Skipping down memory lane:
Wow, I feel like I fell head first into the realm of fairy tales. One moment I was skipping along meeting each princess, dinning with Mickey and then B A M, I was knocked out cold. Stunned speechless by the sheer cost of the magic.
I’d bogged through the wreckage of “what not to do’s”. Skimmed over the “what you should know before you go” blogs. Wrestled with sites offering “cheap hotels and air fare”, and yes, at times, I would run away hysterically laughing from their “blow out deals”. While others I’d shout from the rooftops, “How dare they charge that” fists pumping in the air.
The price battle raged on. Screen after screen. Pamphlet laid upon coupon.
Finally, There it was, within my reach, the cheapest deal I’d ever seen.
Was it a compromise? You bet! But it was MINE for the taking!
After what felt like an eternity of searching; I’d been forcefully drug out by my feet, with my full battle cry on. I was bruised and battered, but I was VICTORIOUS! (Crowd goes wild at my house! Thank you, thank you!)
I had emerged from the mighty battle, with my booking in hand, for I had won against the mighty over priced deal!
Banners flew high, trumpets sounded. Hear all hear all; Lily is pleased to announce (while being proud of her Mama, I might add) that she is over the moon excited, that FINALLY we’re going to DISNEYLAND!
But…. I’m getting ahead of myself.
Before the trumpets had sounded and I’d earned my war paint by capturing the ultimate Disneyland ‘bargain’. I had been overwhelmed and out priced. Exhausted and frankly grumpy. I’d Jumped from pin to pin, looking for ways to out smart the Sheriff of Nottingham.
I did however find that I’d constantly lose track of time as I’d get caught up in marveling at the genius that is Disney. So many blissful afternoons were spent as a child watching Aladdin and Jasmine fall in love. Yelling at Hook while he battled Pan. We’d pretend we were Miss Bianca and Bernard rescuing our little brother from the clutches of evil. Crying we’d wave goodbye to Free Willy, hoping that just maybe he’d come back again. My sister and I would sing along with Belle, while dancing to the colors of the wind. Loudly the three of us kids would cheer for number 53. Later we’d wonder what it would be like to meet Lightning McQueen? Hours upon hours were filled with laughter while watching Woody and Buzz escape. We’d bonded with Flubber and speaking of; we will always have a special place in our hearts for Robin Williams. ❤ For without him Disney would not be the same.
As a family we’d gathered around our desktop touring the mega theme parks Disneyland and Disney World. We’d spent hours comparing one to another. Ideally my husband and I would wonder aloud if this is what Walt had imagined when he first opened Disneyland on July 17th 1955. Had he envisioned creating the ultimate brand? A dazzling fairy tale land with world wide recognition. Chart topping sales and a cult like following for a group of animals? Cause if he did, well, Mr. Disney nailed it! His imagination has proved to be extraordinary, captivating, and awe inspiring. One man paving the way for the mega success that his company has grown into today. As his faithful team carries on in creating new worlds for our children’s favorite characters to dance, sing and play. So, as I was saying, after much thought and consideration we’d decided to visit Disneyland opting for a slightly less overwhelming experience and honestly a cheaper price tag.
After a few days, I was all in. Past being fully emerged, heck, I was becoming a Princess myself! Wowed by all that is Disney, I was day dreaming about the most magical place on earth and how’d we spend our time in California. I’d jotted down a family spa day. Tossed in the purchase of their plush bathrobes. Of course we’d want to stay at a hotel in Disneyland right? I mean, of course we do. It’s all about the location. Ooo they offer magic mornings if you stay at a resort on the property. Let’s just consider that booked. Oh, you can dine with Goofy. Well we’d need to eat breakfast so why not just schedule in a Disney Character meal. Wait they do dinner too? Oh yeah were going to do that to! Add in a few more extravagant ideas and you’ll be with me. Lost but in utter delight. Welcome my friend. We’ll be dazzled by images of our own brilliant white pumpkin shaped carriages. Drawn by six gray stallions with ears twitching, pulling us closer and closer to our ultimate vacation. A single vine swirled and glittered against the moon as it reached towards me. Guiding me towards the carriage. It’s destination is the best hotel and spa that Disneyland can offer. Lunging forward I was almost close enough to jump in. Just a few more feet. S M A C K! Out of nowhere, I lost my foot hold on reality. Missed that bottom, ultra thin line on my check book, and face planted hard on the overstuffed premium velvet sofa. I was left feeling like it was half past midnight, with only one shoe on.
