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How to Enjoy Disneyland on a Budget: Save Money With These Tips & Hacks!

Posted by Jelinne Navarro on
Disneyland on a budget tips and hacks

A trip to Disneyland isn’t exactly cheap. You have to consider a lot of things including transportation, hotel and food. Does this mean that those on a budget can’t enjoy the happiest place on Earth? The answer is a big no! If you play your cards right (aka plan it really well), you can enjoy an affordable trip to Disneyland with your loved ones. Check out our tips below so you can stretch your dollar while still having a blast in the most magical theme park in the world!

The best Disneyland budget tips

 Little girl enjoying Disneyland budget trip

Let’s be realistic here… Disneyland is definitely the type of trip that you splurge on. The cost for tickets is enough to give you a mini heart attack! But that being said, there are other ways of saving your hard earned money on a Disneyland trip. Keep in mind that in this blog post, we’re specifically referring to the theme park in Anaheim, California.

1. Make an off-season trip - It’s like hitting two birds with one stone! Ticket prices are higher during regular and peak season. Then there’s the problem with crowds --- you can’t enjoy the park when you’re constantly lining up for rides. So to make the most out of your budget trip, plan a visit to Disneyland during the off season.

Here’s a little breakdown of the different tourist seasons in the theme park:

❌ Peak Season - The busiest time for the theme park! Happens during spring break (March to April), summer break (July to August) and Christmas season to New Year’s Eve. It’s fun because the theme park is festive during these times but you’ll spend more money and have to work your way into most rides.

❌ Regular Season - Times when the theme park is busy but not as crowded! Regular season is from the months of October until the first few weeks of December. Ticket prices aren’t the cheapest but you’ll get some discount compared to the peak season.

✅ Off Season - The best time to go! This is when crowds are the least, ticket prices are at their lowest and you can make the most out of your trip. Off season is divided into 2: from mid-January to May and from early September to early October. Notice that these times are usually when the kids have school. Also take note that some rides or attractions might be closed or have shortened hours (especially during January to February).

*Note: Opt for weekdays instead of weekends (whether it’s peak, regular or off season). It’s added assurance that there’s going to be less crowds! When in doubt, you can always use a crowd calendar tracker!

2. Perks of staying at onsite hotel - Staying in any of the 3 Disneyland onsite hotels isn’t exactly cheap. But there are some perks associated with it which might pique your interest!

Perks of staying with onsite Disney hotel:

 Full Disney experience - It’s the little details that count when you have kids with you! When you stay at a Disneyland hotel, you get the full Disney experience. From the room decor, to the view from your windows and the overall service, everything has a touch of the Disney magic.

 “Extra Magic Hour” - This might be the most important perk of staying at an onsite hotel. Resort guests get to access the theme park an hour early (everyday of their stay) before it officially opens to the public! It’s a good time to visit the most popular rides or get FastPass tickets. Learn more about Extra Magic Hour here (including the schedule).

 Character dining restaurants - Imagine enjoying your waffle breakfast when Mickey Mouse suddenly shows up! The kids will love this addition to the whole experience. Definitely reserve in advance.

 Disney themed activities - Just a normal part of the Disney magic! When you stay at any of the Disneyland resorts, you’ll have the chance of joining in Disney-themed activities (like trivia time and scavenger hunts).

*Note: If your budget can be stretched, a stay in a Disneyland resort is ideal. The cheapest onsite property is the Paradise Pier (about $100 cheaper compared to the 2 other hotels). Don’t forget you’ll need to book your theme park tickets separately! Want more freebies? Try their vacation packages (although it doesn’t necessarily save you more).

3. Perks of staying at off site hotel - For those with a tight budget, you can opt to stay at a good neighboring hotel. In fact, Disneyland has partnered with over 45 off site hotels to spread the magic outside the property. They’re still within walking distance from the theme park and are within budget.

Budget hotel for Disneyland trip

Perks of staying with off site Disney hotel:

 Cheaper - Book your hotel a couple of months in advance and you can save more! Even last minute bookings can save you anywhere from 150 to 200 bucks compared to booking an onsite Disneyland property. Those are huge savings that you can allot instead to food or shopping.

