DISNEYLAND ON THE CHEAP: Part 3 – Inside the parks

How to do Disneyland on the cheap! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

Welcome to PART 3 (of 3) of my Disneyland on the Cheap series!

As you might know, we took our kids to Disneyland for the first time in February. To give you the unbeatable inside scoop, I have created this (brace-yourself-thorough) “Disneyland On The Cheap” 3- part post series for you so I can share my new wealth of knowledge to…well…anyone who’s willing to listen, really. (Not picky here, folks.). This post is definitely more of a “Disney 101” post, for those who (like me) had no idea what to expect…and no idea what I was doing! For all you Disney experts, maybe there are nuggets of wisdom in there. Either way, please leave a comment and let us know what Disney tips I missed!

Now, let's get to the good stuff.

Check out the all new FunCheapOrFree's Ultimate guide to Disneyland on the Cheap e-book!

Oh my gosh the BEST DISNEY GUIDE EVER!!!! 57 pages of EVERYTHING you'd ever need!

Everything you need and more!  The most inclusive, thorough, helpful, unbiased Disneyland Guide/Ultimate Disneyland Ebook you will ever read!

Note: BE SURE TO READ PART 1 and PART 2 before reading this! Trust me, it will answer TONS of questions you’re bound to have.

  • Part 1 covered what our trip cost, how to budget/afford/save up for it, where we stayed, and more.
  • Part 2 covered prep, packing, and traveling (with kids especially).
  • Disneyland On The Cheap series has been updated by Jessica Sanders, author of Disneyland On Any Budget

They cover SO MUCH INFO that you NEED to read before moving to this one. So again, don’t skip those, mmmmkay?

Now it's time for PART 3: Inside the Parks!

Here's what this post will cover in detail:

  • Video of our Disneyland highlights
  • When to arrive
  • Parking at Disneyland
  • The “magic buttons”
  • How to avoid long lines
  • The best $15 you'll spend at Disneyland
  • FastPasses
  • Disneyland with young kids
  • Walking
  • Waiting in line
  • Keeping kids entertained while waiting
  • Keeping kids from getting lost
  • Riding Rides
  • Stroller Passes
  • Getting a babysitter
  • Additional tips for doing Disneyland with young kids
  • Disneyland with a baby
  • Food, snacks, drinks
  • Food we brought
  • Food you shouldn't bring
  • Photos
  • Parades
  • Shows
  • How to see princesses!
  • Souvenirs
  • Downtown Disney

So let's get on with it, shall we?!

VIDEO OF OUR DISNEYLAND HIGHLIGHTS:

Enjoy this video showing some of the highlights of our time inside Disneyland and California Adventure! (Watch online or click and watch below)

See how fun that was?! Now here's the REAL scoop on how to make Disneyland truly magical:

WHEN TO ARRIVE:

I talk about Magic Morning in PART 1 so I won't repeat myself here. But my definite recommendation is to arrive as early as you're physically able! Especially if you're doing 3 days or less at the parks. The busy rides fill up fast, FastPasses run out fast (read below), and frankly, you're just wasting time if you dawdle! My advice is to commit to hitting it HARD. Wake up early, and be waiting at the gate when it opens.

PARKING AT DISNEYLAND:

Disneyland On The Cheap, part 2 of 3: Prep, Packing, and Traveling with Kids. TONS of tips! Pin now, read later! from FunCheapOrFree.com

Since we drove to California we had our own car, thus we chose to drive and park vs taking public transportation. Ultimately we are happy with this choice, even though our condo was within walking distance (see a video of our condo and how much we paid for it in PART 1). It costs around $20/day, but we decided it was worth it when our kids threw exhausted, epic, nap-deprived tantrums at the end of the day and it's all we could do to make it to the car in one piece. I don't have experience with non-parking options, but they have great info on their website about it. You will park in the same place whether you go to Disneyland or California Adventure, because their gates are right across from each other.

As explained in PART 1, we went the first week of February, one of the slowest times of the year. Parking was no issue; we hardly had to walk to get to the tram (which our kids loved).

How to do Disneyland on the cheap! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

THE “MAGIC BUTTONS”:

Spoiler alert: these buttons are not actually magical. But your kids won't know that! If you are a Disneyland first-timer, or if it's your birthday, you can ask the workers for buttons. Keep them on your shirts all day, and you get special attention from cast and characters…ESPECIALLY the birthday button!

How to do Disneyland on the cheap! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

While wearing the birthday button, every staff member and character said “Happy birthday, Hutch!”. It was AMAZING how well-trained everyone was. Our son, the birthday boy, got a special wave, nod, point, hug, or hi-five from every character and dancer who came by us at the parade – even the princesses and major characters! He felt like a billion bucks and it really made the trip special.

How to do Disneyland on the cheap! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

The rest of us didn't notice any special treatment with our “first time” buttons, but we didn't care because Hutch got enough attention for all of us.

HOW TO AVOID LONG LINES:

It's inevitable that when at Disneyland, you WILL stand in line. Often times long lines. For everything: food, rides, bathrooms, shows, meeting characters, getting into and out of the park….everything. But hey, that's what you signed up for! (Interesting fact: I actually read somewhere that Disneyland purposefully doesn't let lines drop below 10-15 minutes because if you were able to sprint through lines at rides, it devalues the experience. Makes sense…I guess.)

