Disneyland on a Budget


You know me, I am always a girl with a plan. Vacations are no different.  And I LOVE Disneyland. Here are some of my tips to help you have a smooth trip and save money.

Here is our basic plan.  We bought annual passes for my husband and I (the Deluxe ones) with the plan to take two trips inside of a year. This makes it much cheaper that buying two sets of park hopper tickets.  Our children are under three and are free.  We stay at the Howard Johnson with the entertainment book rate to get our rooms at $69.99 a night.  We drive to save money, bring lots of our own food, have a vehicle available to go eat at cheaper places, explore other areas, and take more stuff than we could if we flew.  (Our annual pass also gets us 10% off at most restaurants.)

Here is a more detailed information to use when planning a trip.

When to go and where to stay.

  • It is almost always cheaper to book your vacation yourself.
  • Go during the off season-You will get better hotel rates, cheaper plane tickets if you fly, and have fewer crowds to deal with.
  • Stay off property-Our definite first choice is the Howard Johnson with their entertainment rate (you will need a current card when you check in).  Go visit their message boards to familiarize yourself with how the rate works.  Basically, they have stellar rates ranging from $59-$99 dollars per nights based on your room choice available during certain dates.  They open up dates a few months in advance and then close and open specific dates based upon occupancy.  I plan our vacations around when the rates are available.  We stayed there for the first time in April and loved it. We are currently planning out next vacation and will also be using the entertainment rate.  After MUCH research we decided to stay in the NQQ2 rooms which are $69 dollars a night.  We loved it and will be staying in the same type of room again.  I looked for a week that had multiple dates available in a row and then booked the other non-entertainment book rate night at the best rate they could give me. I continued to watch the date (I am friends with them on Facebook and get notifications when the dates change) and was able to get that Saturday night at that great rate also when it became available.
  • HoJo Pros-Great new pirate themed water play area and a separate pool area.  Clean and well manicured grounds. New beds in many of the rooms. Great customer service.  Best value of any of the nearby hotel options.
  • HoJo Cons-Completely within walking distance, but a little farther that some other hotels. No continental breakfast. (You can easily purchase your own breakfast items for much less than the amount you would spend to stay at a different hotel that provided breakfast.)
  • If you have a large family the best deal I have seen would be a new “Pirate themed Kid Suite.” These are basically like two adjoining rooms. One with a bunk, pull-out, and bathroom. The other side with a king bed and second bathroom. If the entertainment rate is available you can get this room for $99.

Disneyland Tickets

If you are at a place in life where you think you would be able to go twice within a years time consider buying an annual pass. The Deluxe option allows you access 315 days of the year for $289 (recent price increase). You will also get discounts with this pass.

As an example a  four day Park Hopper pass is currently $169 for children ages 3-9 and $199 for adults.

If you bought a pass every other year you could visit once when you first purchase your pass, once right before it expires, then skip a year and purchase one a year later and do the same thing over again.  Thus, going about every year but only purchasing the pass every other year and taking two vacations within the passes one year window.

If you want to visit other parks in Southern California look into buying a “Southern California City Pass.” These are often available at Costco and are usually cheapest there.


Pack some of your own food-We take a cooler, bring food, and stop by Trader Joe’s when we are running low.

If you are without a car you could take a taxi to the store to get some food, or if your order is for $50 or more Vons will deliver groceries for free to your hotel!

Pick the places you want to eat with your family ahead of time. This will prevent you from eating at the nearest place when your child has a meltdown from hunger.  Look at what foods are available where in the parks to get the most for your money and allow you pick things your children will actually eat.  It will also help you stick within your budget. The DIS message boards have a great database with all the restaurants, meals, and prices.

Here is a spreadsheet with menu items organized by price (low to high) created by Hurleysweety from DISboards. It has a tab for counter service at both Disneyland, California Adventure, and one for table service restaurants in both parks.  Such a fun tool that will help you find the most inexpensive foods in the parks easily.

Eat at at counter service restaurants in the parks rather than sit down the majority of the time with a few “special meals” planned.

