Doing Disneyland with Toddlers on a Budget

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It’s questionable on whether it’s worth spending money to take toddlers to Disneyland. In my opinion, it’s totally worth it. At 3 years old, my daughter is in full princess-loving mode. There’s no stopping it. Princesses are everywhere, and seeing a little girl playing in her little princess dress is so adorable. When I saw my daughter in complete awe of Belle, Elsa, Anna, Snow White, and Ariel I had no doubts the trip was worth it. In addition, witnessing my 2-year old son (2 years old and under is free to get in, btw) run up to Mickey after being so scared of other characters made the trip priceless. If you love seeing your children light up, and need a vacation yourself, than do it. I have no regrets about taking my toddlers.

Prior to going to Disneyland, I scoured the web and asked those who have been there already for tips on Disneyland. I needed this trip to be cheap and fun. Some things panned out to be great advice, and some stuff not so important. Altogether, our trip was around $2500. Here are my top ten tips on how to do Disneyland on a budget with toddlers.

1. Get Away Today Vacations
The only reason we were able to afford this trip is because we used Get Away Today Vacations. This is where I booked our hotel, I booked our 3-day Disneyland Park tickets, our shuttle from and to the airport, and our tickets for character dining with Minnie Mouse. Everything was discounted. We stayed at our hotel for 4 nights. The website has a map of where the different hotels are located, so you can see how far you would have to walk. We were approximately 3/4 mile from the entrance and it took about 10-15 minutes to walk using a double stroller. We didn’t mind the walk at all.

2. Souvenirs
Prior to going to Disneyland, I shopped at home for souvenirs. Disneyland is expensive, and spending time inside stores when there is so much to see is not my idea of vacation time used wisely. I hit up the Dollar Tree for lots of little items and glow in the dark items for the evenings, the Disney store for princess gear and clothes, and Target’s bins. I packed one bag with just the souvenirs and a small blanket on top, in case curious little hands found the bag when I was not around. Every night, I told my kids, “if you are good, the Disney fairies will bring you something in the morning.” On morning one, my daughter got a Belle dress, scepter, tiara, and a princess autograph book (for the princesses and characters to sign). This cost me less than $32 at the Disney outlet store and would have been closer to $100 at Disneyland. Other days they received Disney toys, treats and tees.

3. Pre-pack Snacks
I followed advice from a blog I read about pre-packaging snacks. It did make some of the luggage heavy, but it was lighter on the way home. I filled one plastic baggie for both my kids and labeled them for every day. I also made one for the flight there and back. Snack baggies included fruit snacks, animal crackers, granola bars, applesauce squeezes, and dried fruit. They had lollipops on the plane ride in case they got ear aches, but both my kids were fine. I also got some adult snacks (beef jerky, cliff bars, and candy). In addition, we’d usually buy a snack or two in the park )churros, cotton candy, popcorn, etc.) each day we would all share, and this was affordable.

4. Character Breakfast
Yes, it’s a little spendy, but it’s worth it. The kids got to see all kinds of Disney characters. They visited us at our table while we ate breakfast. We did the Minnie Mouse breakfast at the Plaza Inn, but there are different options. It is the one time I didn’t feel rushed to get in a line and wait. The food is pretty typical breakfast buffet so there is bound to be something your kids like. We did our breakfast at 10am, which was the time the park opened that day. We really did not have to eat lunch since it was late enough and just snacked and ordered a pizza when we got back to our hotel that night. Another good thing is that those 2 and under eat free.

5. Go in the Winter
If your kids are not in school yet, than it makes sense to take advantage of the off season. Crowd levels are low, wait times are short, and everything is at a lower price. The only disadvantage to this is that many of the rides, shows, and exhibits may be down for repairs and whatnot. It really didn’t make a difference for us though because there was a ton we didn’t see of what was open in the three days we were there.

6. Prioritize
With toddlers, you cannot make predictions or follow an itinerary. Pick two things you absolutely want to see each day. Choose one activity for the morning, and choose one for the evening. Everything else will fall into place. Unless you are there for a long time, and 3 days was plenty enough for us, you are not going to see every show, parade, ride, and character. There was lots we missed out on, but my kids have no idea. They had lots of fun with what we did do.

7. Stroller
A stroller is a necessity. You can rent them at Disneyland, but if you have to walk from your hotel to Disneyland, you will need one. Some hotels/resorts also rent them out. We borrowed a double stroller from a friend that has a front and back seat. We have a double Bob stroller but chose not to take that because of advice that it would be too wide. I agree, it’s too wide. Disneyland has stroller parking everywhere, and I felt safe leaving small items (water bottles, diapers, wipes, blankets, etc.), but take important items with you everywhere.

8. Roll with Naptimes, but be sure to have them.
I did my best to plan naptimes, but I failed miserably. I had hoped to get to the park early and leave at lunch time to return to the hotel for naps. This plan would be amazing if we could enter the park at 8am, but because of winter and weekday park opening times, it didn’t work so well. My advice is to figure out the park hours for each day, and then decide on going with stroller naps if the hours are a short, or a hotel nap if the operation hours are long.

9. Smartphone Apps
There are several apps for Disneyland that are free. They can tell you park opening and closing times, times of shows/parades, what rides and shows are closed, wait times for rides, the weather, and there are maps. When we were in line, I would pull up an app to see what else was in the area that we might want to see next.

10. Watch Disney Movies Prior to Going
As an adult, I know most Disney and Pixar characters, but my kids have not been around that long. We beefed up on our Disney Princesses prior to going, but we also watched Mary Poppins. My daughter was so excited to see Mary Poppins and have a conversation with her about her favorite part of the movie, “the penguins dancing”. I would recommend watching Alice in Wonderland, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Peter Pan too.

So there it is. If you have anything you think is great advice, please feel free to add in the comments.

  2 comments for “Doing Disneyland with Toddlers on a Budget

  1. February 23, 2015 at 4:58 pm

    Wow. You have done a great job of giving young parents tips for Disneyland (or World). As a Disney aficionado, I applaud your ideas. I have a couple more!

    Buy or borrow the latest edition of the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland (or Walt Disney World) with Kids. This book is chock full of great ideas, including a strategy for allowing your tots to ride Dumbo twice in a row. (See the Baby Swap option) Disney characters can be overwhelming for some children, so be prepared if your little one doesn’t want to shake Mickey’s hand. If you need a rest but don’t want to go back to your hotel, take a ride on the train. It circles the whole park and is a nice little break. If your little ones cry or whine, don’t get stressed. Just relax and enjoy what my husband calls “the Disney experience.” Seriously, though, Disneyland and Disney World are magical places for kids of all ages, including middle aged ones such as myself. Enjoy it!

    By the way, you mentioned watching Disney movies prior to your trip to get in the spirit. There is a Disney video titled “Disneyland Fun” that shows many attractions in the park along with happy Disney tunes. My kids watched it over and over when they were little and loved seeing some of the places on the video in person.

    • Suzanne
      February 23, 2015 at 6:17 pm

      My son displayed “the Disney experience” at least once a day. He’s got a bad case of the terrible 2’s. I wish we could have tried the train, but it was one of the closed attractions while we were there. It probably would have helped. I’m hoping to go again in three years, so we will have to try to watch “Disneyland fun” before that trip.

Let me know your sentiments.

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