Regardless of my brief lapse of judgement, my family was hooked on the dream of Disneyland. We just needed a game plan, and a firm budget.
Over the next few days, you do what any devoted and determined parent would do. You start creating boards, pinning away, sourcing magazines and bookmarking any article that mentions Disneyland on the cheap. As the thrill of seeking out bargain after bargain begins to ware off, so does the joy of exploring all that California has to offer. Instead it’s replaced by a rolling dollar sign with a constantly moving decimal point. Quickly you find, as did I, that you’re gonna need a real plan! Preferably a detailed plan that includes a rather large savings account.
Biting my nails down to nubs and rocking in the corner of my office I was stuck in the rut of worrying about money. When the real question should have been what kind of Disneyland Vacation do we want?
Alright, so we still needed to figure out how much we would like to spend on this once in a lifetime vacation and of course by that I mean, how much my husband was willing to commit to. But of course, I am who I am, so what I really wanted to know, was what the absolute maximum was that we could afford. Allowing for us to compromise somewhere in the middle. 😉
However, before I can even approach my other half, I have to at least know an amount that were aiming for. This leads to a lot of questions about where to start. Airfare, the hotel, rental houses, or should I do a package deal? Is the Disneyland Resorts the best place for us to stay? How many days should we plan on visiting the parks? Maybe we should rent a house, just the savings alone in not going out to eat would be huge. The house would need to be close to out planned activities, otherwise we wouldn’t end up eating there. Is there anything else we’d like to do in California?Relax. Take a breath. Or maybe two. At the end of the day, no matter how you start planning, a start at all, is a start in the right direction!
Our Game Plan:
Step 1: Address the elephants in the room.
Personally I enjoy planning vacations. I love seeking out deals, chatting with locals online about cool fun places to explore. It makes my soul happy. My other half however hates to plan. It stresses him out to have to think about what there is to do and how much it’ll cost us to have fun for a week or two. Which is okay by me, as that is where I shine! But I have found over the years that by talking with my family first about their concerns, always leads to a much more positive experience in the end. Their concerns usually revolve around the most important aspects of our trip. Such as cost, availability, travel times, and accommodations. Get the stress and worrying over with, quick, this way the planning and booking can proceed! Hold a family meeting and jot down your family’s top four or five concerns regarding your Disney vacation. Below is the list that we created.
- Amount of vacation time we’d want off
- Budget needed for the overall vacation; food costs, spending money, gas, etc.
- When would we go; Spring or Summer
- Must have good weather, but not to hot
- Enough time to see the parts of Disneyland that interest her
- Wants to avoid long lines and wants to avoid closed rides
- Must have a swimming pool and time to swim in it
- Minimal amount of time spent standing in line
- Opportunity to take photos, lots
- Great location
- Transportation; rental car or city bus
- Time to explore other things in CA
Step 2: Put Dumbo to bed.
Take the time to research and address each of your family’s concerns. Be as detailed in the answers as you can. Think of this as the first step to completing your family’s vacation blue print.
First we set a time frame as to how long we’d like our vacation to last. We chose between 5-8 days. I based all of my figures on 8 days, just in case we did chose to stay this long. Remember you can always cut back or extend, at a later date, should you chose to.
