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Planning a Disney vacation? These are 11 things you need to know that will show you how to save money on Disneyland Tickets, food at the Disneyland resort, the best deal options for hotels and even airfare!
Our family LOVES the Disney parks. From Disneyland outfits to the best things to do in the parks….we know it all. In fact, as Southern California locals, we've been to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure hundreds and hundreds of times.
I share our Disney days and trips regularly, and I get the same question a LOT. How can you afford this? Do you have any tips on how to save money on Disneyland tickets? What about Disney hotel deals? So this is it. I'm sharing EVERYTHING I've learned about how to save money on Disney trips from ticket prices to hotels to food and spending money inside the parks themselves. I promise, with a little planning…..it's pretty easy to save money on a Disneyland vacation!
Now the truth is, a Disney vacation is an investment. It's not cheap. And for most people? A trip to a Disney resort is a couple times in a lifetime thing. Whether you are planning your family annual trip or a once in a lifetime trip to Disneyland……these tips will help you to get the best deal possible (and who doesn't want THAT?!?
Before the Trip: How to Save Money On Disneyland Tickets, Hotels and Travel Expenses
The majority of your best ways to save the most money on Disneyland tickets and travel expenses will be early on in the planning process. This makes sense because most of the EXPENSES will be your get in the gates stuff: flights, hotel and the Disneyland tickets themselves. These? Are my top tips for saving on any vacation (I'm talking some Disneyland specific options, but some of these light the flight deals really apply to planning any major trip).
It may go without saying, but just like any other travel….the earlier you plan….the better the prices will be. Flight and hotel prices always go up as availability goes down. So, you either have to wait until the VERY last minute for last minute deals….or book WAY in advance. If you're a planner, or don't have a super flexible schedule, planning in advance is going to be your best bet. Ideally? Try to plan at LEAST six months out.
Flight Deals: If you are flying into Anaheim, flights can be a costly part of the trip. One of the BEST things we've done as a family in terms of flights and travel? We have a Southwest Rapid Rewards Card. We put as much as possible on the card each month, and then pay the full balance. You earn points for all dollars spent, and more for booked flights, and certain deals. If you earn 100,000 points in a year, you'll get a YEAR LONG companion pass. We apply ours to our daughter, and she flies FREE FOR THE ENTIRE NEXT YEAR. So we buy airline tickets for US during sales, and hers is free every time. It adds up to some MAJOR savings!
How to Save on Disneyland Tickets for California Residents: Now, California residents……we are a bit of a different scenario (and frankly, arizona and utah residents as well)……you live close enough to visit more often. So the question is, is an annual pass (aka a magic key) worth it for you? My feeling is, if you are planning to visit more than 6 or 7 days over a year….then you'll get your money's worth with that pass. Remember, you can always buy tickets and if you decided to do a pass DURING that trip, you can head to the ticket kiosks and have the cost of those tickets applied to your pass (only during your trip). Another option? A few times a year the parks offer California resident tickets and they are a GREAT way to save money!
On Property Hotel Options: Disneyland has three on property hotels. They all have a unique vibe and have varied price points. My biggest tip for saving money if you want to stay at the Disneyland hotel, Grand Californian or Paradise Pier? Watch for sales and discounts. Undercover Tourist has deals almost all the time that will help you save (especially on multiple night stays) and if you are a Magic keyholder? Check your emails, sometimes we get special discounts!
Bring your own autograph book and plan for shopping: Let's talk souvenirs. Trust me, they're the quickest way to spend a lot of money. And while I LOVE a great Disney merchandise item, it's easy to go overboard. One thing that will help you save money BEFORE the trip? Buy your own autograph book in advance. They cost a LOT more in the park, and having one with you along with a cute pen? Will mean your kids (or you) ALREADY have a cool memory item to add to throughout the trip as you meet characters!
Special Events: If you are attending a special event like Oogie Boogie Bash or an after hours night…..then check your admission time. Oogie Boogie Bash usually allows for entry about 4 hours before the event, so it may not make the most sense to BUY a park ticket on that same day. I'd suggest if your special event includes early entry AND goes until late at night? Spend the morning and early part of the day relaxing and resting up. You can also go to Downtown Disney to check out displays and stores!
How to Save Money at the Happiest Place on Earth: During the Trip:
So, you're actually headed to the parks. Just when you think you've spent MOST of the money for your Disneyland trip……think again. Listen, spending in parks can add up very quickly. For me? I plan in advance for the things I'd like to spend more money on (character breakfasts or special experiences are always at the top of my list) and then try to save in other areas. The good news is, once you're in, you're in. Parades, shows, rides? All included in your ticket prices.
When you're in the park, I think it's important to remember….little things add up to a big savings. Bringing snacks or that water bottle I'll mention below? You can easily save the cost of an entire day's ticket. I'd also suggest PLANNING meals in advance (you can mobile order and set a time for later in the day). Why? Because being SUPER hungry means you'll just go wherever is closest regardless of price. And that tends to be when we order WAY more food than we need.
These? Are my biggest simple tips for how to save money at Disneyland:
Water Bottles: as silly as it may sound….this was a game changer for us. Bring your own water bottle. I used to buy bottles of water throughout the day and it adds up quickly. Now? We bring a refillable water bottle and fill it at filling stations (there is one in Frontierland and one in the Avengers Campus) or ask for cups of ice water when getting coffee at one of the coffee shops. This simple move adds up to a decent savings especially if you are at the parks for a number of days during the warmer months when you really need to stay hydrated.
Kids Meal Options / Brunch Options: Let's talk about saving money on meals. This may sound counterintuitive….but we do one big meal at the start of the day. Why? Because we've found we'll be full for most of the rest. My perfect disney meal day? Start with a character brunch (Minnie and Friends at Plaza Inn, Goofy's Kitchen or Storytellers inside the Grand Californian). All three are a buffet and we LOAD UP ON FOOD. Ideally, to maximize spending…..we'll eat a small breakfast in the hotel room and head into the parks (also check to see if your hotel includes free breakfast). Then we try to book Plaza Inn for a late brunch time. That will usually keep us totally full until we do a smaller quick service dinner. Another food option? Don't forget to get kids' meals for young humans….no reason to pay for more food when it won't be eaten.
Disney Gift Cards: One of the best tips I've heard for controlling in park spending? Individual Disney Gift Cards. You can buy them in advance or purchase on the first day of your trip. Everyone gets ONE $25 Disney Gift Card (or whatever amount you've determined). Kids can buy their own stuffed animals, ears, whatever they want. When it's out, it's OUT. No one asks for more stuff. And they learn to budget (not gonna lie, I do this for myself regularly).
Downtown Disney and Non-Park Day: If you are coming to Anaheim for a FULL Disneyland trip…..schedule a non-park day in the middle. Yup, I'm telling you to NOT go to Disneyland for a day. Hear me out. We all have limits. The worst thing is to get tired, and then not use your park hopper ticket to it's maximum. So I suggest? Two days in the parks, then a day off. You can swim at your hotel and enjoy all that Downtown Disney has to offer (it has a ton by the way). Also, reminder you CAN visit the Disneyland Hotels even if you aren't staying there. So you can do Goofy's Kitchen or Storyteller's Breakfast on one of those days too! You'll save the cost of tickets for a day, and feel rested and recharged to enjoy the rest of your trip.
Did this help? I hope that this showed you how easy it is to budget for a Disneyland trip and that these tips for how to save money on Disneyland tickets, food and travel will help YOUR family by making a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth just a bit more affordable.