Disneyland Tips and Tricks for Travelling with Kids on a Budget

I know there are many Disney fanatics out there but there are also a lot moms like me who don’t know too much but who would like some guidance and tips when eventually deciding to take a trip to the happiest place on earth

I was asked last minute to attend a work event at the Disneyland Hotel and so I decided to take advantage of that fact and had my son and husband fly down with me the day before the conference to check out Disneyland. We went on Sunday Februrary 27th and had a great time!

My son is almost 7 and in my opinion that is a great age for a 1st visit as he was tall enough to ride everything and old enough to be able to walk thru the park & remember everything

We flew Southwest to Anaheim on a Saturday afternoon and took Lyft to our hotel. No need for a Shuttle with 3 people as we easily fit into a Lyft It was quick and easy to find a driver and we paid around $25 to get from the airport to our hotel.

The first night we booked a room at Delta Hotel Golden Grove. At only $189 a night including tax this hotel was by far the best deal for a Marriott property. We are rewards members and so prefer to stay at Marriot when we travel. We got a room with a King Bed and a sofa bed. The room was big and clean. The hotel has a nice pool and hot tub nothing fancy but it is clean and serves its purpose. We enjoyed the pool and had a hot tub soak before heading to dinner. The hotel is across the street from Target so you can stock up on snacks and drinks to bring in the park and even get t-shirts and Disney stuff and for much cheaper than at the Park if you want any. The hotel is also walking distance to some inexpensive restaurants for dinner including Thai, El Salvadoran and Middle Eastern Food or McDonalds if you prefer fast food. We ate at Shwarma House which was very tasty, good portion size and well priced. We walked back to the hotel and went to bed early because we wanted to get to the park for rope drop.

We bought coffee at the hotel to drink in our Lyft on the way to the Park. Downtown Disney has a Starbucks but there is a long line and if you are hurrying to rope drop you will not want to have to stop for coffee. We left Delta Hotel at 7:15am for the 13 minute drive to the Disneyland Hotel which cost $7. Delta offered us a 2pm check out which we kept in case we wanted to go back to the hotel to rest but we brought all our bags to the bell desk at the Disney Hotel where I would be staying for my conference starting Sunday night. I was lucky and able to get a room assigned to us and keys at 7:15am which was amazing! I was told that if they did not have a room ready to assign they would have texted me to advise when our room was ready while we were in the park. We left our bags at the bell desk and did not go to our room as we wanted to get to the park for rope drop.

My son was given a 1st visit pin by the guy at the check in desk which was great. You can request a pin for a 1st visit, birthday, retirement etc and it is free so be sure to ask at your hotel if you stay onsite otherwise in the park you can ask at any shop for a button to celebrate your 1st visit or many other special occasions.

My husband set off to get the park while we checked into the hotel to save us a place in line for Rise of the Resistance.. My son and I later hurried thru Downtown Disney to get to the park for opening.. We got thru the gates and were actually inside the park for rope drop. We positioned ourselves to rush to Rise of the Resistance and when the park opened a 8am we hurried all the way to the back of the park. My husband was in front of us and at 8:07 we were in line and by 8:27 on the ride which is amazing and a must do if you are a Star Wars Fan.

We then headed over to Smugglers Run and were able to get right on. Make sure to ask to be a pilot as you get to sit in front and handle the controls. After hitting both Star Wars rides we peaked into Olga’s Cantina to see the cool decor. You can order blue milk and other cool stuff but we were focused on getting in as many rides as possible so we did not stop for food or drink. Instead we proceeded to Big Thunder Railroad which we got onto very quickly followed by Matterhorn which had about a 20 minute wait.

The Genie Plus app gives you approximate wait times for all rides which is great for planning purposes. Our next ride of the day was it’s a Small World we used Genei + and got right on. ( I had to go as it was a memory from Disney when I was a kid) On our way to that ride we saw Woody from Toy Story and I got a cute pic of my son with him. We then checked out Toon Town which is long overdue for an update and refresh that is now in progress as of March 2022. We rode Gadget Go Coaster which was short but fun. We wanted to do Roger Rabbit and so I reserved on Genie Plus and scanned in to ride it since I knew we would not go back to Toon Town as its at the back of the park but, it was temporarily out of operation so we got a free pass that we could use anytime on any Lightening Lane, with a few exceptions. This is a nice bonus of Genie Plus if you reserve and your ride breaks down or is delayed you get a freebie pass.

We finished off our morning with Canal Storybook Boats & Pirates of the Carribean . At this point our kid had a melt down cause he was tired and hungry so we got lunch in Bear County, sitting outside in the shade overlooking the river at Hungry Bear. A bacon cheeseburger burger and fries was $12 and a kids meal a burger, milk, cutie and fries $7. Ice water is free at all food places thru the park. The food was not bad and not too expensive. After lunch we did the 15 minute walk back to the Disneyland Hotel and played at the pool for a few hours avoiding the hottest and busiest time at the park 1-5pm.

