Saving you money throughout San Diego and Beyond!

Money Saving Tips for a trip to Disneyland!

Posted on: July 1st, 2014 by Kate Hamernik

budget-saving-tips-at-disneyland

You may have noticed that Disneyland raised their prices   this past Spring.  When you are on a tight budget that little increase can make a trip to Disneyland maybe seem like something even further out of reach.  Don’t fret!  Disneyland is a splurge for sure, but you can still make it work!  A trip to The Disneyland Resort is well worth saving up for, but there are also so many tips to stretch your budget and save some money once you are there!  The key is to prepare!

I want to share a quick list of the many ways we have saved over the years.  Even before having a Disney Blog we tried to make it to Disneyland at least once a year.  My family growing up was not exactly wealthy, but we made it to Disneyland at least once a year.  My mom would pack sandwiches and we all carried our own water bottles, we skipped school during a low traffic time, and we made sure to plan ahead – basically, I learned from pros!  Over the years I have found even more great ways to save too – I hope if you have some money saving tips that you will share them below in the comments section too!

Get comfy, this post is gonna be long – but you can thank me later when you have saved a boat load of money on a super magical and memorable time at the Happiest Place on Earth!

Lodging

If you are coming from outside of Southern California you may be looking for lodging for a day or two.  There are a couple options and both have great rewards, but a pretty big price difference.

Disneyland-Hotel

Stay on Property at the Disneyland Resort.  The Disneyland Resort has three beautiful and themed hotels right on property.  We have been lucky enough to stay at The Disneyland Hotel and The Grand Californian Hotel & Spa.  I must admit, these are very pricey options.  That being said, they are absolutely worth looking into!  Prices do drop significantly outside of the peak season and Disney often offers a discounted rate when booking your vacation package.  Staying on property offers all kinds of perks; for one you are very close to the action so you do not spend a ton of time shuffling back and forth between the hotel and the parks.  I think the best on property perk is  “Magic Hour” – Those who stay at a Disneyland Resort Hotel will enjoy entrance to one park one hour before it opens to the General public!  Think of that?!  You can hit the most popular rides before everyone else is even in the park!  So many other perks too – milk and cookies story times, movies by the pool, themed rooms, Character Calls, park purchases hand delivered to your room, and quite a bit more.  Again, it’s pricey, and I totally get that – but it is worth just checking out!  Please check out our quick posts about The Disneyland Hotel and The Grand Californian Hotel & Spa here!

good-neighbor-hotel

The next option is to go with a Good Neighbor Hotel near Disneyland.  There are HUNDREDS of hotels in the Anaheim area to choose from, but not all are Disney Approved.  Good Neighbor Hotels are approved by Disney and typically offer a much lower cost than on property!  A Good Neighbor Hotel can range as far as price, stars, and even location.  All are typically close to Disneyland or have a shuttle to get to Disneyland.  I always suggest looking for a hotel that offers extras – many offer free parking, a free shuttle, even free breakfast!  Those little details all add up!  If you do not mind walking or a shuttle this could save you hundreds of dollars; especially if traveling during peak season!  Our family recently stayed at the newly renovated Carousel Inn & Suites which is directly across the street from Disneyland.  You honestly cannot get closer to Disneyland unless you are staying on property.  This hotel was a 3 star and while it was ‘no frills’, it was clean and the service was very nice.  While prices change regularly, many readers informed me they had stayed at this hotel for less than $100 a night!  There is a parking fee and breakfast is not included, but they do have a Keurig in the room as well as refrigerators and microwaves in some rooms!  A quick trip to the store and you can easily make breakfasts (or even lunch and dinner) from your hotel room.  Read about our stay at A Good Neighbor Hotel here!

Admission to Disneyland

If you live close by or are in SoCal often – you might want to consider an Annual Pass.  This is a huge investment for many families, but if you will go four or five times a year (we totally went more than that when we had passes) it will more than pay for itself.  Depending on the Annual Pass you purchase you can sometimes get special deals on everything from lodging to food!  Absolutely worth looking into!  We had passes when our big kids were three years old and it was wonderful!

disneyland minnie mouse

Costco!  Costco ticket prices seem to be the best around.  It’s tricky though, not every Costco carries tickets and those that do carry them, do not carry them year round.  I am sure this price will not stay current – but the last time I looked you could get a four day ticket (does not need to be used on four consecutive days) for $250 and this comes with a $50 Disney gift card! *Again, please check for current prices*

