The beauty of California is how easy it is to access the parks. You can do Disneyland and California Adventure in 3 days tops, especially if you use Ridemax (see below). There is no need to rent a car as you can easily access the parks by walking or shuttle. I have found renting a car has the advantage of getting you out of the Disney District where food is less expensive, but it could be a toss up with the costs of the car. We like to have a car so we don’t have to rely on shuttles to get us to downtown Disney or Universal and we can go eat outside of the district.
There are hundreds of tips out there for a Disney vacation, including how to each cheap in the parks, where to stay, etc. Below are the tips that we’ve either discovered ourselves or tips we’ve gleaned from hours of research and then actual use.
ProTip #1 – Get your tickets for Disney and Universal earlier in the year. The prices traditionally go up in early June.
ProTip #2 – Use www.mousesavers.com for research…great site!
ProTip #3 – Universal – it’s tough to do in one day…or at least it was for us. If you are set on just doing 1 day, you might want to look into the “Front of the Line Pass”. They only sell so many per day and this gets you into the Express line for most rides. The Front of the Line pass is good for one line skip per ride, but…here is the clincher! Watch when they scan them…if it seems fast and you don’t hear a ‘beep’, then they didn’t really scan them! You can come back later and use your ticket again! We had only 1 person actually scan our ticket.
ProTip #4 – Hotel near Disneyland: I highly recommend the Best Western Plus Park Place and Mini Suites. You can see reviews here: (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g29092-d239350-Reviews-BEST_WESTERN_PLUS_Park_Place_Inn_Mini_Suites-Anaheim_California.html). They take the Costco membership for a discounted rate. I think we paid $80 a night. They have a great pool and free breakfast. It’s a 5 min walk to the gate at best. Super close. So close, that it wasn’t that big of a deal if we forgot something in the room. Booking can be done here: http://book.bestwestern.com/bestwestern/priceAvail.do?propertyCode=05470&sob=TRIP.
ProTip #5 – Before you go, buy a subscription to RideMax (www.ridemax.com). This will help you plan your days and not wait in lines. We never waited longer than 15 mins on our trip, using Ridemax. It’s AWESOME. The costs is $15 and if you can stick to a schedule, it will be the best $15 spent. The subscription is for both a download on your laptop and the web app on your iPhone. At the time of this writing I strongly recommend using the version on your laptop, printing the output to pdf and then emailing it to yourself. The phone app was not nearly as good at scheduling and also missed some key features of the downloaded app.
ProTip #6 – On the Disney website, you can buy a World of Color lunch. If you plan to watch this show, BUY THE LUNCH. It comes with premium tickets that get you right up front for the show. Well worth it and the lunch was very good. http://tinyurl.com/43gnbl4
ProTip #7 – We used Restaurants.com to order gift certificates for restaurants in the area. This worked better in California than in Florida. This will only work if you have a car. In California, Katella’s, about 2 miles away, was one of our favorites. Looks like a Denny’s or something, but the food was good and the menu was huge and it was affordable. I’d wait for a sale on Restaurants.com though…when they sell the $25 gift certificates for $2. Note that you usually have to spend $35 to use the $25.
ProTip #8 – Remember you can take a pack into the park. Bring water and snacks with you to save some money. We bought two water bottles that have filters built in (LA and Florida water is less than desirable in taste) so we can fill them at the water fountain and still have good tasting water. Water in the park is pricey. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004RLNDR0/ref=oh_details_o00_s00_i00. Also, it’s important to note that you can get free ice or free ice water from almost any vendor in the park.
ProTip #9 – One of the most fun things for our kids was pin trading. Disney sells pins everywhere. Pins at the park cost from $6.95 to $13.95 each! All of the Disney cast members wear lanyards with pins. Cast members *have* to trade with kids, period. Kids can trade up to 2 pins per day, per cast member (don’t forget the cleaning cast…usually in white uniforms, they get overlooked and often have great pins!) For trading…we went on eBay and bought a “lot” of 25 pins for $18. I highly recommend the pins listed as *Rack/Cast/LE* (that’s off the rack, cast member pins and limited edition) from these guys: http://stores.ebay.com/dizzney4pins. I also suggest you buy 50 pins per kid. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can trade up and it’s very addicting. We’ve even had Dizzney4Pins overnight more pins to us while we’ve been at the park! Buy your lanyard from them as well. The least expensive lanyard in the park is $8.95. These guys sell them for $3. Also, be sure to ask the pin stores if they have a pin trading board, wall, book, vest, or hat. That’s like hitting a windfall, and often times they do have them!
ProTip #10 – Remember that the Main Street Office will charge phones and whatnot for you. They give you a receipt to pick it up later.
ProTip #11 – Look on Mousesavers for best food values in the park. Note that the ‘half a chicken’ they often refer to as being enough food for 2 people, isn’t enough for 2 adults.
ProTip #12 – If you do the character breakfast buffet, the ticket you get is good for like 3 hours. So if you do a late breakfast (say 10am), you can come back at 12:50 and do lunch too. These things are super expensive so squeezing two meals out of it is a bonus. =)
ProTip #13 – Chase Bank offers a Disney Rewards card that is worth looking into. I’m not sure I’d use it all the time unless I was an avid Disney visitor, but it was great to get it as soon as I knew we were going. The offers vary, but when I signed up, they offered a $200 Disney gift card as a bonus. I managed to earn another $100 in Disney rewards before our trip. We used this money to eat in the park, so we didn’t have to expend the energy to leave, find food and then return in time for our next Ridemax time stamp. http://disneyrewards.com/cards-overview-apply?CELL=6JGK11