The “happiest place on earth” is a top destination on many families’ bucket lists. If you plan ahead, this magical, unforgettable experience doesn’t have to put a large dent in your budget. Here are some tried-and-true tips for saving money while enjoying your Disneyland experience.
1. Come Prepared
Plan ahead so that you don’t have to purchase a necessity at Disneyland that you could have brought from home. For example, check the weather so that you don’t need to buy a rain poncho or umbrella, a hat or hand fan when it starts to heat up, or a sweatshirt when it cools off at night. Remember, it usually is cool at night in Southern California, even during the summer months.
Bring a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses or any items that make you more comfortable in the sun. If you are planning on going on water rides and don’t want to get wet, purchase a poncho from a dollar store in advance. You will save money and won’t feel guilty throwing it away afterward.
2. Buy Souvenirs in Advance
Disney has infiltrated practically every industry, which makes it easy to find Disney items anywhere, from Walmart, Target, and your local grocery store to department stores and Amazon. You can save a lot of money by purchasing items before your trip at these less-expensive retailers than at Disneyland, California Adventure Park or Downtown Disney.
In addition to getting a lower price, you also have the benefit of being able to use these new purchases from day one of your Disneyland vacation. If your daughter loves Frozen and your son loves Cars, then find toys from those movies and bring them with you. Instead of buying souvenirs from the shops next to every attraction in Disneyland, you can pull out a Disney toy that is new to them that you bought previously for a much better price.
If your child wants to dress up, shop around before going to the park. You can find adorable costumes at discounted prices from many retailers, including the ones listed above. You can usually find toys and costumes almost identical to items sold at Disneyland.
3. Make an Autograph Book
An autograph book is seen as a must-have by many Disneyland enthusiasts and is a memory you can take home with you. These books can cost anywhere from $7.95 to $19.95 at the Disney Store and up to $30 for the latest-and-greatest autograph book at Disneyland, such as the park’s 60th anniversary edition. The price range varies due to options such as photo sleeves, number of pages, quality and cover art.
Other options can get the job done for under $5. For example, you can buy a small, generic photo album; cute memo pads or notebooks; or even a Disney storybook from a retailer like Walmart, Target or a dollar store. You can personalize your photo album by adding paper to get autographs on, pictures of you with the Disney characters, pictures of your family at the park or stickers of the Disney characters. With a storybook, you can have the characters sign the pages they appear on and even add pictures of your trip to the front and back of the book.
4. Use a Shuttle Service or Carpool
Disneyland charges $17 a day to park in one of their parking lots or structures. Parking for oversized vehicles and vehicles with trailers costs $22 to $27.
Most nearby hotels offer shuttle services, often even for free like at the Candy Cane Inn in Anaheim. If your hotel is in Anaheim, you can use the ART Shuttle System. Adult day passes are $5; children, seniors and people with disabilities get discounts. If you buy a multi-day pass, the price goes down.
If you are not staying at a nearby hotel and need to park at Disneyland, then try to carpool. If you have multiple cars, you could meet up and park at a nearby shopping center or store and then take one car to the theme park. Target, for example, has no parking restrictions, but you should check for parking restriction signs or ask the retailers of any parking lot you use to be sure you won’t get ticketed or towed. Parking at Downtown Disney is free for up to three hours.
5. Bring Your Own Stroller/Wheelchair
If you are planning on using a stroller or wheelchair, plan ahead. You can rent a single stroller at the park for $15 a day. No double strollers are available, but you can rent two strollers for a discounted price of $25 a day.
A manual wheelchair is $12 day, and an electronic conveyance vehicle is $50 a day. These rentals require a refundable deposit of $20 and cannot leave the Disneyland or California Adventure park areas, which means you cannot take them to Downtown Disney.
If you are planning on renting a wheelchair for more than one day, you can usually find a wheelchair or ECV for less at a local rental company, such as A Scooter 4 U, Inc. in Anaheim, which offers Disneyland discounts and free hotel delivery. Instead of renting a stroller for multiple days or lugging around your big stroller, you might want to buy an inexpensive umbrella stroller for $20 at Babies R’ Us, for example. You also can get a good deal renting one from a rental company such as City Stroller Rentals.
