When most families start tossing around the idea of a vacation to the Happiest Place on Earth, the first question they usually ask is “How do I plan the cheapest Disneyland trip?” It’s a valid question, and there’s a lot that goes into it. The good news is, the answer is YES, you can plan a cost-effective trip to Disneyland. My family always aims for visiting on a tight budget … after all, the more money we save on each trip, the sooner we can come back for more fun and magic! At this point, we’re pros in planning Disneyland trips as cheap as possible.
The answer is in the question itself: The trick to planning the cheapest Disneyland trip is the PLANNING! Breaking down each expense in advance and figuring out where you can cut costs is integral to not only finding the cheapest options available, but also to avoid any unexpected costs later on. The trick is to identify all major costs such as tickets, lodging, dining, and more. There are ways to tackle all of these on a tight budget. Don’t worry, a cheap Disneyland trip is just a bit of research away, and absolutely doable.
The Best Tips and Tricks to Plan the Cheapest Disneyland Trip
Making your trip to Disneyland affordable is simply about making the most budget-friendly choices. Believe it or not, there are plenty of options to cut costs and make a Disneyland trip easier on your wallet. If you make cost-conscious decisions in all areas, the savings significantly add up to plan the cheapest Disneyland trip.
Don’t worry, a “cheap” Disneyland trip doesn’t mean making too many sacrifices. With all of our tips and tricks below, you’ll still be able to experience all of the attractions, entertainment, and fun without losing out on a single bit of the magic. We’re going to break down the most effective ticket, hotel, dining, and other critical selections to help you conquer planning the cheapest Disneyland Trip.
Choosing the Best Ticket for Your Family
Park Hopper: Disneyland offers a plethora of ticket options. While this may seem overwhelming, the bright side is that means there are tickets on the lower end of the cost scale for you to consider. You can choose anywhere between one and five days, with or without the Park Hopper option. Park Hopper tickets, of course, mean you can visit both Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure within the same day, and go back and forth at your leisure. While this is an awesome perk, it’s absolutely not a necessity, and going without the Park Hopper upgrade can save you over $50 per person. This can add up to a solid amount of savings for any group, but especially families like my own. Not to mention, there are tons of perks to dedicating full days in each park versus hopping back and forth. It makes things much easier to plan and navigate, especially for first time visitors!
One-Day Visits: For single-day visits, checking out Disneyland’s ticket calendar is key. One-day ticket prices result directly from supply and demand. Busier, more in-demand seasons (such as summer or the holidays) make ticket prices soar … AND the parks are always much busier, which means you’ll be waiting in line more, and able to accomplish less. Disneyland’s days are identified under three categories: Value, Regular, and Peak. Between Value and Peak days, there can be a $50 or more difference in price, which makes it totally worth it to plan ahead and choose a less busy day. Checking the calendar on the Disneyland website’s ticket page to find the best and most convenient “Value” day to visit will make a major difference. Not only will you save a significant amount per ticket, but you’ll also have a more enjoyable day visiting during a lower-crowd time. In the event of a one-day visit, paying the price of a Park Hopper ticket upgrade may be worth it in order to see the best of both parks.
Multi-Day Visits: Choosing a length for a multi-day visit is a trickier task, and you have to find the happy medium for your family. The longer your visit, the less you pay per day for tickets. A single-day, single-park ticket can cost around $150 on “Peak” days … but if you visit for five days, the cost slims down to an average of about $70 per day. Between the one- and five-day tickets available, price per day incrementally decreases the longer you stay. Keep in mind that while average daily ticket cost is a better deal, you are still spending more overall – especially once you factor in dining, lodging, and other expenses. We always recommend a longer stay for those traveling from afar to make the most of travel costs, but it’s all about finding the right balance for your group. While we love spending as much time as possible at Disney, sometimes we like to check out cheaper nearby attractions to fill in a day or more of our trip.
