6 Things We Did to Save on Our Disney Trip

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Of course, the best way to save money on Disneyland is not going at all. Let’s face it: Disney is expensive. VERY expensive.

But for some of us, a trip to Disneyland is something worth saving and planning for. Disneyland has a very special place in my family’s history…

  • When my mom was a little girl, a nice man at Disneyland helped her onto the train. She later learned that it had been Walt Disney himself.
  • My first trip to Disneyland was during my mom’s pregnancy.
  • I have fond memories of Disneyland as a child – we always did it as a road trip.
  • My husband & I honeymooned at DisneyWorld in Orlando.
  • I completed the DisneyWorld Full Marathon in 2007 and my husband completed it in 2008 (I was pregnant with our daughter – and see the cycle continues).

Last month was our first trip taking the kids, and I wanted to share some ways we saved on our trip and some ideas for you, too.

#1 – We started planning early. We gave ourselves plenty of time to plan our trip. This meant we could focus on one thing at a time – first hotel, then airfare, and so on. Not only did this help us score deals, it gave us time to pay for it, too.

#2 – We did not stay in a Disney hotel. While I’m sure staying at a Disney hotel is a magical experience, I just couldn’t do the price! I ended up finding a fabulous deal on a local hotel through LivingSocial (watch the “Escapes” portion of the site). I estimate that we easily saved several hundred dollars by choosing this more affordable option. The hotel was also walking distance to the park.

Other ideas for saving on a hotel: watch Jetsetter. This is a daily deals travel site. They offer some pretty competitive discounts on hotel and travel packages. And of course, I can always vouch for Hotwire. A couple of the nicest hotels I’ve EVER stayed at where found on Hotwire (and we did not pay top dollar, either!).

#3 – We bought our hopper passes at Fred Meyer. Not only were the passes slightly discounted over buying at the gate, we earned Rewards on them, too! From the research I did, you have to be really careful about any deal that looks too good to be true when it comes to Disney passes, such as buying from eBay or Craigslist. MouseSavers has some other information on saving on Disney passes, but I thought I was pretty clever with my Fred Meyer idea!

You can also buy Disney gift cards at your grocery store too! At Safeway and Fred Meyer you can actually earn gas savings with your loyalty cards.

#4 – We got $120 in FREE groceries with our airfare! Now this was a bit to sort through, but OH SO worth it! We knew we were going to be flying Southwest (we’d found the best deal there), so I ended up buying Southwest gift cards during an Albertsons gift card catalina promotion. The resulting purchase yielded me $120 in free groceries! I know that such a deal might not always be possible, but the idea here is to put your couponer’s hat on and get creative!

#5 – We didn’t rent a car. Since we knew we would only be visiting Disneyland, we decided we didn’t need a rental car. The shuttle fee still wasn’t cheap, but less than the cost of a rental car, gas, and parking.

#6 – We brought in some of our own snacks. You can bring a backpack into the park – so it made sense to me to bring some store bought water bottles and fruit snacks. I can’t even believe I’m admitting this, but I actually had saved a couple snacks from the plane! (Hey, they were perfectly fine, right?)

A final word. Now you might not entirely agree with me about this, but Disneyland is…well, Disneyland. We saved on the hotel, but we splurged on a character dining experience for our daughter. We didn’t rent a car, but we did let our kids pick out a couple special souvenirs. My husband and I went into it knowing that we would be spending some money, and we did. So this might not be the most frugal post I’ve ever written, but I also don’t want to misrepresent this and make it seem like “hey! you can do Disneyland for $50!” because I feel that would be a bit of… a fairy tale.

Just prior to my trip, I posed the question on Facebook: “What are your best tips for saving on Disney?” and some of you had fabulous suggestions! I wanted to share a few of my favorites:

  • “Go to Vons.com and order groceries to be delivered to your hotel room like bottles of water, etc. They deliver for free if you have never used Safeway.com or Vons.com. Saved us a TON of money since water is like $3 or $4 a bottle. We bought cereal and bread/sandwich items too. That way we only ate one real meal in the park.” – Crystal
  • “We ate at IHOP more than once during their Kids Eat Free times.” – Callie
  • “For snacks, make sure you get the popcorn bucket because it has free refills and a souvenir container. Also, I pre-bought gift Disney store gift cards at Fred Meyer for my kids and then was also able to also get my points on the reward card, so that was nice.” – Athena
  • “If you don’t mind sharing food, get the turkey legs! They are about $7, and a perfect meal for two, or a good sized snack for three.” – Lyndsay
  • “For an evening break, head to the California Lodge (Disney Hotel) for story time. It’s free, and in front of the fire. Mom and Dad can grab a drink (that part is not free) and you can all relax for a while in a cozy atmosphere (and your kids are the perfect age for the stories). Have a great time!” – Sia
  • “Also, T-shirts and things are very expensive inside the park, so buy some Disney paraphernalia beforehand and give to them while you are down there – way cheaper and kids don’t know the difference!” – Lindsay
  • “Do you have an iPhone or a Droid? The MouseWait app is an absolute must for accurate wait times.” – Amy (not money saving, but TIME saving, yes!)
  • “Go online to the Orange County visitor’s page. We were able to print coupons for other restaurants.” – Andrea (my note: also check your hotel’s brochure display. As we were checking out, I found at least two coupons we COULD have used – one for a free appetizer at Rainforest Cafe. DOH!)

