disneyland tips&tricks: Disneyland on a budget

Great tips for saving money at Disneyland without sacrificing the fun! Disney on a budget.

Yesterday I shared tips for beating the crowds at Disney, and today I’m sharing budget tips for your Disney trip. The main cost of your trip will be Disney tickets, and there aren’t many ways to save on those since Disney controls the prices pretty closely. By far the best deal I’ve found on tickets is through Park Savers (affiliate link) where you can save up to $14 per ticket. I haven’t seen anywhere else that can save you that much per ticket. (BTW, people used to buy 5-day hopper passes, use a few days, and then sell the tickets with the remaining days on them for cheap on ebay. This won’t work anymore, as Disney now photographs you the first time you use your hopper pass.)

The other main cost will be accommodations, and you’ll just want to shop around to find the option that will work best for you (although I do have one suggestion at the end of my post). After you have tickets and accommodations paid for, you’ll still need to factor in food and souveneirs, which can get EXTREMELY expensive. I like to save money, but my husband doesn’t like to be so worried about not spending anything that we can’t enjoy our vacation, which means we do buy some food at the park for convenience’ sake. We still save a ton of money by using these tips:

1. Bring snacks in with you. Disneyland technically has a no outside food policy, but as long as you’re not trying to bring in a large cooler they pretty much let you bring whatever you want. We have always had someone in a stroller, so I fill up an entire reusable grocery bag with food and stash it beneath the stroller. Cut up fruit in tupperware and sandwiches made on bagels so they won’t squish are great choices. Each child also gets their own fanny pack (find them cheap at a thrift store) and before we leave for the park in the morning he can stuff his pack full of snacks (granola bars, raisins, applesauce, cheese&crackers, pretzels, trail mix, frozen gogurts, dry cereal, apple slices, etc.). Then the kids can snack while they wait in line and they won’t be asking you every five minutes for one of the treats they see everywhere. Which brings us to the next tip…

2. Talk to your kids in advance about what food you’ll be buying at the park. Food is super expensive at the park. Plan on $5 for each treat, $6.50 for each kids’ meal, and $10 for each adult meal (drinks are extra for adults, another $3 at least). If the kids know they will get one meal and one treat per day, for example, then they’ll be able to plan when they want it and won’t ask for more stuff each day. It will also help them be sure to pack enough snacks to get them through the day.

3. Carry water bottles and find drinking fountains. It’s amazing how much money you can spend on water bottles throughout a day at Disney, especially if it’s hot out. It costs about the same for one bottle of water in the park as an entire case of 24 water bottles at the grocery store, so it’s worth bringing your own. One per person is plenty as long as you pay attention to where drinking fountains are and refill your bottle. Many popular rides have drinking fountains near the exit (Space Mountain, Toy Story Mania), so it’s easy to get a drink and refill your bottle on your way out.

4. Consider having kids split an adult meal instead of getting separate kids’ meals. (And then let them eat like animals off the same plate like I did…oops.) The kid meals at Disney are all about $6.50 and usually come with a small main dish (like 4 nuggets or a tiny cheeseburger), carrots, apple slices, and a small drink. My kids don’t get too excited about the carrots and apples, and we usually pack our own juice boxes, so it makes more sense to get an adult meal and let two of them split. They get a lot more food and it’s a few bucks cheaper. One more meal tip: if you’re in California Adventures you can get salads in a bread bowl from the Boudin Bakery – you get a whole loaf of bread under your salad which usually just gets thrown away. Instead, order the bread sliced on the side. You can eat the salad and few pieces of bread, then grab some butter and share the rest of the loaf with the kids instead of throwing it away.

5. Take the monorail from Tomorrowland to Downtown Disney for lunch at Earl of Sandwich. The monorail, which picks up just above the submarine ride, zips you out to Downtown Disney in no time. Most of the restaurants there are just as pricey as eating in the park, but an Earl of Sandwich has just opened up. It has tons of different sandwich and salad options that are cheaper and MUCH tastier than what you’ll get in the park, and it’s right across from the monorail stop. Just get your hand stamped when you exit the monorail, have a nice lunch, and let the monorail zip you back into Tomorrowland when you’re done.

