Friday, January 22, 2010

Disneyland on the Cheap - by guest blogger Laura Terbrack

One mother bravely decides to take her family to Disneyland during the busiest time of the year – while saving money and time.

You have got to read this story…
The love of a child is an amazing thing. It can inspire you to be a better person, take on a fight you never imagined, or talk yourself into going to Disneyland during Christmas week. Yes folks, you read that part right. Disneyland during Christmas week – what was I thinking?!?! Now that it's over, I can look back on the experience and smile for two reasons. The most important reason is that my children were very happy. The second most important reason was that I spent the day at Disneyland for almost no money out of my pocket. Yes, you read that part right too! Let me explain…

Months ago my husband and I decided we would take the family from Detroit to California over the Christmas break to visit his sister's family. She lives in the Anaheim area, so their house is in the perfect location for visiting everything in Southern California. My first goal was to score four airplane tickets for a decent price. If you have been watching the travel industry, you know that airline ticket prices were crazy for a while. With no free vouchers or rewards miles left, I was concerned that I'd end up paying $2000 for everyone. I used a nifty tool called SideStep to track prices for me and it would email me price changes. Using this tool, I managed to get the tickets for $306 per person, including taxes, etc. With that major expense out of the way, I turned my attention to Disneyland.

The Chase Disney Visa Card – My new love!
A few years ago I got a Chase Disney Visa card, knowing that I would eventually take my children to Disneyworld in Orlando, FL. The basic premise of the card is like most other reward programs. For every $100 you spend on the card, you receive $1 in Disney Reward Dollars. You can use these dollars for just about anything Disney related, including park tickets, merchandise at Disney stores or at, hotel stays at Disney resorts, etc. I had planned on just accumulating these reward dollars until we eventually visit Orlando (probably in 2011), but then I started researching the price of Disneyland tickets. A one day ticket, without the park hopper option for California Adventure, is $72 for adults and $62 for children age 3-9. My first reaction was OUCH because I wanted to buy tickets for my sister-in-law's family too since they let us stay with them for free. PLUS another brother-in-law made the trip with us, so I felt I should buy his ticket too. That left me looking at approximately $600 just in ticket fees. After getting over the nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach, I looked at my rewards balance and saw enough in there to cover all the tickets plus some to spare. I decided that this would be a good use for the dollars and redeemed my Disney Rewards Card. I got a little extra on the redemption and was able to cover most of our food expenses for the day. I would have walked out of Disneyland without spending any actual money, but my husband disappeared and came back with mouse ears for everyone…MEN!

The 411 on Disneyland at peak season.
If you are adventurous enough to visit Disneyland during the peak or holiday seasons, let me give you a few tips. The most important thing that you can do is arrive early. We got there on the Tuesday between Christmas and New Year's when the gates opened at 8:00 AM. Since we were buying one day, one park tickets, you can only get them at the gate or via phone. We went with the gate option and that early in the day had no problem. The same cannot be said for families that arrived after 3:30 PM that day, since they stopped selling tickets at the gate due to park capacity. Rumor has it that the capacity of Disneyland is 85,000 people, but no one was willing to confirm that for me.

Fast Pass your way to success.
The next important thing you can do after arriving early is to determine which rides are the most important for you to visit. With crowds the size we saw, you will never be able to get on all the rides in one day, but there are ways to maximize your riding chances. The best way to do that is to use the Fast Pass system. You can go to a ride, such as Splash Mountain, and get tickets to ride the attraction later in the day. The system tells you the time block when your ticket will be good and then you can come back later during the time block and pretty much go to the front of the line. We did that with the Indiana Jones ride and the Autopia ride. We had planned on using the system for Space Mountain, but we went over around Noon to get the Fast Pass tickets and the next available riding time block was for 9:30 PM that evening (which would have interfered with the fireworks we wanted to see). On further inspection, we realized that the actual line for Space Mountain was pretty short and just waited in that instead for about 45 minutes. Considering the crowds, we were able to visit 12 attractions, see the Christmas Parade, eat lunch and dinner, and view the Christmas Fireworks in a 13 hour time frame.

Don't leave me this way.
My final tip for everyone is to NOT leave the park when the fireworks are over. If you are lined up on Main Street, you are in for quite a sight when ½ of the people on that street head straight for the exit when the firework show is over. Save yourself the grief of waiting for the trams with everyone else and head back into the park. We got in line for the Jungle Cruise and enjoyed seeing the attraction at night while many other people were grumbling and trying to get back to the parking lots. When we finally decided to leave, the line for the tram was reasonably short and we only waited about 10 minutes to board one for the parking lot.

I would be lying if I said that the entire day great. There were moments of great stress and annoyance due to the crowds, but the scene of my children sleeping in their mouse ears that night made me smile. Ah, the love of a child…

Laura Terbrack is a wife, mother of two and a self-professed tech goddess. In addition to her busy job as an IT professional, Laura is starting her own blog called "Laura in the Motor City". Follow her on Twitter at @lterbrack.


  1. I went to Disney in high school on Christmas Day and the Magic Kingdom was SOLD OUT! We got in--but that's crazy!

    That's awesome you did it! Kudos

  2. Thanks! It was some work, but definitely worth the effort. :-)