The main reason we had never taken our kids to Disneyland before, was of course, the money. I’m a bargain hunter, and Disneyland is not a place that tends to offer deep discounts. It doesn’t need too. Even with hefty admission prices, people flock to the parks. I don’t anticipate that will change anytime too soon. But I did find several ways to make this trip affordable for our family.
In fact, the only expense of the trip that put us out of the range of our typical monthly spending was the gas we used to drive our family from Arizona to California. Here’s what we did and a few other tips I picked up along the way:
- Use your rewards. We cashed in rewards on a Discover credit card that we had been accruing for a long time. That more than covered the cost of the tickets for the kids for two days. My Brother in-law was able to cash in work-related hotel points when he took his family. That covered their lodging on their trip. Do you have any forgotten reward points that you could cash in?
- Time your trip around your kids’ ages. My son is turning three in May. This is one of the reasons we took this trip now instead of putting it off until later this year. Children under 3 don’t have to have a ticket. Over 3 they do. He was tall enough to get to do lots of things (certainly not everything) and old enough to enjoy the experience, but young enough to be FREE! His meal was also free at our princess luncheon at Ariel’s Grotto, because of his age. (Had we ordered off of the menu for him, we would have had to pay but they offer a couple of complimentary options for that age group and they can eat off your plate)! Keep in mind: Children over 10 are considered adults at Disneyland. They will be charged the higher ticket prices and full price at the dining experiences.
This silly kid is turning 3 soon! This is the crazy face he made when we asked him if he was excited to see Lightning McQueen.
- Get a Disney Rewards Credit Card. We only applied for the Chase Disney card maybe a year ago, but were still able to accrue a lot of points on it. When we applied they were running a promo that gave us a $200 reward card after our first charge. So between the points on the card and the gift card, we were able to pay our admission and have some spending money for the park. It was so nice to use a rewards card when buying a churro or a souvenir. It felt a lot less like spending hard earned money and made it easier to enjoy the moment and not have to count every little penny. We also used the gift card to splurge on the princess dining experience.
- Mooch off of your friends. Alright, that sounds bad, but we are super lucky to have some good friends that live about 20 mins. away from Disneyland. I mean, we’d rather they still lived near us, but if they had to move away, it is awfully convenient that they are such an easy distance to the park and the beach. Our friends were so great to give us a place to stay and feed us a yummy breakfast each morning. We gave them a little money for groceries, but they were generous to let us use their food to make lunches saving us time and hassle.
- Shop around for packaged deals. Since everyone doesn’t have great friends in the area to mooch off of, I thought I would include this. You won’t always find deals on ticket prices for the park, but there are a lot of package deals that include lodging that may shave some money off of your total cost. One of my FB readers suggested consulting a travel agent. They shouldn’t charge you a fee for their services and may have access to more information about available package deals.
- Travel off-season. There are lots of reasons for this, like getting to do more with your time at the park (though hours are shorter off-season), but I did some searching for vacation rentals and hotels and costs were significantly cheaper at non-peak times. Also most of the ticket promos expire before the summer.
- AAA parking. If you are a member of Triple A and purchase your park tickets through them, you are allowed to park in a special area of the garage for free. You may need to purchase a bit in advance to have the tickets arrive in time, or go to a local AAA office. They may be able to help you in finding discounts for your other travel needs.
- Take a lunch–and lots of snacks. Some theme parks are militant about not allowing outside food through the gates. Thankfully, Disneyland is pretty liberal about this! If you bring a massive cooler, you’ll have to pay to rent a locker, and spend time getting back and forth to that locker, so we opted to bring a small cooler that we strapped to the stroller on the first day that held our sandwiches, fruit, carrots, etc. for our lunch. We also filled BSB’s backpack full of jerky, juiceboxes, and other snacks to sustain us through the day. This doesn’t mean we didn’t stop for an occasional churro or treat, but it meant that we didn’t have to purchase food for most of the day. It was nice to grab a granola bar out of the backpack while waiting in line, rather than spending a lot of time at food stands. Since we knew we were doing the princess lunch the second day, we just brought snacks, but they helped supplement meals and make it so that we could buy less when we did purchase food. Some food prices at the park seem pretty high and others somewhat reasonable. Keep your eye out and shop around.
