Our Disneyland Experience: Our Favorite Disney Apps

Well, I’m FINALLY writing about my favorite part of our Disneyland experience!  You know: Actually GOING there!

I’ve already filled you in on our Disneyland budget, our Park-Hopper ticket choice, our trip timing and our hotel choice, and our drive to Disneyland.  Let’s get there, already!

As I mentioned, on our first day, we drove from my sister’s house, checked into our hotel, then walked over to the park, arriving about an hour after they opened the gates.

Our first day was a Sunday, and MAN, oh man, was it crowded!!  The locals come out on the weekends, and they come in droves.  I will say that they are super friendly.  They aren’t jaded or grumpy.  They LOVE Disneyland and want you to love it, too, so although there were massive crowds, they were friendly crowds.  Another bonus is that they use the MouseWait app much more than out of towners.  MouseWait is a great app when the park is crowded, because the more people who use it, the more accurate it is.  Basically, you share your wait times.  We jumped into the Matterhorn line when the sign said 25 minutes because someone using MouseWait reported a 15 minute wait just moments before.  I timed it, and sure enough, the wait ended up being 17 minutes.  I shared my wait time to the benefit of the next person looking for a shorter line!

I loved using our iPhone apps in the park.  While MouseWait was awesome on Sunday (the crowded day), it wasn’t as useful on the other days of our visit because very few people were using it.  I came to depend on the Lines app by Touring Plans, and the Disney Parks Mobile Magic app, which is the official app of Disneyland.

Here is a breakdown of my favorite apps and what I liked about them:

MouseWait – Great for crowded days and evenings when the locals are in the park.  Not as useful during the day when it isn’t very crowded.  Gives accurate wait times!!  You can stand in line for one ride and scope out your next ride on your app, making your “which ride next?” question much more efficiently answered.  The more people who use it, the more accurate it is.

Lines by Touring Plans – Touring Plans is an awesome website which not only shows you what the crowds are predicted to be like during your trip, but also tells you what order to do the rides in to maximize your day and minimize your wait in line.  I upgraded to the premium plan so I could play with the order of things and just basically mess around and personalize my plan.  It was fun, but not necessary.  We used the Touring Plans for the Whole Family as a reference, but since we went to Disneyland when crowd levels were low, we eventually just did our own thing.  I could see it being a lifesaver if you went during the summer months, though.  Anyway, they also have an app called Lines.  I LOVE it.  Not only can I access my personalized plans, but once I am using the app in the park it will refresh and optimize the plan based on my location and the time of day.  AWESOME.  That saved our bacon several times.  One of my favorite parts of the app, though, is that it shows the restaurant menus and prices.  So, basically, I could be standing in line for a ride while scoping out the restaurants and checking out the menu and prices.  We never had a “where do you want to eat?”, “I don’t know. Where do you want to eat?” moment.  Lifesaver and marriage saver, I tell ya.

Mobile Magic by Disney Parks – I loved Mobile Magic!!  I loved being able to tick off the rides in each park as we did them, so I knew which ones we hadn’t hit, yet.  I loved that the wait times posted on the signs were the same ones that were posted on the app (no confusion).  I loved that it has a calendar of the day’s events so I didn’t lose track of when the shows were.  I love that it shows the bathrooms! I loved that I had a mini map in my hand that is so pretty and colorful!  We referred to it while cuddling on the couch for weeks ahead of time. So very Disney!

See there?  I’ve totally gone off on a tangent again.  Ah, so much to share!!

Next up, I’ll talk about Pin Trading – our new obsession.

But first, did I miss an app that you just loved?  Share in the comments!  Tell us all about it!


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Our Disneyland Experience: The Drive to Disneyland

I’m having a great time revisiting our Disneyland trip! 

Thanks for reading along and sharing your thoughts, ideas and experiences as I shared about our Disneyland budget, our Park-Hopper ticket choice, our trip timing and our hotel choice.

We’re on our way!!  Let’s talk road trip!

Since we live in Oregon, and we have family in California, we decided that it made sense for us to drive down to Disneyland.  That way, we could see my sister and her family on both ends of our Disneyland trip!  We didn’t actually look too closely into the option of flying, but I know that at certain times of year we can get airfare around $200 per person.

One thing we HAD to do was rent a car.  Our two (paid for!) vehicles are super old (about 15 years each) and not the most reliable.  The family car doesn’t have air conditioning anymore, which would be necessary on a trip to California in September.  Plus, we get pretty bad gas mileage these days.  So, I found a full size rental car with unlimited mileage for 10 days for $326.  We filled our tank 4 times @ $60 a pop, so the whole travel portion of our trip cost us $566.  Cheaper than air fare.

He’s an excellent driver!

