Disney on a Dime in Time: Getting the Most from Your Disneyland Visit

Disneyland Tips and Ideas
Arrive at the park when it opens, and use FASTPASS to reduce your time spent waiting in lines. Credit: K. Pearson Brown

 

Story and Photos by K. Pearson Brown

A trip to Disneyland can be expensive, with the lowest price SoCal resident one-day, one-park tickets starting at $81 for kids 3-9 years old. Admission is only one cost. There’s gas, meals, snacks and souvenirs, and if you plan to stay overnight, the cost of a hotel.

Hotels Near Disneyland

In order to truly enjoy your visit and not worry about money, figure out which elements of your trip are worth splurging on for you and your family, plan ahead to help defray costs, and then just have fun.

If you have the buckage, staying at one of the Disneyland Resort Hotels is the way to go. The Disneyland Hotel, The Grand California Hotel & Spa and the Paradise Pier Hotel are all fabulous and carry over the Disney brand of extreme hospitality and spirit in décor, ambient music and other touches, and there are added perks, like Magic Hour early admission and a private park entrance. All three Disney hotels also have great pools and waterslides.

Keeping Cool in California
The Anaheim Hilton Hotel has many amenities for families such as a kids water feature a Disney Desk at the hotel. Credit: Courtesy Anaheim Hilton

The Disneyland Resort site (http://disneyland.disney.go.com/)  features a number of packages that slightly discount Disney hotels plus admission tickets and dining options.
You can save a lot by staying off-Disney, at one of the partner hotels, which offer much lower room rates.

The nearby big convention hotels have a more corporate ambience, but hotels such as the Hilton Anaheim Hotel , with room rates starting at $94, cater to Disneyland visitors with child-friendly features, such as a terrific water feature at the hotel pool and an on-site Disney Desk staffed by resort cast members. The Hilton is also walking distance from the park, if you are a sturdy walker, or you can hitch a free shuttle bus across the street to the park that will drop you off right at the park entrance.

Eating Cheap at Disneyland
You can save on meals by shopping at a local supermarket and eating at a complimentary picnic area just outside the park’s main entrance. Credit: K. Pearson Brown

Count on food at the park being expensive. Entrees at the restaurants are pretty generous, so you can share if you have a modest appetite. If you are really hungry, the all-you-want-to-enjoy buffets are a pricey but satisfying option, and some offer character dining, such as at Goofy’s Kitchen, where the characters come by to hang with you at your table – which can be a two-fer option if you don’t want to wait in line at the park to pose with characters for photos. If you are on a tight budget for meals, dining outside the park offers the usual cheap fast-food and moderately priced casual dining options, or if you can shop at the local supermarket and eat at the complimentary picnic area just outside the main entrance. No outside food or beverage is allowed in the park, and security does search your bags when you enter.

It will cost you a little sleep but no extra money to get in more Disney by arriving when the park opens so you can maximize your visit. Lines are shorter for the first hour or so, so head to the attractions that historically have the longer lines, which are generally the rides that feature FASTPASS, which is also a great program to take advantage of to reduce your time waiting in lines.

Dining at Disneyland
Character dining options feature all-you-can-enjoy meals and an opportunity for photos with characters, without standing in line at the park. Credit: K. Pearson Brown

The themed merchandise at the shops is tempting, so set a budget for yourself and the kids each day. Use gift cards or Disney Dollars to enforce the limit. Once the allowance is gone, that’s it. Better yet, tell the kids that you are saving the last hour of the last day for shopping, so you can stave off the constant pleas for souvenirs at every turn.
Lastly, be prepared. Take along extra batteries, a change of clothes and towel for wet rides, and a sweatshirt or jacket for when the sun goes down, so you don’t end up buying these things at the park.

And remember, don’t feel deprived just to save yourself a few bucks. Budget in one or two spontaneous purchases, and enjoy the Happiest Place on Earth without regret.

