If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know I am a huge Disney fan! I’ve written many posts before on the topic including ways to save on your Disneyland trip and ways to save on your Disney World trip. We just got back from a week-long trip from Disneyland last weekend and to be honest, I wasn’t going to write about it. The reason? It wasn’t our most frugal trip.
We didn’t go crazy and for the most part, everything was carefully budgeted. But we did splurge in a few ways we hadn’t before so I struggled in thinking about how I could even write about our trip. Truth be told, we spent roughly that same amount of money on our two-week road trip through the South last year! But after some reflection, I’ve decided – yes, I will share some of our trip with you! I’ve shared ways to save before, so it might be interesting as a counterpoint to hear of some of the ways we splurged. Each time we head back to Disney, we make a few tweaks and learn some new stuff. As a result, I feel our trips keep getting more and more enjoyable. Since many of you reading this may be Disney fans and/or planning a Disneyland vacation soon, it may be of interest to hear what we did and learned.
With that… here are 4 splurges we made on our trip that maybe you’d like to consider making, too.
Splurge #1: RunDisney Event
This entire trip was prompted by the Inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon. At first, I balked at the $200 fee! I’ve never paid that much for a race entry, not even for a full-distance marathon! But I decided to pull the trigger and sign up. Would you believe that the race sold out within a couple hours?
This was my second RunDisney event (I also did the Walt Disney World Full Marathon in 2007), and it was extremely enjoyable and worth every penny! About 3-4 miles of the course is all through the parks. It’s so fun being able to run down Main Street and through Adventureland and then near the Pier at California Adventure and Cars Land. (You might be able to make out in the picture above that I’m running in front of the carousel at Fantasyland.) Disney does an amazing job of their races. They even have announcements that tell you things like “warning, sharp turn up ahead!” plus there are many characters in costume along the way. In fact, there are so many distractions that I felt the 13.1 miles just flew by.
If you’ve always wanted to do a race like this but have felt intimidated, Disney’s your place. There are people of all shapes, sizes, and fitness levels that participate. The spirit is definitely encouraging and uplifting. Plus, you feel like a million bucks when you get to wear your race bling at the parks when you’re all done! (If you’re suddenly finding a spark of interest, make sure to read my post on why I run for more…)
Splurge #2: Dining in Disney
Food in Disneyland… is expensive. However, there are some good places to get food in Disneyland too! Case in point: Cafe Orleans, which makes the best Monte Cristo sandwich. It’s definitely not cheap, but worth the splurge. We also enjoyed eating at the Blue Bayou on this trip (you know, that super cool restaurant that you see in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride?), plus a few restaurants in Downtown Disney including House of Blues and Naples Ristorante (both were great).
For each sit down restaurant like this we ate at, our bill ended up around $80-100 for our family of four including tips. We just made sure to eat lighter/less expensive for our other meals to counter the higher cost of these “treat” meals.
Another tip: the kids meals in Disneyland can be very expensive (about $10 a pop!). For one meal, I decided to just split my entree with my son. This worked great; not only did we save a few bucks, he ended up with a meal he liked better. So it’s not to say that there aren’t ways you can save a bit here or there, but make no bones about it: Disney dining will cost you.
If you enjoy eating in Disneyland, I recommend highly you make reservations as some of the restaurants can get quite busy. We were able to do this easily enough online.
Splurge #3: Extra Days
When we went to Disneyland in 2011, we flew down, did the parks three days in a row (bam! bam! bam!) and then flew back home the next day. It was such a whirlwind of a trip and we decided, not much to our liking.
Here’s the thing: a day in any Disney park? Is exhausting. Two days? You’re beginning to wonder when you can take a nap. Three days? You’re dyin’. So my husband and I decided to build “down days” into our plan. On this trip, we flew in, then I did my half marathon and we went to the park. The day after that, we slept in. It was glorious! For lunchtime, we tooled around Downtown Disney and took in a movie. Then Wednesday, we were back to the park.
Building in extra days definitely adds expense to your trip, but I find helps you enjoy Disneyland at a more realistic pace – particularly if you have young children!
Splurge #4: Two Nights at the Grand Californian Resort
Without a doubt, our biggest splurge was staying two nights at the Grand Californian Hotel. This hotel is easily the most expensive hotel I’ve *ever* booked, but it’s one of those places I’ve wanted to stay at for years now. The most amazing thing about this hotel is its proximity to the parks. See that view above? That was from OUR ROOM. We stayed directly above the World of Disney store and you could see Main Street, Space Mountain, and the trees that surround the Jungle Cruise from our balcony.
On one day, my husband and son were tired so they came back for a nap, while my daughter and I just “popped” back into Disneyland to ride the Pirates and Teacup one last time. It’s really amazing to be so close! Plus, this hotel has an exclusive entrance to the California Adventure Park. (So yes, I get that we could have stayed at another Disney property – by the proximity is what sold me on wanting to stay here.)
While the hotel was very expensive, I ended up earning rewards on my purchase by shopping through Groupon. This earned me $30 Groupon credit (which I then redeemed for Marathon compression socks). (Note: it doesn’t appear that this deal is currently available, although other Anaheim-area hotels are.) I also booked the hotel using a Rewards Credit Card which earned me air miles. Even with the bonuses, this was a total splurge.
I am glad to say I had the opportunity to stay here, and I would absolutely save my pennies to be able to do it again.
I should probably mention that for the most part, we planned and budgeted for these “extras.” Here are a few ways we worked to make this possible:
- We started planning our trip early. We made the initial reservations over 6 months ago. This makes it easier to focus on saving and planning for your trip! The first month, I paid for my race fee. The next month, the hotel. We then worked to save for incidentals and the park hopper tickets. And so forth.
- We bought snacks outside the park. One of our first stops was to the Super Target so we could stock up on water bottles, oatmeal, and snacks. You *can* bring these into the park and you’ll save a bundle!
- We tried to eat only one meal in the parks. On most days, we stuck to eating one sit down meal in the parks or at Downtown Disney. Our first hotel had a continental breakfast, which helped. On another day, we stopped at pizza. Some days we were so full from the main meal, we only needed to snack later.
- We flew for free with air miles. We only paid $40 in fees to fly because we had racked up air miles through our Rewards cards.
- We brought cash. For the last few vacations, I’ve been able to keep to our incidentals budget simply by bringing cash! For this trip, I budgeted $1,200 for food, snacks, gas, souvenirs, tips and other incidentals. We came home with about $80, so I’d say we did pretty well. Each day, I would simply take out $200-300. Yes, I know that there is a risk to having cash lost/stolen, but I prefer to assume that risk and gain the potential benefit of sticking with our budget.
So there you have it! Not our most frugal adventure yet, but one that was carefully planned for and extremely enjoyable. This may be a personal preference thing, but I truly believe if you’re able to save up a bit more for an extra splurge or two at Disney, you may be glad you’ve done so. I have to say this was my favorite Disneyland trip ever and I’m glad for the extra splurges we did on this trip!
If you are planning a trip to Disney, you might also enjoy:
- 6 Things We did to Save on our Disneyland Vacation
- How We Saved on our Disney World Vacation (Post 1 of 2)
- How We Saved on our Disney World Vacation (Post 2 of 2)
- Is the Disney Dining Plan at Disney World a Good Deal?
- Even more tips on the Travel Page of my Blog
Now it’s your turn: how do you like to do Disney? As frugal as possible, as a “splurge” trip, or somewhere in between? If you do make splurges – what are they? And how do you cut back in other ways to make them possible?