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Planning a Trip to Disneyland on a Budget

Planning a Trip to Disneyland on a Budget

As budget travelers, we have had to find ways to lower the cost to get to the magic. If you are planning a trip to Disneyland on a budget, use our tips to get more joy with a little less of the costs.

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Can You Got To Disneyland on a Budget

Yes, you can. But like all travel on a budget. You are going to have to make some choices. Our best tips to lower the cost of your Disneyland trip is to:

  • Buy “Official” Discounted Tickets
  • Don’t Rent a Car
  • Don’t Buy Your Meals at Disneyland. Plan 1 treat a day.
  • Don’t Staying on Property

Read on to learn how we manage a 4-day Disney trip, excluding airfare, for less $2,000 or $500 per day, including tickets and hotel, for our family of 3.

Budgeting for Disneyland: What is the Cost

There are so many variable, including where you stay, number of days in the park and where you eat. An average 7-day trip to Disneyland for a family of 4 is around $5,731. But if you use our tips, the same family on a budget can expect the same 7 day trip to cost spend $4,340.

When Buying Discounted Tickets Only Use An Authorized Disney Agent

Matthew, Faith and O with Lightning McQueen
Yep, when you are a Cars fan, that is some serious magic

Depending where you stay (and we stay real budget) Disneyland tickets themselves may be the biggest expense of any trip to Disneyland. They definitely are for us.

And there are absolutely posts devoted to how to save money on buying Disneyland tickets. But if you are going to try to save a few dollars on tickets, let’s talk through it. 

The first thing to know is the savings aren’t huge.  If you do use an authorized Disney agent, like Undercover Tourist, which is who we recommend, you are not going to save more than 10%.

So for example, on our upcoming trip where we are planning to spend 4 days and do a park a day, the same ticket on Undercover Tourist would have cost $30 less. It isn’t everything, but it ain’t nothing.

However, a couple things to note. If you are just going to Disneyland for a day, no one offers discounted single tickets. Sorry.

Also, if you do get tickets through Undercover Tourist, you still need to link your ticket through the My Disney Experience and make a park reservation. 

When Planning a Trip to Disneyland You Need a Ticket AND a Reservation

As a part of their post-COVID reopening, all Disney Parks require a reservation. So if you buy your tickets from Undercover Tourist, first be sure that your days are actually available. Tickets can be used within a calendar year, but still…disappointing.

In fact, one of the reasons why we typically just buy tickets through the Disney website, even though we know this discount exists, is the convenience. As a part of booking your tickets through the Disney website, you also pick your days.

So when you hit “buy,” on the Disney site you have tickets, day reservations, and it is all linked in your My Disney Experience. But if you are willing to take a few extra steps, this could be one way to save some money.

Note: We are not a Undercover Tourist affiliate so we don’t receive any kickbacks from sharing this information. We just want you to know a reputable site if you do decide to get discounted tickets.

What is the Best Type of Ticket to Save The Most Money

Some basic rules before we get started into the nitty-gritty.

Budget Tip: Disney Rewards You For Staying Longer

You will pay less per day when you stay 5 days then 2. Like, significantly less. In 2022, two-day tickets start from $128 per day. Tickets for 5 days are $76/day. (But then again, you are paying for 5 days.) 

When booking our most recent trip, it was literally less than $80 overall to add a 4th day to our ticket. So instead of adding a Hopper, which was $180 for all three tickets or $60 per ticket, we added a 4th day.

Our 4th ticket is our travel day to Disney, but we will still get into the park by early afternoon. In the end, for us, we decided to go slower each day by picking a park a day and giving ourselves 2 days per park to make it to all our favorite rides.

But we have done the Hopper. What is important to know about the Hopper is that you pay the same price to add it to your ticket, however many days you plan to visit.

Let me explain. Disney groups all your days together and calls it your tickets. So if you are going for 5 days or 1 day, you have 1 ticket. And you only add the Hopper ticket price once to your ticket. Again, you add it to your ticket, not each day.

In 2022, the rate to add the Hopper was $60 per ticket. If you add a Hopper to a single day ticket it is a wild expense. But if you add it to a 4-day ticket it is literally just $15 per day.

Again, Disney rewards you for staying longer because they know you have to have a hotel and eat all those delicious mouse shaped treats. So the only way to really stick it to Disney, is to save money on lodging and food, which we will cover a bit later.  

When Is the Best Budget Time To Go To Disneyland

You probably already know this…but when everyone wants to go to Disney it is going to be more…a lot more. So budgeting for Disneyland means going when it is less crowded.

