If you’re a Disney fan, then you know that planning a vacation to the parks can be costly, both in time, money and sanity. Here are some tips and tricks to help you save. 

1. Book a Hotel Off-Grounds

It is easy to spend a lot of money planning for a Disneyland vacation from transportation to hotels to food and don’t forget souvenirs! But you don’t have to spend a lot of money if you plan right.

My husband and I recently went for a walk outside the grounds of Disneyland and were surprised at how close so many hotels and restaurants were (and how the hotels that were right next door or even across the street even provided shuttles!). Tack on a few extra minutes to your planning to cross the street and go through security and you’re on the grounds ready for your trip. Look at Travelocity, Expedia, your travel agent or Trivago for the best price.

Some of the hotels that are super close by are:

  • Hilton
  • Mariott
  • Candy Cane Inn
  • Holiday Inn and more

2. Save on Food

Eating on grounds, grabbing a hot dog or churro or even snacking along Downtown Disney can be expensive (we spent $40 for breakfast…just bacon and eggs with coffee…for 2 people…yikes!). If you’d rather save money for souvenirs or character meals (who doesn’t want to meet Mickey!), there are a lot of restaurants just outside the park and within a 10 min walk around the park. Googlemap it and you’ll be surprised!

Here’s what we noticed when we decided to check out the Cheesecake Cafe for the first time….

  • Cheesecake Cafe
  • Coco’s Bakery Restaurant
  • Denny’s
  • lots more in the Anaheim Garden Walk.

3. Souvenir Shop Off Grounds

We all want to come home with that awesome Disney t-shirt, mug and keychain, but did you know that you could buy the same ones found in some of the shops off grounds at the local convenience store or pharmacy?

Of course, there are items you can’t get off grounds, but my advice would be…walk through the stores, see what you like and then take an afternoon break one day and go for lunch outside of the park. Browse through some of the shops, grab some cheaper water and snacks at the pharmacy and see how much you can save … we bought some t-shirts for $10 cheaper and coffee mugs…hello savings!

4. Save on Time

If time is what you want to save – by spending more time at the parks to get the complete Disney experience, then I strongly suggest staying at one of the hotels within the park. There are three hotels to choose from, all with different experiences and different pricing. We’ve stayed at the Disneyland Hotel three times and the Grand California hotel on our most recent trip (I’d stay here again).

Not only are the rooms amazing, but they provide early and late access to the parks, helping you to avoid the long line up to get into the park as well not to mention the lines for the rides are barely existent (for example, when we stayed at Grand California, we were able to ride the new Guardians ride twice in the morning and access one hour after the park closed with only a 15 minute wait to ride it again.)

With the new security measures, you only have to go through security once to get into the parks and into Downtown Disney and the lines are nothing compared to those outside the gates (trust me).

Paradise Pier is a resort hotel located at the Disneyland Resort.

A few more ways to save on time…

  • take advantage of the fast passes and the new max pass system
  • Make dinner reservations rather than walking from one restaurant to another with huge waiting lines
  • Keep an eye on the schedule so you know when your favorite characters are appearing or when the parades are.

5. Save on Your Sanity

If you’re a parent, you know that it can get crazy dealing with the park, your children and our own expectations of what our vacation should look like.

My number one suggestion to save on your sanity…go without your children! lol

I’m serious (kind of). We’ve done Disney as a family (3 teenagers) multiple times but when my husband and I decided to explore the parks on our own recently during our 20th anniversary, we were both shocked at how different it felt! The stress of making everyone happy with rides and stores and food and…. it wasn’t there. Dealing with temper tantrums and tired children with sore feed or hungry bellies…not there. Not having to worry about schedules…gone.

If you’re a Disney fan like myself, I strongly suggest you experience the park as an adult without kids…even if just once. Trust me on this. It’s a different level of fun!

6. Stay at a Park Hotel

I know earlier I recommended not staying at a park hotel, but that is if you’re trying to save money.

Personally, I love staying on grounds for a multitude of reasons! I love all the Disney aspects within the room and bathrooms, from the soaps and shampoos to the art and decor, to the greetings from the cast members. And pin trading…a favorite of mine – the Grand California hotel has an amazing pin board!

Not only that…

  • Hotel guests get early park access where you can take advantage of all the rides and then when the crowds begin to grow, visit the shops before heading back to your room for an afternoon siesta or splash in the pool (or head to the outlet malls and shop till you drop).
  • Return to the parks for dinner and more rides, head back to the hotel to relax with some coffee and a dip in the hot tub and then back in the parks before it closes, watch the fireworks and linger through the shops and streets.
  • Downtown Disney early morning. If you plan on shopping, everyone is rushing into the park and the stores are clear, allowing you more time to browse and buy more than you planned.

Not sure if you can tell or not, but I’m a huge Disney fan! Since 2012 I have visited Disneyland, Disney World, Disney Cruises, Aulani in Hawaii a total of 10 times. Yep, love Disney! We were just at Disney World for Christmas as a family, my husband and I visited Disneyland a few weeks ago and I’m headed back to Disney World with a friend from Australia for a few days!

When was the last time you visited Disneyland? Do you have any other tips and tricks to share? I’d love to hear them!