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.



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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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{38 Comments}

  1. Lynnae:

    Thanks everyone! I knew I’d get a lot of good ideas from you all!

    I know the ART bus stops at the hotel, so we’ll pick up some tickets, so we can at least have a ride back to the hotel at the end of the day.

    We’ll be driving down, so we don’t have to worry about car rentals, checked luggage, or cabs. But we definitely don’t want to pay to park at Disneyland.

    I’ll look into a birthday fun card or fastpasses. Thanks for all the info!

    I’m really looking forward to this trip! And I knew you would all come through with great suggestions! You readers really are the best!

  2. Pat:

    The last time we went to Disneyland there was a trolley that went through town and stopped along the way picking up tourists going to the park. I do not know if it would still be running or if it belonged to a particular hotel. It is woth checking out.
    Like everyone else said, the most expensive item on the vacation, after hotel and passes, is the food. If you have breakfast and lunch sorted out, and snacks, you are way on your way. Have fun.

  3. Yettiebug:

    Check into the Anaheim Resort Transportaion. It’s a bus system that picks up at the various hotels near Disneyland. We used it on our last trip and it worked great. It was pretty cheap too. Plus you can buy a length of day pass or a single day pass as well.

    Since you will already have your tickets you won’t be able to take advantage of getting in free on your birthday. They are however giving you a compensation.

    From the Disneyland website : A birthday FASTPASS® exchange card+ for a certain number attractions at both Disneyland® Park and Disney’s California Adventure® Park; or
    A birthday fun card in an amount equal to the price of a 1-Day/I1-Park ticket** for certain purchases including select merchandise, tour experiences or for Disney’s PhotoPass® on-site services at participating locations at Disneyland® Resort; or
    A 1-Day/1-Park ticket for you to use any time until your next birthday.

    Hope that info helps. Have a great time

  4. Marci:

    My grandkids 6 & 8 just got back from Disneyland over spring break – their other grandparents took them. They also stayed at a suite about 1/2 mile from the park. The shuttle bus ran right by it so they were able to take advantage of that for the trip to/from.

    They were on an 8 day trip – so took advantage of the special joint deals with Sea World and Universal Studios while in the area.

    Kids each had a fannypack and were responsible for their own water bottle (refillable) and keeping their snacks and sunglasses in it. They had a wonderful time! Enjoy!

  5. I live in So Cal and they have been advertising “Free on your Birthday” for a while. Here is a link to the page, you have to register and print an email with confirmation and pick it up the day of your birthday: http://disneyparks.disney.go.c.....rthdayPage

    Have a blast!!

  6. We are also going to Disneyland for a week at the end of June, so maybe we’ll be there at the same time :) My sister just got back and they went on my niece’s birthday, and we’ll be going on our daughter’s 9th birthday. She said that you can register your birthday ahead of time on the Disney site, and that you have to bring and official copy of your birth certificate along to prove that it’s actually your birthday and get the perks. You either get a free entry for the day, or if you bought a multi-day ticket you get a gift card with the price of a one day ticket (for them it was $59 for a kid, not too shabby!) or you can get a family fastpass for the day, but I’m not exactly sure what that entails.

    We always take our own water bottles inside the park, it’s much cheaper to just refill your own than to buy the $2-$3 bottles there.

    Definitely take advantage of an early morning entry if you get one, it’s amazing the number of people who think that’s too early, and don’t do it.

    I think that walk will probably be a bit much, especially at the end of the day, just from experience. All of the hotels, with only a few exceptions, are on the Anaheim Resort Transit system, and you can buy a pass at your hotel for that, even if you walk sometimes and use the shuttle sometimes.

    Have fun! I’m already so excited for our own trip!

  7. sooz:

    So I admit that I didn’t read all these comments, but I live right near there and work literally down the street so here is my locals advice:

    Food and snacks are by far the MOST expensive thing at the park. If you can pack your own lunch, there are full on picnic areas right inbetween the two parks. There are also places like McDonald’s walking distance if you decide to leave the park to eat, but not only is fast food gross, that one is extra expensive due to location. Another option if you choose to eat around there, is to go outside the park and eat in downtown disney, which has real resturants with better food and a little lower price.

    however, if you do feel like splurging a little, you can make early reservations at the blue bayou and eat inside the pirates ride. They don’t take same day reservations anymore but it’s the ONLY cool resturant in the park. Going a little early for “breakfast with the cast” before the park opens is neat, but you should see all these people in toon town and around mainstreet later that day anyway.

