I am a big fan of all things Disney. Yes, I’m “one of those.” Growing up I was extremely fortunate to have a grandmother that took my brother and I on regular vacations to visit family in Orlando and we got to go to Disney World. Imagine, all four parks with a grandmother that spoils you rotten, consequentially setting the bar ridiculously high for future trips. Thanks Grandma!
Fast forward to being an adult with four kids, a mortgage, and wanting to set up college funds.. extravagant Disney trips tend to fall further down on the list of priorities.. until recently! With a bit of research, pulling from past experiences (yes we’ve gone to Disneyland before), and some savvy budget skills, here are all the details of our May 2018 Disneyland trip.
Everyone’s needs are going to be different; whether you’re coming in from out of state or another part of California, if you’ll have transportation or relying on other means, or traveling with a small vs large group to name a few. When reading this, keep in mind that we live in Northern California so we rented a minivan, were financially responsible for two adults and five kids (we took my little sister along), and travelled with a large group of extended family (party of fourteen altogether). While our circumstances may not mirror yours, hopefully you can pull something helpful from this experience.
Lodging: After much research, I found a great deal for a 4BR/2BA house on Airbnb for $775 after a $40 introductory discount offer (get yours here), which was split between three families. The house was beautiful (see below), way more comfortable than a hotel, and was the perfect space for quality family time.
Airbnb $775 = ~ $259/”Three hotel rooms” = ~$86/night
+ a full kitchen, game room, washer & dryer
+ a backyard for the kids to play
– parking/resort fees
Never used Airbnb? Click here for a full breakdown!
Other Booking Websites
- Hotwire: Like to live on the wild side? Set your neighborhood, star rating, price and amenity preference to score a low price on an unknown hotel. I usually shoot for the highest star hotel available in the South East end of Anaheim because I like the shopping and food selection there. When selecting your hotel, be mindful of added resort or parking fees, and know that once chosen Hotwire does not issue refunds. *Tip* If you mirror the same search criteria on Hotwire and Hotels.com (next website mentioned) sometimes you can guess the secret Hotwire hotel by comparing customer hotel reviews on both sites. They have different offers AND coupon codes for their app so check that out too.
- Hotels.com: I mostly use this site for cross reference purposes but sometimes they have email a useful coupon or host a pretty good one day only sale. What’s also nice is that you can earn a free hotel stay if you consistently book with them. *Tip* Book individual hotel nights to earn your free stay faster.
- Hotel Tonight: Offering great deals on last minute trips (yes you can use them to plan in advance as well) I love that this site highlights a lot of newly renovated businesses and boutiques that aren’t found elsewhere. Note that prices reflected are based on a two person occupancy, so once booked you should call the business to let them know how many people are in your party so that they can adjust bed offerings as needed. *Tip* New users can save $25 off their first booking of $135 or more when you click here. Then share your code with family and friends to earn credits toward future bookings!
Transportation: We paid $275 for a minivan with pick up on Sunday and return the following Saturday. When booking transportation here are a few things to consider;
- Book in Advance: prices are definitely cheaper way in advance. As your trip gets closer, inventory lessens and prices rise.. so don’t wait!
- Search Airport locations: they tend to have a larger inventory, and again, better prices as opposed to independent local lots.
- Play with dates/times: your rate is based on daily, hourly, and weekly rates. Monday & Thursday are busy times for business travelers, while Friday & Sunday rentals are in high demand for leisure customers. Try picking up/dropping off around high peak days and times to see if your rate changes.
- Shop Around: Company websites, Hotwire.com (again, if you’re ok with a surprise vehicle), and CheapCarRentals.com are a few sites that I use. If you are flying, take note of the lesser known companies like FOX or AVR, who are great but their shuttle service from baggage claim to car pick ups run less frequently.
- Is it Necessary: for single travelers/small groups/short trips, consider using Uber or Lyft for your transportation needs! Most Anaheim hotels offer shuttle service to/from the airport and Disneyland park. If you don’t plan on doing much other than that, a ride service may suffice, plus new users get credit toward their first Lyft (here) and Uber ride (here)
Flights: Being a family of six, it is very rare that we fly anywhere for vacation, but when we do the following sites with their flash sale prices have been our go to’s;
- Southwest: For 72 hours, short distance flights are offered for $49 and up for a one way ticket. Sign up for email notifications straight to your inbox!