What other tips would you have for saving at Disney? Are you planning a trip yourself?

For more on all things Disney, be sure to check out my Disney page and posts like these:

39 thoughts on “6 Things We Did to Save on Our Disney Trip”

  1. We also stayed at a hotel outside of the park – saving 100s! And just about every hotel has free shuttles to the main gate! I also tend to bring back souveniers every time I travel, so I found a bunch of Disney items at a local store, on sale, and ‘fibbed’ to everyone when I got back, saying I brought them the gifts from Disneyland! Saved 100s more!

  2. McCormick and Schmick’s Happy Hour.
    Full size item meal items like burgers and fries, starting at 2.00. I think the burgers might have been 3.00 or 4.00…
    It’s in the Garden Grove complex.

    I used Priceline for our hotel after using betterbidding.com to figure out which one I was likely to get and how to get it for the cheapest rate possible.

    I also definitely recommend the Dis Boards. It’s easy to get information overload, but I think a little research is a smart investment if you’re spending the money to do a big trip. Looove those pics!

  3. One of my favorite memories as a kid was when we went to Disneyland. I was 13 and my sister was 16 and after we went my parents were sad that they didn’t do it earlier but we still had an amazing time.

    We went during Christmas break (that way we wouldn’t have to miss school, and since my dad works at Boeing he already had that time off from work). We drove there also.

    This was my favorite vacation and the best Christmas we ever had together. We all agreed that since our Christmas gift was the trip to Disneyland that we were not going to be doing presents that year.

    My parents gave my sister and I some spending cash and let us enjoy the park alone since we were teenagers and didn’t need much supervision. While we were off on our own we went into some shops and found some cute stockings and ornaments and bought them for our parents, the next morning we found stockings for us as well even though we had all promised that we wouldn’t be getting gifts. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your tips, I will definitely be using them for when we go one day. My youngest is almost 6, but we want to wait until she is a little older so that she can remember it more.

    When we finally do go, we’ll probably not go to a Disney Hotel either because the girls will be older and won’t enjoy it as much as younger kids do. Since money is tight it will probably be years before we can make the trip, but when we do I know that it will be one thing that my kids will think about for the rest of their lives just like me 🙂

  4. I’m like Lindsay, I buy souvies before I go on our trip when they are on sale at the Disney store, Disney.com, even the dollar store! There use to be a company called AMC liquidation’s Disney Character Warehouse that use to travel around WA. They sell discontinued Disney park merchandise for very affordable prices. (I haven’t seen them for a couple of years so I don’t know if the still travel around the state.)
    When I shop at the Disney store I always ask for gift boxes and pack them or Disney gift bags in my suitcase. Each day I box/bag up the gift and leave them on the table for the kids to find the next day or sneak them down to the front desk in the morning asking if they will call up to the room in about 10 min. to let us know there is have a package at the front desk for the kids. It’s fun to see their faces when they think Tinkerbell, Cinderella, Buzz, etc… left them a gift. Shirts and fold up boxes take minimal room in your luggage. Disney Dollars are always a hit and I’ve even taken those twirly light thingys and saved a lot of $$. Those aren’t cheap in the park.

    For a quick free snack go to Disney’s California Adventure, (DCA) and do the Mission Tortilla factory tour. You get a free fresh tortilla at the end of the tour and if it’s your birthday you get a whole bag! I’ll save packets of jam, butter, or honey and use them on the tortilla. You can’t beat free! If it’s free it’s me! 😀

    • I just have to say – the idea to give a gift from a Disney character…is brilliant!!

      The tortilla is a good tip – I didn’t see that factory when we were there. It just goes to show that the parks really do have lots of little hidden treasures to be discovered!