My first tip is: go off-season. I don't see the big deal in pulling kids out of school. Hey, if you're going to spend $4K+ on a trip, might as well get the most out of it, rather than spending your entire 3 days standing in lines. But that's just me! I understand not everyone is like that. But if you can, go off-season. See all the best times of year to go to Disneyland in PART 1.

 

The BEST money you could ever spend when going to Disneyland. Helps you avoid all the long lines and hit everything you want to see and do! Plus tons of other great Disneyland tips, from FunCheapOrFree.comBut whether you go off-season or not, DOWNLOAD THE RIDEMAX APP!! It’s $15, and worth every penny. Don’t download it too early, because you only get it for 90 days at the $15 price.

 

It's really easy to use. You download the app (or use their website online if you don't have a smartphone) and tell it all the rides, attractions, and shows, and even characters (sometimes) you want to see. It uses a real-time algorithm and gives you an extremely detailed agenda to follow in order to hit the shortest lines. It is VERY detailed. It tells you, to the minute, where you should be, and what you should be doing. It even schedules in breaks and meals!

I don’t know how they do it, but it’s downright genius. Best $15 you’ll spend on your whole trip.

Here's how we used it:

The night before each park visit, we sat down as a group, went through the entire list of attractions and rides, and each commented on what we wanted to see/ride/do. The app gave us a very detailed itinerary. The next day we followed the itinerary as best we could, but would get side-tracked if we saw a character, needed an unscheduled rest, etc. It turned out to be fine! We usually were able to go out of order, or cross off something of lower priority on our itinerary to get back on-track. We didn't follow it as rigidly as some since our kiddos are so little. But it still helped us IMMENSELY. Trust me, you NEED this!

The longest line we waited in was about 30 minutes, for the Dumbo ride and the Radiator Springs Racer ride. The rest were 15-20 minutes on average, which was UH-MAY-ZING.

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

FastPasses:

Their website says it best! So here's how FastPasses work:

  1. Look for the FASTPASS Distribution sign near the entrance of an attraction.
  2. Check the Return Time displayed on this sign.
    • If the return time works for you, insert your valid Disneyland Resort admission ticket, readmission ticket or Annual Passport into the FASTPASS machine.
    • The machine will generate a FASTPASS ticket printed with your return time.
    • Return to the FASTPASS Return entrance at your Return Time, show your FASTPASS ticket to the Cast Member and enjoy the attraction with a minimal wait.

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

A few additional notes about FastPasses:

  • You can only be holding ONE FastPass at a time. RideMax (read above) really came in handy with this one. It told us exactly when to run and grab a FastPass, then what rides to ride while you kill time waiting for your FastPass window to open. For example, let's say you grab a FastPass for Radiator Springs Racers at 10am. You might not be able to use it until 12pm (or later), so you need to go ride other, typically less-popular, rides to kill time. Then as soon as 12pm hits, you're now able to grab another FastPass for another ride. There are some exceptions like if your FastPass return time is several hours later or in the case of arare “disconnected' FastPass.
  • The FastPass kiosks are NOT always next to the ride they are for. For example, Radiator Springs FastPass kiosk is actually next to it's tough to be a bug by the entrance to bug's land. So be sure to look at a map or ask a cast member so you can find it easily!
  • Not all rides have FastPasses! Usually it's just the uber popular ones that have super long lines.
  • IF A RIDE HAS A FASTPASS OPTION, USE IT!!! You are seriously wasting time otherwise! We would zip through lines, while others in the non FastPass line would be waiting for upwards of 45 minutes or more. I didn't understand it! I was like, “DUDES! Aren't you miserable?!” Seriously, if you are wise about using the FastPasses you'll hit 2x the amount of rides in a day.
  • FastPasses are limited, and they DO run out! We sent a runner to grab Radiator Springs FastPasses for everyone within the first 5 minutes of entering California Adventure. It was probably no later than 10:05, and our FastPasses couldn't be used until that evening! It was nuts. If people came even 30 minutes after us they didn't get a FastPass because the quota had been met. And remember, everyone needs to be IN the park to get a FastPass. No sleeping in and sending dad at the crack of dawn to get Radiator Springs Racers FastPasses. If your ticket isn't scanned at the gate the FastPass machine won't work and then you just look silly holding up the line trying to get FastPasses for people who aren't even there.
  • Choose your most important rides of the day and focus on those FastPasses.

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

DISNEYLAND WITH YOUNG KIDS:

Walking:

It's no secret that you do A LOT of walking at Disneyland. I mean, a lot. It was exhausting for the adults, let alone the kiddos!

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

In our group we had a newborn, a 2, 3, and 5 year old, my mom who got knee replacement surgery not too long ago, and a whole lotta stuff to lug around between the 11 of us. We not only brought our Phil & Teds double stroller (read all about it in PART 2), but also brought the double stroller available at our condo AND got a wheelchair for my mom. We joked that we were the misfit parade (which was true), but we were so glad we had all the wheels we did!

What to bring to Disneyland - Disneyland On The Cheap, part 2 of 3: Prep, Packing, and Traveling with Kids. TONS of tips! Pin now, read later! from FunCheapOrFree.com

Waiting in line:

Even though we went during a slow time of year and the lines were relatively short (15-20 mins on average I'd say), waiting in line is hard for everyone…especially kids. Ours did surprisingly well, mostly due to the fact that we had so many adults around to help entertain them, and the lines moved quickly.

Strollers are not allowed in line, and car seats are a NIGHTMARE – so prepare yourself that you will be holding your young ones.

