Planning a magical trip to Disneyland on a budget: 10 tips to save money, avoid stress

You don’t usually hear the words “Disney” and “budget” in the same sentence because “the most magical place on Earth” comes at a steep price.

But after two years in pandemic lockdown mode, and with Disneyland Resort parks in Anaheim, California, fully open and continue to modify their pandemic protocolsmy family was more than ready to splurge on a trip with newly vaccinated children.

A family trip to a Disney theme park can cost thousands of dollars. But there are tricks to keeping the trip relatively affordable without sacrificing magic. Read on for these tips, plus lessons to prevent your trip from becoming stressful and overly challenging.

1. Choose your park (and stay on the west coast)

Disneyland is smaller, less overwhelming, and so much easier to navigate than Disney World. There is less walking because all the rides are closer to each other. Not to mention it takes twice as long to get to Orlando, Florida as opposed to Southern California.

2. Choose a cheaper time of year if you can

There is no way around it: the entrance tickets are expensive. Prices vary, but walking through the doors each day will cost at least $100 per person. Prices – and crowds – are highest during school holidays. If you have the opportunity to go at a slow time of the year, do it.

3. Stay close and know your limits

Book a room within walking distance of attractions so you can take a lunch break and not feel like you’ve wasted half your day. Stay locally or, better yet, at a hotel across the street. Some off-site hotels are just as close to the parks as Disney hotels. And staying offsite can save you thousands of dollars.

Running around the park all day trying to squeeze everything in leads to sensory overload. Knowing when enough is enough; no journey is worth reaching the breaking point. You can head to your room for a nap or a swim or just to blend in a bit. Return to the park in the evening when travel times are shorter and stay for the fireworks.

4. Bring all the snacks

Disney food is cute but not good, and certainly not cheap. Not to mention sit-down meals that seriously cut into your time to do fun rides.

Instead, stop in for groceries or have basics sent to your hotel with a grocery delivery service like Instacart or Amazon Fresh. You can also sign up for Walmart+, which is free for 30 days, and they’ll deliver your groceries for free.

Stay ahead of the game: Bring string cheese, protein, and pre-cut fruit with you to the park. Bread, breakfast meat, baby carrots, bananas, and trail mix make for easy-to-carry lunches. You can bring any outside food into the park, but no alcohol, no glass containers, and no loose ice. Packing your own food and snacks is cheaper and healthier, a win-win.

You can also ask for free water at any quick service restaurant instead of paying $4.25 for a bottle of Dasani. Have breakfast at the hotel and avoid expensive character meals.

A princess breakfast costs $125 per person. Our food budget ended up at less than $10 per person per day.

5. Be smart about buying souvenirs

Buy your souvenirs (trading pins, bubble wands, etc.) on Amazon or the dollar store ahead of time to surprise your kids without breaking the bank. Those $30 ears everyone wears at the park? They are $4 on Amazon.

Target and Walmart stores near the parks also offer an excellent selection of Disney merchandise, well below Disney price.

6. Stock up on gift cards

Gift cards can help you stick to a budget because you can’t spend what you don’t have. Ask for Disney gift cards for birthdays and holidays. They can be used anywhere in the park, for anything. Pro tip: Disney gift cards are 5% off at Target with a RedCard.

7. Look for opinion videos on YouTube

Some children are born looking for thrills, others are rather cautious. You can reduce anxiety about scary rides by looking for YouTube videos that show exactly what you’re getting into. You’ll know if there are any triggers, like loud noises or black sections.

Let your child take the lead. Also be aware that if you come to the front of the line and change your mind, it’s perfectly okay to back off.

Noise-canceling headphones are a good option to have on hand, in case your child is overwhelmed by loud music or fireworks. Some rides are much less intense if you can cut them. Also, pack some stir-fries for queues or meals.

8. Use your stroller as a photographer

You’ll want to remember your trip with cute family photos, and Disney has photographers stationed at the parks ready to take group shots — for a fee. You knew there had to be a catch.

Extendable tripods and selfie sticks aren’t allowed in Disneyland parks, so we bought a miniature tripod that clips onto the stroller. Whenever we felt like taking a family photo, we put the camera on self-timer mode and our stroller acted as our photographer.

9. Families with special needs: Register for the DAS

Disneyland goes above and beyond to make sure its guests with special needs also have a great time.

The Disabled Access service allows you to request a return time for rides through the Disneyland app. DAS is not for people with mobility issues, but you may qualify for medical reasons like autism that make it difficult to wait in long lines.

Setting up with DAS is like already having Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, Disney’s two paid lane acceleration options. DAS pass holders go through the Lightning Lanes; you will not be tried for using the DAS for a hidden disability.

You don’t need to go to the ride to get the return time – it can be done anywhere once you’re in the park. Once you have checked in for a ride, you can select the next ride. The DAS pass includes six people in total, so your whole family can ride together.

You can pre-register for DAS online 2-30 days before your trip via text and video chat. The wait time for the online chat can take several hours, but once connected you will explain why you need the accommodation and why long waits are difficult. The cast members, what Disney calls its park employees, are kind and helpful.

It’s easy to register for DAS in person at Guest Relations, where there’s virtually no waiting. But if you pre-register online, you get two bonus advance reservations per day at the parks. There is no limit to the number of rides you book once you are in the park.

10. Go with the flow

Don’t plan too much. Mapping every minute of every day takes the magic away. You won’t be able to fit everything in and that’s okay.

Relax, be positive and see where the day takes you. Have so much fun! That’s the purpose of vacations, after all.

Comments are closed.