Disneyland is a truly magical vacation destination for people of all ages. It's remarkably clean, beautifully decorated, and masterfully designed. Every time we visit, I am in awe of the upbeat culture - the pristine uniforms, the smiling cast members, and the obvious care and attention behind every ride and performance.
That said, the cost of a Disney vacation can be steep - especially for families. I've put together my top ten tips for saving money at Disneyland. Be sure to add your own at the end!
1. Consider a vacation rental. It might surprise you to discover that renting a big house can actually be more affordable than booking a teeny tiny hotel room. There are a number of homes + condos within walking distance of Disneyland that rent for $99+/night. Often, the houses are large enough to accommodate multiple families or grandparents too! Invite friends or relatives so you can split the rent AND enjoy a glass of wine after bedtime with the grown-ups. Bonus: a full kitchen means you can grocery shop and cook meals "at home." Search "Disneyland" on FlipKey and HomeAway.
2. Stay off-property. One of the perks of Disneyland (compared to Walt Disney World) is that there are a number of hotels within walking distance of the parks. When doing your preliminary research, it's important to ask the following questions to ensure you don't end up paying more than you expect. Is there a complimentary breakfast? Is there a complimentary happy hour/evening reception? Is WiFi free? Is parking free? If not, is there a complimentary shuttle to the parks and how often does it run? How far is it to walk to the parks? Two options with good reviews on TripAdvisor are Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel & Water Playground and the Candy Cane Inn.
3. Bring your own snacks. Pack a backpack full of trail mix, dried fruit, crackers, whole fruits, granola bars, beef jerky, and special treats. Some parents have their children wear fanny packs or miniature backpacks so they can snack at their leisure.
4. Bring your own water. If you are driving, it's a cinch to pack a flat of disposable water bottles in your car. Or bring reusable water bottles and refill them at the numerous drinking fountains located throughout the park. The restaurants are also fantastic about giving large cups of water or ice with your food purchase.
5. Bring your own stroller. The cost to rent a stroller at Disneyland is $15 per day for 1 stroller or $25 for 2. Save that money and bring your own. A simple umbrella stroller will cost you around $20 at your local Target, Walmart, or Babies R Us - and you can use it for YEARS. Because the parks are large and you'll be covering lots of miles, you may want to bring a stroller for kids all the way up to about age 5.
6. Check Costco for discounted tickets. Costco sometimes offers discounted ticket/travel packages members. Be sure to check blackout dates to make sure the tickets will work with your calendar.
7. Opt for "quick service" restaurants inside the parks. Character dining and table service restaurants will cost you a pretty penny so, if you're trying to keep costs down, you will likely want to go with a counter-service option. Try a bread bowl with soup for ~$10 at the Royal Street Veranda (next to the Pirates of the Caribbean entrance) or a stuffed baked potato for $6-$7 at Harbour Galley in Critter Country (northwest of New Orleans Square). The platters at Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante in Frontierland (near Splash Mountain) range from $10-$14, but are large with filling sides (beans + rice). For a quick meal/snack, stop at the Little Red Wagon to purchase a gigantic and super tasty corn dog with a side of apple slices or chips for $6.19. For breakfast, try The Steamboat at River Belle Terrace in Frontierland - three pancakes, eggs, and bacon or sausage for $7.99.
8. Eat at restaurants outside the parks (and sign up for clubs!). Mimi's Cafe is located within walking distance. If you sign up for Mimi's e-Club, you can get a coupon for 4 free muffins (with a $5 purchase). Not a bad breakfast! Earl of Sandwich in Downtown Disney is another excellent pick. Sign up for the Club Sandwich eClub to get a free brownie (+ a free sandwich on your birthday).
9. Print restaurant coupons in advance from the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau website. The current coupons include a % off several Downtown Disney restaurants.
10. Think about purchasing an Annual Pass. A Premium Passport, which grants you access to both Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World with no blackout dates, will run you $669/person. Or you can opt for the Deluxe Passport for $499/person - enjoy access to both parks for 315 days out of the year. With both passes, you receive 10%-20% discounts on dining and merchandise in the parks. A family of four could get deluxe passports for $1,996. If you visit Disneyland twice with 3-day park-hopper passes, it would cost you approximately $2,016 for tickets. If you don't mind going on the off-season and you can drive to Anaheim with relative ease, an annual passport might be just the "ticket" to big savings.