Booking your trip to Disneyland

disneyland_castle
So you are going to Disneyland! WOO!

Now you have to decide where to stay, where to get your tickets, whether to drive or fly, how long to stay… It can be a bit overwhelming. Start looking at hotels and flights as soon as 9 months before so you have time to compare and book when prices are lowest. If it’s an impromptu trip, there are many hotels and flights, so don’t stress too much. You’ll get there. These tips are not dependant on being Canadian! 

DRIVE OR FLY:

This is a great question. Ask one of the four of us and you’ll probably get a different answer. But we would all start with these questions for you: How many days would you like to travel? Do you have a lot of time? How much money do you want to save?
We’ve done it both ways. Flying is obviously the best for being able to spend more time IN California. Driving is best if you want to save money on flights, particularly if you have more than a couple of people to book flights for (I have 5!). If you have the time, one thing I have come to love about driving is that you have a couple days to distance yourself from regular life. While in your head you might be already picturing the scene of “are we there yet?” and meltdowns, I promise, your kids can do it and if you set yourselves up right, this will be part of the fun.

Ultimately it comes down to how much time we have off. Having a car while down there is really convenient when it comes to buying food rather than relying constantly on fast food and restaurants. However, driving does take extra time, so if we only have a week off, we fly. The minimum amount of time that I would go to Anaheim (Disneyland) for is six days, including travel days. I would then do a three day pass. Seven days, four day pass. Eight days plus, five day pass. If you are driving, same rules apply, just tack on however many driving days you’ll take.

FLYING:

Some tips for booking flights:
  • If you are in Canada, we have found that it’s best to book in Canadian so there are no surprises.
  • Check all of the surrounding airports. If you are in the Vancouver area like us, we have found at different times of the year it can be completely different prices at Vancouver, Abbotsford, Bellingham and Seattle. It can be totally worth it to drive to Seattle some times, and others not.
  • When you are searching for flights, use an INCOGNITO window… this allows you to search without the websites marking that you are looking and jacking up the price. I promise, this works!
  • Check Expedia as well as other travel apps and websites. Don’t panic… take your time to compare. Start looking as far as a year in advance. Don’t be afraid to book when you see a good deal, (hotel around $120 per night is now a steal) just make sure that you can cancel it.
  • Book flights and hotels together. Sometimes you can save money by bundling your hotel and flight. On the other hand, sometimes you can book super cheap flights, and then call the hotel directly and they will beat any price you see online. Google.ca/flights is a great resource. You can quickly see which airport is the cheapest, and see the day before and after prices to know whether or not leaving a day or two earlier or staying later would save money.
  • If you, like me, live in a small town or anything off the beaten path, you’ll know flights aren’t cheap. But there are some websites that do cater to this, like cheapflights.ca . Also, know that sometimes the cheapest option may be to drive to the nearest major city and then fly like we have sometimes done from Northwest BC to Vancouver. On my own upcoming trip we found it cheapest (and easiest) to break up our flights, so we leave our hometown on one day and then fly to California the next (leaving the airport to stay with someone, but even if we had booked a hotel for the night it was still cheaper than doing this trip in one day! I know, crazy right?).

DRIVING:

  • From the Vancouver area, you can drive in 3 days (easy driving, only about 7 hours a day) or 2 days (11 and a half hour drive both days). We will often drive 3 days down to relax, and 2 days home since the kids are super tired.
  • Since you will basically only be sleeping, go for cheaper hotels. We often will stay at Econo Lodge’s or even Motel 6’s. A lot of them have been updated #cheapandcheerful. My Husband travels for work so we find this a great time to use some of his points to book hotels.
  • Make sure, if you are going in the summer months, that there’s an outdoor pool. We aim to get into the hotel between 4-6. That gives the kids (and the driver) a chance to reset and get all that energy out.
  • Book refundable hotels just in case. Sometimes it’s slightly more, but we’ve found for peace of mind it makes a big difference. A lot of hotels will allow you to cancel up to 24 hours before. I am a planner, so I have been known to book something right away for peace of mind, and then compare until we leave. On travel days, if there isn’t a breakfast, we bake sweet buns or muffins, buy fruit at Walmart or the like, and pack a kettle for oatmeal and fresh pressed coffee… all of this will save your family a ton. See our post coming up later this week for a complete checklist of items to pack.
  • Don’t shy away from driving if you have young children. We recently drove with our two year old and 3 month old, and just loved it. We came prepared with things to entertain our two year old, and drove long stretches during nap time. For example, after lunch, once a half hour had passed, both boys would be asleep. They would then stay asleep for about two hours. We then found that we could drive for anywhere from a half hour more, to an hour more before they needed a break from the car (bladder willing). Just like that, half of the driving for the day was done. This isn’t even including the driving in the morning (we left the hotel around 8-9 am).

