How I Visited American Disneyland:  Mom of Two Children about a Fun School Vacation

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In 2013, together with her 4-year-old daughter, Kristina visited Disneyland in California, and in 2016, already with two children, also visited Walt Disney World in Orlando (Florida), which is considered the most famous and visited amusement park in the world.  At that time, Kristina’s daughter was 7 years old, and her son was less than a year old.  How, why, how much does it cost, and what advice Kristina would give to others?  When Kristina agreed to our interview, our editorial board already had at least 20 questions. Let’s be honest, Disneyland is not only a childhood dream.

 What is it?

Unlike Disneyland, the Walt Disney World entertainment complex in Orlando is not just a “Land”, it is the whole “World”—a world of several theme parks, numerous attractions, and a large number of restaurants, shops, and hotels.

The official name is Walt Disney World or “Walt Disney World Recreation Center”.  This is the place where cartoons become reality: if you wish, you can take pictures with princesses, or sail on a boat to Jack Sparrow, or fly along with Peter Pan, or watch fireworks near Cinderella’s Castle.

A water park with a slide the height of a 10-storey building, several dozen attractions, a kingdom of animals, both real and extinct or mythical, Hollywood studios and a popular attraction—the “Twilight Zone Horror Tower”, which will get to experience what it feels like to fall in an elevator from a height of 13 floors.

The Magic Kingdom Park, the one where Cinderella’s Castle was built, is visited by more than 17 million people every year and rightfully deserves the title of one of the most visited places in the world.

As soon as we got a vacation and accumulated enough funds, we flew to the U.S.  In total, we have already visited more than 10 states and, perhaps, all the most famous places for children’s recreation: 2 Disneylands in California and Florida, 2 LEGOlands, Sea World, 2 Universal Studios, a dozen or so water parks, theme parks, zoos and even the largest National Park called Yellowstone. 

And how to organize it and stay within budget?

Traveling, especially internationally, and especially across continent ain’t cheap.  But, we believe that getting out of your shell, out of your comfort zone, and exploring the world is a must.  We believe it’s also important for development of our children.

We plan all our trips ourselves.  This helps us save a lot of money.  And staying within a reasonable budget is something we have to do.  In order to ensure we don’t overspend and can still afford to travel so much we shop around a lot, spend a lot of time looking for discounts and promotions and use various program you can sign up for to save even more money.  Thus, for airline tickets we find that Priceline and Kayak help us save the most.  For theme park admission tickets to Disney, LEGOLand, SixFlags and many others that we had a chance to visit over the years we found Entertainment Book VIP Perks, offered by CouponFindr offers the lowest rates.  CouponFindr’s VIP Perks also helps us save on restaurants and shopping, though we try not to shop too much, it’s way too easy to get carried away with this when visiting America.

We visited Disneyland both times in the summer: the first time my husband’s vacation happened to be in the summer, the second time my daughter was already in school and we pretty much depended on her schedule.  Summer in California was tolerable, but in Florida —the sizzling heat and the desire to hide inside with an air conditioner on full blast.

How well children handled long-distance traveling?

We were flying from Europe.  Our children handled the long trip quite well, despite it taking 10 to 13 hours.  More often than not, it’ the parents who fear their children cannot handle it, while the children are doing just fine.

It is better, of course, to take some entertainment fitting their ages on the plane: toys, a tablet with cartoons, books.  My daughter has been flying since she was 3.5 years old, and there have never been any problems with her.  It’s more difficult with my son though: he wants to walk around the plane, meet everyone, chat with passengers.  Luckily Americans are very friendly people and you feel comfortable with them, even when your child is an airplane explorer.  Usually, upon arrival in the USA children feel excellent: it is always easier to fly ahead of time.  One day is enough for us to fully recover from jetlag.  On the way back home we usually recover for at least a week.

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As for how to plan?  If you are traveling with a small child, you need to foresee literally every little thing. 

  1. Trip Timing

Child in school?  Then Disneyland can only be visited in summer.  I believe that one week of other holidays will not be enough for Disney.   We lay down a day for the flight and a day or two to take a break from the flight.  And we need to remember about the time difference: when it’s day, it’s night at Disney, and vice versa.  In Florida, it is very difficult to cope with the heat in the summer, so summer is not the best time to travel.  We had to save ourselves with misting fan coolers, which are sold at Disney on every corner: it’s kind of like a spray gun for flowers and a handheld fan merged together.

There are also small fountains under which you can wet your face, head, and sometimes get completely wet all over.  In order not to overheat, you need to drink an alkaline drink, which is sold in a regular supermarkets, although children do not like it at all.  If you can only go in the summer, then it’s better to choose California.  In Orlando at this time of year you feel like an omelet in a frying pan.  In general, the optimal time for Disney World in Florida is early spring or late autumn: the weather is great and the queues are much smaller.

