Tips for Doing Disney on a Budget
Visiting the happiest place on earth can be a magical experience, but like any vacation, it’s a major investment. Here are a few ways you can plan and save to make the most of your Disney adventure—without blowing your budget.
Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure Park are hugely popular family attractions, so while visiting during school vacations and holidays might be more convenient, your booking costs will increase. Big conventions, special events like runDisney and new attractions could also increase crowds. The popular advice is to travel in the off-season to save money and avoid the crowds.
Another way you could save on flights, car rentals and hotels is to look for bundle packages and discounts created specifically for Disney vacations. Planning far in advance leaves you room to be flexible so you can take advantage of ticket packages and other promotions. And you can cut the cost of a car rental by staying in one of the off-site hotels within walking distance of both parks with complimentary shuttle services to and from the airport.
Where to Stay
Consider how much time you’ll spend in your hotel room before booking. If you’ll only be in the room to sleep and apply sunblock, one of the many hotels just outside the park may be preferable to the Disney Resorts. Besides the lower room rate, most of these hotels offer a complimentary breakfast. You can also grab snacks to bring with you to the park.
If you’re traveling with little ones, older family members, or if you have more time to make use of hotel amenities, there are perks to staying on a Disney property. Disney Resorts have a touch of magic, from the themed rooms to the waterslides and poolside experiences. Guests can use a dedicated entrance to the California Adventure Park and get to enjoy Disney’s Magic Hour, which allows guests to enter the park an hour earlier than day pass holders.
Buy your park tickets online before you reach Disneyland to save time at the gates. While there are price breaks on single-park multi-day tickets, the Park Hopper ticket is a good way to experience the most popular rides. Make a list of your must-see attractions to help you plan your days and decide which tickets to purchase.
Once you reach the park, you’ll want to start with the rides that are highest on your list. Certain popular rides like the new Star Wars-themed Hyperspace Mountain or the Indiana Jones Adventure offer FastPasses that allow you to skip the line during a specific time. Keep track of wait times and performance schedules with the Disneyland mobile app. It also provides menus and a convenient park map.
Disneyland and California Adventure Park both offer a range of dine-in and fast service options to satisfy whatever you’re craving. If you want to get dinner at one of the fine dining spots like Carthay Circle Restaurant, you’ll need to make a reservation. You can also purchase dining packages like the Main Street Electrical Parade On-The-Go Package, which provides a ready-to-go meal and reserved seats for the parade. But two meals a day plus sweet treats can add up.
An easy way to save big is to bring your own lunch or dinner into the park using soft shell coolers. You don’t have to lug the extra weight, though! Grab a locker at the front of the park to store the food, extra water bottles and anything else you don’t want to carry around. Just be sure to budget for a few popular snacks like the Dole Whip Pineapple Float found at the Tiki Juice Bar or the Mickey beignets at the Mint Julep Bar. If you’re looking for a savory snack, the Corn Dog Castle can’t be missed.
If you think controlling your kids around sweets all day is hard, just think of the souvenirs! To help cut down on spending, consider purchasing Disney gear before you visit. Kids will have a blast collecting buttons on a lanyard or autographs in a book as they explore the park. They can carry their own water and snacks in a drawstring Mickey bag, and you’ll get tons of great photos of the family in matching Disney shirts along the way.
Budget for a few truly special park souvenirs, but wait until the end of the day to buy. Downtown Disney is open later than the rest of the park, so you can maximize your time for rides and still have an hour to shop after. If you wait to shop until the end of your trip, kids will be able to see all their options before deciding which souvenir they really want.
Do your research early to find the best ways to mix and match packages and pricing options for your Disney experience. Just remember to have fun while you’re there! Even if you don’t do everything on your list, you and your kids will treasure every magical moment together.