Regardless of your budget, it’s always a good idea to find ways to save money at Disneyland and slash your vacation budget. In this post, we offer travel hacks and our best tips to score discounts on Anaheim hotels, park tickets, and other things you’ll buy when visiting Southern California.
For some of you, cutting costs may be the only way you can afford a trip to Disneyland Resort. For others, saving money might not be strictly necessary, but is a way to splurge elsewhere, like on a nice meal at Carthay Circle Restaurant in Disney California Adventure, to stay longer, or even add-on a day or two at a beach resort to decompress after the Disneyland leg of your vacation.
Regardless of your circumstances, at least some of our recommendations for saving money on your Disneyland vacation should come in handy. Not all of these things will be for everyone, but nobody should leave what is (essentially) free money on the table by skipping all of these. On the other hand, cost-cutting isn’t wise when it’s at the expense of the fundamental experience–sacrificing drinks and lobster nachos at Cove Bar is practically heresy–and if you cut things that are important to you, don’t be surprised if the amount of fun you have decreases.
Unlike our normal lists, the biggest money-savers are at the top of this list, and there’s definitely more of a ‘your mileage may vary’ element to items as you go down the list. Anyway, we’re getting ahead of ourselves–here’s the list…
10. Never Pay Full Price for Hotels
In all likelihood, hotels are going to be the single most expensive component of a Disneyland vacation. More expensive than meals, park tickets, or even airfare. This is especially true if you plan on staying on-site at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, Disneyland Hotel, or Paradise Pier Hotel.
First, don’t stay at Paradise Pier Hotel. Just don’t. We could offer the “easy” money-saving advice of choosing that hotel instead of the other two since it’s the cheapest Disneyland Resort hotel, but it’s also a worse hotel than many third-party off-site hotels–and just as close to the parks–at a fraction of the price. If you are going to do a Disney-owned hotel in California, go big or go home.
Unfortunately, options are limited when it comes to saving money on these hotels. The best option is going to be renting Disney Vacation Club (or DVC) Points for a stay at the Grand Californian at a significant savings. If you want to know more, we cover the exact process and why we recommend it, in our Tips for Renting Disney Vacation Club Points post. If you plan on doing this, make sure to contact point rental companies over 11 months in advance of your trip and prepare to be flexible on dates, as the Grand Californian is tough to score.
Since that can be tricky and is only an option for the Grand Californian, we’d also recommend following the steps in our How to Score a PIN/Unique Offer Code post. While those steps are expressly for WDW, the same advice applies to Disneyland. Just select Disneyland options whenever applicable. We received a 30% off PIN code for Disneyland Hotel recently, which is about as good as it gets for these rarely-discounted hotels.
Alternatively, stay off-site instead. If you’ve only ever visited the Florida parks, you may be apprehensive about this since off-site hotels are so far from the parks and are at a disadvantage when it comes to perks like Extra Magic Hours, FastPass+ booking windows, etc. This is all inapplicable at Disneyland Resort.
Off-site hotels can be as close as a 10-minute walk from Disneyland and Disney California Adventure and there is no FastPass+ at Disneyland. We have a Top 10 Cheap Hotels Near Disneyland post for some of the least-expensive options (including one directly across the street from Disneyland). You can also read our overall comparison of the benefits of staying off-site versus on-site in our Where to Stay at Disneyland post to see what benefits you’re giving up by staying off-site, but it’s really not much.
We also have see more comprehensive rankings in our Disneyland Hotels Reviews & Rankings post that assigns an overall numerical to ~40 different hotels in Anaheim, and a sub-score for cost so you can find other cheap hotels. Every single off-site hotel offers better value for money than the on-site hotels, and we highly recommend staying off-site if you’re on a budget.
Everything is cheaper in the off-season, particularly low season weekdays when there are no events at the Anaheim Convention Center. Hotels can be less than half their peak season prices, park tickets are cheaper, and rental cars are cheaper.
Visiting California during off-season is good advice outside the context of saving money, too. There are off-season times that offer lower crowds, better weather, and a generally more pleasant visit to Disneyland and Southern California.
You’ll find that the Get Away Today packages listed above can be significantly cheaper during off-season, with many solid hotels costing under $100/night with those offers. If you’re more of a risk-taker, consider using the last-minute hotel booking app Hotel Tonight during the off-season.
