Everything I can offer for tips, tricks, advice, and information on planning your own Disney Vacation will be found here in this post, and the Disney posts on the side bar! Well.. I hope I can do my best to offer some great information.
This is my third Disney vacation in my life but the first one I planned myself AND the first vacation I planned for our family of six. So a little about me, well I am obsessive. When I do something I research it to death, I go full force and I make sure I execute it to THE best of my ability. I get slightly crazy and annoying when I get something in my head. To the point where my husband was really sick of me talking about Disneyland before we had even booked the trip.
This was the first time our family was taking a vacation, Cam (my hubby) and I went on a vacation nearly 2 years ago for our first ever vacation, and the longest time we had left our kids. But this time, we were bringing the kids along and doing this whole trip on our own, no friends or family joining us this time.
So many firsts, and it gave me slight anxiety. I do not like surprises, I hate the unknown. I am a planner! I found out every pregnancy what I was having so I could plan ahead, and I hated not knowing when baby was going to arrive.
We were on a tight budget, since my husband hasn't been working his usual decent paying job consistently for the last three years. It sure makes it hard to budget when we have slow months and then a couple good months of playing catch up. We knew he was going to get a great tax return this year and he also got a ten year bonus for loyalty to his work. With the budget stretched some months the bonus cash was going to make this possible. And on the plus side, we committed to not spending a dime of our vacation on credit, cash only!
Once I talked my husband into making this trip work... truthfully, we "needed" to get away and forget the stresses at home and just enjoy our family. I knew we could plan things in a budget so that we could go and know our limit on each meal, souvenirs, hotels, gas etc.
Getting to Disneyland
The first way we knew we would save money is driving. I researched flights, budget flights any deals I could find and the cost just didn't seem like it would ever happen. I looked on the airline websites, deal websites like expedia... you name it! With my husband and I and our 4 kids, we had to pay for at least three of them, plus bags, plus transportation to and from the airports, and all the extra costs that go along with flying. Renting cars would require the rental of car seats (4 to be exact) so our option was getting a bus, but then we couldn't travel freely and do a beach day or get to Legoland without an additional fee...
When I say I researched flights, I mean I researched every angle. We live in Southern Alberta Canada and our closest airport that we would fly from is Calgary, Alberta. That is a two hour drive. I looked into flying from Calgary to LA, Calgary to Las Vegas and renting a car (which would also mean renting carseats), Calgary to Arizona and renting a car (and car seats) even driving to Great Falls, MT and flying the budget airline Allegiant Air to Nevada or Arizona. Everything cost more than I was willing to spend. I wanted to spend my money at our vacation destination not getting there.
So we looked into driving. We have friends who drove recently and told us it cost them $400 in fuel. Which we couldn't believe. We drive a large SUV (Yukon XL) that is basically a truck. It cost $120 CND to fuel up at home. so based on that, we figured out miles and how many fuel ups and budgeted about $800 which was basically what we expected to pay in fuel.
Reality: Driving from Tilley to Anaheim, our hotel to Legoland and back, our hotel to Huntington Beach and back, and all the way back home to Tilley... We spent less than $400 in fuel. How? Because fuel is cheaper! From empty even at over $3/gal it was roughly $60USD. We tried to only fuel up before California and after as the closer you got to the ocean, the more expensive fuel became. Even with exchange we way over budgeted on fuel, which made us feel good that we had a cushion in our budget.
Would I drive again? Absolutely! Even with a 6 year old, a 4 year old, a 3 year old and a 10 month old, the trip was well thought out and went much better than I expected. Our stops came at the perfect time when everyone started to get antsy, and everyone traveled amazing for driving only during the day. We tried to stop every 3-4 hours, not pushing more than 4 hours in the car.
If you can fly, by all means, do it! It would have knocked 3 traveling days off our trip, but the memories we made driving those 3 days, I would never give back. Especially the way to Disney, because we planned this awesome Treasure Hunt to reveal our surprise vacation!
So here is the break down of our road trip.
We left our home and headed to Coutts AB, to the Sweet Grass border crossing
ID required: passports for us, and birth certificates for the kids.
