My family had a chance to go to Disneyland this year during Halloween time, and it was so much fun! This is the first time we have been to Disneyland as a family. We have been saving for two years to be able to go. The way we saved was that every month as we had extra income, we would place money in our “Vacation” envelope. Sometimes it was $20 and other times it was $100 or $200. We also used some money from our tax returns each year to set aside additional money. In addition, we involved our children by talking about our goal to go to Disneyland and we made Disneyland jars for our girls so they could help save money. Every time they earned money, they would add it to their jar. My girls were so excited that they would ask to do extra chores around they house so that they could earn money for their Disneyland jars. Our whole family was involved in saving to go to Disneyland.
I’m not by any means a Disneyland expert, but I researched a lot of information about how to save money and save time at Disneyland. I’ve compiled the tips below and am sharing with you our experience and how our family vacationed at Disneyland on a budget. And many of these tips could be used to help your family save money and time at Disneyland. After you read these tips, head over here to read How to Vacation at Disneyland on a Budget (Part 2). And if you want even more tips, get the Disneyland on Any Budget book by Jessica Sanders from The Happiest Blog on Earth. She is a Disneyland expert and has useful information and tips on flights, hotels, rentals, food and more that will help you to visit Disneyland on a budget.
Disneyland isn’t cheap! It costs a lot of money to go to Disneyland, but it is a fun experience for the family. If you plan on going to Disneyland, you’ll want to estimate that it will cost roughly about $3,000 to $4,000. How much it costs depends on how many people are in your family, if you fly or drive there, how long you stay, where you eat, as well as other factors. Our family of 5 spent about $2,500, with the largest cost being the hotel and Disneyland tickets. Here is the break down of what we spent:
Hotels – $750 (This includes the hotel at Disneyland and the hotels on our drive to and from California)
Disneyland Tickets – $900
Character Dining – $150 (This is something we decided to splurge on and it was so much fun for the girls to meet five princesses in one location and get autographs and photos. This was a great memory for our family and worth it!)
Gas for Driving – $175
Food – $250
Misc. Items – $250 (This includes souvenirs, parking at the hotel, road trip activities and snacks for the kids, etc.)
We originally wanted to fly to California, but it would have cost our family of 5 more than $1,200. Compare that to the about $300 it cost us to drive to California, which included the gas for our vehicle and the hotel stays on the way there and back. We stopped off in Mesquite, Nev. both on the way to California and on the way back because they had good hotel prices.
If we hadn’t chosen to do the Character Dining and cut out some miscellaneous items, we probably could have gone to Disneyland for closer to $2,200. But we originally budgeted $3,000 and gave ourselves wiggle room to do some spontaneous activities and fun things together.
Before you determine when you should go to Disneyland, be sure to use the Disneyland Crowd Forecast Calendar here to find out if Disneyland will be packed or if the crowds won’t be too bad. I recommend not going the week of holidays or spring or fall break for schools. If you go during the peak and busy times, you’ll spend a lot of your time waiting in lines. Going to Disneyland will be more enjoyable if you don’t have to push through the crowds of people and wait in long lines. Here is the best times of the year to travel:
- Late January or February (after the holidays and before Spring break)
- September or October (when the kids go back in school and there are no holidays)
- Early November (after Halloween and before Thanksgiving)
- First week of December (after Thanksgiving and before Christmas break)
Below are money-saving tips to get good deals on hotels, Disneyland discount tickets and more.
FINDING DEALS ON HOTELS
If you are planning a trip to Disneyland or Southern California, Get Away Today has good Disney vacation packages, and they are great to work with. And if you use the promo code SCBC you’ll get $10 off a 2-night or longer Southern California vacation package including tickets and hotel stay. Every small amount of money saved helps out!
Before heading to Disneyland, I researched many hotels to find the best deal. We decided to stay at the Tropicana Inn & Suites Hotel across the street from Disneyland, and I booked the hotel through Get Away Today. Did you know that Get Away Today price matches?! I didn’t until I spoke with them. When I was researching hotels, the price on Tropicana’s website was lower than on Get Away Today’s site. When I mentioned this to Get Away Today, they said that since Tropicana is one of the hotels they work with they would price match it, and so I got the better deal!
There are less expensive hotels than the Tropicana Inn & Suites that are farther away from the Disney parks, but you have to factor in the cost of resort and parking fees, the cost of taking the bus, and the time it takes to go back and forth between Disneyland and your hotel. Part of the reason we wanted a hotel across the street is so we could easily take our 2-year-old boy back to the hotel to nap in the middle of the day. Having a hotel right across the street was worth it for us, and every night as we saw people getting on buses or shuttles, my husband and I were glad we didn’t have to wait for the shuttle, try to get our large stroller loaded and unloaded from the shuttle, or take an extra 15-30 minutes more to get back to our hotel when the two youngest kids were already asleep in the stroller.
When researching hotels, start with Hotels.com to compare rates, then go directly to the specific hotel’s site (such as Tropicana Inn & Suites.com site) to compare the price. My sister-in-law, who loves going to Disneyland, was able to get 20% off the price listed by using Hotels.com. Also, look on Get Away Today.com to find out which hotels they work with and compare prices of hotels on their site with that of the prices listed on the hotel’s actual site (such as Tropicana Inn & Suites.com site), as well as with the prices on the Hotels.com site to find the best deal. If you find a hotel with a lower price that Get Away Today works with, then you can price match it.
The hotels across the street from Disneyland are located on South Harbor Blvd. When searching for a hotel that is in walking distance to Disneyland, look on South Harbor with the Howard Johnson Hotel as the furthest north and W Katella Ave. as the furthest south. There are many hotels to choose from. If you look up Disneyland in Google Maps, you can see the hotels on the map, which will help you determine where you want to stay and you can begin to look up hotels and prices.