 Free breakfast - Ticking off one meal of the day can save you more than you think. Most neighboring hotels offer free breakfast for guests!

 Free parking - Parking fees at Disneyland lots cost anywhere between $15 to $20. That’s another advantage of staying off site, most of the time parking is free with your accommodation. Hotels have shuttles to transport staying guests to the Disneyland entrance (sometimes free).

Want some recommendations? Here’s our list of the Best Budget Hotels Near Disneyland! Got a big family? Here’s a list of recommended vacation rentals near the park.

4. To drive or to fly - If you live 2 to 4 states away, consider driving to Disneyland in Anaheim, CA. Even with the gas and meals factored in, you’ll save more compared to taking a flight. Driving also works best for big families because ticket prices can add up! On the other hand, if you live more than 4 states away, it is more practical to take a flight. You’ll save time and effort that way.

5. The more you stay, the bigger the savings - Yup, it’s true! The more days you allot for your Disneyland adventure, the bigger your savings. This is applicable for 3, 4 and 5 day tickets mostly. Plus, if you purchase any of these 3 tickets, you’re entitled to a “Magic Morning” treat. That is, you can access certain attractions in Disneyland Park one hour earlier than the general public (for 1 day only)! Pro Tip: Three days is more than enough time to explore both Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park.

6. Skip the Park Hopper add on - The Park Hopper add on lets you hop from one park to the other (since the 2 are just a few minutes away). It’s a good idea for those with limited time (1 to 2 days tops). However, it costs around $40 to $60 more depending on the number of days on your ticket. If you’re already spending 3 days or more in Anaheim, you’ll have enough time to explore both parks on separate days. You won’t need to hop over from one part to the other to maximize your time.

California Adventure Park tips

7. Get discounted tickets - It’s tricky to find discounted tickets for Disneyland. But it’s possible if you know where to look! And that’s usually not on the Disneyland website.

Here’s a few ways of getting those price-slashed tickets:

 Book via AAA - If you’re a member of the American Automobile Association (AAA), you can book a Disneyland package through their travel agent. You’ll sometimes save a few dollars off the original ticket prices. If not, you might get free gift cards. Also, don’t be afraid to ask Cast Members if they have discounts for AAA members (especially on dining areas)!

 SoCal City Pass - Another good option if you’re planning to visit LegoLand and SeaWorld (in San Diego, CA) during your trip. You get incredible value for your money with this pass. Although keep in mind the distance between these attractions (1.5 hrs) especially if you’re not bringing your own car.

 Disneyland ticket budget tip

 Unconventional ways - If you know a Cast Member or you’re a relative of a former military, these are other ways of getting discounted tickets. There are also websites offering slashed ticket prices but buy at your own risk! You can also scout for Timeshare Presentations in nearby hotels. They will sometimes offer free Disneyland tickets in exchange for your time.

8. All about the Annual Pass (AP) - The Annual Pass lets you visit one or both parks unlimited times in a year! We think it’s worth the investment if you live close to the Disneyland area. It definitely pays for itself around your 4th visit to the theme park.

Plus, you get more perks as well:

 Discounts - You get 10% to 15% discounts on specialty dining areas. There’s also a 10% to 20% discount on selected merchandise. If you’re booking an onsite hotel, you can get as much as a 30% discount depending on the season!

 Events - Get first dibs on movie screenings or special treatment during events!

 Free parking - Only applicable to Disney Signature and Disney Signature Plus Annual Passport holders!

*Bonus Tip: Disney Vacation Club (DVC) members get special discounts on annual passes!

9. Disney Visa Card from Chase bank - Have an account with Chase? Go for a Disney visa card! Since you’re on a budget, opt for the no annual fee option. For every purchase you make using the card, you get 1% in rewards which you can then use for your Disneyland ticket.

Other Disneyland perks of a Disney Visa Card:

 Discounts - Get 10% off purchases above $50 from select Disneyland stores. You can also get 10% discounts in selected Disneyland service restaurants!

 Photo opportunities - Exclusive photo opportunities at selected locations in Disneyland with free downloads of photos!