We then went to Great Falls, MT and stopped at Target.
We could have skipped this stop but it was good for bathroom breaks and stretching the legs
Next was our final destination for Day 1, Helena Mt. We checked into our Super 8 Hotel, where we would never stay again, Ha! It was very clean but old and noisy. Great free breakfast though and free wifi that worked best in the lobby. $57/night... got what we paid for..
We left our hotel and drove to Idaho Falls, Idaho. A PERFECT place for the kids to run,
burn energy and have a picnic. So glad we stopped here. Just off the interstate and easy to find!
Next stop was Provo Utah, our goal was to get through Salt Lake City and all those cities in that area as traffic we were told can slow you down. We only slowed down for about 20 minutes but it was busy and I was glad Cam was driving!
We found a Subway and ate dinner and headed off for Beaver Utah
We booked the Comfort Inn at Beaver Utah online through booking.com We would stay here again and again! NICE hotel! Great sleep! Great free breakfast!
We left Beaver Utah and headed to Arizona State.
There are no stops along this short drive through Arizona but we stopped along the road at a turn out for a family picture and our next clue.
Off to Las Vegas, We stopped at a In-N-Out burger just off the interstate and ate for less than $13
After Vegas came our final destination, Anaheim!
Booking Hotels & Park Passes
I searched every deal site, disney.com, expedia.ca, you name it, I searched it! We looked at City Passes which you can get through Disneyland, on the citypass website or Costco... But only 3 days at Disneyland and two days at other parks? Wasn't enough for what we wanted. I was told Mousesavers.com is a legit site and they post deals from different sites on their website. I checked this website often over the year of planning our trip. I priced out different times of years... It got a little excessive, Cam got a little annoyed with my constant scenarios but we finally found the best deal yet and that got Cam a little excited.
We finally booked through aRestravel.com Why? because they had a deal with Disneyland Park passes where if you bought 3 days you got the 4th free, or 4 and the 5th free... We went with 3 days at got our 4th day at Disney free! We booked our hotel through the same website as a package. It seemed to be the best deal to bundle them together.
I looked daily at Disneyland.com, expedia.ca, and other sites for park passes, this was the first deal I came across and I would hold out again for a deal. The voucher said the passes expire but apparently they don't. You just have to use them 14 days from the first day you use it. You can't use 2 days one visit and 2 the next.
We looked at SOOO many hotels, ratings, prices... The magic number for booking a vacation is 5! once you surpass 5 people in your family, even if baby is #6 hotel prices are more expensive! Fire code regulations in Anaheim for most hotels is 5 people. This goes for Disneyland Hotels too... A hotel room jumped nearly $500 per night in a Disneyland Resort Hotel because we have a 6th member and she would be sleeping in a playpen even... You have to book a suite for 6. We finally chose The Best Western Pavilions Plus because of the price, a friend recommendation and location and it was a normal hotel room that allowed 6 people.
We ended up getting 7 nights at the Best Western, 4 Days at Disney for the price of 3 for a total of $2163.70
For hotels on the way to Disney and home, you could book prior on a deal site but we paid about $100/ night except our first night.
Legoland passes, would we go here again, probably not. Mind you we didn't pay the extra for the Sea Life park or the Water Park BUT we were annoyed that things seemed to cost money in Legoland even after paying admission, like the climbing wall... Not everything cost extra but some stuff did. The park and rides were much less attractive and thrilling for our lego loving family too..Glad we saw it once but probably wont ever go again. I am also glad we didn't pay full price for park passes once we got there. I used the kids' Wii and DS game books and looked in the back for coupons. I was able to split our purchase into 2 transactions. Where 1 free kid with every adult ticket worked twice. We ended up paying 2 adults, 1 kid (since baby is free) and got 2 kids free! a $400 admission turned out being $249.00 for the family.
Legoland seems to put deals on their passes WAY more than Disneyland offers deals. SO do research and look for these coupons. Most being a free kid admission with an adult purchase.