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

Ideas for staying entertained in line:

  • Play “I spy”, “Simon Says” or other cute games
  • Download Heads Up!, Ellen Degenerous' app. It's a hoot! It's like the game Hedbanz, but on your phone. You choose a category (like animals, for example, if playing with kids). You start the game by holding the phone to your forehead so you can't see what's on the screen. The group acts out or describes what animal (or whatever) is on your screen and you have to guess as many as you can before time runs out. My kids love it!

heads up app - so fun to play!

  • Come armed with snacks and treats! I know I get cranky when I'm hungry…
  • Take selfies with them! Kids LOVE seeing themselves on camera. If you have an iPhone turn on all the fun photo effects and let them go at it. Keeps them entertained and gives you some pretty cute shots as well 🙂

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

  • Bribery! My mom brought a huge sack of “fishy treats” (Swedish Fish). She pulled them out semi-regularly for those “who were being good”. Worked like a charm, and really helped them remember to be good during aaaaaaaall that waiting!

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

Keeping kids from getting lost:

  • As mentioned in PART 2, we recommend bringing a Sharpie. It came in handy several times – writing names on water bottles and matching souvenirs, writing names on our buttons, and writing our phone number on our kids in case they got lost.

Everything you ever need to know about going to Disneyland! From FunCheapOrFree.com

  • We didn't use kiddie leashes, but I don't think they are a bad idea. Hey, if your kid is a runner, they can be gone in an instant! No shame in my book.
  • We kept our kids locked in the stroller almost all the time. They got to be out while waiting in line, but walking around (especially when hustling to get FastPasses or what not) they were always tied in. It gave me peace of mind knowing they were safe, and also helped them last longer by giving their little legs a break!

Riding Rides:

Since we were Disney-ing with young ones, we mostly stuck with activities and rides that were age appropriate.

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

However…

I do love me a good thrill ride! We found ourselves trading off a lot. At California Adventure, for example, we all loved the California Screamin' coaster. The kids were all too short (and scared) to go, so my mom and I took them on the carousel (next to the coaster) a few times while everyone else went on the coaster. When they were done we traded. The lines were so short, we hardly had to wait.

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

I will say…trading off is the pits. Even when using the rider switch pass (read next section), it stinks that the whole group can't be together. So ultimately we really tried to focus on rides that EVERYONE could do, and saved the big thrill rides for our adults-only night on our last day (keep reading about that too).

Rider Switch pass:

When traveling with kids who are too young/short/nervous to ride certain rides, you can go to the FastPass line and ask for a Rider switch pass, which essentially works exactly like a Fast Pass, except there is no time limit or window. Here's how it works:

Let's say we want to go on Radiator Springs Racers, but Beck and the baby are too short to go (true story). Everyone goes through the line as usual (using the Fast Passes we picked up earlier, thanks to our RideMax app telling us to do so) while I ask them for a Rider switch pass. I wait outside the ride with the kids. Once everyone is done with the ride, they take over waiting with the kids while myself and 1 other person go to the FastPass line, show them the Rider switch pass (which admits 2 people), and wait in line to ride the ride. Meanwhile the rest of the group moves on to stand in line for the next ride. Again, it's basically a FastPass without having to show up at a certain time to use it; it's good all day. But yes, you do have to wait in the FastPass line just like everyone else.

Getting a babysitter:

As explained in PART 1, we got a 3 day pass. Our kids would've been fine with 2 days! By the third day they were beside themselves with exhaustion. On day 3 they only made it to 2pm before they started melting down. It wasn't pretty. But us adults weren't done having fun yet! I got in touch with a friend who lived nearby, and hired her nanny to stay with the kids for a few hours that night so we could have some adult-only time in the park. It was SOOOOO NICE, guys. Seriously. We got the kids fed and completely ready for bed, had her come at 6, she put them down at 7, and we partied until about 10:30. It was worth every penny!

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

If you don't know anyone who lives in the Anaheim area, there is a Nanny In The Kingdom that several people referred me to. She has a Facebook page where you can contact her. She basically is a nanny for hire, has been doing it for years. She will babysit your kids, wait in line for you, grab fast-passes for you, stay with the baby while you go on a thrill ride, etc. I've heard from a few people that she's great, though I've never used her personally – so hire at your own risk.

Either way, if you want some adult-only time make advance plans and work it into the budget to get a sitter. It really was a win-win for everyone on our trip! (Though, my kids love babysitters because they get to eat pizza and watch a movie before bed.)

Additional tips:

  • Bring extra clothes for each child! Having 4 kids, it seemed like a TON of extra stuff to pack around! However, each of my kids needed a change of clothes at least once during our 3 days in the parks. My baby ended up needing a new outfit almost every day. I was VERY happy to have spare jammies on day 1, when she had an epic blowout on the 2nd ride of the day. (Sorry for the graphic pic. Couldn't help myself.)

How to survive at Disneyland with a baby! From FunCheapOrFree.com

  • Stroller parking. You aren't allowed to bring your stroller in any lines for any rides, which I actually didn't know before going to Disneyland (tells you how much of a novice I am!). So just know that anything you leave in your stroller is out in the open for any/all to snag. The good news? We left just about everything in our strollers and didn't have any theft problems. However, I always carried my mini backpack with me that held my phone, camera, and wallet, along with a few necessities for the kids such as diapers, wipes, and a full bottle, as well as snacks and a water bottle. All of which came in handy for some kid or another on just about every ride!

