Monday, February 11, 2013
Disneyland Tips - Part 1, Preparation
I absolutely LOVE to travel, especially the planning part. I think it fulfills something like a gambling addiction to try and find the best prices. Our favorite place to go is Disneyland, and we actually bought an annual pass and visited 6 times last year. That probably doesn't sound like a lot, but living 12 hours away created a challenge for us, and I became somewhat of a pro at getting us the best prices for each trip. Many friends and family members ask me for advice on travel, especially to Disneyland, so I finally decided to type it all up in one location.
This is only part one in a probably 5-6 part post. If you have any recommendations yourself, or any questions, please feel free to leave a comment!
When to visit:
The absolute best thing you can do to make your trip enjoyable is to visit during the off-season. This is difficult for most families, but I promise, it is SO worth it! You want to go when school is in session, and not during any holidays. The absolute best times to visit are late January early February, or late September, early October. Be sure to check multiple calendars thru Disney and Anaheim before booking. Disney hosts events like a marathon and D23 which are usually held during off-season, and attendance will be up significantly during this time. Sometimes there are conventions in Anaheim or non-Disney events in the park (ie Dapper Days, Gay Days, reunions etc.), while these are supported by Disney, they aren't hosted by Disney, so the information will not be included in the official Disneyland events calendar. Also know when booking off-season that attractions will be closed for maintenance (closures are listed at the bottom of the daily events calendar), and many shows/fireworks will only run over the weekend (find the events calendar here). Disney also offers a When to Visit calendar that offers info on lines, weather, and other good to know facts.
We always try to visit during off-season. The biggest reason for this is that we don't feel pressured to hurry when the crowds are lighter. Our time is much more enjoyable when we can take in all of the sites and walk around leisurely, instead of running from ride to ride trying to fit the most in.
When NOT to visit:
Obviously you can't always choose when you can take a vacation, but if at all possible, I would recommend avoiding the week after Thanksgiving, the week before and after Christmas, and UEA weekend (falls on October 17-20 in 2013). Disneyland could reach capacity, run out of food, and be filled with less than friendly guests. If you are visiting during a busier time, remember to be courteous and polite to the other guests and above all be nice to the cast members!
Booking a hotel:
When booking a hotel, make sure to compare prices . While deal sites like Priceline, Travelocity, or Kayak can find great deals, I've found some hotels aren't listed with the deal sites. It's also always best to call the specific hotel if you know where you want to stay and see if they can price match the deal site. Since Travelocity, Priceline, etc. make a commission off of your booking, I've found that most hotels will at least price match, if not beat the deal site's price (basically passing the commission off to you). You also tend to get nicer rooms (better views etc.) if you don't use deal sites.
Everyone will have a different price point depending on the type, quality, and distance for the hotel. As far as hotels go, there are 3 categories:
1. Complete splurge and stay at a Disney property (not the most economical)
2. Stay at a budget hotel further away, drive or take the shuttle into the park.
3. Mid-range hotel within walking distance.
We usually go for option 3. Items that I always consider when looking for a hotel are: Do they offer a free breakfast? Is there a microwave and/or fridge in the room? How long will it take to walk to the Disneyland gates? Is the condition of the hotel acceptable for the price? Depending on the answers to these questions, I may be willing to pay more for a hotel room. If you can get a free breakfast, avoid parking fees, possibly have a midday meal in your room, and have a nice, clean environment where its possible to relax, I am definitely willing to pay a few bucks more per night. We saved a lot of money on food by eating breakfast and lunch at the hotel, we just head back in the afternoon for lunch/nap time, it's nice to leave for a little while during that time too, it seems there is an overlap of morning and evening crowds and they've usually thinned out some by the time we go back.
Everyone will have different price points when it comes to hotels, my personal goal price is $86/night and there are 3 or so hotels that I aim for at this price. I also have a secondary list of hotels that I am willing to pay $65/night for, but they aren't quite as nice and are a further walk to the entrance.
I highly recommend looking at a map when viewing the location of the hotels. Some hotels boast being only .2 miles from Disneyland, but that is as the crow flies. Make sure to check the hotel's distance to the park entrance. if I am walking to the park, I prefer the entrance on Harbor Blvd instead of entering thru Downtown Disney.
I'm no expert on flights, but a few things that I've learned along the way that I've found valuable are:
-Start looking as far in advance as possible, have a reasonable 'goal' price in mind
-Check multiple sites like Travelocity, Kayak, and the individual airline's website (Southwest does not offer their tickets thru any deal sites)
-Sign up for notifications, with Travelocity you can get an email every time a preferred location and date dip below a certain price
-Once a flight reaches your price point, buy it! Don't wait around and hope the price will dip lower.
