Everyone wants to find ways to save money on vacation. Frequent travelers know, however, that sometimes a splurge or two turns out to be worth every penny. Upgrades make a lot of sense when they make your day’s travel logistics with babies and toddlers that much easier.
Disneyland vacations are no different. There are times it just makes sense to spend a little extra, even at the Happiest Place on Earth where things are already pretty well-designed for travelers with kids. Disneyland luckily offers a number of extras at a variety of price points so you can choose upgrades that make sense for your family’s needs.
Here are five splurges that families with little ones should consider on a Disneyland trip.
One of the most affordable Disneyland extras is PhotoPass service. My family buys it nearly every trip. PhotoPass is a worthy add-on because your entire family can get in the picture every time, preserving happy Disney moments with your little ones.
How does it work? Disney’s PhotoPass photographers are strategically positioned in all the most iconic photo spots all over the parks. You’ll find them in places like in front of the castle and at popular character meet-and-greet spots. When you spot one, simply ask him or her to take your photo! The photographers will add photos to your account using a barcode on a PhotoPass card they will give you. They can also add the photos straight to your Disneyland app account if you want to handle the entire transaction on your smartphone. Download photos in the app during your trip or afterwards when you get home.
Disneyland currently offers PhotoPass packages for $39 a day or $78 a week, giving you access to as many photos as you can have taken during your vacation for a fairly reasonable flat price. Recently, Disneyland began including ride photographs and character meal photos (at all meals except breakfast at Storyteller’s Cafe at Disney’s Grand Californian) for even more value.
2. Character Dining
Another Disneyland upgrade that my family books on many of our trips is a character meal. Disneyland offers five different character dining experiences, several of which are especially ideal for younger kids. Although these meals cost a bit more than other Disneyland restaurants, they provide added value with lots of character interaction time.
Expect to have your child meet and take photos with 4-6 characters in a typical meal. These meals work so well with squirmy and impatient little ones because there’s no need to wait in long lines for characters. The characters simply come to your table. Plus, children under 3 eat free at all character dining locations at Disneyland for a little more savings.
3. Park Hopper Tickets
Park hopper tickets allow guests to visit both Disneyland park and Disney California Adventure park in a single day. As you can imagine, these tickets cost quite a bit extra. Nevertheless, park hopper tickets can give families with babies and toddlers a lot of value on certain trips. If you only have a single day in the parks but want to see it all with your little one, the upgrade may be well worth it. On longer trips where guests are purchasing multi-day tickets, the cost of the park hopper add-on goes down substantially on a per-day basis. On these trips, the smaller splurge may be well worth it to give you the flexibility of going where you want to go to dodge crowds or dine at your restaurants of choice.
4. On-site Disney Hotel
There are three Disney-owned hotels at Disneyland: Disney’s Grand Californian, the Disneyland Hotel, and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel. Unlike at Walt Disney World, Disneyland doesn’t have any “value” resorts, so staying on Disney property can definitely a bit of a splurge. Having stayed in two of these three properties as well as numerous off-site hotels in the surrounding area, splurging for on-site access can be well worth it with little ones.
These three hotels are some of the closest properties to the parks. All of them are within reasonable walking distance, meaning you don’t need to fold up strollers and load your little ones onto crowded shuttle buses at the end of a long day. In fact, the Grand Californian is so close it has a private back entrance into Disney California Adventure park. The Disneyland Hotel and nearby Paradise Pier also have the transportation advantage of being close to the monorail that will quickly drop you off into Tomorrowland.
Although location is a huge advantage, it isn’t the only one. Guests who stay at Disney-owned properties also get complimentary access to one of the parks an hour early each day. This “Extra Magic Hour” is exceptionally ideal for families with babies and toddlers who want to do a lot of rides without waiting in long lines. Chances are your little one will be up with the sun, so you might as well beat the crowds to the parks for the day!
5. Preferred Parade & Show Dining Packages
Some of the bigger splurges at Disneyland are dining packages that also include preferred seating to the most popular parades and shows. Purchasing one of these dining packages means you don’t need to camp out for hours to secure a spot where your child can see the show. Disney will be holding a prime seat for you while you dine in comfort.
These packages change regularly as entertainment options change. As of this writing, Disneyland is offering dining packages for the Main Street Electrical Parade at Blue Bayou or Aladdin’s Oasis. World of Color dining packages are available at either Ariel’s Grotto, Carthay Circle, or Wine Country Trattoria.