Cheap Family Trip to Disneyland

With only a few days to plan, we tried a super-cheap trip to Disneyland

Luigi's flying tires.

California Adventure

Disneyland had been surprisingly busy yesterday, because we were visiting on the first weekend day of Disneyland's "Halloween Theme" decor.

California Adventure, on the other hand, was very lightly attended. Everyone seemed to be busy over at Disneyland.

California Adventure

There was a very short line at the California Screamin' rollercoaster.

California Adventure

The line at Grizzly River Run was pretty short too, although it eventually grew to once the temperature rose to 101° F.

California Adventure

The Radiator Springs Racers ride was the most popular ride at California Adventure. We got Fast Pass tickets when the park opened and they held an appointment for us at 11:30.

California Adventure

It was HOT. Even the short Fastpass line was a challenge. There were a few shady segments, and a few of these unusual overhead misting fans. They worked like a charm.

California Adventure

Entering the car for Radiator Springs Racers.

California Adventure

Experiencing the thrill of Radiator Springs Racers.

After the ride we exited Cars Land, stopping by Fillmore's Taste Inn to steal some ice cubes from their fruit displays.

California Adventure

For lunch we broke out our sausages and hawaiian rolls. It wasn't a Disneyland lunch, so we saved around $30.

I wonder if I'll ever buy a hot dog for $7.25.

California Adventure

Again, in retrospect, the day was damn hot, and we would have been wiser to have bought some $3.69 ice cream or $3.19 sodas. Maybe a root beer float, which sounds downright reasonable at $4.59.

California Adventure

A kind Disneyland photographer had noticed our crew panting in the heat and recommended that we cool off indoors. She pointed us to the Animation Academy in Hollywood Land. This was a goldmine for a hot family. There was a luxurious dark area, almost like a velvet cave, where several low-key activities were set up, including some animation- and art-related shopping. One room was set up as a lecture hall, with a short, easy drawing lesson from a real artist on stage. It was not crowded.

Just sitting down in the cool, uncrowded room felt like a vacation. The drawing lesson was compelling to the adults as well as the fourth and first grader.

California Adventure

After a little browsing in this hilarious "workshop" store in Condor Flats, we split up and I brought the older kids back to Grizzly River Run.

We got soaked. Never before have I been so happy to be drenched with cold water.

California Adventure

The next attractions were Soarin' Over California, a tame ride which is mostly just a movie. It was realistic enough to really freak out Suzi's son.

My kids were blown away. On the way out they were grabbing each others' shoulders and fist pumping, "That was awesome!"

California Adventure

We split up again so I could take my oldest on Tower of Terror, while the boys went with Suzi to the Redwood Creek Challenge trail.

Here's a picture of a detail from a fountain in front of the Tower of Terror. The building mimics something that was struck by lightening, and this is carried through here with that crack through the tile. Can you imagine how much effort and time went into making that crack look authentic? It traces across the cement top, down a dozen tiles, through another cement piece and to a cracked sidewalk. Amazing. They also had to grind and polish it so that there were no sharp edges.

California Adventure

Suzi was surprised to discover that the Creek Challenge trail is not like a play structure where you sit and watch your son play. It's a vast, twisty play area spread out over an acre, draped with climbing towers and cargo net bridges. Pretty much the perfect place to lose a three year old. There was no rest here.

After we joined them, I took over kid watching and Suzi ran over to squeeze in as a single-rider on the Grizzly River Run. She'd had to sit out of a lot of rides, so this was just for her.

California Adventure

We were running out of time, but we had to visit a Bug's Land. Here's Flik's Flyers.

It was running half-empty, then it just stopped. I think the staff stopped operating it because there wasn't anyone in the queue.

That's a slow day at the park!

California Adventure

I guess everyone was with us at Princess Dot's Puddle Park. The "dancing waters" style splash park was a hit. Splashing around here was the happiest our kids looked all day.

California Adventure

We headed for the exit after Bug's Land, but we ran headlong into the start of the California Adventure "Toys" parade. Perfect timing!

We sat down and watched it go by. I think this was a highlight for Suzi's son. He was more familiar with the Pixar characters here than he was with the Disney characters next door.

When the parade was past, we walked outside and onto a tram which brought us all back to the parking lot. It was 5:30pm and we had a long drive ahead of us.

Price Breakdown

In Disneyland we went on nine rides and saw one parade. If we had paid $96, the retail price, that could be divided into $9.50 each for the rides, plus a $10.50 parade. This place is great, but that's a steep price for legendary atmosphere and thrill rides. Luckily we brought super cheap tickets, so it actually was $3.50 per ride plus a $3 parade.

In California Adventure we were crammed a little more amusement into our park. We got pictures with Goofy, Walt Disney, Lightening McQueen, Mater and a Firetruck. I went on Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, Luigi's Flying Tires, Grizzly River Rapids twice, Jumping Jellyfish, California Screamin', Radiator Springs Racers, Soarin' over California, Tower of Terror, Ladybug Boogie, Played in the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, jumped in the splash park and took a class on Disney drawing.

If we had paid $96, the retail price for my ticket, that could be broken down as four character encounters at $4 each, ten rides at $5.50 each, three Disney experiences (Redwood trail, Disney Animation and splash park) at $6 each and a $7 parade.

The tickets had been discounted, so we got the day for $34.50 each. That breaks down like this: Four character encounters at $1.50 each, ten rides at $2 each, three Disney experiences at $2 each and a $2.50 parade. Wow!


For us, very hot weather was real challenge at Disneyland and California Adventure. We had cheap tickets, and we brought in plenty of food, but we hadn't made good arrangements for cooling off and resting in Disneyland. If we are ever in this situation again, we'll forego running around for fastpasses and spend more time in air conditioned theatres and restaurants. We'll also splurge a little on ice cold treats. It's worth it!

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