For those of you who have been waiting for me to post my list of stops and site seeing activities along the way, I’m sorry to disappoint you!  We are pretty hard core drivers.  My kids are GREAT road trippers.  (Mama brag moment.  Sorry about that.)  We did provide each child with a little shoebox sized tub full of snacks and drinks, and we packed peanut butter sandwiches for lunch on the way down.  They both had gaboons of books to read, and we listened to a lot of classic rock.  My computer was an excellent portable DVD player.  That’s about it when it comes to the drive.  My husband is my hero.  He drove the whole time so I could read books and talk his ear off.

AND, we didn’t stop at a hotel along the way.  It takes us 13 hours to get from our house to my sister’s house, and then another 3 hours from her house to Disneyland.  We drove down, stopping twice for food, gas and potty breaks, then stayed the night at my sister’s house, where they fed us dinner and let us sleep in their cozy beds.  The next morning, we got up, drove to Disneyland, and arrived not long after the gates had opened.  It was perfect!

In Anaheim, we arrived at our hotel, did a little pre-check-in thing, left our suitcases in the car, and walked to Disneyland.

SO exciting!  I can’t wait to share about all of the fun things we did!

Question time:  When you go to Disneyland, do you drive or fly?  And, I’m curious about the kids-fly-free thing Alaska does.  Is it really a good deal, or do they just hike up the adult ticket price to come out even?  Share here in the comments so we can all learn from your wisdom!

Our Disneyland Experience: The Planning Stage – The Hotel

So far in this series, we’ve talked about our Disneyland budget, the number of days we chose to spend at the parks, and the timing of our Disneyland trip.  Go read those posts and catch up!

The California sunset from our hotel parking lot.

I must admit that the most stressful part of planning our trip was choosing a hotel.  I was putting WAY too much thought into the process.  I checked Trip Advisor reviews, compared costs and amenities, Google earthed locations, debated walking vs. taking the shuttle.  It was incredibly stressful.

See, we have Ritz Carlton taste on a Motel 6 budget.

Now, ME:  I grew up staying in Motel 6s (although they are a LOT nicer these days) and knew that I could handle ANY hotel.

My husband, on the other hand, had traveled for work and determined that it was not worth it to stay at a cheap place if you were sacrificing comfort and cleanliness.

He’s totally right, of course.  And, I just KNEW that if we didn’t stay in a nice enough hotel, I would hear about it.  I have to admit that I have a bit of a history of choosing a hotel based on price alone, and that has not ended up in my favor.  There was that one time when we made an impromptu trip to the coast and decided to stay the night.  I chose a hotel with a super cheap price advertised on the sign.  My husband just shook his head, gave me his warning look, and checked us in.  After about 15 minutes in our room, enough time to go to the bathroom, test the tv and pounce on the bed, I sheepishly looked over at him and told him, “I don’t want to stay here!  I’m so sorry!”

He didn’t even have to say, “I told you so.”  By the way, the hotel charged us $10 – apparently the “hourly rate”.  UGH.  We found a much nicer hotel that night, and 10 years later we are still talking about the time I wanted to stay in “The Willers”.

Okay, back to Disneyland.

So, I stressed, and researched, and asked my Facebook friends for recommendations.  They gave me a HUGE list of hotels to research, which was totally cool, but probably heaped on the stress.  I’m pretty sure that every hotel in the Disneyland area was mentioned.  Which begs the question:  “Is there a bad hotel when you are spending the day at Disneyland?”

I can’t answer that for you, but I can tell you what I was looking for and what made me choose our hotel.

At first, I was looking at package deals, and my friend cautioned me to take the full price of the package, subtract the cost of airfare if purchased alone, subtract the cost of park tickets, if purchased alone, and then divide that number by how many nights you are staying there.  That’s your per night price.  It was shocking and eye opening to look at packages that way.

I immediately took all of the Disneyland Resort hotels (all 3 of them) off my list.  I died.  I really, really wanted to stay in one of those hotels, but at the time the prices per night were around $350 for the cheapest hotel, and that way out of our range.

Now, I’m definitely not saying that packages are bad.  Not at all.  I actually found a GREAT package for flights, hotel and tickets for February which brings the price of the non-Disney hotel down to about $70 a night.  I’d love to go back in February!  I need to get that idea out of my head.  Ugh.

Anyway, for my family, $350 a night was not going to happen.

Now, if you can swing a Disney hotel, you do get great perks.  You get Magic Morning every day, which we all really wish we had had.  Plus, you never really do leave the magic. If you stay at the Grand Californian (be still my heart), you can enter California Adventure through your own special entrance.  Guests who stay on the park view side of the Paradise Pier get to watch the World of Wonder water show from their rooms.  At the Disneyland Hotel, character meals are just a step away.  If you get to stay in a Disney hotel, consider yourself super blessed!  It is definitely a dream of mine!

