California Vacation Tips

The title to this post should be 'DISNEYLAND IS OVER-RATED' but I wanted to share everything I learned on this trip so I gave it a proper (and not so tacky) title. There were a couple of things I did do right when planning this trip, but I made a LOT of mistakes. A lot was learned, I hope someone can benefit from this lengthy (but very beneficial) post.
TIP #1
We saved for a long time for this seven day trip. Mistake #1 was planning it on the same spring break that the whole world was having. A bus driver told us that the first week in March is a good slow week. I also have heard that December was a good time to go if you are just wanting to go to Disney/Universal/SeaWorld.
TIP #2
We used a travel agent who booked our entire trip through Southwest.com
If we would have simply went to Southwest.com and paid them directly we would have got the SAME EXACT flights, hotels and deals and would have saved over $300. If we vacation again we will use Southwest airlines. You can put 2 bags on for free and take 2 very large carry ons per person.
TIP #3
Next time we travel we will put EMPTY luggage on the plane. This way we can put all of our souvenir's in the bags for the way home. When we asked the lady at the hotel desk she said the nearest UPS or USPS was miles away. Our plans for shipping everything home backfired so I bought some large bags for $12 at Disneyland and sent them back as luggage. The bags were all ripped and torn up when they came off the plane but they served their purpose.
TIP #4
Make sure your hotel is close to where you are going. We stayed at the Carousel Inn & Suites. It was about a ten minute walk to Disneyland from where we stayed. We got to the hotel in the afternoon and they would not let us check in until 4pm. I hated this about the hotel. We were so tired from the trip and we couldn't check in and rest. We had to leave our bags at the front and decided to spend the five remaining hours at adventureland. We saw some staff call people when their rooms were open, we were never called. We checked back in at 4 and fell asleep at 8 due to the jet lag and 2 hour time difference. Be forewarned that Disney shoots off a massive amount of fireworks at 9:30 every night on spring break week. EVERY night. By the last night we slept through it but the first night we had no idea what was going on and though WW III had begun. They are loud. The staff there were all VERY VERY nice. However, I will never EVER ask for their advice if we ever visit again. I REALLY wanted to go to Trader Joes. My husband asked the front desk lady what would be the best way to get a ride there. She told him that a personal driving company (Blue Star Transportation) was the best way and even called him. She said it would be about $30 to go five miles. We were desperate so we hopped in his van and were on our way. Sammy Bakir was very nice and told us that his company was the way to travel. He said that Taxis take the longest route and charge way more than he does. He took us to Trader Joes, we were there approx. 10 minutes. When we got back to the hotel, Mr.Bakir told us we owed him SIXTY DOLLARS. For a 5 mile ride. We felt stupid and taken advantage of..... if that wasn't enough humiliation there were these posters hanging in the hotel elevator
a whole day of seeing all of the sights! We booked an appointment for the next day and talked about how exciting it all would be. The stops were so fast at each of the places that we went that we literally jumped off the bus, RAN to the sight, bought a shirt or took a picture then RAN back to the bus. AMG TOURS do not give you enough time to really SEE anything.