MaxPass: MaxPass is an optional upgrade that allows you to make FASTPASS selections within the Disneyland App, and includes all of your photo downloads from attractions and scenic locations within the park. While we totally adore this feature, it’s easy to go without. (Consider this a luxury, not a necessity.) At $15 per person, per day, we don’t find this to be enough of a requirement to splurge on every trip. After all, the standard FASTPASS system is super intuitive and included with standard park admission. This alone will allow you to virtually “skip the lines” on many of your favorite attractions. However, if you have a short trip you’re trying to make the most of, MaxPass may be a good option in order to check as many attractions as you can off your to-do list for maximum fun.
Staying at a Off-Site Hotel
Staying at an off-site hotel (meaning not at an official Disneyland Resort Hotel) will always be easier on your wallet. Disneyland currently only has deluxe hotels available on-site that start at a whopping $295 per night. As a family who spends most of their time in the Disney parks and almost exclusively uses the hotel to shower and sleep, we don’t feel inclined to spend so much on our lodging. Opting for a lower-cost place to stay is a super easy way to cut costs. Luckily, there are tons of nearby hotels within walking distance of Disneyland Resort, which means you can save money on transportation too! Most of our favorite tried-and-true hotels nearby average about $100 per night. A great place to start your research is on the Disneyland website’s list of “Good Neighbor” hotels. Many of these options include plenty of nice, fun amenities to keep you and your little ones happy. Just be sure to do your research to make sure it’s a good, safe place to stay. Reading reviews is key!
Making Smart Dining Choices
Packing Meals and Snacks: One of many important things I learned from my mom growing up is to pack meals and snacks wherever you go. The Disney Parks (and all theme parks) are notorious for overpriced food, no matter how hard you try to stay on the low end of the budget. We recommend either packing breakfast foods for your trip or stopping at a convenience store upon arriving in Anaheim for on-the-go items to save you time and money. (Luckily, there’s a CVS and Walgreens within walking distance of Disneyland Resort!) Chowing down on a protein bar or muffin for breakfast each day can make your Disneyland trip significantly cheaper. It’s also a great idea to stash snacks in your bag, too … fulfill those mid-day cravings with a hearty, cheap bag of Chex Mix rather than splurging on an expensive soft pretzel inside the park … no matter how tempting they may be! It was part of my family’s daily routine to stop at 7-11 on our walk to Disneyland for donuts and coffee each morning, and make a pit stop at Walgreens after our mid-afternoon nap for snacks to enjoy during the nighttime fireworks show. This was a fun little tradition, almost like stashing candies before going to the movies. (Yes, you can bring your own food and drinks into Disneyland Resort … just no alcohol or glass bottles.)
Eating on a Budget: What we absolutely adore about Disneyland is that whether you grab a meal from a food cart or sit down at a lavish restaurant, the food is always delicious. You can’t go wrong! If you’re a low-key, easy-to-please family like ours, it’s easy to opt for lower-cost quick-service choices to get your food fix. Plan ahead and research restaurants to figure out what is worth splurging on for your family. For mine, Café Orleans in Disneyland Park is our must-have meal each trip. It’s okay to treat yourself to a nice breakfast, lunch, or dinner, but we like to make the most of it by making sure it’s something we’re really craving and will enjoy. Otherwise, we tend to stick to the yummy, quick options – whether one of Disneyland’s famously hand-dipped corn dogs, or one of their impressive “fast food” options ranging from Mexican to Asian to all of your American favorites.
Taking Advantage of Free Water: This might sound silly, but cutting the insane theme park cost of bottled water will make your wallet breathe a sigh of relief. Rather than stopping at a drink cart for a $3 bottle of water, simply visit a quick service dining location and ask for a cup of water. Just for my family of three, we save about $30 per day opting for water cups over bottled water. Even better, skip the soda at restaurants and grab an ice water here as well. After all, one of our top tips to survive the long days on your feet is staying hydrated! Bringing your own reusable water bottle to refill at fountains is a great alternative, too.
