Ways to Save Money When Going to Disneyland

Isn’t that what they call Disneyland? And yes, later this year, my family is taking a very un-frugal vacation to the Magic Kingdom. My children are 11 and 6, so they’re finally both old enough to participate on most rides and remember the trip. So it’s time.

That said, I haven’t lost my frugal mind. I did a lot of research before booking a hotel and buying tickets. Here is my strategy so far.

Saving Money on Food & Lodging

We’ll be staying 5 days at the Anaheim La Quinta. It’s a two and a half star hotel with decent reviews on Expedia. I’m not an overly picky hotel person, but I do like suites, because nobody sleeps when the kids have to share a room with us.

Our room is a suite (albeit a small suite) with a king sized bed in one room and bunk beds for the kids in the other room. We’ll have a small refrigerator and microwave in the room for snacks (and maybe some lunch fixin’s). And the La Quinta offers a complimentary hot breakfast, so that will save us $20 a day on breakfast.

The hotel is apparently a 10-20 minute walk to Disneyland’s main gate, which is completely doable with my kids.

Before I made my reservations, I checked Disney’s official website, Expedia, Travelocity, the different hotel websites, and I called the hotel itself. I wanted to make sure I got the best price.

One other thing you need to check when staying near a resort like Disneyland is whether a hotel charges “resort” and parking fees. La Quinta charges a resort fee, but it’s really small compared to some of the other hotels in the area.

Saving Money on Tickets

Disneyland is running a special right now where you can buy a 3 day pass and get two more days free. So that’s what I did. Five days at Disneyland and California Adventure may seem like a lot, but I don’t want us to feel like we have to rush through the park. This may be the only time we go before my daughter graduates from high school, so we may as well see everything at our own pace.

Other Things We Plan to Do

Apparently Disneyland is not too strict about people bringing snacks into the park. So I plan on bringing a few snacks and water…maybe even lunch. That will save on meals out. The in-room microwave and fridge will help in saving money on food, too.

I also plan on setting a budget for souvenirs before we go. Each kid will be able to spend their allotted amount of money however they like. Any extra will come out of their allowance, though.

And I also need to look into birthday benefits. I’m not sure there are any, but I’ll be celebrating my birthday at Disneyland. I may as well make sure I don’t miss anything, right? :)

We’ll be leaving toward the end of June for a week. I’m very excited, as are the kids. I haven’t been to Disneyland since I was in college. And I won’t mention how long ago that was.

The best thing about this trip? The money is already in the bank. No credit card vacation here!

Those of you who are Disneyland pros: Do you have any tips for me? This is the first time I’ve tried to do Disney on a budget!

Photo by Ted Chi.


By , on Apr 9, 2009
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1. Anne:

    I really need this on my Disney trip. The most common reason I hear for why a family has not taken a Walt Disney World vacation is the expense I’m so glad to have this kind of ideas! Thanks for sharing your tips!

  2. Vanessa:

    I’ve heard really good things about some of the books on saving time and money at Disney. It’s worth getting the updated version (2009) but your library may have an older version you might be able to check out for advice before your trip. I’m not sure of the name of the book, but a google search may come up with a few options.

  3. Amy:

    I have an AP and take my Toddler DD many times a month. We pack in fruit, snack bars, cookies, crackers, frozen fruit drinks, water bottles, and PB&J sandwiches. Occasionally I will spring for a meal in the park. I think one of the best deals is the Chicken Dinner at the Plaza inn. You get half a fried chicken (leg, thigh, wing and breast) real Mashed potatoes, vegetable, and a roll. It is more then enough for me to share with my DD and it is about $13. Conversely there are MANY eating places around the park that are off property for a range of prices and tastes.

    I never buy drinks in the park (unless I am splurging on a mint julep). I always take the small packets of crystal light and the like, and fill up at one of any of the drinking fountains within the park. With many the water tastes fine, and the few that it does not, I flavor with the packets. Water is almost three bucks a pop for a small bottle. My DD has a small water bottle on cord. I can refill that all day and she carries it around with her and can have all the water she wants.

