The truth is, this is my dream. To be able to experience Disneyland WITHOUT a budget. Unfortunately it hasn't happened. Does this mean that I won't go back to Disneyland until it does? Absolutely not! I LOVE Disneyland. As I walk in the front gates I get the same feeling that I do waking up Christmas morning. It's the one place that I feel like I can let everything go and just be a kid again. The only word to describe it is MAGICAL!
My guess is that we are not the only ones who have to experience Disney on a budget and there's nothing wrong with that. With a little careful planning, a little creativity and a lot of patience you can plan a Disneyland Vacation that meets your every expectation without robbing your child's college fund. I want to share a few tips that we have learned throughout our Disney travels.
First of all, we are a family of four with two small children so a lot of my tips are centered around the smaller ones. I'm going to break this down into a few different categories: Tickets, Hotel, Meals, Parking/Transportation, Souvenirs, and Miscellaneous Expenses. Tomorrow I will be discussing time and energy saving tips to get the most bang for your buck and make your trip stress free. (If that's even possible when you're surrounded by hundreds of screaming children)
1. PARK TICKETS
There are a variety of ways to purchase tickets for Disneyland. The first and most obvious is to buy them at the gate the day you arrive. Unfortunately, this is also the most expensive way to buy them. A one day park hopper ticket which allows you access to both Disneyland and California Adventure costs $91 for children ages 3-9 and $101 for ages 10 and up. You can also purchase tickets online at disneyland.com They offer special online discounts when purchasing 3, 4, 5 and 6 day hopper passes. The more days you stay, the more money you will save.
There are many things to consider when choosing a hotel for your visit. While cost is probably the most important factor, you may also want to consider proximity to the parks, if a continental breakfast is served, room vs. suite and so on. While there are 3 hotels located within Disneyland they can end up costing you hundreds of dollars a night so I suggest that you search for a DISNEYLAND GOOD NEIGHBOR HOTEL or other budget hotels in the area. Websites such as PRICELINE and EXPEDIA often have very good deals on hotels that can save you hundreds of dollars.
Lets just face the facts, food is EXPENSIVE at Disneyland. There is no way that the average family on a budget could afford to eat every meal at the park and still be able to afford all the yummy snacks and drinks they offer. My first suggestion, as I said above, is to find a hotel that offers a continental breakfast. You will save a lot of money if you're paying for one less meal every day. Our family also likes to pack donuts, pop tarts, granola bars and juice to snack on while we're waiting in line for the park to open. Another option if you are driving to the park is to pick something up on the way. There are several fast food chains located near Disneyland.
Coolers are not allowed in the park but you are allowed to bring snacks. We like to bring a backpack full of snacks which we leave in a LOCKER on Main Street (more on those in a bit) for easy access whenever we are hungry. We bring things like bottled water, juice boxes for the kids, jerky, fruit snacks and so on. I like to find snacks for the kids that have Disney characters on them so they still feel like they are getting something from the park. You can find many different varieties of Disney fruit snacks, cookies, crackers, and dried fruit crisps at Walmart and other grocery stores.
There are several restaurants within the park that serve great food but also are quite pricey. My absolute favorite and probably one of the most expensive is the BLUE BAYOU which is located in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Lunch entrees cost an average of $20-$39! Another restaurant, located in Frontier Land, is the BIG THUNDER RANCH BARBECUE where the average plate ranges from $15-$39 per person. There are a couple more budget friendly restaurants that I recommend. THE HUNGRY BEAR RESTAURANT, located in Critter Country and PIZZA PORT,located in Tomorrowland both offer great food for less than $14 per person. Another personal favorite is the BENGAL BARBECUE which is located near the Jungle Cruise and Enchanted Tiki Room. It offers delicious beef and chicken skewers, as well as pretzels and yummy deserts. The average meal is around $10 a person.
There are several other ways to save money on food when visiting Disneyland. Consider only eating one meal a day in the park. If you are staying in a hotel suite with a kitchen you can easily head back to the hotel in the afternoon when the children are in need of a nap and prepare dinner for a fraction of the cost you would spend in the park. You can also go to one of the many fast food restaurants located close by. Saving money on large meals will allow you some extra cash to splurge on some of the yummy treats that I mentioned at the beginning.
One of the great things about staying in a Good Neighbor Hotel or other hotel located close to the park is that they offer transportation to and from Disneyland. The ANAHEIM RESORT TRANSIT. will pick you up in front of your hotel and drop you off right outside the gates of Disneyland. It runs approximately every 20 minutes throughout the day so it is very convenient if you need to head back to your hotel for a little rest! It saves you time and eliminates the stress and headache of dealing with SELF PARKING and riding the tram into the park. The cost for a 1 day pass for unlimited use is $4 for ages 10 and up and $1 for ages 3-9. They also offer 3 and 5 day passes for a discounted rate. Parking your own vehicle for one day at Disneyland ranges from $15-$25.
I can guarantee that at some point during the trip you will get so tired of your child saying "I want that!" " I need that!" "Will you buy me that?" that you will finally give in and spend a ridiculous amount of money on something they don't need just to shut them up. I know that sounds harsh but it is true. You may say, "We just won't go into the gift shops", but those Disney people are smarter than you. They won't let you avoid it. They suck you in by making you walk through the gift shops as you exit the rides. There's no other way out. They trap you and set you up for those "I want, I want, I want" moments. This is where your creativity comes into play.
There are several ways to save money on souvenirs. We are going to Disneyland in a couple weeks so I will share with you some of the ideas I have come up with. First of all, I made T-shirts for the kids to wear. I also made a Minnie Ear Headband for my daughter and a Mickey Ear Pirate Hat for my son which saved me about $12 for each if I were to buy them in the park. Using t-shirts I bought at the Dollar Store and all other materials that I already had on hand, I spent a whopping $4! I will have a separate post about them later in the week.
Now if you're not the crafty type and don't want to make shirts or hats there are still plenty of options for saving money. You can find Mickey, Minnie and many other Disney character t-shirts and sweatshirts at Walmart for as low as $5. You can also check party supply stores and websites such as THIS one for cheap Disney products.
Also keep in mind that even the local stores outside of Disneyland still have a higher markup on many items so make sure you come prepared and purchase these items before you leave home.
Well, I hope I have given you some useful tips to make your next Disney vacation both affordable and enjoyable. It may take some time and energy to find good deals but it is well worth it in the end when you can give your children the trip of a lifetime without breaking the bank!