Our hotel criteria:

  • We were looking for a hotel that was closer to $100 or less per night.
  • It had to have a free breakfast.  Check off one meal per day.
  • Since we drove down, it had to have free parking.  Lots of hotels charge $15 per day to park.  LOTS of them.  Make sure you check into that if you are parking a car.
  • It had to have a nice pool.  We knew that the weather was going to be hot and we might want to go back to the hotel to cool off in the middle of the day or in the evening.
  • It had to be within walking distance.  Remember that we have a 6 year old, so it couldn’t be too far for the little guy.

We seriously lucked out.  One of my Facebook friends is good friends with the manager of the Ramada Maingate, which is about a 10 minute walk from the ticket booths at the park to the hotel – at a leisurely, we have a 6-year-old pace.  It is an older 2-story hotel and has all of the rooms laid out in a big circle around the parking lot with the pool in the center.  The pool is nice, clean, warm and kid friendly.  My boys LOVED the pool.  Breakfast is served out by the pool, and there is a pizza shack on site (which we didn’t try out) and a gift store with all kinds of inexpensive Disney stuff.  The manager friend hooked us up with an awesome, under $100 a night, rate!

We loved our room.  It was a place to go at the end of a long day on our feet.  The beds were so comfortable that I slept like a rock.  It was clean, had a mini fridge and cool air conditioning.  Heaven.

You know how people say, “Aw, you aren’t going to be spending much time in your room anyway.  You’re just going to sleep there.”  Well, I didn’t believe them because at the time of year that we went, the Disneyland park hours were 10-8.  I figured we would be in our room a whole lot more than we actually were.  But, those people were right.  We slept in our room, and that was about it. It was heaven.

We did go back to our hotel in the heat of the day on our first day, and then jumped in the pool in the evening of our second day.  We ate dinner by the pool one night.  We are so thankful for the pool!  It was an instant attitude changer.  Plus, it was so close, that we could, literally, decide to leave the park to go swimming and be back at the park a little over an hour later, totally refreshed.  (It does help that I get ready super fast!)

So, my advice is: stay close, stay cheap.  You’ll have more money to spend on FOOD!

Question time!  What hotels have you stayed at on your Disneyland visits?  What was that experience like?  Please share here in the comments on this post so we can all benefit from  your words of wisdom!

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Our Disneyland Experience: The Planning Stage – Timing Your Trip

We’ve already talked about our Disneyland Budget and Tickets, so let’s move along.

When should you go to Disneyland?

NOT in the summer.  I mean, seriously.  Why would you do that to yourself? It’s massively hot, especially if you are running from ride to ride or standing an insanely long line because EVERYONE and their grandmother decided to visit while on their summer vacation.

I consulted several websites that showed Disneyland crowd levels, and my favorite one was on Touring Plans.  They rank the days on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the most crowded.  Check out those summer months and you’ll see what I mean.

I’m going to talk to you as a former teacher now:  Any time your children spend on a family vacation, especially one that takes them to a new place and exposes them to new things, is time well spent.  It’s a valuable educational opportunity.  Don’t feel guilty about taking them out of school.

It’s even better if you create teachable moments.  For example:  “The sign said the wait is 30 minutes, and we’ve been in the line for 12 minutes.  How many minutes do we have left?”  My 6-year old was ALL over that.  We also talked about rounding up to the nearest dollar when buying food from the carts, had a little lesson about taxes (since we don’t have sales tax in Oregon, the boys had no idea that there was such thing as tax), and learned a bit about California geography.  PLUS, before our trip, we watched Disney classics so that my boys would become familiar with some of the characters they would see!  My homeschool friend told me that it was as if I were teaching a unit with a field trip at the end!  Yes, ma’am, I was!

If we get to go to Disneyland again any time soon, we will do it in January, February, September or October.  September crowds are the lowest, though!  We actually had planned on trying to do our trip over Thanksgiving, but then I saw the crowd level and immediately changed plans!  I’m SO glad we did.

We arrived on a Sunday, and the crowds were terrible by mid-day, and they were only a 5 out of 10.  Monday through Thursday, they were 1 or 2.  WONDERFUL!  We were able to get right on most rides and our longest wait was probably 25 minutes at the busiest time of the day (for Midway Mania, of course).

Timing also plays a part in the cost of your hotel.  I’ll talk about our hotel experience in my next post!  Stay tuned!

Question time:  How were the crowds on your Disneyland trip and what time of year did you visit?  Share in the comments so we can all benefit!

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Our Disneyland Experience: The Planning Stage – Tickets

Yesterday, I shared our thoughts behind our Disneyland budget, so let’s break that down.

