In preparation for our latest trip to Disneyland I read just about every article I could find. I found so many great tips, but almost all of them talked about how to save every single penny. While we wanted an affordable trip, we also wanted to find a couple of items on which to splurge. I talked to family members and past cast members and found some amazing things to spend our money on and make the magic go farther. There are also places that we worked to save every penny.
Here is my list of where to SPLURGE and where to SAVE while you are at Disneyland.
Where to Splurge
This was one of our favorite things we splurged on our latest trip. A fairy godmother does your little girl's hair in one of four styles. Each style has a special extra that goes with it. My little girl chose the bun style which came with a rhinestone tiara and a sparkly Mickey Mouse hair clip. After they are finished with their hair they apply a small amount of makeup, a rhinestone gem on the girl's face and glitter nail polish. Each girl is given a sash to wear and then there is a big reveal moment where they show the little girl what they look like in the mirror. At the end of the appointment they give your little girl everything they used — the brush, comb, makeup pallet, bottle of nail polish and leftover gems, all in a cute drawstring backpack for them to carry around.
The price starts at about $60 and goes up from there, but with everything you get and how much fun our daughter had I would do it again for sure. The boutique fills up very quickly so make sure to make a reservation before you go.
I am not sure that my husband and I would have ever decided to do a character dining experience, but my parents really wanted to. We ate at Ariel's Grotto in California Adventure. The food was absolutely delicious and we were able to eat outside, right on the water. The girls were given crowns and stickers to decorate with while we waited for our food. Then the princesses came around right to our table.
I loved that there was no rush for the princesses to leave. They took their time with each table and we were able to get autographs, pictures and chat with each one. In the time we were there, we saw five princesses: Cinderella, Rapunzel, Tiana, Belle and Ariel. I felt like the service was spectacular. We ordered spaghetti for our six-year-old daughter, and I forgot to ask if there was going to be cheese on it. When they brought her the plate it was covered with cheese. When she looked visibly disappointed with her food, the waiter asked the problem and immediately brought her another plate without cheese. I loved that they went out of their way to make her experience a good one. I have to say my favorite part was the dessert plates: each person got a small assortment of desserts and they were all so good.
When we are in Disneyland, we let each person pick one treat to have in the days we are there. My daughter picked a churro, her Disneyland must have. My husband and I each had a Dole Whip. (If I am being totally honest, I may have snuck off for another Dole Whip.....shh...)
I don't know about you, but as the designated picture taker in my family, I am often not in our vacation photos. It might be worth it to you to have the Disney photographers take your pictures all over the park. I would suggest that you not buy any of the photos in the park but wait until you get home. When you get home you can load up ALL of the photos they took in the same online account and then get a CD copy of every photo for about $75.
Building a light saber
If you are a Star Wars fan then check out the gift shop at the end of the Star Tours ride. They have a long Build Your Own Light Saber display with all of the different light saber parts. You can pick and chose which parts you want and create your own light saber. Both my husband and my dad built one as their souvenirs and they are awesome. They light up and make sounds when they hit together.
Where to SaveFood
Don't plan on eating every meal in the park. Be smart about the food you purchase. We bring a LOT of snacks and water bottles with us into the park and snack all day long and then eat one meal in the park. We bring snacks like trail mix, beef jerky and dried fruit to give us a break from the sugar overload. I did end up buying kid packs while we were there. We found them at a food place by the Pirates ride for about $6. They had juice, yogurt, goldfish, apples, carrots and a banana in them. Obviously you can get all of that for way cheaper at a grocery store, but it felt like a good, healthier bang for our buck in the park.
Even if you don't bring your own food, you can always leave the park for lunch and/or dinner and go somewhere else. Once you've purchased a parking pass, you can go back and park again later that day without any trouble (other than trying to remember where you parked). This may seem like a hassle, but truthfully your most productive park hours are the first few hours after the park opens, and the few hours before the park closes. The rest of the day can be busy, hot and involve a lot of waiting in line. Leaving the park for awhile can provide a relaxing break, allow you to purchase less expensive (and often healthier) food, and come back re-energized to tackle more rides.
Photos can be a place to save as well. You are more than welcome to take pictures of just about everything with your own camera. If you are able to get some good shots with your family this might just be a good place to save your money. When we met with the characters, the Disneyland photographer was always more than willing to take a couple with my camera too. That ended up saving us a bundle. I would compare the photos you take with the photos the Disneyland photographer takes and see which you want as the memory of your trip.
One of the biggest ways I saved money on souvenirs this last trip was to bring them with us. I hit up our local dollar store in the weeks before we went and I found coloring books, crayons, buckets and shovels, water guns, stickers, small white boards and figures that were all Frozen. I was able to buy a ton of the little trinket-type souvenirs for $1 a piece. If you want to bring back souvenirs from the park itself, I wrote an entire post about the Free and Cheap souvenirs you can find in Disneyland. For our kids, we set a $25 budget per kid for souvenirs and made them wait until the last day to buy. We window shopped in the days before, but we didn't actually purchase until the last day. That made sure they weren't going to find something else they wanted more later. Both of my girls ended up getting the Disney Babies stuffed animals and they love them.
It is worth it to bring your own stroller to the park. Add the price of renting a stroller each day that you are there together and it can be pretty expensive. We loved having our own stroller because not only did we not have to rent one, but it was easy to spot since it didn't look like all the other rental strollers. It was also nice to have a place to store all of our snacks in the bottom compartment.
On one of the days we were at the park we discovered our one-year-old daughter was cutting a molar. She was miserable and I didn't have any medicine with me. The baby center had some baby medicine, but it was very pricey. I made sure to have medicine with me the next day. If you can remember things like medicine, sunscreen, baby wipes and the like you can save yourself oodles.
The most important part of our splurging and saving this last trip is that we had a budget for everything. We truly got to enjoy our trip without the stress and sticker shock of how expensive Disneyland can be.
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Where would you splurge?