Military Discounts.  I gotta speak about this.  I am not a military family, so we have never used a Military Discount.  If you or someone in your party is Military make sure to check out the awesome discount that your family has totally earned!  I have heard it is a dramatic discount and there are maybe other discounts when it comes to food and lodging around the area!  That being said, if you are NOT military, don’t get someone to buy tickets for you unless they are coming along for the trip.  I am telling you this for two reasons; first because I just feel strongly that military service is sacred and if we aren’t military we really shouldn’t get their discount, but also because Disneyland will require to see military ID when using tickets that were purchased on base.  I have heard people use them without a problem, I have also seen families turned away at the turn style only to need to go back and buy regular tickets.

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Are you going to Disneyland with a little one?  Make sure to take your trip before they turn three!  We just went to Disneyland for a “What to do when you are Two at Disneyland” trip and it was awesome!  We went about a week before our youngest turned 3!  She had an awesome time but if we had gone a week later it would have cost nearly $100 more – very simple way to save is to plan your trip early.

Food

OK, so food can be expensive!  We’ve got a family of two adults, an 8 year old, a 7 year old, and a 3 year old.  We have a food budget at home that everyone is impressed by, but if we don’t have a plan when we go out we could totally lose the farm.  Seriously.

Remember that no matter where you stay to seriously consider a hotel with a mini fridge in the room.  We always pack breakfast (unless of course we stay at a place that offers free breakfast).  If you go out to eat and someone doesn’t finish that meal make sure to bring it back and put it in the fridge – lunch tomorrow!

Always bring water bottles.  Water bottles in the park are going to be pricey, yes there are water fountains but you will likely want a water bottle at some point and you will end up spending like $6 for one…. per person, or you will do that thing where you try to have the kids share and then one back washes and then World War 3 breaks out….. or so I have heard.  Bring water bottles and have kids refill them.  You are also able to ask for water cups at any restaurant.

Disneyland with 2 year olds

We very rarely get something to drink other than water, it keeps us hydrated, avoids a sugar crash, and saves quite a bit of money over sodas.  Disney asks that you do not take your own food into the park.  They do have lockers just outside the gates where you can leave a lunch box and there are tables and shade to enjoy a prepacked meal.  This of course will save you a bunch, but it is also a great way to decompress as a family.

People ask me regularly how strict Disney is on letting outside food into the park.  I am a rule follower to my core, so we don’t bring full meals into the park.  That being said, we have three little locusts with us and I can’t remember the last time I went more than 11 minutes without hearing “I need a snack!”, so we bring a few snacks.  We don’t hide our snacks and we have never had any problem bringing them in.  Each kid typically has a water bottle and a bag of raisins and another bag with crackers, I would think much more than that would really be pushing it.  Even still we do end up buying popcorn or Dole Whip, or some other snack while in the park too, but this curbs it just a bit.  If someone in your family has a special dietary restriction I have heard Disney is very accommodating.

Our kids know we pack a lunch to eat in the picnic area, that we will get a special Disneyland snack (usually popcorn), and that we buy dinner.  We all pay for our own treat.  Harry and I pay for our treat and the baby’s treat, but once you turn five if you want a treat you gotta pay for it with your own money.  You get to pick ANYTHING you want, but you gotta pay for it.  We give the kids a couple weeks notice before going to Disneyland and they get a couple bucks a week for allowance.  They also have the opportunity to do extra chores for money.  You know what I have not heard at Disneyland once in the last couple years? “Mom, PLEAAASE can I have that *fill in the blank*, pleeeasse?”  Never.  We make it really easy for them to have enough money on them to buy just about anything they could want.  They make their treat choice carefully and  they are so proud when using their own money to purchase it.  They savor their special treat and then we are back to riding rides.  They never go hungry, we have meals and we have fun and nutritious snacks, and they really look forward to the one time treat.  That set up has probably saved us quite a bit of whining and also weak moment ‘give in’ spending. Give it a try!

