It’s every parent’s dream to take their kids to Disneyland, at least once. But it’s every parent’s nightmare when they realize just how expensive it’s going to be. As a frugal mom, I was determined to figure out how to save money on a trip to Disneyland. During our last trip to Disneyland, it was my goal to find frugal ways to enjoy Disneyland without completely blowing our budget. I honestly wasn’t sure if it could be done with how expensive Disneyland has become. But, I discovered it can be done. There is no reason to spend money you don’t have or go into debt just go to Disneyland!
My family loves Disneyland so much. We used to go quite often when my oldest was younger because money wasn’t nearly the issue that it is today. Life is different today. The $1000+ we used to spend on a trip to Disneyland just isn’t an option anymore. I’m sure many of you are in the same boat…
For months, my girls have been begging to go back to Disneyland. Over and over again we told them we just can’t afford it but we will go again someday. That answer just crushed me and I knew there had to be a way to make it work. The realization hit me one day a couple weeks ago that my girls are growing up quickly and won’t care about Disneyland in a few years. My husband and I realized, if we don’t make this work now, we are going to miss our chance. They are only little for a while!
I began researching ticket prices. Did you know the cheapest ticket available these days is $89 (for under 9) and $95 for 10+ years!! That is ONE park for just ONE day and during the “value” time of year. If you want to be able to visit both Disneyland and California Adventure in that one day, it’s a whopping $149 for kids and $155 for adults!! Living 4 hours away from Disneyland, a one-day marathon with little kids is hardly an option. We’ve tried it and it is horribly exhausting, for everyone! Let me tell you…. tired, sleep-deprived, whiny kids and exhausted parents are not worth the cost of that one-day ticket! To take my family of 4 for a comfortable 3 days, where we could take our time and enjoy both parks, it would cost $1168 JUST TO GET IN THE PARK!!! Unbelievable!
How to Save on Disney Tickets
I began looking at other options…. being a Southern California resident, we can get an Annual Passport which allows us to come back for multiple trips within a year from our purchase for $1316, only $200 more than the 3-day ticket for a family of 4.
Paying the full-price of Annual Passports for the 4 of us still was not something we could financially do. But Disney now offers monthly payments! Let me just say, we do not live on credit in my family. We don’t even have a credit card and we’re working hard to get rid of existing debt from past mistakes. The idea of adding monthly payments to our budget didn’t sit well with me, but then it hit me!! Each month, we set aside about $100 for family vacations and family outings. If we were going to commit to Disneyland as our family vacation for a year, then we could pay for our monthly payments with our vacation money that we set aside each month! Each month $80 of our $100 budget would to do Disneyland payments and the remaining $20 would still be set aside! Once we realized we could go to Disneyland without spending any extra money than we were already setting aside, we knew we could make it work!! Plus, with the extra money being set aside, we’d have some spending money for each trip too.
We decided to go with the Southern California Select Annual Passport. Make sure you check the blackout dates when you choose a passport though. The Select Passport only allows us to go M-F, and most holidays, school vacations and summertime are not included. Personally, I have no desire to stand the crazy long lines during the busy periods at Disneyland or deal with the scorching heat during the summertime, so tweaking our schedules to go on non-busy days during the year works for me! Also know that with this Passport, you are charged a $95 per person deposit. After that, your payments begin the following month. For 4 Passports, we paid just $458 to get started. Our whole family was able to go to Disneyland for as many days as we wanted and to both parks for just $458 (not to be confused with $1168 for a typical 3-day trip)!! Now THAT is in our budget!
Make the Trip to Disney a Surprise!
