Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Doing Disney! The Ultimate Review & Tip Guide To All Things Disneyland® & California Adventure® in Anaheim, California! Part I: Tickets!

I'm back from a 4 day vacation with my family in Los Angeles & Anaheim California  - having done all things Disney (and visited the Hollywood/Beverly Hills/Santa Monica area).

I would like to provide you with a thorough review and a few tips.

First, let me start off by talking about tickets.

A few months before you go … sign up for the MOUSESAVERS.COM newsletter.

Whatever you do, don't buy tickets through eBay! Most tickets are fraudulent or are for California residents only. I'd recommend booking your trip through a Mousesavers newsletter booking agent. I was able to get my hotel room nearly free after considering that the room came with 5 tickets for me and my family.

Part I: Tickets

Before planning ANY Disneyland California vacation .... you should buy your tickets first. This will be your single biggest expense and will involve your most detailed planning. Hold off on buying Universal Studios Tickets until you arrive in California. (More on that later)

Unlike tickets at DisneyWorld in Orlando Florida, Disneyland California tickets are NOT tied to a fingerprint.

Taking a sharpie and writing the name of each person across the front of the ticket is a good idea. This will allow you to keep up with whose FastPass you're getting as well.

The "Park Hopper Ticket" option (which costs $25 extra per ticket) is VERY over-rated. Don't think that going between parks is something you ACTUALLY want to do. You can leave and come back to the same park if you like. Take the time to explore each park thoroughly. Stay for each night time show and compare. Disneyland features Fastasmic each night. Disney's California Adventure features an amazing laser and water show called The World Of Color. I suggest you get there 1 1/2 hours BEFORE THE SHOW. Some Disney staff will tell you 45 minutes, but for my experience, the viewing areas were completely full 45 minutes before the show. Also, don't think that the typical "front row, second row, or center center" seats are the best. Pay attention to the poorly designed poles that may block your views of the show. You can also get premium seating at a number of restaurants that surround the lakes where these shows are presented. Some rides that could possibly provide awesome views of the shows and throughout the park are shut down temporarily.

Once inside Disneyland or California Adventure,  most rides have a kiosk for FastPass distribution.

If you can, I recommend you send someone ahead of you while you wait in line for one attraction near the gates, to the attraction you most want to see or that will be the most crowded during the day. And so on throughout the day. While making sure you gage the amount of time you will be in line, send someone ahead to another attraction while you save their space in line for one attraction.

FastPass allows you to essentially walk right to the front of the line. Ticket takers and ride operators work this by taking 1 group of FastPass holders, then 1 group from "the line". The FastPass gives you a 1 hour window to return to a ride later in the day. You can only obtain one FastPass per ticket in 1 hour intervals. BUT - pay attention - if you get a FastPass at 10AM for a time between 3-4PM - note that you can obtain other FastPass tickets for rides that will ALLOW a FastPass BEFORE or AFTER the time on a currently held FastPass. It sounds confusing ... but you will understand once you get there.

As you can see from the picture above I have an Anaheim Resort Transit ticket and a Disneyland Express/Grayline Bus ticket. The ART pass (as it is nicknamed) came with my hotel booking. This transit took me to and from my hotel that was about 4 blocks from the entrance of Disneyland. This bus line has service every 20 minutes from 1 hour before park opening to 40 minutes after park closing. It's best to book this with your hotel if not staying within a walking distance that's convenient to you or if you'd like transportation to some local restaurants/grocery stores/pharmacies.

The Disneyland Express ticket was used to get my family roundtrip from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Anaheim ~ which is about 35 miles away. Flying into LAX was about $200 cheaper per person for our family of five and overall … just a cooler airport to land at.

The Disneyland Express is the cheapest way to get from LAX to the Disneyland Resort area; however its quite confusing and very awkward. The bus takes you from LAX to the Disneyland hotel without any payment ~ you simply hop on and stow your bags and are driven 35 miles. Once you get to the Disneyland Hotel, someone enters your bus and collects money for your roundtrip. You cannot purchase a one way ticket. Roundtrip is $32 per person from LAX. You can buy a group pass for up to 5 people for $99.00 for the roundtrip BUT YOU MUST HAVE purchased the roundtrip in advance and already have a travel voucher printed out to hand to the ticket agent. This was a detail that I missed and caused a small amount of stress when the tickets were distributed. I had called to confirm at the service number for Grayline a week before and again the day before our trip ~ both times I was told that no advance reservation was necessary. I made a small objection and was given the $99.00 price as a "one time exception".

Some other discounts that I found for Disneyland California:

* If you are part of a Fortune 500 company - your Human Resources Department may have discounted tickets. Check into it and see if the Undercover Tourist Tickets (via MouseSavers newsletter) are a better deal.

* Your hotel or local restaurants in Anaheim sell discounted tickets.

* My brother goes to Disney every 3 to 4 years - by building up Hilton Honors points on his credit card in the interim - he essentially takes a family of four for a total cost of $600 for an ENTIRE WEEK - basically just paying for food and travel.

* Don't think that a travel agent can't get you a good deal on a hotel and Disney tickets or that there must be a markup. Most likely your travel agent can buy specials for Disneyland and airfare that will be FAR FAR less than you could get with ANY discount on your own. Remember a travel agent costs you NOTHING and you don't have to accept their offer on the first visit.

For Part II of this review, see:

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