HOTELS:

map of hotels
Red dots/lines are areas we recommend. Yellow are a little further but still within walking distance.
Truth be told, we have never had the opportunity to stay in a Disneyland hotel. But never fear! Everything in Disneyland is so central that staying in a neighborhood hotel is a great way to save some major money. There are a LOT of hotels within walking distance. Like, A LOT.
One thing to consider when picking a hotel is how far you want to walk in relation to the park. After walking 25,000 steps, and carrying toddlers (lets face it, what toddler actually wants to be in the stroller when mom or dad will carry them), we have found it needs to be no more than a 15 minute walk from the door step of our hotel to the front gates. Location-wise, anything on S Harbor between W Manchester Ave and W Katella Ave. If you don’t have a stroller and are going with just adults/teenagers, a longer walk back to the hotel is doable. If you are carrying your life’s worth of stuff in a stroller, then we know the effort it took to pack that sucker up. You’re not going to want to unload and reload getting on and off the tram (or shuttle) to start and end your day. If you pick a hotel or Airbnb and drive to the park, you still have to take the tram to and from the parkade. Buena Park, for instance, is a 15 minute drive away but is $30 less a night. However, then you have to factor in the cost of parking at the Parks, which is $20 a day. Recently hotels in close proximity to Disney have added a parking fee. This is to discourage Park guests from using hotel parking lots to park for free. We are driving this year so we really noticed that extra fee. It’s about $12-$15 per day.

Things to look for in a hotel:

  • Good reviews (we had a TERRIBLE hotel experience one year, and have learned from this mistake).
  • Good continental breakfast (waffles, juice and milk, cereal, oatmeal, toast minimum). Sometimes if the excitement is too much and they don’t eat enough breakfast, we will make a PB&J sandwich for them for the walk or when they are STARVING at 8:15am. (We pack peanut butter because it’s a quick source of protein and a lot of hotels don’t carry it).
  • Nice pool (doesn’t need to be huge, but we find we like ones with the pool in the sun most of the day).
  • Within 15 min walk of the front gates. Proximity is KEY. You can find a wide range ($-$$$$) of hotels that are within walking distance.

Some pointers when booking hotels:

  • mention anything you think will save you money… AAA or BCAA, military, Canadian, airmiles, aeromiles, Wyndham rewards, expedia rewards, all of it. Check ALL of the apps and sites, and then call and tell them the best rate you were offered and see if they will beat it. Every time we have called they have either matched or beat the best price I could find online.
  • If you have little kids or babies, we like to ask for a ground level room. This way, the stroller is already packed and ready to go and you just have to top up snacks, etc… and your littles can climb in and not have to get out for stairs etc. Don’t forget to ask for a crib (no need to pack a play pen). Make sure to book it ahead of time.
  • If you have a car, check to see if it’s free to park at your hotel. We are increasingly finding that there is a parking fee per day at the hotels. Sometimes the fee has been waved (here’s looking at you Best Western Plus Stovall’s!), other times we’ve been told that it isn’t an option.

Specific Hotels:

Here are the ones we recommend:

Economy

Kings Inn AnaheimThis is about a ten minute walk. It has been recently renovated, and has your basic continental breakfast.

breakfast at super 8 first day

Quality Inn & Suites at the Parkdscn3687

This is a ten minute walk, but it was through Downtown Disney. As of July 2018, Downtown Disney is going through a renovation, forcing hotel guests to walk the long way around to the East entrance. There may be a shuttle to the bus loop, but I have yet to confirm this. I really like the breakfast, which has the waffles as well as breakfast sausage and scrambled eggs. It also has a hot tub, which was perfect for relaxing in after the parks and watching the fireworks. The rooms are a bigger than the other Quality Inn.

Moderate $$

Best Western Plus Stovall’s– This has been my favorite hotel to date. The breakfast was insane. There was scrambled eggs with or without chorizo, hashbrowns, waffles/french toast/pancakes, and sausage/bacon as well as your typical continental breakfast of oatmeal, yogurt (so many toppings), toast/bagels/donuts, and coffee. The pool area was unreal. I would highly recommend this hotel for large groups and families. There were multiple cabanas, two large pools, two hot tubs and a kiddie pool! It had a small gym by the pool, and microwaves and fridges in the room. The beds were super comfy too.

