No matter how you do it, Disney vacations can be expensive. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it! Disneyland is one of our favorite places and we’ve found a few ways to make it more affordable.
So, today I figured I’d share a few tips for how to save money at Disneyland for your next trip!
May contain affiliate links.Since I live in Seattle, we have to carefully plan our Disneyland vacations. We have to factor in flights for our family of four, a hotel room, tickets, and any other extras (like character dining.)
Our first family trip to Disneyland was when our oldest was 2.5 years old. I remember him high-fiving Goofy and smiling sheepishly at the Disney Princesses.
At that point, my husband and I knew we wanted to do Disney vacations as often as we could. But, with limited vacation days and the extra cost of getting to California, we knew we needed to be smart about saving money at Disneyland.
Now, I’m not saying that we always follow these tips. But, these are things we think about when figuring out when we can swing our next Disneyland vacation.
How to Save Money at Disneyland: 20 Must Know Tips
1. TRAVEL WHEN SCHOOL IS IN SESSION
If at all possible, plan your Disneyland trip outside of school vacations. This is easiest if your kids aren’t in school yet.
Sometimes schools have in-service or conference days where you can take a long weekend. Check your school calendar to see if there are any no school days that you could build a trip around.
And if you decide that you are going to take your kids out of school to save some money, please check with the teacher and the school district first to make sure you won’t have any issues.
2. AVOID HOLIDAYS
If you are going to Disneyland because you have the day off, chances are other people are doing the exact same thing.
The week around Christmas and New Year’s Day is super busy. And the time right before Halloween is also pretty packed.
If you don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for a hotel room, check the Anaheim Convention Center to see if they are hosting a conference/convention.
Since it’s the largest convention center on the West Coast, hotel room prices can be through the roof.
And sometimes there are conferences at a Disneyland hotel.
4. STAY OFF-PROPERTY
What’s awesome about Disneyland Resort is that you don’t have to stay at one of the Disney hotels for close access to the Parks.
In fact, there are tons of Good Neighbor hotels that are right across the street from the Parks entrance.
The important thing is to not just reserve a room with the lowest rate. Check to see if there are resort fees, parking fees, and other items tacked onto your bill.
You’ll also want to factor in free breakfast, free shuttle to Disneyland, free WiFi, and other discounts or free services when determining which Disneyland hotel is cheapest.
And, you can save even more money if you book a 2 night or more SoCal Vacation through my travel partner Get Away Today. Use the code MM10 to get $10 off your vacation package!
5. HAVE A NON-PARK DAY
Disneyland vacations are a blast, but they can be grueling. Especially if you are getting up early and staying until the fireworks.
Planning a non-Park day is an easy way to save money at Disneyland. We like to use these days for laying low at our hotel and playing in the pool.
Downtown Disney is also a pretty cool place to get the Disney vibe without purchasing a ticket.
And while this is a spendier option, my family likes doing character dining at one of the Disney hotels on non-Park days. Our favorite right now is breakfast at Goofy’s Kitchen.
6. DON’T RENT A CAR
The parking fees at all the hotels are expensive. Once you get to the Disneyland-area, there’s really no reason to rent a car.
Instead, rely on walking or using a hotel shuttle. There’s even the Anaheim Resort Transit (ART) you can take for $5 to get you to the Parks.
And if you are combining your trip to Disneyland with another area in California, wait to rent your car until you need it. There are several car rental places right by Disneyland.
7. EAT BREAKFAST BEFORE YOU GET INTO THE PARKS
Find a hotel that serves free breakfast (and read the reviews on TripAdvisor and Get Away Today to see if the breakfast is substantial enough for your family.)
Otherwise, pack some easy breakfast items (like bagels, or muffins.) Or hit up a grocery store for yogurt, milk, cereal, and fresh fruit.
There’s also a McDonald’s and Panera Bread super close to the Parks entrances.
Insider tip: Remember to actually EAT the breakfast so you aren’t hungry by the time you get into the Park!
8. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF FREE TICKETS
I know a lot of parents say they want to wait until their kids are 5 years old before going to Disneyland. That seems to be the magic number parents have in their heads.
But, I personally think the most magical age is right before they turn 3 years old!
Kids under 3 years old get free park admission and they also eat free at Disneyland buffet restaurants (including character dining.)
It’s also an awesome age because they believe they are meeting the “real” characters and that look in their face is just priceless!
Plus, you can usually dress your kids in matching clothes or costumes at that age without them complaining, so you can get those adorable photos of your kids at Disneyland!
While it’s definitely tempting to rent a stroller either from Disneyland or one of the stroller rental companies nearby, those costs can add up quickly.
Right now, Disneyland rents strollers for $15 or two strollers for $25 (they don’t offer double strollers.)
If you are traveling with little kids, bringing your own stroller will save you a lot of money. And it’s free to check it on an airplane.
Just be sure your stroller fits within the new Disneyland stroller policy.
10. PRE-PURCHASE SOUVENIRS
If you have little kids, they are going to want a bubble wand. But those are $25 each inside the Parks.