  1.  Food

I was always carrying a huge number of familiar jars of baby mixes.  Baby food in America is quite different, a completely different assortment of brands and products.  The only familiar brand I could find on the shelves in supermarkets was Gerber, and even that was in an unusual package.  All the other brands are just one big question mark for me.  Allergies, kids refusal to eat—better not to take any risks.  And the taste and consistency are actually also very different.  There is of course also an option to cook baby stuff on your own, but the catch is that there is a different voltage in the USA and our blender will not work there (and the American one will burn out if plugged into our outlets).  You can buy a blender, but that will take about $80 from your budget.

  1.  Diapers

The situation is easier with diapers, but if you in principal prefer to put only Japanese diapers on your child, you’ll be in for a very unpleasant surprise: in the U.S. it is impossible to find either Merries, Moony, or Goon.  There are lots of other brands, but you cannot guess the size.

  1.  Clothes

There will be no problems with clothes.  Americans generally are extremely relaxed about their wardrobe: wearing jeans to a restaurant or theater is a pretty common thing.  And if you need to buy something, for $20-$30 your child can be dressed from head to toe, especially if buying on sale.

  1.  Medicine

Medicines are an important point.  In the USA, firstly, they are also different from ours, and secondly, not everything is easy to buy.  Many medications require a doctor’s prescription.  We always carry with us a bag of medicines for every occasion and emergency. 

Inside Disney

In the Disney parks everything is thought out quite well: there are family toilets where you can go with a stroller and where there is a changing table, napkins, liquid soap.  There is a Rider Swap option that allows two adults to ride one attraction alternately, if the child suddenly did not want to or did not fit the height.  And in this case you need to stand in line only once, then you simply just swap with each other.  To avoid queues, and they are huge, on popular attractions you can use the FASTPASS option—for, well “faster passing through the line”. 

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How much does it all cost?

It is difficult to name the specific cost of the trip.  There is a minimum amount without which you cannot see Disney live, and then everything depends on your own desires and preferences.  A very expensive part of the trip is tickets.  The normal price to California is around $1,000 per person (a little cheaper for a child), to Orlando—$800.  And you don’t have to buy a ticket for a child under 2 years old.  We have never lived in hotels at Disneyland or Disney World, because it is way too expensive.  For $100 it is really possible to rent an apartment or a small house, even with a swimming pool and several bedrooms. We are always looking for accommodations on AirBNB.

The park itself is not cheap either.  If you buy it at regular prices, admission is about $150 per adult and about $100 per child.  If you buy a ticket for a few days, the price will be lower on a per day basis.  But in any case, it’s a decent chunk of cash, especially if you have several children.  As I said before, we usually use CouponFindr’s VIP Perks to get tickets 30% to 50% cheaper.  And we used them so much and recommended them to all our friends that they decided to give us an exclusive discount code for much cheaper VIP Perks membership (you can use it too, if you’d like, the code is “Kristina”, without the quotation marks of course).

Inside the amusement park, the rides are free, but water, ice cream, food, souvenirs are paid.  You can save money by taking a cooler bag with a supply of drinking water.  We filled the baby stroller filled up to the brim with bottled water, and this was still not enough.

A separate expense line item is transportation in America.  A car rental costs about $100 per day, child seats add another $10 each.  You can get around by bus, from some places there are even free buses to Disney.  In Walt Disney World in Florida, it is better to use a paid parking for $20 per car, otherwise you will have to walk several kilometers to the park.  Children’s food has been taken care of.  But adults also need to eat.  We were buying milk and cereal for breakfast, had lunches at Disney (sometimes you can pay about $40 per person at the entrance and eat in a certain cafe all day, as much as you want), and for dinner we bought fruit, so the food was not too expensive.  And outside of Disney, both in Orlando (Florida) and in Anaheim (California) we tried to find restaurants that offer coupons and discounts through VIP Perks.  Quite a few of those offer what Americans call BOGO, Buy-One-Get-One free, which is basically eating dinner at half price.

Will you go again?

Probably, because we have already seen so much, my daughter does not often remember Disneyland.  Schoolchildren, even younger ones, already have other interests, and they often do not watch Disney cartoons at this age.  Although a Safari trip, when giraffes, elephants, lions, pink flamingos, crocodiles walk and swim in the immediate vicinity of you, was remembered, perhaps, the longest.

And also the ” Expedition Everest ” attraction, where the train flies at high speed, soars up, falls, and then slows down sharply—because there is no part of the railway ahead!  And then a snowman jumps out, and the train rushes back at the same speed.  It’s unforgettable!  I screamed in fear, but my daughter was not afraid at all.
I hope that we will have the opportunity to repeat the trip again.  After all, at every age you look at the same thing differently.  And for an adult, Disneyland opens up something new every time.  As John Steinbeck said: “It’s not people who take trips—trips take people”!  From any trip you come back a different person, with a slightly different picture of the world and a different perception of yourself.  Traveling helps children develop natural curiosity, give them a much broader view of the world, and thirst for research and exploration.  Any trip, any journey does not pass without a trace for a child.  It is not necessary to go to Disneyland, just a small trip and getting out of your own comfort zone is enough.

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