Planning a trip to Disneyland? Trying to save money?
Welcome to the club. Disneyland is a fantastic family vacation, but it's expensive under the best of circumstances. The good news is that there are lots of ways that you can avoid paying top dollar and still have a wonderful Disneyland trip with your family.
I have either used these tips myself, or have enough first-hand experience at Disneyland to know that they work. Several of these tips could save you hundreds of dollars.
Just because you can save money in all these ways doesn't mean that you should.
Disneyland is a big trip, and it's worth doing right. Upgrades like Park Hopper, MaxPass, Character Dining, a princess makeover or staying at a Disneyland hotel can really make your trip memorable, and are worth every penny for some families. I'm hoping that by saving money in other areas, you'll have more for special extras.
Here are my tips for doing Disneyland on a budget.
Book with Get Away Today – I'm usually a DIY travel planner, but for Disneyland I always book my hotel and tickets through Get Away Today. They offer a low price guarantee and great customer service. Save an extra $10 when you use my exclusive coupon code Tips10Trips at www.getawaytoday.com.
Buy tickets in advance – You won't ever find deep discounts on Disneyland tickets, but you can save a few dollars and time in line when you buy your tickets before your trip from Get Away Today or another authorized seller.
Buy early – The price of Disneyland tickets goes up every year, and you can buy tickets a year or more in advance to beat price increases. February is usually the month when increases are announced, so Christmas is a great time to surprise the family with next year's Disneyland trip for last year's price.
Watch for sales – Get Away Today regularly has Disneyland ticket sales. Adults at Kids Prices or 5th Day Free sales happen a few times each year. Keep an eye out for free hotel nights and other package deals. Don't forget Black Friday!
I send an email to my subscribers anytime there's a great sale on. Click the image below to join to my free email list and get more of my best Disneyland tips and free downloads.
Beware of scams – If you find a Disneyland ticket deal from eBay, Craigslist, friend of a friend or anywhere else that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Partially used tickets are linked with the first owner's photo and are not transferable. If you try to use a fake ticket at Disneyland, you'll lose the money you paid for it and have to buy full-price tickets at the gate. Buy only from authorized sellers like Get Away Today.
Consider layaway – Avoid paying high credit card interest fees with Get Away Today's layaway option. You can lock in your price for $125 down and pay off your trip on your own schedule – as long as it's fully paid two weeks before you leave. Learn more at www.getawaytoday.com/layaway.
Skip the Park Hopper option – Park Hopper tickets are nice to have because Disneyland and California Adventure are just steps away from each other. However, they aren't essential and this is one way that your family can save hundreds of dollars with the 1-Park-Per-Day option. You can easily spend 1-2 full days in each park and save up to $50 per person on tickets.
Skip the upsells – You will find that there is more than enough entertainment at Disneyland for one vacation, and nearly everything except food and souvenirs is included. Character Dining, MaxPass, PhotoPass and other add-ons can enhance your trip, but are not necessary.
Save other theme parks for another trip – Resist the temptation to combine Universal Studios Hollywood, LEGOLAND California or SeaWorld with your Disneyland trip. I love these parks, but it only costs about $25 to upgrade your Disneyland ticket from 3 Days to 4 Days. It'll cost 3-4 times that much, plus travel, for one day in any other park. Make those parks the focus of a future San Diego or Hollywood trip.
Bundle admissions – If you still want to visit other theme parks, you can save money on all of them by bundling admission. Get Away Today sells a variety of ticket bundles that include Universal Studios Hollywood or Knott's Berry Farm. They also sell CityPASS for a discount, which includes Disneyland, SeaWorld San Diego and LEGOLAND California.
Take young children – It may never be cheaper or more magical to visit Disneyland than when your kids are little. Children under age 3 get in free, and can ride more than you might expect. Kids over age 10 pay adult ticket prices at Disneyland, so you'll save if you can go sooner rather than later.
Go at off-peak times – It can be tricky to find an off-peak time at Disneyland, but you'll likely pay less for your hotel if you visit midweek in January, February, September or early November. Watch out for conventions. The convention center is near Disneyland, and a big event can turn off-season into peak season.
Stay off-property – Disneyland is different than Walt Disney World. It has only three on-property hotels, and some off-property hotels are just as close to the park gates. The Disneyland Resort hotels come with some nice benefits, but you'll save money by staying off-property.
Look for extra-large rooms – Family-sized rooms with extra space and extra beds are easier to find near Disneyland than a lot of other places. On our first trip with my kids and parents, our room had a nook with bunk beds, plus two queen beds in the main room. These rooms may cost more than a standard room, but they'll cost less than two rooms for larger families.
Watch for extra fees – Resort fees and parking fees are becoming more common at hotels near Disneyland. Make sure you know what's included and what isn't before you book.
Figure in transportation costs before you book a hotel – Hotels that are farther away from Disneyland are usually cheaper, but you may pay more to get to Disneyland. Disneyland parking is currently $20 per day and shuttle availability and costs vary. Assume that it will take more time than you expect to get into the park each morning.
Stay within walking distance – There are a handful of hotels located just across the street or within a short walk of Disneyland. If you can walk to the park, you'll save shuttle or parking fees. These hotels are popular, so book early for best selection. You'll probably walk several miles per day and do a lot of standing inside Disneyland. Keep that in mind when you decide what “walking distance” means.
Pick a hotel with a free shuttle – A few hotels have free Disneyland shuttles. Some are really close to the park (within 2 miles) and others… not so much. Make sure the schedule will meet your family's needs. Don't give up precious park time for a restrictive shuttle schedule.
Do the math – With every one of my transportation tips, the option that saves my family money might not be the best option for your family. It depends on where you're traveling from, the ages of your family, the size of your family and more. Research your options and do the math before you commit.
