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How to keep your children (and yourselves) entertained at Disneyland without spending your way to the poorhouse

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We went to Disneyland two weeks ago, each of us with one hand pushing a stroller and the other hand on our wallet. Disneyland may be the happiest place on Earth (and really, it was), but it’s also got the potential to set your credit cards aflame.

Fortunately, we found several ways to keep the kids happy that didn’t involve buying them more stuff at every turn. Not only were we concerned about our credit card balances, we had just one suitcase (because now it costs $15 just to check one bag) and couldn’t afford to bust the weight limit (because it costs an arm and a leg to check a bag weighing more than fifty pounds).

Keep cool when it gets hot. Don’t buy ice cream or frozen lemonade or those ridiculous Dippin’ Dots that taste like miniature hail stones. Find a water fountain and have a water fight. Take a few gulps while you’re at it.

Hotel room amusements. Stay out of the minibar. Instead, let your toddler pull out as many tissues from the dispenser as he can. At the Disney Grand Californian, the dispenser is situated at the perfect height. No, it’s not earth-friendly, but it costs less than a Toblerone from the minibar.

Rent strollers. I can’t say enough good things about stroller rental at Disneyland. Rent one even if you’ve got a kid who’s pushing five. Get the stroller, avoid the whining. Plus if the kid’s in the stroller, you can push it right past the shelves and shelves of Princess wares.

Buy mouse ears. I know I said this guide was about how to enjoy Disneyland without shopping ’til you drop, but trust me on the mouse ears. Let the kids pick out a funky pair, get their name stitched on the back, and they will be set for souvenirs right there. Get some for yourself too; I saw grown men all over the park sporting mouse ears without a shred of embarrassment.

Wait by the stage door for the Princesses. Speaking of the Princesses, go ahead and stand in line to meet them in person if you really need Cinderella’s autograph. But I’d recommend scooting around the corner (by all the Princess wares, natch) and waiting for the Princesses to change shifts. You can’t get autographs or photos with them, but your little Princess wanna-be can shout hello and get a royal wave in return.

More hotel room amusements. Don’t use the shampoo and body wash yourself. Pour it into the tub to create the world’s bubbliest bubble bath for the kids. They will have a ridiculously good time.

Go to the shows. The shows are free and they’re absolutely fabulous. I never thought much of amusement park shows, but there’s a big difference between a Six Flags performance and a Disneyland performance. I also didn’t expect my kids to sit still, but they were utterly spellbound.

Bring empty sippie cups. Fill them up at water fountains, which are all over the place. Milk will curdle, and kids don’t need soda anyway. Water is absolutely your best bet, and again – it’s free.

Bring your own snacks. Maybe it’s not all that kosher, but personally I hate spending big bucks on a snack for a starving child only to have her eat two bites and declare it “yucky”. If you’ve got some pretzels or raisins in your bag, you can stave off the hunger pangs until it’s actually time for a meal.

Do a little scouting before you settle on a place to eat. One thing about Disneyland that I loved even more than the stroller rental was the dining selection. Seriously! There’s standard park fare, and then there’s a wide variety of food rarely found at parks: kabobs, jambalaya, pasta, deli sandwiches, and more. Everything we ate was delicious.

Still more hotel room amusements. This one’s for us adults. The bar at the Disney Grand Californian will let you take pints of beer or glasses of wine up to your room. So yet again, stay away from the minibar. Send your husband on the run for adult beverages and enjoy a moment of peace together while your kids are in the bubble bath.

Want more Disneyland recommendations? I’ve summed them up in a couple of posts at Mother Knows Best – Part One and Part Two.

What are some of your tips for enjoying Disneyland with your family?


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  • comment avatar Rhonda April 8, 2009

    Great tips! We also brought in our own snacks to defray the cost (though we did splurge once on $4.50 Mickey Mouse ice cream sandwiches). I took along some of the Disney brand snacks so the kids felt like they were getting something Disney to snack on. If you decide to eat at the Plaza Inn restaurant, remember to take your AAA card and get 10% off. Though a little less convenient, you can save a lot by staying at a non-Disney hotel. We have stayed at several in the area and have found them to be a big savings and not a terrible disappointment to the kids. Some of them do their best to make the rooms really kid-friendly to compete with the Disney Resort hotels. Another tip is to plan out your day and figure out which rides and shows are a “must” then figure those into your schedule. Check out the Fast Pass system…a total life saver especially if you are doing Disney in one day.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson April 8, 2009

    What a great resource! My neighbors went to Disneyland last year and it set them back $10,000 for their family of six. She could have used some of your tips.

  • comment avatar Momma, The Casual Perfectionist April 8, 2009

    Great advice! We have yet to tackle a Disney Adventure, but I’ve bookmarked this for future reference! πŸ™‚

  • comment avatar No Reimer Reason April 9, 2009

    We were at Disneyland two weeks ago too. Probably walked right by you. πŸ™‚ We actually did run into a friend of a friend there a couple different times, which was way weird considering how large the place is. Must have been the week for Coloradans to visit.

  • comment avatar No Reimer Reason April 9, 2009

    We were at Disneyland two weeks ago too. Probably walked right by you. πŸ™‚ We did run into a friend of a friend there on 3 separate occasions, which is so weird considering the hugeness of the place. Must have been the week for Coloradans to visit.

  • comment avatar Beckie April 10, 2009

    thanks for the tips- we are thinking of heading there soon- when boy gets a bit older. I love Disney- went to D World about 5 or 6 times as a kid- good memories for families

  • comment avatar Rita April 23, 2009

    These are great tips. I worked at Disneyland and wouldn’t have come up with some of these great tips. My husband wants to wait until our son is old enough to remember and understand what is going on, not if I have it my way though. Also right now Disney is having a promotion, get in free on your Birthday. Someones Birthday is a great reason to go to Disneyland (make sure that you get your Birthday sticker so that everyone can tell you Happy Birthday), and a great way to save money especially if you want to get Disney done in one day. Oh and if you are staying at the Disneyland Hotel or Grand Californian take the Monorail back to your hotel from Tomorrowland. Ask to sit in the Nose or Tail cone (the nose cone is where the driver sits). Usually they will let you and what great fun for the kids from a different view. If you are not staying at one of the hotels take the Monorail anyway and stay on when you get to the Downtown Disney Station. It will ba a nice chance to sit down and enjoy the ride.