Next I tackled lodging as this is a major costs involved. With just a quick peek into the rental house market in California and the price points, we’d been able to rule out this option. Leaving the choices of staying in a hotel or motel. Now the question was which one would we chose, a Disneyland resort, a good neighbor hotel, or other options a little further out. I found a couple of rooms available at the Disneyland resorts within the time frames we had narrowed it down to. Disneyland resorts however came with a rather large price tag attached at around $190.00 a night. While a good neighbor hotel was around $135.00 a night. Other accommodations in surrounding areas were closer to $110.00 a night.
Estimated cost for 8 days in California for a Hotel:
Disneyland Resort: $1,330.00 (Not counting tax)
Good neighbor hotel: $945.00 (Not counting tax)
Surrounding areas hotels: $770.00 (Not counting tax)
Moving forward I looked into the cost of all our meals, as there is a lot of wiggle room regarding a food budget. Remember to be as detailed as you can! Start by listing out ideas of where you may want to dine. Is your family a fan of the show Triple D? Are you guys buffet nuts? Maybe you’d like to take advantage of a dinner theater? Perhaps your family would prefer to find a cool local joint each day? Or maybe this weeks awesome coupon deal is your driving force.
A few more questions to consider:
- Complementary breakfast; if offered would your family take advantage of this?
- Would your family prefer the option to cook in your our own kitchen, over costly meals at restaurants? Do you need to have a mini fridge?
- While on vacations does your family tend to snack more then eat out?
After you have a rough list of where you might want to eat, I suggest looking into those places online menus. Focusing on price point and children’s options. Lily hates nothing more then being forced to select from warm mac and cheese or chicken nuggets for dinner every night. Even though her small appetite doesn’t make it cost effective to order her food from the adults menu. Unless we’re planning on eating leftovers the next day, which could be a great budget hack! I also like to check the online reviews. Looking for weather or not reservations are needed, wait times, staff friendliness, is the place clean. I also take an extra few minutes on Google maps to check the general location and distance. This extra step comes in handy later on when I’m piecing together the days activities.
Don’t worry if your not able to completely fill out the list. Where you will eat, will also depend on where you are during this time. It’s a good idea though to at least place a “random” note on the list and assign this find a value, so you can have a working figure to move forward with. I tried to only have one selected place per day that we’d eat at, usually a dinner. That way if our plans changed slightly we were able to easily adjust. Like for breakfast, we knew that we wanted to do at least one sit down meal at Denny’s and that we’d also want to get a morning cup of coffee from Starbucks. So we ate once at Denny’s and then got our breakfast from Starbucks along with our morning cup of coffee the rest of the time.
Don’t stress, this list will change and morph as you round out your trip details. This is really just to give you an idea as to what the budget should look like.
Our rough meal draft looked like this:
Breakfast: Fast food x2, Denny’s x1, Starbucks x5: $440.00
Lunch: Random find x2, Portillo’s x1, Disneyland restaurants x2, Subway x1, sit down restaurant x2: $320.00
Snacks, coffee and other: $300.00
Dinner: Black Angus Steak House x1, Pirate dinner adventure x1, Dinner Random finds x3, fast food x3: $880.00
Working budget needed for food: $1,940.00
Step 3: Explore all the adventures you could have.
From whale Watching, sight seeing, driving the coast line, shopping to dinning, California has it all! Locate fun adventures in the area that are of interest to you and your family. Paying attention to things like, how much are the entrance fees? How long would your family enjoy doing this activity? Is there parking available or is it on a bus route? What are the hours of operation? Will your family want to partake in an other amusement park? If so, make sure to look for a list of scheduled closure times for the rides or events that might interest you. Another good source of information can be found on Californian’s Orange County website, which has a list of upcoming events such as concerts, venues or fairs. Remember to be as detailed as you can. This will save so much time later, when you’re making your blue print for your vacation of a life time!
Next you will fill in your days adventures. Start by figuring out how many days you’d like to spend in the Disneyland Parks. After much debate we ended up only choosing to spend two days in Disneyland. Our reasons for this decision was due to four factors.
1: As Lily, our eight year old had put it, at the end of the day Disneyland is still just an amusement park. Plus there are so many other great things to do while in California!