10. Target Red Card for discounts - Most budgetarians love Target! You can get pretty much anything in the store. There’s a Target Red Card which saves you 5% for purchases done daily. But how can you use that for your Disneyland trip? Simple! Find Disney Gift Cards in your Target store and purchase using the Target Red Card. You can apply these gift cards to your online Disney account and save tons on your ticket price! Or you can also use them for Disneyland purchases, dining or hotel packages.

11. Download the Disneyland mobile app - It won’t necessarily save you money but it can help you maximize your time in the park. And for us, that’s a huge plus! Learn about the different attractions and where to find them. You can also check the wait times on your favorite rides. Get to know FastPass details and when or where your fave Disney characters would show up.

12. Purchase Disney gear outside the park (before the trip) - Go to your local Target store and you’ll find an assortment of Disney-themed shirts, dresses and bags. Don’t forget to use your Target Red Card to get a 5% discount! Also, Amazon is your best friend for CHEAP Disney gear. Like this Mickey Mouse toddler backpack under 15 bucks. Or this set of Minnie and Mickey ears your little ones would adore! Never buy these items inside the theme park (prices are double or triple). Also, it’s the perfect way to get the kids excited about the trip BEFORE you even leave the house!

Disneyland saving money tips

13. Consider time-saving apps - You’ll be happy if you can tick off as many items on your list as you can. And that’s where time-saving apps come in handy...

Here’s some of our favorite recommendations:

 MaxPass - An app from the Disney team itself! MaxPass lets you redeem FastPass selections right from your phone. Instead of getting your FastPass tickets or reservations from the physical attraction, you can do it with a few clicks from your phone. Granted, you still have to wait for 90 minutes in between FastPass reservations… But you save time walking in between attractions! MaxPass is available for an additional $15 per day.

 RideMax - This app creates a custom itinerary for your Disneyland trip FOR YOU! Select your preferred attractions, input them in the app and it would create an itinerary you. Not just any, but one that lets you make the most out of the limited time you have! The cheapest plan is under $15 but don’t purchase it until a few days before your trip (it has an expiration date).

14. Bring your own stroller - A single stroller costs $15 to rent per day ($25 for 2 strollers). That’s $45 for a 3-day Disneyland trip! If you’re driving, it’s easy to bring your own. But if you’re flying, it could be a hassle. You can opt to rent from an off site agency (cheaper plus you can use the stroller outside the park). Or you can also opt to buy a cheap umbrella type stroller locally.

Stroller for Disneyland trip

**Thanks to Livi for this awesome photo!

15. Know the “Rider Lanes” - They can save you precious time when you know the different rider lanes. Of course when you save time, you get the most out of your money and trip!

In most Disneyland rides, there are three types of lanes:

✔ Regular - When you see an estimated waiting time at the end of a line, that pertains to the regular queue. Avoid this lane if the estimated waiting time is 30 minutes and above!

Disney ride tip

✔ FastPass - Some rides have a FastPass option. It means  you can bypass the regular line for some rides. To do so, you place your ticket into a FastPass machine and it will print out a return time reminder. Return to the specific ride during your allotted time, scan your ticket at the machine in the FastPass line and skip to the indoor line!

🎢 Rides with FastPass:

Big Thunder Mountain (Frontierland) 

② Buzz Lightyear (Tomorrowland)

③ Haunted Mansion (New Orleans Square)

④ Indiana Jones (Adventureland)

⑤ It's a Small World (Fantasyland)

⑥ Matterhorn (Fantasyland)

⑦ Roger Rabbit (Toontown)

⑧ Space Mountain (Tomorrowland)

⑨ Splash Mountain (Critter Country)

⑩ Star Tours (Tomorrowland)

⑪ Fantasmic (Show)

✔ Single Rider - If you don’t mind being separated from your family for one ride, there’s also a single rider line. Not all rides have it though! It’s the quickest lane because you’ll be a space filler each round. This line goes fast! 