Now that I knew we could make this trip work, I wanted to surprise the girls. I highly recommend this if you have never done it! They’d been told “no” so many times that a trip to Disneyland would be the last thing on their mind. I decided we would surprise them the morning of our trip with a scavenger hunt. I made a trip to the Dollar Tree and found TONS of Disney-themed items. I found puzzles, coloring books, paddle ball game, coloring scrolls, stickers, stick-on activities, books, journals and so much more! I got 10 items for each of the girls. I also bought a gift bags that would hold all their goodies. It literally cost me about $22 for gifts for both girls. The morning of our trip, we slipped our phones under their bedroom door playing a song from Rapunzel to wake them up. They opened the door, dazed and confused, and found instructions for their scavenger hunt. At each step of the scavenger hunt, they each got a Dollar Tree gift. The last step of the scavenger hunt had the journals and on the inside of the journal I wrote “Congratulations! You found the last gift! Now SURPRISE… we’re going to Disneyland! RIGHT NOW!” They didn’t understand or believe us at first but once it finally sunk it, there were squeals of joy! I had pre-packed everything the night before, so they got dressed and off we went! It was the best surprise I’ve ever done for them! Best of all, they had a great selection of Disney-themed gifts already, so we weren’t stuck spending extra money in the gift shops in the parks.
How to Save Money on an Anaheim Hotel
Like I said before… we’ve tried to do a Disneyland trip all in one day, including driving back & forth, and it’s just not worth it. Getting a hotel makes the trip so much more enjoyable and hopefully allows you to stay a few days. Now if you can afford the on-site Disney hotels, go for it! For us though, it’s not an option. Here are 3 ways I look for the best deals on Disneyland area hotels:
- Search Groupon for “Anaheim, CA Hotels”. Often you’ll find a great deal on a hotel right next to Disneyland. Currently there is a sweet offer for $84/night at the Red Lion Hotel Anaheim!
- Peek at Travelzoo for hotels in Anaheim, CA. Currently there are 5 hotels near Disneyland that have great deals through Travelzoo.
- Lastly, go to Google Maps and search “Hotels near Disneyland”. You will get a map with all the nearby hotels marked for you. Simply hover your cursor over each one and in the right top corner of the box that comes up, you will see a price. That is the best price available currently at that hotel. I quickly scan over all the nearby hotels to see which one is cheapest and then do an actual reservation search on that hotel’s website to verify the price. Sometimes the prices are different than listed on that box so make sure you check the price!
We always choose to stay right on S. Harbor Blvd. in Anaheim because it allows us to walk to Disneyland. If you get too far away from Harbor Blvd. you have quite a trek if you’re walking (which is by far the cheapest option!). Some hotels do have shuttles but make sure they are free! We choose to walk because then we can be on our own schedule and not the hotel’s shuttle schedule.
The hotel we usually stay at for our trips to Disneyland is the Anaheim Plaza Hotel. Its on the corner of S. Harbor Blvd and Disney Way and literally a half a block from the main entrance to the parks. Our trip last week was only $69 per night (off season) and that beat the other hotels in the area by quite a bit. Even during the summer, it’s only about $100 a night. You can get conjoining rooms too and turn it into a family suite that sleeps 8 if needed too. It is a basic hotel with basic amenities. They have a great pool though and a gift shop & restaurant on-site with breakfast for just $10 a person if interested. We’ve never had any complaints. After all… we just need a place to sleep, right?! It doesn’t have to be glamorous!
Once you find a hotel that is a great price, make sure they have a mini fridge and microwave. Anaheim Plaza Hotel does have both of these which is a major reason I stay here each time. These appliances are crucial to saving money on food….
How to Save Money on Meals
While Disneyland has some of the yummiest food and treats around, it seems you can spend almost as much money on food as it cost you to get in the park! Between breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for a family, the costs really add up! What you can spend on food will depend on your budget and financial situation. For this trip, we were able to buy a few treats, but eating out at restaurants was out of the question. On future trips when we haven’t paid so much up front, eating out more may be an option. Here’s some tips for reducing your food costs:
- Prepare some meals before you leave home. We were gone for 2 dinners, so I pre-prepared a pasta casserole and tacos that we’re kept in the hotel refrigerator. I put the casserole into individual serving tubs that we were able to just heat up in the microwave and that was dinner. We even did a taco night. I pre-prepared the taco meat & rice at home and kept it in a plastic tubs and then we brought tortillas, lettuce, cheese and other toppings and made a little taco bar! It was great! I also made some breakfast burritos for a hot breakfast option.