DISNEYLAND WITH A BABY:

Again, I encourage you to check out PART 2 because I go into full detail about what I recommend bringing for baby, and why. But here are a few additional tips:

  • BABY CENTERS: There are a number of baby centers inside the parks complete with nursing rooms, changing tables, feeding area with high chairs, kitchen with microwave and sink, and a shop with just about everything you could need including formula, diapers, wipes, binkies, and even medicine. Find where they are HERE. I, personally, never had the chance to use one because they were always too far away from where we were. When a baby needs something, they seem to need it RIGHT THEN. I made sure to pack more than enough of everything I needed, and ended up doing just fine…and got good at changing baby's diaper, even while in line for a ride. Gross, I know, but you gotta do what you gotta do. Just pack a changing pad.
  • Waiting in line with the baby was pretty easy. I just kept her in my ERGObaby carrier. Sometimes we would hold her in our arms if she was awake, but I felt like she was pretty exposed to being bumped around or getting germs on her so I preferred the ERGObaby carrier. (and so did she!)

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

  • There were several rides where I was able to actually wear the baby ON the ride! It was a bit uncomfortable (I didn't want to crush her against the lap bar), so I actually preferred to hold her in my arms or on my lap if she was awake.
  • Car seat or no car seat? Again, I cover this in full detail in PART 2. I'm still not sure where I stand. It was obnoxious having one, however, my baby was only a few months old when we went so I liked being able to tuck her safely away from germs, the sun, and crowds while she was sleeping. It was also nice to cover her and tuck her away during parades and loud things. I guess If I could do it all over I would probably just stick with this amazing Cocoon from Phil & Teds (again, read all about it in PART 2) and skip the car seat in the parks.
  • Nursing at Disneyland is not easy…unless you have a Bomb Shelter Cover! (can you smell the shameless plug coming?)

The Bomb Shelter, full-coverage nursing cover. A MUST HAVE at Disneyland! BombShelterBaby.com

For real though, I found myself having to nurse in the middle of a line, on a ride, eating in the middle of a restaurant, and even during the parade. No one was interested in seeing any form of side boob or love handle of mine, so I'm glad I had my Bomb Shelter cover (which is my own invention, thank you very much) to allow me to nurse on the go, anywhere, without flashing anything to anyone.

the Bomb Shelter cover - 360 degree nursing cover with sleeves!

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FOOD, SNACKS, DRINKS:

Yes, you can bring your own! Here's what I recommend bringing:

  • A small cooler bag. You're not allowed to bring in anything with wheels, aside from a stroller or wheelchair, including a rolling cooler or suit case. Coolers must be smaller than 24″ long and 15″ wide. You cannot bring wagons, or anything else that is pulled by a person or machine. Read their rules for more info.
  • Your own drinks, including water bottles. You will pay $4 or more for a water bottle…but you can get an entire case of them for from Costco instead! Pack as many as you can bear (we shoved them into the bottom of our stroller) and find water stations to refill them throughout the day. They are few and far between, so we were glad to have so many spare water bottles to tide us over. In terms of sodas, bring your own! I was hot, tired, and thirsty. I was tempted to pay almost $4 for a small soda when I passed by this stroller, which made my mouth water:

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

Stop by a gas station and bring in your own drinks to save you much dinero!

In terms of food and snacks, here are some of the things we brought in:

  • Sandwiches – PB&J. Nothing that would spoil easily, you're out in the sun ALL DAY.
  • Granola bars
  • Fruit snacks
  • Frozen string cheese. Put it in the freezer the night before and it thaws slowly throughout the day. Keeps your other food cold, too!
  • Trail mix
  • Fruit leather and dried fruit. Great way to get in fruit without worrying about mushing or bruising.

Food/drinks to avoid:

  • Mushy things like bananas
  • Fruit in general. We brought a few apples, but even they got smushed and bruised. Just tell yourself you'll make up for the unhealthy eating when you get back 🙂
  • Milk, dairy, and other food that spoils easily in the heat (with the exception of the frozen string cheese I mention above).
  • Drinks that don't have twist lids, like juice boxes. We brought juice boxes and they were a mess. The kids would toss them back in the stroller without drinking every drop, and they leaked and splattered on things. Twist tops are the best. Plus, you can refill twist containers!
  • Crackers. I brought a roll of Ritz crackers and they were crushed to dust by the end of the day.

PHOTOS:

**UPDATE!! Selfie Sticks are now banned in the parks! They WILL be confiscated and not returned, so take heed and do NOT bring them into the parks!**

As explained in PART 2, I do NOT recommend bringing a large DSLR camera. Many of my readers commented and confirmed that recommendation. It's just one more thing to lug around and worry about losing, breaking, or having it stolen! For more items to bring and leave at home see PART 2.

Disney has professional photographers all around the park that take your photos constantly throughout the day. You can use Disney's photo pass service and buy their professional photos. For us, we just took our own photos, mostly on our phones. In fact, you can ask any of the professional photographers to take a photo of you with your own camera/phone, and they will happily do it! (Yes, this is confirmed.) Though, obviously, they would prefer you to buy their photos.

When it comes to photos taken of you during a ride, there is a mixed review on this. My family has always taken a picture of the screen, a photo of a photo if you will. I've never thought twice about it because I've never been hassled for this, scolded, or ever told not to. In fact, at the end of California Screamin' we asked am employee to bring our picture back up so we could take a picture of it with our phones, and they did it for us gladly!

