I originally wrote this post for my site, No Thank You Please but thought the content was appropriate for my frugal readers as well…
I went to Disneyland a few times as a kid. When I was in college in San Diego, I went to Disneyland a few more times. Now that my husband and I have children, we’ve been going to Disneyland as a family more often. Our older daughter is almost four, and she’s been to Disney at least five times. Our little one is only 3 months old, and we’ve already been with her as well. We have a blast each time. Our first daughter, Emma, experienced her first visit to Disneyland (as a non-infant) when she was 15 months old. We love that we are able to experience the fun as a family.
Since we’ve been to Disneyland quite a few times as a family, I’ll share a few tips and tricks we’ve learned along the way over several posts here at NTYP. First, let’s cover Disney money-saving tips — especially useful if you’re on a budget. Let’s face it: a typical Disney adventure won’t be cheap. But there are ways to get the Disney experience without breaking the bank. Here are just a few tips on getting started.
If you are members of Costco or AAA you might want to start there. With either membership, you’ll get several perks that most people won’t get when purchasing a vacation package. When booking through Costco or AAA, you’ll get the added benefit of a Character Dining experience, early admission to Toontown, preferred seating to several of their shows, trading pin, lanyard, luggage tags, and a $20 gift card to use anywhere in the park. Early admission to the park is also available with your included passes. You’ll be able to select from a Disney hotel or a Good Neighbor hotel. You’ll save a few hundred dollars on the Disney hotels, and typically get your 3rd or 4th night FREE at the Good Neighbor hotels. Shuttle service is included with the Good Neighbor options.
Another great feature when booking through these clubs is the Disney Dining packages. This is a great way to budget your food expenses if you plan on eating in the parks. These dining plans aren’t available through Disney directly without the purchase of a vacation package. However, you can take advantage of these dining plans when you book through either Costco or AAA. These meal plans allow you to plan your meals ahead of time and budget in the expense.
If you’re not a member of either of those clubs, don’t worry. There are other ways to save. Book your travel plans far ahead of time for an off season. Stay away from the holidays and summer months when the parks are typically busy and prices are always higher. Disney charges per person, so rates will be higher during peak times of year. Find a hotel in the area that will offer you shuttle service to and from the park, or find one within walking distance. Having a shuttle to and from the park will save you the expense of a car rental.
If you aren’t able to take advantage of the Disney Dining, food can be very expensive. Plan ahead and bring your own food into the park. There are lockers available to store your things so you don’t have to carry around food all day long. If your hotel room doesn’t have a refrigerator, request one to use during your hotel stay. This way, you can bring food and drinks with you into the park and give your pocketbook a break. If your hotel doesn’t offer amenities such as a refrigerator or continental breakfast, head to Downtown Disney. Located just outside the main entrance of Disneyland you can grab breakfast before entering the park. We love La Brea Bakery Cafe for the quick service and lower than the park pricing.
If you want to buy a souvenir, think about giving your kids a pre-paid gift card to use. Don’t lock yourself into paying high prices. You can save by avoiding buying merchandise in the park. Buy items before you leave at your local retailer and surprise your kids throughout the trip. They really won’t know where you bought it, and it will save you a lot of money in the end.
Even though it can be expensive, I highly recommend booking your vacation through Costco, AAA or even Disney Vacations. The extra perks you get with the packages plus the Disney Dining option is worth it. We’ve experienced Disney in many ways now and in the end we get the same result. However, it’s the little perks that make the trip extra special. It’s these perks through the vacation packages you won’t get anywhere else. If you think you’re going anytime soon, start planning now. The more time you have to plan the more money you’ll be able to save in the long run.