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How to Plan a Day at Disneyland

Updated on August 30, 2016

Disney Haunted Mansion

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Disney Day Vacation Means Start Saving!

Disneyland is a really fun amusement park. The first of Walt Disney's parks, the retro feeling is sweet, innocent and fun.

Experiencing this fun can be pretty expensive, especially if you are traveling in a group. It is to your advantage to search everywhere for sales and savings. I once made the mistake of doing a time share presentation in exchange for tickets. We were told that the presentation would last 90 minutes. Boy, were we wrong. After two hours and a tantrum by a niece, we demanded our tickets. Never again would I do that to myself or my family.

There are a number of deals that can be had. Many travel agents offer discounts or additional features by securing your tickets through them. Occasionally, promotions can be had if you have a large enough group. Finally, I have heard mixed stories of luck from people using sites such as Craigslist to get tickets from, so I would use extreme caution there.

One of the things that you need to decide if you are going to go to Disneyland is do you want to see one park or both of them? If you are only going for one day, I would say only do the main park, leave California Adventure for a time when you have more time to explore.

A great promotion I got to partake in one time was a one day park ticket with a meal plan from the Disney site that was a savings of about $20.00. I was glad that I did that.

Don't forget to include the cost of parking when you are budgeting your day trip. A quick check online will let you know the current cost of parking. If you are coming in from out of town, many of the nearby hotels and motels offer shuttles. Take advantage of that service, but make sure you find out what time the shuttles stop coming back to the park. A cab ride can quickly deplete any savings that you realized.

Meal Plan, Brown Bag it, or Eat Away

When I go to California, I always choose a hotel that has either a free breakfast, a refrigerator, or both. Meals and snacks can quickly deplete a budget, especially if you are buying for a group.

In the morning, I try to make a good protein choice, so that my breakfast will stay with me. I generally will choose eggs and cheese with milk to drink and a meat for non vegetarians. Try and stay away from processed sugars and breads. The surge and plummet that they do to your bloodstream can really affect your energy levels throughout the day, causing you to feel a sinking feeling in the afternoon.

For snacks, we love vegetables with crunch. Celery and carrots are classic snacks, but we also like bell peppers in all colors, broccoli, cauliflower, and nuts. They are portable, not messy, and fill you up well. A great fruit snack is an apple or sliced pineapples. Finish with wet wipes for a quick clean up, and you will have saved about $7.00 per person on snacks.

Drinks are easy. Carry water bottles that you refill at the water fountains. We freeze ours the night before with only 50 percent water, and lay it on the side to freeze. Make sure you fill it with ice in the morning from your hotel and then add water as you go. The more ice, the longer your drinks will stay cold. A worthwhile investment is a water bottle lanyard.

Lunch is another easy choice. A peanut butter sandwich with fruit spread, a tuna lunch kit with crackers, or leftover pizza from dinner the night before are all very easy meals.

For a second snack in the afternoon, we generally will eat grapes. They are easy to pack, the weight fills you up, and they taste as good at room temperature as they do cold.

Finally, there is dinner. A dear friend of mine shared a great idea with me. Pre-sliced pepperoni is a great protein dinner when paired with cheese sticks, and kids love the novelty of "Walking pizza".

Any of these foods can be consumed in line as well as sitting down, and they can be easily divided into zip top bags, labeled for each person in your group.

If you decide that you would like to have a meal on property, each of the food service and sit down restaurants offer menus that you can easily see to make sure that food is to everyone's liking. If you have special dietary needs, look on the Disney site to see what foods are specifically offered.

Off the Disney campus, restaurants are plentiful, and there is more than one offering coupons and incentives so that you can meet all of your meal goals. A site called Kids Eat Free will also list places that offer free meals for children when an adult purchases a meal.

For the Meal Plan, unless you are going to be there several days, or they are offering a special incentive, I find that I always do better by preparing what we will be consuming.

When to Start and Stop Your Disneyland Day

I like to get to Disneyland as soon as possible in the morning. I like to be there about 30 minutes to an hour before the park opens. They have a really great "Welcome to the Park" show, and it is a lot of fun. If you are parking, the extra time there allows everyone to remain calm, free of the worry that "we are missing something that is going on".

Decide the night before which rides are the most important for your group to see. Then arrange them by furthest from the entrance and then closest. You want to go to all of the attractions that are furthest FIRST. While everyone else is meandering around, go to all of the big rides in the back. Slowly work your way to the front of the park.

By the time that you are done with all of the big rides, it should be about lunch time. Dole out your snacks or lunch. If you are with a hotel that offers a shuttle and your little ones are tired or you are, look at the hours the park closes. If it is a short day, this is the time when you will choose restful rides or shows, see a parade or sit down for one of your snacks or an ice cream somewhere. Resting is an important part of the experience. If you are constantly going, when you finally DO stop, you will be well past exhausted.