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

 

HOWEVER – I posted this “take a picture of your picture with your phone” tip on Instagram and several Freebs informed me that it was against Disneyland's rules. OOPS! So I quickly took the photo and tip down and apologized for not knowing better. I couldn't find anything about it in their policies or rules, so I guess I don't know where I stand with the issue. You're just going to have to decide for yourself, I guess!

PARADES:

To be completely honest, the Parades are one of the best parts of Disneyland in my opinion! You get to see ALL the princesses and characters in one place, it's high energy, and it's a good break for everyone's tired legs.

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

Seating for parades are first come, first served. We got lucky because my mom was in a wheelchair which allowed us to get fabulous seating at the Disneyland parade. We had no such luck at California Adventure, but didn't find it too hard to find decent seats.

My advice? Go EARLY and save spots. My mom and dad sat down 45 minutes early for the Disneyland parade, and it was already getting packed. We were more like 30 minutes early at California Adventure.

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

On the flip-side, if parades aren't really your thing, it's a great time to ride rides because the lines are shorter! Same with Fantasmic and fireworks show at night; if you've seen it (or don't really care) then use that time to go hit some of the most popular rides!

SHOWS

Shows are a LIFE SAVER! It gives you a chance to rest your legs, get out of the heat and into some air conditioning, allows you to give the kids a snack or let the baby out of the carrier/car seat, and enjoy some quality entertainment.

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

Here are the shows we saw, all of which I recommend:

DISNEYLAND:

  • The Royal Theatre had a cute reenactment of Frozen, complete with song and dance (as shown in the video above). The story changes. In fact, we thought we were going to Rapunzel but were pleasantly surprised to see it was Frozen that day!

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

  • Not sure if this constitutes as a show, but the Jedi Training in Tomorrowland was AMAZING. We stumbled upon it on accident while getting lunch. We watched the entire show (watch the video above to see how interactive it is for kids), and Hutch was dying to be part of it. Sign ups happen first thing in the morning in Tomorrowland. My son still talks about how it was one of the greatest moments of his life to defeat Darth Vader…and he's never even seen Star Wars before! It was pretty magical.

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

  • You must see one of their incredible fireworks night time shows. As explained in PART 2, remember to bring your glow sticks! We saw Fantasmic and I will say, it was a bit creepy, our kids were freaked out. Much of the show focuses on all the Disney villains, and it really made our kids nervous. But, in true Disney fashion, it ended with a happy ending which smoothed everything over. But just FYI if you have young/timid kids like we do. It was almost too much for some of our little ones.

CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE:

  • The Aladdin Spectacular was just that…SPECTACULAR (Seriously Broadway quality), has now been replaced with Frozen-Live at the Hyperion. Jessica Sanders, author of Disneyland On Any Budget highly recommends it even to those who aren't Frozen fans. Plus you get a break in the air-conditioned theater.

HOW TO SEE PRINCESSES!!

Let's be honest, Princesses are the reason we go to Disneyland in the first place…right? Anyone? …No?

Sure, you could wait in line for 1 hour or longer to see your favorite princess. We decided NOT to do this, but still got to see TONS of them! Here's where we saw princesses:

  • You MUST go to The Royal Hall. It's right next to The Royal Theater. You wait in line (for us it was only about 20 minutes) and when it's your turn you get to go in a special reception hall where you get about 3-5 minutes – ALONE – with up to 3 surprise princesses! We met Snow White, Belle, and Cinderella (as shown in the video above). They kept saying, “come on in, the room is yours!”. It was BOMB.

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

They have several professional photographers there to take your photos with your own cameras, as well as theirs. The princesses stand and chit chat with the kids, give hugs, talk about the dwarves, Prince Charming, and whatever else comes to their pretty little princess minds. Priya basically died and went to Heaven right then and there. (Ok, so did I.) Worth it guys, WORTH IT!

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

  • You can meet Elsa and Anna in California Adventure and on occasion outisde the Royal Hall at Disneyland.
  • Shows, shows, shows! We saw pretty much all the princesses, even the rare ones like Pocahontas, Jasmine, and Mulan. Read above for the shows we went to.

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

Mickey's Magical Map show

SOUVENIRS:

As mentioned in PART 1, while we did buy Disney trinkets from the Dollar Store and Walmart BEFORE hitting the park, we still budged ahead for additional souvenirs. Hey, it is Disneyland, after all.

There are gift shops at the end of every ride at Disneyland, and they are themed differently; you will find mostly Toy Story toys after the Buz Lightyear ride, for example.

My tip? Wait, and go to World of Disney in Downtown Disney just before the end of your trip. Every souvenir from the entire park is in that ONE store (yes, it's huge) so you can find it all in one place.

We allowed our kids to each pick ONE souvenir. We talked about it throughout the week, and in each store when they said “Mom! Can I have this??” we would say, “If that's what you want! You'll just have to wait until the end of Disneyland when it's time to pick your present.” We were able to leave every gift shop without any whining or tantrums, because they were so excited about picking out their one present.

On the last day we took them to World of Disney. Hutch knew EXACTLY what he wanted…a real light saber (again, the Jedi Training was MAGICAL).

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

Priya, however, wanted EVERYTHING she could get her hands on. Literally.

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

Instead of her grabbing everything off the shelves (any more than she already had) I had her walk around and show me everything she wanted. I took a picture of each item with my phone. After walking the length of the store, we sat down and went through all the pictures in my phone, telling her to choose from the pics.

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

She was having a hard time deciding which princess set to get. #FirstWorldProblems. We finally settled on this awesome castle that had ALL the princesses (and princes!) with it.

