Over the years, we've picked up a tip or two that yield big savings when you're trying to stretch every dollar for that dream vacation. We're always looking for ways to save some green when we head to the theme parks, and Disneyland is no exception. With the cost of tickets rising every year, every little bit of savings helps. And today, we're passing on our knowledge to you. We're sharing our top tips for how to save money at Disneyland.
How to Save Money at Disneyland
1. Travel during off-season.
Orange County, where Disneyland is located, and nearby Los Angeles are year-round popular destinations for travel and business, but you will save on airfare and hotels if you are traveling during fall, winter and spring (except during holidays, school breaks and large conventions). One of our most popular posts on the site is the best time to visit Disneyland, and it's no coincidence that you'll find lower prices when the crowds are predicted to be lowest.
2. Purchase discount multi-day tickets or value tickets.
Disneyland has moved to a dynamic pricing system where single day tickets vary in cost per day based on expected crowds. Value tickets (some Mondays through Thursdays in the off-season) are the least expensive, then regular tickets (weekends and busier weekdays) are in the middle of the price range and peak tickets (holidays, school breaks and all of summer) are the most expensive. Single-day tickets are the most expensive tickets and rarely have any discounts. You can save the most money by buying consistently priced multi-day tickets, which are not affected by peak pricing, and save even more by getting discounted multi-day Disneyland Resort tickets through Undercover Tourist! Ribbit ribbit! Even though a one-park per day ticket is less expensive then a one-day park hopper, it can make sense to add a park hopper to a multi-day ticket, because it costs about the same to add park hopper to that multi-day ticket as it does to a single day ticket. It’s kind of like getting several days of park hopper for FREE if you go that route. It’s easy and convenient to park hop at Disneyland because California Adventure is just across the esplanade from the Disneyland entrance. You can usually find the best promo deals for multi-day visits between January and May.
3. Stay off-site.
Yes, we love staying at the Disneyland Resort hotels, and there are benefits to doing so. We wouldn't pass up an opportunity to stay at Disney's Grand Californian, but it just isn't always in the budget. Unlike at Disney World, we think there are more reasons to stay off-site at Disneyland, and the savings are a big factor. (We can save you even more if you book your discount Los Angeles hotel room through us!) Some off-site hotels provide free breakfast or other meals, which can help you save on food costs. Hotels that offer a free shuttle or are within walking distance save on parking fees, as well.
4. Decide in advance what’s worth splurging on.
Yes, I know those of you who want to hold onto every bit of spontaneity will poo-poo this idea, but we always have at least a rough idea going in on what we plan to splurge on. For me, it wouldn’t be a Disney trip without a caramel apple (yes, at Disneyland too) and Disneyland macaroon (Disneyland makes the most delicious, huge macaroons). I’d rather skip lunch than skip my apple, and so sometimes sacrifices are made. For some, the big splurge is that Monte Cristo at Blue Bayou, and they'll give up everything else in exchange for it. The whole Frog Fam agrees that splurging on MaxPass is in our family’s best interest, because we can skip more lines and get the PhotoPass photos we love so much. And that brings us to the next tip.
5. Get MaxPass to save on PhotoPass photos.
If you love the professional photos taken by Disney photographers with characters and at iconic spots around the parks, as well as the on-ride photos, then have at least one person in the group get Disney MaxPass for the free, unlimited PhotoPass downloads and share the images with the group via text, email or social media. You can purchase MaxPass through the Disneyland app after you have entered the park for the day. The price for one day is about equal to the cost of downloading one photo, so if you want multiple photos, MaxPass will save you money. MaxPass has other great features, including allowing you to make FASTPASS reservations through the app from wherever you are once you have entered a park that day, which saves so much time over physically collecting FASTPASS return times. However, each person who wants to use that feature will need to purchase MaxPass. You can still use the free FASTPASS kiosks in the park to acquire FASTPASSes to save money if photos are your main motivation for getting MaxPass.
