Reader Help: Please Share Your Best Disneyland Tip

Hello Disney fans and aficionados!

I need your help! My niece, her husband, and their two kids ages 5 and 3 are coming to visit me in Southern California. And what’s top on their list of experiences? Well Disneyland, of course :)

So they asked me, their favorite Aunt and travel expert, for tips about saving money at Disneyland. Yikes, I haven’t a clue. I love Disneyland, but haven’t been in years, so I’m not at all in the know. But I am hoping the TWG posse has some great ideas.

Image source: https://disneyland.disney.go.com/destinations/disneyland/

Please share some tips of any and all kinds: where to stay and the best approach to seeing the park, the optimum number of days, and anything else you can think of. I’ll compile them for my niece, and post them here on TWG.

Thanks so much. I need to remain the favorite aunt and this will help me retain my status!!

This entry was posted in Trip Reports.

About Shelli

Shelli Stein is a health and fitness entrepreneur who travels the world in search of culture, food, and fun! Besides contributing to Travel with Grant, you can find her at Joy in Movement.

51 thoughts on “Reader Help: Please Share Your Best Disneyland Tip

  1. Stephen Sun

    If you have a ton of capital one points or barclay arrival + points, booking tickets through undercover tourist will code as travel and you can “wipe out” the costs with the points.

    Alternatively, if you’re looking to earn some points instead and if you have a legacy chase ink plus card (or the new ink cash card), you get 5x points on cardcash and you can buy disney cards there directly (if you can wait a week for them to ship), or you can order target gift cards and buy disney gift cards with target.

    Hope that helps

    Reply
    1. shelli

      Great tips, Stephen. I do have the arrival card and the Ink card, as well. Great tip about Target, too. Hmm, lots to consider. Many thanks!

      Reply
  2. Jeremy

    1) Be flexible, especially with kids – I’ve heard of and seen some pretty bad “Mommy meltdowns” from moms (and dads) who are stressed out from their kids misbehaving or being overstimulated, etc. Also, these people are usually the ones rushing to be first in line and the same ones who have this unrealistic objective to get on every ride in the park with least minimal wait. It’s easy to get caught up in that mentality given how much you’re paying, and understandably, so finding the balance between that and having a good time with your family can be tough to navigate.
    2) Download the Disneyland app as it can provide a good estimate on wait times and which rides to avoid
    3) Going midweek (Tuesday/ Wednesday/Thursday) can generally be less busier but it also depends on the time of year (e.g. Spring Break and Summer it will probably be busy no matter what… maybe slightly less busier still during weekdays)
    4) Research the maps for CA Adventure and Disneyland ahead of time to get a lay of the land and familiarize yourself.
    5) Check out https://www.undercovertourist.com/blog/maximize-your-time-disneyland/, MouseSavers, and Google “Disneyland Tips” – there’s a plethora of information out there that should help with the planning phase :)

    As far as # of days it may depend on if they’ve never been or if it has been a really long time. If either, I’d say probably 3 days might be good for starters. Possibly 1 park per day (this should help cut-down costs to avoid buying a park-hopper every day) and then 1 park-hopper day? Depending on where they are staying, it might make sense to take a break off property for a bit to catch lunch or take a snooze – especially with little ones. Another forewarning is that it generally gets crazier at night because of all the local annual/season pass holders who come out to play after work.

    Reply
    1. shelli

      Thanks, Jeremy. I think your first tip about finding a balance is essential. And I’ll check out the sites you suggested for deeper research. Great to know about. Wild about the locals coming out at night after work to play. Sounds like fun. Disney has changed since I last went, so these are all very helpful. I appreciate your time!

      Reply
      1. Jeremy

        For some people who are more ‘tactical’ it might help if they come up with a ‘gameplan’ of which rides they want to definitely hit and which they are willing to forego. This is what my wife and I did for Disneyworld and it worked well, but we also didn’t have kids with us which changes everything haha. Still, it can help to have a general gameplan to generally know what you want to get to. If you’re purposeful enough, you’ll probably get to most of the rides you wanted to see. I like the 3 or 4 day plan though because if you didn’t get to something on one day, you can get back to it on that make-up day.

        Reply
  3. Stephen Sun

    Also, utilize the mousewait app to get an idea of how packed the park is, how long the wait for the rides are etc. Disneyland app will do the same as well.

    3 days is probably long enough, try to avoid Fridays/Sundays – That’s when most of the local passholders are going. Try to avoid holidays too. Finally, I would pack a backpack full of snacks and drinks, eating inside the park is horrendously expensive. ($4 for a churro, $3 for water, etc you get the idea)

    Reply
    1. shelli

      My niece will enjoy that app idea. Interesting about local pass-holders going on the weekends. I’d go mid-week if I was local. I hear you on the snacks. Good to know they let you bring your own food items. Thanks again!

