Let’s face it: family vacations to Disneyland aren’t cheap. Aside from park admission and the hotel, think of the money you’ll spend just getting to Anaheim. On top of that, the money piles up with food, treats and souvenirs galore.
Although we prefer our family travel to be rich in culture, there’s no denying that a trip to Disneyland is a ton of fun for kiddos. As a Southern California native, I’m a bit of a Disney fanatic myself, but the majority of my trips were in my youth when my parents were paying for my entrance fees. As an adult, the ever-rising prices are definitely hard to swallow.
With the fee hikes in February bringing day admission to $99, saving money on a Disney trip is a must. Here are our tips for cutting costs at California’s most beloved theme park.
Bring Your Own…
Bring your own whatever. If it’s allowed in the park, bring it. Everything inside the park costs much more than it would on the outside.
The biggest thing here—and I can’t stress this enough—is food. Disneyland’s food is expensive. For a family of 4, you will easily spend over $50 per meal and chances are, the food won’t be healthy. Eat breakfast before hitting the park, pack sandwiches for lunch and healthy snacks for kids to munch on throughout the day. That way, you’ll only have to buy one meal in the park and kids will still get to have some Disney grub. It’s also a good idea to bring your own water bottles. Southern California is almost always hot, you’ll be walking all day and they’re insanely overpriced within the park.
One other thing you won’t want to forget is a stroller for little ones. Yes, you can rent them at the park, but bringing your own is free. They also don’t carry double strollers so if you have two little ones, you’d have to rent (and push!) two separate strollers. It may be a hassle on the tram, but once you’re there, you’ll be glad you don’t have to spend unnecessary money on something you already own.
Stay Somewhere That Isn’t Disney
Disney hotels are hard to resist. They’re right there—just a short walk to the front entrance. This eliminates parking and the tram completely, but the hefty hotel prices aren’t worth it. Many hotels in the Disneyland area have shuttles that will take you over to the park and have much cheaper prices.
Anaheim’s Candy Cane Inn offers a private shuttle to Disneyland. Another hotel worth checking out is the Clarion Hotel, which offers a Kids Eat Free program that may cut down on food costs during your stay. Other hotels like the Quality Inn and the Desert Palms Hotel are within walking distance of the park’s entrance.
Check Your Receipts
Although typically only available during peak seasons like summer and Christmas, Disneyland sometimes prints coupons at the bottom of quick-service restaurant receipts. Visit participating restaurants (usually before 1 p.m.) to receive discounts at certain Main Street shops. The coupons do expire so check how long they’re good—most last for 24 hours but others have been known to be good for a few weeks. This is a great way to save money on souvenirs or snacks so make sure you look at each receipt before tossing it.
Collect Moments, Not Things
Over the years, Disney has really amped up their souvenir game. Every shop within Disneyland (and, really, Downtown Disney as well) is filled with trinkets meant to catch the eyes of children. Everything from Minnie Mouse jewelry to Simba-shaped pillows fills the shelves—and trust me, your kiddo will want all of it. The current 60th anniversary Diamond Celebration has brought a whole new wave of treasures for kids to yearn for.
While you might want your child to have a little something by which to remember their fabulous Disneyland family vacation, some boundaries should be set. Nothing is cheap when it comes to Disney, especially souvenirs. Tell your little ones ahead of time how much you’re willing to spend on goodies and make sure they know the amount is not negotiable. That way, they have the freedom to choose—within the budget constraints—and you won’t overspend on Mickey ears and Cinderella dresses.
Visit in the Off-Season
Since Disneyland is located in sunny Southern California, any time is a good time to visit the park. Avoid the crowds, and the heat, by visiting in the off-season. In January, even though the skies may be overcast, it won’t be very cold and the lines will be much shorter (meaning you can do and see more than you’d be able to during the busier times!). Although the admission prices stay the same throughout the year, you will be able to get cheaper hotel rates and airfare.