If you want to visit the happiest place on earth — Disneyland — you're going to have to save up to do it. With seemingly ever-increasing ticket prices and a premium on food, hotels and other items, a trip to the beloved Anaheim, Calif., theme park could sink your budget.
Fortunately, die-hard regulars have smart strategies to save money at Disneyland and get the most out of their magical visit. Read on to get the inside track on how to save cash without sacrificing the fun.
1. Come Prepared
Plan ahead so you don't have to purchase overpriced necessities at Disneyland that you could have brought from home. For example, check the weather ahead of time so you don't end up shelling out for sunscreen, an umbrella or sweatshirt. Remember, it's usually cool at night in Southern California — even during the summer months — so come prepared.
If you're planning on going on water rides and don't want to get wet, purchase a poncho from a dollar store in advance. You'll save money and won't feel guilty throwing it away afterward. If you want to save on your Disneyland trip, cutting out unnecessary expenses is crucial.
2. Buy Disney Souvenirs Elsewhere
Disney merchandise can be found just about everywhere these days, including Walmart, Target, department stores, Amazon and even your local grocery store. You can save a lot of money by purchasing Mickey tees and mouse ears before your trip at these less-expensive retailers rather than at Disneyland, Disney California Adventure Park or Downtown Disney.
In addition to avoiding Disneyland prices, you also have the benefit of being able to enjoy your souvenirs from day one of your Disneyland vacation.
3. Make an Autograph Book
An autograph book is a must-have for Disneyland enthusiasts and a great way to bring some of your memories home with you. However, these books can cost anywhere from $7.95 to $15 at the Disney Store. Prices vary according to photo sleeves, number of pages, quality and cover art.
But there's no reason you can't capture these memories for under $5. Consider buying a small, generic photo album, memo pad or notebook — even a Disney storybook from a retailer like Walmart, Target or Dollar Tree. And you can always personalize your album with photos and stickers.
4. Take Advantage of the Shuttle Service
Disneyland charges $20 per day to park in one of its parking lots or structures. Parking for oversized vehicles and vehicles with trailers costs $25 to $30.
Most nearby hotels offer shuttle services, often for free — the Candy Cane Inn in Anaheim is one example. If your hotel is in Anaheim, you can avoid Disneyland prices by taking the ART Shuttle System. Adult day passes start at $5.50, and child passes start at $2.
5. Bring Your Own Stroller/Wheelchair
If you are planning on using a stroller or wheelchair, plan ahead. You can rent a single stroller at the park for $15 a day. No double strollers are available, but you can rent two strollers for a discounted price of $25 a day.
Instead of renting a stroller for multiple days or lugging around your big stroller, buy an inexpensive umbrella stroller for about $20 or $30 at Babies"R"Us, for example. You can also get a good deal renting one from a rental company such as City Stroller Rentals.
Additionally, a manual wheelchair is $12 per day and an electronic conveyance vehicle is $50 per day at Disneyland. These rentals require a refundable deposit of $20 and cannot leave the Disneyland or Disney California Adventure park areas, which means you cannot take them to Downtown Disney.
A more cost-efficient option is to rent a wheelchair or ECV for less at a local rental company, such as A Scooter 4 U, Inc. in Anaheim, which offers Disneyland discounts and free hotel delivery.
6. Eat Breakfast Before You Arrive
You need to fuel up for your big day at one of the most popular U.S. tourist attractions. But breakfast is almost as pricey as lunch or dinner if you eat at Downtown Disney or inside the parks. You can save quite a bit of money by eating breakfast before you go. Choose a hotel room with a fridge so you can buy milk, cereal or other easily prepared breakfast items the night before — or take advantage of your hotel's free continental breakfast if available.
Continental breakfasts, such as the one offered at Cortona Inn & Suites in Anaheim, start as early as 6:30 a.m. If you want to eat out, choose a local restaurant that is inexpensive or has a kids' menu, such as McDonald's or IHOP, both of which are close to the park.
7. Bring Your Own Food and Drinks
Although Disney's official policy does not allow outside food or drinks, you can get by with bringing snacks for the day or packing a lunch to enjoy in the picnic area just outside the main entrance of the park. You might even be able to get a water bottle or other non-alcoholic beverage into the actual park.
If you do decide to eat at the park, avoid sit-down table service like at the Blue Bayou. The counter-service and cafeteria-style restaurants in the park tend to offer better prices. Also, order a kids' meal if you don't need a large portion; it's less expensive and usually comes with a side and a drink.
8. Get Special Disneyland Discounts
Disney offers a wide variety of discounts, including discounts for military service members, college students, credit union members, corporate and government groups, teachers and youth groups. If you think you might qualify for a special discount or group rate, call the Disneyland Resort to book tickets.
These discounts can be quite substantial. For instance, a three-day Park Hopper Ticket for someone older than 10 can cost as much as $315. That same ticket is offered to military members for just $156. Make sure to check the details of the discounts offered to special groups because they often have blackout dates or deadlines.
