Um? NO! Before I start, I'd better forewarn you that while it's definitely possible to save money at Disneyland, it will never be cheap to visit this magical land of mouse and men! Take it from an 11-year So. Cal. resident who's been to Disneyland more times than I can count: If there's a discount I'm on top of it, but it still costs a pretty penny to visit.
However, the sheer happiness of being inside those park gates (I actually wiped a tear from my eye as I passed through the turnstile), and the sudden rush of adrenaline as you scurry though the rides with childlike wonderment is priceless in my book! And, as my mother often says - sometimes you just have to throw a little money at it!
If you're planning a Southern California adventure, here is a condensed list of my favorite ways to stretch your dollar:
THE MONTH: Southern California residents and I know a secret you don't. Honestly, it worries me a little to tell you all, but here it is: December is the absolute BEST time to go to Disneyland. In fact, the first three weeks after Thanksgiving equals Mickey Mouse Gold Standard Time. Statistically speaking, these three weeks have the recorded lowest numbers of visitors of the entire year. And, the best day of the week for the lowest visitors? Tuesday followed by Wednesday. What are you waiting for? Stop reading this and run out the door right now, I say!
My visit Dec. 1-2 (a Tues. and Wed.) landed my family and I literally first in line for multiple rides with no wait time, and at the most a 5-10 minute wait for any other ride in the park.
And don't forget the weather. The temperature in California this time of year is not too hot and not too cold. And the entire park was enrobed in Christmas decor.
Now, you ask, if some people already know this secret, why isn't it as busy as any other time of year? It's simply difficult for most people to take a vacation during these three weeks. I prescheduled the vacation time, and we took a page from our sister-in-law and told the kids this trip was their main Christmas present, to which they all replied, “YAY!!!!!”
THE CAR: First and foremost, take the smallest vehicle with the best gas mileage possible. Choosing a smaller vehicle also ensures you'll pack lighter and have less to lug around. If you forget something, there is a Target about three blocks from Disneyland (and you know how much I love Target!). Next, use your GPS or borrow a neighbor's like we did to map out your trip for the shortest route possible and use a Web site like gasbuddy.com to determine the cheapest filling stations to fuel up.
Pack lots of snacks and bottled drinks to reduce stop time and convenience store purchases where extras cost twice as much as a local grocer. Don't forget to include boredom prevention devices like portable DVD players (with plug-in chargers), coloring books and crayons, books on CD and handheld games.
THE HOTEL: Finding the perfect hotel isn't always easy. There are several Web sites that will try to do the work for you like getawaytoday.com, which bundles multi-day park tickets and hotels together at great savings, but there are still several questions you should ask before you book your room.
Most hotels charge additional fees for parking and Disneyland shuttles, so make sure to ask if these amenities are included and figure these costs into your final decisions. They also advertise the walking distance to Disney's Main Gate. You need to realize that each block is an additional 7-10 minutes walking time.
And these features are a must: FREE Continental breakfast/breakfast buffet and a mini fridge for extra food storage. Consider how much it will save you in breakfast costs alone to feed your entire family! Our hotel, The Candy Cane Inn, was fabulous! It's 100 percent nonsmoking (smoke gives the hubby migraines), 250 yards from the Main Gate, super family friendly with all the amenities, pillow-top Serta mattresses, plus a coin-op laundry room (pack your own soap and dryer sheets) and the only hotel with a FREE shuttle!
Though the rooms were a little smaller, when I factored in all the extras, the price was a deal in my book at a cost identical to surrounding hotels. And when I checked out, they gave me a certificate for $10 off per night the next time I book with them.
Also, if you are considering stopping halfway in Mesquite or Las Vegas, you should know all hotels in these areas charge an additional Hotel Use Fee which ranges from 12-60 percent of the actual room costs. A hotel may advertise $29 rooms, but the additional $14 Room Tax puts you well over $45 when all is said and done. Ask up front about any fees.
For more information on how to make the most of your money on your next Disneyland vacation, watch next week for Part 2 of Disneyland on a Dime. For more ideas on how to save time and money each week visit www.savvyshopperdeals.com, Utah's #1 source for savings.