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How to save money at Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure

Disneyland castle

A family visit to Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure can be one of the highlights of the year. However, it can also leave a big hole in your wallet. The cost of hotel accommodation, admission tickets, parking, meals, snacks and a whole pile of souvenirs can easily add up to several hundred dollars per day. Fortunately, there are big savings to be made if you plan a little in advance. Follow the simple tips laid out below, and you can enjoy a trip to Disneyland without breaking the bank.

Visit during the off-season if possible

Ticket prices at Disneyland remain the same all year round (although as discussed in our time-saving article, attendances don’t). The same can’t be said of prices at hotels both on-site and off, which vary dramatically depending on the time of year. They are also often higher at weekends, when people travelling from other parts of California fill up local motels.

Particularly if you are not a local, visiting Disneyland during the off-season is the single biggest way to save money. As well as lower rates at hotels, airfares will generally be much cheaper. These are the times of year to avoid if you’re travelling on a budget:

  • Christmas Day through New Years Day, the Thanksgiving weekend and the period around Easter.
  • The end of May through to early September.
  • It's also best to avoid times when there are major events at the Anaheim Convention Center – you can check online on the center's website.

The quietest (and therefore cheapest) periods at the Disneyland Resort are during Fall and Winter (September – March, except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year). Spring can also be relatively quiet, with the exception of school and college holidays.

Buy your tickets online, in advance

Disneyland does not often offer deep discounts on admission tickets, but there are savings to be made by buying tickets online in advance. Disneyland's website offers advance purchase prices that represent a significant discount. For instance, at the time of writing a 5-Day Park Hopper Bonus Ticket can be purchased online for $209 – a 16% saving on the gate price of $249. In addition, the Bonus tickets sold online for visits of 3 days or longer allow one Early Entry admission to Disneyland (allowing you to enter the park an hour before the official opening time) – something that is not included in tickets bought on the gate.

Tickets for 2 days or more are generally slightly cheaper when purchased through Ares Travel. The saving when compared to Disneyland’s website is usually in the region of $1-4 depending on the duration of the ticket.

Consider multi-park tickets

If you're planning on visiting other attractions in Southern California, such as Universal Studios Hollywood or San Diego Zoo, there are multi-park ticket options which may prove better value than paying for individual admission to each park.

The Southern California Attractions CityPass includes a 3-Day Park Hopper Bonus ticket to Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure. You can take advantage of park hopping which allows you to visit both theme parks on the same day. It also includes 1 day's admission to both Universal Studios Hollywood and Seaworld San Diego, plus 1 day's admission to either San Diego Zoo or San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park. It is currently priced at $259, which is significantly less than the sum of its parts.

However, this option won't be cheaper for everyone. If you only plan on visiting Disneyland and Universal Studios, for instance, you'd save around $10 by buying separately the 3-Day Park Hopper Bonus ticket for Disneyland and a single-day admission ticket for Universal Studios. Similarly, if you only plan on visiting Disneyland for one day, it may be cheaper to buy tickets individually – do the math before purchasing.

Consider an annual pass

Annual passes for Disneyland are not cheap, with a 2-park Deluxe Annual Passport currently costing $299 through the Disneyland website. However, if you are planning on visiting twice during a single year, it can pay for itself. For instance, visit in August one year and July the next, and a Deluxe Annual Passport will cover both for less than the cost of two 3-Day Park Hopper tickets (provided you aren't visiting during peak periods).

Annual passes can have other benefits – for instance, Disney regularly offers discounted hotel rooms to annual passholders. Check TPT's Special Offer Watch for the latest discount rates. If the hotel discount is large enough, it could pay to purchase an annual pass for one member of your party to take advantage of it.

Look for discount rates on on-site hotels

If you’re planning on staying at one of Disneyland’s three on-site resort hotels, you will almost certainly pay more than when staying off-site. Of course, you will receive other benefits such as Early Entry and the “full experience” of staying within a Disney resort.

