A few years ago, I wrote a post about 6 ways we saved money on our Disneyland trip. It was a huge hit – seems folks love Disneyland, but are always looking to save money! My friend Keri recently took a trip and she told me proudly that she was able to stick to a fairly strict budget. I wanted her to share her tips, because she did a few things to save money I’ve not mentioned before. With that, here’s Keri:
My family and I just returned from a 5 day trip to Disneyland! We made a plan as a family to do the budget route to Disneyland, because honestly, that was the only way we could afford to go. There is a wide range of experiences to be had at Disneyland, and even the budget minded can make it happen with enough preparation and discipline. Here are 12 of my most used tips for saving at Disneyland!
1. Go with a budget. This seems like a no-brainer, but determine your budget ahead of time and stick to it! Take time to research the hotels, airlines, and souvenirs that fit within your predetermined budget and embrace the experience that you can afford.
2. Go off peak. If your schedule will allow, off peak times are the best time to go because airfare, car rental, and hotels will be reduced. There are a variety of sites that offer annual listings of the best (and worst) times to go to Disneyland.
3. Buy Disney themed attire before your trip. Not only does this allow you to spread out your spending, you can also find much better deals outside the park. We got all of these licensed Disney shirts at Target for less than $35. Buying even a basic t-shirt at the park will run you between $25-30.
4. Stay off property. There are a number of decent, Good Neighbor, hotels directly across the street from the park entrance. You can save hundreds every night of your vacay by staying at one of these hotels. Most also include a continental breakfast. Our philosophy is that we go to Anaheim for Disneyland, not the hotel. We want to spend as much time in the park as possible, so the hotel experience isn’t important to us. As long as it’s safe, clean, and close by, you’re good to go. You will be so happily exhausted at the end of each day at the park, the hotel won’t matter that much to you anyway! (Tip from Angela: you can often find the Good Neighbor hotels on Groupon Getaways to save even more money.)
5. Skip the car rental. Unless you plan to do other activities in the surrounding area, you won’t need a rental car. This will save you at least $150, and you can avoid parking costs. Parking will cost you at the park itself if you drive in daily, and parking at the hotel might cost you as well. You can hitch a taxi or shuttle bus from the airport to your hotel.
6. Buy the non-hopper park passes. Our family saved $250 by purchasing the single park passes as opposed to the park hopper passes. While you will be limited to access only one park per day, we found this actually simplified our plans. We had more than enough time to spend in each park without going back and forth in the same day.
7. Try grocery delivery! You can have groceries delivered to your hotel room from Von’s (Southern California’s Safeway). Prices at Von’s were comparable to what I would pay at local stores in the Seattle area. I ordered fresh produce and dairy that we kept in our hotel mini-fridge. We packed non-perishables and paper goods that I stocked up on before our trip. Doing this allows you to eat breakfast in your hotel room, pack your lunch and/or dinner and snacks. This saves SO MUCH MONEY, and you will be surprised that it also saves you time.
8. Be smart about where you eat. If you do eat out, choose the cafeteria style restaurants and those with larger portion sizes. In Disneyland, check out Rancho del Zocalo and in California Adventure try the multiple options at Pacific Wharf Cafe.
9. Capitalize on the professional photographers! After they take a pic for your Photo Pass, ask the Disney photographers to take photos of you with your camera/phone. These photographers are stationed at all the best photo op locales around the parks and at the character meet and greets. Whenever you see one of these folks, be sure to have them take your pic!
10. Make your own autograph books. Getting autographs is a super fun and totally free way to interact with the characters! We did no character meals, so it was really our only opportunity to have face time with the characters.
11. Stay hydrated by bringing your own water bottles. If you go at a warmer time of year, you will want to stay hydrated during your day at the park. I HIGHLY recommend a Hydroflask which keeps your water cold ALL DAY LONG (they are selling for around $28 on Amazon right now). You can refill your water bottles at the water fountains or at the self-serve soft drink counters.
12. Souvenirs: you will want to buy at least one. Your kids will want every.single.one. Create a souvenir budget, or have your kids do chores before your trip to earn the money for souvenirs. We were surprised at how happy the kids were to stick to their souvenir budget. Additionally, save all maps, tickets, or ANY paper goodies you get while at the park. You can laminate them when you get home to create place mats or stick them in your scrapbook. You can also frame them as a souvenir collage that costs nothing! There are also a bunch of smashed penny machines around the park. For a mere 51 cents you get a unique Disney souvenir! Another favorite (and free) souvenir of mine was the drawings we created under the direction of a real live Disney animator at the Animation Academy in California Adventure.
The best part about Disney is that once you are in the park, all of the rides and shows are included in your admission cost. If you’ve never been to Disney, rest assured that you can simply ride the rides, catch a parade, or do the fireworks without doing any additional experiences and it will still be one of the most amazing experiences of your life! While going to Disneyland was spendy, we have gotten so much out of the experience by reliving the memories over and over again. I think everyone should go to Disneyland at least ONCE in their lifetime, if not multiple times!
Do you have any money saving tips to add?
PS If you are planning a trip, make sure to check out my Disney page for even more money-saving and trip-planning tips. I’ve got posts on both Disneyland in Anaheim and Walt Disney World in Orlando!