- Bring a large cooler full of food that you can transfer to a fridge in your room once you are at your hotel. For breakfast, we brought milk for our cereal, half & half for my coffee (of course!), yogurt and cheese sticks. For lunches, we brought lunch meat, mayo, mustard, and jelly for sandwiches, and also fruit. Fill reusable grocery bags with your non-perishable foods items: bread, cereal, snack bars, crackers, chips, coffee, drinks, etc. Then when you come home, they won’t take up as much room since they’ll be pretty much empty! Don’t forget to bring plates, silverware and cups too!
- Eat breakfast in your room before you head to the park. Pack a lunch before you leave so that you don’t have to come back to the room for lunch. The parks will let you bring in your own food! I just fill another small cooler with our lunch items. Late in the afternoon, head back to your hotel for an early dinner and rest and then head back to the park around 5:30 while everyone else is having dinner at a restaurant!
- Visit a local grocery store. If you forget an important food item at home, don’t worry! Just head to a nearby grocery store. That’s what I had to do! (Would you believe I forgot bread, mayo and mustard!)
- Save money on water by bringing a water filter pitcher, like a Brita! Water bottles in the park are SO expensive! You can use the water fountains but it just not enough for the amount of water you need to consume when you are walking all day. Just fill up the Brita with the nasty hotel tap water and you have fresh water all the time. Each morning we would fill our water bottles with filtered ice from the hotel and then fill it with water from the Brita. We’d refill when we would come back to the hotel but otherwise we were set for the day, and all for FREE!
- Be honest with your kids about finances. If you are going to buy any food in the park, tell them when and what types of food you can get each day. Kids are constantly tempted with all the goodies available around the park so let them know that “Today after lunch, we can get an ice cream cone” or whatever you choose. That will help avoid the constant asking! I searched for 3 days for some decently priced snacks and really only came up with one I’d recommend, although the $4 Mickey Soft Pretzels were delicious, just a bit pricey! If you want a reasonably priced treat, head over to California Adventure. On Paradise Pier you’ll find the only soft serve ice cream available in either park! For just $3.49, you can get a regular size chocolate, vanilla or swirl soft serve ice cream and let me tell you… it is the BEST I have ever tasted! So creamy! Incredible!! For just $.50 more, you can get a large size!! I really recommend it and you get a lot for the money!
How to Save Money on Gifts for the Kids
Disneyland has endless gifts for kids. My kids want one of everything! I quickly learned on this trip that I had to set boundaries before they drove me completely nuts with asking to buy things! From the beginning of the trip, we told them they could each pick out ONE item to buy during the entire trip and it couldn’t cost more than $20 each. (I know we’re cheap, but that’s seriously all that we could afford at this time!) Now this is quite a tight budget because most items start at over $20. We told the girls we wanted them to find something meaningful that would help them remember this special trip, not just the first Princess doll they saw.
On our 2nd day there, we went into Downtown Disney and came across the Build-A-Bear store. To my surprise, the animals available to “build” were really reasonable in price and started at about $16! Our girls knew instantly that this was what they wanted so they picked out their bears (both $20 each). This was a special memory that they could link to these bears so I knew it was a good choice for a gift. They wanted desperately to buy a bunch of accessories to go with the bears but we had to remind them that they’d spent their $20 already so instead they enjoyed the fun of stuffing the bears, making a wish on their hearts, fluffing them at the fluffing station and then creating their birth certificates. It turned out to be such a great, frugal and memorable gift for them both and they’re are still loving them much more than they would have loved a princess doll or mickey ears that won’t ever be worn at home!
Since we now have Passports for a year, we told the girls that on each upcoming trip, we could budget for the fun things they want to do like getting their hair & makeup done Bippity Boppity Boutique and fun things like that.
Yes, Disneyland is very expensive. But with some creativity, you can have a frugal Disney trip, especially with some planning. I hope this gives you some ideas of how you can do Disneyland on a budget! If you go with a plan, come prepared and stay strong with the kids, it can be done! I’d love to hear any tips you have too!
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