There are, of course, multiple ways to save money on any family vacation, and you can even visit Disneyland Resort on a budget with proper planning. We’ve collected some hacks to help keep costs in check because a trip to “The Happiest Place on Earth” is a bucket list trip for many and a major expense.
While savings on airfare, hotels, and admission tickets may be the most financially significant, feeding your family is always a significant consideration on any vacation, which we’ll also cover. We also have a few tips for avoiding spending money unnecessarily while in the park. The bottom line though for saving money at Disneyland is developing a budget-focused game plan that everyone in your group is on board with.
You can save on tickets, tours, and hotels through my affiliations. If you make purchases through some links in this post, I may be compensated. Our editorial guidelines.
1. Figure Out Where the Value Is For You
Saving money and getting a better value is not the same thing, but they aren’t mutually exclusive either. You will need to sit down as a family and decide your priorities in advance because you will likely spend some money in the park.
The right balance of value and saving for you will likely not be what another family chooses, which is completely okay. But I firmly believe that the key to visiting Disneyland on a budget, big or small, is research and open dialogue with your group. It’s easier to control spending when expectations are managed — and this goes for visitors to Disneyland on a budget,, whether large or small.
2. Buy Discounted Tickets
One thing I’ve learned is that even travelers with big budgets dislike paying full price on theme park tickets. I might be talking with them about booking a suite at a five-star hotel, but the next question inevitably will be how to they can avoid paying full price on admission. Disneyland is no exception.
Single-day tickets are the most expensive tickets per visit and are rarely discounted. The best bet is to buy these directly through Disneyland.
Multi-day tickets offer a per-day savings. For example, a 7-day ticket is less expensive per day than a 2-day ticket. And, the other good news is that you can find a Disneyland tickets discount through authorized sellers that are straight-to-the-gate tickets. We partner with San Diego-based aRes Travel to provide these ticket savings to readers.
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3. Skip the Park Hopper
Park Hopper tickets allow you to visit Disneyland and Disney California Adventure on the same day. Their entrances are mere steps from each other, making it possible to bounce between both parks.
Park Hoppers make sense when you are short on time. If you only have one day to spend in the parks, then, by all means, buy a Park Hopper to see both of them. Frequent visitors who want to fit in all of their favorites tend to purchase Park Hoppers or annual passes.
However, 1-Park Per Day tickets cost less than a Park Hopper ticket of the same day length. In my opinion, spending one day from open to close in either park is possible, so this is one way to visit Disneyland on a budget without sacrifice.
4. Go When Kids Are Free or Can Use Child Tickets
Kids under two qualify for free Disneyland tickets (or, really, no ticket at all). The age range for child tickets is 3–9, meaning that kids pay adult pricing when they turn 10.
So, if you have a 9-year-old who is about to turn 10 or a 2-year-old who is about to turn 3, schedule a Disneyland trip before they need more expensive tickets.
5. Pay Attention to Seasonal Ticket Price Hikes
Theme parks and attractions often raise prices at the start of a new calendar year. Disneyland is no exception. In fact, they announce price increases on some tickets and annual passes once a year, it seems. While these prices go into effect immediately through Disneyland, there is almost always a short period or grace period where authorized ticket sellers can continue to sell tickets at prior-year pricing.
Long story short, when I originally wrote this post in February 2020, you had until February 20, 2020, to purchase Disneyland tickets at 2019 pricing. And this is common during any year that there’s a price increase.
6. Look for Value Dates During Off-Peak Times
Look for the value dates on the Disneyland ticket calendar (Tier 1 tickets) to find out when tickets are at their lowest. If ticket prices are low, it could also mean that crowds are projected to be on the low side as well.
Nearby Good Neighbor Hotels might also be running promotions of their own on value dates to attract guests, providing potentially even greater savings for those visiting Disneyland on a budget.
7. Avoid Conventions
Avoid staying near Disneyland during a convention or a conference, as hotel rates spike when the convention center is hosting big events. You can check the city calendar.