2: The price of the tickets per day vs. the reward. On average most people visiting the parks will only get to experience 12 to 14 rides, during standard operation hours. Say your ticket price per day is $117.00, that’s $8.36 per ride for each person. For a family of four, with two adults and two children, you’ll spend $454.00 for 1 park for 1 day. That’s $32.43 per ride for the family.
3: A vast majority of my Mom friends agreed, that after the second day of full on Disney, that’s when the tantrum’s started. Funny though, most of them also said that the frustrations first stated with the adults and would then ripple out over the kiddos…. Honestly, Disney days are really long days. There’re filled with a TON of walking and standing, having to behave while in line, late meals, and high excitement. It’s enough to tire out the energizer bunny after just one day!
4: The crowds at Disneyland. According to the crowd tracker sites, Disneyland has historically always been less busy on Tuesdays and Thursday. **Update: Because of all the great advice we received, I chose to really listen! Splitting up our Disneyland days so we would be attending the park on Tuesday and Thursday. Allowing for us to have a good, long rest between the controlled mayhem that is Disneyland. We chose the first week in March as this week has historically been a low crowd week. Well I’m pleased to say that this paid off! Both days we hardly waited in line. The longest wait time was 65 mins, for the Car’s ride. However, the ride also broke down and was out of working order for close to 20 minutes. We chose to wait it out, which also really paid off, as the wait time the rest of the night was close to 120 mins!**
Because of this decision, to only attend the park for two days, we were able to rule out staying at a Disneyland Resort. it’s just not worth the price if you aren’t taking advantage of Disneyland everyday. Also the location of the resorts are only prime if your main objective is the Disneyland Parks.
Step 4: Map it out.
Make a list for each day that you’ll be on vacation. Start by filling out the list with the day and the date. Then add in the details regarding your meals and any other plans that you know will take place on this day. I always try to plan two things to do in a day, rarely more. Should we have time available, I list it as ‘open’ and again set a value. Personally, I prefer to leave my travel days open. Make a quick list of other things available in the area, as this may be helpful later on for those unplanned days.
Example of this would be:
Monday day 1:
Leave the hotel @ 6 am
Breakfast @ Denny’s $45.00 (with tip)
Head to the Discovery Cube $60.00 admission & parking_ Parking is cash only!
Lunch: Portillo’s $50.00 (with tip)__ *Update, the food here is super yummy and they offer it to go!
Head to Golf and Stuff $10.00 per round, per person, mini golf & arcade
Dinner Marie Calendars $75.00 (with tip)
Swimming at the hotel or Open $50.00
Spending money $75.00
Another cost to calculate in is your souvenir purchases, petty cash, etc. So consider things like, will there be parking fee’s? Toll roads that we might travel? Are there any items at this place that we’d want to buy? How much space will there be in our suitcases for these items? Use these questions to assist you in deciding what would be a good budget for your souvenir purchases and how you’ll manage that fund. I try to pay with cash as often as I can while on vacation, but carrying around spending money can be risky at times. After gaining a heads up regarding Californian’s sometimes seedy areas, I had opted to buy us all a Visa personalized gift card. With the exact amount of spending money that we were each allotted for the vacation. Best part is, no over spending this way, when the cards done, so is the shopping! I also did the same for our Disneyland spending money, buying Disney gift cards. **Update: The only places in the park that wouldn’t take the Disney gift cards were the snack stands, balloon vendors and vendors like them. I also had a small problem using our Visa’s, as the sales associates in California wanted to check our ID’s when we used them. And while I appreciated the added effort, our daughter who is eight has no ID. In the end we were able to use her card at all the places, we just had to show my ID and have Lily tell them her name and sign for the purchase. I took the opportunity and used it as a teaching moment. 😉 **
Step 5: Begin to think about savings, just a little.
