Disneyland Adventures: Money Saving Tips for Planning Your Stay

June 16, 2014

Taking your kids to Disneyland can truly be a magical experience.  Especially if they are on the younger side and still believe in Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, it’s really amazing to watch them experience Disney for the first time.  The joy of hours spent standing in line and coming up with creative ways to avoid purchasing multiple, “but Mom, I neeeeed this!” souvenirs, can perhaps, be less appealing.   Here are a few tips for saving your sanity and maybe even some cash while still having a magical time (mostly).

Go Off-season

Did you know Disneyland is the second most visited amusement park in the United States?  The Magic Kingdom in Disney World holds the number one spot.   Expect the park to be busy, but if you can, avoid at least some of the crowds by going off-season.

Is it a holiday or a weekend day?  Are the kids out on school break?  Expect long lines.  January and February tend to be quieter months, and then, after spring break crowds are gone, late April through mid-May is a good time to go.  Disneyland is generally busiest in the summer when school does not get in the way of family vacations.  In the fall, mid-September through mid-October tends to be less crowded.  Then, after the Halloween crowds have dissipated and the Thanksgiving holidays are done, try to go before the winter break crowds rush in.

Going off-season can save you a lot of cash as well.  Hotels in the area run a lot more specials when occupancy is low.  Airfares also tend to be a lot better during off-peak travel season.  Planning on breakfast with Mickey?  Even prices on character dining experiences at Disneyland may increase during peak travel times.

Plan Ahead

You don’t want to be stuck in the ticket line with your three children figuring out what type of park passes you need.  There will be plenty of lines to stand in when you get inside the park.  Plan ahead to avoid lines whenever and wherever possible.  This will significantly enhance your magical experience.

You can find the various park pass prices listed here.  Try to purchase these online ahead of your trip, if at all possible.  Depending on the length of time that you’re planning to visit, it may make sense to buy a multiple day pass that provides admission into both Disneyland and California Adventure (a park hopper ticket).  This type of ticket also includes Magic Morning admission, which lets you into the park an hour before the general public.  You can also generally buy passes at the front desk of your hotel.

Discounts on park passes are available to active or retired members of the military, but you need to purchase these ahead of time and on base.  These are not available at the Disneyland ticket office.  Disneyland also runs an annual Disney Armed Forces Salute promotion which offers service members (both active and retired) great discounts on park passes and hotel room rates. Find more information here and here.  

If you know approximately when you’ll be going to Disneyland, make sure to check the offers and discounts page for deals.

Pick Your Lodging Wisely

If you’re going to Disneyland, you have a huge variety of lodging options, and the prices can vary widely as well.  The Disneyland Resort has three hotels owned by Disney: Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, the Disneyland Hotel, and the Paradise Pier Hotel.

The Grand Californian, which opened in 2001, is the newest and generally, pricier option.  It does however, have its own entrance into Disney’s California Adventure park solely for Disneyland Resort hotel guests and you can enter the park an hour before the general public.  If you stay at the Disneyland Hotel or the Paradise Pier Hotel, both of which are also Disney owned, you can also use the Grand Californian entrance into the park, and you can enter the park an hour before the general public.  The Disneyland Hotel and the Paradise Pier Hotel are minutes from the entrance to the park.  All three properties feature character dining experiences.

You may be able to save some cash, however, by staying in one of the myriad of hotels nearby.  Some are close enough that you can walk to the park or take a quick shuttle ride, saving on parking fees and time which at Disneyland translates into more magic and less tantrums.  For ideas regarding lodging close to the park, check out Mousesavers.com.  Mousesavers is a fantastic website that can be a treasure trove of helpful hints for navigating your Disney vacation.  Go here for lodging ideas.

When choosing your lodging, consider the purpose of your stay.  If you plan on spending most of your time at the park, you may not want to spend precious vacation dollars on a hotel with amenities that you will not use.  On the other hand, if your vacation has a few built-in relaxation days, look for a hotel with a great pool and kid-friendly activities to keep the whole family entertained.

Keep hidden costs in mind.  Yes, you might pay a lower room rate at a hotel farther away, but once you factor in the cost of parking (and car rental); it may make sense to pay a little more for a hotel within walking distance of the park.  Also (and again), remember that time is valuable, particularly when it’s your precious vacation time.  Spending that time in traffic to get to the park, parking at the park and getting to the front gate from the far corner of the parking lot with your three children, two strollers and an overstuffed diaper bag may somewhat dim that magic.  Otherwise, remember to plan ahead and enjoy!

For great ideas on making the most of your Disneyland vacation, check out:

Mousesavers.com
Disneytouristblog.com

(The Disneyland website also offers some great tips.)

Planning a trip to Disneyland?  Stay tuned for Part II!  We’ll be featuring tips to save you money and time inside the park!

This post was written by Julie Borisov from Colorado PERA. Would you like to write a guest post for The Dime? Email us at dimecontact@copera.org.