Although you can now book 100 days in advance on Hotel Tonight in the Anaheim market, the biggest savings come 7 days in advance. Inside a week, you’ll find off-season hotel rates for several good hotels between $80 and $100/night. Some of these discounts are on par with Hotel Tonight, and some are better. It’s really a question of whether you’re willing to roll the dice on booking at the last minute.
8. Buy Groceries
Unlike Florida where there’s a cottage industry of Disney-centric grocery delivery services, you don’t really have the same options at Disneyland Resort (although you could still use Amazon Prime Now). The main reason why these services don’t exist is because they are not necessary.
Within walking distance of most popular third party hotels there are large Walgreens and CVS Superstores on the ground floors of the Hyatt House and SpringHill Suites, respectively. These are both on the corner (opposite sides of the street) of Harbor Boulevard and Katella Ave, which is less than a 15 minute walk from the parks. You can find most things you’d need–including food to prepare in your hotel microwave–at these two stores.
If you do want a more robust selection of groceries and other supplies, there’s a Target on Harbor Boulevard a little over a mile from the parks in Garden Grove. Personally, we prefer the CVS and Walgreens (the Target is not particularly nice). Presumably, you’ll have a rental car if you’re going to that Target, and if you have a car, you might as well go a little farther south on I-5 to the stores in Orange. (There are a ton of nicer options there, including the popular Outlets at Orange.)
7. Use Credit Cards
Credit cards aren’t for everyone and we never advocate taking on debt to get rewards (that’s obviously counterproductive); we’ve gone over the many ways credit cards can be utilized with zero downsides, so we aren’t going to rehash that here. If you’re “morally opposed” to credit cards that’s certainly your right, just as it’s within your right to join the Flat Earth Society.
With that out of the way, we heavily leverage credit card rewards for our own travel (we only pay for airfare about half the time–ditto hotels) as rewards can be a great way traveling for free. We’ve earned tens of thousands of dollars in rewards on credit cards, without ever paying a cent of interest. We cover which credit cards we recommend using to save money on travel in our Best Credit Cards for Disney Travelpost.
When it comes to Disneyland-specific travel, there are a number of chained-brand hotels within walking distance of the parks that have co-branded rewards credit cards for various hotels (Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, IHG, etc.). Beyond travel-specific credit cards, getting a good everyday credit card for daily purchases can be a great way to earn money that you can put in a vacation fund.
This gives a different meaning to “saving” money, but it’s an idea nonetheless. Rather than using the Disney Chase Visa credit cards that are popular with many Disney fans, we recommend cards like the Chase Freedom Rewards or AMEX Blue Cash for everyday use.
6. Buy Discounted Disney Gift Cards
This is one we learned about a few years ago and we’ve been utilizing with great success. There are a few different methods for saving around 10% on Disney gift cards, and we cover all of the methods in our Tips for Saving Money on Disney Gift Cards post.
You can save money at Kroger, Sam’s Club, and other stores just by making strategic Disney gift card purchases. These strategies undoubtedly work with other credit cards, too (we have cards with rotating 5% back categories and other time-limited incentives).
5. Cut a Day From the Parks
Unlike Walt Disney World, where there are 20+ resort hotels and a wealth of things to do on-property outside the parks, Disneyland Resort is pretty sparse in this regard. Yes, there’s Downtown Disney and the three hotels, but these options are better viewed as ways to spend a few hours on arrival or departure day when you don’t have park tickets, rather than a way to kill an entire day.
This is doubly true given the excellent off-property options, something that is comparatively lacking in Florida. Our top recommendations for a day outside the park are Los Angeles and the beach cities. Rent a car for the day, start early in the morning to beat traffic, and have a relaxing day outside the parks. Consult our Ultimate Guide to Los Angelesor our Laguna Beach, California Vacation Planning Guidefor our favorite options.
Those are our two favorite cities near Disneyland, and we’d highly recommend venturing outside of Anaheim to spend time in either (or both) of them. In an ideal world, we’d recommend doing a split trip, and booking a hotel in Laguna Beach or Los Angeles after your Disneyland stay for a couple days to unwind.
If you don’t want to rent a car and head to one of those places, we’d at least suggest going to Anaheim Packing District, Old Towne Orange, or 4th Street Market in Santa Ana for an afternoon or evening. All of those spots are in reasonable Uber distance, and offer better options than Downtown Disney.
