People think we’re nuts when we mention that we’re driving to Disneyland.

The idea of flying to Disneyland really never enters my mind, except to look at as a cost comparison.  You see, when I was a child we went to Disneyland two or three times as a family and we DROVE every time.  We spent 2 days driving down….and 2 days driving back.  My dad’s uncle lived in San Jose, so that was our overnight stop.  I don’t remember much about the drive, so it couldn’t have been too bad. And we didn’t have a SUV or station wagon, it was a 1983 Audi 4000 sedan. That was THE family car…we took it camping, to the beach, on long roadtrips, etc.  I’ll save that story for another post.

Anyway, a couple years into our dating relationship, Jim and I decided to go to Disneyland.  We drove there.  We didn’t have any kids, so we planned a hefty itinerary to drive straight through the night all the way to San Francisco…spend the day there….then continue on to Anaheim.  We left after work, I can’t remember the exact time, but I’m guessing it had to be around 6pm. I drove the first leg….and couldn’t get past Eugene when I had to give up. It wasn’t even 11pm when I had to stop driving.  I could NOT stay awake.  I even stopped at a 7eleven at one point and bought a soda and some gum to keep me awake.  I just couldn’t do it.   Jim drove pretty much the entire way- I slept the pretty much the entire way.

At 6am we arrived in San Francisco and went out to breakfast, went on a bus tour of the area, visited Alcatraz, walked the Pier, then hopped back in the car around 3PM and made it to Anaheim by bedtime.

Fast forward 10 years.

We have three kids.  The older two are 5 and 8, both tall enough to meet all the height requirements. We decide it’s time to go to Disneyland (and leave the youngest one behind with Grandma and Grandpa).

I priced out flying.
I priced out the Kids Fly Free promotion that runs every April.
I priced out packages through Disney, through AAA, through MasterCard.

Here’s what I figured out.

NUMBER ONE…. It was cheaper to book the hotel myself, every time. A package deal never pans out.

NUMBER TWO….Kids don’t fly free. No matter what they lead you to believe.

Here’s an example (and I just checked this again in February):

I can book 6 nights at my favorite hotel for $800 by calling them directly and using my AAA discount (yes, I know there are cheaper hotels out there, but I like this particular one for it’s room layout and location.)  If I were to book a flight for a family of 4 to LAX on Alaska Airlines, each ticket would be around $250. So we’re looking at $1800 for hotel+air, right? ( I don’t want to use my miles on a “local” flight. I want to save those so I can fly to someplace I would never drive to!)

Kids Fly Free Promotion: I chose the same exact hotel, same exact flights.  Hmmmm….the package is $1900. It won’t show me a breakdown of how much each flight is or how much the hotel is, but let’s assume the hotel is still $800. That means it’s $1100 for our tickets. If my 2 kids fly free that means Jim and I pay $550 EACH to fly there? WHAT? Oh….it’s Kids Fly Free but Parents Pay Double!


I’m telling you…

We DROVE to Disneyland in 2008. Gas was over $4.00 per gallon at the time, remember that?  The summer that staycations were the vacation of choice because gas was outrageously priced?  My 2002 Expedition only got 14 mpg on the HIGHWAY.  So we rented a car.  A small car.  A Pontiac G6 to be exact.  The funny thing was, the rental car was practically free because it got twice the mileage of the Expedition!  What we saved on gas was used to pay for the car!

Here’s the breakdown:
Gas = $321.34 (at over $4.00 a gallon and 2,200 miles total- that includes driving to Sea World, Universal Studios, etc.)
Rental Car for 8 days = $180.64 (using my Costco Executive Member discount!)
Hotel down, Hotel back = $70 each night (including the taxes)
Meals while driving = $30 TOTAL for all 4 days (dollar menu, no sodas, minimal snacks)

Total cost to drive (with a rental car): $671.98

Add in the 6 nights at a hotel at Disneyland and we’re looking at a package price of $1470.

Initially it only looks like a $400 savings.  But people forget about the extra expenses of flying. To do a true cost comparison you have to look at the whole picture.  Are you parking your car at the airport or taking a shuttle there?  How are you getting from the airport to  your hotel?   How are you getting to all the attractions (Sea World, Universal Studios, Magic Mountain, Lego Land, etc.). Does your hotel provide shuttles? Are they free? Or are you renting a car? And for how many days?  How big is the car? Don’t forget to add in the gas for that car!

We plan to make the trip again this year.  I doubt gas will be $4.00 a gallon, but I’m going to budget for $3.50 per gallon.  Since we’re taking our whole family, there’s no way we can ride comfortably in a compact car.  I drive a newer Ford Expedition which gets much better mileage on the highway so we’ll just take that.  I looked into renting a mini-van or SUV, and it would be over $450 just to rent, and it wouldn’t save enough on gas to make it worthwhile.  So estimating the same number of miles, poor mpg, 2 nights hotel, meals for 5 this time….we’re still looking at $670.00 to drive.

I’ll type up Part Two of this article later this month. It will focus on how to make the road trip fun for the kids.