Greg Heberlein's Guide to Disneyland

Jul 16, 2013

Many families plan to go to Disneyland someday, but it's an expensive proposition that requires a lot of planning.

Should you buy a package or figure it out for yourself? Do you need a car? When are the best months to go? What are the best days to enter the park? How expensive are tickets and food?

Financial commentator Greg Heberlein is a big Disney buff and has visited the park dozens of times. He's more than happy to share his knowledge of Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom on this week's Money Matters.

When to go

The four best times to go are before and after summer, before and after weekends, before and after three-day holidays, before and after school vacation periods.

The best day of the week is Wednesday. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays are so-so. The worst day is Sunday, because those going home are in the park and those just arriving are in the park.

Going to the park when attendance is lighter will give you a much bigger bang for your buck – lines will be shorter, allowing you to visit more attractions.

Non-summer visits might be cooler and infrequently damp, but Washingtonians should find it no worse than mild. Summer climate varies, but usually is hot.

Transportation

Disneyland is 1,163 miles from Seattle. Driving time ranges from 18 to 24 hours.

Even with an overnight stay on the way – Red Bluff in northern California is the approximate midpoint – driving remains the most economical way by far. Cars are not necessary anywhere near the park. Free vans and trams are available.

If you choose to fly, shop around, and shop early. A travel agent can do that. Otherwise, search such sites online as Expedia, Kayak and TripAdvisor. Fares will be more expensive around holidays and summer. Shuttle services run from all Los Angeles-area airports. With a big family, a rental car might be preferable.

Where to stay

From fancy and expensive to modest and inexpensive, all kinds of motel/hotel accommodations are available. Consult friends for recommendations and use online travel sites for more ideas.

Families with younger children might consider motel suites, which often cost only a little more. Having a kitchen can be a plus.

Most hoteliers offer free breakfasts. But with young children, it is recommended to give them a rest outside the park in the 1 to 3 p.m. period, when the park is busiest. So lunch in the room would be cheaper and possibly more convenient, and a chance for the younger ones to rest up for the rest of the day.

Ticketing

At Disneyland, there are two parks – the original Disneyland and California Adventure. Tickets are expensive. A single-day adult ticket for either park is $92; $86 for kids age 3 to 10. A ticket for both parks, called a park hopper, in one day is $137. Multiple-day tickets are discounted.

Dining

The Disneyland complex offers all sorts of meal opportunities, but they’re not cheap. A lunch buffet can cost $30 a person. Even snacks will set you back – popcorn runs $4 to $12 depending on size and container style.

If you plan to eat at the finer restaurants, where reservations are recommended, call as many as 90 days ahead to make your reservation. Especially on busy days, restaurants can be completely booked during the prime eating hours.

The more budget-conscious might take meals outside the park at one of the many fast-food or inexpensive sit-down restaurants. Same-day re-entry to the park is free.

Package deals

Disney and airlines and offer package deals. You can bundle your flights, accommodations and park tickets together. But that package actually may cost you more than the parts, so be sure to compare.

Etc.

Set a realistic budget. Buy souvenirs only late on your last day. Limit children’s purchases to what you can afford. Leave all but your favorite credit card at home.