6. Purchase princess dresses and T-shirts and Star Wars merch before you leave home.
You can find clothing with Disney and Star Wars Characters at discount stores such as Target and Wal-Mart for way cheaper than in the parks. Hop Tip: the closest Target to Disneyland on Harbor Blvd in Garden Grove has an extensive Disney section perfect for getting discount Disney items. For those of you with little princesses, it's hard to pass up those beautiful dresses in the park if you don't have backup! You can really save big $$$ if you purchase the dresses from home. You'll find similar styles at the Disney Store or the originals on eBay. Come prepared with your store-bought Disney costumes (for ages 14 and under) and save a lot of money on not having to buy these items as park souvenirs. If you dress your preschool daughter like a princess with items from home — don't forget some face sparkles — she is less likely to want a new gown or get an updo in the park. Just be sure to make her wear good walking shoes under her dress.
We see a lot of families wearing matching shirts and even in homemade “costumes” or shirts. Save the park souvenirs for items such as personalized ears or toys that are not available in a department store. Our kids really enjoy their Made with Magic Ears that they now bring with them every time we visit the parks.
7. Set a budget for snacks and souvenirs.
We have found that the best way to save money is to set a budget for how much we expect to spend on treats and souvenirs. Then we purchase Disney gift cards for each kid to keep track of. They can use the money on the card to get the treats they like and souvenirs. When it runs out, it runs out. It teaches them to budget their money and make better choices. It gives the froglets some control and a new perspective on how much things cost. It helps Tad decide how important his desires are to him. Does he really need another lightsaber and risk not getting any more treats for the week? Or will the $5 popcorn do the trick and save him enough money on his card to get a Mickey Mouse pretzel and an ice cream and a churro in his future? Or maybe he’ll decide that a smaller, easier to carry souvenir that fits in luggage makes more sense. Does Lily want to choose a balloon that she will have to eventually leave behind, or a plush Mickey that lasts a long time, or even light-up ears she can wear again and again? This also makes it so that Leap and I do not have to always say no. The kids get to make those choices and live with them. Luckily, they are always happy with their decisions and this method seems to eliminate whining.
8. Make or bring your own souvenirs.
If you don't want to make your own, you can pick up some inexpensive glow bracelets, necklaces and sticks at the dollar or drug store. They can help you keep track of your family members in the dark, and also entertain your little ones while you wait for the fireworks, World of Color or Fantasmic!. Bring your own light-up bubble blowers and bubbles to entertain a toddler, which save a lot of money compared to buying in the park. Just make sure it does not resemble a weapon. This may satisfy your kiddos when the cart full of glow items for sale passes by.
9. Ask for Disney gift cards as gifts.
One of the smartest things we have done is ask for Disney gift cards as gifts throughout the year. Whenever it is Tad or Lily’s birthday or a holiday and friends and family ask what the froglets would like, we always suggest Disney gift cards. The cards, which can be purchased at grocery stores and other places, can be used on admission, food or merchandise in the parks and on souvenirs at the World of Disney Store. They work for snacks, as well. That takes your in-park spending way down and increases your kids’ spending budget. Plus, they can get whatever they want, and they love to pick their own gifts!
10. Eat breakfast outside of the park.
Save valuable touring time in the mornings when crowds are at their lowest and save money by eating a hearty breakfast outside of the park. Many hotels offer free breakfast that you can take advantage of, and if not, there are more economical ways to grab a quick meal before you head into Disneyland or Disney California Adventure. With a big breakfast, the froglets have more energy and staying power before they start asking for meals and treats.
11. Pack in snacks.
Disneyland allows you to bring food, nonalcoholic drinks and backpacks into the parks. No hard-sided coolers or glass are allowed, though, nor is loose ice. If you are bringing a whole family-size picnic meal, they ask that you use the picnic areas just outside the gates (there are storage lockers both outside and inside the parks). The picnic area is within walking distance of both Disneyland and California Adventure. But you can easily bring trail mix, fruits, granola bars, cheese sticks, sandwich bags of Cheerios, water and formula/baby food — glass baby food jars okay — (if you are bringing a baby to Disneyland with you) into the park in a backpack or stroller. We often find that a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches work well as a money-saving way to feed little ones even if the rest of the family buys lunch. And the froglets are happy with some familiar food from home, too.
