Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Disneyland Tricks & Tips

With a new baby on the way, I wanted to something really special with my big kids this past Spring Break. So I made the decision to take them on their first trip to Disneyland. Now, I grew up in southern California, so Disneyland, while fun, was more of a regular occurance than a special occasion. I've never stayed in a Disneyland resort or purchased a multi-day pass, so this was a bit new to me. I was able to go, have a phenominal time, and spend much less money than I would have expected. Here's my top Tricks & Tips; hopefully you can use some of these for your next Disney vacation!

1.) Plane Tickets.
I don't have any great advice on purchasing plane tickets, but I can share how it worked for me. I did the typical web search of the biggest travel sites, and monitored prices over a few weeks. I ultimately found plane tickets from Seattle to Long Beach for only $160 a piece through Jet Blue, whom I strongly recommend for this type of flight. We each could bring 1 checked bag FREE, and Jet Blue shows TV (and streams new movies for a small fee) in the headrest of every seat. This was excellent and kept my children, and myself, entertained during our flight!
*Tip: bring your own headphones to avoid paying like $6 per pair.

2.) Disneyland Tickets.
Again, I don't have any magic answer, but we lucked out when it came to our admission tickets. Because my husband is military, I was able to go on base prior to our trip and purchase 3-Day Park Passes for less than a standard two-day gate admission. We ended up spending one day in Downtown Disney (no admission needed), one full day in Disneyland, and a third day split between Disneyland and California Adventure.

3.) The Announcement.
My kids didn't know we were going to Disneyland. I had this fantasy that when I revealed it, they would shriek with delight just like in the commercials. I prepacked their bags and loaded them in to our car, then had Grandpa & Grandma drive us to the airport, convincing them they THEY were the ones going out of town. It wasn't until we got into the airport that I whipped out the videocamera and told my kids the news. Outcome? It went something like this: "Really? Oh cool. I've heard of that. When? Now? Oh, nice." Not quite the fairytale I had envisioned.
*Tip: Make sure your kids know what Disneyland is before you break the news. My kids LOVED EVERY MINUTE of the trip, but failed to be excited beforehand because I assumed that they grasped what the park was all about. Now I know!

4.) Backpack.
I carried a backpack into the parks in lieu of a purse. I kept my money (tucked inside), camera, sweatshirts for the evenings, sunscreen, water and snacks (hidden, but it didn't seem anyone really cared), and my kid's autograph books (see below) in this pack.

5.) Souveniers.
I made the decision about how we would handle souveniers prior to our trip. I found Disney photo albums with a notepad & pen inside (Mickey, Minnie and Disney Princess) at Walgreens on clearance for $2.50 each. I had to drive to 3 different Walgreens to find them, but it sure beat $10 for an autograph book in the park. Plus it kept us out of the gift shops early on. My kids were able to collect autographs from many of the characters that we ran into in the parks. Most of them were near the entrance on Main Street.

Also prior to our trip, I grabbed 2 rolls each of quarters and pennies from the bank. We asked an employee in the large Disney gift shop in downtown Disney for a print out of all of the Pressed Penny machines in the parks. There are TONS of machines, all with different characters, located in Downtown Disney (the gift shop and the resorts), Disneyland and California Adventure. Finding these machines and selecting ONE coin image (there is generally 3 options per machine) from each became my children's mission. No one asked me to buy souveniers, and these limited pressed coins cost only $.51 cents each! (Some of the machines take 5 quarters, totally $1.25. The map will tell you so you can bypass these if you like). I did give in and buy each of my kids a coin album to display/save their coins, which were $6 each.
*Tip: Keep a small coin purse in your backpack for each kid to hold their pennies in.

You can get free buttons in the City Hall building on Main Street. They have buttons for First Time Visitors, people celebrating their birthday, and many more. Just stop in and ask!

Finally, I traded in $40 cash for Disney Dollars ($20 per kid) that I told the kids they could spend on our LAST DAY at Disneyland, just before we left. Since that was all of the Disney money they had, they knew their price limit when they selected a souvenier, and it helped them learn about the value of money.

6.) Prioritizing.
During our first day in Disneyland, I made sure we did all of my favorite rides first. We didn't repeat any rides until the last day. We were able to do every attraction we wanted to do, and on our second day we repeated my kid's favorite ride.
*Note: Classic rides like Peter Pan, Snow White and Alice in Wonderland had enormous lines each day. Go there first if you want to ride.

