It is no secret that we are big Disneyland fans in my family! I celebrated my 10th, 30th, and 40th birthdays there!!! I love it that Disneyland and I share milestone events. This year, I turned 40 and Disneyland is turning 60!
When I turned 10, Disneyland was having a special promotion where certain guests were awarded prizes as they came through the gate. I won a lifetime pass! (You can see me holding it in the above photo) My parents confiscated it so that I wouldn't lose it. Instead, they ended up losing it. I never even got to use it. But it was still an exciting day and a fun memory.
Disneyland is definitely my happy place. One of the items on my bucket list is to be able to stay in the Adventureland Fantasy Suite at the Disneyland Hotel. Of course, getting to stay in the Disneyland Dream Suite wouldn't be too shabby either!!! Maybe for my 50th birthday. Until then, here are some of my favorite tips for an affordable and fun Disneyland visit.
If you have a smartphone, makes sure and purchase the Touring Plans app. This has definitely changed how I visit Disneyland. You can see real-time updates on lines and it can help you decide which rides to go on and which ones to get FastPasses for.
We love staying in official Disney hotels but they are pricey. You do get perks! By staying in a Disneyland hotel, you get the extra Magic Hour Early Admission on select days. This can be purchased in addition to a regular ticket by non-hotel guests but not for California Adventure. You can also take advantage of Pinocchio's Workshop for childcare as a guest of a Disneyland Hotel. This is a great option for families with kids ages 5-12 that allows grownups to have a night out on their own during their visit. And, of course, you receive all the outstanding Disneyland customer service and concierge service that comes with staying in an official hotel.
As much as we love those perks, we would rather save a few hundred dollars on a cheaper hotel that we could spend within the park. Our very favorite place to stay is the Best Western Park Place Inn and Suites. The rooms have a mini-fridge and microwave and a light buffet breakfast is included right next door. For four nights, we paid $501 including parking. Parking is currently $10 per night. We park our car and leave it there the whole visit. Why? Because this is absolutely the closest hotel to Disneyland INCLUDING the Disneyland Resort hotels. You cross the street and enter the main gate. It is fantastic!!! Especially when you are tired at the end of the day. No messing with shuttles or waiting to get your car out of a crowded lot. Since we don't really spend much time in our hotel beyond sleeping, this hotel is a perfect fit for us. The property also has a pool in case you need a break from the park.
Since we save money on the hotel and breakfast, I like to splurge on a few nice meals during our visit. Everyone must eat at Blue Bayou at least once. You cannot beat the ambience. I am not a fan of the food. however. Very expensive for what it is. So, if you have already had your Blue Bayou experience, I suggest making a reservation at Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue. It is one of our family's favorites!!! It really feels like you have gotten away from the park when you eat here. The outdoor location is lovely and quiet and there is a petting zoo right next door. The fixed price menu is simple. It is table service and includes all you can eat barbecue chicken and ribs, ranch beans, coleslaw and cornbread. Desserts are extra. We love the family-style eating arrangement and casual atmostphere. **2016 UPDATE---Big Thunder Ranch BBQ has been permanently closed for the Star Wars expansion.**
Another favorite splurge is Carthay Circle in California Adventure. The perfect place for a grownup meal. We always get the World of Color Dining package here which gives us preferred viewing for the show. The dining experience really feels sophisticated and the service is excellent. Reservations highly recommended.
We did the character dining experience at Ariel's Grotto one time. You are definitely paying for the characters with this one. If your child is a fan of the Disney princesses, this is the meal you should book. However, I was disappointed with the food and atmosphere. One time was enough for us. We also made a reservation for the Goofy's Kitchen character breakfast at the Disneyland Hotel. Again, very pricey. You are paying for the character experience. I liked the variety in the buffet. Definitely something for everyone. And my son was excited to see so many characters come by.
For a special snack, I like stopping by the Mint Julep Bar in Disneyland for beignets. They are Mickey-shaped and make a fun (yet sugary) treat. Stay away from the Mint Juleps as they taste a bit like cough syrup. Another nice break spot is the Wine County Trattoria in California Adventure. We found you can get a great view of the Pixar Parade from the terrace. Plus, the grownups can have a glass of wine.
For another high-end experience, leave the park and head for Napa Rose in the Grand Californian. Everything is absolutely delicious. I had my engagement dinner here!!!
Part Two will cover some of my favorite attractions and souvenirs!