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

It was definitely purchased with encouragement for me. It was expensive ($65 I think?) but I knew it was something she'd actually play with for months down the road, vs some of the cheapo $30 light up toys she was looking at.

As explained in PART 1, we had budget for $50 per kid. Hutch's was in the $40 range, Beck's was only $15, so spending more on Priya's was still within budget. Did we need to come home with a huge princess castle? No. But hey, we were caught up in the Disney spirit! 🙂

However you choose to do souvenirs, do them at the very end of your trip so you aren't packing them around all day with you!

DOWNTOWN DISNEY:

Downtown disney

As explained in PART 1, we took a day off between going to the parks and spent the day at Downtown Disney. DD is free to get into, and is the row of shops and restaurants you pass through to get to Disneyland or California Adventure. It's pretty magical, as well! We stayed at DD all day and still didn't hit all the shops. As shown in the video above, a few highlights included the Lego store, and the Rainforest Cafe.

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

WHEEW!

I hope you enjoyed this series. Heck, you'd better because each post took me about 20 hours to complete if you can believe it! So I hope you can feel the love and effort that went into each painstaking detail. And more than anything, I hope your family has as great of an experience as ours did 🙂

Be sure to check out PART 1, and PART 2. If you liked these posts, subscribe to our email list and future fantastic posts will magically appear in your inbox 🙂

P.S – if you like this post, you’ll love my How To Cruise With Kids post series, and my other travel posts too!

Thanks for reading! Now, go rest your eyes a bit, eh?

How to do Disneyland on the cheap...and do it with kids! A 3-part series with everything you'd ever need to know! From FunCheapOrFree.com

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Comments

  1. Great series Jordan! I’ve lived in Orange County most of my life and have had season passes for several years and I totally learned something new (stroller passes?? Awesome) I was wondering how the 2 year old in your group liked Disneyland. Thinking about taking my daughter when she’s 2, but not sure if she will “get it”

    • Great question! Here’s my HONEST answer…
      I would never take my 2 year old unless we had season passes and lived close by. I would treat it more like our local aquarium, and pop in for a few hours once in a while like many of my mom friends do who live in the OC as well. For me, Disneyland is a HUGE expense and trip. Our rule as a family is “no Disney before 4″…but threw that out the window when my parents started planning the trip. Our 2 year old had fun, but it’s DEFINITELY catered to kids 5 and older in my opinion. Mostly because there are many rides he can’t ride, and he will never remember it anyway! He has just as much fun playing at I swear! haha

      • Jordan,
        Thanks so much for these posts. I am planning a first time trip. This information has been extremely helpful. Thanks for confirming my intuition to leave my just turned 3-year-old twins at home and take my 6-year-old.

  2. Thanks so much for your series! We are headed to Disneyland next week for our first trip with our kids, so excited! We have a 9 hour car ride so I love your section about keeping the kiddos busy during the ride.

  3. Jordan~ I have seriously enjoyed your Disney posts… It has given me hope to go to Disneyland with kids without having anxiety! I loved everything about saving money… ie condo, water bottles/food, pics with phones, etc. I can’t wait until my little man (currently 8 mos old) is old enough to go (and actually remember!).

    • I’m so glad you liked them! Congrats on the baby, can’t wait for you to see his face when he meets his favorite character for the first time. Seriously magical! XOXO

  4. We just booked our first Disneyland trip in November. The first thing I did was book the Suite Escape condos. That right there has me excited. Your posts have made this so much easier and a whole lot less intimidating. Thank you for all the time and energy you have put into this. I know with all your tips this will make for a better experience for the kids and parents.Thanks again!

  5. Thanks for all the hard work on the posts. Great tips. Can you do a demo video for your nursing cover? Curious to understand how you see the baby to adjust their latch. Would love to support your new business and thought a video could help explain it. Thanks!

  6. I am SO grateful I stumbled upon this post on Pinterest before going to The Happiest Place on Earth. Very, very informative and great tips. Thanks for all your hard work. Love the energy and silliness throughout.

  7. So I am at Disneyland right now with a group of about 20 students with special needs (we raised $50k+ in less than a year for this trip which is magical in itself!). Yesterday, I went to the Frozen Sing Along with one of our girls with autism who had had a very tough day and making it into the park was a big deal for her on this day. I watched her face more than I did the sing along. During the final song, she said to no one in particular “I just really love this”….I got a little teary too! ♡ I have used your posts as I was preparing for the trip – perfect timing! – and even splurged to get ridemax which was great today for a couple of our students who thrive on detailed schedules! (not so great for our more impulsive students). Your time and efforts to put these posts together are appreciated!

    • I’m so glad to know that these tips work for kids who are older than mine! What a touching story, thanks so much for sharing (and making my day) XOXO

  8. Awesome, awesome, awesome job, Jordan!! Your posts have been so fun and informative to read. It makes me want to plan a trip there right now. I know my 5 yr old daughter would love it! She’s crazy into princesses right now, especially Ariel, and Ana and Elsa of course. I haven’t been to Disneyland in 20 years since I was a teenager. It’s amazing to see how much has changed (and how much hasn’t–all the classic rides are still there) and what a good job they do of keeping rides and attractions current. Your posts have inspired me to start saving! Thanks again, and keep up the good work!

