Part One - How to Save Money at Disneyland
1. Shop around for deals.
There are loads of places to find deals on your Disney trip. So do a bunch of searches and get a bunch of quotes. You can bundle hotel/car/theme park tickets or you can buy them separately. Spend time searching, it will pay off. Price it out. Write down the quotes. Figure out if it will be cheaper to bundle or pay for air, hotel, car and tickets separately. Check travel sites like Orbitz, but also check the hotel and car rental company websites directly.
Here are a few sites where you can find great deals.
Disneyland Website – Disney sells great packages and has great deals. Take a look at their packages and special offers. Sometimes they offer free hotel nights or free ticket extensions if you book a certain amount of days. Often car rentals are good deals here too. Also, take a look at their Good Neighbor hotels. They have great partnerships with the area hotels. My favorite place to stay is the Best Western – Anaheim Inn right across the street from the entrance.
Alaska Air – I love Alaska’s Kids Fly Free deals to Disneyland. If you can take advantage of it, do so. They also have great air/hotel/ticket combo deals.
AAA – Great deals on all kinds of packages can be found at AAA.com, if you are a member.
MouseSavers – A great list of deals and ways to save money on everything from hotels to stroller rentals.
Dis Boards – A listing of discounts and special travel agency deals.
2. Bring your own food.
I’ve said this before. Don’t eat at Disneyland or outside restaurants for every meal. Your gut will hurt. So will your wallet. Here’s what we do.
We make breakfast in our room using the in room coffee pot to first heat water for oatmeal, then make coffee. We have oatmeal, yogurt and fruit for breakfast. Then we pack a lunch of bagels with cream cheese, string cheese, fruit and crackers. We bring it in to the park and eat on the train or while we wait for a parade. We also bring snacks and water. I never want to be so hungry that we give in to expensive snacks in the park.
3. Buy souvenirs in advance.
Get stuff for your kids and clothes to wear at the Disney Store, Target or Walmart before you leave for your trip. This goes for princess dresses and costumes as well. They are incredibly overpriced in the park (they run $69 and up on Disney property). Surprise your kids with gifts and treasures when you get there (we pretend they are welcome gifts from Mickey and Friends) or pass them out when the kiddos need a diversion (like while waiting in line or on the plane).
4. Make your own autograph book.
We bought notebooks at the Dollar Store and covered them with Disney stickers and Disney pictures from magazines. You could also Mod Podge some Disney fabric over the outside or have your kiddos decorate them with markers or foam stickers. Characters love seeing homemade autograph books. Talking characters (like princesses, Alice or Mary Poppins) may even comment on them to your children.
5. Look for discounts.
Military – Disney is currently offering discounted rooms and discounted tickets for members of the military. Disney says, “For information regarding Military Promotional Tickets, military personnel may contact their participating U.S. military base ticket office.”
AAA – Offers discounts at Disney property hotels, Disney Good Neighbor hotels and many rental car agencies. They also offer 20% discounts on Disney tours.
Annual Passport – With a Disneyland Annual Pass you save 20% on Disney Resort merchandise and 15% at select dining locations. You also receive discounts at Disney Resort hotels, guided tours, Disney parking lots and Downtown Disney locations.
6. Look for free experiences and souvenirs.
Free Buttons – Stop by City Hall after you enter the front gates and pick up a special button for you or your kids. They offer buttons that say “Happy Birthday”, “Happy Anniversary”, “Just Married”, “Family Reunion”, “1st Visit”, “Happily Ever After”, “Magical Triumph”, “Just Engaged” and “I’m Celebrating”. Not only will you get a great souvenir, cast members and characters love to comment and make a big deal out of special occasions.
Bread Sample – Take the free tour of the Boudin Bakery in California Adventure and get a free sample of their sourdough bread at the end.
Beads in New Orleans Square – When the bands are out they sometimes toss beads to the crowd. Fun, festive and free!
Shows, Shows, Shows!!! – World of Color, Fantasmic!, Jedi Training Acadamy, parades, fireworks…let’s face it, Disney puts on a great show. And once you are in the park, they are all free!
Autopia License – Ride Autopia and get a free Disney driver’s license. A great free souvenir for kids!
Autographs – All characters give out autographs (at appropriate times…not during parades or shows). They are free, they are great experiences and they are fantastic souvenirs.
Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters Picture – At the end of the ride you can view your picture and email it, along with your score, to yourself or your friends. When you get home you can print it and have a great free souvenir.
7. Ask for a cup of water instead of
buying water bottles.
It’s really important to stay hydrated as you walk around Disneyland. Water bottles run around $3 each. If you ask for ice water in a soda cup it’s free. According to my math, free is cheaper than $3. Thanks to Brooke at All Things Thrifty for this tip!
8. Stay off property (but close).
Disney hotels are great, but they are definitely not money savers.
There are a lot of hotels within walking distance that are nice and much less expensive. **There are some even cheaper, but further away – but don’t fall for it. Stay within a few blocks of the entrance. You may not feel like you need to be close, but when you’re tired (or your kids are tired) knowing your bed is a few blocks away is great. And your tired feet will thank you.**
Here are a few great and affordable nearby hotels – all of which are partnered with Disney, called Good Neighbor Hotels. You can book these through Disney in a travel package.
Best Western Anaheim Inn – Across the street from the entrance. Can’t get any closer without paying high Disney prices.
Candy Cane Inn – On the corner of the Disney property. A cute little motel with great rooms.
Fairfield Inn – Just up the street from the entrance.
Ramada Inn Maingate – As the name says, it’s right by the main gate.
9. Bring your own stroller.
**Please understand, however, that (in my opinion) umbrella strollers are useless at Disneyland. They hold a kid, but that’s about it. They don’t hold stuff, they don’t steer well and their wheels don’t handle the change in terrain very well. We used our umbrella stroller once and I found myself staring longingly at all of those parents pushing their Disney rented strollers with huge baskets holding all their crap and nicely pivoting front wheels as I struggled to make my stroller turn while I carried the diaper bag over my shoulder.
Bring a nice, comfortable, easy to maneuver stroller. Each ride has a stroller parking area with a cast member standing watch nearby. Don’t leave money in it, but leave the rest of the stuff you hauled in. No one will take it. They have their own crap to haul around.
And don’t make the mistake of making your kid walk. You may think your four year old can handle the walking, but they can’t. Trust me. By the end of the day they’ll be whining and grumping and dripping lemonade on your husband’s head and they ride on his aching shoulders. And you’ll be carrying all the bags.
Have your kids save up special money for Disneyland. Maybe they have a special “Disney Fund” jar to put their allowance in. Maybe they do extra odd jobs around the house or neighborhood. Maybe they save their birthday money or ask for Disney Gift Cards or Disney Dollars.
Never heard of Disney Dollars? They are special dollars printed by Disney that you can purchase by mail, phone or at the theme parks. They work like any Disney gift card and are only good at Disney merchants. They are great for kids, though, because they can be incentive to save in advance (you can’t spend them anywhere else) and they get kids excited for the trip.
We gave our kids each a $25 gift card (purchased at the Disney Store) as their “spending money” before we left (they had earned it in allowance for chores) and they got to spend it as they saw fit. They were so meticulous and choosy about what they would spend their money on that I thought we’d return home with the gift cards still in hand. Eventually my son picked out a real Buzz Lightyear Action Figure (like in the Toy Story movie) and my daughter picked out a Jessie doll. One purchase. No wasting money. Because it was their money. They adored the toys they bought and never asked for any of the other Disney junk (…um, hello?…light up spinning battery powered lollipop pens anyone?).