8. Stay Offsite (Many Hotels Offer Free Breakfast)
While there are several benefits to staying at Disneyland Resort hotels, offsite hotels can be significantly cheaper, and some include free breakfasts and other benefits that can help manage the cost of feeding your family.
If you are considering an offsite hotel, I recommend that it be one of the Good Neighbor Hotels near Disneyland which are conveniently located near the resort and meet strict Disney standards.
9. Ditch the Car
Don’t drive if you don’t need to. In most cases, you will not need a car during a Disneyland vacation. Renting a car and paying for parking should only be done as an absolute necessity.
Look for hotels that offer free park transportation and otherwise use rideshare apps like Uber or Lyft for the rest of your shorter transportation needs. To give you an idea, we take the train from San Diego to Disneyland and use Uber to get around if necessary. Going carless also avoids hectic parking lots when visiting the parks or Downtown Disney.
10. Use Food Delivery Apps
Many families opt for food delivery via the myriad of apps available today, like Doordash and UberEats, or simply by looking up nearby pizza delivery. The price value compared to dining in the actual hotel restaurant is subject to comparison research, but it might save money on both food and transportation costs if you otherwise would have driven to a restaurant or parked a car at the hotel.
You can also have groceries delivered via Instacart if you’re at an extended-stay property or in a room with a kitchen. Sure, you’re paying a gratuity and fees on top of what your normal groceries would cost, but it can be cheaper than eating out and more convenient.
11. Research Disneyland Restaurants Before You Go
There is a myriad of Disneyland restaurants that offer different cuisines and price points. Adult meals can cost between $10–$20 in the counter service restaurants and $25–$50 in the table service restaurants — expect the higher end for restaurants with Disneyland character dining.
Knowing which Disneyland restaurants will work best for your family before you get there will likely help you find enjoyable meals while managing costs, as opposed to dashing into the nearest restaurant when hunger strikes.
12. Bring a Reusable Water Bottle
In Southern California, you will definitely not be alone if you bring your own reusable water bottle (we bring them everywhere). Fill it with free cups of water at restaurants and from water fountains and filtered water stations scattered around the parks. Bottled water in the park is expensive, and it’s nice to have your own at the ready, especially if it’s sunny, which it likely will be, requiring everyone in the family to stay hydrated.
13. Skip the Sides
You can save money at Disneyland when ordering quick-service food without the sides. If you never finish your fries, you pay more than you need for food. Instead, get the burger or corn dog on its own at a cheaper price. Use the money saved on something important… like a churro. (Churros at Disneyland are a big deal, and you should plan to have at least one).
14. Split or Combine Meals
Before ordering, look around to gauge meal size and pause to study the menu. The nice thing about Disney meals is that most of them are fairly large, and can easily be split by two kids or even an adult and a child. It could also be that ordering a whole pizza versus individual slices is more economical (such was the case at Alien Pizza Planet recently).
Some desserts are quite large, so perhaps manage kids’ expectations by telling them they’ll need to share one.
15. Have a Big Breakfast
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve entered the park, and within minutes, my daughter says, “I’m hungry!” Maybe the Disney snack sightings (the food can seriously be good and cute in both parks) trigger this reaction, but it can feel a little bit like shopping for groceries on an empty stomach. In addition to the inconvenience of spending money on food to scratch this itch, stopping for snacks prevents you from getting on that first ride!
16. Bring Your Own Snacks
Speaking of snacks, many people save money at Disneyland by bringing their own or having a picnic — which is totally allowed. However, don’t completely rule out buying some food when you are in the parks. Indulging in Disney treats is very much part of the experience (and, in my opinion, better than bringing home a souvenir). Sure, the granola bar in your backpack is cheaper than a churro, but… churro!
Disneyland lets you bring food, nonalcoholic drinks, and backpacks into the parks. (No hard-sided coolers or glass, though.) If you are bringing a whole family-size picnic meal, they ask that you use the picnic areas within walking distance of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.