- Share and Share alike. Since food is part of the experience at the park, I couldn’t be a total McScrooge about it, but since we were eating more for the experience than the nutrition a lot of the time, we could get a few churros or Dole Whips at the Tiki Room and share them around our group. My two-year-old doesn’t need that many sweets all to himself. And my pocket book doesn’t need to buy them for him!
- Skip the Park Hopping?? If you read my last post about Disneyland for the first time, I told you that I was surprised by California Adventure. I wasn’t expecting as much from it, so we got park hoppers thinking we would head back to Disneyland on the 2nd day. Only my husband and son took advantage of the park-hopping privileges and went back to Disneyland to get my son the souvenir build-your-own light saber, since it was only available in Tomorrowland. We could have saved a bit of money by just buying single park tickets each day. We didn’t quite get to everything in Disneyland that we would have liked to see, so it would have been nice to have a little more time there, but we spent a full day at California Adventure without trying too hard, so depending on the interests of your family and the length of your visit, you might save a bit by just picking and sticking to one park each day.
- Prioritize/Plan Speaking of interests, it is a good idea to pin point the one or two activities that are “must do’s” for each member of the family. If you have great package deal and you are staying all week, this may not be such a big deal to you. But if for financial and time reasons, you are trying to do both parks in two days, you have to be realistic that you will not be able to hit every single thing. Having a plan can help you get more value out of the trip–as long as you can be flexible about the plan, because rides break, children wear out, weather fluctuates. But a plan can give you a starting place and a framework for your decisions. One of my friends got a membership with Ridemax.com. She was actually kind enough to create a sample itinerary for us. We weren’t able to follow it super closely, but it gave us a good idea of where to start and what direction to proceed through the park. If you can get there really early, and aren’t too distractible, it could be really helpful for your family if you are trying to squeeze in a lot of action!
- For splurges (like character meals) only include those who really care. When I started tossing around the idea of the Princess character meal for my daughter, I realized that it could cost a good $200 to take my family of six out to eat. Because we had the $200 gift card from Chase (see above), I was willing to consider it. When my husband expressed that he thought his time could be better spent doing other things, we decided to send him and my older son to ride roller coasters and eat a cheaper lunch while the rest of us went to dine with princesses. This made the whole experience much more affordable! And everyone was happy with the arrangement.
- Budget souvenirs before getting to the park. It is important to have a plan about what you are willing to spend, before the “I want this!” attacks begin. Let your children know before hand, if you are willing to buy merchandise for them, and if so what you are willing to spend. Our children each brought some of their own money to spend. Most of their choices were around $20, so we split the cost of the item with them. We tried to steer them away from things they could readily find elsewhere, since these are not discount prices. My son chose a build-it-yourself lightsaber, which is a cool experience he couldn’t find elsewhere. My older daughter picked out some jewelry and my younger a Jasmine doll. They were ok with one thing each, because we had given them that expectation. (And I had given them all that fun stuff in their travel baskets before the trip.)
- Media pass As a blogger, I was able to apply for and receive a media pass. Media passes are limited to two one-day park-hopper tickets–so clearly didn’t cover the bulk of the cost for my family of six for two days, but it helped bring it down. Not all bloggers are approved for media passes. I think to be considered your blog needs to be an appropriate niche and you must be working on a story about the park. They also want to know a specific date for your trip. I would guess that you would be more likely to be approved if your date is not during peak season. (This paragraph is going to serve as my disclosure for all of my Disney posts! I was given the media passes but no other compensation to blog about the trip. The subject matter I have chosen to write about and opinions presented herein are completely my own!)
So I guess the moral of my story is, that there isn’t just one way to make a Disney trip affordable, but I am proof that if there’s a will, there is a way! I worked pretty much every angle I could think of to make this happen for my family, but I am so glad I did! It is fun to reminisce with the kids about favorite rides and experiences. And I feel so much better about having made the trip knowing that we won’t be paying for it for months to come!
Did I miss any? What are your favorite ways to save money when making a trip to Disneyland or Disney World?