One of the many joys of being a parent for me is the ability to share in the Disney magic with my kids. I had it all planned out that I would take them right before their third birthday since they would be old enough to recognize the characters and bring the magic alive. A lot of people were against it saying they were too young to remember anything, but the way I saw it is they would enjoy it in the moment. Their faces would light up with glee and happiness, and I would be able to remember that forever. Plus, it would just give us more excuses to keep coming back!
Hotel: Hyatt Place Anaheim
We used 12k miles per night to cover our hotel expenses. I was able to easily transfer the points from my Chase Reserve credit card to my Hyatt account. I made sure to book the hotel at least 4 months in advance, so there were still award night options. Otherwise, the room would be $100-250 which is a good price for the proximity to Disney.
We walked one block to the Toy Story parking lot and took the shuttle directly to the Disney entrance.
If you are looking to save money, this is a great choice for price and proximity. If you are looking to splurge, look into one of the Disney owned resorts right on the property.
We opted not to rent a car to avoid parking fees at the resort and the theme park. That saved us hundreds. We took advantage of the Disney shuttle a block away.
Uber- to/from SNA airport- $35-40, to/from park (running late for reservation)- $7
Things to bring to Disney:
- Reusable bottle
- Change of clothes
- Light jacket (gets chilly at night)
- Wear comfortable shoes
- Umbrella stroller
- Favorite small toy (Minnie) and (Lightning McQueen)
Top 10 tips to maximizing your trip:
1. Once you know when you want to go to Disney, set a calendar reminder 60 days in advance to book restaurant reservations. This was important to me because I wouldn’t have had fun if I knew we could have gone to certain restaurants if I didn’t plan in advance. The Disney princess makeovers also requires a reservation
a. We booked the character brunch exactly 60 days prior. Any rsvp type place within Disney book up fast.
b. This will allow you to get the best times and party size ahead of time.
c. The Star Wars restaurant wasn’t even available 60 days prior since it’s so popular.
2. Now that you have your reservations booked, look into finding deals on park tickets. I once saw one on Travelzoo.com, at the Disney store, and most corporate companies are enrolled in perksatwork.com. Any savings add up for more churros! In my case, we saved $50 per person
a. If your child is under 3, they can get in for free. Plan on going right before their 3rd birthday!
3. Save money by buying a 1-day park pass vs. a park hopper. Each park requires a lot of walking, so you will most likely spend the majority of your time in one park.
a. You can always upgrade at the front if you really want to go between the 2 parks. Just be prepared to pay for the park hopper pass for all the days if you buy your tickets in a bundled deal
b. Mapping out the rides and park will help you determine which pass is right for you
4. Download the Disney app prior to your trip.
a. Familiarize yourself with the theme park
b. Map out the rides you are interested in, so you can see the average wait times
c. Figure out your schedule beforehand, account for naps, breaks/rest. You can take a rest at the restaurant/eatery you like killing 2 birds with one stone
d. Identify all the Maxpass rides and where they are at within the park
5. Within the Disney app, take a picture of the QR code for the photo code. SAVE THE PIC OF THE CODE AS A FAVORITE in your album. This will allow the photographer to quickly scan without you having to fumble with the app and pull up the code with spotty service. After the first 4-5 times, I quickly got the hang of it.
6. If you travel with friends/family, try and get on the same schedule. Leave the hotel together or meet at the entrance at a set time. This will eliminate spending time trying to coordinate a meetup once you get inside. It can be chaotic and difficult to sync up. Arriving together will be more fun and less stressful for everyone
7. Food- each section of the park has options for snacks or meals. The portions are not big, so we couldn’t get away with sharing one meal between 2 people. The best way to save money is by sharing fries or sides, and by not buying drinks. A bottle of water is around $4 each. If you get a soft drink, get the largest size because there are no free refills, and the cost isn’t that much higher compared to a small
8. Shopping- apart of the fun is to take home a souvenir. We try not to spoil our kids, so we allow them to each pick one either that they really want. We encourage them to walk around the entire store, so they are thoughtful on what they pick out. They seem to enjoy this better than grabbing the first thing they see. We also give them time to play and come back to a toy later if they don’t feel strongly about it. We make the shopping portion an experience as if they were riding a ride. In this case, Grayson picked out a cars track from Carsland and Penny didn’t want anything
9. Maxpass was worth it to me since you can skip long lines. You are only able to use it once you enter the park grounds
a. As soon as you step in, book a max pass ride based off your planned schedule
b. Once you are allowed to book the next ride, book it for the next section nearby
c. Avoid booking a ride on the other end of the park because you will just be rushing back and forth between sections if you don’t plan ahead
d. Book the most popular rides first. For example: Radiator Springs in Adventure Park and Star Wars in Disney Park had waits longer than 90 mins at times
10. Relax and have fun! You’re on vacation!
My tips are designed to take the worry out of the day, and just have fun. If you’re not a planner like me, that’s okay. There will still be opportunities to come back and cover what you missed. The joy on my son’s face when he saw Mickey was worth it all. We spent hours at Carsland, longer than what was ‘scheduled’ because that’s what made him excited. My daughter loved Toontown and spotting all the characters from Donald’s boathouse.
Customize your trip to what makes you and your family happy, and you’ll have the best time ever!