6. Consider a private condo rental instead of a hotel. We’ve been to Disneyland four times and stayed in four different places. Most recently we rented a private condo near the park and it was by far the most comfortable we’ve been while at Disney. For about the same price as a two room hotel suite (we had 9 people going) we were able to rent a three bedroom, three bathroom condo. We had a full kitchen, a living room, computers we could use, and a patio with a grill and a little playhouse. It was wonderful! There were beds for everyone, and plenty of room to spread out. I LOVED sitting down at a real table for dinner instead of eating take-out balanced on the edge of a hotel bed. We could put the little kids down to bed earlier than the adults, which was really convenient (that’s hard to do when you’re all crammed into the same hotel room). AND there was a washer and dryer there we could use for free – no getting quarters for the laundromat. We got up and had cereal or made pancakes for breakfast every day, and cooked dinner there a few nights, which saved quite a bit of money. Even if the adults want to eat out since you’re on vacation, you can make mac-n-cheese or frozen pizzas for the kids. It was fanstastic. Check sites like flipkey.com or homeaway.com for rental info.

7. Order pins to trade in advance. Walking around with a lanyard full of Disney pins around your neck is just plain fun when you’re at Disneyland, especially if you’re in the older elementary age range. Nearly all Disney employees wear pins and will trade with you – usually giving you whichever pin you want from them for whatever you’d like to trade away. The only problem is that each Disney pin costs between $8 and $16, which makes it a pretty pricey hobby. However, we found that you can order bulk packages of older Disney pins online from Amazon for about $1 per pin. I ordered a package of 30 before we left home, but once we got there and the kids realized how much fun it was to trade, we ordered 60 more and had them overnighted to the condo we were staying in. All four boys ended up with a lanyard chock full of pins and had a fantastic time trading. It’s a fun thing to do when you’re standing in long lines for rides. (Note: a few of the reviews on the bulk package of pins I ordered said they were not genuine Disney pins – however they look genuine to me, are stamped with the Disney seal on the back, and none of the Disney employees had any problem with them, so I think they are just older pins.) We have also purchased Disney t-shirts and stuffed animals in advance for much cheaper than you can get at the park (check Walmart, disney.com for clearance, even thrift stores).

***ETA: A reader has commented that most of these cheaper packs are fakes, so it looks like it might be a morally grey area here trading them at Disney. Maybe they’d be better to purchase as souveniers only, since the kids don’t know the difference…

Any other fantastic money saving Disney ideas out there? Leave them in the comments so we can all benefit from everyone else’s experience. Remember there are more Disney posts from last year – find them here, here, here, and here.


  1. 1

    Shannah @ Just Us Four says

    I am in the middle of planning our first Disney trip set for November. These tips are perfect to help me out. Would you consider linking this up at my Pinworthy Projects Party? I hope to see you there!

    • 2

      Joy says

      When you go on your November Disney Trip, be sure to go into ToonTown. They always have a crazy goofy Christmas Tree, absolutely wonderful place to take a family Christmas card picture!

  2. 3

    Megin says

    Great post with some wonderful tips!
    I’m visiting you today from Sugar Bee. I co-host a Linky Party Tuesdays and would LOVE for you to add this. I hope you get a chance to stop by my blog, leave a comment and Link Up, too!
    ~ Megin of VMG206
    Join me each Tuesday for Brag About It Link Up Party

  3. 4

    Yvonne @ Dress This Nest says

    These are great tips. We used to live in Southern CA and took for granted how pricey these types of trips can be. The biggest expense I used to try to avoid was parking fees, so I guess if you are renting a condo, try to stay within walking distance of the park. Parking is not only expensive, but also a time sucker. Thanks for sharing your tips!

  4. 5

    LW says

    The very cheap bulk packs of pins are almost always not legit. The reason they look legit is that they’re made in the same factories as the real deal and are either castoffs that weren’t good enough for the factory to include in Disney’s order or were intentionally cut extra to sell on Ebay, Amazon, etc. without Disney’s consent. If they have the Mickey stamp on the back, the cast members are going to trade with you, but it’s morally grey because you’re introducing fakes into the pool that will be traded to unsuspecting people and they’ve been obtained without Disney seeing any of the money for a product whose trademark belongs to them. There are tons of internet guides to spotting fakes, and most Disney message boards have a section devoted to the subject. We got duped by a bulk lot on Ebay too, but we won’t trade them knowing what we do now. It really sucks that there are unscrupulous people out there selling illegally obtained goods to those of us who are just trying to do something nice for our kids on a budget, but you might want to let your readers know about this shiftiness.
    –Thanks for the info, LW! Will update my post.
    Oh, and one more tip: You don’t need to bring water bottles. Any counter service restaurant will give you as many cups of filtered ice water as you want any time you ask.