Knowing that we would be booking our vacation at least 6 months in advance, we chose to have Lily save up for her own souvenir purchases. Keeping with the spirit of learning and earning, we also made the deal with our 8 year old that she needed to raise the money for one of her own tickets to Disneyland. Luckily, Lily rose to the challenge by adding toys, clothing and hand made items into our yard sale, that we held over the summer. We’d been able to raise a little over $400.00 by selling our junk. While Lily racked in a cool $125.00 by selling her goodies. She also collected bottles and cans from friends and family and the occasional soda can from the side of the road. Earning her an additional $25.00! Lily asked family members for money in lieu of gifts for Christmas and her Birthday, allowing her to save even more money towards our Disneyland vacation. She also created a $1 flower stand in our yard where she sold three bunch of flowers. One to a neighbor and of course two to us. (In all fairness the flower arrangements were made of weeds and sticks, and they were mostly dead. So as her parents, we’re just so thankful to our neighbor, for helping to support our little one! 🙂 When the tooth fairy visited Lily, twice, she also placed the money into her savings jar as well. We enjoyed counting out her savings with her and making a small chart that she colored in towards her goal. In the end it only took Lily four months to raise her goal amount of $350.00!
Step 6: How will you travel?
Will you fly or drive? Once landed what’s your plan for getting around? Will you rent a car or maybe you’ll plan on taking public transit? Either way, you’ll need to take some time and plan ahead for things, like parking fee’s or mass transits passes, bus schedules, flight information, toll roads, car size and etc.
I did a lot of research on Orange County’s public transportation, hopefully you’ll find it to be helpful. OCTA or Metrolink:
Getting around by public transportation in Orange county looks fairly easy, however I recommend staying somewhere close to a convenient bus route. This will save you a lot of time and stress. You’ll also want to map out the bus routes in advance. At the vary least you should know all of the major lines that you’ll be taking. I would also suggest checking for any scheduled line closures or road closures that might affect your route during your stay.
When taking the bus be prepared to pay your fare before you go. When paying for your trip with cash, there are a few things you will need to know. 1) You must use either coins or dollar bills. 2) You will need to have your exact fare amount as the fareboxes do not make change! 3) No bills over ten dollars are accepted. 4) Kids five and under ride for free. 5) There is a limit though to three free kids per ticket holder. 6) If you’re planning on using the bus all day, you may want to consider buying an all day ticket from the bus operator. 7) For reduced fare, you will need to provide proper identification to the bus operator.
Fare: For local routes the regular fare is $2.00 and for those 60 and older or persons with disabilities the fare is $0.75. Express routes, 701,721 and 794 the regular fare is $7.00 and Seniors and those disabled the fare is $6.00. Finally Orange County Express Routes 206, 211, 212, 213 and 216 the regular fare is $4.00. Those 60+ or people with disestablishes the fare is $3.50. For the Metrolink you will have to do some planning, okay a lot of planning. As the fares are calculated based on a distance formula. To find out exactly what the price will be for your trip, check out their website. http://www.octa.net/Metrolink/Fares-and-Passes/
Tickets: A one way ticket is valid for that day only and is from the origin station to the destination station. There is an expiration date and time printed on the front of the ticket. The ticket allows you three hours from the time of purchase. This ticket is best for those who plan to stay at their destination for more than one day. A one way mobile tickets expires at 3 am the following day of purchase. A round trip ticket is valid for a round trip on the same day. Between the origin and destination stations. Travel must start within three hours from time of purchase. Travel must end on the same day. This ticket it ideal for an infrequent traveler who will complete their trip in one day. Round trip mobile tickets will expire at 3 am on the following date of purchase. There is also the option to buy tickets in advance for up to one year. Seven day, weekend and monthly passes are also available for purchase.
Honestly we didn’t use the bus simply because I found it be a huge hassle and one I didn’t want while on vacation. For us it was due mostly to line changes, route closures, long travel times and not everywhere we wanted to go had a close bus stop.