Drive instead of fly – I only have two kids, and we generally take two days to drive to Disneyland from Salt Lake City. Even with the extra gas, food and hotel it always costs us less to drive to Disneyland than fly.
Shuttle vs Disneyland parking – In general, I recommend using a shuttle from your hotel because it's more convenient and often less expensive. If you park in a Disneyland lot, you'll likely end up on a shuttle anyway. However, per person shuttle fees add up and if you have a large group of older kids and adults, Disneyland parking may cost less.
Skip the rental car – If you'll be spending your whole trip in and around Disneyland, you probably don't need to rent a car. Shuttles, Uber, Lyft and Anaheim Resort Transit (ART) are all good alternatives. Get Away Today offers a number of shuttle options from Disneyland to Universal Studios and other popular destinations on their Disneyland Ticket page.
Skip the airport shuttle – Booking a shuttle is the traditional way of getting from the airport to your Disneyland hotel. Times are changing, and Lyft/Uber work well in Southern California. Prices vary, but at this time, one shuttle option from Get Away Today costs $21 per adult while the Lyft estimate is a total of $35 for up to six passengers from John Wayne Airport to the Disneyland area.
Click the button to get more tips for using Lyft or Uber with kids.
Eat breakfast at your hotel – It's not hard to find hotels near Disneyland that offer complimentary breakfast or an in-room fridge where you can store your own food. This will save you money, but more importantly, it will save you time. Morning is the least crowded time at Disneyland.
Pack your own food into the parks – Disneyland allows you to bring snacks, sandwiches and drinks into the park in a day pack or stroller. Disneyland dining is fun, but not cheap, so this is an easy way to save money. Grocery stores and grocery delivery are available near Disneyland.
Use Amazon.com – You can ship Ziploc bags, juice boxes, snacks and other provisions directly to your hotel for free if you have Amazon Prime or meet the minimum shipping requirements.
Schedule Character Dining for an off-park day – Most of Disneyland's character meals are located in its hotel restaurants, so you do not need your park ticket to enjoy them. Sleep in, enjoy a leisurely breakfast buffet with your favorite Disney characters and then spend the rest of the day in Downtown Disney, at the beach or at your hotel pool. Whether in the middle or at the end of your trip, you'll be glad for a “day off.”
Buy Character Dining tickets in advance – Get Away Today sells discounted Character Dining tickets for Disneyland that include tax and gratuity. Seriously, check out their ticket page before you book anything because they can help you with a lot more than just discounted Disneyland tickets.
Get free ice water – You can ask for a free cup of ice water at any counter-service restaurant in Disneyland, with or without a meal.
Order a kids' meal – Guests of any age can order kids' meals at Disneyland's counter service restaurants. Kids meals are smaller and less expensive, and generally include fresh fruit and vegetable options.
Share snacks – I'm not squeamish about sharing food and drinks with my husband and kids. I've found that when we share, we can sample more of Disneyland's fun treats throughout the day without getting too full or buying multiples of everything.
Eat family style – When my husband and sister and I tried Disneyland's famous Monte Cristo sandwiches at Cafe Orleans, we ordered two entrees, an appetizer and an extra plate and ate family style. Our server was very accommodating. The entrees were too big for one person, but ordering a little less food and sharing it was just right.
Set your snack budget in advance – Give each member of the family a snack/souvenir budget at the beginning of your trip and let them decide how to use it. That way, when Mom wants a Dole Whip, you don't have to buy for everyone. Putting it on a Disney gift card is an easy way to keep track, but we like cash better because you don't have to spend it all before the end of the trip.
More Money-Saving Tips
Apply for a Chase Disney Visa Card – We have done this for two different Disneyland trips – four years apart – and saved hundreds of dollars. Most recently we received a $250 credit when we used our new Disney Premier Visa Card to buy tickets to the Oogie Boogie Bash. Then we saved 10% on food and shopping inside the parks.
This card has an annual fee, so cancel it after your trip unless you love the rewards. We pay our balance in full every month to avoid interest. See current offers at chase.com/disney.
Ask PhotoPass photographers to use your camera – PhotoPass is a good way to get professional pics of your whole group throughout the parks, and it's included with MaxPass. However, it's not essential. There is no obligation to buy any PhotoPass photo and the photographer will usually take a second photo with your own camera if you ask.
Buy Disney gear outside the park – Disneyland has a fantastic selection of souvenirs that you won't find anywhere else, but you can buy a lot of Disney gear outside the park for less. Here are a few fun items you may want to buy in advance from Amazon, Walmart, Target, the dollar store… even the Disney Store may sell it cheaper.
- Disney t-shirts
- Princess dresses
- Star Wars costumes
- Lanyards (to keep park tix and FASTPASSES handy)
- Autograph books and pens
- Pins for trading
- Glow-in-the dark toys for parades and fireworks
Watch the weather forecast – Rainy weather is less common at Disneyland than at Walt Disney World. However, if rain is forecast or you just want to avoid the splash on Splash Mountain, it's a lot cheaper to pack your own rain poncho than to buy one in the park. Same with jackets for cold weather. Rain and cold will keep the crowds down, so you'll be glad if you are prepared to stay.
Don't rent park strollers – I recommend a stroller for all kids under age 6 at Disneyland. On our first trip, my 3-year-old son napped in our stroller every day, even though he hadn't taken a regular nap at home in a year. If you don't bring your own stroller, rent one from an agency outside the park so you can use it on shuttles and elsewhere. Rentals outside the park are generally less expensive.
Disneyland is an extraordinary destination that keeps fans coming back year after year. I hope these tips will make this magical vacation more affordable for your family.
How else can I help?
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Need a hotel recommendation? Here are reviews for two great options near Disneyland.
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