  5. 6

    Amanda says

    Great post! I am a Disneyland fanatic and go with my mom all the time (we are annual pass holders)! I just wanted to share a couple of tips we have learned over the years…Of course I have to start off with going during their off season. January(minus the first week), late April/early May and mid to late September are always good times to go and it will help you save on hotel costs. If you want yo see the Halloween decorations aim for late September and if you are really dying to see the Christmas decorations go the first week of December. Next, statistically speaking Tuesdays and Wednesdays are always significally slower park days so use those to get the most action in. Now because it is typically only me and my mom we do eat a lot in the park, but expanding on your water tip, at any resturant inside the park they will give you cups of water (I’ve gotten one of those huge cups filled with just water before) and of course its free. My last tip is about parking because it can be really expensive like Yvonne pointed out, but if you select a day and deam it your “short day” you can park in the Downtown Disney parking area for up to 5 hours for free upon validation at a store or resturant of $25 or more. This includes those in the Disney hotels also.
    Hope that helps someone out there!

  6. 7

    mindy pitcher says

    love these tips!! one I picked up on our last trip was to use our camelback that we take hiking to solve the water issue in park. much more convenient than water bottles!

  7. 8

    Alvi Ann says

    Buy a whole pizza at pizza port instead of by the slice. Each slice is about $6.50 and the whole pizza is about $30. Since its a deep dish and comes with tons of cheese it fills you up. We share one pizza between 6 of us and that includes 3 adults and 3 teens. Also Pizza port gives you refills on drinks!

  8. 9

    Peggy GG says

    We always buy T- shirts at the Disney store at the mall before we leave. That way we only pay $10 per shirt rather than the $25 they charge at the park. The Target in Anaheim (very close to the park has an entire Disney department, which would save you tons if you popped in there rather than the gift shops at the park. We bought the kids all lanyards at the park for $8, only to find them the next day at Target for $1.99. If only we had known!

  9. 12

    Alicia says

    Thanks for the tips. I like the parking tip for short trips one. I have to use that next. Here is my own tip for you. I freeze my water bottles over night. They slowly melt as the day progresses. It keeps them cold and it helps to keep me from drinking the whole bottle too fast causing multiple restroom trips at inopportune times. Hope this one helps 🙂

  10. 13

    Heather S says

    My breakfast tip is to go to Tomorrow Land (Disneyland) and order the child’s breakfast for everyone instead of the adult one. It comes with turkey bacon and fresh fruit instead of pork bacon and a biscuit, a much healthier choice and cheaper for adults.

  11. 14


    I love your ideas! I just started a service of being a nanny at the Disneyland parks. I have gone with 6 family’s for a few days each and it has worked out better then I dreamed it would! I am called Nanny In The Kingdom!

  12. 15

    Myrna says

    I researched the pins before we took our trip to Disneyland and I didn’t want to risk buying fakes on Amazon. Instead, I frequently shopped on the Disney website and bought pins on Clearance. Some can be bought for as little as $2-$3. It’s not as great as the Ebay deals, but at least you know they are authentic.

  13. 17

    CaSsie says

    My husband and I are planning our trip to disneyland. Being from Arizona frys grocery store sells gift cards for tickets and gift cards to use inside the park. Using the fuel point system and that gift cards are 2x the fuel points we will save a full dollar on gas. With fuel points to spare just with two of us going! Just a way to save here and there

  14. 18


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  15. 19

    Kelly says

    HI! I want to surprise my kids in a few days. I want to take them to Disneyland, for the first time! I was hoping you know a site, that I can copy fake passes? I want our Elf, to surprise them. Any ideas, would be helpful!
    I have read your tips, very helpful!
    Thank you!


  16. 20

    Marti Beamish says

    If you don’t know already, you can also order trading pins off EBay. Most are genuine because they are people’s doubles. Still works out to $1 or less per pin.

  17. 21


    Thank you for the great tips! We are hoping to suprise our girls and my mother in law, who is fighting breast cancer right now, with a Disneyland trip in a couple of years! Any tips on getting tickets into the park for cheap? I know one year my husband and I got one day free for donating some baby clothes to baby your baby, do you know of any other programs like that?

  18. 23

    Stacy says

    Since you’ve stayed both in Park and offsite, which did you prefer? We’re taking our first family trip to Disney this year and are debating on weather to rent a place or stay on Disney property….I’d love to hear your take.

    Great post and comments, thanks so much!!


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