6. Eat Breakfast Before You Arrive
Breakfast is almost as pricey as lunch or dinner if you eat at Downtown Disney or inside the Disneyland parks. You can save quite a bit of money by eating breakfast before you go to the park.
If your hotel has a fridge, buy milk and cereal or other easily prepared breakfast items the night before so that you’re ready to go in the morning or take advantage of the hotel’s free continental breakfast. Continental breakfasts, such as the one offered at Cortona Inn & Suites in Anaheim, start as early as 6:30 a.m. If you want to eat out, eat at a local restaurant that is inexpensive or has a kids’ menu, such as McDonald’s or IHOP, both of which are close to the park.
7. Bring Your Own Food and Drinks
While Disney’s official policy says it does not allow outside food or drinks, Disneyland does allow most food items. A few things they will absolutely not allow are hard-sided coolers, glass containers, large coolers or alcoholic beverages. Take snacks for throughout the day or pack a lunch to enjoy in the picnic area just outside the main entrance of the park.
Disneyland will allow you to bring any kind of liquids besides alcohol. If you know you and your kids will want soda, juice, or milk, bring your own. Fountain drinks and water bottles inside the park are nearly $3 each, but ice and water are free anywhere that sells fountain drinks.
If you want to save money when eating at the park, avoid sit-down table service like at the Blue Bayou. The counter-service and cafeteria-style restaurants in the park offer better prices. Order a kids’ meal if you don’t need a large portion; it’s less expensive and usually comes with a side and a drink. Mousesavers.com offers additional tips for saving money on food and drinks at Disneyland.
8. Take Advantage of Discounts Offered to Special Groups
Disney offers a wide variety of discounts, including for military service members, college students, credit unions, corporate and government groups, teachers, and youth groups. If you think you might qualify for a special discount or group rate, call the Disneyland Resort to book tickets. Discounts are offered inside the park, on Disneyland Resort stays, as well as on ticket admission.
These discounts can be quite substantial. For instance, a three-day Park Hopper Pass for someone older than 10 years is $235. That same ticket is offered to members of the military for just $132. Make sure to check the details of the discounts offered to special groups because they often have blockout dates or deadlines.
9. Arrange Your Trip Around the Off-Season and Busy Times
Lots of things, from airfare to souvenirs, can get more expensive during Disneyland’s busier times of the year. To make the most of your money, plan your trip during the park’s off-season. The months of September through March — excluding December — are not as crowded at the parks, and even hotels can be less expensive during these months.
Do not plan a trip around a holiday or special event being held at Disneyland. These times, such as Halloween or Thanksgiving, tend to be especially crowded, even during the off-season. If you cannot plan a trip during the off-season, then try to attend the park on a weekday. Arranging your trip around the busy times of the year will not only help you save a little money but will also help you have a better experience overall.
10. Pass Up the Park Hopper Pass
At the Disneyland Resort, there are two different kinds of passes you can purchase. The first is a traditional theme park pass, which allows you to enter only one park, Disneyland or California Adventure, for the day. The second is a Park Hopper Pass, which allows you to move freely between the parks throughout the day. You can pay an additional $40 to make any ticket a Park Hopper Pass.
If you are buying multiple tickets, the cost really adds up fast. You can have just as fabulous of an experience with the traditional pass and go to Disneyland one day and California Adventure the next instead of springing for the Park Hopper Pass. If you are only going for one day and want to see both parks, however, the Park Hopper is a good option.
11. Look Out for Special Offers and Coupons
Disneyland will usually offer special discounts during its off-season to promote business. These tickets can have substantial discounts, and although they are sold during the off-season, are usually good for one calendar year. If you know you will be going to Disneyland in the next calendar year, then pay attention to these special promotions and you can potentially save a lot of money. Make sure to pay attention to blockout dates and other restrictions.
In addition to Disney’s offers, many businesses offer coupons you can use on your Disney vacation. Hotels, retail stores, restaurants, AAA and other companies offer discounts, too. A lot of chain restaurants, hotels and retailers will let you list a favorite location or home location on their websites. If you list Anaheim, you might be able to get discounts or coupons to use during your Disneyland vacation.