    • YAY! I’m so glad you like it! Thanks for reading. And really, your girls have fabulous taste in princesses 😉

  9. I loved these 3 posts! You did an awesome job covering so many topics. Now I just have one small, tiny, itty bitty favor to ask…..can you do this all again for Disney World in Florida?? haha I’m gathering up tips for going there hopefully next year.

    • Ha SURE! I’d love to go. The good news is that many of these tips actually work for Disney World as well!! but yes, I hope to go someday 😉 Thanks for reading!

  10. For the Rainforest Cafe, did you eat there or was there a store too. It looked like a fun place for the kids, but looking at prices for eating it looks expensive. Maybe we just get dessert if we wanted to get in and see it. But just curious if you could go in without eating. I know you are frugal after all. 🙂

  11. One tip that I used when we went last year is to take a picture of each of your kids before you leave your hotel/condo in the morning, so that if they get lost, you have a current picture with the outfit they are wearing when you are looking for them. Fortunately, neither of my kids got lost, but I figured it would be helpful if they did!

  12. We live about 2 1/2 hours from Disney World, and have season passes. BUT….your Disney series makes me want to go see what Disney Land is all about! Great job! I’m sure we’ll make it out there one day, and when we do I’ll be sure to come back to these post and review!

      • Sure! Here are some of my best tips..

        1. Do not go to Disney World in June or July….even early August. It is miserably hot and crowded. During the summer, Florida gets afternoon thunderstorms. They typically don’t last that long, but after the rain clears it feels even more hot and so humid. Mix that with a crowded theme park and ugh…..talk about a bad day. Just like Disney Land, it’s best to go to Disney World in February. It can still get up to 80 degrees then, but it’s not as humid.

        2. Get up early and be at the park when it opens. All the parks are pretty easy to get to, meaning actually being in the park, except for the Magic Kingdom. It takes about an extra 30-45min to get into the park because you go from the parking lot trams, to a ferry/monorail, then you arrive.

        3. Be at the park early, leave at lunch time, and head back later in the afternoon. We normally go back around 6. This may sound crazy, but your avoiding the most crowded and hottest times of the day. Also, it’s a great time for the kids to nap or swim in the pool. Plus, when you arrive back at the park you usually get to park upfront because a lot of other have left. SCORE!

        4. Staying at a Disney hotel will give you free parking at the parks. This is amazing because it’s $17 a day. Even if you pay it and park hop, you just show your receipt and no need to pay again. Also, the hotels give free complimentary shuttles. Even at non-Disney hotels.

        5. And last, even though we are season pass holders, we hardly ever park hop. Honestly, it’s a waste of time. The parks are not close together, and it just makes better since to plan 1 park per day. The only exception I could see is the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. You can easily take the monorail to and from these two parks.

        Gosh…that turned out longer than I’d hoped. 🙂 Hope this helps.

  13. I’ve read all of your series! We are headed with the whole extended fam in June. I know it’s not the best time, but it’s just what you do…and it’s a free time share for all of us! Loved all the tips as we are driving in the car as well and I didn’t know about the stroller thing and I’ve been to DLand before! Nice to know we can’t have them in lines, but we are totally going to do the whole stroller pass thing!

  14. Great tips. I am a long time reader but have never made a comment. I couldn’t help it with this series. I love Disneyland and we are headed there again very soon. I have used most of these tips in the past and will definitely use the new ones I learned this next time. Thanks again for the hard work.

    • YAY! So glad you commented! (It’s ok, I’m not a comment-er either). Flattered that you took the time, thanks so much for reading and for the feedback! XOXO

  15. Thank you for all these tips. We are going next week. It’s been 14 yrs since I went last, so I’m pretty excited. Will be going with my 10 month old & 3 yr old. The condo tip is a little late for us. But has me wanting to plan another trip in 2-3 years. And I know where I will stay if we can make that happen.

  16. You should also check out touringplans.com. they have the same thing as the app you mentioned but for only 12.95 for the entire year. Lots of great info on their site too. And look into mousesavers.com. lots of discounts and tips for disneyland and disneyworld. And the official term for what you call stroller passes is a “rider switch” pass. when we have gone in the past, it has allowed up to 3 people to go on the ride with the pass. great addition to fast passes!

  17. This series has been so wonderful!! We are surprising our kids (6, 5, and almost 2) on their first trip to Disneyland in two weeks!! My question for you is…. Are there any rides that my 22 month old can go on besides the obvious: fantasyland rides, dumbo… Winnie the Pooh? I know they have height restrictions on the bigger roller coaster rides, but any he can go on while sitting on a lap? I hope that question made sense! 😉

    • We took our 14 month old on everything that didn’t have a height restriction (even Pirates and Haunted Mansion) and there were a lot of babies much younger on them as well 🙂 I am hoping to go again in February and will have a 6 month old by then and I feel comfortable taking them on anything the park technically allows them on 🙂 My 5 year old is the one who is afraid of everything, but my younger one has always been happy to do it all 🙂

  18. We are going to Disneyland in about a month with our 10 year old and two 5 year olds. Do you think one day in the park could be enough for us? My husband really doesn’t want to spring for 2 days, but I want to make sure we have a great time. Any thoughts, anyone?

    • Hmm…that’s a great question. You can get a lot done in 1 day…during the slow season. With it being closer to peak time right now you might get less rides in because of lines, but you can still do a lot in 1 day. Just use the Ride Maxx app and use fast-passes like crazy and it’ll help you cram lots in for sure! I guess if you get there and decide you’re dying for another day you could always buy a 2nd pass, right?