17. Scan the Entertainment Book
The Orange County Entertainment Book used to be something you’d buy in print. But now, it’s part of the Entertainment app that lists Anaheim restaurants (a few are within walking distance of Disneyland, and others are a short drive away) where you can save money. The digital version at the time of this writing is fairly inexpensive and you can pay by the month or annually.
This digital gem provides access to other cities. The deals in it that we redeem in San Diego, where we live, more than pay for the subscription, so I do look through it whenever we head to Anaheim, Los Angeles, or other cities. Remember that there are other things to do with kids in Anaheim aside from Disneyland Resort.
18. Bring Your Own Autograph Book and Pen
If you have kids with their hearts set on asking favorite characters for autographs, bring your own book and pen, which will likely be cheaper than the ones sold in the souvenir shops.
Remember, it’s not actually the book that the kids will (hopefully) care about. It’s the princess or character encounter and how special they feel while the book is being signed.
19. Get Disney Genie+ for Free PhotoPass Downloads
Even if you are visiting Disneyland on a budget, I would still encourage you to consider upgrading your ticket to include Disney Genie+, especially on peak (or higher tier) days. Or, if you don’t want to buy Disney Genie+ but do love the photos taken Disney photographers, buy Genie_ for at least one person in your group.
A great perk is free, unlimited PhotoPass downloads for your personal albums, and quick social media sharing. So, if you would have otherwise purchased a few PhotoPass downloads, then Genie+ may save you money here.
20. Use Your Camera at PhotoPass Stations
Disney PhotoPass photographers stationed throughout the park, of course, hope you’ll download or purchase PhotoPass photos. Alternatively, they’re happy to take a photo with your camera for free. Don’t feel badly asking them to do this, as it’s fairly common practice. I do it all the time.
21. Get Your Disney Gear Elsewhere
Disney-licensed merchandise can be purchased at places like Target or Amazon. In fact, Amazon has some licensed Disney princess dresses for a fraction of what you would pay at the parks. And they are super cute.
22. Keep an Eye Out for Disney Gift Card Savings
Occasionally, one can find opportunities to purchase Disney gift cards at less than retail value. One such strategy is to use a Target RedCard, which saves 5% off of purchases at Target. And, Target sells Disney and other gift cards.
You’ll need to ensure the gift card arrives in time, as physical cards can take weeks to arrive. eCards are an option, however, users report that they also are not delivered to your inbox immediately. Kroger and Sam’s Club periodically have Disney gift card offers as well. You can manage Disney gift cards in one place at disneygiftcard.com.
23. Look for Credit Card Benefits and Deals
The best card for Disney enthusiasts is the Chase Disney Premier Visa. Cardholders earn reward dollars that are usable at Disneyland and receive discounts on shopping or dining when using the card in the park. The card also entitles holders to special character meet-and-greets and other perks that help those visiting Disneyland on a budget.
It also pays to scan the credit card reward programs you already belong to. Disney tickets have been spotted on Chase Ultimate Rewards (though as a Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholder, I can tell you that there are none at this time), and, of course, if you book a hotel using points, you’ll have more money to spend in the parks. Opportunities to save on tickets with points from non-Disney branded credit cards are nearly nonexistent, but it is worth taking a few minutes to check, just in case.
24. Set a Budget for Souvenirs
Consider giving your kids a budget for souvenirs before you go. You may also then give each of them their own Disney gift cards in that amount. Then, when the card zeros out, that’s it. This way, you are also managing their expectations for what they can purchase well in advance.
I do think it’s ideal to purchase Disney gear elsewhere but let’s be realistic. Your kids are going to want to take something home from the park, so maybe let them choose something within a predetermined budget.
25. Don’t Forget Your Power Bank
All-day use of the Disneyland app can drain smartphone battery life. While you can pick up handy FuelRod battery chargers around the park, you can avoid this extra expense by bringing your own portable charger. If you need ideas, this is currently my favorite power bank (which I forgot during a recent Disneyland trip so I had to purchase another FuelRod).
(And don’t forget to check my list of best Disneyland rides.)