Our favorite counter service

  • We like Red Rocket’s Pizza Port (DL),
  • The Corn Dog cart on main street (DL)
  • Taste Pilot’s Grill (best burgers, chicken sandwiches and tons of toppings you add yourself) (DCA)
  • Pacific Wharf Cafe-Great fresh food. Bread bowls, sandwiches, and salads. (DCA)
  • BEST DEAL-White Water Snacks at the Grand Californian Hotel (Exit DCA near Grizzly River Run into the hotel property and ask for directions). Best food value on the property. Try the nachos, french dip, or breakfast sandwich.
  • Watch the Billy Hillbillies and eat the food at the counter service restaurant there or have a sundae there. (DL)

Places with great ambiance or great food for “special meals” treats.

  • Blue Bayou-This is the restaurant inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Expensive, but cheaper for lunch. Make a “priority seating” for this restaurant. (DL)
  • Carnation Cafe-Great baked potato soup, Sandwiches, etc. (DL)
  • Cafe Orleans-Pommes frites, Mickey shaped beignets, Monte Cristo sandwich,
  • Plaza Inn Restaurant- Good chicken dinner (DL)
  • Rainforest Cafe-If your kids would appreciate it it’s a fun place to eat. (DD)
  • Wine Country Trattoria-Italian (DCA)

Downtown Disney’s best food deals-

A couple of the large restaurants in Downtown Disney also have walk up counter service windows with more basic menus.  This is a great way to eat at some of these places without spending as much.

We like…

  • Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen
  • Tortilla Joe’s walk up window

You could also try…

  • Jamba Juice (fills you up for a good price)
  • Wetzel’s Pretzels (good pretzels and pretzel dogs)

Save more money by eating outside of the parks- In and Out (short drive), McDonald’s (walking distance). Or for sit down meals try Mimi’s (near HoJo) or Millie’s (walking distance).

Places to avoid-Captain Kidds (gross), IHOP (overpriced)


  • Bring some little souvenirs from home (t-shirts (especially expensive in park), light sticks, stuffed Disney characters they already own), and then let each kid pick out ONE thing near the end of your trip after looking throughout your trip.  Let them know the plan ahead of time and tell them they can save up if they would like a little more spending money.
  • Pack smartly to avoid extra expenses- Will you be traveling during a rainy season? Bring your own ponchos which will be much cheaper from somewhere like Walmart. Make sure every person brings a hoody or light weight jacket to avoid purchasing a $60 dollar sweatshirt when someone gets cold or wet.


  • First aid station has water (and of course first aid supplies and medications). Bring your own water bottle and refill it there rather than the drinking fountains.
  • If your family can’t survive on water alone, bring some of those little drink packets to mix into your water bottles so you don’t end up spending $3 or a drink.
  • Get a headache?……Before purchasing medicine from one of the little stores in the park, check and see if the first aid station has something you could have free of charge.
  • Sign up for Mimi’s  E-Club for restaurant coupons about 2 weeks prior to your trip.  They sent us a great coupon we were able to use to get a free breakfast (not BOGO).  This is especially great if you are staying at HoJo since it is right there.
  • Have the Photo Pass people take pictures with your camera at all the great classic places in the park.


DL- Disneyland

DCA- Disney’s California Adventure

DD-Downtown Disney

HoJo- Howard Johnson

I get excited just thinking about this stuff! Can’t wait for our next trip!

Anything confusing or have a question? Leave me a message and I will respond in the comments section.

7 thoughts on “Disneyland on a Budget”

  1. Thanks for all the good advice! My hubby and I are going to Disneyland for one day this Monday. But it will just be him and I. Any advice on buying a one day park hopper ticket for us? We can’t seem to find good deals on that.


    1. Hey Mary! Congrats on your upcoming trip! As far as I know there really aren’t very many good ways to get deals on one day passes. The prices for them are pretty standard. I know some people get discounted tickets by purchasing them through specific local conventions (as far as I know, this is legitimate and allowed). But, I am not sure if there are any offered while you are there or IF they have a one day ticket option (and it would probably be to late to try that for this trip). What I would do is post a question on the Disneyland page of the DIS boards and see if anyone has any ideas. It is difficult to save much on tickets if you are not purchasing a multi day hopper. Great question! Let me know if you have any others. Have a blast! If I hear anything I will let you know.

  2. All so informative! Just one last thing to add…you can get free coffee refills all day at the Market House on Main Street. Just keep your receipt (you DONT need to carry your cup around all day!). I often will buy a coffee as I enter the park, and another while I watch the firework show or electric parade. And its pretty reasonably priced too…I think around $2.00!

    1. Crystal, You are totally right. Great point! How did I miss that fun tip? My hubby loves doing that too. Thanks for visiting my blog!

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