Character Dining

Disney storytellers cafe

OK, so Character Dining is not cheap and it is about the same price no matter the Character Dining spot.  That being said, it is worth considering for a couple reasons. For starters, you gotta eat anyway.  If you are a family that is planning on buying lunch and dinner in the park anyway I HIGHLY suggest grabbing one of those meals outside of the park picnic style and splurging on one Character Dining Meal.  Character Dining is magical and you gotta eat anyway!  We have done a couple Character dining options and we really love it.  The food is great (many times a buffet style or at least a buffet option so if you have some big eaters this is great for you!).  What is really great though is kids have many characters come right up to the table.  Your party can enjoy a meal and really get some quality time in with several characters.  Our littlest LOVES meeting characters but sometimes the lines can be very long.  During peak season I think a Character dining experience is one of the best options out there.  Enjoy a relaxing meal and meet some great friends, pose for a couple photo ops, and then you have more time for rides!  You almost always need a reservation, typically a week or so in advance.  If you like more hard to find characters I suggest Storyteller’s Cafe in The Grand Californian – we met Meeko, Koda, Brier Rabbit, and more!

Two Budget Friendly Choices for lunch or dinner just outside the gates

Napolini

Napolini is located on Downtown Disney and has sandwiches to go that are HUGE!  Mr. Deals & Steals and I shared a delicious sandwich and thought we might get a snack later and we seriously didn’t have to – it was more than enough.  For less than $10 we both had dinner!  We had packed a picnic for the kids (peanut butter and jelly, GoGo Squeezes, seaweed strips, Honest Kids, and a few other fun but healthy choices) and we all ate while enjoying the music on a Downtown Disney bench.  Super budget friendly!

The Pizza Press

pizza press family friendly restaurant by disneyland

The Pizza Press is located directly across from Disneyland at The Carousel Inn & Suites.  This is a super casual, family friendly pizza place.

FREE Souvenirs

Are you at Disney for a special occasion?  Birthday? 1st trip?  Anniversary?  Family Reunion? Graduation?  Make sure to stop by City Hall on Main Street (if you are coming to Disneyland for the first time City Hall is located to the left when you first pass through the tunnel and before you actually enter Main Street) and let them know about your special trip.  They are happy to provide you with a special FREE button!  They also offer fun free buttons at Character Dining and at The Disney Store – make sure to ask!

We know friends who make their own autograph books (we actually made a very cute one at our last trip – stay tuned for the tutorial!) – the Autograph Book is SO fun to fill up but it also works as a great souvenir!

Money Saving Coupon!

Jolly Holiday bakery cafe Disneyland

OK, so this is awesome and I only just noticed it the last time we went!  At the bottom of our receipt at the Jolly Holiday Bakery and Cafe (which had an awesome barley and roasted veggies salad by the way) there was a 20% off coupon for souvenirs before 1pm.  Nice!  I am not sure if this is at every restaurant or just the Jolly Holiday Bakery and Cafe, but if you are planning a souvenir purchase make sure to take advantage of this!

disneyland discounts

Our kids honestly rarely enter the gift shops.  Our daughter did buy an Elsa doll with her birthday money when we went as part of the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, but that was honestly only because Disneyland is the only place you can buy them.  I wish we had known about the 20% off coupon, but at least we know for next time!

Things to Bring With You

Sometimes you end up spending money on your trip to Disneyland simply because you packed too light.  The following items are going to make your trip more pleasant and may end up saving you some money because you won’t decide to buy them in the park on a whim.

  • Sunglasses and Hats
  • Sunscreen
  • Stroller (if you have kids that need one that is, you can rent one but it is a bit pricey)
  • Sweatshirt (even if it is 100 degrees you may want one at night time)
  • Water bottle (I know I already said this, but I have forgotten mine before – come on Kate!)
  • Poncho or Rain jacket – rainy days are the BEST at Disneyland because Southern Californians treat rain like a tornado, they hide in their house and plan on going to Disneyland another day.  Lines are short and the park typically keeps almost every ride and attraction open so it is awesome!  You may want a poncho or rain jacket on a day that even has a slight chance of rain.  Ponchos are available for purchase in the park, but it is not cheap.
  • Change of clothes at least for the kids.  If you need a change of clothes you can get something adorable at the gift shop, but again, not the most budget friendly place to shop.
  • Camera and chargers.  You can purchase these items in the camera shop on Main Street, you can also purchase a Photo Pass which is super convenient, but Cast Members are more than happy to take a quick photo of your family with your own camera.

 

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Disneyland is a magical place and absolutely worth saving up for!  Memories are worth it!  Pin this article to share with your friends!  Make sure to follow the Disney Parks Blog for up to date happenings – follow the official Disneyland Facebook Page, Tweet your questions to @DisneylandToday and tag Disneyland on Instagram!  Have fun on your next trip to Disneyland!  Maybe I will see you there!

Thanks,
Kate

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