Planning Your Disneyland Trip Day-by-Day
Another smart way to save a few bucks on your Disneyland trip is by taking a day or two “off” from the parks, depending on how long you are staying. That’s one more day to enjoy your vacation, and one less day to pay for park tickets! Our favorite way to spend an off-park day is by lounging at the hotel pool and soaking in the sun in the early afternoon, and then spending the evening at Downtown Disney. Downtown Disney is a shopping, dining, and entertainment district centered between Disneyland and Disney California Adventure parks. Free to enter, we always love exploring the fun and dedicating that day to souvenir shopping. Another fun option is simply walking around the Disneyland Resort hotels and admiring all of the sights and sounds.
Allotting Allowance for Souvenirs
Disneyland Resort has a huge, beautiful assortment of souvenirs that are tempting to everyone. From luxurious purses my girlfriend can’t say no to, to the latest must-have princess for my daughter, and limited edition Disney trading pins for myself, Disneyland genuinely has something for every taste. Even if you swear to avoid these expensive keepsakes, purchasing a souvenir here or there is inevitable. The best way to prepare for this is by setting an allowance for each member of your family yes, even adults!
By giving a set amount in advance, this allows each of you to prioritize your own souvenir purchases. To keep things simple, we also recommend waiting until the last day of your trip to collect souvenirs. There is rarely an occasion where you have to worry about something going out of stock within the same week, and there’s nothing worse than having buyer’s remorse and wishing you had spent money on something “better” you see later on. Whenever we have an upcoming Disneyland trip, we like to give our daughter Disneyland gift cards. This is a great two-for-one! Not only does she love the excitement of having her “own” money to spend, but it saves us a few bucks in the long run too.
What unexpected expenses should I keep in mind?
With any vacation, there are unexpected expenses that pop up here and there. What we love about Disneyland trips is that you can prepare for most of these ahead of time. Once your travel, hotel, and ticket costs are factored in, it’s mostly smooth sailing.
There are still a couple “nickel and dime” charges that can take you by surprise and add up, though. Many hotels charge daily resort fees. If you are driving, the hotel and/or parks charge parking fees. If you’re staying nearby but beyond walking distance, you’ll have to factor in shuttle, taxi, or Uber costs to get to and from Disneyland Resort. Stroller, wheelchair, or ECV rentals should also be taken into consideration as needed. As with all other items, planning ahead and researching the most cost-friendly and trust-worthy options can make a huge difference.
Outside of these not-so-hidden fees, there are also additional “obvious” expenses that may be applicable to you depending on your plans and situation. Flight baggage, rental cars, passports, and more are just a few to keep in mind.
Where else can I save on costs?
Depending on where you’re traveling from to reach the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, travel and transportation costs are another area where you can be budget-conscious. This is a harder factor to predict across the board, as some more-local families can drive, while many require flights, but planning ahead is hugely helpful. Consider the best times of year to travel, and try to be flexible with your vacation dates. For my family, flights are one of our biggest expenses.
Keeping an eye out on budget airline costs and the most efficient departure and return dates can make a major difference in the overall cost of our trip. A couple other cost-saving items to keep an eye out for are hotels that include complimentary breakfast and transportation to the parks. To go the extra mile for little ones dying to dress up as their favorite characters, our secret is buying significantly lower cost costumes online before our trip. This rule is also applicable for any vacation necessities such as sunscreen, portable chargers, and more … it’s always cheaper to purchase in advance than at the hotel, in the park, or even at nearby convenience stores.
The most important thing to know when planning the cheapest Disneyland trip for your family is that there are tons of options available. Yes, things can be expensive, but planning ahead and spending money where it means the most to your family makes things much more bearable. If you take all of our tips into consideration, you can save literally hundreds of dollars and still have a totally awesome trip. What’s your favorite way to save a few bucks at Disneyland Resort? Share in the comments!