Disney Theme Park Tips + Tricks to Save Money and Maximize Fun!

As many of you know back in the fall we both did separate trips to California AT THE SAME TIME. Confusing, I KNOW! This is the thing with being busy sisters who basically share a brain- we tend to come up with the same great ideas, and then forget to fill each other in on said great ideas! THIS is how we ended up planning our trips at the same time with slightly different agendas. Richelle started off in Palm Springs and then drove to Anaheim for two days of Disney with her little family. MacKenzie and her Hubbie went straight from LAX to Disney and then hit up Universal studios for a whirlwind Birthday trip. We both had fantastic, though slightly different trips and experiences. After comparing notes, we’ve compiled a list of our California theme Park “Must- Knows” and , not surprisingly, had many of the same suggestions!

1.Get the app. Simple named, “Disneyland”, this will make your life navigating the parks 1000 times easier. Even if you have been to the Magic Kingdom ten times as kids (we were fortunate to have made many family trips there when we were young) things DO change over the years, and we DO forget.

2. Pay the extra $10 for the Max Pass. The Max pass allows you to sign up for unlimited Fast Passes through out Magic Kingdom and California Adventure (one pass at a time) to the busiest rides, and tells you a window of time to come back for. Unfortunately, a lot of the little kid rides do not have fast passes, so that is where you end up WAITING ( especially in Fantasty Land). But, when you have the fast pass you can make up time on the other rides that do! We found that the Fast Passes were especially helpful in California Adventure, as these rides are newer and have a greater draw. Signing up for fast passes is super easy through the app.

3.Bring your Passport. Or a Nexus Card if you have one. I know what you are thinking… WTF. BUT, if you are a Canadian, they will NOT accept a Canadian drivers license as a valid form of identification if you want to purchase booze at California Adventure. This means, no delicious Wine Slushies or ice cold Beer for you! MacKenzie found this out the hard way on a 30 degree day! #worstformoftorture

4. Don’t splurge on hotel. This is especially the case if you are staying for only a few nights. Richelle and family stayed at the Howard Johnson which was one of the cheapest options, and were glad with this decision. It was not glamorous, new or fancy by any means, but the location could not be beat. This hotel was only a two minute walk to the Disney parks.  Plus, we literally only slept in our room. If you have really little kids that are crawling and you are planning to go back and forth to the park for naps etc. and will be in the room for long periods of time, we would maybe go with one of the newer Hotels. Hotel carpets terrify us!

MacKenzie Stayed at the Marriot, which pricing wise, was about a mid range option. Still within walking distance (about 10-15 minutes), the Marriot was a nice hotel with a decent enough pool, and a STARBUCKS- which was ideal for coffee and breakfast while walking to Disney. The Marriot, and several hotels in the area offer a shuttle to and from the parks, for as little as a few dollars per adult a day, with unlimited rides to and from the park. We opted out of this, thinking we would enjoy the walk. And we did…. there. After walking THIRTY kilometers throughout the parks, and to dinner outside the park, the last thing we wanted to do was walk home from Disney. Especially knowing we were going to have to do it all again the next day. Consider taking the shuttle if your hotel offers one. It will save your feet!!

5. Get out of Disney for dinner. Let’s be real. You spend enough time in the parks ALL day. Its nice to get a break from being in a line. Plus, Anaheim has really cleaned up over the past few years and has some really cool and unique dining options . In Particular, we really enjoyed Umami Burger the Anaheim Packing District. Both are child friendly and incredibly accommodating, while still providing excellent menus and unique dining experiences. The Anaheim Packing District is an old restored building with multiple diverse culinary artisans, a craft brewery and watering holes. Among them, a gourmet Grilled Cheese bar, a rustic Neopolitan pizzeria, Southern Soul Food hotspot, Indian Street Food, several Asian food options and a mouthwatering desert bar. In addition, dining that is not in the parks or Downtown Disney is much less busy! We actually booked our restaurants on Open Table and were able to get the exact times we wanted.

Lots of Open Seating Options once you have chosen your food!


One of the several Watering Holes found through out The Packing House Building

Epic Custom Turkey- Bacon- Avocado Burger from Umami!

6. Make reservations. If you decide to have dinner in the Parks or Downtown Disney (no judgement!)- and we admit there are some cool restaurants- you will definitely want to make these reservations WELL in advance. As in, book them when you book your trip to California, or ideally before  (you can book them through the app! Have we mentioned how awesome the app is?!) The wait for some restaurants can be MONTHS long. While we didn’t get the opportunity to dine there, the Blue Bayou came highly recommended, and looked unreal. Located on New Orleans Street, the Blue Bayou is connected to our favorite ride, The Pirates of the Caribbean.  The restaurants “patio” is actually IN the ride, so you can see the boats drift by as you dine (or see the diners dine as you boat by!). Arielle’s Grotto in California Adventure was also highly recommended.

7. BYOSnacks. No matter how you shake it, theme parks are expensive!! Beyond the flights, hotels, rental cars and price of admission there are LOTS of hidden costs. Buying food in the park is chief among them! The saving grace is that they will let you bring your own food in. This is a wonderful option, especially if you have little kids, dietary restrictions, a strict budget or just want to maintain your healthy habits while on vacation. We also found that with little kids, once the adrenaline wears off they crash FAST. Having snacks to distract them while you are waiting in line keeps the tantrums at bay! Also, bring your own water bottles in to fill up and save on ridiculously over priced water. There are CVS’s and Walgreens within walking distance!

8. Ixnay the stroller. If you can avoid it, don’t bring your own stroller. They are only $15 to rent and if someone else swipes yours, just keep your rental receipt and Disney will give you a new one. You WOULD think that people would have the common courtesy or decency to not steal from your stroller or steal your stroller in general, but this happens ALL too often in these parks.

9. Downsize your purse. This might seem like a bit of a no- brainer, but there is not much room on the rides to store your bags. Some go so fast or involve water so you really want to make sure you minimize valuables that could get lost or damaged. Stick with the essentials. Money, Cellphone, ID, camera. Cell phones in ziplocs is never a bad idea!


Hopefully you find this advice helpful when planning and experiencing your next Theme Park Vacation! If you have and awesome tid-bit we missed be sure to reach out on Instagram @rivercitysisters or send us an email at rivercitysisters@gmail.com


  1. best face masks on November 21, 2020 at 3:06 pm

    Thanks for your sound advice on what is usually an overlooked topic. Is it okay to share this with my group?

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