A Disney vacation is, for many, a once or twice in a lifetime experience. There's a gazillion articles full of Disneyland tips out there but our fresh take comes off of our first trip to Disneyland as a family of four. And gosh did we learn a lot.

Where to stay at Disneyland

The biggest cost for a family when visiting Disneyland what is of course either the transportation to Southern California or the actual Park tickets depending on how many days you are going. Lodging at Disneyland is also expensive, but there are ways to make sure that you are spending your money wisely.

I'm sure this is obvious to most people booking a Disneyland trip but staying in one of the three Disney properties is going to run you the highest hotel bill. There are lots of Good Neighbor Hotels very close to the park from which you can either walk or take the Anaheim Resort Transit. Book a good neighbor hotel and it doesn't even have to be one of the nicest ones, because seriously, how much time are you actually going to spend in your hotel? You are there to be either in Disneyland or California Adventure so just be sure that you pick a property that has great ratings for cleanliness and is close enough for how your family will spend their days.

When to go to Disneyland

One of the most common Disneyland tips we see is when to go to Anaheim with your family. There are a few different ways to determine what is going to be the right time when the parks aren't too crowded. Here are three tips to help you pick your dates for a Disneyland family trip.

Here in the United States we don't have a lot of holiday weeks. But we do have common periods when schools let out for mid-year breaks. This is the prime time for many families to make the journey to Disneyland. This is also when you will find the largest crowds and longest wait times for your favorite rides. If you're cool with pulling your kids out of school, pick a time when most schools, particularly in Southern California, hour in session. This might not coincide with your own kids' spring or winter break, but it'll be a great opportunity to have smaller crowds and win loads of awesome parent points for pulling your kids out of school.

Annual pass blackout days

If you are not familiar with Disneyland and its annual pass situations this might sound strange. There are different types of passes that Southern California residents and Beyond can purchase. Each pass has a different set of blackout dates during which they cannot use their passes for the parks. If you research the dates when the most number of passes are blacked out you may hit the jackpot for being at the park with a smaller crowd than usual.

True, blackout dates exist because that's when more people want to be at Disneyland or Disney's California Adventure, but keeping in mind vacationers philosophies about missing crowds and knowing it's busy paired with restrictions on passes and you will find the perfect balance of small crowds and swift lines.

Seasonal transitions

One of our favorite times to be in Disneyland is during holiday time. This is that special moment between Halloween and New Year's (or slightly after) that the park is decked out in lights, wreaths, and trees. Not only is it more festive than you can imagine but also plays off of the first tip we gave: a lot of kids are in school so not a lot of families traveling to Disneyland.

Saving money in the parks

You'd be surprised at all the different ways you'll spend money when you visit Disneyland. It's a lot more than just Park admission and accommodations. From dining in the Parks and random souvenirs, to necessities you didn't plan on that you have to purchase once inside, you can save.

Saving on dining

If you read a lot of family travel articles you'll find people praising and criticizing the families who always have their own snacks with them. Well, this is a necessary step to take both for saving money in Disneyland and for making sure the kids are happy. I don't know about you but our kids get hangry in a heartbeat. There's nothing quite like a hungry, angry child to ruin your magical memories. Be prepared with snacks in your pack at all times. It saves money and heartache.

For mealtime Disneyland tips, we'll tell you that the best options are the ones that are easy and a little out of the way. Does that not make sense? Basically, where the menus have simple options and ample seating you will find the swiftest and most cost-effective dining options. Example: The Hungry Bear Cafe in critter country keeps it simple with burgers or wraps. The menu is small and the cast members are efficient. There is a ton of seating and you can be in and out in a heartbeat for less than dining in one of the full service restaurants. Our favorite quick service dining option is Flo's V8 Cafe in Cars Land (Disney's California Adventure).

Saving on unplanned purchases

Does anybody ever plan to be stuck in Disneyland in the rain? No. But after one experience you'll know that you need to have an umbrella or a rain poncho at the ready. As silly as they are ponchos are the greatest invention ever for a rainy day in Disneyland. This is one of the Disneyland tips that we didn't listen to on our first trip there during a February long ago... and we were drenched.