      Reply
      1. Jeremy

        Pass-holders will go whenever they have the time, which will be in the evenings on any given day of the week. Weekends just exacerbate things in terms of # of people. Friday nights are *awful* – we did this once and instantly regretted it… I’ll just say that if you’re claustrophobic even in the slightest, it will not be enjoyable being stuck there on a Friday night before/during/after a parade. Parades or park-wide performances can be chaotic to navigate around if you’re trying to get out of the park or get from one land to another, so find out when they are and plan accordingly.

        As far as food items, there might be some things worth trying if you’re feeling spendy: corn dogs at the little red wagon, boyson apple freeze (Maurice’s Treats – the twists they have there are good too), dole whip, etc.

        Reply
        1. shelli

          None of us are particularly claustrophobic, though I’d hate to experience it for the first time at Disney, so thanks for the Friday warning. We’ll have to try at least of few food items. Yours sound like fun choices. Thanks!

          Reply
  4. Danny

    Set up a Disney Vacation Account. It has to be active for 120 days in order for you to receive the best perk which is $20 disney gift card for every $1000 you spend. Then buy disney gift cards at target for 5% with a red card. Load those onto your DVA account then buy your tickets online. Then convert to an annual pass before tickets expire (if you want) and you can apply the amount you spent towards the annual pass. You won’t have to worry about blackout dates or anything if you do it this way. Using a DVA account also makes it so you dont have to carry around 10 cards and swipe each one to use it. You can load all of them onto your DVA and use them in one purchase. I believe there’s a max number of gift cards you can use so this helps you get around it easier.

    In general, I tell all my friends to set up the DVA account ASAP so that when they decide to go to Disney, it’s already past the 120 days. Also, the DVA can be used to pay for anything Disney like hotels, cruises and Annual Passes.
    It’s sort of like earning 2% extra for everything you spend.

    Sometimes if you can get an amex offer for Best Buy, they sell Disney gift cards too so you can get them for 10% off.

    Buying Disney gift cards with target gift cards is now a YMMV since you’re not supposed to be able to do that any more. However, if you mix in your other items with it, most cashiers won’t care if you buy with a target GC.
    Buying with a red card is still the simplest and easiest way to do it. 5% back and no real limits. They don’t care if you buy $500 in my experience.

    Lastly, those Disney gift cards are as good as cash on Disney property so youre effectively getting a 5% discount for food, souvenirs, parking, etc. Use them for everything. If you go with someone with an Annual Pass, you also get a 10% discount on food for most places.

    Reply
    1. shelli

      Excellent tips on keeping the spending down at Disney. I also like the convenience of the DVA account. We’ll set up that DVA account right away. Thanks for taking the time to educate us!!

      Reply
    2. Jeremy

      Nice! I had no idea about this – can you set one up if you don’t have any immediate plans to go? Actually, my bro/SIL and their kids will be coming in August and we’re planning on going – I wonder if they’ve done this already. They usually cover for us but probably not this time around haha.

      Reply
    3. Jeremy

      Also, it seems when opening the DVA you need to ‘prepay’ a minimum of $10? Then, from what you’re saying, you can add Disney GCs after?

      Reply
      1. Danny

        Yeah it’s best to set it up ASAP and let that 120 day clock start. Sounds like you won’t make it for the August trip. I let my account sit there with $10 for almost 2 years before adding a bunch of target disney gift cards to it. It says when loading the disney gc that your account may have a hold put on new disney gc’s for 7 days but I didnt have that problem with a hold. Not sure if it’s related to the amount of time your account is active. I loaded them and bought my disney park tickets same day.

        Reply
        1. shelli

          You’d make a good boy scout, Danny :) Best to always be prepared ahead of time. I think we’re all going to set up DVA accounts today!

          Reply
    4. Jeremy

      Also, is this a better strategy than buying tickets through discounted workplace vendors? Or can you somehow ‘stack’ the benefit of DVA + buying tickets through the vendors?

      Reply
      1. Danny

        I just paid $10 to start with a cc. I set up a goal and didn’t even fulfill it or use it for what I originally said. I’m not sure it’s possible to stack with a vendor since you enter in your DVA account at purchase. You ultimately have to purchase through the Disney website or property. I have read anecdotally sometimes the cashiers at the ticket booths don’t understand how to charge the DVA account but I dont know if that’s still true. Online was relatively easy once you piece together your DVA account number.

        In my experience, it’s generally cheaper to do it with a DVA account since a net 7% discount on tickets is usually better than what Disney offers through anyone. I haven’t done an exhaustive search, but for the few cases I did look at, DVA was the best and easiest (bc sometimes you’d have to go somewhere to buy physical tickets).

