I wrote about our fun trip to Disneyland a few weeks ago and thought I would share some of our tips and tricks to save money and still have a great Disney vacation.
This post does come with a caveat: Disneyland is EXPENSIVE. There is really no way to save on park tickets - for a 3 park park hopper pass, you're looking at $300 per person. We knew going into this trip that it wasn't going to be cheap. That being said, it's easy to spend $500 per day just for meals and souveniers, so here are a few ways to NOT do that.
Package vs A La Carte:
We've done Disneyland as a family twice now, once as a package deal through Costco (including tickets to the parks, hotel stay at a good neighbor hotel, a gift card, and a character meal). The package deal was great, but it included some things that we didn't want or need this time around. For starters, my kids are elementary school aged, and therefore weren't as into the idea of a character meal as they were when they were preschoolers. Those character meals are crazy expensive and there is no way to not get one though the Costco deal. The same goes for the gift cards. At the time we booked our trip (December 2013), the gift cards were to ESPN Zone - again, not something that we were interested in. So, we looked around for just hotel pricing on sites like Expedia and Travelocity, and managed to find deals at the good neighbor hotels (which are just hotels that Disney has a ticket kisok at) that were far less expensive than what the packages listed.
We also chose to add airfare to our trip - Seattle is about 20 hours in the car away from Anaheim, so for us, it was worth it to fly. We managed to find direct flights on Alaska Airlines when we combined the flights with the hotel on Travelocity for just a bit more than just the hotel alone. Look around when you're planning your Disneyland vacation, and don't be afraid to purchase tickets/hotel/air seperately for the best deals.
We took a taxi to and from the hotel and used the resort transit system - between parking and car rental fees, this turned out to be way cheaper for us. A 5 day pass for the transit system was $50 per adult and $20 per kid. Just parking for the day at Disney is $20. It helps that we don't have kids who nap, so we were able to stick it out all day.
As for our tickets, we bought them at the local Disney Store. The cast member who rang me up mentioned that what a lot of people do is to put $25-50 on a gift card each month and save up that way for the tickets - which is a great tip! Tickets are always cheaper ahead of time than at the park. I know that you can get 3, 4, and 5 day passes at grocery stores and Targets, so if you have rewards through those stores to use up, that's a great way to save as well!
Once you get to the parks, the main expense besides getting into them is obviously, feeding yourselves. If you eat at the counter service restaurants, you have to figure $10-15 per person per meal per day. That adds up and doesn't include snacks! The first way to cut those costs down is to stay at a hotel that offers a free breakfast. The second way is to bring your own food in. DL allows you to bring in as many snacks as you can in your backpack or diaper bag, including water bottles. We stocked up at Costco and loaded down our suitcases with cereal bars, packs of Goldfish, dried fruit, and string cheeses. Getting groceries delivered to your hotel room is also a great way to save - Vons is right near the parks and will waive the delivery fee on your first delivery - just call your hotel ahead of time to get your delivery set up. Another way to save on your food cost is knowing that all DL restaurants offer FREE cups of ice water. Don't spend $4 on a soda when you can have water for free!
We did end up buying a treat every day to share as a family, but made the girls buy any additional treats with their own money...more on that below!
This one is tricky. No amount of the planning that we did really minimized my girls wanting EVERYTHING they saw. Since we had our trip be a gift from Santa, we packed the girls' tickets in some new luggage (clearance at Pottery Barn Kids), along with a few Disney shirts from Target and some coloring books from the Dollar Tree. Additionally, and obviously, this depends on your craftiness level, I made some Minnie shirts and princess dresses for the girls for just a few dollars each. The princess dresses were made because my girls are no longer into dress up, but they saw pictures on the Disneyland website of girls wearing princess dresses at the park, so they asked me to make them comfy princess dresses and I did! The dresses at the park cost $80-100, and shirts there are around $40.
The other thing we did to cut down on souvenier costs was to help the girls earn Disney Dollars. I found this awesome post and contacted Marci and she sent me her list and Disney Dollar template. The girls had to do chores to earn their dollars and that was what they could spend on souveniers and treats. The kids learned some great lessons about working on a budget and prioritizing what to spend their hard earned Disney Dollars on as well - bonus! When we got to the parks, we just went right to the City Hall on Main Street and let the kids pick their Disney Dollars up!
My other tips:
- Use the FASTPASS system! Since we went in the off season, the lines were only crazy on the Monday and Friday that we were there - and those days, the Fast Passes really paid off. Here's a great write up of the system. Cars Land is CRAZY crowded, especially Radiator Springs Racers. Plan on doing that first thing in the morning...and don't bother waiting in line for Fast Passes because that line is even longer than the line for the actual ride!
- Plan your day! Before you go, talk with your family about what rides and shows you want to see, and which ones you are ok skipping.
- Use the Single Rider line! If your kids are old enough (they have to be 7), hit up the single rider line for popular rides such as Radiator Springs Racers and Space Mountain. Chances are, you'll all get put into the same car anyway.
- See the shows! Even older kids (and grown ups!) need some downtime. The plays and parades at Disneyland are amazing. My kids ended up loving the Enchanted Tiki Room and Mickey and The Magical Map more than most of the rides.