It’s no secret that Disneyland can get extremely expensive very easily. On my most recent trip, my husband (then fiancé) and I were determined to spend the least amount of money possible on the trip while his parents and siblings went wild, buying all kinds of delicious meals and awesome souvenirs. We didn’t exactly end up sticking to the plan, but I did learn some valuable lessons and tips on how to successfully do Disney on a budget.
I want to start with my personal favorite Disney expense: shopping. You can spend as much or as little money as you want here, but there can also be some unnecessary expenses that a little bit of planning ahead can prevent you from having to pay.
I started watching Disney haul videos on YouTube to figure out what kind of souvenirs I would want to buy when we were there, and I made a pretty good plan ahead of time for what I was looking for. However, I wasn’t expecting that ornaments would be $40 and Minnie ears would be $30. I did find a couple ways around this, though. One tip I’ve heard countless times (that I wish I would’ve followed) is to order Disney merch online before your trip. In the age of Etsy, you can buy custom made ears and tons of unique pins to trade before you even leave on your trip (this is also great if you’re bringing kids to the park with you. Hello dollar store buzz lightyear when they start asking for the $15 one in the gift shop). To beat the high cost of ornaments, we opted for a big keychain that we later removed the key ring from and tied a cute ribbon around it instead (we did the same thing at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and I’m obsessed with my cute little ornaments).
We went to Disneyland in May 2016 (the end of May to be more specific) and we ended up actually having to buy a $40 sweatshirt because it was so cold during the nighttime shows. We had been expecting 90 degree weather the whole time we were there that we hadn’t even thought of bringing sweatshirts for the evening. Although we now have a super awesome souvenir, it was an avoidable expense. Luckily we remembered to bring sunscreen, sunglasses, gum, and all the other necessities (check out my park essentials post to hear more about what to bring) or else we would have shelled out even more cash for these in the park.
The next category we’ll go over is tickets, transportation, and accommodations.
I’ve seen all kinds of posts on Pinterest explaining all of the different websites you can get discounted park tickets on, but I’m not going to go over all that. What I will say regarding tickets is this: Unlike Disneyworld, it’s absolutely essential to get the park hopper option when purchasing your park tickets. In WDW, each of the 4 parks are massive with tons of things to do, and you can easily spend a full day in each. Not to mention the transportation between parks can take up a lot of your park time, so you’re usually better off just staying in one park for a full day. This is not the case with Disneyland. Disneyland and California Adventure are about 500 feet apart from each other, making it so easy to bounce back and forth throughout the day. When one park starts to get crowded, it’s so convenient to walk over to the other one and enjoy the short lines. Don’t skip your park hopper, friends.
Transportation and Accommodation:
Disneyland is extremely unique in the sense that unlike Disneyworld, you’re actually much closer to the parks staying at an off-site hotel. The money you save far outweighs the benefits you get staying on-site since Disneyland doesn’t currently have MagicBands, FastPass+, or Disney Dining Plan, so the only perk you’re getting is the Extra Magic Hours. In my experience, the park is pretty quiet in the mornings and everyone usually leaves right after the evening shows are over, so save yourself the money and stay in one of the Good Neighbor hotels.
Most (if not every) hotel near Disneyland offers a free (or cheap) shuttle to and from the airport, so you shouldn’t need to rent a car during your trip. Ask the front desk about the shuttle schedule while booking your room.
Another quick tip is regarding entertainment. The Golden Horseshoe restaurant in Frontier Land offers dinner and a show (and air conditioning) for just the cost of the meal (which is a quick service and usually around $10 a person. This is super cheap entertainment and an easy way to get out of the heat and rest.
Next up, lets go over my husband’s favorite thing: Disneyland Food.
At Disneyland, you’re going to run into an average price of $5 per snack, $3 per drink, and $10-$15 quick service meal (quick service means anything where you walk up to the window and order, no waiters).
A quick tip to cut down on costs is to buy one meal and split it. This can be especially beneficial for small kids, but I find that even two adults can easily split a meal at Disneyland (or at the very least a drink). The portion sizes are so much bigger than you would get anywhere else! (Pizza Port is hands down the best bang for your buck! Just google their pasta dishes, they’re absolutely huge for one person to scarf down). Not to mention smaller meals throughout the day means you can go on more rides without having to worry about stomachaches.
One of my favorite Disney tips is to refill your water bottles. We usually buy one water bottle for each of us in the morning of our first day and refill it over and over throughout the rest of our vacation. You also get free water at restaurants, so if you ask for water in one of their large cups or ask to refill your water bottle with ice and soda fountain water, they’ll usually let you.
A lot of people don’t know this, but you can actually bring your own food and snacks into the parks. This can save you tons of money (especially if you’re bringing kids with you).
That’s all the tips I have for you on how we managed to go to Disneyland on a budget! Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you next time!