This was Santa Monica Pier. He dropped us off wayyyyy down the road. We literally ran down to the pier, bought a Bubba Gump shirt and hat and ran back to the bus. See all the people? This is how it was the entire trip. He took us to the theater to see the stars on the ground. It was more of a circus show than it was anything else. There were people dressed up as all kinds of action figures and even a super stinky spiderman with holes in his uniform....to take a picture with stinky spiderman costs money though. None of these people pose for free. Next Stop! Venice beach. We ran out, ran past all of the people trying to sell us weed and a man wearing nothing but underwear while he walked around the weights. My daughter rolled up her pant legs and I got a few good shots. Then we ran back so we didn't miss the bus.
On the way back to the hotel the driver told us that he hated taking tourists to Venice beach. It is filthy. It smells like pot, they openly sell pot in the stores and people will walk up and beg for money or ask you to buy their rap cd's if you stand still for more than ten seconds. We did not feel safe there and I will never go back. Total Cost for AMG quick tour was over $200 plus we tipped the driver because he was nice but mostly because we made it out alive and were thankful that he didn't leave us.
I'm pretty sure Carousel Inn & Suites gets a few of those dollars for advertising their 'tour' and for the 'personal driver' who overcharged us because we were tourists and we didn't know any other way. What we should have done was downloaded the UBER app and had someone drive us for twenty bucks (or less) to where we needed to go. Although the staff were friendly they most definitely had ulterior motives. I'm pretty sure if I were some uppity business woman the front desk would help me ship a package instead of telling me I'd have to walk miles away to find a fed ex.
We talked to a lot of bus drivers while we were there. They were all very friendly. All of them told us we got ripped off with the AMG tour. One driver even told us that he'd take us on a personal all day trip and let us stay as long as we wanted at all of the sights for half of what we payed AMG. If you want advice on anything while in California, ask a bus driver. We tipped them well and they told us lots of helpful information. They also all said that they would never take their kids to Venice Beach.
TIP #5
If you are going to SeaWorld, book an interactive animal experience months in advance. It cost approx. $185 for our daughter to spend an hour with a beluga. It was another $100 for the cd of pictures. This was my daughters favorite part of the whole trip. It is something they will never ever forget. The trainer told us that the dolphins are much more dangerous and that the belugas were like big kittens. We wanted to do this while we were in Texas SeaWorld but you MUST call way in advance because there are only a few openings each day. You get a free towel which is really nice, and an amazing story to tell everyone at home!
TIP #6
If you want to save money at SeaWorld, buy food from the small carts around the park. After the beluga experience, we were very hungry. We stopped at the restaurant serving chicken, ribs and French fries and each got a piece of cake and it was EIGHTY dollars. I almost fainted. They also offer an 'all you can eat' package in the park. If you have a large and very hungry family this might pay off to do. The park checks your bags before you go in so you don't take food. I put organic fruit roll ups in my husbands pocket and we had those if we needed them also.
When visiting Universal Studios: As soon as you enter the park, go to the very back and to the bottom floor. Everyone is still at the front of the park so we rode all of the bottom floor rides in about an hour, with absolutely no lines.
****If you have a queasy stomach, or your children are sensitive to scary things, DO NOT ride the mummy ride***** My husband thought it was 'fun' however, my daughter hated the ride and I swear I was singing a hymn the whole time because it scared me so bad. It is a very rough roller coaster in the dark ride....it then screams I WILL TAKE YOUR SOUL!!!! and goes backward in the dark in true fast roller coaster fashion. I was so nauseated after this ride that I couldn't ride anything else all day and had to take a Phenergan. I'm old but the ride was really rough too.
TIP #8
I read all kinds of reviews and pinterest 'tip' pins regarding Disneyland. No one told me that the castle was itty bitty. I thought it would be HUGE and MAGICAL. There were beggers all along the entire street to Disneyland. it really took away a lot of the most magical place on earth. My daughter isn't into princesses, Check the Disneyland app to see what rides are broken. Ariels ride, Small world, Alice in Wonderland, Indiana Jones and Nemo were all broken while we were there. She was very disappointed by the old rides and wanted to go back to Adventure land after being at Disneyland for just a few hours. The rides were all at least a three hour wait due to it being spring break and because the other rides were down. If your family isn't enjoying Disneyland, simply walk next door to Adventure land. It is much MUCH better than Disneyland in our opinion. I was anxious at first when my daughter wanted to leave. I had spent months talking up mickey mouse and all the fun Disney would be. It is very outdated and seeing all of the beggars outside is very sad.
My husband LOVED the Lincoln presentation. It is very much worth going to. Unfortunately the room was almost empty when we watched it. I loved being able to take my daughter to a small history lesson in Disneyland. I hope they never get rid of it :)
TIP #9
A bus driver told us this when we were leaving. If you ask any of the food vendors for a cup of ice water, they have it, and it is free. I don't know if this is true but it is worth a shot. A bottle of water is $3 everywhere you go. This tip will save you a LOT of money. Also, my daughter and I got an ice cream bar and they are so frozen solid that they have no taste and you can't really eat them. They are a waste of money. I had never eaten a churro so I shelled out $8 for one. It tasted like gummy dough and I threw it away.
TIP #10
Adventure land has a 'cars' ride. If you want to ride it, go early in the morning. My husband and daughter stood in line for 2 hours the first day and it broke down. The next day they went back and stood in line for 3 hours. They said it was worth the wait but there are fast passes to this ride that you can get if you get there first thing in the morning. As soon as the park opens go straight back and get a fast pass. This will same you a ton of time.
Our time together was fun and it was nice to have my daughter smiling instead of worried about school. We all agreed that our next vacation will be snow skiing. And if we visit Disney again it will be in Florida, not California. I realize that I'm just a redneck girl that doesn't know much about the city life but I really thought it would be cleaner and I wish I would've been a little more educated about the tours and not put my daughter in danger at Venice Beach. California is not the place for us. I do hope that some of these tips will help. I saw a LOT of parents with kids under two and they were stressed out and the kids were either crying or asleep. Maybe if my daughter were a princess-y type of girl it would have gone a little different. I know people who LOVE to visit Disney yearly. It just wasn't for us.
I also wondered how much to save for and how much to take. It was roughly $3000 for our seven day hotel, flight and park tickets. We basically bought whatever we wanted and spent WAY too much on food and we spent about $1200 while we were there. Knowing what I know now, I think I could cut it all in half. Hope this helps you on your next trip!!


1 comment:

  1. Those are really good tips. One should really stay in a hotel that’s not only budget friendly, but more so conveniently near your destinations and also very accessible. It will be easier for you to go somewhere and then come back, if it's like that. It would also be nice if the hotel has some great accommodations and can cater to all your needs. :D

    Marci Deegan @ Twin Pine