Typical "rack rates" for a standard room at Disneyland’s on-site hotels at the time of writing are:

  • The Disneyland Hotel – $260-$345
  • Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel – $240-$305
  • Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel – $355-$480

Disneyland regularly offers discounted rates for its hotels, particularly during off-peak seasons. As well as offers available to the general public, a range of discounts are usually available for California residents, retired and active members of the military, annual passholders and auto-club members. For the latest offers, check TPT’s Special Offer Watch, or see the table that is embedded at the bottom of this article.

Expedia regularly offers discounts on rooms at Disneyland Resort hotels. The size of the discount varies depending on the specific hotel and dates selected. Ares Travel and Travelocity also offer discounted room rates which are worth checking.

Consider staying offsite

Although the Disneyland Resort hotels are fantastic, and there are many good reasons to stay in them, it is often much cheaper to stay at an off-site hotel. There are many low-cost hotels and motels within a 2-3 mile radius of the parks, often within walking distance (or served by a shuttle bus).

To find a low-cost, good value hotel near Disneyland perform a search through Kayak, Hotels.com, Travelocity, Expedia and Ares Travel. It's worth checking reviews of the hotel before booking through TripAdvisor.

Important note: some hotels advertise themselves as "within walking distance" of the parks. This is usually true – but do check the realistic walking time from the hotel to the parks (e.g. using Google Maps). You don’t want to be wiped out by a 45-minute walk, leaving you short of energy for the parks.

Bring your own snacks and drinks

Disneyland's official policy is that guests should not bring their own food into the park (you are allowed to bring a cooler and leave this in the lockers just outside the parks). While every bag is checked on the way into the park, bringing a few snacks in for the kids is never usually a problem and can save you a bit of money on the expensive snacks sold within the parks.

Similarly, drinks are also expensive but bringing a few empty bottles to fill from the water fountains in the parks can at least ensure that you won’t be constantly shelling out for bottled water to combat the hot California weather.

Eat meals outside the parks

Unlike Walt Disney World, which is so sprawling in size that it is often much easier to eat within the resort, Disneyland Resort is relatively small. There are a whole range of full-service and counter-service restaurants directly across the street from the resort entrance, a 5-10 minute walk from the parks themselves. This means you can save money on meals (without sacrificing on quality) simply by making a brief trip outside of the parks to eat.

Of course, kids may demand that you eat at least one meal in the parks. Try and make sure it isn't breakfast. Eat breakfast at home (for locals), at your hotel (for visitors) or at a diner en-route. Breakfast at Disneyland is expensive, and will waste valuable time during the morning period when queuing times for rides are at their lowest.

Bring essential extras with you

Make a list of essential items before you go – things like suntan lotion, camera film, hand wipes, etc. You can buy all of these within the parks – but at a significant premium. Pick them up at a supermarket before you go and bring them with you to save a few more dollars.

Bring a stroller from home

If you need a stroller for your child, renting one at the parks will cost you $15 dollars per day (or $25 for two). If you bring your own, you’ll not only save on cost but you’ll also have the stroller with you in the evenings and outside of the parks. Of course, it can be awkward to transport a stroller to and from Disneyland, so a cheap fold-up stroller may be a good option.

Buy Disney-themed toys before you go

Particularly if you have kids, it’s unlikely that you’ll escape from Disneyland or Disney’s California Adventure without a few souvenirs to remind them (and you) of the great time you’ve had. However, while you may want to buy a few park-specific items, you can keep down your outlay on "generic" Disney toys – the type that are available in Disney sections at Walmarts and other chains around the world. There is a Walmart close to the park at the Anaheim Shopping Center, where you can pick up a few Mickey toys for relatively low prices.

Take advantage of Special Offers

Disney regularly runs special offers on hotels, admission and food at Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure. Although discounts are generally deeper during the off-season, there are usually several available at any one time. For details of the latest offers, check the Disneyland Resort website.

Do you have your own tips for saving money at Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure? Why not share them with others through our theme park tips section? If you spot something wrong in the article, or disagree with any of the tips, please let us know through the comments or by e-mailing us.


There is 1 comment.

Great article. This will definitely help me to save money if I plan for a tour after signing up for a guide to Disney world.

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