    By the way, You do not have to register online for the Free on your birthday, but it does make things quicker when you get in line to get your pass. If you already have a park admission, then you just show proof of your birthday with an id (or with a birth certificate for children that do not have a government id) and you will receive a Disney gift card in the amount of one day’s admission. This can be used at many of the shops, but is not good for food. IF you would rather, you can get a fast pass for several attractions for up to five people in you party in lieu of the Disney fun card. I think the other option is a one day ticket good for any time within the next year. (just a quick note…even if you do register, you still must show proper government id or birth certificate)

    If you are staying at a hotel that has a bit of a walk, I would suggest looking in to see if the hotel in on one of the ART (Anaheim Resort Transit) routes. You can get a pass for one or several days and take the ART trolleys to and from the resort as well as surrounding attractions (the Gardenwalk, the mall, etc). That way, if you do not want to walk or catch a cab, you simply hop the ART. It usually runs around the same time as the resort is open. (You can find the ART at http://www.rideart.org/index.php?loc=1)

  4. liz:

    We just got back from D-land yesterday!I went for my b-day too! I would suggest turkey jerky, maybe string cheese, nuts. They very much let you bring food and I would get a locker early in the A.M. as they can get full on busy days. Food is spendy there; a veggie burger and fries from a walk-up counter was $9, no drink included. Fill up at breakfast (think protein!) bring high energy snacks, and maybe eat lunch at the park. I would suggest dinner somewhere else…And there is a Disney outlet store close by that has great prices on tees, etc.

  5. Casey:

    Hi– I just found this web site– very cool. Just a tip on disney souvenirs, I have found that if you go to disneyshopping.com and then to the outlet section you can get some great deals (tees for 4.99). And I ordered tee and hoodies propr to going and saw them at the park for 30.00, so it really saved on the budget.

    Oh and another fun tid-bit, you can ask a cast member if it is ok to ride with the Capitan on the Steam boat ride and they may let you, if they do then you get to sign the guest book up there, the kids get a Certificate saying that they are steam boat drivers and it is free!

    Have Fun!

  6. Pam:

    We were there in September 08 and loved it. We have also been to Disneyworld and by far had more fun in a less crowded, smaller Disneyland. Hope you have a wonderful trip.

  7. Wow, your readers have most everything covered except I have a different twist on meals. We really enjoy sharing Chicken Fusili from Rocket Redd’s at least one time during our stay. AT Cal Adventure we like the Taste Pilot’s grill. Many of the meals in the park are spendy unless you share and the like most restaurants, the food is huge. Since breakfast is already covered, you can easily do lunch or dinner in the park. Of course some places have cheaper lunches and more expensive dinners.
    I too did some research on your hotel and I would wait to see what you think before buying your ART tickets. You can always buy them there. The site I looked at said La Quinta is three blocks.
    I am still working on some lists for you and I will have them ready before you leave. Of course I wish I could be your personal travel host but you have my number in case you want to ask questions during the trip!

  8. We stayed in the exact same hotel and same type of room – not as glamorous as the pictures but still nice – after all you are only going to sleep there. Room was nice although small, beds were good, and there was a microwave and fridge which helped a lot. Breakfast is okay – cheap hotel breakfast – there was one hot thing each day (eggs, pancakes, biscuits and gravy) then basic fruit, cold cereal and toast, juice and coffee. It worked and filled us up for the morning – we made the kids eat so we wouldn’t have to buy it. Pool is adequate but under one end of building so you won’t get sun while there but then again it’s fun for the kids.

    Transportation – there is a shuttle bus you can get a ticket for which we used a lot. It runs very often throughout the day and is nice when your feet are just too tired. It is a long 3-5 block walk that takes about 10-15 minutes depending on the kids but is nice. There was a small parking lot at the hotel but I don’t know if they charged for it because we didn’t need it (we flew).