🎢 Rides with Single Rider Lane:

Indiana Jones

Splash Mountain

Space Mountain

④ Matterhorn

*The Rider Switch - Maybe your child isn’t allowed to ride? Or they want to skip out on this one? Parents don’t have to wait in line twice if they want to enjoy that ride. Disneyland has this awesome privilege for them known as Rider Switch. A parent can wait with the non-rider while the other parent can enjoy the ride (alone or with another kid). Once done, it’s the supervising parent’s turn to enjoy the ride while the first parent waits with the non-rider!

16. Pack the essentials - The good thing about Disneyland is that they aren’t as strict with the items you bring inside (within reason). If you’ve got kids with you, pack all of their essentials in a backpack to save money! Buying stuff from the theme park can be very expensive, every little purchase adds up.

Inside your Disneyland tote bag:

✔ First aid kit - Pack any prescription medications and regular medications. Don’t forget relief meds for headache, stomach upsets and fever (for the kids). Bandaids and antibiotic cream are also must haves in your DIY first aid kit. Use our Extra Small Cube as your first aid pouch. It has a see-through design and an easy-grip handle so you can grab it during emergencies.

Disneyland First Aid Kit

✔ Toiletries - Sunscreen is a must! You can also pack some powder, hand sanitizer, alcohol and travel-size wipes. Basic things to keep you fresh and clean during your Disneyland adventure. Our TSA approved clear toiletry bag is the perfect pouch for these items!

✔ Sunglasses - For everyone, even the little ones. Protect their eyes from an early age!

Essentials for Disney trip

**Thanks to Livi for this awesome photo!

✔ Hat - Don’t forget the Mickey Mouse hat!

✔ Change of clothes - Pack a change of clothes for each member of your family too! It feels good to change into something clean after a day of sweating and ice cream stains. Also, if you decide to do the water ride this is a must! Use our Small Packing Cube to keep your clean clothes separate from other items in your bag.

✔ Gadgets and portable charger - Get your camera ready and your phone charged for lots of photo ops in the theme park! But don’t forget your portable charger (you won’t have much time to plug into a power outlet).

17. On food and water - Unlike other theme parks, Disneyland doesn’t restrict the food and water you can take inside the park. The only rules are: 1. No alcohol, 2. No glass containers, and 3. No rolling ice coolers. But you can pack as much as you like when it comes to food and water! Below are some more tips you can use.

Food essentials for Disney trip

Food hacks:

✔ Give each kid a snack tote - You’ll love our Small Cube for this hack! Each kid’s bag should have their own set of snacks. Allot one cube for snacks for each kid so they have easy access during hangry moments. Pack some trail mix, dried fruit, cookies, chips and whatever your kids like inside!

✔ Pack foods that won’t spoil easily - Dairy products are a big no-no especially in the Californian heat! Pre-packed foods like those mentioned above are good. Some PB & J sandwiches, granola bars and even cereals are good too.

✔ Eat breakfast outside the park - If your hotel serves free breakfast, take advantage of it! Otherwise, opt for restaurant chains close to the theme park for breakfast. You can also purchase packed breakfast sandwiches at CVS near Harbor Boulevard (a few miles from Disneyland).

✔ Affordable dining options onsite - There are also some dining options inside the park that won’t break the bank. Our personal fave is the Plaza Inn’s Fried Chicken value meal (comes with 3 pieces of chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuit and veggies). It is just under 18 bucks and can serve 2 people! Another good option is the French Market Chicken (half chicken, mashed potatoes and seasonal veggies) which is under 15 bucks.

Water hacks:

✔ Bring your own water bottle - You can always refill it at water fountains inside the park! You can also fill it with water in most service restaurants.

✔ Freeze water bottles the night before - After a long day of walking, you’ll need to stay hydrated. So freeze a couple of water bottles the night before your trip so you can enjoy the cold goodness a few hours into the park!

18. Freebies, freebies, freebies! - Disneyland is the best place for freebies so don’t be afraid to get your share of goodies. Here’s a few items you can add to your Disney stash:

Disney freebies to save money

Freebies in Disneyland:

✔ Jungle Cruise Map - After an exhilarating tour of Asia, Africa and South America, grab your free Jungle Cruise Map to complete the experience! Go to the tour desk and ask for the map of the cruise (great for coloring for young kids).