Getting to Disneyland, Hotels and Park Passes cost us
3 Travel Day Hotels : $57.00, 89.00, $102.00 = $248
Disneyland Park Passes + Hotel (7 nights) = $2163.70
Legoland Passes = $249.00
Fuel = $400
Food... We budgeted $40/meal, on travel days we were way under, park days we pretty much hit right on $40. We NEVER paid for breakfast. I purchased (unhealthy) pop tarts and stayed at hotels with continental or grab and go breakfasts, which met our needs.
Overview Tips for Booking your hotels, Park passes and getting to Disney
1. Shop around!
Do not purchase the first deal you come across, check out popular sites and compare them to Disneyland.com. Sites to check out are www.expedia.ca, aRestravel.com, getawaytoday.com, and check out Mousesavers.com for the latest deals! We can vouch for saying aRestravel.com is a legit site and the tickets and hotels booked through them were a great deal and great experience!
If you are flying, look for deals, use your airmiles, search for a good deal! Don't spend your budget getting to Disneyland!
2. Budget Budget Budget
Set a budget and stick to it! Make an educated budget, do your research! Set a budget for food, for gas, hotels and shopping. We budgeted $40 for food per meal and we stuck to it except for the occasional meal (we budgeted more for character dining, our first night at Disney) Stay somewhere hat has continental or grab and go breakfast for free! That saves a ton of money and gives you a great jump start to your day!
Where did I get $40 / meal from? Disneyland.com has all their menus posted on their website and prices (character dining prices budget way more than the posted price) I basically would look at a cheaper dining location and choose what we would eat and it averaged $40 so I stuck with $40. Our kids aren't big eaters but big snackers so I packed snacks and they shared meals!
3. Use Google Maps
If you have never been to Disneyland or the area, use google maps to get a visual! This is important when booking a hotel! Do not book a hotel that is a 20 minute drive unless you are willing to drive and pay for parking every day! If you are willing to pay for the Anaheim Resort Transportation - ART passes, then your hotel location may not matter.
We paid for the ART, we ended up walking to the park more often than the bus because unloading our packed double stroller, folding it down and carrying kids was more of a hassle than just walking. Depends the ages of your party. If your kids are out of the stroller stage, the ART would work great! If you are walkers and don't mind the 10-20 minute walk to and from the parks don't waste your money. This cost our family $71 for 6 day passes. We could use the bus whenever it arrived (20-30 wait between stops) Would we do this again? Probably not, even on days the kids were tired we just put 2 in the stroller, 1 in the carrier and 1 walked or got a piggy back ride. It was less hassle and less stress on Cam and I.
4. Pay for your Hotel and Passes before you go
It is easier to make the trip work when you don't have to pay for everything at one time. We purchased our park passes, hotel in Anaheim, ART passes, Photo Pass + around one month before we left. (check requirements for ART and Photo Pass +)
I highly recommend buying before hand is Disney's PhotoPass +... it is 69.95 if you buy it online prior to traveling or 99.95 in the park. When you purchase this pass online it gets mailed to you up to 14 days after purchase. Bring this along with you to Disneyland and take the voucher to the PhotoPass location (near the plaza inn) They will give you your PhotoPass+ card on a lanyard. DO NOT LOOSE your voucher and package. (they did not tell me this, I thought I lost it, if you do visit the photo pass area and they will help you)
You NEED this for you to reap the benefits of this purchase.
Use it as much as possible! Every opportunity you see a Disney Cast Member (may be called something else) with a camera pass them your card and get photos taken! Don't forget to ask for magic shots too! On specific rides you can get your photos too! All the rides are on the lanyard on a card so you don't miss out! At the end of your stay you get all those photos free
(well you paid for them)
**Read through the information in your PhotoPass+ package!
Bonus, if you do character dining packages, your photo from your dining experience which I believe is $37 or something is complimentary with your PhotoPass+... so our 2 Character dining experience photos paid for our card!
This was a purchase we were willing to make and try, we will definitely do it again. If you wish not to spend the money, cast members will take photos with your camera if you ask politely!
I hope these tips are helpful. For Disneyland and Legoland park tips stay tuned for the next post
For more tips check out my posts on our first Disney Vacation
Check out the side panel to the left for all my travel/vacation posts.