by Character Diva
I love Disneyland… it’s one of my favorite places to be. But let’s face it… its expensive!! And it isn’t going to get cheaper any time soon. So how can you go to Disneyland on a budget and still have a great time? Here are a few helpful tips:
Figure out what you want to buy beforehand. There are plenty of things that jump out at you that you didn’t anticipate (or even knew existed… the Emporium and the China Closet are always my weaknesses for finding things I can’t live without), but some things are a given. Things like Mickey Mouse Ears, Disney Pins, the Mickey Gloves, picture frames, ornaments, stuffed animals, mugs, clothes, costumes, autograph book can always be found in the parks. I personally try to buy an ornament or picture frame to commemorate the trip (usually with the year or of something highlighting our trip), and then I try and find something for my kids. In general, it is a stuffed animal or some kind of toy. Since my kids are toddlers, I kind of have a say in what souvenir they get. If your kids are older, you may want to try having them earn their souvenir money, or buy them a $25 Disney gift card ahead of time. This allows them to have a set amount of spending money, and it also teaches them about budgeting.
I also try to figure out what I can buy at home. Why would I spend a fortune on a shirt, when I can go to Target and find a similar shirt? And the great thing about Walmart and Target… they’re cheap!! I love Target’s $3 and $5 bins! I can find countless light up toys and wands that spin. Before our last trip, I found a light up Minnie Mouse wand for 50 cents at Walmart and I found Minnie, Mickey, Jake and the Neverland Pirates and Sofia the First glow stick wands for $1. Target also has a wide variety of Disney themed light up wands, fans (definitely useful in the heat), and other toys and gadgets. I’d rather stock up on those (or even glow sticks from The Dollar Tree) then pay an arm and a leg at a theme park for something similar. It lights up… it makes noise… it has a Disney character on it. To a kid, that’s really all that matters, isn’t it?
And for the random expenses you probably didn’t think about… let’s talk about the weather. On our last trip, we went around Veteran’s Day and the temperature was in the upper 80’s. We were hot! Those Disney fans from Target’s $3 bins? They were great- so was the sunscreen, chap stick, and sunglasses we had in our diaper bag. Yes, Disney has all of these things, but you’ll definitely be paying for it. Something else to keep in mind is that just because it is hot during the day, doesn’t mean it won’t get cold at night. Make sure you have a sweatshirt or light jacket, or some kind of change of clothes. Both Disneyland and California Adventure have lockers that you can rent, or if you don’t want to get drenched on Splash Mountain or the Grizzly River Run, you may want to invest in some ponchos from the Dollar Store before you leave. They can be folded up, they’re lightweight, and you will save a fortune by buying them ahead of time.
It really pays to DIY on some things… If your daughter wants to dress as Cinderella and parade her way around Disneyland, why not buy a $20 version at Target or Walmart? If the costume gets something spilled on it, or is ripped to shreds after a day at an amusement park, you won’t be crying over the fact that you just spent a fortune on a costume. Author’s Tip: Make sure you pack a change of clothes. Depending on the weather, the costumes can get very uncomfortable (not to mention you may want to protect them from stains while you’re eating). Also, unless you want blisters, skip the shoes. Princesses have tennis shoes in their closets too.
Other DIY projects… autograph books! Do you really need to spend all that money for an empty book that will have signatures in it? I’ve bought two in my lifetime, as well as made a couple, and in reality, I honestly have no clue where *any* of them are. Save the money and DIY. There are also variety of other things the characters can sign. Some fun ideas? A pillowcase, backpack, or storybook. Author’s Tip: Personally, I focus more on the pictures than the autographs, but if you’re going to have an album with the pictures, it can always be fun to have characters sign index cards and stick those in the album next to the pictures.
My general rule of thumb is to only eat once (maybe twice) in the park, and then carry sandwiches, jerky, fruit pouches, Cheerios, bottled waters and other snacks in a backpack. Disneyland allows guests to bring in food and drinks (within reason, obviously alcohol is out), so this is a great way to save money. I also prefer the quick service places rather than the sit-down locations or character meals. While I do admit expensive restaurants and character dining can be a great experience , I personally look at it this way: if I am paying a fortune to go to Disneyland, what do I want to do I want to spend my time on? Rides or sitting and eating? But if eating at a fancy place or dining with characters is on your to do list, packing snacks and eating those throughout the day can help make your expensive meal more affordable.
Disney’s site has a great deal of information about dining. You can even view menus! They not only list what is on the menu, but they also break the categories down by how much things cost, what type of meal it is (quick service, character, etc.) and it can be a great way to figure out if there’s anything you’d actually eat. Author’s Tip: Even foods that are offered at different restaurants are not created equal! While planning my last trip, I discovered that a cheeseburger from Hungry Bear no longer came with fries AND was more expensive than the exact same cheeseburger that did come with fries at Village Haus. Considering Village Haus is centrally located, and was cheaper (not to mention came with more food), we opted for Village Haus. Why is it cheaper? I have no idea, but it is, so you might as well save yourself the difference and add some fries right?
Tickets. If you can take a couple days, the multi-day pass is definitely worth the money. I am a firm believer in being there a MINIMUM of three days if you are going with children, particularly if it is their first visit. I also like the Hopper Option, so you can go back and forth from one park to another. But if it is your first trip (or someone in your party’s), you may want to opt for a multiday pass without the hopper. It’ll save you some money, and there is enough to do in both places to keep you entertained.
These are some of my money saving tips… what are yours?
Note: Portions of this article originally ran as a guest article for Science to Couponing.