Disneyland on Less Than a Grand – Barely

imageI’ve been to Disneyland a handful of times in my life. The first trip I was just barely old enough to remember it, but I remember riding the Dumbo Elephants with my dad and spinning in the Mad Hatter Teacups with my mom and brother. This was in the mid-1970s and I remember having a book of tickets – my mom, who worked in her teens as one of the mermaids on the submarine adventures – always spoke of E-Tickets as something close to admittance to heaven. Back in the mid-70s – Disneyland was something like $10 per person with individual tickets for rides costing an additional $10 or so. The parking lot was massive (now it is Disney’s California Adventure Park). Parking was a couple of bucks – so a family of five could look at around $100-$150 for a day at Disneyland without food or lodging.

I went to Disneyland again sometime around the period before it switched to single entry in 1980. The price had jumped to $12 per person and the E-ticket ruled supreme. In 1984 I went with my entire 8th Grade Graduating Class – and every other 8th grader in Southern California (it seemed) – I don’t recall how much it was for us – but I think it was something like $25 for the experience – Captain Eo was the newest and most excitement building attraction. The last time I went to Disneyland before this year was in 1988 – I’m pretty sure that tickets were still in the $20 per visit range. Star Tours was a brand new ride and we waited in line to go on it seven or eight times. We loved that there were no individual tickets but of course, that did make lines longer.

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Prices have changed. In January of 2016 I took my family of three to Disneyland. We paid approx $100 each for a one day pass to the Disneyland park only. A nearby hotel with parking cost us just about $430. We snacked on various foods in the park and kept souvenirs down to a pair of plush Minnie Mouse ears – that was another $100. Meals outside the park set us back another $150. And that brings us to $980 for a family of three to stay two nights near Disneyland and have one very full day in the Disneyland park only. Just barely under $1000 not including the trip to get there, the gas, hotels on the way etc. I felt like we did pretty good. Could we have skimped more? Sure – we could have gotten a cheaper hotel at a further distance with breakfast included. We could have snacked less in the park. We could have made sandwiches for dinner and used public transportation to get to and from the park and saved on parking – but even so – it still would have cost us $600 at a minimum – and frankly – the convenience of crossing the street to get to Disneyland was worth it, the snacking in the park was part of the fun, the souvenir we bought was essential, the meals were fun and part of the vacation experience. It was worth every penny.

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Before going on this trip – I looked at as many options as I could find. Multi-day park hopper tickets cost more but seem to be a good value – you can’t buy single day tickets anywhere but at Disneyland ticket booths. I bought them the night before and we were in line good and early – so it was a little bit galling to see the magic morning hour folks enjoying the park for an hour before us – that wasn’t an option available to us. You can get the magic morning hour if you purchase 3, 4, or 5 day park hopper tickets in advance – starting at $235 per person. So it wasn’t available to us because we didn’t have the time or money to spend that much time at Disneyland. So a 3-day park ticket (one park per day) with magic hour on one of the days would have cost us right around $700 – which is a pretty good deal for a family of three. To make those park hopper tickets would cost you an addition $120 – I’m not sure that would be worth it – unless there were a very good reason.

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I downloaded the Disneyland app for my iPhone and it was awesome. It told us wait times, which rides were closed, and gave us a great tool to help us make the most of our day in the park. Since we knew our phones would be getting heavy usage for photos, videos, and the app – I bought a rechargeable battery and a solar panel before the trip – these were lifesavers. Not once on our entire trip did we have to put away our phones and take no pictures due to battery drain. By the way, we left the solar panel behind but brought the fully charged battery with us and it gave us four full charges through the day.

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Initially, I had no idea Disneyland had become so expensive – I went to the Disneyland website thinking to create a simple Disneyland Vacation – the bill for a simple vacation staying at the Disneyland Hotel for three nights, with 3 day park hopper, a character breakfast, and not including snacks, souvenirs, or parking came to over $2400! I knew I could do better – and so we did. And it was awesome…more about the specifics in my next post.

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