By going for rope drop we avoided the crowds and got in 9 rides by 1pm. Getting up early can be tough when on vacation and you might think twice about it but it is really worth considering as you definitely beat the crowds get in a lot of rides and if you are a Star Wars fan it will likely ensure you are able to do Ride of the Resistance without a long wait and without having to pay $20 for a Lightening Lane spot.

The beauty of staying at the Disneyland Hotel is it is right there to go back to but with Lyft we could have gone back to the Delta in 15 minutes so 30 round trip and for only an $14 additional and still had downtime without the higher cost of the Disneyland Hotel.

I used Genie Plus at 1pm to book Space Mountain for 5pm and then booked Indiana Jones 2 hours after I grabbed Space Mountain at 3pm for 7pm so after cooling off and relaxing we showered and headed back into the park and did Space Mountain followed by Star Wars Continues, Autotopia, Astroblasters & Astro Orbitor. Next up was Indiana Jones and Jungle Cruise which we walked onto with no wait. We then had Mexican for Dinner at Rancho Zocolo. We got a plain tortilla for our son and he used the beans and rice from the Enchiladas & Burrito dishes that my husband and I got to share. The food was good and had a bit of spice and was not too pricey

After dinner we hit Haunted Mansion, Pinocchio, Casey Jr Circus train. We then waited for the fireworks at 9pm but they were cancelled due to wind so we watched the light show did one last ride on Big Thunder since that was my son’s favorite (after Rise of the Resistance) and we then headed home to collapse into bed at 10pm.

By going early & using Genie Plus we got in a whopping 19 rides’ 8 in our 5 hour morning sessions and 11 in our 4 hour evening & night session. (And the park did not close till 11pm so we could have even gotten in more if we had wanted to)

Genie Plus is really a must have if you want to avoid long lines and get a lot of rides in. If you go early for rope drop you do not need to immediately activate it as the park is not busy early and wait lines are not long. I opted to use Genie Plus to book rides for the afternoon. There are 9 rides on Genie Plus and you are able to select 1 every 2 hours. You can claim rides for later in the day and stack them to make sure you can get all rides you want in. Also as soon as you use one you can claim another without waiting 2 hours . Also if a ride you claim closes you get a free pass to use on any ride at any time (with a few exceptions) We got one of these and so we were able to end the night with a 2nd ride on Big Thunder Mountain with no wait

We were very lucky that by going early and doing the route we did we got a lot of rides in. My best advice is go early for rope drop, take a break at the busiest time 1-4 and then return in the late afternoon/evening when things quiet down again

Disneyland is expensive but if you bring snacks and drinks into the park and plan ahead you can limit your costs by staying further from the park walking or using Lyft or Uber, eating outside of Disney when you can and trying to go on a date that is less expensive & buying early since ticket pricing is based on the day of the week (weekends are more expensive) and demand.

Some people like to stay several days and make a big trip out of Disneyland but you can actually enjoy Disneyland and get a lot in buying a single day ticket and staying over only 1 or 2 nights. Plan ahead, book your trip on Southwest, fly into Santa Ana and you can have a great time spending just one day at the Park but you should definitely get Genie Plus to maximize your limited time. Another cool bonus of Genie Plus is you get free photos so you can ask a Disney Photographer if you can find one to take pictures of your family and you can download ones from the rides that take them.

I also highly suggest a 2nd day to hang out at the pool to recover and relax before heading home, that way you can hang out at the Park late go back to the hotel sleep in the day after your visit to the park and lounge at the pool until hearing home. Check out is usually at 11am but you can leave your bags at the bell desk or take them with you to the pool until you are ready to grab a Lyft to go to the airport to head home

I look forward to returning and maybe checking out California Adventure next time with my son and husband. I was lucky to be able to experience a taste of CA Adventure as my conference had an evening event on the Avengers campus so I was able to experience Soaring which if you love to travel and have travelled a lot is an amazing experience. Webslingers is a fun interactive ride and Guardians of the Galaxy a crazy ride that goes up and down and makes your stomach drop multiple times..

Disneyland really is a magical fun place and you can go whole hog and do character breakfasts, and buy food and drinks and shirts and headbands and churros and stay on property and spend a lot or be more careful with your money and economize and still have a great time. Tickets are not cheap but you can go days and times when they are less expensive and you can avoid add ons (though I think Genie Plus is a must have for $20 per ticket per day) You can stay in Garden Grove versus Anaheim and use ART or Uber/Lyft to get around and being in our own food drink and snacks

Disney certainly is a master marketer and knows how to get folks to spend money but you can plan ahead budget and still have a magical visit that won’t break the bank.

I am glad I finally returned to the park(my last visit was when I was a teenager) and I am thrilled my son and husband joined me for a great mini get away. I look forward to going back.

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