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5 Tips to Save Money at Disneyland

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Disneyland just raised its ticket prices… again! Now, if you’re a family of four (two parents and two kids, over 10) interested in one park-hopping day of fun, you’re looking at $600 on tickets alone. That’s not a typo, I just checked–$600! You can either mortgage the house, or get creative by shaving the cost off some of the more expensive elements of Disneyland that are still in your control.

1.  Parking for Free in the Downtown Disney Lot
Parking in the Mickey & Friends structure will cost you $17 for a whole day and unless you’re staying at a nearby hotel, you’re going to have to use the Disney-designated structures. Most hotels within a few miles away offer free shuttles to Disneyland, and a few of them have free hotel parking, so take advantage of these if you’re coming from out of town.

Pro tip: The first three hours of parking at Downtown Disney are free (five hours with restaurant validation). This means you have to leave the park to move your car every three hours. The switch will take you around 30 minutes–longer if you can’t immediately find a new parking spot. But it could be worth it if you eat dinner in Downtown Disney, which offers cheaper meals.

2.  Eat the Cheaper Meals at Downtown Disney Restaurants
It’s a fact that Downtown Disney restaurant food is a lot less expensive than inside Disneyland proper. A family of four could easily eat a full air-conditioned meal at House of Blues for around $50 (without booze–sorry parents), and enjoy wait staff service. Try to find the same thing inside Disneyland–even if you forgo the sit-down restaurants and eat at one of the many food carts, you’d spend the same or more.

Pro tip #1: For a quick family lunch on the go, order kids’ meals for everyone. They don’t check who’s 12 and under, and most meals are about $6.49 per person. Some restaurants also offer special “toddler meals” for $4.49.

Pro tip #2: If you do opt for less-expensive food at Downtown Disney, take the Monorail to and from Disneyland. It’s fast, scenic, and drops you off at the heart of the Downtown Disney area.

3.  Bring Your Own Snacks and Drinks
Disney regulations clearly state that you’re only allowed to bring in limited types of food for special diets, but you’re not going to get stopped if you bring in a granola bar or a bag of trail mix. Many parents bring healthy foods to keep the energy up. Any snack you buy in the park is bound to be exponentially more expensive, even water. Just one bottle of water inside the park will run you no less than $3. If you do bring in food, don’t go crazy and attempt to bring in a three-course dinner—the goal here is to tide yourself over until your big meal.

Pro tip: If you park in a Disney parking structure, bring along a cooler and stock it with a food and non-alcoholic beverages. You can’t picnic in your car, but you can make a mid-day pit stop and carbo-load on the cheap.

4.  Buy Your Souvenirs at Downtown Disney
Souvenirs in the park are way more expensive than those in the Downtown Disney shops, but the selection is just as good. In fact, you’ll often find discounted items, and that never happens inside Disneyland. In addition, Downtown Disney has a variety of stores that aren’t Disney related, but still please the little ones.

Pro tip: It’s going to be a tough conversation, but before you leave for the Happiest Place on Earth, have a talk with your kids about the financial reality of the day. As mentioned, tickets for two adults and two kids will be in the neighborhood of $600–that’s just tickets. If you can get them to understand that souvenirs are out of the question before you leave the house, it’ll minimize crazy tantrums every time your family walks by a gift shop.

5.  Bring an Autograph Book as a Souvenir
Young children love to get autographs from their favorite characters—I have two and they both loved collecting signatures. I don’t understand the appeal, but it’s a big thing to get that book filled. If you get your children their own cute little book and pen ahead of time (or better yet, make a custom Disney one), they’ll be so focused on their mission, you may avoid the dreaded whine for toys. They’ll also have their own keepsake souvenir to enjoy for years to come.

Pro tip: While your kid is getting the autograph of a character, take a few photos of the moment. When you get home, get prints made of each autograph session and glue said photos to their accompanying signatures. It’ll make the autograph book that much more personal.

The bottom line is that you’re going to need a lot of money to go to Disneyland–it’s not going to be cheap, but you can reduce your costs substantially with a little effort and still have a great time.

Photo credit: Hubert Yu via Flickr

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