What Disneyland means to us:
My children had been begging me for a trip to The Happiest Place on Earth, and I wanted to find a way to get them there. When my husband passed away in 2011, and our church sent our family on a trip to Disneyland, it was really an escape from all of the stresses we were going through. Disneyland is truly magical, and my family connected while enjoying ourselves together; we finally got to be carefree. After my daughter Lani’s battle with cancer, and the realization that my oldest children were becoming adults before my very eyes, I wanted badly to give my children another happy memory.
Three months ahead of time, I searched the internet for the best deals for a hotel, while still wanting somewhere that was directly across the street, big enough to accommodate to my family, and included a free breakfast for my team. I ended up going with Best Western Park Place Inn and Mini-Suites on South Harbor Blvd, a Good Neighbor Hotel. I originally booked with them on a third-party website, but when I called the hotel to see if they could offer a lower rate, they gave me an even better deal! Great customer service.
A tip that I recommend for families on a budget is signing up for an email list for nearby restaurants so that you can get sent coupons, which sometimes include free things especially when it’s near your birthday! Earl of Sandwich at Downtown Disney gave us coupons for free sandwiches, which were very tasty.
When you are a single parent, things like a vacation always have to come with somewhat of a budget in mind. I wanted to have enough time to save up, but not so much time that it would be unbearable to wait. Lani had always wanted to see the park during the Christmas holiday season, but we wanted to be home for Christmas itself, so we planned to go three months ahead of time, during my kids’ Thanksgiving break. This also fell on my son Louis’ 17th birthday, and my daughter Lani’s 19th birthday, which would be perfect.
I also wanted to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with the kids at the park, somewhere that we could just sit around the table, take our time, and unwind. I had wanted to see how the Grand Californian Hotel and Spa looked for the holidays, so we had in mind that we wanted to eat at a restaurant there. While the Napa Rose was out of our price range, I was able to reserve a buffet dinner for a bargain at Storyteller’s Café.
I was determined not to spend money unnecessarily for a month prior to our vacation. I wanted to have plenty of money to spend while at the park. We saved up little Disney trinkets here and there, so the younger kids would have things to play with in the car. Most of these toys and things came from Target and Wal-Mart, where I got them for a steal.
The Big Trip:
We left the Bay Area at around 6 am and hit the road. My three-year-old Logan had a good time playing with his Mickey Mouse toys and coloring books, while the older kids enjoyed watching movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas on my phone. This really got them hyped up and excited for our destination.
When we arrived at the Best Western, we were surprised at how unbelievably close it was to the park entrance! Right when you exit the hotel, there’s the crosswalk that leads straight to the park. Perfect to tote my big family around. We ended up walking back a couple of times mid-day to pick up jackets, or snacks, and it was quick and easy to go back to give Logan a nap if I needed to. I felt safe walking to and from the hotel, and let my kids do so as well. This gave me peace of mind. The receptionist was knowledgeable and assisted us in finding our way around. The room was spacious and clean. The beds were comfortable, and my kids loved it. Since the room came with a microwave and mini fridge, I went to the Target around the corner from the hotel, and loaded up on snacks, sandwich supplies, and drinks. We ate snacks at the end of the day from our room, and sometimes packed sandwiches in a small lunch cooler to take in the park.
Thanksgiving Day, the park was filled with people, but we didn’t mind. The kids and I went through Downtown Disney to arrive at the Grand Californian Hotel and Spa. The hotel was exquisitely decorated for Christmas, it was warm and cozy inside. The fireplace was roaring, and the main Christmas tree inside was magnificent. While waiting for our table at Storyteller’s Cafe in the large lobby, my family and I sat and admired the tree while listening to a live pianist play Christmas and Disney songs.
When we went inside Storyteller’s Café, it was as inviting as the rest of the hotel. The Thanksgiving Buffet was AMAZING. It included all the fixings from prime rib, turkey and salmon, to stuffing and fresh green beans, and a spread of elegant, delicious desserts. They really outdid themselves. The chefs and servers were very kind, and looked happy to be there. It was by far the best meal, service, setting and price I have ever seen. It would have cost me the same, if not more, to do this kind of meal at home. But instead of stressing over cooking the Thanksgiving meal (and doing the dishes afterwards!), it was all done for me, and I could focus on being with my family. It was a Thanksgiving I will never forget, that’s for sure.
At the Park:
OH MY GOSH, Disneyland during the holidays has to be one of the most amazing things I have ever seen before in my life. Main Street USA at nighttime was one of the highlights of the trip. My kids and I were in AWE while walking, with views of the Christmas tree, the falling snow, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, and the twinkling lights surrounding us. My daughter and I felt like crying, it was all so beautiful. I took mental pictures of my children’s lit-up faces as they took everything in – THIS is why we came to Disneyland.
I’m not much of a fan of rides, but my kids LOVED them. I’d just wait for the kids while they enjoyed it, taking in the ambiance, while sipping on a Peppermint Mocha from the Starbucks at either Disneyland Park or California Adventure Park. I enjoyed seeing the little hidden Mickey’s and Christmas details while walking around, from the plants to the buildings, to the characters and even the cheerful Christmas music.
Altogether, my kids’ favorite rides were The Haunted Mansion, because it’s theme was changed to The Nightmare Before Christmas for the holidays, and Radiator Springs Racers. They would not stop talking about both rides. They also LOVED The Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Grizzly River Run, and California Screamin’. My three-year-old’s favorite rides were Astro Blasters and Dumbo. I know these were his favorites because he threw a tantrum when I tried to get him off of them. The older kids liked walking around on their own, and often used Disneyland Railroad to get through the different lands.
As a family, we enjoyed the nightly holiday-themed fireworks show, which we viewed from Main Street USA. We ended one of our nights together watching fireworks and eating yummy corn dogs. Logan and I liked watching Fantasmic! while the older four kids were in The Haunted Mansion. A family favorite was also watching World of Color together at California Adventure Park, as it was also holiday-themed, and the host of the show was none other than Olaf the Snowman! My kids got a kick out of that. They also delighted in walking through Cars Land in California Adventure, especially during nighttime. It was like stepping into the movie, plus it was also festive. Logan talked to Lightning McQueen while we waited for the other kids when they were on Radiator Springs Racers. Another favorite was going to ¡Viva Navidad! at CA Adventure. They really showed Latin American culture in a beautiful way, and it made me proud to be Latina. There were cultural festivities, including a parade of music and dancing, performances, food, and more. Even Mickey, Minnie, and the gang looked the part and were celebrating!
FOOOOOOD. There was so much good food there. We were definitely not calorie-counting, and we excused ourselves since we were at Disneyland. We all loved the corn dogs from Little Red Wagon in DL, they were the best corn dogs we’d ever had. A couple of my kids preferred the hot link corn dogs at Corn Dog Castle in CA Adventure, they liked the kick of heat in those. My children went crazy over Dole Whip from Tiki Juice Bar at Adventureland in DL, and I really do think it was refreshing. The cream cheese-filled pretzels and churros from the carts were also big hits. And as I already mentioned, Storyteller’s Café was just amazing.
This was the trip of a lifetime. I’m so glad I got to spend the holiday with my children at such a magical place. Disneyland brought my family together.