In 2016, Disneyland switched to demand pricing, which means days that are in higher demand, like the weekend, summer months, or during holiday weeks ticket costs per day are going to be higher than your average Wednesday in September.

In fact, a daily ticket ranges from $106-$164. Yikes.

Low season at Disneyland is mid-January through March and the month of September. Personally, our very favorite time to go to both Disneyland and Disneyworld is at the end of September, when we get a fall break from school. 

Best Budget Time to Visit Disneyland: September 

We think September is the best time, not just because it is cheaper. Although that is definitely the case. We love September because the parks are all decorated up for Halloween and all the autumn treats are out. 

Matthew, Faith and O in front of the Happy Howl-a-ween sign at Carland
The Halloween decor is sensational. Our favorite time of year at the park.

When O was little we also loved September so we could  attend the Halloween Special Event. At Disneyworld, the Halloween party is called Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and at Disneyland it is in California Adventure and called Oogie Boogie Bash.

But regardless of where you go, everyone comes in costume, and kids get to trick or treat through the park and get loads of candy. Even the characters are decked out in costumes! There are special shows and themed firework displays. Yep, it is great. 

Why the Disneyland Special Events Are No Longer On Our Budget List

The Cost of the Special Event Ticket is Too High

The two major special events at Disney are the Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas. And yet, even as great as they are, we actually wouldn’t recommend it for the budget-minded family now. And here’s why.

We splurged for the Halloween Party several times when O was little but a lot has changed that doesn’t make it particularly budget friendly. 

First, the price has gone up significantly over the past decade. We  first took O to the Halloween Party in Disneyworld. The special event ticket was about half the price of a day ticket.

And while the party starts around 6 p.m., you could still get into the park around 3 p.m for what they call the “mix in.” The “mix in” period means you are there with the general population, until the general population on a regular ticket is pushed out at 6 p.m. 

So, in essence, by buying a special event ticket, you got a pretty full day of Disney magic + trick or treating at half the cost. But now the cost of the ticket is so much higher that we are not sure it is worth it, especially when you consider the loss of a day.

Booking a Special Event Ticket Means You Pay More Per Day

Remember rule #1: Disney rewards you for staying longer–your special event ticket is not counted as a day.

So if you are at Disney for 4 days but one of those is for the Halloween Party, then really you are paying the higher daily rate of $110/day versus $90/day. For our family of 3, that totals $60/ticket or $180 more. Yikes.

And yet, even with the Oogie Boogie Bash, September is still the best time.

Because even if you can’t come trick or treat, you still get to experience all the amazing decorations, music and treats that signals this wonderful time of year.

And listen, no one controls what you wear. So if you want to wear your Halloween costumes during the day – just because you do – then you do you. 

We also love to be in the park to experience Disneyland Christmas Decorations. So maybe skip Mickey’s Merry Christmas Party and because the parks are special enough at this time of year.

But be careful when you come to see the holiday decoration. Christmas time is definitely not a budget time in the park.

We go on one of the first weekends in December before the Christmas prices and crowds appear.

Matthew, Faith and O in front of the Disneyworld Castle
Halloween Costumes + Disney = Happy

Where to Stay at Disneyland on A Budget

There is an exhaustive list of hotels right near Disneyland that cater to all kinds of budgets. There are 3 categories of Disneyland hotels: on-property Resort hotels, off-property, some of which are called Good Neighbor Hotels or independent hotels.

On-Property, Disney Resort Hotels

Let me just get in front of this one. If you are going to Disneyland on a budget, you are not going to stay on property. Sure you get the amazing location and the perk of getting into the park an hour early, but the cost is really high–like $400-$800 per night. 

For years, we’ve checked on the rates of the Grand Californian with bated breath. Hoping beyond hope that rooms won’t be $800 a night. But alas, they always are. Sigh.

If you do want to splurge for a Disneyland property, the most budget friendly is Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel.  We’ve heard they have an amazing rooftop pool from which you can watch the fireworks. But we wouldn’t know….because you know, budget.

Off-Property, Disney Good Neighbor Hotels

Good Neighbor hotels are an option for budget minded families. The benefit of a Good Neighbor hotel is you can bundle your tickets and your hotel together.

Before we book a Good Neighbor bundle, however, we always check the tickets and hotel separately, just to be sure that we are getting the best deal.

The Good Neighbor Hotels run the gamut of prices. Chains like Motel 6, Clarion, and Holiday Inn will be your most likely choices for your budget. All three of these hotels are less than a mile from the park. 

Off-Property, Independent

One of our favorite off-property hotels is the Clementine. While Clementine is more than some of the Good Neighbor budget hotels, we love these apartment-style accommodations that offer a full kitchen. Clementine is also on the ART bus routes, which we will tell you all about in the next section.