We’ll start with Tickets:  We chose 5-day park hopper passes for 2 adults ($290 each) and 2 children under 10 ($270 each) = $1120 (plus a $5 shipping and handling charge)

I think there are some discounts out there, especially if you live in Southern California, but if you live outside California, just save your inner nerd a little stress and pay what is listed on the website.  I looked and looked, and the only way I would save a little bit of money was to have my California resident cousin purchase tickets using a special savings club she belongs to, then I would pay her back.  The ticket place she would go through would not take a debit card in my name, since I wasn’t part of the savings club.  It was a major hassle for a savings of about $80, total.  YES, that is a lot of money, but it was totally not a battle I was willing to fight.

Can you do the trip well for fewer than 5 days?  Yes.  In the middle of Day 3, while my children were fighting in line for the bajillionth time, I wondered why we didn’t just do 3-day Park Hopper passes.  However, by the end of Day 5, I was seriously considering adding on a 6th day (which you can do if you purchase the upgrade before the end of your last day – and it’s pretty cheap, too).

My advice is to stay for as long as you can afford, but shoot for 5 days.  In 5 days, we were able to ride every ride that was open and every show at BOTH parks except for Peter Pan’s Flight (which has insanely long lines for the entire day if you don’t catch it in the first 10 minutes of the day).  We actually checked off the last of our list on the morning of Day 5.  However, we also went on our favorite rides over and over and over and over.

Next, we’ll talk about trip timing!

Question time:  How long was your Disneyland trip?  Were you able to see and experience everything you wanted to experience? Would you have changed your trip length?  Share in the comments so that everyone can learn from your experience!

Our Disneyland Experience: The Planning Stage – Budgeting

We have been home from our family’s first Disneyland vacation for less than a day and I am still experiencing the Disney high.  I’m completely Disney obsessed. It was AMAZING!  Truly the best vacation we have ever had.  It was everything that I had hoped it would be, and then some.

I’m VERY excited to tell you all about it!  Hopefully it will help you if you are planning a trip to Disneyland!

The Planning Stage –

Our Disneyland trip planning began about 15 years ago.  Back in married years 1 and 2, we lived in Southern California.  On our first visit as a married couple, be bought resident season passes (which were a lot more reasonably priced than they are now).  We liked to go to Disneyland just for the evening to people watch, ride a few rides and have dinner.  After observing the harried parents of young, crying children, we made the decision that our children would have to be able to walk on their own without being assisted by a stroller at any time before we would take them to Disneyland.  We figured that would mean that the youngest would be about 5. 

Our youngest turned 6 this summer, and I had been dying to take my boys to Disneyland for a couple of years.  In fact, in December of 2010, I actually started pre-planning a trip.  Of course, back then we still had my student loans and were just starting to get really good at managing our budget.  My husband convinced me to hold off on Disneyland until I paid off my student loans.  That was reason enough to become gazelle intense.

We paid off my student loans (which had a balance in January 2011 of $27,000!!) this March, a little more than a year later.  I worked my hiney off (creating adoption profiles, in my papercraft template shop, and in my cash envelopes Etsy shop) in 2011/12 to get rid of that debt, and this summer my husband suggested that we start planning our Disneyland trip!!  YAY!

One thing that was really important to us was that we be able to pay for our entire trip in cash.  Absolutely NO credit.  No getting ourselves in debt for a vacation.  No, thank you.

We already had a few hundred dollars in our vacation micro account, and our other micro accounts were either fully funded or looking pretty hefty, so we diverted all additional money directly into our vacation fund.  We also put our “debt snowball” that was leftover after the student loan payoff into the fund.  It was amazing how quickly those dollars added up.

It was important to us that we were reasonable in our budget expectations.  We needed a generous budget.

Let’s face it:  Disneyland is expensive.  Plus, this was our first BIG vacation with the kids, and we wanted to do it right.  I have a tendency to be VERY cheap to the point where I practically give myself an ulcer if my husband wants to order a soda at dinner.  Because, you know, that $2.50 (or $3.99 at Disneyland) is really going to kill me.  However, I didn’t want to have to worry about money while on the trip.  I wanted to be able to buy my kids a Mickey Mouse shaped ice cream sandwich ($4.99) without thinking about the fact that I could feed my family for a week on four of those babies.

I did not try to do the trip as cheaply as possible.

I know, I just lost most of you.  But, stick with me, here!  I did do some things right (ie. cheaply)!

This is a quick budget breakdown:

Tickets: $1125
Hotel: $369
Rental Car:  $326 (we decided to rent a car since ours are very old and unreliable)
Gas:  We budgeted $500, but spent less since our rental got MUCH better gas mileage than our old Jeep.
Food and Souvenirs:  $500 (Wahoo!  However, we came in lower!)

Total budget: $2820
We actually spent $2550, and we were VERY generous with ourselves.

I talk about ticket prices in my next post!  Our Disneyland Experience: The Planning Stage: Tickets

Question Time:  How old were your kids when you first took them to Disneyland?  Did you budget generously, or did you save money?  Did you pay cash?  Share with us in the comments so we can all learn from your experience!