I’m not a self-professed “Disney expert,” but I am a gal that loves all things Disney! My family and I recently returned from a Disneyland vacation (our third trek as a family of four). Every time we go, I feel like I learn something new to tweak our vacations for the better. While I’ve spoken extensively over the years about saving money on Disneyland, today I’d like to share some specific things we did to make this trip particularly stellar. For the math nerds out there, I am also providing some numbers to show exactly what we spent and saved where possible.
First, a brief itinerary of this year’s vacation:
- 2 RunDisney Events: the Star Wars Disneyland 5K (my entire family of 4 did this) and the Star Wars Disneyland Half Marathon (my husband and I did this)
- 5 Day Park Passes
- 2 “Down Days” built into the schedule for resting (read why we do this)
- 2 Days of Travel
As you can see, this was a loooong trip, and I’d wager, much longer than the average Disneyland vacation. We ended up staying 8 nights in Anaheim. Subsequently, I think we were Disney-ed out by the last day in the park! It’s also worth noting that the RunDisney events were NOT cheap, nor do I recommend them as any sort of “savings strategy.” They were a splurge, pure and simple. You can read more about my experience with RunDisney on my Disney splurge post.)
Saving Strategy #1: Stayed Off Property
In 2015, we splurged by staying two nights at Disney’s Grand Californian hotel. We absolutely adored our stay here; mainly because it was so convenient to get back to our hotel at the end of the day. However, this year I struggled finding any Disney property at a price point we were willing to spend, particularly given the longer stay of our trip.
We ended up staying the Embassy Suites on Harbor Blvd for $113/night. The amazing thing about this property is they have an amazing all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet in the mornings (including an omelet bar!) and a free cocktail and snack service every evening! If you factor that into the cost of the stay, it becomes an even better deal. I believe the rates normally start around $169/night, but we were able to secure the lower price by booking through Expedia months before our trip.
2015 Cost: $1,454 for 4 nights off-property, 2 nights at Grand Californian
2016 Cost: $1,087 for 8 nights off-property
Savings: $367 (plus, we stayed longer!)
Saving Strategy #2: Buying Discount Park Tickets
Previously, I’ve been very nervous to buy our park tickets through any outfit other than Disney directly. Quite honestly, I was afraid of getting scammed. What if I put out hundreds of dollars and didn’t end up with valid park tickets? This year, I decided to put on my big girl pants and shop through aRes Travel, which comes very highly recommended from MouseSavers as a legit source of discount tickets. I also chatted with my pal Keri (who wrote a few Disney posts last year) who successfully bought her tickets through here as well.
I can assure you that everything worked without a hitch for me. I purchased my tickets through aRes Travel a few days before we left. I printed out the pass I received via email and then took it to the ticket counter right outside Disneyland. They knew exactly what it was, and exchanged it for my tickets. Easy peasy.
While the savings here seems modest compared to the staggering cost of the passes, I still think it’s 100% worth it. That $66 could be a nice sit-down meal in the parks, a couple quick service meals, or a few souvenirs. When it come to saving at Disney, every bit can help.
2015 Cost: $1,080 for 4 5-day One Park Only Passes
2016 Cost: $1,014 for 4 5-day One Park Only Passes
Incidentally, why did we choose 5-day One Park Only Passes? Here are the additional options we considered:
4 One-Day Park Tickets Purchased through Disney: $1,010
4 One-Day Park Tickets Purchase through aRes: $960
3 Day Park Tickets with Hopper Option Purchased through Disney: $1,078
3 Day Park Tickets with Hopper Option Purchase through aRes: $1,028
While the 4-day passes through aRes (for $960) are cheaper than what we paid, we decided an extra day for four for $54 was a steal we couldn’t pass up (difference of $1014 to $960). As you can see, we paid less for our passes than buying 3 day passes with the hopper option through either Disney or aRes. This is a very expensive “extra” we decided we could live without.
Saving Strategy #3: Limiting Snacks & Drinking Water
We LOVE Dole Whip, so that’s a given. We were going to buy Dole Whip (and head to the Tikki Room!).
But most of our snacks we purchased at the Target across the street the very first night we flew in. We spent a total of about $40 on candy, granola bars, crackers, bottled water and sandwich bags. Each day, we’d divvy up the snacks and I’d carry them in my backpack. In case you are wondering, yes, as of this posting, you can bring bottles of water into the park. You can always refill them at water fountains or even better, where you’d grab water at the soda fountains of quick-service restaurants located throughout the parks.
This should go without saying, but you will absolutely save a ton of money if you decide ahead of time you’re going to say “no” to buying drinks in the park. It’s easy to pay $3-4 for a soda or bottled water. Multiply this by the number of members of your family and you can see how quickly this one expense will add up! And alcoholic beverages? Forgetaboutit. We found that a glass of wine at the Wine Trattoria restaurant would run us about $13 a pop. (We decided to pick up a bottle at the Target to enjoy later instead.)
Saving Strategy #4: Limiting Time in Shops
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I run a series called Stuff I didn’t know I needed…until I went to Costco. The premise is simple: once you’re in the store, you find all this stuff you can’t live without.
Disney does an excellent job of having you magically end up in a gift shop at the end of nearly every attraction. I really do think one of the best ways you can save money at Disney is to simply avoid the gift shops as best as possible.
We like to designate special “shopping times” with our kids during a trip (usually on one of our “down days” at Downtown Disney). We give them a certain dollar amount and they get to decide how they spend it. When it’s gone, it’s gone.
Saving Strategy #5: Budget and Bring Cash
Each trip, I like to make a careful budget of all our expenditures: park tickets, transportation costs, hotel stay, and the like. One line item that can make a huge impact on your Disney budget is food and incidentals. Prior to leaving, I estimated about how much I felt we’d spend every day given our itinerary (so more money on the days in the Parks, less on travel and other days). Once I had a grand total, I took this money out cash.
Now, I know some of you will object to taking out such a large wad of cash, and I get that. But I can also tell you on the vacations we’ve brought cash, we’ve done the absolute best in terms of smarter saving and spending. I put the bulk of the cash in a hotel safe and then daily take out what we need. At the end of each day, I’ll re-tally the amount. I’m happy to say that we actually came home with money in our wallets this year – which then promptly went into the “Food Forest Fund” my son and I have been saving for two years now.
There is more I could say about Disneyland, and planning successful family vacations in general, but this post is already growing rather lengthy and I don’t care to lose you! So instead, I’ll direct you to other posts I’ve published here on the topic over the years:
- 13 Tips To Avoiding Meltdowns in Disneyland
- 17 Tips for Saving Time at Disneyland
- 12 Tips for Saving Money at Disneyland
- 4 Splurges to Make at Your Next Disneyland Vacation (this was about our trip last year)
- How to Make a Vacation Folder (I do this for every trip and it makes a fantastic record!)
Now it’s your turn: what other tips would you add to my list? Are you planning a Disney trip this year?