Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Disneyland Tips, Tricks and Secrets #3

Welcome back for another week of tips, tricks and secrets for a successful Disneyland vacation.

Last week we discussed the all important fast pass system, how to use it, and a few tricks that aren't published Disney policy, but work none the less...for now of coarse. We also talked about how precious the morning hours are in the parks. I can't stress this enough. Showing up in the late morning will make the rest of your day much more hectic, especially if your primary goal is to ride attractions. 

Remember the early bird gets the worm!

In the first week's post we talked about when to visit, where to stay, and how long your trip should be. You can revisit all of that here.

Now we are at that all important part of the day when everybody is hungry. There are so many dining choices within the Disney Parks, plus the hotels, Downtown Disney, and the surrounding areas. Before we dive into each of these and their pros and cons, I want to back up and discuss what you should have in your hotel room and what you should pack into the parks.

I always recommend stopping by a local grocery store on your way or during your first day for snacks, breakfast items, a bottle or two of wine, a case of water, and maybe some lunch type items. If you can't go to the store and didn't bring groceries with you, then you'll want to utilize one of the grocery stores that deliver. Its all worth the effort. One, you'll save a ton of money. Two, you'll save time. Three, you will save yourself from hearing the endless complaints of hunger from your own belly and those of your family.

Remember, you will be walking A LOT. And Disney is very good at entices all of your senses, including those that make you hungry. You will also find that at peak times (like when you want a dessert type snack) everyone wants to eat at the same time and the lines can be ridiculous. We have returned to the hotel many a nights looking for a short line, having never found one and raided the hotel pantry we set up. It saved us from going to bed hungry. In the morning, ideally you will eat breakfast in your room or carry it into the parks. And you will want to pack snacks into a back pack. I like to allow the kids to get one in park treat each day, but their other snacks must come from the pack. This way I know they are getting an array of healthy (or if not healthy at least cheap) options. I include things like sliced apples, snack sized candies, beef jerky, granola bars and water. Lots and lots of water, especially during the warmer months. 

Ok, back to lunch and your choices. 

We usually plan one sit down meal a day in order to take a load off. Lunch is a great choice because the same menu items tend to be a couple dollars cheaper at lunch time in Disney. During the summer we tend to eat lunch later at like 2 or 3 to avoid crowds and get a break from the heat. In cooler months we try to plan lunch for around 11 or 11:30, skipping the mid morning snack that we would have eaten in the summer to get us through. Either way we are avoiding eating at peak times when the restaurants are the busiest. If you want to have a full service sit down meal too, you should check out the menus here. This web site also has the menus for counter service, but we will get to that in a second...

Full service restaurants within the Disney Parks, at the hotels and in DTD tend to get busy and usually require reservations. Sometimes you can get lucky and make ressies that day, but usually you want to do it before you leave home. Some, like the famous Blue Bayou Restaurant in Pirates of the Caribbean Attraction, require ressies to be made a month or more in advance during the busiest times of the year. For ressies, call  Disneyland Dining at 714-781-DINE (3463). 

Ok, back to your options. Next up is counter service. These quick service restaurants' menus can be seen at the link above too. They are throughout the parks and DTD (Downtown Disney). This is certainly a less expensive option, but not necessarily a time saver, unless you plan on eating at off times. The lines can get loooong. Finding a spot to sit can be tough too. If you choose one of the restaurants that are kind of cafeteria style, then you will have seating dedicated to the facility. If you choose a snack cart or walk up window, you'll have to find a table, bench or other spot to enjoy your meal. New Orleans Square is a great place to do this as is the area along Rivers of America, although here it may be more picnic style. Which is fun and leads me to another thing you should pack into your back pack...a plastic sheet that you can use to sit on the ground paving or the grass. Handy for night time shows and waiting for parades too.

If you want out of Disney for a can eat at any of the many restaurants on Harbor Blvd. They are mixed in with all of those off property motels. There is everything from McDonalds to Subway to Quiznos to Tony Romas. Keep in mind these restaurants tend to be more expensive than they are at home and they get busy. I recommend this option for late lunches. I don't recommend the Quiznos or the CaptainKidds on Harbor Blvd. Trust me :).  There is also the Gardenwalk Shopping Center within walking distance, although a bit of a long walk, that offers a ton of sit down restaurants that are good bets. PF Changs, The Cheesecake Factory and Bubba Gumps are all here. 

The final option is to go back to the hotel. You can make lunch in the room or order delivery. Every hotel seems to have a bunch of delivery menus in the information folder. This is by far the most frugal option and great if you plan on taking a nap and/or swim break until later in the day. Which I highly recommend if you got to the parks early and plan to return for night time entertainment! Especially when you want to stay until park closes at midnight. 

One other option is something special and a must do once, in my humble opinion. Character Meals are offered in each of the Disney Hotels and in both parks. We will discuss these next week along with the tips, tricks and secrets of the best spots to snag for evening entertainment!

See you next week! 

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