Finding the Magic Without Breaking the Bank
Seeing the sheer joy on your Mickey-loving child's face the first time she sees the mouse in person: priceless. Everything else involved in a day at Disneyland: pricey. Very pricey. Spending four days at the original Happiest Place on Earth can easily cost over $2,000 for a family of four. Some costs are unavoidable, but thrifty visitors can find places to cut costs around the edges. Here's how to make the most of your trip while spending as little as possible.
Get the Best Ticket Price
Disneyland rarely offers coupons or discounts, but sometimes it's possible to get a little bit of a deal on admission. First, check the park website's Offers & Discounts page to see the current promotions. Sometimes Disney offers perks like a free night in one of its hotels when you buy a hotel and ticket package, or discounts for military members and their families. Some AAA branches sell discounted Disneyland tickets, too.
If you have flexibility in your vacation scheduling, check out the admission calendar on Disneyland's website. You'll see that every day falls into one of three pricing categories: Value, Regular or Peak. Admission prices are highest on peak days, which include holiday weeks and many weekends. If you can, plan to visit the park on Value days, which fall on weekdays. Unfortunately, Value days usually don't coincide with school vacations (which is why they're less popular with visitors), but if you can schedule your visit for that time frame, you can save at least $27 per ticket.
Stay a Distance From the Park
Unlike Disney World, which is surrounded by dozens of official Disney resorts and hotels, Disneyland has only three official hotels, and they're all pricey. The park is surrounded by busy Anaheim streets lined with independent motels, hotels, restaurants and shops. If you expand your hotel search to include neighborhoods a mile or more away from Disneyland, you can find economy hotels with rooms for less than $100 a night. The entire area caters to tourists, due to both Disneyland and the Anaheim Convention Center, so you can easily find cabs and shuttles to transport you between the park and your home base.
If you're flying to Anaheim and planning to visit the park on multiple days, calculate your flight, park and hotel costs separately. Then compare them to the package deals Disney offers to see which is the better deal. It may also be cheaper to work with a travel agent who specializes in Disney trips, as he'll know how to find deals that average visitors might not know about.
Bring Your Own Food and Drinks
Disneyland allows you to bring your own food and drinks inside. However, alcohol and glass containers, with the exception of small containers like baby food jars, aren't allowed.
Feeding a family of four can easily cost $50 to $100 per day in Disneyland, so bring your own meals and snacks to stretch your vacation budget. Bring water bottles, sandwiches packed in hard plastic containers (to prevent crushing) and snacks like trail mix, apples, yogurt and cheese. Keep all the perishable stuff in an insulated bag with ice packs.
Offer Souvenir Stand-ins
Official Disneyland merchandise is really expensive, and it's everywhere. Fend off repetitive requests from your kids in one of two ways. One option is to give each child a small amount of money to spend on the souvenir of her choice. Stress that when the money is gone, souvenir shopping is done. Another option: Bring a stash of small, new-to-them toys to pull as gifts along the way. Present them as souvenirs of your trip, and don't mention that you got them online for next to nothing.