Editor’s Note: NEA Member Benefits understands how much you love to travel and how much you’ve missed it. As states begin to relax their regulations with regard to COVID-19 and more Americans become vaccinated, travel is opening up more and more. Before planning a trip, read the health and safety protocols and requirements for visitors to any destination, as well as those of airlines, car rentals and hotels before booking, and again before traveling.
Planning a trip to Disneyland or Walt Disney World (WDW)? These Disney-centric theme parks are a dream vacation for many families. And now that they are undergoing phased re-openings after the pandemic forced closures of both parks for part of 2020, why not turn your dream into reality?
If the hefty admission fees and other costs have been holding you back, there are several strategies you can use—from the early planning stages through your days on-site—that will make the most of your time and money on your next visit to Disneyland or WDW. Before booking any tickets though, check with those destinations for the latest COVID-19 updates.
Purchase tickets in advance to save money
You’ll save both time and money buying your tickets in advance instead of paying at the gate. You may find discounted theme park tickets, but don’t expect drastic savings. It’s worth shopping around at your local NEA chapter, warehouse clubs, bank or credit union. California and Florida residents, as well as members of the military, are often eligible for deeper discounts.
Walt Disney World Pricing: Different than Disneyland, WDW pricing for tickets is seasonal and will be based on your dates of travel. Peak season (Thanksgiving and Christmas week, school vacations, and summertime) cost more. Tickets must be purchased for exact dates. The more days you choose, the more the price drops per day. For example, a 1-day ticket starts at $109, while a 5-day ticket starts at $88 per day for adults.
Budget for extra expenses
As with any vacation, it’s important to save up in advance. For tips, read “How to Plan a Vacation Without Going Into Debt.” Vow to make a budget and stick to it. Factor in smaller, unexpected fees that add up.
“Keep in mind, parking at Disney is also expensive,” advises Katie Rivezzo, a counselor in the Los Angeles Unified School District who frequently visits the region’s theme parks. Regular parking fees at Disneyland are $25 per car, per day. Preferred parking for spaces closer to the entrance is $40. At WDW, the standard parking fee is also $25 per car, per day, and preferred parking is $45–$50, depending on the season.
Consider meal costs, too. “The food at any theme park is expensive. Pack your own food and water and carry it in a backpack,” Rivezzo says. Disneyland and WDW allow outside food to be carried in, but just be sure to tell security at the entrance. At Disneyland, there is also a designated picnic area outside the main entrance. You can store your lunch in the nearby lockers so it’s there when you’re ready. Or, dine out at a restaurant near Disneyland. Don’t forget that through the NEA Discount Marketplace, you can purchase discounted Restaurant.com vouchers that are worth $25 at a variety of dining establishments right near the park.
Choose the right time to visit
Making the most of your time at Disneyland means avoiding crowds; they slow you down. If you go on a weekend, holiday or during the summer, it’s going to be crowded (although there are currently capacity restrictions due to COVID-19). Just how much though will depend on which days you go and how you structure your days. If possible, try for a weekday or off-season visit to have a more pleasant experience at the park.
For starters, some holidays are better than others. “Christmas, Easter and summer are notoriously the most crowded times there,” says Jennifer Miner, a co-founder of the TheVacationGals.com site who lives nearby. “Halloween is less busy. But the least busy day of the year is Super Bowl Sunday. If you don’t mind skipping the big game, go to Disneyland on Super Bowl Sunday.” The days of the week matter as well. “If you can't go off-season, at least try a Tuesday or Wednesday. These are generally the lightest days,” Rivezzo advises.
When you plan your day, the word “early” should be your mantra. Get to the gate at least 30 minutes before the official opening. If you stay at a Disneyland property, you benefit from the “Extra Magic Hour” allowing you in an hour before everyone else, or if you have 3-day or longer ticket you can have one “Magic Morning” where you get in an hour early. However, all magic hours are currently suspended due to COVID-19 so check back to see when they are reinstated. Have lunch at 11:30 a.m. and dinner at 5 p.m.—before the lines start to form at the restaurants.
Maximize your time in the parks
Making the most out of your investment also means covering as much ground as possible, instead of wandering the parks aimlessly. So make a plan before you get there. “Getting a map is always wise in order to plot your day,” suggests Rivezzo. Not only are there Disneyland maps and Walt Disney World maps on Disney’s websites, but you’ll likely find printed copies in your hotel’s lobby.
Circle your must-see attractions and figure out what route makes the most sense. If you want to cover Disneyland in a day, some experts advise starting in Adventureland and traveling clockwise, since most people naturally tend to go right at the end of Main Street, toward Tomorrowland.
If your goal is to get as many rides in as possible, make a beeline for the most popular rides as soon as you arrive, or wait until evening. “Hit the most popular rides at the end of your day, preferably after 5 p.m. That’s when lines are shortest,” suggests Rivezzo.
Technology can also help. Free FastPasses are distributed at popular rides, giving you a scheduled time to return and skip the general line. You can also use apps. “MouseWait is especially useful for maximizing our time [at Disneyland]. It tells us how long the line is at any given ride,” says Miner. Wait Times at Disney World is a similar app for vacations focused on Disney's Florida theme parks.
Use your membership benefits to save
If you’ve got your heart set on staying on-site, don’t forget that NEA members who join Costco have access to discounts on Disneyland hotels and Walt Disney World resorts. You can also use NEA Travel to book discounted room nights at nearby hotels and resorts, and to purchase plane tickets and rental cars at the best prices.
If you’re going to Disneyland, you’ll want to fly into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), or John Wayne Airport Santa Ana (SNA), which is just 13 miles away from the park. For WDW, buy tickets to Orlando International Airport (MCO). Check NEA Travel’s portal for the best airfare prices. If you need to rent a car, you’ll find the best prices at NEA Travel’ portal so book through there for maximum savings and to earn reward points.
Hotels near Disneyland vary widely in terms of price and amenities, but in general if you’re not staying inside the park, it’s best to be as close as possible. Four Points by Sheraton Anaheim has rooms with two queens and a king with sofa bed, plus there’s a pool. If you book via NEA Travel’s portal you can get rooms starting at an average of $144 per night. If you prefer a bit more living space, the Staybridge Suites Anaheim At The Park average about $149 per night. If you want to splurge on a stay inside the park (which comes with some great perks), consider Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel, which is one of the more affordable options, averaging around $406 per night via NEA Travel’s portal.
If you want to be inside the park at WDW, you can find some great deals this summer. For example, Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa, which has two pools and water play areas, a golf course, and spa, averages $276 a night in August on NEA Travel’s portal. Or, you can still enjoy luxury outside the park at Waldorf Astoria Orlando, which has prices around $190 a night. To really save though, book a room at Westgate Towers, where many rooms have full kitchens, and you’ll be just a 10-minue drive away and only spend around $78 a night on NEA Travel’s portal.