I can’t tell you how often people ask me for tips for saving money at Disneyland. We started going to Disneyland a little over 5 years ago – and in the past five years, we have visited over 100 times!
We live about 45 minutes away from Disneyland, and we have Annual Passes. I never went to Disneyland when I was a child – so I guess I’m making up for lost time! Ha!
Here are my Top Tips on How to Visit Disneyland Like a Local and Save Money:
1) Buy your gifts and apparel ahead of time:
I have been to Disneyland over 100 times and I have never purchased anything in a gift shop. Ever.
The prices are so high – I can’t justify it! If you or your child will be wanting something, why not buy it ahead of time at the Disney Store or on Ebay – and bring it with you?
For experiences like the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique – you can bring your OWN dress. Seriously. Shop the After- Halloween sales locally or online for 80% off princess costumes and bring your own dress to the park. That’s what I always do for my girls! I also buy the glitter make-up after Halloween and I do my girls’ hair before we go.
Here is a picture of a time we did just that. My daughter was CRAZY about the Princesses – but I did not want to spend $100 for a dress from Disneyland. I got her one on Amazon on sale – and she was just as happy. For real.
2) Go in the Off-Season:
I know – people groan: But my kids are in school then and I don’t want to take them out!
Well, guess what: If you want to see Disneyland like a local, you need to go in the off-season.
First of all, everything is cheaper in the off-season. You can save so much money on hotel and airfare by planning your trip in the low-months. Not only that, you’ll get better service for a lower price. You’ll get more character interactions – and you’ll be able to avoid paying for things like Character Meals and instead get to spend time one on one in the Park with the characters for FREE.
Second, I have been to Disneyland when it’s packed and when it’s empty. Guess which one’s more magical? 😉 There’s not a whole lot more miserable than waiting in line for hours to ride one ride, in 100 degree heat with hundreds of thousands of people.
The best times to go are in Late September/Early October or in January/February/March- when he weather is pleasant, and the crowds are gone. You want to avoid Christmas at Disneyland because the crowds are nuts. If you want to see it decorated for Christmas, go in mid-November when the decorations are up but the crowds are not! Feburary and March are both ideal months to visit, as the crowds are typically very thin.
Also – you will want to check the LAUSD and the Anaheim School District websites to check and make sure that a local school holiday does not fall over the time of your visit. I have accidentally visited on Teacher In Service days – and it’s as packed as any summer day.
3) Bring Your Own Snacks:
You’re going to want to pack your own snacks. Trust me on this one! It’s no fun to stand in line waiting to spend a small fortune for a simple snack.
Typically, I bring several empty Ziplock baggies, and divide up the snacks for the day. I only bring things that don’t melt (like Goldfish crackers, Cheerios, and hard granola bars). The kids snack on these throughout the day.
My kids love the park’s popcorn, but it’s pricey. So usually I buy one of the big containers on the first day of our trip. Then I keep that character cup and re-fill it with my own popcorn and carry it in for future trips. My kids never know the difference!
4) Don’t Mess With Water Bottles:
Some people say to bring your own water bottles, but I find that they get hot quickly and it’s a pain to lug them around. I say: don’t mess with water bottles at all! Every counter service (fast food) restaurant in the park will give you unlimited cups of ice water (with lids and straws) for free. This is a huge money saver, since bottles of water in the park can cost $4/each!
For my little ones, I often bring empty sippy cups and then just re-fill them with the free ice water throughout the day. The cup stays clean, it’s not sticky, and I don’t have to worry about anything spilling or getting spoiled. It’s awesome!
5) Save Money on Meals:
We don’t dine at sit-down restaurants in the park because it adds up so fast! We also DON’T eat at character-themed restaurants because 1) I would rather spend that time riding rides, and 2) if you go in the off-season, you can have plenty of character interactions for free without waiting in long lines.
If your child still naps and you are staying at a hotel, plan to have your lunch outside the park. There’s a McDonald’s very close to Disneyland – and say what you will about McDonald’s – but you’ll pay $1 for a kid’s cheeseburger there and $8 in the park for basically the same thing. Plan ahead, and let your snacks get you through lunch, then dine off-site for your meals.
Another tip (and this may sound crazy) : buy one turkey leg (they’re enormous) and share it. One turkey leg can feed a family of four. Especially if you bring your own fruit/veggies to supplement it. That with four cups of water – and you’ve fed your whole family for less than $10!
I’ll be back soon with my tips about visiting Disneyland with babies – because goodness knows, I know a little something about that! Ha!
What are your favorite ways to save money at theme parks? Have you tried Disneyland with kids? What did you think? Tell me in the comments!