  5. We traveled to Disneyland with one of my best friends and her family (with 11 kids between us.) First of all we drove (from the Portland area) which saved a bundle considering what it would have cost such a large group to fly. We stayed in a hotel a few blocks away from the park and rode the shuttle…ended up costing us less than $100 a night for a suite since we opted to pay in advance. Another friend’s husband works for UPS and we bought five day hoppers through him for a big discount…it ended up averaging $30/day per person. We not only packed in most of our food, we also walked across the street to McDonald’s and other less spendy restaurants for dinner. It took a year to plan the trip and as each child’ birthday arrived, we gifted them with Disney gift cards. By the time we went, each child had most of their own souvenir money. The whole group is traveling again to Disneyland in March 2013.

    • My goodness, you are a smart planner! Thanks for sharing your tips, Vanessa! Have fun on your next adventure there!

  6. Oh I almost fogot, the cheapest, coolest souvie, PRESSED PENNIES!!
    I like to use pennies before 1981 the newer ones have less copper in them and it distorts the shape, I think anyway. I clean them up by soaking them in vinegar and using an old toothbrush, silver polish worked well on the older pennies too. I then take an old clean pill bottle and stack 2 quarters and a shiny penny until the bottle is full. I have one for each child and when we come upon a penny machine, no more digging for coins! It has saved so much time and frustration and when you get home you can go to the coin shop and buy one of those coin books that fit the pressed penny and display it opened on a shelf. It’s a great reminder of an awesome trip and each smashed penny sets you back .51! there are a few that are smashed quarters that are $1.25, but most are pennies. One year I brought back a Minnie and Mickey pressed penny to give a few friends and family with Chocolate covered Mickey ear rice krispie treats I made myself with a cookie cutter I had. Huge hit!

  7. Great suggestions! We are going in October. I’m wondering when we should start looking at airlines tickets? We already have the condo booked. 🙂

    • We booked our airfare in June for our November trip. Honestly, I’d keep an eye out for those specials – Southwest and JetBlue have them often. In fact, JetBlue is having a sale right now, though I’m unsure of the dates/destinations. https://jetblue.com/

      I would LOVE for frequent fliers to pipe in! I don’t fly often enough to feel I can give the best advice on this question!

      • I agree. Look for deals as early as June and July. If you are renting a car look into flying into Long Beach, CA, (LGB), or Ontario, (ONT), instead of LA, (LAX), or John Wayne, (SNA). LGB is a very small airport, you have to walk down the stairs to the tarmac to get to the airport bldg. like the old days! Being so small it’s less hassle to check in. LGB is 30 – 45 min from Disneyland/Anaheim, and Ontario is about 45 min. All depends on traffic. We found flying into smaller airports are cheaper and less stress for us. We’ ve used a shuttle from ONT with no problem and a taxi, ($40 3 yrs. ago.), from LGB with no problem. If this can be an option for you check out airfares to other airports around Disney. 🙂

        • Blue tickets for the fair’s opneing and closing and special dates May 1 to 3, October 1 to 7 and 25 to 31 cost 200 yuan (about 29.4 U.S. dollars).Yellow tickets for regular fair days cost 160 yuan (about 23.5 U.S. dollars). Shanghai World Expo Tickets Have Been Sold to Individuals since July 1:

  8. We got water bottles with a lanyard, which we filled at the hotel. We drove, so we took almost all of our own food. We took fanny packs with chewy granola bars and fruit snacks in them. Neither item would be crushed during the day. The hotel was off property and had a microwave, frig, and coffee maker. These were great with the food we brought with us. The kids got to pick out all of the stuff that we normally don’t buy, so it was a treat for them. Spagetti Os, canned chili, instant oatmeal, go gurt, etc. The hotel also had free continental breakfast which saved a load. The kids always picked out extra fruit that they put in the frig for a snack later. Just a thought.

  9. Disneyland is an absolute necessity to our family. We plan (and budget) for it every single year, because to us the memories we have made there (for 10 years and running) just simply don’t have a price tag. 🙂
    My best advice is to do all the planning, saving, couponing, etc. you possibly can… then just go and ENJOY. Buy an over-priced t-shirt, splurge on a nice meal out… eat a $7 apple pie caramel apple (heaven on a stick). If your kids are old enough get them a gift card and let them “buy” their own treats. Starting when they were 8 years old, we gave each of our boys $10 a day to spend as they will….. they loved the freedom of that!

    • I know – that’s one of our family’s “claim to fame” stories. My aunt also has a fantastic story about how John Lennon once waited for her for 30 MINUTES in a restaurant in Japan…but she couldn’t make the meeting! We have some fun stories in our family.

  10. I SO wish we would had gotten a picture! It was wonderful to meet you and your adorable family! I’m glad you guys had a great time, this really is a great time of the year to go (less lines = more doing = more bang for your Disney buck!)

    • I KNOW! I was soooo kicking myself afterwards! I would’ve loved to have shared that here on the blog.