Another option that could save you money if you have a large group or multiple families is to rent a house or condo. By splitting the cost between three to four families, you could save money. Plus, there would be a kitchen which would allow you to cook your own meals there rather than eating out.
DISNEYLAND DISCOUNT TICKETS
I purchased my Disneyland tickets from Get Away Today before the prices went up back in March. Get Away Today has some of the best prices and the tickets cost less than purchasing them on Disneyland’s site. My sister-in-law, who goes to Disneyland often, has used the site aRes Travel to get a good deal on Disneyland tickets and it saved her $135 off what it would have cost on the Disneyland site. Both these sites have better deals than purchasing it on Disneyland’s site. Just be sure to purchase your tickets from a reputable source.
A friend of mine recently shared how she saved money purchasing Disneyland tickets. She calculated how much Disneyland tickets would cost for her family, then she purchased multiple Disney $150 Multi-Pack (3 – $50 Gift Cards) from Sam’s Club for $142 each pack and paid for the tickets on Disneyland’s site using the gift cards. She said it saved her family about $80 doing it this way.
Other ways you might be able to get Disneyland discount tickets is through the following: Costco, if you are military, AAA or Southern California CityPASS.
Another tip to save money on tickets is to get the 1 Park Per Day Tickets, not the Park Hopper Tickets. Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are right across from each other and easy to get between, but since there was so much to do in both parks each day and in order to to save money, we purchased the 3 Day – 1 Park Per Day Tickets. Plus, I felt like it would be too much walking for my young children to go back and forth between the parks. So on a Monday, we stayed in Disneyland all day. The next day we went to Disney California Adventure and spent the entire day there. The third day we took a break and went to Huntington Beach (that was so fun building sand castles!), and then on Thursday we used our third ticket and went to Disneyland because there was more there that my girls wanted to do. It worked out great for our family to do it that way and I’m glad I purchased the 1 Park Per Day Tickets.
Halloween at Disneyland is so much fun, and I love the Halloween decor, but there is something about Mickey’s Halloween Party that I wish I would have known or understood better before I purchased our tickets for Disneyland. On specific nights in September and October, Disneyland closes the park at 6 p.m. If you want to get back into the park to attend Mickey’s Halloween Party, you have to purchase a separate ticket for this event. My recommendation to you is that if you go to Disneyland around Halloween, purchase the Mickey’s Halloween Party ticket for one of your days at Disneyland instead of a regular Disneyland ticket. With the Mickey’s Halloween Party ticket, you can get into the park around 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. and stay until the park closes around 11 p.m or midnight. Your kids can dress up in Halloween costumes, go on rides and trick-or-treat. And I heard that the cast members give generous amounts of candy in each line. Also, don’t forget to bring glow sticks with you!
PURCHASE DISNEY SOUVENIRS & ROAD TRIP ACTIVITIES BEFORE YOU GO
Purchasing souvenirs in Disneyland is really expensive, so to save on the cost of souvenirs and so you don’t feel like you have to buy something at Disneyland for your kids, purchase souvenirs before heading to Disneyland. I headed to the Dollar Store and Target and picked up Disney and princess items for the kids. I found Disney shirts on the clearance rack at Target to give to the kids the first day we went to Disneyland. Since my girls love Frozen, I found multiple items on sale in the dollar sections of both Target and the Dollar Store, as well as other items I thought my kids might like. I also purchased glow sticks and necklaces for $1 each that I could give to the kids at night. I pulled out the glow sticks our first night in Disneyland and the kids loved it! And then I didn’t feel like I needed to purchase a $15+ Disney glow item for each of my kids.
We let each of our children choose one souvenir from Disneyland that was up to $30. Every time my kids wanted a souvenir at Disneyland, we would mention that they would get to choose one on the last day of our trip and that they should keep that souvenir in mind if that’s the one they really wanted. We were able to go through each gift shop without whining or tantrums and all three kids were happy when they chose their one souvenir on the last day at Disneyland.
If you decide to purchase souvenirs while at Disneyland, check the stores outside of the Disneyland park or at a nearby Walmart or Target to pick up the souvenirs for less expensive. And I’ve been told that the World of Disney in Downtown Disneyland has a huge selection with every souvenir from the entire park.
We also purchased activities, books and other items to surprise our kids during our road trip. I knew that 10 hours in the car was going to be hard for the kids, so we picked up items that we could give them as surprises every so often. Every few hours we would pull out a new surprise such as coloring books, writing pads, a sticker book, inexpensive games, a movie or new snacks or drinks that I usually don’t purchase. It definitely made the 10 hours go more smoothly. We also broke the trip up in two days because it would have been too difficult for the kids to be in the car for 10 hours.
One other item you should purchase before you head to Disneyland is rain ponchos. Check the weather and if it looks like it might rain, you’ll definitely be glad that you brought them along. You can also use the rain ponchos at Disney California Adventure on the Bear Grizzly Run so you don’t get sopping wet. I headed to the Dollar Store and picked up rain ponchos for $1 each, a much better deal than purchasing them for a crazy dollar amount inside Disneyland. We didn’t end up using the rain ponchos so I put them in my 72-hour emergency kits, but I’m glad I had the rain ponchos just in case.
In my next post, Part 2 of How to Vacation at Disneyland on a Budget, I share more money-saving and time-saving tips at Disneyland for when you are at the parks, as well as photos of our family at Disneyland and a video with tips.
What ways have you vacationed at Disney on a budget?