    We would eat lunch in the park and then dinner outside of the park. Our meal in the park for the 5 of us generally cost us $50-$80. We never spent less than that even for a hamburger meal. The girls carried fanny packs that had their autograph books in them and a pen so that they had them on their bodies at all times – that way I didn’t have to be responsible for them. We also got ticket holders (lanyards that are wide that pins can go on) that have a plastic pouch at the bottom for your ticket and ID, etc. You need them to get into the park and off and on throughout for fast passes, etc. The kids always wore theirs and we wore ours. My husband and I carried backpacks that had our cameras, the ponchos, and the snacks in them. We bought a ton of snack food before hand and took it down with us. We bought beef jerky, pretzels, microwave popcorn (use the microwave in the morning before you go), candy, granola bars etc. etc. that we split up in large ziploc bags. Might not matter with your kids but we split them all into 5 separate bags so when yours was gone you couldn’t cry that someone ate all the *****. We also bought a flat of water down there at a store (we had a car one day when we went to Hollywood) and so we carried 2-3 bottles of water each day per backpack. They do have drinking fountains in the park but we didn’t like the taste of the water and to buy it was expensive. I think the snacks saved us a lot of $$ each day. We would buy things to snack on occasionally but it eliminated a lot of the junk. The park staff does look through your bags when you enter the grounds but no one ever said anything about bringing food and drinks in (and we did not hide it).

    We brought those really cheap dollar store ponchos that we wore on water rides. If it’s not really warm then you end up walking around wet for a while. If you don’t want to wear them then you can at least wrap them around your bags for the rides. They are small and can store in a backpack until you need them. They sell them for $7 at the gift shop there but you can buy two for a dollar walmart – back in the hunting outdoors area. We would hang them off the backpack to dry after the ride and stuff them down inside the pack until we needed them again. Loved them.

    We did get into pin trading (didn’t think we would) while we were there and the kids loved it. If I had known that I would have purchased a bunch of pins beforehand (online) so that we had some to trade. Purchasing them in the park is expensive. It was fun to trade with the Disneyland staff and my girls loved it.

    Feel free to email me with any questions and have a great time. It is a great experience and I’m sure you will enjoy it – even more with cash!!

  9. bob:

    Guess my advice would be trying to go to Disneyland, or wherever else you’re planning to go in the off season. We went to Disneyland when I was 11 in early July. The lines were so long to all the rides that it just about zapped the fun out of the trip. But a few years later we went in March and there was hardly anyone there and we rode the same rides as many times as we wanted to. That and hotels are generally cheaper.

  10. Kim:

    We were blessed and won a trip to Disneyland back in 2007. What a fantastic trip, just wish we would have had more time.

    My only tip is to watch out for Splash Mountain for your 6 year old. My six year, girl, loves roller coasters, etc. But this ride scared her because she is so tiny that she literally felt like she was going to fly out of the car because there is no seatbelt. We bought the picture because it was priceless, just wish hubby was on the ride with us because it would have been an awesome Christmas card.

    When we were there the Finding Nemo submarine ride was brand new. We took advantage of having early morning admission to ride this, because honestly, I would have not stood in the long lines for this ride. The girls liked it but it was too hyped and a disappointment to me.

  11. delzoup:

    Another thing I might recommend is to bring panchos for the water rides: when it gets dark and cold few people will want to ride, so you’ll get on faster without being soaking the rest of the day :D

    Also, don’t forget about websites like

  12. sara:

    Just a tip for your birthday day. When you get your birthday pin-wear it and go over to california adventure. The mission tortilla factory will give you a free bag of about 20 freshly made tortillas! best thing ever. Also you might want to bring those squirt water bottles with a fan attached, that you can find for $3. Once you get to the park and you are standing in the sun and heat you wont want to pay $15 for a disney one.

  13. Sue:

    We did Disney/Legoland (our favorite)/Sea World a few years ago. I don’t know about Disney, but at the time, Legoland offered a discount if you went on an “off peak” day. We saved $10/person just by going on Tuesday instead of Monday. Worth asking about.

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