- JetBlue: Similarly, JetBlue offers cheap flights for a limited amount of time, but for only $20-$39! Sign up for email notifications because these fares go FAST.
- Frontier/Spirit Airlines: The most frugal, no frills way to travel.. if you are able to bypass the extra fees. FSA offers $40-50 fares regularly, and if you can pack light or don’t care where you sit on the plane, you’re good to go! Each passenger is allowed one small carry on (think, backpack under the seat), and any checked in baggage will be charged a fee EACH way of your flight (we’ve been able to pack efficiently into one large luggage, and minimized our check in fees). Frequent traveller? Their $9 fare club may work for you, for only $59.95 for the first year, enjoy perks like lower fares, lower baggage fees, and earn miles toward free flights! Click here to learn more.
Park Tickets: The NUMBER ONE question I am asked is, “How do you save on park tickets?” Unfortunately, the answer is that there are only a few ways and none of them are “amazing” deals. The biggest savings Disneyland offers is when you buy multi day, multi park tickets, but we normally only visit one park each vacation. Don’t be discouraged, because if you save elsewhere on your trip, the ticket prices may seem less of a blow. Here are a few ways we have saved on single day, single park tickets in the past;
- Give a Day, Get a Day: It seemed like a fairytale, but in 2010 Disney launched a volunteer program and anyone that completed ten hours of community service through a participating organization received a FREE park voucher. It was amazing to say the least and I always encourage others to follow the Disney blog for possible future opportunities.
- Annual Passholders Bring a Friend: Know a Disney fanatic with an annual pass? Til 9/3/2018 Annual Passholders can purchase up to two one day park hopper tickets for $89, a forty percent savings!
- Special Groups: Military, Teacher/Student, Kaiser, particular credit unions, and AAA members (to name a few) are groups that can purchase discounted tickets for themselves, family, and friends. Usually done through their employer or a special ticketing service separate from the park, so call before you go!
- Gift Card Promotions: If you have time to plan before your trip, this option is a great way to save on tickets, but is a little complicated so bare with me. The jest of it is to take advantage of gift card promotions throughout the year, by buying Disney gift cards, and then using those gift cards to purchase your tickets/food/souvenirs at the park. It goes without saying that you should calculate how much you plan on spending at the park before purchasing any gift cards;
- Target – During the holidays, Target has an annual sale of 10% off any gift card, Disney included. You do have to do multiple trips & transactions for this as there is a $300 limit “per household,” but that’s a decent savings for a family of six that needs almost $700 for admission alone.
- Grocery Stores – Sometimes grocery stores have the promo “Buy $50 of any gift card, get a $10 grocery store gift card back.” While this doesn’t save you on Disneyland tickets, it DOES save you the cash you were going to spend on groceries. If you set a grocery budget like me, you can apply those gift cards toward your next budget, and apply the cash elsewhere (like things for your trip that can’t be paid for in Disney gift cards). On our last trip, I purchased $1000 in Disney gift cards (for park tickets and Goofy’s Kitchen) and got back $200 in grocery store gift cards. On my next $250 grocery budget, I only had to use $50 in cash and applied the $200 savings elsewhere! *Hope that makes sense*
Ready? Set? Before You Go
Set Your Budget: There’s literally nothing worse than that after vacation regret of “where did all our money go?” and having to eat off Top Ramen for two weeks after you get back. Planning out our trip, agreeing what we wanted to spend our money on, and tracking our expenses throughout our trip left us feeling satisfied and less stressed when we returned home.
- DoorDash: learn more here! Refer family & friends to build up account credits to use on vacation
- Dollar Times: click here to calculate your gas expenses! We budgeted more because we thought we were going to drive around the city
- Disney Dollars: for those with a Disney Chase credit card, check your statement to see if you earned credits to apply toward your trip. You also get special photo opps and retail discounts in park
- Goofy’s Kitchen: was more than budgeted for because we forgot that gratuity is added for large groups
Plan Your Meals: Even if you have never set a meal plan before, deciding what snacks to bring, when you’ll eat out, and when you’ll splurge will stretch your dollar further than dining on a whim!
