra and get the hopping option! Another must do is to download a line tracker app to your phone. I cannot tell you how much we used this app. It was so handy to be in a certain land and see what the wait times were and just head to the rides with little to no lines. The app we used was from Touring Plans.
I also shelled out about $60.00 for the PhotoPass+ Service that Disney offers. I am on the fence about how I feel about this. It seemed like a GREAT idea. You pay $60 and Disney send you a voucher that you turn in for a PhotoPass card. Everytime a photographer takes your picture you give them the card to scan it on to. You also get all your ride photos and any character dining photos. I was very happy to get all our ride photos. Those suckers cost $15.00 each and we got at least 8. Just there it more than paid for itself. I also enjoyed not having to lug my own camera around and was able to just use my cell phone for photos. Once you get home you can go online to veiw and edit all your photos, then you get a disc sent to you with the orginials and the edits. You also get an agreement from Disney saying you can print the photos yourself. The two things that I didn’t really like were that I had to take time to go and turn in my voucher to get my PhotoPass+ Card. I really think they need to send the card in the mail already activated or something. Stopping what I was doing and trying to locate the shop to activate the card was kind of a pain in the butt. Also there didn’t seem to be that many photographers. There was always one at the big picture spots like the castle, with characters etc. but it would have been nice to have a few that wandered around getting more candid photos in other spots. There are some gorgeous places in those parks and they deserve to have photos taken there! Overall, I am glad I purchased it for this trip but I don’t think I will for future trips. **Tip** the PhotoPass Photographers will take a photo of you with your own camera/phone if you ask nicely. Also remember you MUST pre-order your PhotoPass+ card at least two weeks before your trip in order to get the $60 price and to take in to account the shipping times.
Monday we used the early morning entry and went to Disney’s California Adventure(DCA). Since we couldn’t hop we spent the day exploring this park. In my opinion, it was set up kind of oddly with no real flow. This may be because I had never been here but it was just odd to me… We didn’t get to ride everything we wanted that day which is where the park hopper would have come in handy. The best rides in the park that we experienced were Radiator Springs Racers, Lugi’s Tires, Soarin’ over California, and Grizzly River Run. We also really enjoyed the show It’s Tough to be a Bug. Everything else was just sort of meh. I was disappointed that we didn’t make it to the Muppet’s show, the animation acadamy, and that Crush’s Turtle Talk was closed. We did get to ride the Tower of Terror and that was an experience… one that I hope to never do again! I had heard a lot of really great things about the World of Color show so we made sure to get to the veiwing area about 30 minutes before the show. We had a decent view but no one seemed that impressed with it and we ended up leaving about 10 minutes early. At least we beat the crowds out of the park!
Tuesday, we used our Early Morning Entry to go to Disneyland. I seriously teared up a little walking down Main Street that first morning with my kids. We spent a fair amount of time in Tomorrowland that day. A favorite of the adults was Space Mountain and we all loved Star Tours. Adia loved Autopia and I was pleased with the Finding Nemo overlay in the subs. We headed into Fantasyland and were able to ride Snow White, Pinocchio, Mr. Toads Wild Ride, and the Tea Cups in about an hour. The entire day we pretty much flew from one thing to another all day! We got to ride Splash Mountain twice, The Haunted Mansion (which was done up with The Nightmare Before Christmas), Winnie the Pooh, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Indiana Jones. All this even with a break in the afternoon for a small rest! We left the park right at closing and made our way back the hotel, ordered pizza, and went to SLEEP!
Wednesday, which was our last day we decided to do Disneyland again. We hit up the Jedi Training Acadamy show first thing in the morning. It was wonderful that my Star Wars loving son was the 1st picked to join the show. Adia also got to participate but I don’t think she was quite as excited! They both got to battle Darth Maul. If you have someone who loves Star Wars don’t miss this show! We got to ride Space Mountain, The Matterhorn, Splash Mountain, Haunted Mansion, and the Jungle Cruise in the morning. We took a break in the afternoon for some pool and hot tub time and ended up not going back to the parks.
|View of the pool from our room|
Everyone was tired and we were all happy with everything we had done. No one felt they had missed out on anything they wanted to do. We ended up going out to dinner then shopping at World of Disney.
Next time I want to spend an extra day so that we can take a one day break between parks. It is INSANE how much walking you do and I was shocked at how well my kids handled it. Overall we had a great time and are already thinking of our next trip!
I was not compensated in anyway for this post. All opinions are my own :)