    I don’t know if you are renting a car, but find out if your hotel has a free shuttle to and from the airport and the park (most of the hotels in the area do) and if they don’t find out if you are able to walk to use the hotel next doors. This will save you like 12 dollars a day in parking. and however much in car rentals.

    if you are renting a car, remember that most credit cards have car rental insurance, so don’t bother paying the extra for that.

    have a super time! :D

  8. RC:

    If you have a car stop at a store to get some snacks and a case of your favorite beverage which you can keep in your room. Much cheaper then buying them at the hotel or park.

    Also, if you go to the Denny’s website and register with their “Breakfast Club” a week before you leave you might be able to get some pretty good coupons. There is a Denny’s right across the street from the main entrance. Register a week before you leave because the coupons (at least mine) expired after a week.

    Most important of all, have fun!

  9. Erin:

    Have fun!!! I’m not sure if you are driving or flying? We are able to drive (about a 7 hour drive), so we can take as much as we want – a few cases of bottled water, whatever. We take protein snacks such as jerky into the park with us, for when someone is “starving” – good emergency food! We also take cereal, and junk food for in-room snacking. Also packed: paper plates, cups and napkins for in room snacking. I recently read a really frugal tip from the Economides family – “America’s Cheapest Family”. When they get to their destination they run to a thrift store and pick up a crock pot (maybe $5-10), then to a grocery store for canned raviolis, chili and other items that can be heated in the pot during the day – they return to their room with an inexpensive, already cooked meal. Good thinking! But if you would like to eat out at at a somewhat economy price, there is a Denny’s outside of the park (walking distance) that we always seem to hit once or twice. This is a sanity tip: We promise everyone that we WILL get to the ride that they want to go on (and keep your promise!) Sometimes when there are different age groups, and everyone wants to do everything it can get hectic. So just go slow, map out your plan and enjoy!

  10. Felicia:

    Do you have any trial size laundry detergent? If so take those with you to save on washing clothes. You will be able to pack less clothes by rewashing.

    Take empty bottles in the park. Refill at the water fountain. To keep from getting bored of water all week long take some of the flavored water packets. Small investment but saves because a 20oz bottle of soda or water is $2-$3.

    This is a very unfrugal tip, but if your park has a pirate and princess party (Disney World has them) they are so well worth the money. The party is from 6pm-midnight on certain nights, but only people who have passes get to enter or stay. The lines are at most 10-15 minutes long. You can do so much in this time, especailly seeing the characters.

  11. delzoup:

    You do get in free to one park on your birthday. If you have tickets already, they will refund you the price of admission… I believe in Disney dollars that can be spent in the park.

    You’re actually going to be pretty far from the park walking wise. I would actually recommend the hotels right outside like the Desert Inn Suites or Best Western. Then if you get tired and want to lay down, or forgot sunscreen, it’s no worse than walking to the other park. If where you are you get tired on that last walk back and get tempted by taking the buses, make sure you have exact change because they will not return any money, even if you pay with a $20 and you only need say $7 to ride.

    You can check the calandar at disney to find out what attractions will be closed, and what events will happen while you’re at the park. Not frugal per say, but if you decide to splurge and eat at a good restaurant, say the storytellers inn, call ahead of time for reservations so you don’t need to wait.

    I highly recommend taking your younger daughter to “turtle talk with crush”. I highly recommend you go to the Aladdin play if you can.

  12. Kristen:

    My parents would always purchase souveniers ahead of time. Buying t-shirts and trinkets in the park can get expensive, but you can find tourist friendly shops all throughout the town you are visiting where similar items will be SIGNIFICANTLY less expensive.

    Purchase the items at the tourist shops, or even Target/Walmart stores close to the park, and give them out to the children at the end of the day.

  13. We live in So Cal and have had annual passes in the past. We bring in food for all of our meals. We used to go to the car to eat, but it just takes up too much time. We usually bring a lot of PB & J, juice boxes, snacks, etc., but I’ve even brought cut up veggies in an insulated lunch box to snack on. We eat pretty much anywhere and they have never given us a problem. Sometimes we keep the food/jackets in a locker, which I think is about $7 a day.
    Also good to know is that you can ask for ice-water for free at any food stand or restaurant and they will give you some. It’s great.
    Have fun!