Another way to save is by traveling with a backup battery/power bank to recharge your devices while you're in the Parks. Disneyland does have portable chargers that you can rent for a certain fee over the course of your visit, but do you want to spend $30 at a charging station when you could just bring your own power pack? No.

Souvenirs are their own thing. Of course there are loads of cute nick-nacks and t-shirts you could buy when you travel, to Disneyland or anywhere else, but do you need them? The best way to save money on souvenirs is to not go souvenir shopping. So simple. You could be doing many other fun things instead of browsing shelves of stuff. The exception to the souvenir thing is a good pair of Mickey Mouse ears. They're a must.

How to plan your days

Before we arrived in Disneyland with the kids we decided that there were a few key experiences we wanted them to have. We researched what times certain shows or parades were happening and then weighed that out against how much time we new they could last within the parks. For us the big-ticket experiences were:

Meeting certain characters

Download the Disneyland app to see where characters are in real time within the parks. There is also a paper guide that you can get when you enter either Park, but the app helped us land our two Disneyland unicorns: boom.

Experiencing Disney Entertainment

Again, the Disneyland app lets you know the times for everything as does the schedule. If you are going to be in the parks for several days don't stress about hitting three different parades in one day and also watching the fireworks. Plan on doing rides or dinner nearby a parade route so that when you are done with whatever you're doing you can just park yourself for a few minutes before the show starts.

Other experiences that might be high on your parent list of what you want your family to do in Disneyland could be different attractions or meeting every single character, so do what you have to do to make the experience as magical for everyone as possible. Don't add stress to it, use the tools that Disney has given you to make it easier.

Best way to capture memories

We wrote an article about tips for taking your best family travel photos, and I think the strongest suggestion we have from our list is to just be comfortable taking a family selfie. A family selfie means that everybody is in the photo so there's not one person missing from every single picture. A family selfie means that the kids will probably cooperate with you better than waiting for a stranger to take their picture. Family selfies bring you into the moment or into the action and you usually get some pretty hilarious faces.

Other ways to ensure you're getting great pictures in the Disney parks is to leverage character hosts (cast members who are hanging out with your favorite characters) and PhotoPass staff. The PhotoPass photographers that you find floating around the Disney parks won't just do their own pictures with the Disney cameras but they'll also help you with your own pics.

With a little planning and prep work, you'll no doubt have an awesome Disney vacation with your family. The biggest key to having fun once you're there is to keep a good attitude and don't get stressed. That's where the prep work comes in and believe me, keeping a relaxed state of mind throughout your whole Disney Experience is going to make it more fun and memorable for everybody.

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Recently, we saw some online promotion and hashtags around saving up for the future and just general thoughts on good practices with money. Chris and I started talking about life and how we’re set up for later on and we realized that we’re actually already on a good track, without having put too much effort into it. Now we’ve decided that it’s time to start intentionally doing a better job saving for the future by making some solid plans.

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Following the recent shocking election of Donald Trump in the United States, our minds are spinning out of control. What to do? We cannot relocate our lives and run away from this. We can’t secede from the union (or can we?) and we can’t just sit at home moping about so many of our countrymen showing their true colors. But we can start today making the future better and brighter for progressive events that are yet to come. How? By voting with our dollars! Our travel dollars, more specifically.

We love to travel within the U.S.A. and we love showing our kids this amazing country. True, we’ve faced opposition as a family, either from internet trolls or innkeepers that don’t want us there, but we keep on traveling. Voting with your dollars is not a new concept, but it’s not something everybody thinks about. Here are some ways that you can spend the next few seasons or years voting with your dollars and supporting the states that are trying to drive our country forward. Oh, and America is already great, so this is just one more way to keep that and work on fixing what’s broken.

Chris and with his sons at the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center, California

Vote With Your Dollars in Blue States

If you’re not familiar with election maps and how votes are shown, in the United States it’s broken down with blue representing Democrats (liberal America, progressive) and red representing Republicans (conservative America, states with very visible historic and present race, class and LGBT issues). So, the blue states are the ones that elect a lot of officials who support social programs, human rights for all (such as positive immigration practices, marriage equality, ending the gender pay gap), and overall are people-focused. Red states tend to elect officials with traditional views regarding family values, officials who tend to favor economic development over environmental protections, and who believe that the America of yesteryear was stronger and better for our citizens than our country today.

