For first-time visitors, a trip to California's Disneyland can be overwhelming. The crowds are unbearable and the costs seem to compound. But savvy travelers know where they can score deals on tickets and discount admissions. The best travel hackers even know where to score freebies, extras and upgrades.
Click through to discover just how worth the money Disney and other attractions can be.
1. Planning DVDs
Before you even step foot in the park, you can order a free Disneyland Resort DVD, which highlights the attractions and entertainment to plan your attack. Simply place your request online and one will be mailed to your home — it's magic.
Then you'll just have to decide when the best time is to visit Disney.
2. Celebration Buttons
Disneyland is a great place to celebrate special events and they want to help commemorate the occasion with buttons for your birthday, first visit, anniversary, honeymoon and even a fill-in-the-blank option. Buttons can be picked up from City Hall on Main Street.
3. Rides on the Monorail
Walking the park can be taxing on little legs, so the monorail is a great option for you and your kids to get around. You can catch the red, blue or orange trains inside the park in Tomorrowland or at the Downtown Disney District. The "highway in the sky" was actually the first transportation system of its kind in America and recently celebrated its 50-year anniversary, so you're getting a bit of history along with a free ride.
Just say no to bottled water. At three bucks a pop, it's worth planning ahead and packing a bottle you can fill up throughout the day. There are free water fountains near park restrooms, but you can also ask for a cup at one of the many sit-down restaurants, so you can reserve your money for Disney fun instead of unnecessary charges.
5. PhotoPass Cards
You can attempt to take the perfect family picture on your phone or you can leave the photography up to the pros. Disney PhotoPass cameras are set up at stations by Splash and Space Mountain, select restaurants and character experiences. If you're already a Disney Signature Plus or Disney Premier annual pass holder, you can download your photos for free, but anyone can share them on Facebook. MaxPass cardholders can add unlimited photo downloads to their pass for just $10 a day.
6. Fireworks Shows
Fireworks at Disneyland are reserved for special occasions. If you plan your visit around one of the major holidays — Fourth of July, Halloween, Christmas or New Year's, you'll be treated to an extra special nighttime extravaganza with colorful fireworks, music and surprise character appearances. Holiday weekends are notoriously packed at the park, so be sure to scout out your viewing spots well in advance. For prime locations, head to Sleeping Beauty's Castle, Main Street or along the Rivers of America.
7. A Secret Dole Whip Topping
Dole Whips are one of the most coveted desserts at Disneyland, and a way to make your pineapple soft serve even tastier is by adding some spice. Snag free samples of Tajín Clásico seasoning from the Tropical Imports stand in Adventureland. These single serving packets are flavored with Mexican chilies, lime juice and sea salt and really pack a punch. You can then snag a sundae from the Tiki Juice Bar and sprinkle the topping generously.
8. Medicine and Bandages
Disneyland's First Aid Station is located at the end of Main Street, U.S.A., next to the Baby Care Center. Stocked with basic self-care items, if you're feeling sick or sore, it pays to give them a visit. Nurses are available during normal park hours to offer over-the-counter medication and bandages to make your visit more enjoyable.
9. Jungle Cruise Map
Collectible souvenirs are part of the Disney experience and the Jungle Cruise map is one you can snag before you even leave home. Head over to the Disney blog and print the vintage map for your memory book.
10. Character Autographs
One of the most coveted items at Disneyland is the autograph from your favorite star. Make it a scavenger hunt to track down all the characters. You'll find Goofy, Pluto and pals in Mickey's Toontown, Mickey and Minnie at their homes, Tinker Bell at Pixie Hollow and Winnie the Pooh in Critter Country. You can purchase autograph books in the many gift shops, but save some dough and flex your creative muscles and make your own at home.
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A major perk of buying Disney tickets ahead of time is that your park pass is automatically loaded with three FassPass+ selections per day. These give you reserved arrival times to get right on a designated ride or attraction. You can reserve your choices up to 30 days in advance and up to 60 days if you're staying at a Disneyland hotel via the app or kiosks around the park.
12. Childcare Facilities
Known for their family-friendly amenities, the Baby Care Center on Main Street is complimentary for guests to use. The facility includes a nursing room, changing room, feeding station and a main room if you just want a moment to sit down.
Post a picture on social media to show off your trip to Disneyland, but you'll need internet access. Complimentary WiFi is available at hot spots around the park. These include Matterhorn Bobsleds, Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante, Rivers of America, Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Peter Pan's Flight, Tomorrowland, Central Plaza and the small world Promenade.
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14. Early Admission
The extra magic hour is a special perk for guests of the resorts. Disneyland opens an hour before the general public on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. All you need to show are your valid Disneyland tickets and an active hotel key. Prioritize the usually busy rides in the morning so you can get through without lines. The resorts also offer customizable VIP tours if you're looking to splurge on a more personalized experience.
15. Parking Trams
Parking at Disney can require a lot of walking. Thankfully, complimentary parking lot trams can shuttle you between Disneyland, California Adventure Park and the Mickey & Friends Parking Structure to save your legs for the park.
16. Hotel Shuttles
If you don't want to drive to Disney or deal with parking at all, a handful of hotels in the Anaheim area offer complimentary park shuttles. These include the Hyatt Regency Orange County, Sheraton Anaheim, Candy Cane Inn and Days Inn and Suites Anaheim at Disneyland Park.
17. Admission for Kids Under 3
Visiting Disneyland as a family is certainly not cheap, but your Disney trip becomes more affordable the younger your little ones are. Children under 3 are offered free admission at both Disneyland and California Adventure Park, while those between 3 and 9 receive slightly discounted admission.
18. Sauna and Steam Room
Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is one of the signature hotels right inside the park. A great way for mom to slip away for a bit, she can have a day of pampering while the family plays. Spa guests have access to the Mandara's luxurious sauna and steam room with any booked service.
19. Jedi Experience
A special perk reserved exclusively for Disney Visa cardholders, the Dark Side is villainous Darth Vader's character experience. You'll come face-to-face with the dark lord of the Sith in Tomorrowland and live to tell the tale. Guests must present their valid credit card for entry.
20. Animated Drawings
Looking to create the next great Disney character? Animation Academy is a special attraction available at Disneyland California Adventure. Kids will see the magic go from pencil to pixel in a hands-on drawing class that's offered every 30 minutes. No reservations are required and you can even take home your masterpiece.