7.) Download an App.
I found a free Disneyland Application in the Android Market on my smartphone that listed all of the attractions & shows in both parks, a map of the park and where the rides, restraunts and restrooms are located, and gives a real-time update on wait times for rides. This came in really handy when my son hurt himself and we needed to locate a restroom and the First Aid building.
*Tip: The wait times listed on the app are dependent on people in the park updating them. The times listed at the attraction may be more accurate.

8.) Pregnant in the Park.
It was, surprisingly, not that bad! Dress comfortably and cool, and bring some spare shoes in your backpack. I wore flip flops all 3 days and was just fine. I avoided Space Mountain, Indiana Jones, and Splash Mountain (it was actually closed) for safety. In retrospect, I should have probably also skipped Autotopia, or at least not allowed my 8-year-old to drive me! A great break is the Captain EO Michael Jackson 3-D show-- it's in an air conditioned theatre!Another tip-- bring help. My mom came on the trip with us, and my Godmother also joined us at the park.

9.) Documenting your experience.
Also prior to the trip, I got each of my kids a mini digital camera. I found them at Walgreens, also. My daughter's was actually Disney-themed, and cost $6.99, and my son's was $4.99, both on sale. I clipped the cameras to lanyards, where they also attached their buttons from City Hall. In addition to collecting autographs and pressed coins, my kids were plenty entertained taking their own photos throughout the parks. The little cameras only held about 50-100 photos each, so we had to dump them onto my laptop each morning before heading out again. My kids really enjoyed seeing the pictures they had taken (since there wasn't a screen to see the photos instantly).

10.) Safety.
Prior to the trip, I purchased white t-shirts with Disney characters printed on them at Joann Fabrics. They were on sale and cost about $5 each. I tye-died them in bright colors (two per kid), and they wore them in the parks. I always knew that I was looking for a purple shirt and an orange shirt, and never had a panic "where is my kid?" moment. The shirts also served a dual-purpose of being our "Disneyland shirts" so I avoided another gift shop purchase!

I hope these tips prove helpful to someone else.
We had a fantastic time, and I am sure you will too!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Happy May Day! Time for some good-deed doing!

I have recently found some really great money saving/Mom blogs that are specific to the Pacific NW area. Many of them are featured some neat ways to give back, so I have compiled a few of my favorites for you!

Send Your Expired Coupons to Military Overseas!
From Happy Money Saver (http://happymoneysaver.com/send-your-expired-coupons-to-military-overseas)

Did you know military families stationed overseas can use your expired coupons in their commissary’s (military grocery stores) for up to 6 months after their expiration date? YES they do! You see, unfortunately they don’t have access to a Sunday newspaper all nicely filled with coupons like we do.

So this is where you come in. Happymoneysaver readers can all come together and help help out the military while at the same time making use of our expired coupons. You can adopt a military base yourself or drop off your coupons at one of the locations of our specialists in the Pacific Northwest.

Acceptable Coupons: You can only send MANUFACTURER’S COUPONS, no store couponsDo not send coupons that are over 30 days expired

Sorting the Coupons: The coupons that you are sending need to be separated into FOOD and NON-FOOD in plastic zipcloc style bags. Label them with a pen or marker as well.

If you or your family want to adopt a military base you can do so directly. Package up your coupons into Food and Non-Food and mail them to the military base of your choice. My favorite website with bases you can adopt is Grocery Saving Tips. They seem to keep updated lists going of military bases accepting coupons. Please try not to send coupons expired past 30 days because of shipping time, sorting time and other time factors.

Purchase Coffee For a Cause
From Money Saving Mom (http://moneysavingmom.com/2011/03/five-ways-to-give-on-a-budget.html)
If you’re a coffee lover, be sure to check out OneCup.org. For every $11 in coffee you purchase, $11 will be donated to help humanitarian aid work in Africa.

In addition, Doughnut Girl Coffee provides an opportunity to get coffee and help another. Pay $9 for coffee and 100% of profits go to Salvation Army.

Read a Book. Give a Book.
From Money Saving Mom (http://moneysavingmom.com/2011/03/five-ways-to-give-on-a-budget.html)
At WeGiveBooks.org, you choose a book to read online. You then select a charity to donate a free book to a child in need.