        Reply
        1. Jeremy

          Nice – when you say “net 7% discount” are you factoring in the $20 off $1000 spent into the equation on top of the 5% GC discount when purchasing @ Target w/ RedCard?

          Reply
          1. Jeremy

            BTW: it sounds like the GCs bought at Target that you load onto the account will count towards the $20 off $1000?

    5. Jeremy

      Hmm, so the T&C on the DVA site reads this:

      “You’ll be eligible for a $20 Disney Gift Card for every $1000 you spend on qualified vacation purchases with your Disney Vacation Account prior to December 31, 2017 (date subject to extension), up to a total $500 in Disney Gift Card(s) per household. Your Disney Vacation Account must be active for a minimum of 120 days at the time of spending in order to receive this bonus. Request your Disney Gift Card(s) 4-6 weeks in advance of your vacation date to allow time for delivery to your mailing address. See FAQs for complete details.”

      This seems a bit iffy considering they say you can have only a total of $500 of Disney GCs per household… are you saying you only bought $500 and then just worked your way up to spending that $1000? Also, it seems, at least at the time being, the $20 Disney GC for every $1000 ends 12/31/2017 – I’m assuming they generally extend this but it may not last forever. My main concern would be with the $500 limit that they seem to be imposing here. If that’s true, then it effectively cuts the 2% to 1% unless I’m misunderstanding something…

      Reply
      1. Danny

        I assume they mean you can earn up to $500 in disney gift cards for the 2%. I think they mean you can spend $25k in your DVA account and earn a total of $500 disney gc per year. No 2% for anything above $25k. I haven’t tested this amount so I dont know.

        Reply
        1. Jeremy

          Ah, that makes more sense. Thanks for clarifying! LOL, that’s a lot of money but I guess if you’re a Disney fanatic, it’s not hard to hit $25k

          Reply
  5. Traci Yamane

    Use Disney gift cards to pay for meals and other items you may need in the parks…instead of having to carry large amounts of cash. Get the Dining package deals for World of Color or other night time shows. Buy some emergency ponchos for the wet rides at the Dollar Store. Get some glow sticks from the Dollar store also..good for the night shows. Do the character breakfast!

    Reply
    1. shelli

      Great tips, Traci, thank you! About those ponchos, I like the idea but……my niece and family are Oregonians and you know they never acknowledge rain or water of any kind :) I see I’m in for a trip to the Dollar Store! I’ll recommend a character breakfast. Her kids will enjoy that!

      Reply
    2. Jeremy

      Most places take credit card so if you have 5% cashback on any given card (Chase Freedom, Discover or 3% with Citi Costco), you should just charge it. There’s a chance they may count it as “amusement” rather than food but it’s worth the risk since you’re not really losing anything. Otherwise, if you buy the Disney GCs with your Target RedCard then you’d effectively getting that 5% back regardless.

      Reply
      1. shelli

        I agree, Jeremy. A lot of folks are enjoying those cash back cards right now. Takes the stress out of wondering how a spend will be categorized. Thanks for continuing to offer TWG readers more Disney advice!

        Reply
  6. Ozzie

    Wow, you guys are awesome. I have a 3-year old daughter and sort of hesitant to bring her to the park due to the high expense. Today here I do benefit learning a lot before going to the parks someday. BTW, when is the good age for the kids to visit the parks?

    Reply
    1. shelli

      I think the TWG Disney posse is pretty awesome, too, Ozzie. Glad you’re on the learning curve with us. And hope you’ll get to use all the great info soon!

      Reply
    2. Jeremy

      We brought ours when he was under 1 and I think it was fun but you will be limited with what you can do and the rides you can go on. If you have another adult with you, you can do ride switch where one adult can pickup a rider pass that gets them to the ‘front’ of the line at a later time. Kids under 3 are free btw but I’ve heard they often don’t check, especially if you have the kid in a stroller… not that I’m suggesting you do that hahaha ;)

      Reply
    1. shelli

      I’ve got to started going down the gift card aisle at Costco more often! Thank you for the reminder:)

      Reply
  7. Miles4Matt

    Bring snacks (and even meals) from outside the park. Buy Disney-themed toys/outfits beforehand and give to your kid while you’re at Disneyland. This will keep you from spending tons of money in the park on that plush mickey mouse. Bring your own sunscreen (it’ll cost you an arm and a leg once you’re in Disneyland). You can also buy assorted Disney pins and lanyards on eBay (for cheap) for your kids to participate in Disney pin-trading throughout their stay.

    Time is also money. So be sure to research how to make the most of your time at Disneyland (i.e. FastPass system, typical ride wait times, etc).