9. Arrange Your Trip Around the Off-Season
Everything from airfare to souvenirs can become more expensive during Disneyland's busier times of the year. If you really want to save money at Disneyland, plan your trip during the park's off-season: September through March — excluding December. Hotels are generally less expensive during these months, too.
Do not plan a trip around a holiday or special event being held at Disneyland. These times, such as Halloween or Thanksgiving, tend to be especially crowded, even during the off-season. If you cannot plan a trip during the off-season, try to attend the park on a weekday.
10. Choose ‘Value’ Days for Cheaper Disneyland Tickets
Recently, Disneyland implemented a new pricing policy that saves you money — but can also cost you money. Based on which day you decide to visit Disneyland, you might have to pay more or less. Here's a breakdown of the one-day ticket prices:
- "Value" Day: Ticket prices start at $97.
- "Regular" Day: Ticket prices start at $110.
- "Peak" Day: Ticket prices start at $124.
"Value" days tend to be on Disneyland's less-popular days, such as a Tuesday or Wednesday in the middle of the month. And "peak" days are often on some Fridays and weekends, especially in July and during the holidays. But if you decide to buy a Disneyland ticket on the actual day of your trip, you might have to pay a "peak" day price as well.
Important Disneyland tip: Always look at the park calendar to find "value" days — and don't wait until the last minute to buy your ticket.
11. Look Out for Special Disneyland Offers and Coupons
Disneyland will usually offer special discounts during its off-season to promote business. These tickets can have substantial discounts, and although they are sold during the off-season, they are usually good for one calendar year. Look out for these special promotions to potentially save a lot of money on an upcoming trip. Just pay attention to blackout dates and other restrictions.
In addition to Disney's offers, many businesses offer coupons you can use on your Disney vacation. For instance, some chain restaurants, hotels and retailers will let you list a favorite location or home location on their websites. If you list Anaheim, you might be granted discounts and coupons specifically for Disneyland.
12. Get a Disney Visa Card
Disney offers Visa credit cards that let you earn rewards, which can be redeemed for Disney merchandise, including DVDs, movie tickets, toys, costumes and Disneyland travel.
Disney is also offering a $200 statement credit after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months after opening a Disney Premier Visa Card, which has a $49 annual fee. Meanwhile, the Disney Visa Card has no fee and is offering a $50 statement credit after your first purchase. Of course, using your card responsibly and paying the balance off every month will ensure you don't rack up debt instead.
13. Take Your Kids Before Age 3
Kids who are under 3 years old get into Disneyland for free. If you need an incentive to plan your visit sooner rather than later, expect to pay as much as $118 per day for kids age 3 to 9. So it's not a bad idea to consider taking your 2-year-old on a Disneyland vacation.
14. Invest in an Annual Disneyland Passport
If you're a die-hard Disneyland fan, consider investing in the annual pass. All annual passports allow park-hopper access and offer discounts on select dining and merchandise. Keep your pass on you everywhere you go near Disneyland, and ask if cardholders get discounts. The passport options include:
- The Disney Southern California Select Passport costs $339. It's worth it if you plan on going more than two or three times a year during the off-season and you live in the SoCal area. You can get up to 10 percent off merchandise and dining.
- Although the Disney Deluxe Annual Passport costs $619, it offers the same benefits as the pass for SoCal residents — except you don't need to live in Southern California to qualify for the pass.
- Costing $849, the Disney Signature Passport offers up to 20 percent off merchandise and 15 percent off dining. Plus, it covers parking.
- And lastly, the Disney Signature Plus Passport costs $1,049 and offers the same perks at the Signature Passport — except you don't have to worry about blackout dates.
15. Find Hotel Packages or Book Through an Agency
If you are traveling to Anaheim, package deals are another insider tip to save money at Disneyland. Many hotels offer great deals that include things like breakfast, a shuttle pass, free internet and other discounts. It is also possible to get cheaper hotel rates through a travel agency.
16. Purchase a SoCal City Pass
If you're planning to visit several different theme parks while in Southern California, the SoCal CityPass can help you save money at Disneyland as well. This pass allows you to save about $152 or more per person on park tickets to Disneyland, SeaWorld San Diego and LEGOLAND California. You also have the option to add a discounted pass to the San Diego Zoo or Safari Park.
The SoCal City Pass is good for 14 calendar days, and you can visit the parks in any order. The Disneyland pass is a three-day Park Hopper with early admittance to the parks, also known as Magic Morning.
17. Stay at the Disneyland Resort
Seems counterintuitive, right? But if you want to have the full Disney experience and don't mind spending a little more on the hotel, stay at the Disneyland Resort. Although the hotel prices tend to be higher than other hotels near the park, staying at a Disneyland Resort hotel can help you save money on transportation.
Plus, you can get an extra hour in one of the parks if you stay at one of Disneyland's hotels: Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel, Disneyland Hotel or Disney's Grand California Hotel & Spa.
Disneyland will sometimes offer discounts on its hotels during the off-season. If you are an annual pass holder or military personnel, you can potentially get even better discounts than the general public.