Saturday, January 25, 2014

Saving Money at Disneyland

Many people look forward to trips to Disneyland, but dread the cost of going.  We took our boys for their first visit in 2008, when they were 3 and 4 and I searched high and low for how to get the best deals.  I hadn’t been to Disneyland myself in 14 years at that point and had no clue what I was getting our family into. 

That year we saved and budgeted and took our boys on a memorable first trip. 
We fell in love with Disneyland at that point and now are season passholders.  Even though the park is about 6.5 hours away, we still try to make it down 4-5 times a year.  That includes my annual ladies only trip I make each February.
To travel down to Disneyland that much costs money and adds calories, so after a couple of visits, I started taking note of how to make trips more affordable for our family.

Here are some of my tips for saving money while in “The ‘Land.”

1.      First, make sure you plan your travel dates outside peak season.  We have found that summer is unbearable, due to high crowds, heat, and increased prices.  Fall is best, before the Halloween festivities begin, but after school has started back up.  The week after New Year’s is also a low-crowd time and Christmas decorations are still up.  The next best option is in the Spring, but well away from Spring Break.  Disneyland operates on a 6-week “spring break” and those weeks surrounding Easter are very packed.  

Update 10/5/17: Lately, I am finding that Tuesdays and Wednesday's in early-mid October, early November, mid-January are also good times to head into the parks.  

2.     Avoid the Photopass.  Disney offers this service when taking photos in the parks.  You are given a plastic card, similar to a credit card, and each time you take a photo with a character or at a scenic point, the photographer scans your card and your picture is magically added to it.  These little babies can range from $45 to $200!  Do you know what is FREE?  Bringing your own camera and having the photographer use yours instead.  They do it gladly.  They will still hand you the photopass card to which you just file away with a smile.  It only costs money when you go to order the photos on it or purchase the CD with all of your photos.

3.     Pack your lunch and snacks.  Disneyland allows you to bring in a soft-sided cooler up to the size that would fit a 6-pack of soda.  As long as there are no glass containers, you are welcome to bring in your own foods.  We typically pack sandwiches, chips, juice pouches, granola bars, craisins, crackers, etc. into a small cooler and bring it in with us.  Meals get expensive in the ‘Land and are packed with calories.  We like to avoid these things and enjoy finding a quiet spot to eat (like the back of Hungry Bear Restaurant.)

4.     Bring breakfast foods to your hotel.  We pack oatmeal, cereal, and other easy to make breakfasts with us when we travel.  Some of the hotels like Quality Inn on S. Manchester (which is right across the street, a 10 minute walk) offer free continental breakfasts.  Quality Inn even has a waffle station.  Yum!  If you ever get to stay in a room with a kitchen (The California Grand has amazing suites), you can order groceries from Von’s and cook a hot breakfast before you enter the parks.

5.     Souvenirs.  My all-time favorite souvenirs are the silhouettes on Main Street.  These run just $9 to get done and a little extra if you want the frame.  My brother and I had them done on our first visits and I did the same with my sons.    We always pick up Disney shirts at the Disney store before our trips to save us money as clothing prices in the park are outrageous. 

I     I also love collecting Disney pins.  The best way to save on these is to get them on Ebay (make sure they are legitimate Disney pins.)  Then, while you are in the park, you can trade them with any Cast Member wearing pins on a black lanyard or black hip board.  I buy pins for a few dollars each, and then trade for pins that I like better and are worth more.  Cast Members wearing teal lanyards are only for kids to trade with. 

6.     Tickets.  There are two different ways I prefer to save here.  Keep in mind, discounts on tickets are difficult to get unless you are a California teacher or in the military.  My first choice is to weigh the cost of the annual passes to how long/how many trips you will take in a year.  I find it is much more affordable to get the Deluxe or Premium AP for how often we go.  My trips work out to about $16 per day when a 1-day ticket is around $100.  If you are only going once, for less than a week, the best prices can be found at  You can find lots of great deals on their site and you can pick up your tickets at the Disneyland ticket booth.  GAT offers lower prices that even Disneyland!

I won a Dream Fastpass during The Year of a Million Dreams

7.     Hotels: My favorite hotels are right across the street from Disneyland. In order of farthest to closest, here are my picks:
a.     Quality Inn on S. Manchester.  The rates are very reasonable, the hotel is clean, and they offer free continental breakfast which includes homemade waffles.  This is about a 12 minute walk to the parks.
b.     Howard Johnson on S. Manchester and Harbor.  The rates are a bit pricier, but if you have an AP, Entertainment Book, or keep your eye open for deals, you can score a great rate.  The rooms are spacious, there are amazing pools for the kids and grownups, and there is a convenience shop on site.  No breakfast is available, but there is a fridge and microwave to cook meals from home.  10 minute walk to the parks.
c.      Carousel Inn on Harbor.  If you go during off-peak season, you can get great rates, spacious rooms, and there is free breakfast (your standard motel faire – pastries, cereal, milk, juice, and hard-boiled eggs.)  6 minute walk to the parks
d.     Desert Inn on Harbor.  Directly across the street from the park, this hotel also has low rates during off-peak season.  Parking there isn’t free though, you must pay a daily rate if you drive in.  3 minute walk to the parks.

I hope my tips have helped!  If you have any questions, feel free to post them below. 

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