Readers’ tips for handling Disneyland

Niesha Lofing

The best spot to watch a parade, when to arrive at the park, how to save money on food without skipping meals.

These are just a few of the topics that Bee readers weighed in on when I asked for cost- and sanity-saving tips regarding Disneyland travel.

As many families (mine included) head to the Happiest Place on Earth for spring vacations or to experience the opening of two rides June 3 – The Little Mermaid Underground Adventure in California Adventure and the newly redesigned Star Tours in Disneyland – it’s time to share.

Megan Smith’s advice is from a trip she and her husband took to Disneyland with their grandchildren more than 20 years ago, but the Fair Oaks couple’s suggestion still rings true.

“We told them ahead of time that ‘everyone’ sees Disneyland this way: We go first thing in the morning and stay through lunch time – eat lunch at the park. Then we all go back to the motel room and take a rest – Grandma and Grandpa too!” she wrote. “Then we eat dinner (outside the park) and then go back to the park until closing.”

Given that “everyone” was doing it, Smith’s elementary-age grandchildren bought into the plan.

“The results were very happy – after the first electric light parade, most people and their very tired kids left the park. No lines, cooler weather, no lines, and our grandchildren were not tired or whiny because they had napped in the afternoon (and did I mention no lines?)” she said.

Richard and Becky Brandt of Citrus Heights have found that bringing in bottled water and plastic containers of soda helped trim their Disneyland costs. (While outside food and beverages are discouraged, plastic bottles containing nonalcoholic beverages are permitted, said John McClintock, senior publicist for Disneyland.)

“Also, and this is important, you can get cups of ice for free, just (by) asking, at any place in the park where they sell food,” Brandt wrote.

Jennifer Berry, who has been vacationing at Disneyland for more than 37 years, offered (humorous) input on everything from where to stay to how to navigate the park.

“I’m amazed at the stupid things I see people doing there – arriving without reservations during spring break and expecting to get a room at the Disneyland Hotel, forcing kids to stand in an hourlong line for a ride that has Fastpass, showing up at the park at 10:30 (a.m.) when the gates open at 8 (a.m.), purchasing tickets at the gate – really? Do these folks make a practice of wasting their time and money? Think it’s a game to torture their children?” wrote the Sacramento resident. “Perhaps it’s just me – am I a version of Stalin with Minnie ears?”

Nah, just a well-seasoned Disney traveler.

Berry advised purchasing passes early through the Disneyland website, through a discount travel site such as www.arestravel.com or, if a AAA member, through that organization.

Getting to the park at least 30 minutes before the gates open can help eager families zip through a few rides before lines get long, and deciding in advance which rides are “can’t miss” for the family also is a good idea.

“Don’t be one of those groups you see just inside the park entrance, spending 15 minutes hovering over a map bickering,” she wrote.

And make hotel reservations before arriving in Anaheim.

Berry routinely stayed in Disney property hotels until last year, when they tried an “off-campus” hotel. She wasn’t disappointed.

“Are the Disney properties magical? Darn tootin’,” she wrote. “But, as I found out, not as magical as saving $1,000 over our last stay at the Grand Californian. I’ll probably stick with Disney hotels in the future, but it was great to get out of the box and know there are viable options out there.”

And then there’s Debbie Vanderveer, known as “dsnydeb” to friends and colleagues, who emailed a seven-page tip sheet on all things Disneyland.

Vanderveer travels to Disneyland three times a year, often for six days at a time. The Citrus Heights resident knows Disneyland.

Here are some of her tips:

• Fastpass – Get a Fastpass, which allows you to skip the wait if you return to the attraction at the specified time. But, you can pocket the Fastpass and use it later in the day or evening if you don’t use it during the specified hour, she wrote.

• Parades – A great vantage spot is on the benches in front of the Train Depot on Main Street, where the parades typically begin or end. Plan on staking out your spot an hour or so before the parade starts. If you’re not interested in a parade, stay away from Main Street. It’s also a great time to hit the rides, she said.

• Shopping – Mornings or early afternoon are the best times to hit the shops. If you don’t have a locker or don’t want to lug around merchandise, take your purchases to the “Package Express” area at the newsstand just outside Disneyland. They’ll hold your items until you pick them up at the end of the day, she said. (Note: Any item purchased in a park store can be sent over to a Disney property hotel.)

Loyal Fair Oaks reader Robert Sydnor provided advice in the form of a memory. He wanted his son, then 4 years old, to have a good night’s sleep before heading to Disneyland, so he delayed telling Christopher where they were headed on their “family trip” until much of their hearty breakfast had been eaten their first morning in Anaheim.

“He had a hard time finishing his breakfast because of the intense excitement,” Sydnor wrote. “Then we were off … to the Magic Kingdom. Good memories, for sure.”

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to Disneyland we go. …