  14. laura:

    You’ve already done several smart things. I’m with you on the suite!
    I can’t recommend the book “The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland” enough. You’ll think they are crazy when they tell you the order you have to ride the rides, but if you follow their plan, you’ll rarely have to wait in line. Follow their plan for 1 day at Disneyland and 1 day at California Adventure, and then do a leisurely stroll on your last 3 days.
    I grew up in Orange County and have been there more times than I can remember. I live in Ohio now and have taken my kids to Disneyland several times (and DisneyWorld once). We will actually be in SoCal the same time you are and might see you at Disneyland!
    I don’t know where you are based, but make sure you get to the beach if you are usually landlocked. That is my kids’ favorite thing to do!
    Oh, one more thing — pin trading is the funnest thing to do. You can buy a lanyard on Ebay for less than $10. Buy your kids some cheap Disney pins on Ebay too (you can buy a “lot”). (About 10 per child.) It doesn’t matter what the pins look like, because your kids will be trading them. Then, when you get to Disney you can trade with other “Guests” and the people who work at Disney. It’s a great way to meet people and a challenge to find the pin you want. It’s the only thing my kids still have from our trip to Disney World. (I can email pix if you like.)
    And, check out mousesavers.com.
    Have a great trip to the Happiest Place on Earth!!!

  15. We did Disney and it was a wonderful experience for my kids. We all loved it.

  16. Rebecca from Michigan:

    We went to Disney in Florida and they let you take in food as long as it is in a soft cooler. No hard shell coolers. All we had was a hard shell and we pack it full with snacks and lunch items, but we were not able to bring it in. So we did a lot of walking to and from our van to eat our lunches. Live and learn.

  17. Sakura:

    We love going to Disneyland, it’s a fun vacation place. I have a couple of tips, go early! We try and get our kids there as early as possible, the lines are shorter and you can get fast passes for your favorite rides. Remember to keep track of your fast pass time, because you can get another one when the waiting period is over. I think it’s 2 hours. We leave around lunch time and go back to the hotel to eat and swim or head to the beach for a couple of hours, then go back to the park later that night. They also have lockers with picnic tables outside of the main gate, they are hidden around the bushes on the left side! You can put a small cooler with your lunch in there. The locker is for the entire day so it’s nice for storing your purchases. I know if you go to the bank or city hall on Main Street they will give you a birthday pin with your name on it. Then every employee wishes you a “Happy Birthday!” The weather is perfect in June, you’ll have a great time!

  18. Andrea:

    That should read “I think Disney parks are super fun and worth the money” not the other way around, lol!

  19. Andrea:

    Disney parks are super fun and worth the money, I think. They do offer free entrance on your birthday, so that may not help if you already have tickets. My husband and I went to Epcot at Disney World last July and we had no problem taking snacks and water inside. Also, we got the Frommer’s Guide to Disney World and it was immensely helpful. It tells you what all is in the park, the prices of the restaurants, how to use the fast passes in order to ride and see everything you want to in the shortest amount of time (saves a lot of time because you’re not just walking in circles and waiting in horrendous lines), it’s great. Something else that’s helpful is at a lot of the walk up food service places at Disneyworld would allow adults to order from the kids menu, which can save a lot of money as well if you don’t want to hike back to the hotel for lunch. Here’s a link to the one for Disneyland: http://www.alibris.com/booksea.....aisbn-_-na
    Hope you guys have a lot of fun! I know my husband and I want to take our kids to Disneyworld when they’re old enough to remember it as well.

  20. Angelsong:

    Planning like this makes trips so much easier and more frugal! I haven’t been to Disneyland or DisneyWorld yet, but we are doing something similar to your planning for a weekend getaway with one or two of the grands this summer or next. Definitely make use of the microwave and refrigerator in your suite…you may even be able to prepare one light dinner for your family in addition to lunches and dinner meals out and still save money.

  21. Servant:

    Oh, and my favorite ride was on the California side…Soarin California. Awesome!

  22. Servant:

    You are going to have a blast! We went 2 yrs ago when kids were 7 & 10. It was the best vacation we ever went on. Would love to do it all over again and utilize some of the ideas in your post and in the comments.

  23. Jennifer:

    They may have more birthday benefits, but I think what they’re doing this year is free entrance to the park on your birthday (once you’re registered into the club, of course). You can check the FAQs at the Disney Parks site, but I believe if you’ll be there on a Multi-Day ticket, you can bring your confirmation with you and receive another benefit instead… a FastPass ticket, or a ticket that can be used for merchandise.

  24. FUN! I can’t wait until my son is old enough to appreciate a theme park.

    I’d suggest finding out how many miles the park is from the hotel. A 10-20 minute walk could still be over a mile. That doesn’t sound *that* bad, but some people estimate that in the park, you’ll walk 5-7 miles! (I don’t know where I heard that, and it might before WDW.)

    Anyway, might be worthwhile to look into shuttles to the park and get a phone number of the local Yellow Cab to put on your phone just in case you want a ride. Especially at the end of a long day, walking back to the hotel might be a bit too rough.

  25. Sounds like doing some homework and planning can make that trip more affordable . . .

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