Disneyland, it’s the place where the magic began in 1955. Originally, entrance to the park was free, but you paid for each ride with tickets. If you’ve ever wondered where the term “E ticket ride” came from, now you know! Today, you need a ticket to enter the park, and it can be pricey. Tickets for one day, one park (not the coveted park hoppers that most families prefer for flexibility) at Disneyland are around $100 or more. Tickets and hotel accommodations for a week-long vacation for a family of four can reach a total of $5,000 quickly! So, most military families opt for a “cheaper” option and just spend $3,000 on an OK hotel and tickets. That number doesn’t include food, souvenirs, or flights (if you’re not close enough to drive). So, how can you visit Disneyland as a military family without dropping a month’s salary?
Disney offers fantastic deals on tickets for active-duty and retired military, activated reservists, and Guard members. The ticket prices increase slightly each year, and blackout dates vary. Most recently, the blackout dates included two weeks around spring break and a few weeks before Christmas and New Year’s Day. Salute tickets are currently cheaper than a two-day park hopper.
Most Information, Ticket, and Travel (ITT) offices stock these tickets before the spring and summer breaks, but it’s worth calling your base’s ITT office ahead to make sure they have them in stock. Military salute tickets are not available for sale on Disneyland property.
The Disneyland App
Disney has gone digital! With the app, you have a map of the parks, a heads up on character locations, the ability to search for the closest bathrooms, menus for restaurants and wait times for rides all at your fingertips. The app is free for download and could save you a lot of time.
Disneyland operates half on a paper FASTPASS system and the other half on MaxPass, their digital FASTPASS system. MaxPass is $10 a day or $75 for an annual pass. MaxPass gives you the ability to get all your photos, plus make one FASTPASS at a time. Unlike Disney World, you make your fast passes once your ticket is scanned into the park the same day.
The PhotoPass Collection can be purchased for $49 at Kingswell Camera Shop inside Disney California Adventure and Main Street Photo Supply Co. in Disneyland. This includes all of your digital photos for the day, a gallery disc of pictures from around the park, and a voucher for a print package from any dining experience.
Military rates for the Disneyland resort hotels of Paradise Pier, Disneyland Hotel, and the Grand Californian (with a fourth coming soon) are not available online. All specialty pricing is only quoted via The Walt Disney Travel Company Call Center at 714-956-6425 between 7 am and 9 pm Pacific. Cast members promise that you don’t need to book as far in advance as Disney World hotels. A recent call resulted in 25 percent off a regular room rate. You can expect a short walk to the theme parks, excellent hospitality, and large, clean rooms at your rate. And you might even see some goofy characters walking around the property (hint, hint).
Military discount rates at “good neighbor hotels” are plentiful! Like the resort hotels, you don’t have to call months in advance to get them, but if you know your dates early, it doesn’t hurt to call ahead and ask.
Armed Forces Vacation Club
This perk isn’t Disney-specific, but if you are looking for more space than a hotel can offer, or your military family has more than five people (the max for many hotel rooms), check out the Armed Forces Vacation Club. You can plug in your travel dates and destination to see what your options are. Potentially, you could get a home with a full kitchen and even a pool! You will have to drive to the parks, but even if you do that daily, it can be a value compared to resort hotels.
Feel free to bring any food that does not require heating into Disney parks, just mention it to security cast members. An annual pass holder shared that she brings in a small soft-sided cooler with every visit. No hard-sided coolers allowed. If you have a little one who will need whole milk, you may want to bring that along because Starbucks may be the only place to find it in the park.
Downtown Disney offers military discounts at some restaurants, but with construction slated to start in the fall of 2018, check the link ahead of time for the updated discounts.
Mickey gear is all the rage in the parks, and there are ways to save on it:
- Buy souvenirs ahead of time. Twice a year there are sales with steep discounts in the Disney Store and online. Online, there is an entire Disney Parks section with pins, apparel, ornaments, etc. Some people buy items before their trip and bring with them along, so they do not feel tempted to purchase them at parks. Did you know that Disney Stores nationwide offer a military discount when you shop in-store? They do! Just ask!
- Set a limit. Budgeting can help control vacation spending, but sometimes once you are there, you get into YOLO vacation mode. If you bring a set amount on a gift card, you are more likely to stick to your budget. Be aware, though, that some things, like balloons, are cash-only, so you won’t be able to pay for them with a gift card or credit card.
Doing Disneyland as a military family won’t be cheap, but it doesn’t have to be that expensive. Pack your vacation full of memories, quality family time, and photos to make it worth every penny. Knowing your options and focusing on budgeting ahead of time can help you make sure that you’re only focused on fun while you’re there!
Photo Credits: Eastern Sky Photography NC