- I'm not a professional traveller. I can count the major vacations we been to on one hand.
- There are several things I would already do differently, so I'm not claiming to be an expert.
- I can put up with a lot of inconveniences to save a buck - I know this approach is not for everyone.
- I had lots of help. Jessica and Jennifer were invaluable resources. So was Tab. My whole family (especially Matt) were total troopers. They had to put up with all those same inconveniences I mentioned above.
And so, without further ado, below are my top money-saving strategies for visiting Southern California:
- If you can, you should drive. For several reasons, not limited to: it's cheaper, you can bring a cooler, you have transportation once you're there, and you are free to be on your own schedule.
- When we first began looking at this trip, airfare was about $400. About 5 days before our trip, it dropped to $180. My cost comparisons are at $400, because if I had been purchasing tickets, it would have been at that price. I just ran the numbers for the $180 airfare, and though not as dramatic, we still would have come out way ahead.
- Airfare - $400 x 4; Airport transfers - $40 x 4 / or Car Rental - $200; TOTAL - $1800
- Gas - 239 (we got 33 mpg); Extra hotel nite - $115; Parking (vs. shuttle) - $36; Extra Oil Change - $40; TOTAL - $430; SAVINGS - $1370.
- Lifesavers on our drive included - portable DVD players (we have one and I borrowed one [thanks Darla!] so each boy could watch their own movie), find it games (either make them, or buy them), doodle books, and a solid 4-level threat system for fighting in the car. We only had one fight the whole trip.
- Buy your Disney tickets online. I was too chicken to buy them on eBay - seemed a bit far fetched to meet a stranger at the front gate for your tickets. Buying on Disneyland.com saved us $30 per ticket, as well time waiting in line at the gate. SAVINGS - $120.
- Check on eBay for other deals. I found a BOGO offer for Legoland on eBay and bought two of them. I was careful to check the feedback of the seller - looking especially for the same item I was purchasing. All who had purchased had no trouble using them. Cost - $14. Saved - $124. Net SAVINGS - $110.
- Once we were there, we decided to spend a day at Knott's Berry Farm. Upon researching online, we found the e-tickets were much cheaper than at the gate. I used our hotel's business center computer to purchase and print e-tickets. SAVINGS - $80.
- Ask for a discount. **Insert - this makes me sooooo uncomfortable. We got rained out at Legoland, which was unfortunate, but we were ecstatic that we would be able to fit in a dinner at Medieval Times. Matt and I had been there 15 years earlier and knew the boys would love it. But, it's not cheap. I remembered seeing a coupon on the brochure rack in our hotel, but we were making reservations by phone on our way back from Legoland. I kindly asked the sales gal if I needed to wait until I got back to my hotel to use the coupon, or if she had one handy. She searched the computer for available coupons and gave us one that was MORE than what the hotel one would have been. SAVINGS - $40.
- Hotel. We used a few saving techniques with the hotel. Make sure you get a hotel with kitchen facilities. It is an integral part of the Food section below.
- Don't be afraid to stay 1 or 2 miles away. Everyone says they're "a block away from Disneyland"! Yeah, right. Blocks are long. And sometimes diagonal. And sometimes not blocks at all. There are only a few hotels, outside of the Disney Resorts, that you can WALK to Disneyland from. The rest, you'll be taking the shuttle anyway. Staying further away saved us both points (see below) and dollars.
- Stick with one hotel chain throughout the year, if possible, and use the points to your advantage. Between Matt and I, we spent a lot of nights at Marriott hotels throughout the year. We were sure to use a rewards number for every stay, whether his, mine, or ours. This gave us enough points for 2 free nights. In addition, we signed up for the Marriott Visa, which gave us enough points for 2 more free nights. We used this Visa only for this trip, will pay off the statement using our vacation budget, and it will sit in the safe the rest of the year. We paid for only 2 of our 6 total nights. SAVINGS - $644.
- Food. Food in the SoCal area is not cheap. Especially adjacent to Disney. Our hotel kitchen proved invaluable. We ate 3 dinners, 5 breakfasts, 4 brown bag lunches, and 1 brown bag dinner out of that kitchen. We also had the backpack full of snacks each day.
- Family Breakfast at McDonalds or Starbucks - 5 x $15; Family Dinners out (avg. McD's and mid-scale) - 4 x $40; 4 Theme Park Lunches (using the cheapest example I could find) - 4 x $50; TOTAL - $435.
- Two trips to the grocery store - $129. SAVINGS - $306
- Not to mention, getting more food for less money, not waiting in line, and having something halfway healthy at least some of the time. This made the times we did stop for snacks inside the park not stress the pocketbook so much.
- Also, the Mission Tortilla Factory tour and the SanFrancisco Sourdough tour (both at California Adventure) don't care how many times you go through, and you get a free tortilla or free bread at the end. Matt also discovered the cheapest snack in the park - one $5 Sourdough round and one $3 Sprite will keep a family of 4 going all morning!!!
- Take a picture of your picture. You know, the fantastic picture they take of your group at the climax of the ride? They are always priceless. Except, not quite. Most ran about $15. To capture the memory, take a picture of the picture with your camera or phone - these are unlikely to be the backbone of your vacation scrapbook anyway, so quality probably isn't that important. I know I wouldn't have purchased all of them, but would have been sorely tempted by at least 3 or 4. I'm going to say we SAVED $45.
- Purchase or borrow (thanks, Jennifer!) a Birnbaum's guide. The coupons in the back will pay for the cost, and the advice inside is invaluable. We borrowed our guide, poured through the info as we planned our trip, and used the coupons leftover from the previous owner to get 2 for 1 tokens at ESPN Zone. SAVINGS - $20.
- While not all of these are huge savings, they each made for a less stressful vacation. When we had to buy the boys new clothes at Huntington Beach, no one was stressing over the $34, and I still got to go to dinner on the pier with two DRY boys.
- We made sure each boy brought his own money - they got some from us for vacation, and brought chore money earned from the weeks prior. This made them carefully consider each purchase instead of whining for something in every shop we went to. For the record, they both came back with money still in their wallets. Must be a bit harder to make a purchase when the cash is coming out of your own pocket!
- Buy your Disney souvenirs before or after online. We did buy some souvenirs in the park, but I purchased t-shirts for each boy online after we got home. Total spent - $20. Value of the same t-shirts in the Disney shop - $50. SAVINGS - $30.
Of course, there are already things I would do differently next time. Like:
- Use a bag inside the park large enough for at least a water bottle. My bag was small, because I didn't want to have to shed it for each ride. However, your locker always seems VERY far away, and drinks in the park start at $3. Needless to say, we shared a lot!
- Plan better for headaches. We all got at least one. Chance and I, more than that. We pushed the kids HARD every day - resulting in some aches and pains. Two days, because of not planning well, I ended up purchasing pain reliever at the gift shop. It wasn't as expensive as I would have expected, but it was the same stuff I had at the hotel. Next time, I will have a couple of the correct doses for each family member in my purse.
- Don't forget your camera. Although I admit, this is both blessing and curse. It cost me $65 for the Disney cd of my Photopass photos. YIKES! On the flip side, there was no stress about getting every shot, no worry about where to put the camera on the rides, and we are ALL in each picture. This means I am in about 100% more pictures than I would have been if I'd brought my camera. I'm not very good at getting out from behind it.
Hope this helped someone! If you are not headed to Disneyland in the near future, maybe there were some tips that will be helpful for whatever your next destination is.
Do you have any cheapskate ideas for our next trip? I'd love to hear them.