4. Skip the Rental Car
Our reasons for recommending that you skip a rental car are two-fold. First, the obvious: if you don’t rent a car, you don’t pay for the rental. Second, more and more hotels near Disneyland are charging for parking, and these fees range from $10 to $24/night. Only a few years ago, free parking at hotels was the general rule; now, it’s the exception.
If you’re doing a Disneyland-only trip, this is pretty easy, and highly recommended. Using Uber between John Wayne Airport (SNA) and Disneyland-area hotels is about $20 each way, or you can use SuperShuttle if you’re arriving into LAX. (Read our Airports Near Disneyland post for more info about recommended airports.)
Once you arrive, it’s highly likely that your hotel will be within walking distance of the parks. Even if it’s not, using the Anaheim Resort Transportation (ART) buses is pretty simple and cost-effective. Failing that, most Uber or Lyft rides should only be about $5 to the parks. (Here are some other Disneyland Transportation Tips.)
If you’re visiting Los Angeles, the beach cities, or other parts of California in addition to Disneyland, we’d recommend picking up your rental car after the Disneyland leg of your trip. There are several rental car companies within walking distance or a short Uber ride of Disneyland Resort.
3. Skip Souvenirs
The cost of each “little” souvenir adds up, and sometimes those little things really aren’t so little to begin with, as shirts are mostly over $20 and sweatshirts are in the $60 range.
This might be a tough sell with your family, so look at it this way: how many extra experiences or days in the parks could that souvenir budget buy you? Memories last a lifetime, but that tie-dyed impulse buy 2018 t-shirt will quickly end up at Goodwill once you realize no one in the real world wears that sort of thing.
If your family still isn’t sold on this, another alternative to this is advance-purchasing souvenirs when they’re on sale on Amazon or at the DisneyStore. Pre-purchasing Disney Pins is also popular, albeit controversial (details here).
2. Drink Water
Large drinks at Disneyland are over $3 a pop (no pun intended–used in the colloquial sense, as I don’t want to start a pop v. soda v. coke debate!). If you’re soda-addicted, you could be spending $10 or more per day on soda. I speak from first-hand experience, and I’ll be the first to admit I’m guilty of this. In looking over receipts from a recent trip, I was shocked at how much I had wasted on soda.
If you need the caffeine, get your fill of coffee in the morning from your hotel room or get your fix at a restaurant offering free refills. Don’t forget, you can get free water (hot or cold) from counter service restaurants, so these Mount Hagen Organic Instant Regular Coffee sticks are another cost-effective and strong option for a fix. As huge caffeine addicts, we shamelessly use these and highly recommend them!
Of course, you could extend this a step further and skip alcohol, which would offer even bigger savings. If you combine this with our buying groceries tip, you could always pick up a 6-pack of beer and unwind by the pool with a cold brew after you get back from the park (or during a midday break!).
1. Skip the Park Hopper
Remember at the top how we said some of these sacrifices might be too great and might lead to a decrease in fun? For us, this is that sacrifice, and something we would not personally do. Given that Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are 5 minutes apart by foot, and each have different operating hours, different entertainment schedules, and dining options, the ability to bounce back and forth between the parks is incredibly important to us.
A lot of resources offering advice to save money at Disneyland suggest ditching the Park Hopper. From an objective perspective, they’re totally right. We even recommend it (with the above caveat) in some places. The cost of Park Hoppers does add up, and you might be able to save $200 or more by skipping the Park Hopper option.
However, it’s not “fat” in the budget that should be thoughtlessly cut by everyone for quick and easy savings. The Park Hopper option can be a huge asset, and you should really figure out how important it would be to you before making the decision to cut it. Determine whether this is something you need or can drop in our Tips for Saving Money on Disneyland Tickets post.
While it’s essential for us, many guests, especially those with young kids, aren’t staying late at night anyway, and calling it an early night rather than park hopping to the park that’s open latest each night isn’t going to be a big deal to them. If you are on a tight budget, consider how important Park Hopping is to you, and whether you can do without it.
Of course, there are plenty of other ways to save money on your Disneyland Resort vacation, and what works for one party may not work for others. How much you can save all depends upon which compromises you’re willing to make, and what parts of the Disney experience are really important to you. Some people may be able to save a lot, others may find that none of these tips will work for them (others still might already be doing all of these things!). Hopefully, there’s at least an idea or two here that’s helpful to you!
Have you tried any of these money-saving Disneyland travel hacks? Do you have any of your own suggestions for slashing a Southern California vacation budget? Any questions? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!