I have been prepping our oldest son Braden, who just turned 6, for Disneyland since he was old enough to pay attention to the opening credits of any Disney movie we would watch. “Look! That’s the Disney castle! It’s real, you know…and some day we’ll go there!” Braden would often asked if Lightning McQueen lives in Disneyland, and Elsa, and Woody from Toy Story…and now Star Wars and Marvel too!? Yes, Braden! Yes they all live there and you can meet them one day!
Well, now our time has come!! We have officially booked our first Disneyland trip for our family! Ethan will be 3 years 4 months old when we go, so he’s on the younger side of when I ever thought I’d want to take a child, however this is our family “babymoon” — one last hoorah for our family of 4 before baby brother or sister joins our family this spring. Jay’s parents will be coming with us, I’ll be 28-29 weeks pregnant, and it’s going to be so much fun to have family (and help!) on our Disneyland trip with us!
Here are some things I did to pre-plan for our trip!
Start Saving Last Year!
Seriously! Or at least, start saving right now. I made a separate savings account that I put at least $50 into every month, or more if I could afford it for our budget or if I came across some extra money. I didn’t know when we would be able to go to Disneyland, I truly didn’t think it would be possible for us to go so soon, but I saved up >$1500 while also contributing to our more important emergency savings account biweekly with every one of my pay cheques. This ended up being enough to cover the entire cost of our accommodations!
Make Money While You Book
I gave this same tip for our trip to Maui — make money with eBates for booking your hotel and your car rental if you need one. They have a whole travel & vacations section and have many different companies you can book through to get cash back; and yes — it’s legitimate. I’ve earned back >$300 on my online purchases since I signed up for eBates and I get those payments directly deposited into my PayPal account. When booking our hotel I ended up getting 9% cash back (that’s $126 back in my pocket!) and getting 20% off our hotel on a Boxing Day deal!
Where To Stay
I had been researching what hotels would work best for our family, and these were the things that mattered most for us when booking:
- Separate bedroom with bunk beds for the kids
- Free breakfast, bonus if room had microwave/fridge
- Pool/hot tub
- Walking distance from Disneyland or direct shuttle
- Refundable, in case something happens and we need to cancel
- Free parking, if you rent a vehicle (see below)
Since our kids already share a room with bunk beds, this was important to us so they would sleep the best they could, as well as some privacy for us in the evening so we can relax and watch TV and not have to be completely silent so the kids can sleep. The cheapest option seems to be two queen or double beds in the same room, but this just wouldn’t work for a week long vacation for our family at this stage of our lives.
We had our eye on the Desert Palms Hotel, as they have a kids suite with bunk bed, but at the time we wanted to book for 7 nights it would be $2600 CAD (the exchange rate is horrendous right now at $0.72!). I’ve heard wonderful things about the Howard Johnson because it is so close to the park and has an amazing outdoor water park, but it was way out of our price range, it all depends on what is most important to you. If we were going with more people or the kids were a bit older, I think I would give AirBNB and VRBO a look too for a house rental.
We ended up booking at the Stanford Inn & Suites which is 1.7 km away from Disneyland, but on the shuttle line which departs to and from the park every 20 minutes. I have heard there are advantages of the shuttle: direct drop off at the gates, no shuffling through crowds, no fighting/pulling your children to come or maneuvering of strollers…but obviously you might have to wait a bit for the shuttle to arrive and depart. This hotel wasn’t even on our radar, but it popped up on sale when I booked on Boxing Day as a 20% off deal and cost us $1400 CAD for 7 nights for their Comfort Kids Suite which was the exact type of room we wanted. Plus, as I mentioned, booking through eBates I get $126 back on that hotel booking after we pay!
We would not be going on this trip if it weren’t for the generosity of my in-laws getting our entire family to California on credit card flight points. I have always had credit cards that give Airmiles reward miles, but I have truly never used them or had enough for a flight. I have heard wonderful things about the RBC Avion points and my friend at Moments in Mommyland recommends the Alaska Airlines Mastercard. Do some research and see where you can get the most bang (flight points) for your buck, and there’s always seat sales to watch out for too. It is closer and more convenient, in my opinion, to fly through John Wayne Airport in Anaheim (SNA) vs. through LAX.
One thing we thought of within 2 weeks of our trip was how we were going to get around. Here are a few important points, noting that we wanted to go to the beach at least one day on our trip:
- Round-trip shuttle to the hotel and back to the airport is Gray Line Airport Shuttle which is $70 for our family of 4; kids are free
- Public transportation to Disneyland & other attractions on the Anaheim Resort Transport (ART) is really easy, affordable and accessible from hotels around the park, it will cost our family $50 for a 5 day pass
- Cab fares to beaches would be $50+ one way (depending on traffic) and then we’d have to worry about car seat rentals as well for the kids
- Car rental is cheap, around $18/day currently, and well worth the money for a family of 4 if you want to leave the Disneyland area (bring your own car seats to save money)
- Families >4 will need an SUV or minivan. The cheapest rate we found for renting a minivan (seats 7) was $39/day + taxes, which came to $342 CAD. I rented through Hotwire via eBates to get money back, of course, and saved $11. 🙂
- Parking at Disneyland is $18/day if you want that option
Make sure your hotel has free parking, or it likely won’t be worth it!!! Our hotel does, other hotels that we considered switching to closer to our trip (to be a bit closer to Disneyland) charged $17/night!
If you do want to go to a beach and forgo the car rental, I did find out the ART goes to a stop called the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC) on the weekends only, and only to the San Clemente Pier.
Disneyland Park Passes
I never knew how expensive Disneyland park passes are! You can check the Disney site to see if they have special offers, but for our family of 4 for 3 days at Disneyland currently it would be $918 USD. Since we have decided to dedicate our entire week to Disney and it’s only a $150 difference, we are getting the 5 day pass for $1068 USD and adding the Park Hopper option, which allows you to go to California Adventure, for an additional $160 USD. In my research for buying advance passes, you may save $15-20 per pass with a service like AMA, but it’s really not terribly significant.
Luckily for us, we are getting our 5 day Park Hopper passes via Airmiles. For 5 day passes it is 3100 Airmiles per child and 3200 per adult, so a grand total of 12,600 Airmiles for our family to be at Disneyland and California Adventure for 5 days.
Buy Disney Souvenirs Before You Go
One of the best tips that I received (and I can even tell this before I go!) was to buy autograph books and some Disney souvenirs like t-shirts at home before we go. I’m a decently creative person on the computer, so I hopped onto Vistaprint and made the boys custom autograph books and t-shirts, shipped for $50 the day I booked our trip! Old Navy often has sales and lots of great Disney character shirts, we had a good collection going at home too, so this is what I’ll pack for the boys. I also made a trip to the Disney Store in our local mall to get a few things, and they often have great sales! We will probably give them $100 each to buy some souvenirs at Disneyland too.
In all honesty with the dollar being so awful, there is no way we could go on this trip without help from my in-laws and using their credit card points. I do have a USD savings account that I normally tuck a little bit of money into when I can afford it, but not when the dollar is so awful, so I only had about $160 USD in that account for when we went. We actually only have enough Airmiles to purchase 2 park tickets, not the 4 our family needs. SO, if you have family when points to spare, even asking for a park pass for a child for their birthday will help a ton with savings. Otherwise, if Disneyland is important to you, save save save so you can go!
If you have any tips for while we’re there, please share them in the comments! More blog posts after our trip coming!