But What About Traveling to Red States?

We’re all about going out into the world and showing people that we’re a normal family and that we’re just as important a part of society as the next family, and we traditionally do this in red states such as Georgia, Florida, Montana ... Well, these states have some wonderful pockets of progress and diversity, of inclusivity and general human concern. Go support those places!

True, it’s going to be more tricky to plan a trip to visit the blue areas and add to those economies, but it’s worth the effort when every visitor's pocketbook is impacting the future.

Example: Florida went red for Trump in the 2016 presidential race, but Orange and Hillsborough counties went blue. That means that visiting Orlando and doing a Disney World vacation or experiencing Tampa Bay are both subtle ways to contribute. Oh, and Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties all ran blue as well, FYI.

Rob with his son at the Museum of Science and Nature, Denver, Colorado

How Will This Help?

So, voting with your dollars in blue states: What does this mean? Well, if you don’t live in one, planning your travel to visit a blue state is where you start. When you travel, even when you’re on a budget, you’re contributing to an economy that in turn will be electing officials and feeding money into the machines that run campaigns. These campaigns are both for large-scale votes such as a presidential elections as well as smaller, local issues that could be as simple as funding for school lunch programs and mass transit.

When you’re spending in blue states, you’re helping the people who make campaign contributions and who do the footwork to rock the vote for the better. Your taxes while traveling are feeding the economies with those wonderful social programs that ensure after-school programs happen and people can commute to work together and local healthcare options are available.

It’s true that red states and red areas also have progressive individuals and leaders, but when it comes to voting and making decisions as a majority, red areas run more conservatively and in many cases vote against what liberal people like us would consider progress and moving towards equality.

Rob and Chris' eldest son at Point Wilson Lighthouse, Port Townsend, Washington

Hesitation About Traveling to New Places

Just like with the red states that have progressive pockets and diverse, inclusive communities, blue states also have pockets of racial tension, exceptionally conservative voters, and places gay families might not feel welcome. It's safe to say that most metropolitan areas are likely to be welcoming to LGBT travelers and families, but if you’re concerned, do a little research.

People tend to share their worst experiences over their best, so a good way to get a little perspective about how traveling to new places might go for you is to jump online and see what people say. We tend to share our best travel experiences via our blog, but will sometimes share the ugly too. Here are some good search terms that will return results from travel blogs, Trip Advisor and news sites to help you choose what destinations you’re going to feel the most comfortable traveling to:

LGBT discrimination + [destination]

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Do you know what I love about modern television and online marketing? Advertisements that speak to me and that I don’t mind watching or looking into more. A catchy ad does wonders for a brand, like the Disney World ads that have tiny bits of magic woven into them. Or the ad for Holiday Inn that is all about a couple checking in before picking up their newly adopted baby. These ads are so great. And I love the advertisements that are directed to the gay population. It’s nice that marketing firms and businesses understand the need for rainbows, glitter and sweaty boys, because I want to take my kids on a family vacation to a place where that’s all they experience. Wait, what?

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When people ask us for our favorite places to return to, we’re pretty quick with our answers: Cabo San Lucas in Mexico, Disneyland, Georgia and Florida … Georgia and Florida? Like, the South? Yes, it’s true. On our own blog, we’ve written about how the South is changing and how it’s worth giving it a second chance, and we hold to that. What is it about family travel in the South that these gay dads keep going back for? We’ll tell you: history, warmth and exposure.

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This weeks  #GayDadWednesday family are bloggers 2TravelDads Rob and Chris along with their two beautiful boys. The family lives in Washington state. Here are photos showing a typical day in their lives.

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We were very fortunate when it came to building our family. The opportunity fell in our lap and today we’ve got two amazing little boys! Not that every step was easy though. Any road can be bumpy; no matter how far you’ve come, you may still encounter roadblocks.

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Having two dads isn’t the norm. It’s true. But gosh, it would be nice if we ran into more families like ours out there. We do what we can to raise our kids just like any other parents do, but as they grow, we’ve got an extra step of calling out our family situation. We don’t do it so they feel weird or anything, but so that they’re prepared for the day a child questions them about having two dads. We want the boys to be able to respond with confidence and comfort, especially because some kids just aren’t … tactful.

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