La Quinta Inn and Suites Anaheim – I have a mixed revue for this hotel. The rooms were great. The standard room has a queen bed and a pull out couch. For our family of 4 this worked great. During the day we could put the bed up so the kids had room to play. There is also a partition that you can have open or closed. We loved having a bit of separation at night so I could move around the room without disturbing the kids (ever felt like a prisoner in your hotel room?). The breakfast was really amazing with lots of options. The negative for this hotel is that it is rather far. About a 15-20 minute walk which was a challenge without a stroller. My kids were exhausted walking back at night and this walk felt loooooong. The pool was nice, they even have a hot tub but it is completely covered and gets no sun at all. Which may be a plus for some of you! Another perk is that it’s close to the Garden Walk which has lots of restaurant options.

Superior $$$

Howard Johnson – This hotel is a close walk (five minutes) and has an awesome water park, which is amazing for the littles. The con for this one is that it is on the expensive side and doesn’t have breakfast included. It is really close to McDonald’s which is an option for breakfast.

Fairfield Inn – This is another great option that is right across the street from the parks. They have amazing Disney themed rooms and a beautiful pool. Breakfast is not included, but they do have a cafe with a pizza hut right in the hotel and a Panera Bread just off the property.

Camelot Inn-This hotel has family suites as well as normal rooms. Spacious rooms, rooftop pool and hot tub which you can see the fireworks from at night. This hotel is 5 mins or less from the parks.

Ultimate Experience $$$$

Paradise Pier Hotel,Disneyland Hotel,Grand CalifornianIf you’re willing to pay, these hotels provide mega perks. Early morning magic hour (this means you get to hit the parks an hour earlier than opening), special park entrances (in the grand californian, hotel guests can enter right into california adventure) and as close as you can get to the parks. If you have the opportunity to stay in a Disney Resort Hotel, you will find no end to the magic. You can even have Mickey Mouse do your morning wake-up call. We personally have not stayed in the disney hotels in california because we like to have quantity over quality, but it is on our bucket list!

If you are booking a hotel without breakfast, check if the hotel has a fridge and a microwave. There are grocery stores that will deliver your order right to the hotel so you can stock up on snacks and quick grab foods. Vons delivers in the area. The Zipcode for the area is 92805.

TICKETS:

Kids 2 and under are FREE!!!!! We did the most of our trips while our kids were 2 and under because of this. Makes a HUGE difference!
  • Airmiles: We love to use Airmiles for free tickets! It makes the trip so so affordable. We have often at least got one adult and one kid free every other year. In order to do that, collect them as much as possible. Whenever buying something online, buy through airmileshops.ca.
  • BCAA or AAA: we bought our tickets through BCAA last year, and we called and they gave us an absolutely amazing exchange rate, and it was the cheapest price we could find.
  • aRes Travel: another legit site to buy through, often will save you a few bucks.
  • if you ‘re going to do more than just Disney, Costco and other places have the California City Pass where you get 3 Disney days, plus Lego land and Seaworld for a discount. Click here to check it out on costco.ca
  • We find that you need a minimum of 3 days to really make it worth it. We prefer 5, but 4 can certainly be done.
20180620_115336

Pros and Cons of Park Hopper Tickets:

The other thing is whether to upgrade your tickets to park hopper tickets. A park hopper is $50 more whether you buy a three day or a five day pass, so if you’re looking to save money, it’s definitely something to consider.

We have done both… with little kids, it’s pretty tiring to schlep kids from one park to the other. During our recent trip in September, we had park hoppers and did not use them. Not once. However, there was also Mickey’s Not-so-scary Halloween party on during the time, so two of our nights Disneyland was closed at 6 pm, which is when we would’ve hopped back over there from DCA.
We like to do the first whole day in Disneyland, and then the whole second day in California Adventure. If it closes early then we sometimes go back to Disneyland that night. It’s definitely nice to have the flexibility to go back and forth, but you have to decide what’s right for your family.
Thanks for hanging in there. We know it was a lot of content, but hopefully you are more confident about booking your trip!
Update: Since writing this, I have become a Travel Agent specializing in Disney and Universal! If you’d like me to do all of this leg work for you for FREE (free quote and NO booking fee) click here.
Check back soon for our next post! Have a magical day,
Elisia, Heidi, Danielle and Erica
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