✔ Celebratory Pins / Buttons - You can get themed buttons too! Our faves are the birthday, honorary citizen and first time visit ones. Stroll inside the City Hall on Main Street to pick yours! Sometimes they’ll give you pins at the ticketing booth too.

✔ Sourdough Bread - Join the Boudin Bakery tour and get a sample of their delish sourdough bread!

✔ Ghirardelli Chocolate - Walk through the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop for a free chocolate square (flavor changes depending on season).

✔ Stickers - Be nice to Cast Members and you might just get free Disney stickers!

19. Be at the park before “Rope Drop” - That’s Disney speak for, “Be at the park early”. You’ve already budgeted for your trip to Disneyland, so why not make the most out of it? Rope drop is the official opening ceremony for all Disney parks. It occurs 15 to 20 minutes before the scheduled opening time. However, opening times vary depending on the season (usually later for off season). Check the official Disneyland website for more accurate schedules.

The Disneyland rope drop hack:

✔ Best done during non Magic Hours - If a Magic Hour is happening in Disneyland, do the rope drop hack in the Disney California Adventure or vice versa!

✔ Be at the park an hour early before opening time - Yes, you’ll need to cut on your beauty sleep for the rope drop hack. But we promise you, it’s worth it! If opening time is at 7:00 AM, so be at the gate around 6/6:30 AM. If you’re staying at a nearby hotel, that means waking up as early as 5:00am (factor in parking). If you’re up this early, you can always eat breakfast a few hours into the park (instead of at 5:00 AM).

✔ Get your tickets ahead of time - It’s best to book them online! You don’t want to get to the park early but then lose time just lining up in the ticket booth. With an online ticket, you don’t need to wait in line. You’ll beat the line and just have your e-Ticket scanned at the gate!

✔ Beat the crowds to the most popular rides - With the rope drop hack, you have an extra 15 to 20 minutes inside the park. You beat the late birds and get to experience the few moments of a less busy park. Our advice is to go ahead and ride the most popular attractions. Head to Fantasyland, ride Peter Pan’s Flight, Matterhorn and Alice in Wonderland. Then grab passes for Space Mountain, Star Tours and Indiana Jones. For the rest of the day, you can ride the less popular attractions!

20. Set a budget for souvenirs - It’s a sad but true fact: Souvenir shopping inside Disneyland can take a huge lump in your budget. And Disney knows how to tug at kid’s hearts. All the cutest items can be found at every turn in the park! But we’re here to assure you, the Disney magic still exists even if you don’t spend a fortune for all the souvenirs! You can allot a budget for souvenir shopping or even give a gift card for each kid in your family. It teaches them control, decision making and most importantly, saves you money!

No gift budget, no problem:

✔ The best things in life are free - Or at least already included in the price you paid! Save those tickets, maps and photos. They can serve as souvenirs from your magical trip to Disneyland.

Disneyland photos

✔ Bring your own autograph book - Like this Mickey Mouse autograph book which is a fraction of the price of the ones at Disneyland! Collect signatures of Disney characters in the park and you’ll have a unique souvenir to take home. You can even insert your kid’s photo with the character in each signature page.

✔ Pressed coins - An inexpensive and unique souvenir! There are over 70 press coin machines in Disneyland alone. And it won’t cost you more than 2 bucks to press one!

✔ Free photo - Ride the Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters’ attraction and get a free photo by the end of the ride! Head on to one of the kiosks and send the photo to your email for download or print.

✔ Jedi Training Academy pin - This is a fun one! You can pre-register your kid for Jedi training (first come, first serve basis). They learn the ways of the Jedi and use The Force to beat the Dark Side. At the end of the training, they get a button saying they’ve completed the Jedi training. Pretty cool souvenir if you ask us!

Need help in planning for your Disney adventure? We have the Best Tips and a FREE Disney Family Packing List that you can refer to right here. Print and check the essentials for a fun trip to Disney!

Did you enjoy our tips for enjoying Disneyland on a budget? We had so much fun curating this list for you! Did we miss any more tips or hacks for a budget trip to Disneyland? Share them in the comments section below!

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