12. Get a Disney Visa Card
Disney offers Visa credit cards that come with extra perks and benefits. You earn rewards on everything you buy. These rewards can be used on everything Disney, including DVDs, movie tickets, toys, costumes and Disneyland travel. Additional cardholder perks include a special Meet ‘N’ Greet inside the park as well as 10-percent to 15-percent discounts on merchandise, restaurants and tours inside the Disneyland parks and at the Disney Store.
Disney is also offering a $50 statement credit after your first purchase with your Visa card. You can receive a $100 statement credit after your first purchase with the Disney Premier Visa Card, which has a $49 annual fee — the Disney Rewards Visa card has no fee. If you love all things Disney, a Disney credit card can be a way to get a few extra discounts and special opportunities on your Disney vacation and in your day-to-day life.
13. Take Your Kids Before Age 3
Kids 3 years old and under get into the Disney theme parks completely free. If you can plan your trip while your kids are still under 3, you can save a large sum of money. Some parents worry about spending a lot of money on a trip their children will not remember, but kids as young as 1 year old will love their Disney experience even if they might not remember it — even kids as old as 5 or 6 might not remember their trip to Disneyland but are sure to have a fabulous time. If you are going to Disneyland with a kid who is almost age 3, go before that birthday.
14. Invest in an Annual Disneyland Passport
All annual passports allow park-hopper access and offer discounts on merchandise. Keep your pass on you everywhere you go near Disneyland and ask if cardholders get discounts. The passport options include:
- The Southern California Select Annual Passport for SoCal residents, which allows 170 days of admission. Cost: $299 — worth it if you plan on going more than two or three times a year during the off-season compared to a one-day Park Hopper Pass at $155.
- The Deluxe Annual Passport for 315 days of admission, except some weekends and holidays, is available to anyone. Cost: $549 — worth it if you plan on going at least four separate times a year and want to be able to go during the summer.
- The Premium Annual Passport allows you to go any day of the year. Cost: $779 — worth it if you plan on going more than six times and want to be able to go to both parks. Bonus: Add a parking pass for $170 — worth it if you plan on going more than 10 times a year.
15. Check Into Hotel Packages or Book Through an Agency
If you are traveling to Anaheim, it is worthwhile to look into package deals. Many hotels offer deals that include things like breakfast, a shuttle pass, free internet and other discounts. It is also possible to get lower rates through a travel agency. Some agencies offer a price match guarantee, which means you can get the hotel deals offered on sites such as Expedia and Orbitz while getting the perks of the agency’s package, like breakfast, discounted Disneyland passes and a shuttle pass.
Shop around to find the best deal you can. Some great deals can be found during the Disneyland off-season, which is September through March, excluding December and holidays.
Read More: 101 Ways to Save Money This Summer
16. Purchase a SoCal City Pass
If you are hoping to be able to go to several different theme parks while in Southern California, the SoCal City Pass might be the best option for you. This pass allows you to save about 30% on park tickets to Disneyland, Sea World and Legoland California. You also have the option to add a discounted pass to the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park.
If you are not planning to visit all of the parks included, then purchasing these tickets separately is a better option. The SoCal City Pass is good for 14 calendar days, and you can visit the parks in any order. The Disneyland pass is a three-day Park Hopper with early admittance to the parks, also known as Magic Morning.
17. Stay at the Disneyland Resort
If you want to have the full Disney experience and don’t mind paying a little more for your hotel, stay at the Disneyland Resort. While the hotel prices tend to be higher than other hotels near the park, staying at the Disneyland Resort hotel comes with a number of perks, some of which can save you money on other things.
The Disneyland Resort offers shuttle services to and from several Southern California airports, including the Los Angeles and San Diego International Airports, plus close access to the Disneyland Monorail. If you stay at the Grand Californian Hotel, you can use the special entrance from the hotel directly into California Adventure. Disneyland Resort guests also are allowed into the parks an hour before the general public on specific days.
Disneyland sometimes offers discounts on its hotels during the off-season. If you can plan your trip during the off-season, you can capitalize on these specials. If you are an annual pass holder or military personnel, you can potentially get even better discounts than the general public.
This article originally appeared on GoBankingRates.