If you want to save money at Disneyland on souvenirs, it’s smartest to buy stuff ahead of time at Target, Dollar Tree, or Amazon.
Or, if your kids really want to purchase something at Disneyland, they can do the pressed penny machines. It costs 51 cents each time (2 quarters and a penny) and there are machines all over both Parks.
If you have a child who might want to dress up (especially after meeting Disney Princesses and seeing other kids walking around in costumes) it’s cheapest to bring your own.
Costco usually has good deals on Disney costumes way before Halloween (I think I saw them in August.) And for other times of the year, ShopDisney has costumes on sale.
Personally, I like to fold up the costumes and put them in little packing cubes that I can stick in my backpack or leave in the stroller.
12. TAKE YOUR OWN PHOTOS
If the PhotoPass is not in your budget for this Disneyland trip, don’t feel like you have to skip all the photo spots.
Some of our favorite character meet and greet photos are ones my husband took with his own camera. And I love to take video of my kids meeting their favorite characters!
Disney PhotoPass photographers will also take photos with your camera or phone after they take the official ones. It’s a free service and you still should get the card so you can see the photos online. If there’s one you love, you can purchase it separately.
13. USE CASH
This is kind of an old-school technique, but figure out your daily budget and only bring cash with you. It’s way too easy to swipe a card at Disneyland and every churro and Dole Whip add up.
By using cash, you’ll have a clear idea of how much you are spending and you’ll know when you need to stop buying stuff!
This is also a great trick if you are teaching your kids about money. Let them bring their own wallet with cash and they can figure out how they’d like to spend their money.
14. PACK YOUR OWN TREATS
Part of the Disney magic is eating something shaped like Mickey, right?
No one likes the feeling of depriving themselves. So, pack some special candy, lollipops, or cookies so you can give in to your sweet tooth without taking out your wallet.
I like to hit up my local grocery store and get the Mickey shaped goldfish crackers and Disney fruit snacks.
If I was a “Pinterest Mom,” I’d make some Mickey-shaped treats and put them in little baggies to bring to the Parks.
15. BRING YOUR OWN WATER BOTTLE
No matter where you travel, the quickest way to save a few bucks is to avoid buying drinks at restaurants. The upcharge on them is crazy!
Instead, invest is a good water bottle and refill it at any Disneyland restaurant for free.
My husband and I love our Hydro Flasks. They keep ice water icy all day long (yes, even in the blazing hot summer sun!)
And you can always add some fruit or flavor drops if you get tired of plain water.
16. CREATE YOUR OWN AUTOGRAPH BOOK
What’s cool about Disneyland is that you don’t have to buy an official autograph book if you don’t want to.
The most budget-friendly Disneyland autograph book is a plain notebook that you put Disney stickers on. You can find notebooks and Disney stickers at Dollar Tree or on Amazon.
I’ve also seen people use photo albums where they stick a photo of the character on one side and a 3 x 5 card with the autograph on the other.
17. SPLIT MEALS
Disneyland portions can be quite large. So, order a couple entrees and share them family style.
For quick service meals, ask for an extra cup or plate and portion off food for your kids. That way, everyone has their “own” meals.
Kids under 3 years old can share off your plate without an additional charge at table service restaurants.
18. BUY SINGLE PARK TICKETS
While the Park Hopper tickets are tempting, it’s cheaper to purchase the standard tickets good for one park each day.
You’ll also want to figure out exactly how many days you plan on being in the Parks. The more days you go, the cheaper it is per day. But, every day adds up.
I recommend my travel partner Get Away Today because they offer the cheapest Disneyland tickets and often run crazy awesome sales!
19. GET A POPCORN BUCKET ON THE FIRST DAY
I don’t know what it is, but popcorn always seems to be a hit with the entire family.
If you are planning on multiple days in the Parks, invest in a refillable popcorn bucket on your first day. The refills are much cheaper and you’ll save money eating popcorn over other snacks.
Plus, it will make you thirsty for all the free water you are hauling around!
20. HAVE A PLAN
When figuring out how to save money at Disneyland, the best advice I can give you is to have a solid plan.
Now, you don’t have to have every minute planned out, but it really helps to do your research ahead of time.
Once you have figured out the best time to go to Disneyland, found your perfect hotel and purchased your Disneyland tickets, you still have some work to do.
Create a Disneyland packing list and include every single thing on it. You’d be surprised how many things you forget and have to buy once you get to Disneyland (for full price.)
Make a budget for your trip and divide it up by each day. Think about how much will go toward transportation, food, treats, and souvenirs.
The biggest budget item in the Parks is food. Figure out which places have the type of food your family likes for the cheapest price. You can find all the Disneyland restaurants here.
And don’t forget to talk to your family about this plan! You’ll want every family member to understand where you’ll be spending the money (and what items will need to wait until the next trip.)
I hope this gives you some easy ideas on how to save money at Disneyland without sacrificing the “magic!”