For us choosing to rent a car was ideal. We picked Enterprise their LAX location. Renting a car allowed for us to take in more of the sights while providing us ease of access and comfort. **Update: I was pleased with how easy it was to pick up our rental car! We literally walked out of baggage claim, crossed over to the enterprise shuttle pick up, hopped on the bus and rode for 12 mins to the car lot. No tip was ever asked for, nor did I see a tip jar. Once there we waited for ten minutes in line, enjoyed an easy check in and twenty minutes later we were loaded in our rental and were off to enjoy! By the way, our rental car was amazing. 37 MPG Sentra with a huge truck that fit a full size stroller, a 28 inch suitcase and a 21 inch suitcase! The back seat was roomy and easily fit our other 28 inch suitcase and carry on bags, while Lily still had plenty of room. **
Step 7: Addressing all of the family’s concerns, while creating your blue print.
Below is our final draft of our concerns as well as our answers. Keep in mind, we made five rough drafts before we arrived at this one. 😉 We hope this will help you to get your vacation off to the right start!
- Amount of vacation time needed off: 5 days from work, 8 days total, Saturday to Saturday.
- Budget for the overall vacation: Goal $5,500.00/ Final ‘working’ budget of $6,000.00 **Update: Thanks to all of the great advice we received and found, we’d been able to stick to our budget, without feeling like we had compromised on anything.**
- When we want to go: The first week of March 2018.
- Average Weather: Highs for March are 68, with a low of 46. 2.5 inches of rain total for the month are possible. **Update: On both of our travel days we did have heavy rains. Like a true blue Oregon style rainy day. Otherwise though the weather was perfect, 75 to 80 degrees with clear skies! **
- Enough time to see the parts of the park that interest her: We all agreed that 2 days in Disneyland were enough and that we’d see just 1 park per day. ** Update: If you have plans to partake in every ride, then you’ll want to plan on being there for 3 days. Our suggestion would be doing just one park per day and then on the last day upgrading to a park hopper pass, this way you can make sure to get it all in.**
- Wants to avoid long lines: Based on crowd tracker sites, it would appear that March before or after spring break, saw fewer people on average. ** Update: Honestly plan on going the first week of March and during the week. Yes the parks were busy, but they weren’t crowed! **
- Wants to avoid closed rides: We checked out, for free, sites like Touringplans.com, which provides an advanced notice list of ride closures and ending attractions. At the time of booking our vacation there were only a few attractions with planned closures at the Disneyland parks.
- Must have a swimming pool: There is an outdoor heated pool at the hotel! Fingers crossed for amazing weather. 🙂
- Wants a minimal amount of time standing in line: Avoid peak season times, Holidays and weekends. Also if anyone in your party has specific needs, Disneyland offers a D.S.A program. Check out my Disneyland’s disability assistance program post for more information.
- Needs to have plenty of places to sit down or lean against to have a break: Yes, according to Disneyland Parks website there are a lot of benches in the park as well as seating areas to eat and relax. ** Update: We found that there were plenty of places in the parks to stop and have a rest!**
- Location: After a lot of thought, we decided on Days Inn in Buena Park, California. A short 15 minute drive to Disneyland. Only 45 minutes to the Los Angeles airport, and just 10 minutes to Knott’s Berry Farm. Not only was the location prime for our needs, but the price was stellar!
- Transportation: We enjoy being able to easily take in all of the sights an area has to offer while on vacation. Renting a compact car was the perfect option for us.
- Other things to do while in California:
- Dolphin/ Whale watching in Newport Beach or Long Beach
- Pirate’s Dinner Adventure in Buena Park
- Hollywood Sign and Hollywood Walk of Fame
- Venice Beach and the Venice Canals, plus shopping
- Main Street and the Pier in Santa Monica
- Star Echo Station in Culver City
- The La Brea Tar Pits & Museum in Los Angeles.
- Griffith Park and Griffith Observatory
- Out of respect for those who have lost their lives and the well being of the animals involved, we will not be attending Sea World in San Diego.
Well, this is a good place to leave you. The next phase is booking your dream vacation!
So with my homework in hand, I’m off.