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How to Survive a Disney Vacation When You’re Not a Disney Fan

Oh, Disneyland! Why do we feel so obligated to bring our children here?

Let me preface this by saying, we are not Disney or theme park fanatics by any means. The crowds, the lines, the fact that everything is incredibly overpriced is against everything we enjoy. There are so many other ways to get a good, genuine thrill: hiking a mountain, a camping trip, skiing, or visiting a foreign destination. I mean the list could go on, right? So why in the world did we even go? I think for those of us who aren’t Disney fans, we all have our reasons.

He was SO happy meeting Captain America. This smiling face was priceless! 

Five years ago, I raised my fist at Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and swore we would never return. We had timed our first Disneyland trip around Mickey’s Trick-or-Treat event and were forced to leave the park at 6 PM after only riding 3 rides. It was frustrating and disappointing, and a complete waste of money.

Now five years later, we have a 7-year-old who runs around the forest pretending to be Indiana Jones. I remember being his age and absolutely LOVING the Indiana Jones ride, so I decided to look it up on YouTube and share this secret with him. After watching a video of the entire ride, he looked at me and said, “Mom, can we ride that?” And the Disney guilt crept in. I shared my idea with my husband and through his resistance, he reluctantly agreed.

I’m currently sitting in the hotel lobby in Anaheim reflecting on this visit, and let me tell you, though I did not have “the best day ever” as several t-shirts in the park suggested, my 7-year-old did. The look on his face after meeting characters and riding the rides centered around his favorite movies is oddly priceless. I still have fond memories of my Disney trip at his age, and knowing he’ll have these memories into adulthood makes all of this worth it. So if you’re in the same boat as me, let me share my tips to make your Disney trip tolerable. Hey, maybe you’ll have some fun too.

I’d rather be in the mountains… but I admit, we had fun!

Tip #1: Don’t Go Into Debt Buying Tickets

One of the biggest issues I have with Disney is the outrageous ticket prices. When I had calculated my budget for this trip, the number made me want to vomit. This was almost as expensive as our trip to Italy! In the midst of my nausea, I decided to make this as painless as possible.

When purchasing your park tickets, do it slowly. I put away $100 every payday into my Disneyland fund and slowly purchased Disney gift cards. Kroger grocery stores and Safeway sell gift cards, and your purchase can be used towards gas points. I purchased these during promotional weekends where you get 2x or 4x the gas points and saved significantly at the pump. And when it was time to load all of the gift cards onto one to make the ticket purchase, it didn’t hurt the bank account. I mean, the number still made sick, but it didn’t hurt! I then used what was left over to buy Riley souvenirs at the park.

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That look you give each other when you saved money

Tip #2: Book a Disneyland Partner Hotel.

I usually check Hotwire first when booking a hotel, but the prices offered, even at the “hot rate” discount was not convincing enough for me. I found a list of hotels through the Disneyland website and found that booking directly was cheaper than booking through a third party site. The hotel we booked, Cortona Inn and Suites, was nice and comfortable, and only a half mile walk from the park (shuttle service is also available). I was also offered perks for booking directly, including an Uber, Starbucks, and Restaurants.com gift card which I used during the trip.

We’d rather pack up a car like this and camp! But a Disney partner hotel is okay too!

Tip #3: Purchase a Max Pass with Your Ticket

The Max Pass is offered at an additional $10 per day, per ticket and I swear, this was the best decision we made for this vacation. With the Max Pass, you’re given the ability to reserve a fast pass through the app. Instead of walking to the attraction to see available times and obtain your fast pass, you can look it up from the app and plan your day from wherever you are. We were able to see wait times through the app and plan our fast pass accordingly. Also, all of the pictures from rides and photos from photographers we took are loaded directly onto the app and all digital copies are free!

Heck yeah for free photos! Also, sorry for blocking your face, Clayton!

Tip #4: Bring Your Own Snacks and Leave the Park for Meals

The food inside Disneyland is overpriced and mediocre. The food inside California Adventure is better, yet still overpriced. We had about 3 meals in the parks and bought snacks a couple of times. Even though I can never resist a churro, after paying $5 for one, it didn’t feel worth it.

 We loaded my backpack with bottles of water and juice pouches. We had bags of baked goods and chips to hold us over if we randomly found ourselves hungry while in line. At the far end of Downtown Disney, we ate at The Habit Burger Grill and spent $30, we walked down the street to a tiny Mexican spot and spent $20 (and left incredibly full). This was incredible savings compared to eating inside the park where we spent $40-60 on mediocre meals. Check park rules here.

Money saved means more souvenirs! Here’s Riley looking at his Indiana Jones map.

Tip #5: Prepare for Pain

Clayton and I can walk for miles in the backcountry, hike up a mountain with a heavy pack and be totally fine. I have no idea why, but walking on pavement for hours was excruciatingly painful for our feet. I knew we were going to be in pain, so I made sure I packed Advil, a tube of my favorite foot therapy cream, and comfy socks for the end of the day. If it wasn’t for those essentials, I don’t think I would have made it past day one.

I hope my tips are helpful for you fellow non-theme park people. If you have any specific questions about these tips or about the park itself, drop a comment.

Well, look who had a good time. Thanks, Mickey!

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