      • Thanks for replying, Jordan. 🙂 I think that’s what we’ll try. Thanks so much for recommending the app!

  19. Jordan THANK YOU FOR ALL THE TIPS! You started this series just before we went on our very first trip to Disneyland with our munchkins and all your tips were so helpful! The only thing that I wish we would’ve known ahead of time is that during the off season, the Fantasmic show at Disneyland is canceled during the weekdays. We chose to go on a Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday to avoid crowds, but that ended up meaning that we went on days where the show was canceled, as well as the parade 🙁 But we still had a great time, and there were so many of your tips that saved our skin, thank you!!!

    • Wait WHAT?! That’s crazy! We went on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday and the parade and show ran every time we were there! That’s too bad, I’m so sorry about that! Glad the tips helped, glad you had a fun time!

      • Really? Then I must have just picked the worst week ever to go 🙁 California had everything running like normal so maybe it was just bad luck. Seriously though, I know it must have taken you so long to write the series, and I can’t thank you enough because it was so detailed and so incredibly helpful! My friend Kelsey recommended that I read your blog and I’m so glad I did! Next time you go I want to go with you so I can see your super mommy skills in action and apparently get the best weather and time of year for rides lol! Thank again!

  20. Jordan… Than, you for mentioning Nanny In The Kingdom. When you come for a visit to Disneyland again with your family I would love to come any help as a thank you.
    Nanny Deb

  21. Thank you, Jordan! My family will celebrate my dad’s 70th birthday at Disneyland in October. We’ll most likely have my 4-year-old and 2-year-old nieces with us (without their parents). Your kids tips are much appreciated! I had never heard of stroller passes. It will be our first trip to Disneyland with kids in 25 years. We need all of the help we can get!

      • Hi Jordan! My trip is less than one week away. I’m so excited. I want to make a video for my sister who is unable to take the trip. (We’re taking her two daughters.) Did you use a camcorder and a phone for your video segments? Which program did you use to compile your video? I’ve never edited a video before so I don’t know where to start. 🙂

        • Hey Amber! I just used my phone, and used iMovie on my Mac to make it. It’s fairly simple to use, go to YouTube for help if needed. Have so much fun! XO

  22. Great series of posts! We were there with family a few months ago with family including our 3 month old and 4 1/2 year old and my sisters 10 month old it’s such a fantastic family friendly destination! Quick note though recently, within the past week or two, selfie sticks have been banned from all areas in Disney parks where previously they were only banned on rides. People who bring them will have to check them upon entering the park.

  23. Wow! I know this post was from awhile ago, but it is really great! We have been to Disneyland many times over the last 20 years (we live about 3 1/2 hours away), and your tips are spot on. One note about getting water-you can go into any restaurant or food stand and they will give free cups of cold water. Just pour it into your own water bottles to stay cold. I have some friends going who have 5 kids ranging in age from 6 to 13, so I will be passing this on to her too. Great job and it looks like you all had a great time!!

    ps We are going next week (again!) and my kids are 21 and 18!
    Pamela Smith recently posted…Living Room Corner and Down the HallwayMy Profile

    • Awesome, thanks for confirming the tips! And the water tips is great,thanks for sharing (and reading!). XO

  24. I’m taking my nine year old son for a special mom/son trip in either late January or early February when the park will be empty. We went a few years ago to celebrate my parents’ 40th anniversary, but it was December (before Christmas) and crazy busy, so we’re excited to go at a slow time. Someone may have mentioned this already because I didn’t read through the comments, but you can actually get free water at any of the restaurants just by asking, so you don’t need to lug around water bottles the whole time.

  25. Thank you so much!! We’re headed for Disneyland next week and so these posts have been SO helpful! Thank you, thank you!!

  26. I enjoy your posts, lots of info! =) I reviewed the link you posted for DL Park Rules…. Selfie sticks are also prohibited!?!?

    • Yes, they weren’t prohibited when I originally wrote the post, so don’t bring a selfie stick!! Bummer, but understandable.

  27. I just want to THANK YOU for every bit of this. My husband and I are flying with our 4 almost 5 year old for an early birthday celebration here in a few weeks. Every bit of this was SO helpful! It was a one stop shop on advice vs the hundreds of blogs out there! You rock. Thank you again!

  28. Your Blog is amazing!!! Thank you so much for all your advice I learned alot and cant wait for our trip! I thought it was funny that you were from Utah because I never read through a whole blog let alone anything Like EVER! besides yours and I to am from Utah Woot Woot! Thanks again.

  29. Hey ! Love this blog. I have some info to maybe update your tips. The city of Anaheim has banned all STRs ( short term rentals ). They have 18 months to shut down. So sadly there will be no more condo or house rentals. Im sure you can easily find the article if you search for it. :[ On a happier note, you gave me lots of idea on traveling. We have a 30+ hour drive 1 way .. ugh ..

  30. Thanks for this information. I stumbled across it by accident this morning.
    We leave Australia in 15 days for our Disneyland Adventure. Whilst I have spent hours researching how to make our money stretch further, I was able to find 3 tips of yours that I had not thought of 🙂 (take your own glosticks, using ziplock bags as ‘ice bricks’ and the ap “heads up!)
    Our kids have been ‘earning’ money for their own spending money and next weekend we’ll be opening them up to see just how much they will have to spend (they have tins so we have no idea on how much is in there, but the kids like to get out the kitchen scales and weigh them – apparantly who ever has the heaviest tin has the most money lol)
    Thanks again 🙂

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