We’re finally back from Disneyland! We’ve unpacked, done the laundry, and I finally have time to tell you all about our trip. It was a blast, and I’m glad we waited until our kids are as old as they are (11 and 6) to take them.

I was amazed at how brave our daughter is. There wasn’t a ride she wouldn’t try, and all of the scary ones were “awesome” in her book. My son, not to be outdone, tried all the scary rides, too. He was afraid of Space Mountain, but loved California Screamin’. Go figure.

We tried to do Disneyland as frugally as possible, but there’s no way around the fact that a trip to Disney is expensive. Still, there were a few things we learned along the way.

Where to Stay

We originally booked a room at the La Quinta, because they were inexpensive, were within (long) walking distance to the parks, and offered free breakfast. However, I kept my eyes open, and we ended up booking a room at the Portofino Inn through Get Away Today. They had a deal going where you booked 3 nights and got two free.

The upside is the Portofino was a bit closer to the parks. The downside is there was no free breakfast. After talking with friends, though, I decided we didn’t need the free breakfast. I heard that often the lines for breakfast are long in the morning, with people in a hurry to get to the parks.

Our room had a refrigerator and microwave, so we stocked up on breakfast and lunch foods. We ate breakfast in our room and tried to return to the hotel to eat one additional meal in our room every day. Since we were so close to the park, it wasn’t hard to do. And since we could walk to Disneyland, we didn’t have to pay for transportation or parking.

How to Plan the Day

We had 5 day Park Hopper Tickets (buy 3 day tickets & get 2 days free), where we could hop between Disneyland and California Adventure. We did Disneyland in the afternoon (Sunday), morning and evening, with a mid-day break (Monday), in the afternoon (Tuesday), California Adventure until dinner (Wednesday), and the marathon 14 hour day, hopping between both parks (Thursday). So we really tried it all.

I really think the best way to visit, especially during the hot days of summer, is to get there as soon as the gates open, tour until lunchtime, and go back to the hotel for lunch and a break. Then go back to the parks in the evening. We missed the hottest and busiest part of the day that day. The worst day was when we arrived in the late morning. It was already hot and crowded, and we didn’t see a lot that day.

There are a couple of things I highly recommend, though. If you have a “Magic Morning” included on your ticket, use it! That is when you are allowed into the park one hour before it’s open to the public. I our case, we got in at 7:00, which was really early, but we rode a TON of rides before 9, when the park started to get busy.

Also, take a look at the book The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland (they come out with a new edition every year, and they also have an edition for Disneyworld). I looked for the book at my library, but they didn’t have an up to date edition, so I ended up buying it. The information is well worth the money spent. I also spent $15 on RideMax software, which is great, if you hate to stand in line. You tell the software what rides you want to do, and RideMax tells you what order to ride the rides to minimize the wait. And it worked!

Where to Eat

Going into our Disneyland Adventure, I planned to never eat at the park, because I knew it would be expensive. That plan didn’t last too long. There came a point when time was more important than money, and we didn’t want to walk back to the hotel. And we didn’t want to lug a huge backpack around either. Still, we were pretty frugal with our choices…as frugal as you can be at Disneyland.

We found the most frugal options at California Adventure, where we ate at Taste Pilot’s Grill (burgers), and Pizza Oom Mow Mow (pizza & pasta). We also ate at the Hungry Bear Restaurant (more burgers) at Disneyland. On my birthday we splurged and ate at Naples Ristorante y Pizzaria in Downtown Disney. It was semi-spendy, but the meal was good.

The main thing to remember, when you eat at the parks or Downtown Disney is to avoid the main lunch and dinner hours. Our first night we went to Downtown Disney, hoping to get away from the crowds for dinner. That was a mistake. It was more crowded there than at Disnleyland!

The hidden gem we found, if you want to get away from the crowds, is the new GardenWalk. It’s within walking distance of Disneyland, and it was empty. We ate at Johnny Rockets (we had to…it’s my son’s nickname), and had a great dinner out on the patio, where it was nice and quiet.

Bits & Pieces

We learned that it’s important to take water and snacks into the park. A friend let me borrow her Bagellini, and it was PERFECT for packing around the parks. It was lightweight, and because it’s carried messenger bag style, I didn’t have to take it off on most of the rides. I just rotated it around, so the bag was in front. And despite it’s small size, it carried a lot!

We bought our souvenirs at Disneyland, though I wouldn’t recommend it. For us it worked though, since I got a Disney Fun Card for going to Disneyland on my birthday. Usually you get free admission into the park, but since I already had a ticket, I got a gift card in the amount of a ticket. It wasn’t good at restaurants, so we decided to buy Mickey ears and other souvenirs for the kids. If I hadn’t have had the card, I would have gone to Walmart or Target, though.

Also, the FastPass system is WONDERFUL! If you’ve never used FastPass, here’s what it is: On certain popular rides, you can visit the FastPass kiosk, scan your tickets, and receive FastPasses that are good later in the day. After the set time on the FastPass, you can return to the ride and use the FastPass line, which is much shorter than the regular line. It saved us a ton of time. I would start collecting FastPasses in the morning, and at times I would be holding passes to 4 rides at once. Then we’d go back later in the day and hit all the popular rides. It sure beats an hour long wait!

3-D movies can scare young children. We went to Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, and my son was scared out of his mind. At one point he was screaming, and I told him we could leave, but he was too scared to stand up and walk out of the theater, because “the things were going to get him.” I hated to see him that scared.

Toy Story Mania at California Adventure is worth the wait. There is no FastPass for this ride, so we sucked it up and waited in line. We’re glad we did. It was one of our favorite rides! It’s a 3-D interactive, shooting ride, and the kids had such a great time that my 6 year old didn’t even notice the 3-D!

I enjoy roller coasters much more when I’m not in the front row. I talked my daughter into riding California Screamin’ with me, and then my son decided he needed to ride, too. So we all did. I thought for sure after freaking out on Space Mountain that my son would hate the ride. He and I got stuck in the front row. He loved it. I hated it. But the family talked me into riding twice more, this time from the back, and I enjoyed myself much more. I just hate being suspended for those few seconds before a big drop! If I can’t see the drop, I’m fine.

Soarin’ Over California was my favorite ride! If you’re ever at Disneyland/California Adventure, you can’t miss this one! It’s at California Adventure, and the line is usually very long for a reason (but there’s FastPass available!). It’s a ride that simulates hang gliding over California, and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. Don’t miss it!

If you’d like to see photos of our trip, I posted them on a Facebook album. You can still see them by clicking the link, even if you’re not a member of Facebook.