Today I’m going to talk about one of my all-time favorite places in the world - the mother ship, Disneyland. I’ll be sharing with you how I do Disney on a budget and what my recommendations are to make the most of your time there!
BEFORE YOU GO
This tip may seem useless, but I’ll show you why it’s not. Get yourself a Target debit card. This is not a store credit card (which I am against) but rather a card that links directly to your bank account and saves you 5% off your purchase every time you shop! Other perks of having the REDcard include free shipping, extended returns, and more. (And if you don’t shop at Target, what are you even doing with your life?) Once you have the card, use it to buy Disney gift cards.
These gift cards come in various amounts and can be used anywhere in the park - to buy park tickets, food, souvenirs, etc. I don’t buy anything in the park with cash or debit - I only use Disney gift cards! This can help you budget your spending while you’re in the park, since all that pixie dust and happiness has a tendency to make you forget everything practical. And the whole point is that you get to save money by getting your Disney gift cards at Target! It may not seem like much of a savings, 5%, but if you spend $500 on gift cards, you save $25!!! That equals a cool souvenir or a couple free meals in the park. Not too shabby.
WHEN TO GO
This can make or break your whole trip. Most people I talk to who hate Disneyland have only been there in the summertime when crowds are at an all-time high — lines can be 3 hours or more with the heat cooking you while you wait. Everyone gets real cranky, real fast in those conditions.
I have gone to Disneyland many times over the years, owned an annual pass last year, and I don’t think I’ve ever been there once during the summertime. Just don’t do it.
That being said, when is a good time to go? I think your best months are February and October/November. Avoid Disneyland at all costs whenever there’s a holiday or kids have a break from school. (winter break, spring break, etc.) Many people tend to plan vacations around when their kids are out of school, so the park will be prettttty crowded then. I went once during spring break - biggest mistake ever. Not only was it super crowded, but there are massive groups of tweens and teens arriving on giant buses from around the world it seems like - from cheer camps, sports teams, etc. They travel in packs of like 20 or more and are really obnoxious.
What day of the week is best to go? Obviously not on the weekends. It seems the best day for low crowds is during the middle of the week - Tuesday through Thursday. Sometimes Mondays and Fridays aren’t too bad either, but I’ve found middle of the week to be best.
This is the bench where Walt dreamed up the idea for Disneyland. You can't sit on it and be inspired, but you can look at it and ooh and ahh and take pictures of it, like I did.
HOW TO GET THERE
Now that you’ve picked a good time to go, the next question is how will you get there? (This section is directed at those living in the Reno area like me) JetBlue often has some great deals on direct flights to Long Beach airport — as low as $39 one way when they were doing their awesome promo, but currently it runs about $69, which still isn’t too bad. I prefer to fly even though by car it’s only about an 8-9 hour drive from Reno. From Long Beach airport, it’s about a $30 Uber ride to Disneyland. I always pick a hotel within walking distance of either the park itself or the Toy Story parking lot (more on that in a minute).
The benefits of flying - you don’t put the wear and tear on your car. You don’t have to pay for gas and a rental car. You’re there in a little over an hour. You’re way less tired and stiff than you would be if you’d spent the better part of a day cramped in a car. And airplanes are cool.
And you don’t need a car once you’re there. You can walk to anything you need. We like to stay at a place that offers a continental breakfast.
If you are staying near the Toy Story parking lot, you can walk to the lot and from there you catch a free shuttle that will take you directly to the park entrance. This shuttle is mainly for the people who’ve paid to park in the Toy Story parking lot, but it is easily accessible from the street (no gates blocking pedestrian traffic) and no parking pass or anything is required. Many times, early in the morning when the lot is still empty, the cast members standing outside will see us walking in from the street and it’s obvious we didn’t drive in, but they never bat an eye or tell us we can’t ride, so we will keep doing this until we hear otherwise.
If you’re staying at a hotel that’s within walking distance but still kind of far, this shuttle tip can be a lifesaver. It may not seem like a big deal to walk 15-20 minutes in the morning from the hotel to the park, but believe me, after a long day spent walking many miles around the park, you will be miserable by the end of the day if you also have to trudge back to your room on another long walk. You will kinda sorta whine and make your husband get you an Uber because you seriously think your feet are going to bleed and fall off.
We may be smiling but our feet are gushing blood. Just kidding, that's gross.
WHAT TO EAT
Disneyland lets you bring in your own food, and plenty of people use this to their advantage and pack sandwiches, granola bars, sliced fruits and veggies, and that’s all well and nice especially if you have a tribe of children to feed, but I do not roll like that. When I’m in Disneyland, I eat Disneyland food. I want to savor the whole experience and not eat something that I can also get at home. Also, if you’re not staying in a place with a kitchen, it’s hard to pack your own food anyway. Speaking of things you can’t get at home, these are 2 of my must-have, get-every-time items:
Corn dog (either from the little red wagon at the end of Main Street) or Corn Dog Castle in DCA. You haven’t lived til you’ve had a Disney corn dog. They are huge, breaded down to the end of the stick and are soooo juicy! The cast member will ask you whether you want chips or fruit with your corn dog, as if you’re required to pick one. But this is the place where dreams come true, so you absolutely get what you want (and what I want happens to be just a dog without any sides, thank you), so I always say “just the corn dog, please.” Last I checked, it’s priced and listed on the menu as coming with a side, so many people don’t know that you can order it by itself. (And save $$)
Churro (sold in various food carts around the park) - one of these days I will get my own churro. I always share one with my husband and always regret not having my own! They are perfectly fine to share because they are pretty long, but I really recommend you get one all to yourself. The cinnamon and sugar and texture just can’t be beat, these really are the best churros anywhere. You deserve your own.
The legendary Dole Whip float. I can say I've tried it, but unfortunately I just didn't love it. It was the pineapple juice's fault. The soft serve itself is actually really good.
Another fun way to fill up between meals is to go to the area in DCA where they have the Ghirardelli shop right next to the bread shop (both places give you a free sample just for walking in). We will walk through both shops once and then again about 1/2 hour later. (sometimes I do clever costume changes like put my hair in a ponytail, take off my Mickey ears and sunglasses so I look like a brand new person) Sometimes the cast members have rotated shifts and will be different - even if they’re the same they usually don’t care/remember we were just there. More than twice might be pushing it, though. And that’s enough junk food for the time being, anyway. Carbs and chocolate, the two best c words in food history.
I’m ending this here - This post has gotten long and now I’m really missing this place. I have so much more to say and so I’ll do a part 2 and maybe 3 or more sometime. I’ll tell you how to find cats at Disneyland and also some of the best secrets and must-dos that not everyone thinks of or knows about, but will make your day memorable.
I don't know who I'm channeling here, but it sure ain't Spider-Man.