Doing Disney on a Budget


You can't live in California or just travel through the Golden State without a visit to Disneyland, in my opinion. Sooner or later, a trip to the original park is in order. I love Disneyland. I don't care how old I am, it is always one of my favorite places to go. I have an Annual Passport and visit the parks about 4-6 times a year.

Amusement parks are never cheap. And while Disney is the creme de la creme of theme parks, it also has the price tag to go along with being the cream of the crop. However, going to Disneyland doesn't have to be outrageously expensive. Is it cheaper than taking the family out to the movies? No. But when you break down the actual cost, it's got a similar, and in some cases, lower per hour cost than most other activities. I'm planning a trip in a couple weeks, so I thought I'd give some of my basic tips on how to Do Disney on a Budget.

1. Set your budget. For my mom, it's easiest for her to just bring cash and that will be all she allows herself to spend. I do a mixture of cash and card; but set your budget and know going in what you're willing to spend and what is out of the question.

2. Buy discounted tickets. Do not, I repeat, do not buy your tickets at the gates. Disneyland tickets aren't cheap, that's a given, but do yourself a favor and save on your ticket price as much as possible. Many credit unions and other businesses (Costco, AAA for example) offer discounted tickets; tickets through my bank are typically a $20-30 savings on a 3-day pass. Do your research on where you can get the best deal.

Another way to save here is to opt-out of the hopper tickets (tickets that get you into Disneyland and California Adventure on the same day(s)). You can save about $40/ticket by opting for single park access, but it will limit what you can do each day.

BONUS: If you frequent the parks multiple times a year or plan on making just a second trip, think about upgrading to an Annual Passport. First, figure out if it saves you money or not. If it does, what's the best way to do this? Buy your original ticket through a discount and use its face value to upgrade to the Annual Passport. For example, if you get a 3-day Park Hopper for $250, the full retail value of $295 is applied to your upgrade costs!

3. Go during off-peak periods. Holidays and summer break are the busiest times in the park. Large crowds and long wait-times can be suffered through, sure, but the parks are much more enjoyable at slower times. If your schedule allows it, opt for weekdays for your trip (specifically Monday thru Thursday). 

4. Stay off property. I will one day stay at one of the Disney on property hotels just for the experience. But that's not something I'm willing to spend all my money on regularly. For me, as long as the hotel is clean, safe and close by, I'm not overly concerned with my experience there. The Good Neighbor hotels are typically half the cost of the cheapest on property locations; do some research on which hotels have loyalty programs that you can utilize. As an Annual Passholder, I can get discounts at some of the hotels nearby, which is great to save 10-30% on my stay. Also, the hotels along Harbor Boulevard are all within walking distance to the park (5-10 minutes). 

5. Buy Disney merch prior to your trip. Want to have a Mickey shirt for your trip? Get it beforehand rather than at the park. Stores such as Hot Topic, Target, Ross and others carry licensed Disney gear for a fraction of the cost. I've gotten many Disney shirts at Target for $20 or under, while a regular tee at the park will run upwards of $25.

6. Bring snacks and your own water bottles. I love Disneyland churros. It is one of the things I look forward to most when I go. That being said, I won't eat 100 churros and nothing else. Disneyland allows outside food and beverages to be brought into the park. NOTE: No outside alcohol or glass containers are allowed. 

Walking around all day is draining on your body, so snacking and staying hydrated is important. Bringing your own water bottle will save you a ton if you're a big water drinker; especially since drinks are where the most markup is felt. Disneyland has water fountains throughout the park, so just fill up when you need to. Also, you can always request a free cup of water from the counter-serve food locations.

7. Be smart about where and what you eat. Piggy-backing on #6, be smart about where or what you eat in the park. Honestly, food isn't that expensive inside the park (not including snacks and drinks). When I go with my mom, we will spend about $20-25 on our meals excluding drinks, which is about the same as we'd pay at home eating out. Cafeteria style restaurants or counter service locations will save you a bit in restaurant prices and needing to add gratuity to your costs. Consider the portion sizes and if they can be split among people in your party. Don't want something large? Order off the kid's menu - anyone can! Traveling with kids? Don't order them a separate item off the kids' menu, share your plate with them.

Those are my basic tips for general information. Do you have any other tips to share? Or questions? Leave a comment below!


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