    Reply
    1. shelli

      Fun tip on the buying Disney themed toys ahead of time! And sunscreen; that’s a good one for the Oregonian family to remember! Will get up to speed on the pin trading and time planning……makes total sense and CENTS to me. Thanks so much!

      Reply
  8. Grace Cox

    Amex has an offer now that expires on 31st for $30 off a $150 purchase from Undercover tourist. So if you have multiple cards you could stack that offer.

    Also, my favorite thing to eat in the park is the snacks, so I like to bring a sack lunch. I don’t love the quick-service food, but I love churros!

    Reply
    1. shelli

      Great tip, Grace. I thank you and AmEx thanks you :) I’ll check on those snacks. My favorite was always the chocolate covered banana, but I’m sure these days there are plenty of others to choose from.

      Reply
      1. shelli

        OK, Glenn, thanks for the heads up on this. I’ll look into it. Good for the east coast TWG Disney fans to know, though.

        Reply
  9. Jeremy

    I almost forgot to talk about Fastpass, Rider switch, Single Rider and Riders/ Disabilities:

    Fastpass – there are Fastpass machines for various rides (e.g. Radiator Springs Racers, Star Tours, Space Mountain, etc). It’s basically a ‘reserve’ ticket where you come back to the ride at a later time and you won’t have to wait in line or the wait will be expedited. Part of the planning strategy for many involves grabbing a Fastpass for any given popular ride that you want to go on, and then going on another ride(s) while waiting for your Fastpass window to come. A popular strategy at DCA (California Adventure) is to grab a fastpass at Radiator Springs Racers upon park opening and rush over to Toy Story Mania and a few other rides before returning to ride. Although, I’ve heard Toy Story Mania now has Fastpass. Or you can get a Fastpass, wait in line for the same ride to ride it (since the lines shouldn’t be too crazy if you get there right at opening) and then come back later.

    Single rider – if you’re willing to split up on various rides (I don’t think *all* rides offer this) like Radiator Springs Racers, Indiana Jones, Space Mountain, you can tell the line attendant you want to go into the single rider line and the wait is often expedited. This may or may not be a good idea with young kids depending on the ride, but in some cases the ride attendants will put you close together and not necessarily ‘split’ you up too much (e.g. on Radiator Springs Racers they may put you in the first row and your kid, etc in the second row). This is another good way to get onto rides faster

    Rider Switch – if you have a baby or young child who needs to be looked after or cared for and can’t go on a ride per height or other restrictions, you can get a rider switch where one adult will ride while the other watches the child. You can get creative with this in combination with Fastpass and Single rider.

    Rider’s with Disabilities/Injury/Wheelchair – a practical scenario was when my brother visited with his son who was recovering from a really bad sprain that required a boot or cast. If you inform the line/ride attendants, they will often let you go into the single rider or Fastpass line. Sometimes they may have you go through the exit for wheelchairs, etc – I think this might have been what happened when they went on Indiana Jones

    I don’t recall exactly but any of these given options above may have a specific line or they may share the Fastpass line.

    Also, check out the crowd calendar when planning – https://www.undercovertourist.com/los-angeles/crowd-calendar/

    The other thing that affects crowds if any given Holiday weekend. If the holiday falls on a Friday then Thursday will be awful. If it falls on a Monday, Sunday would be horrendous. You get the idea… the crowd calendars can be a good help in predicting the crowds. I’m sure they predict based on historical data, etc

    Reply
    1. shelli

      I’ve heard about the Fastpass idea and it makes so much sense. I do recall years ago spending a huge amount of time on lines. The single rider idea is good to know about especially if not everyone wants to go one each ride. One of my niece’s kids is a boy and the other a girl so I have a sneaking suspicion they’ll enjoy some different rides. You could be a professional Disney tour guide and maybe give TWG readers a discount on your services :)) Thanks again for adding to the TWG Disney Playbook!

      Reply
      1. Jeremy

        LOL, the funny thing is that I don’t think I’ll ever buy a season pass *knocks on wood* and I’ve probably been less than a dozen times in my lifetime. I just know these things because my brother and SIL are avid Disney fans… so most of the tips I’m sharing are from them (and the interwebs) :)

        Reply
    1. shelli

      Great resources, Shannon. Thanks so much for sharing them. Certainly seems like Disney gift cards are the way to go!

      Reply
    2. Jeremy

      Where do you see Discover offering Disney GCs for 5% off in addition the 5% Cashback? Are you referring to the “Discover Deals” shopping portal and also the 5% quarterly cashback? I searched and there is nothing for Disney in the Discover Deals portal. Currently, and also for the entire year in fact, there is no 5% cashback on amusement parks or specifically Disney.

      Reply
  10. Tran

    Get onto the train that runs around the parameter of the main Disneyland park to cut down on your walking. It stops at different attraction areas every 15 min or so.

    Reply
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