Park tickets are the only thing I never try to find a better price on. I always purchase thru Disneyland or GetAwayToday. There is a military discount available, a total of 6 tickets may be purchased and the eligible service member must be present for purchase and admission into the park.Any being sold on ebay or similar sites are most likely a used hopper pass. Using someone else's pass is against Disneyland Resort's policy, and not to mention just plain dishonest! I absolutely love everything Disneyland has to offer and I want them to keep improving and expanding. I don't mind paying full price for a ticket, or even when their prices go up, because I know what I am getting in return is definitely worth the price.
The ticket prices with GetAwayToday always match Disneyland's prices. You can even order online and have your tickets printed when you arrive at the park, just make sure to take your ID to the ticket window. GetAwayToday offers bundles, and sometimes these are the best prices available. Sometimes I can look for a few weeks and try every possible combination of hotel/flight/tickets and not even come close to their price. Just like with any deal site, not all hotels are available with GetAwayToday, so make sure you still compare multiple website to make sure you are getting the best hotel match.
If you are a Costco member, there are bundling discounts available for the Disneyland resort. They include park tickets, hotel, and dining options (currently a free character dining experience.). This is something that is worth looking into, the good neighbor hotels included in this deal offer a 3rd or 4th night free. If you were planning on booking at one of the included hotels, and wanted a character dining experience, then this option would definitely be economical.
There are similar discounts available for AAA members. If you bundle park tickets and hotels, you do save rather than booking each alone. If you don't have the time to look into all of the deals yourself this would be a good option, but I don't think it would be the cheapest one.
If you are having the best time of your life and decide that you would like to upgrade to an annual pass, you only have to pay the difference in price between your hopper pass and the annual pass. A deluxe annual pass offers a 10% discount on food and a 10% discount on merchandise with only 50 blockout days a year. A premium annual pass offers a 15% discount on food, a 20% discount on merchandise, zero blockout days, and free parking. So if you are going to upgrade, it would be best to do so the first day of your trip so you can take advantage of all of the discounts. All annual passes offer discounts on resort hotels and guided tours. Many of the surrounding hotels offer discounts to annual passholders as well (usually 10-30% off), but these prices wont be available/listed thru the deal sites, so you will need to check the hotel's website separately or call.
Arriving at the park:
Arrive at the park EARLY, at least 45 minutes. They will usually start letting people in the gates about 30 minutes before the actual opening time, and then you have to wait behind a rope at the end of Main Street USA until actual park open. There are often characters available for photos during this time. City Hall and The Emporium are also open. Fun fact, they will usually choose a family from the early arrivers to 'open the park'. The family will lead the entire crowd in a countdown for when they open the gates, I think they get a special fastpass and possibly a button to wear.... I'm not 100% sure since I've never been chosen (probably due to the lack of children), but it's a goal of mine.
What to bring:
There are many different options for what to bring with you into the park, it is extremely easy to overpack. Strollers, large bags, and outside food are allowed. Remember, you will need to carry all of that stuff with you, and it gets tiring, especially on crowded days. Strollers are available for rent, and sadly, stroller theft is a problem at the parks. Renting a stroller will guarantee that your expensive stroller wont go missing, and you can always get a free replacement if your rental disappears. Lockers are available at a daily rate, they run $7-$15, depending on the size. Lockers are definitely nice to have if you are willing to pay the price. If we are staying at a hotel too far away to return to during the day, we will rent a locker to put our jackets/sweatshirts in so we don't have to carry them all day. Outside food and drinks are allowed in Disneyland, this can work out really well if you've stayed in a hotel with a fridge. You can prepare lunch and bring it in with you. This can definitely save a lot of money, resort food gets expensive. Bottles of water cost $3 in the park, so I would recommend bringing your own. One of my best kept Disneyland secrets is there is a cold water dispenser in the outside seating area of Rancho del Zocalo. I always bring my own water bottle in, and fill it there (this water is SO much tastier than what is available at the few water fountains throughout the park).
If you are using your phone a lot while in the parks for pictures, wait times, phone calls, etc. I would recommend purchasing something like a New Trent external battery. I've needed mine dozens of times, and there is nothing worse than having a great photo op, and finding out you have a dead camera/phone. There are phone chargers available to use in the Main Street lockers, I believe the price is $2/hour.
That's all the info I have for preparation, if there is any information I've missed, please let me know. Also, if you have any requests for areas of focus for the upcoming Disneyland posts, please leave a comment!