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.
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 what your priorities are in advance because you will likely spend some money in the park.
The right balance of value and saving for you is likely not going to be what another family chooses and that is completely okay. But, I firmly believe that the key to visiting Disneyland on a budget, big or small, is research and open dialog with your group. It’s easier to control spending when expectations are managed — and this goes for visitors to Disneyland on a budget whether it’s 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.
3. Skip the Park Hopper
Park Hopper tickets allow you to visit both 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, it is entirely possible to spend one day from open to close in either park 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 the age of two qualify for free Disneyland tickets (or, really, no ticket at all). The age range for child tickets is 3–9 which means that kids pay adult pricing when they turn 10.
So, if you have a 9-year-old that is about to turn 10 or a 2-year-old that 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, just yesterday, they announced a price increase on some tickets and annual passes. While these prices go into effect immediately through Disneyland, there is almost always a short period of time or grace period where authorized tickets sellers can continue to sell tickets at prior-year pricing.
Long story short, if you are reading this in February 2020, you have until February 20, 2020 to purchase Disneyland tickets at 2019 pricing. Not all ticket prices were raised but for example, the 2-Day Park Hopper will be more expensive going forward and there are now five tiers of ticket prices based on forecasted occupancy. MaxPass will also increase to $20, but you can avoid this if you buy tickets before February 20.
6. Look for Value Dates
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
Try to 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.
I recommend that if you are considering an offsite hotel, 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 too. In most cases, you will not need a car at all during a Disneyland vacation. Renting a car and paying $25 per day or more 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 need be. Going carless also avoids hectic parking lots when you want to visit 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. Some families report success with having groceries delivered via Amazon Pantry if you’re at an extended stay property or in a room with a kitchen.
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–$15 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 up 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 (I paid $3.50 last time) and it’s nice to have your own at the ready especially if it’s sunny, which it likely will be.
13. Skip the Sides
You can save more money at Disneyland when you order quick-service food without the sides. If you never finish your fries then you are paying more than you need to for food. Instead, just 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, take a 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 of the desserts are quite large so perhaps manage kids’ expectations but 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 it’s the Disney snack sightings (the food can seriously be good and cute in both parks) that 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, a lot of 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 allows you to 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 that are located within walking distance of each of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.
17. Scan the Orange County Entertainment Book
The Orange County Entertainment Book lists Anaheim restaurants (a few are within walking distance of Disneyland and others are a short drive away) where you can save money. You can purchase the physical book but also use the digital version, which also has a free trial month, and is then $19.99 for the year
This is mostly a tip for those who already subscribe to the digital version as it 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 scan 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 is likely to 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 MaxPass for Free PhotoPass Photos
Even if you are visiting Disneyland on a budget, I would still encourage you to consider upgrading your ticket to include Disney MaxPass, especially on peak (or higher tier) days. Or, if you don’t want to buy MaxPass but do love the photos taken Disney photographers, buy MaxPass for at least one person in your group. A great MaxPass 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 MaxPass will actually save you money here.
20. Use Your Camera at PhotoPass Stations
Disney PhotoPass photographers stationed throughout the park of course are hoping that you’ll download or purchase PhotoPass photos. Alternatively, they’re happy to take a photo with your camera for free. Don’t feel badly about asking them to do this as it’s fairly common practice.
21. Use FASTPASS for Shows Instead of Dining Packages
You can purchase dining packages that will grant you access to preferred viewing at shows like World of Color at Disney California Adventure and Fantasmic! at Disneyland. This is one of the easiest ways to guarantee access to the best viewpoint for either show.
However, you can also use FASTPASS for access to preferred viewing. FASTPASSes become available for later shows after the first show is sold out. Many secure FASTPASSes for these two shows immediately after entering the parks but you’ll have to review your own FASTPASS strategy to see if this makes sense for you.
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 be sure that 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 10% off 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. Some of my favorite travel credit cards are on this list.
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.
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 my favorite power bank (which I forgot during a recent Disneyland trip so I had to purchase another FuelRod).
(And don’t forget to vote for what you think are the best Disneyland rides.)