PreGame: Deck yourself out in Disney gear BEFORE you get there. Not only does it get your family excited for the upcoming trip, but you’ll also spend less at the park;
- Family Shirts – Shop The Disney Store, Target, and other major retailers for Disney themed gear
- Mickey Ears – I like shopping for these beforehand because then you get to enjoy them the whole time you’re at the park. I’m sure there are tons of DIY posts on Pinterest, but I haven’t ventured there yet. I stick to Etsy and shop LuLu’s Minnie Ears. Great customer service and responds promptly to large or custom orders
- Toys/Souvenirs – I know many moms that collect discounted Disney toys and play Tinkerbell while on vacation. Similar to the tooth fairy, Tinkerbell leaves children gifts while they are sleeping
- Glow Sticks – Hit up your local dollar discount store and snatch up glow sticks or other glow items. When it’s time for the fireworks, your kids will have fun playing with these while they wait for the show to start.. and not ask for the $20-$30 glow toys sold in park
- DISNEY EVERYTHING – From our water bottler to the bags that held our snacks, my kids see this dang mouse everywhere!
10 Final Disney Thoughts:
Things I love, things I do, things I wish others had told me
- Bring food: YES you can bring food into the park; take weather into consideration, bring restaurant packed condiments, and cheese does not hold up well. Bring an empty water bottle (or two) with packets of instant coffee and powdered juice. My favorites to bring are fruit snacks, granola bars, and crackers.
- 51 cent Souvenirs: My kids love collecting from penny machines. For 51 cents you receive a flattened penny with a Disney design of your choice. There are different designs throughout the park, so its nice to visit stores in-between rides and check out what they have to offer. Purchase a book that displays their pennies for only $12.99 at most shops in park.
- View Menus Beforehand: Every restaurant and cart is listed online! Pricing, gluten free/vegetarian/vegan options, and allergy info are all available so that you can plan your trip in advance.
- Download the App: View wait times, make dining reservations, view in park pictures instantly, or upgrade to a Max Pass all on your phone! Max passes can be added for $10 per person and are a great deal IMO. Not only does it let you schedule your Fast Passes on your phone (vs walking to each attraction), but you get unlimited non water marked pictures from cast member photographers. Ever get tired of asking strangers to take your picture or a parent is missing because someone has to be the sacrificial photographer? This solves that so go picture crazy!
- Re Entry: Sure you want to maximize your time at the park, but traveling with young ones or grandparents can get tiring. Head back to the hotel for a mid day nap without fear! Re entry is allowed for the park, parking, and even locker rentals!
- Back Up Chargers: Having your phone die isn’t ideal, so remember to bring a back up charger so you don’t miss capturing precious moments. I saw a few outlets around the park (in the bathroom and out in the hallways around them) that others were using, but they also have chargers for rent. For $30 you can rent a back up and swap it out for another as many times as needed for the day.
- “Disneyland Target”: The Target at 12100 Harbor Blvd. has an insane amount of Disney and Southern California souvenirs. It’s definitely worth a look if you are nearby.
- Character Dining: While more expensive than a regular buffet, I enjoy the personalized attention that our children get from Character Dining. I’d rather not spend my time at the park waiting in line for pictures, and here the characters come to your table and your kids get tons of one on one time with them. The food is not bad either!
- Disneyland Hotels: Is the price worth it? Yikes. That’s hard to say. The convenience, customer service, and experience is definitely up to par with the price tag. My advice is that if you can afford it, it is worth trying once in your child’s life. Offset the costs by skipping birthdays and Christmas that year (hahaha!)
- Disneyland vs California Adventures: Deciding between the two? If you have never been to either or if you have a child under 40″ go to Disneyland first. Disneyland is a classic, your young child will be able to ride more rides, and they did a great job of integrating new characters in with the old. IMO DCA has better food/alchohol, more shows, rides for bigger kids, and wins for The Little Mermaid attraction (she’s my favorite).
That’s it! Everything I know, have ever known, ever cared to know.. about Disneyland. There are a ton of great blogs and Instagram accounts that are informative and continue to provide up to date park information, so I thank you for considering my budget friendly point of view! Feel free to follow me on Instagram where you can find highlights of my recent trip in my bio, and tag me if you try anything from this article!