      At the very least, you’ve left a comment confirming my story, so there – folks will have to believe it now! 😉

      I LOVED going in late fall and would certainly recommend it!

  11. We’re going to Disney World for Christmas. Any tips for Christmas time? I know that there are going to be lots of lines.

    • When we went to Disneyland during Christmastime…this was 14 years ago…we went for a week and had 3 days in the park, we went to the park on weekdays and on Christmas day and it was not really that bad, I don’t remember waiting too long at all. But that was 14 years ago so it might have changed.

  12. This isn’t so much a $ saver, but a time saver. When my family and I went to Disneyland & Disneyworld, we purchased on online program called “Ridemax”. I think it was about $20. It is a program that maps out the best times to ride all the rides with minimal wait time. It was GREAT!! Lots of walking, but if your kids are like mine, they are way better walking than waiting in a 45 minute line. We were able to ride almost every ride at Disneyland in one day with wait times of 10 min. or less. Really wonderful memories!

    • I know my husband downloaded an App for his iphone that did something very similar. Not sure what he paid for it, but it seems to have been worth it! Not only did it tell us the times for each ride, it had maps with numbers, so we could easily call for dinner reservations while waiting in line, etc.

  13. We are going on our Very First Family trip To Disney Land Resort and I was wondering what was the App called that your husband got on his phone for the wait time for the rides? Sounds like something that would be great especially with a 4 & 8 year old boys.

  14. We went to WDW just this past month! We spent alot! However, I found LOADS of ways to save so we could do all the extra fun things some people miss out on. We got our airfair dirt cheap too! It was about $1250.00 for the 4 of us to fly there on Southwest Airlines! We also stayed 15 day on WDW property. The biggest savings was our hotel! We stayed at The Boardwalk in a studio villa. Anyone going to WDW has to look in to DVCRentalstore.com! Being on WDW property is a huge time saver which means money saver. We also could walk to 2 different resorts. that were about 7 minuts away or you can take a water taxi to either Hollywood Studio’s or Epcot. DVCRentalStore.com very trust worthy. We plan to use their services in the future!

    Cheers!

    • We are flying Southwest to Orlando for 4 for $238 out of pocket – here’s how if you missed that post: https://thecouponproject.com/2013/09/how-my-family-of-4-is-flying-rt-to-walt-disney-world-for-cheap.html

      I have stayed at a couple WDW resorts, but am not convinced that these are the best money savers – although they are a lovely experience and you’re right, they are close. Can I ask what kind of deal you got? I’m paying about $40 a night for our hotel in the Downtown Disney area. All told, I’ve spent about $500 for the airfare, lodging and rental car. Not sure how 15 days in a WDW resort would best that… but I’m intrigued to hear the deal you got.

      • We paid about $130.00 per night. You can go to thier site at DVCRENTALSTORE.com and they have a calculator that will show you how many points you need for your stay. Then you just times by the rate they charge per point, which is $14.00 I believe. Again, it was one of my MUST do’s to stay on property.

        Thanks!
        Stacey

  15. We are doing all your ideas, printing restaurant coupons, buying Disney t-shirts at thrift stores before we go for kids, even found Disney Toys @ thrift store in great condition. Went to the Dolor store & bought glow in the dark bracelets for kids while watching night time parade, filled my backpack w/water, granola bars, candy bars, apples, sandwhiches. I am bringing a crock pot to our hotel room to cook dinner while we are in Disneyland. I just can’t believe there is no free shuttle’s from hotels to Disneyland in Anaheim. I don’t want to pay $16.00 a day for parking is there anyway to get around this?

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  17. You can get a cup of ice water from any restaurant in the park, free. If plain water isn’t your thing, pick up some crystal light flavor packets at Target (just down the street from Disneyland on Harbor Blvd). Also take a water bottle and keep it filled as much as possible, especially on hot days.

    bookit.com has some of the best hotel deals I have found if you take the time to shop your dates. Their 3 Star Mystery Rooms for $59/night are a great deal. If all you’re looking for is a clean bed and shower with no amenities, all hotels within walking distance will suffice. Yes, some are extremely outdated, but hopefully all your waking moments will be spent at the park.

    For PinTraders, be sure to hit the Disney Hotels and shops in Downtown Disney. The Disneyland Hotel Front Desk and Valet have large pin trading boards. Paradise Pier and The Grand Californian have plenty of pin trading also, just ask at the front desk of each. You can easily spend half a day wandering from hotel to hotel and through downtown trading pins instead of paying for a day in the park. Target on South Harbor also has a selection of pins that cannot be found in Disneyland.

    If you plan on going to Disneyland for more than one trip a year, annual passes are a must. Yes, the initial cost is substantial, but in the long run with food and merchandise discounts and ticket costs, you will save a bundle.

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