What if I told you that you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to have a fantastic Disneyland vacation?
You’d jump all over that, right? (Say yes). I’m here to tell you where to splurge vs. where to save at Disneyland.
Disneyland has a lot to offer, and knowing the best places to spend your money can be a big help for those on a budget. There are a huge variety of activities at the parks, and splurging on something you don’t need to can be a huge downer to an otherwise great vacation.
It’s important to know that there’s not one right way to spend your money at Disneyland. What you decide to splurge on depends on your priorities. You might be into really nice dining, while someone else might not care about that at all. I’ll give you the info, and you get to make the decision where to spend and save.
Ready? Let’s go!
Splurge: Buy the park hopper addition for your tickets. It’s an extra $40 a ticket, but is well worth it to be able to hop from one park to the next in the same day. This makes planning your trip much easier and you won’t be left feeling frustrated if everyone can’t agree on which park you want to go to – You can just go to both!
Save: Save on parking. A parking pass is $17 a day, which is an added cost you don’t need if you stay in the right hotel. If you stay on property in a Disney hotel, you are less than a 10 minute walk to either entrance gate. If you stay in one of Disney’s “Good Neighbor” hotels on Harbor Blvd. (the street DL is located on), you are also within walking distance to the parks, and most of these hotels offer free shuttle service to and from Disneyland.
Splurge: If you want a major splurge for your vacation, stay on property at one of Disneyland Resort’s three hotels. On-site guests have access to Extra-Magic Hours (EMH), which are extended park hours either before or after the parks are open to the general public. This is a huge incentive, particularly for those who want to get the most time and value out of their vacation.
Disney hotels have incredible service and really extend the magical feeling of the parks into every aspect of your vacation experience. They offer great dining, both upscale and food-court style, so there’s something available for the entire family. The theming at all the hotels is spot-on, and their close proximity to the parks is super convenient.
TIP: My favorite hotel is Disney’s Grand Californian hotel, especially since it has its very own entrance into Disney’s California Adventure Park. DGC was built in a craftsman style, inspired by the Northern California redwoods. I love the rustic feel of this hotel and the coziness is so welcome after a long day of playing in the parks! It has a great restaurant called Storytellers Café with an awesome menu including baked chicken, spare ribs, a buffet salad bar, and the best darn cornbread you’ll ever taste! Check out the menu here.
Save: As much as I love staying on property, there are some huge (financial) perks to staying off-site. The average Disney hotel is roughly $325 a night, while the average Good Neighbor hotel goes for $145 a night. The difference is significant, and many of these hotels have partnered with Disneyland Resort to offer vacation packages that include your room rate and park tickets.
My favorite Good Neighbor hotel is the Candy Cane Inn. Less than half a mile from the parks, the Candy Cane is easily accessible and offers free transportation to and from Disneyland every day. It offers a free continental breakfast, which helps save money on food, has clean rooms, good service, a nice pool, and is one block from other dining and shopping options in Anaheim. It’s really a great value, and while you may not get all of the same amenities you’d get at an on-property resort, it’s just about the best non-Disney hotel out there (in my humble opinion). The website for the Candy Cane Inn is here.
Splurge: I can’t stress enough what I’m about to say: SPLURGE ON CHARACTER DINING! I’m serious. IT. IS. SO. FUN.
Character dining is one of the things you can’t get anywhere other than Disney. Who doesn’t love snacking on some pizza and having Pluto come up to surprise you? Most character dining experiences are buffets, but some offer a full menu, and each of the five character dining location in Disneyland Resort has its own flair.
If your kids love princesses, check out Ariel’s Grotto in California Adventure to dine with Ariel and all her princess friends. The Plaza Inn on Mainstreet, The PCH Grill at Disney’s Pacific Pier Hotel and Storytellers Café all offer character breakfast buffets. Goofy’s Kitchen in the Disneyland Hotel has character dining all day. Storytellers and Goofy’s Kitchen offer both a breakfast buffet and a full menu.
BONUS: This is an awesome way to fill up your kids’ autograph books without having to wait in the meet-and-greet lines.
Save: If you decide to splurge on a character meal (which you should), then save on food for the rest of the day. Share meals, dine in quick-service locations only, or bring your own snacks. You can get away with budgeting $100 a day for a family of four when you eat this way.
MY BEST TIPS: Try the double bun trick. For those of you with kiddos, order a double cheeseburger and ask for an extra bun. Then split the double cheeseburger into two singles, and you just created two meals for the price of one!
All quick-service locations will give you a free cup of ice water, so save your $4.00 on what you would’ve spent on a water bottle.
Disney Parks are the only theme parks in the country that allow you to bring in outside food. If you can, eat breakfast at your hotel. Whether it’s a continental breakfast or a quick bout of bacon and eggs in the room, this will be a huge money saver over the course of your vacation.
Splurge: One of my favorite things to see in the Disney Parks are all the little kids walking around dressed as their favorite prince or princess. It’s really cute and probably the only place you can get away with your costumed kid walking around in public not on Halloween. But I digress.
Bibbidi-Bobbidi Boutique is a salon that transforms any little girl or boy into a princess or knight. Different packages are offered, and can be booked up to 180 days in advance. The packages all include a princess-inspired hairstyle and “pixie dust” makeup (don’t worry dads, it’s just glitter). The more inclusive packages include anything from a sash and scepter all the way to an entire princess costume of your child’s choosing. BBB starts at $59.95 and go up to $194.95.
Save: Save on souvenirs by buying them ahead of time! You can purchase things such as autograph books, plush toys, hats and t-shirts on ebay or amazon.com ahead of time for a fraction of the price you get them in the parks. Buy them ahead of time and present them to your kids as a surprise once you get to the hotel in Anaheim!
TIP: Save money buy purchasing ponchos, sunscreen, and sunglasses, etc. before getting to the parks. A poncho runs about $8.00 in DL when you can get it for a dollar at your local dollar store.
There you have it! My tips on where to splurge and where to save at Disneyland.
It’s a lot of info, I know. But I believe that a little [or a lot] preparation will help you have a better and more relaxing vacation.
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