We have also stayed REALLY cheap at the Super 8 Disneyland. To be real honest, what you are getting here is a clean, fairly large room and a small, sort of well kept pool.

The rooms also have microwaves and fridges, which is really important to us as we eat breakfast and pack lunch for the park. This hotel also has an amazing view of the fireworks. But the outside of the hotel is pretty run-down. So you have to be really in for the deal.

Tips for Staying Off Property

Use the Anaheim Regional Transport (ART) system

After miles of walking around Disneyland, the last thing you want to do is walk more. In fact, that .5 mile that didn’t seem so far when you booked your hotel now feelings like infinity and beyond.

ART to the rescue. ART is Anaheim’s regional public transit that has numerous lines that drop off at both good neighbor and independent hotels.

ART picks up and drops of at the Disneyland Transit center. The area with all the busses at the eastern end of the entry way plaza right before Disneyland security. If you come in to Disneyland from Harbor Drive (instead of Downtown Disney), you can’t miss it.

And the cost is pretty inexpensive.

How to Use ART

Step 1: Download the App A-Way We Go App. The app is free.

Step 2: Buy a pass. You can certainly just get one-way. But a multi-day pass is a way better deal.

For example, a one way trip is $4.00. But a 5-day adult pass is $25.00. So $5 dollars a day for unlimited rides on ART.

And a child’s pass (3-9) is even more of a deal with a 5 day pass costing only $5.50. Just a dollar a day. Children under 3 ride for free.

Passes come in 1, 2, 3, 5 and 15 days.

Step 3: Figure out your route. On the app’s main screen, select “Routes” to see all 12 of the ART routes. Most of the stops are situated either in front of or very near a Disneyland hotel.

If you can’t figure out your route, just ask at your hotel front desk. They will be happy to help you.

Hours of ART

ART runs continually every morning an hour before the park opens until 10:30 a.m. And then every evening from 6:30 until 12:30 a.m.

But what if you are like us and prefer to go home in the middle of the day to rest?

One of the coolest things about ART is their “On Demand” program. Literally, between the hours of 10:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., if you need a ride to and from the park, you can request a bus on demand. Think of it sort of like a giant blue Uber.

The “Demand” button is on the home screen of the ART app. However, a couple things to note, the on-demand works really well. And we use it everyday to go back to our hotel around 2 p.m. and then come back on at 5 p.m. But it isn’t instantaneous like Uber.

Our biggest suggestion here is to request an “On Demand” when you are getting ready to leave the park. And by the time you make your way to the Disneyland Transit Area, it should be close. You can also keep an eye on the time for pick up. And the app will update if the bus is delayed.

When Budgeting for Disneyland, Choose a Property With a Kitchen

Buying food at Disney is the death to any budget-minded trip.

We love the Clementine because we can have groceries delivered and eat most if not all of our meals at our home away from home.

We start with breakfast in the suite, pack a lunch, and come home for an early dinner and rest before heading back to the park for night time rides and shows.

Mickey Treats on a Budget
Mickey Treats on a Budget. We had this treat included in our grocery delivery. All the sweet, a fraction of the price.

Listen, it is Disney and the treats are everything. So we still get a few treats in the park. We are not completely soulless. But we literally save hundreds of dollars by eating out of the park.

For us, Disney is the rides, the decorations, and the remarkable shows. It is never about that sort of warm hamburger and fries. So food is an easy place to save some money.

Saving money while traveling by eating in and not out is kind of our thing. Read more about why you should not eat out while traveling.

Transportation When You Are Planning a Trip to Disneyland On a Budget

If you are like us, flying into LAX is not only the most economical way to get to Disneyland, but it also is our only direct flight. However if Disneyland is your destination, once you touch down at LAX you still have a ways to go.

Disneyland is nearly 35 miles from LAX. And if you have ever driven in Los Angeles…well, let’s just say traffic is a state of being. 

We are all about public transit, but Los Angeles doesn’t make it easy. And car rentals really don’t make sense as you will be spending all your days in the park and paying for a car that is just sitting in a hotel parking lot, you may have to pay extra for.

If you want to know the cheapest way to get from LAX to Disneyland, one of our most popular posts will tell you how to use a hybrid public transit and ride share for your cheapest route to Disneyland

Using our hybrid method to get from LAX to Disneyland, you can save at least $100 on the transit costs.

By its very nature, a family vacation to Disneyland is not “budget.”

But we hope our guide for planning a trip to Disneyland on a budget will make getting to the magic possible for your family, in the same ways these tips have made it possible for ours.

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