Monday, September 17, 2012

Saving-for-Disneyland Battle Plan

We are one month out from a long family vacation at Disneyland.  We know that certain items (everything from a cup of coffee to a souvenir t-shirt) are ridiculously expensive. Rather than deny ourselves the thrill of purchasing, say, a new Star Tours tee or Jack Skellington wallet, we learn where and how to cut corners.

I've already talked about to save money by cutting costs at home and how to make a trip to Disneyland a learning opportunity. Now I'll be laying out a battle plan to save money while on vacation.

1. Book a hotel/motel with a fridge.

Having a hotel with a fridge is super helpful. You can:

a) save that unfinished turkey leg you thought you could finish.
b) store water bottles, juice boxes from home, and snacks
c) store pre-prepared meals

Amount saved: Varies. Imagine all the extra meals and drinks you won't have to purchase.

2. Bring food/drinks with you (or purchase them in Anaheim)

Pack a cooler with high-protein snacks, healthy beverages, and pre-prepared meals. If you do not have room in your car for a cooler, run down to a nearby grocery store and buy sanely-priced food and drinks. Having food and drinks on hand will save you from buying overpriced selections in the park and nearby gas stations.

Plan ahead and buy these items at home using coupons or by visiting a discount store.

Amount saved: Water bottles in the park =$4 (multiply that by members in your party AND days at the park. Difference between an expensive meal ($25 to $8 or $10) adds up.

3. Bring food and drinks into the park.

Yes, you CAN bring food and drinks into the park, as long as you're not hording in giant picnic baskets. Water bottles and some snacks are reasonable items to bring into the park.

What You Should Bring:

  • water bottles (duh). With all that walking, you're bound to get dehydrated if you don't have water. Disneyland has water fountains all over the park for refilling.

  • healthy snacks. Fruit snacks made up of 99% high fructose corn syrup won't cut it. You need simple, healthy snacks that will keep hunger at bay and energy levels up. Good choices include: dried fruit, grapes, apples, oranges, string cheese, beef jerky, trail mix, seeds, or pretzels.  Snack on these while you're waiting in line, even if you're not hungry. By the time you are ready for a meal, you won't feel the desperate need to blow all your money on an overpriced burger only because it looks good or no other options are nearby NOW.
4. Bring your comfiest shoes.

How on earth does this save you money? Disneyland's First Aid station's biggest service is helping people who a) are dehydrated and b) who have sores on their feet.

Once you get a blister, it's dreadful to continue walking. Hobbling around the park means fewer rides for you, which equals well-earned money down the drain.

Wear comfortable shoes, and you'll outwalk the rest.

Saved: the aggravation of blisters, bandages, and missed opportunities.

5. Bring your own coffee maker/toaster/other needed appliance.

Some people don't think of this one. Many hotels charge guests for coffee pot use. Daily cups of joe at Denny's in the morning add up quickly. If you are someone who needs coffee in order to function, bring your own coffee pot, coffee, sugar, creamer, and cups and spoons.

Bring any other appliance that would help you make food in your hotel. Toast or Pop-Tarts in the morning is a nice way to eat something light before heading into the park.

Amount saved: daily cup of joe at Denny's = $2 (times family members and days in park)

6. Bring prepared meals to your hotel.

Make your family's favorite meal (or something they would actually want to eat) that would travel well. When we went to Disneyland for the half-marathon, we brought tupperware containers FULL of pasta. That tasty and high-protein/carb meal kept us full when we returned midday to our room and went back to the park.

You can make and bring: any variation of pasta (spaghetti, lasagna, etc.), macaroni and cheese, a casserole, a stew, burrito fillings, etc. Bring loaves of french bread or tortillas, too.

7. Return to your room midday.

There are many people who just "don't believe" in doing this. We've found that returning to your room midday:

a) restores your energy
b) allows you to refuel with food/drinks from home, thereby cutting costs
c) helps you avoid the most crowded time of day in Disneyland
d) gets you out of the sun when it's the most draining
e) helps you assess your money and come up with a new game plan for tackling the park
f) allows you to peruse the park map and see what you missed

We often return to eat lunch, take a quick nap, change clothes, swim in the pool, sit in the hot tub, zone out on TV to shut our brains off for a second, and rub each other's tired feet.  We usually come up with a new game plan for returning to the park. After an hour of recharging, it feels wonderful to burst back into the park, refreshed and remotivated.

If you book a hotel far away, you could always rest in the park. Find a quiet corner to sit and eat, watch a show like Aladdin or Great Moments with Lincoln. One time a friend and I stayed in the park, splurged on a coffee and sat for an hour, talking, on a quiet side street off Main Street.

8. When eating in the park, choose filling meals and/or share meals with family members.

If you want to eat in the park, pick something hearty that will keep you full for hours. The clam chowder bread bowls at the Pacific Wharf in Disney California Adventures are mightily filling and can be split between two people.

The Plaza Inn on Main Street serves big helpings of fried chicken and mashed potatoes that will keep you satisfied.

Rancho Del Zocalo in Frontierland serves big portions of delicious Mexican food that can be easily shared between two people.

If you're far off from a vacation at Disneyland, you could set up a savings game with your family. The Blue Bayou is an expensive but unforgettable sit-down restaurant inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. One year, we made a goal to eat there only using spare change. (No, we did not bring a sack of quarters to the restaurant!) For a whole year, we saved spare change in a jar and called it the Blue Bayou fund. Just prior to going to Disneyland, we cashed in our change, which totaled $127. With that we dined at Blue Bayou ( a $30/plate establishment) completely guilt-free.

This is our usual battle plan for saving cash at Disneyland. Saved money can be spent, without guilt, on treasure souvenirs. Are there any other tips you can think of for saving money at Disneyland? I would love to hear more!

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