12. Carry reusable water bottles.
One of the easiest ways how to save money at Disneyland is simply by drinking just water in the parks. You can get free cups of water at any of the restaurants, but we also like to have some bottles on us that we can refill at drinking fountains or at some of the filtered water stations. Southern California has a dry climate, so keep everyone hydrated! If your little ones are picky about the taste of water, bring in small packets of Gatorade or lemonade.
13. Find free (or almost free) things to do.
There are a number of free (or almost free) things to do in the Disneyland parks that are extra bonuses and make for money-saving souvenirs. Take art courses, color some pages, catch some beads, do crafts at the special events or get free face painting at special times (such as Halloween Time or during Lunar New Year). There are some free snacks we always take advantage of when in California Adventure, such free bread samples at Boudin Bakery Tour and sometimes chocolate at Ghirardelli. These fun surprises will all add up to keeping some extra green in your wallet and keeping your family happy, which is priceless.
14. Share food.
I already shared this tip on my romantic things to do post, but I will share it again because it is one of my favorite ways to tell people how to save money at Disneyland. The Gibson Girl Ice Cream parlor sells one scoop of ice cream for $5.79 and two scoops for $6.49. The scoops can be different flavors and you can get a cup and spoon on the side so you can separate them. If your family of four is getting ice cream, you can save $10.18 over buying four single scoop cones by ordering two cones each with double scoops and dividing them up yourselves. You still get the same amount of ice cream! There is a similar savings deal at Clarabelle’s in California Adventure: $5.49 for a single scoop sugar cone and $5.99 for a double scoop.
Lily and I often share meals because she simply does not eat that much. Our favorite thing to share is the Jolly Holiday Combo at the Jolly Holiday Bakery, one of our favorite Disneyland quick service restaurants. I like the tomato basil soup, and Lily eats the grilled cheese part, then she gives me her crusts to dip in the soup. Lunch for two comes to $9.99. These kinds of savings add up each day.
15. Bring your own stroller.
Strollers rent out for $15 per day. Disneyland does not rent double strollers and the new strollers do not recline for young babies or naptime. Two strollers rent for $25 per day. You can take rental strollers between the parks and into Downtown Disney, but not to the hotels. If you bring your own stroller on a three-day trip, you can save $45 ($75 if you have two small children). With your own stroller, you can get your sleeping child back to your car or room after a long day in the park. Just make sure you personalize it and have your name on it so you can find it — and never leave any valuables in it.
16. Make saving a family affair.
You know that old saying, "the family that saves together, stays together ..."? Yeah, me neither. But I do know that when we have involved the whole family in saving money for our Disneyland trip, that everyone appreciated the experience that much more. We created our own version of the Disney savings jar that everyone can contribute to with loose change or a portion of allowances. The savings can go toward the souvenir budget or one big splurge in the parks!
17. Take advantages of credit card deals.
If you get the Disney Visa well before your trip, you can get a credit on your account and earn and redeem reward dollars towards Disney parks and resorts. Plus, you’ll save 10% on shopping or dining. You also get some special character meet-and-greets in the parks. If you have a Target card, you’ll save 5% on the purchase of Disney gift cards and a Sam’s Club membership will allow you to purchase Disney gift cards at a discount. Keep your eyes open for other deals that can help with how to save money at Disneyland.
18. Use the free FASTPASSes for shows instead of dining packages.
Shows like Fantasmic! and World of Color offer free FASTPASSes and free standby viewing areas for the shows. Be sure to pick up FASTPASSes in person in the morning or hop in place for a good standby viewing location about an hour and half before showtime to get a good view without having to pay for an expensive dining package.
You will be surprised how easy it is to save money at Disneyland by just planning ahead, getting the best deal on tickets, setting a budget, supplying a few of your own snacks and making smart menu choices. We hope you've found tips on how to save money at Disneyland hopful, but now it's your turn! Share your best tips in comments below.