If you are visiting Disneyland during the time of the year when the hours are much later, this might be a good time to take a shuttle back to your hotel and grab a couple of hours of rest and sleep. I always get a shower as soon as we get to the room. It makes me feel better and rest better. Little ones can be enticed to get a quick shower by telling them "it is the same water that Mickey and Minnie use". That has never failed me.

Set an alarm, call the front desk, and tell them what time you would like to be called, and ask how soon after that the shuttle can take you back to the park. Have a siesta.

When you go back to the park, you will feel refreshed. When we go back, it seems like we are in much better spirits than those who are not rested!

I also tell people to stop your time at Disney if your "fun" is all used up. If people are crying, arguing, bickering, sick, tired, sunburned, this is when you need to go home.

If you stay until the end, or come back, you will be treated to a fireworks show. It is really fun, youngsters love it, and the fun seems to be a time when all of you together sit in quiet awe.

After the fireworks is NOT the time to make a mad dash for the parking lot or shuttle. Everyone else will be doing the same thing. Instead, go, use the restroom. See if any rides are still open. Shop in the gift shops. Have silly contests. (How many Mickey Mouse ears are people wearing in that store?")

Sit on the curb, pull out fun trivia cards. You are not in a rush. Let the rush go by.

Must See Moments

Make sure that you bring a camera to Disneyland, because there are a lot of things to see. You want to make sure and bring some of those memories home. If you forgot a camera, they sell them in the park, as well as shops off the property. Best bet is to bring your own, the charger or extra batteries as well as extra film or memory cards.

Make sure your group faces away from the sun in your shots so that you don't have squinting eyes. Lower the camera down to the eye height of the shortest person for some really great shots, and don't forget to take a few photos with Mickey!

Some mouse must see moments DO include Mickey, the castle, the Haunted Mansion and the parades. Disney really does deliver visually, and being a part of it by taking pictures really helps you to appreciate the day.

Check the Weather

The song "It never rains in California" is a rule that is generally true, but take the time to check the weather. You never know how the weather can ruin a holiday until it does. A vacation of mine was nearly ruined by torrential rain. We made the most of it and had a great time because we were prepared. Check the weather and bring weather gear. Sweaters or rain coats, jackets or umbrellas. You don't want to have to buy them in the park. It gets very expensive!

If You Park, Take A Photo

If you do have a car or rental car, take a photo of the car in its' parking space. Take another of the section. Another long shot of the area and then one as you are leaving the area. It helps a lot if you cannot remember to have some photos to help you along.


Medication, Medical Alerts and Emergency Contact Information

Oh no! You have a medical condition? Bring your medicine with you. Need a medical alert? Wear it! Do you have emergency contact information? Put it into your phone as ICE. That stands for In Case of Emergency. List your doctor with. Dr. in front of his name. For example, in my phone, it says Dr. John Smith, GP. (General Practitioner) If there is an emergency, I don't want my dentist or eye doctor called. I want the one who knows my complete medical history called.

Make sure little ones know what to do if you get separated. Make sure that everyone in your group has everyone else in their phone. Accidents happen. Don't add confusion to the mix.

Don't Upload to Social Networks Yet

You know what burglars love to know? When you are out of town. Don't post your status updates unless there is someone at home while you are gone. Burglars love knowing your itinerary, and it makes their work a lot easier.
My home was robbed while I was away. I was happily posting on my social networks about where I was, when I was gone, how long I was going to be gone for, and when I would be back. I gave them extra time when I posted about my delayed flight and extra overnight. I will never make that mistake again.

Even if you are only gone a weekend, make sure your paper is picked up with the mail, lights and tv are on, and that someone changes which lights are on when they come in with the mail. Burglars won't be as eager to enter a home if they think someone is there. I post about my vacation when I get home.

Check for Ride Closings and Short Hours

I was about to book the tickets for our vacation when I remembered that the ride we wanted to see was being "refurbished". I went to the Disney site, and sure enough, if I would have booked for the original days I had in mind, I would not have been able to see the attraction we were going to California to see. Check and see what the hours are, what rides are closed, and if there is anything special going on during the time of your visit.

Clothing Makes or Breaks the Deal

When going to a park, wear things that fit, are comfortable, and don't wear flip flops. The amount of walking that you will be doing will rub blisters. Additionally, blowing out a flip flop, while funny in a song is miserable in an amusement park. Closed toe athletic shoes with short socks are a great choice, as are underclothes that fit properly. Ladies should wear their most supportive bra available, and that is not a sport bra. Anything that does wick away sweat is a good choice, and cargo pants or shorts are also good.

Don't forget sun protection. A great hat is super. I get something with a wide brim and a neck tie. It keeps me cool, and in shady areas, I can wear it on my neck. Think "cool and calm."


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