After traveling for 12 days in Southern California, I came back with lots of thoughts on travel including tips for traveling with families and how I manage my fear of flying. Today, I’m finishing up with specific thoughts on how to save your money and your sanity at theme parks.
Saving Your Money
1. Theme parks require a lot of walking and standing. Little ones get tired and then you pay $15 to rent a stroller. Do that a few days and you realize you should have brought or bought one. If we had to do it over again, I would have bought a $20-$30 stroller once we got to California and then either hauled it home or left it at our rental house for future families in need of one.
2. Each a big breakfast at the house or hotel and bring lots of snacks for the kids. We brought in packed sandwiches and snacks so they could eat all day and then the adults purchased lunch. You might also bring a water bottle for each family member and then just fill them up at drinking fountains during the day. Water at the parks are about $3 per bottle. On a hot day, that really adds up.
3. Buy souvenirs before you go. On each trip to a Disney park, I’ve brought themed t-shirts, princess dresses and a few other goodies like signature books for the kids to take in with them. It’s cheaper and the kids know ahead of time that we won’t be buying anything else.
4. The Bibbity Bobbity Boutique at Disneyland is pretty awesome. It was a gift from grandma for us to go there and my kids loved it. The Knight Package for boys is a pretty good deal because they also get a sword and shield, both of which my son still plays with. If you really want your daughter to have the experience but save a few bucks, dress her in a princess dress from home and sign her up for the Coach Package.
5. Parking is $12-$15 per day so if you travel in a group, consolidate into as few cars as possible. Many of the hotels near theme parks have a free shuttle so you might consider this when booking your hotel.
6. SeaWorld offers premium parking for $20 ($15 general parking) which allows you to park very close to the entrance. If you want to bring a cooler of food to feed the family lunch, it might be worth the extra $5 parking fee to save $50 on your lunch bill.
7. Disneyland does not offer any discounts for a 1 day pass but you can find some good deals on Legoland and SeaWorld if you buy in advance, online. Plus you can skip some of the lines and go straight to the turnstiles. In fact, you can purchase multi-day passes for both Legoland and SeaWorld for the cost of a one-day ticket. We ended up skipping the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park because the SeaWorld Fun Card gave us entry all year for the cost of a one-day ticket. Also, if you have a AAA card, that gives you a few more dollars off.
Saving Your Sanity
1. If you call crowded, noisy places with long lines a vacation, then theme parks for perfect for you. We only go because the kids love them but honestly, it’s our expectations that allow us to still enjoy the trip. We know that daddy won’t get to ride every roller coaster, that ice cream can cure just about anything and seeing the same parade two times in one day makes our kids smile.
2. When you get to the park, go straight to the back. It’s our nature to get caught up in all the experiences right inside the front gates but come back to those later, they will be waiting for you. The lines are shorter in the morning at the back of the park and remember to grab Disney Fastpasses as often as the system will let you.
3. Mix up shows and rides. All the theme parks have engaging shows and it’s nice to sit down for a 20 minute show after standing in ride lines. We would also take that time to snack, rehydrate and plan the next part of our day. Try to arrive 20-30 minutes early for all shows to get good seats. When you are at Disneyland, don’t miss the afternoon and evening parades, they are really fun!
4. Download the theme park maps on our phone before your trip. They require Wi-fi because they are so large. You will likely have your phone at the theme park and this will save you from fumbling with a bunch of paper maps.
5. Plan down days. If you are going more than one or two days, plan a down day in between. On our down days, we played at the beach and toured a military aircraft.
6. Skip sugary drinks. We learned this the hard way after an unfortunate encounter with an ICEE and a long ride line. Do not follow in our footsteps.
7. Be prepared to get wet. There are lots of rides and shows at both LegoLand and SeaWorld that will get you wet so sit higher in the stadium or bring clothing that dries quickly for rides. Also, you can’t wear just a swimsuit on the rides so make sure to wear something over it.
8. What to bring in a day bag: camera, extra undies and shorts for little ones that might have an accident (it happened to both of our kids), hats/sunglasses, sunscreen, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, water bottles, and snacks. I packed all of my stuff in a reusable shopping tote because it dries quickly.