Welcome to our Disney Friends Blog Hop #2! When you’re finished here, don’t forget to click the “next” button until you get all the way around the loop!
We are often asked “how do you go to Disney SO often?” followed by, “Disney is SO expensive!” And while we agree that it is pricey, when you look at what you are getting for what you are spending, we definitely think that it’s worth it. Not to mention, we have learned a lot of ways to save money so we can get there more often!
Here are our Top 10 tips for saving money! Most are for all of the Disney parks, but since we are closest to Disneyland, there are a few that are specific to that park.
1. Sign Up for a Loyalty Program
Whether you are in Canada, the USA, or Europe (or anywhere else!) check out what loyalty programs in your region offer free flights or free Disney tickets. For us in Canada, the biggest one is AIR MILES. Most of the time we have at least 2 free tickets for our family because of this program; usually more. This saves HUNDREDS of dollars. In the States, you can get a Disney credit card, and I know that would be beneficial! (hint hint, Canada!) BCAA/CAA occasionally does deals. And then any credit card that gives points towards free flights would be a huge help.
2. Pack Snacks and Lunch
This is definitely one of the ways that we save a LOT of money in the parks. Do I want to eat every meal in the park? You bet. Can I afford to eat every meal in the park? Not a chance. Disney food is delicious, but quick service meals start at $9.99 (think $12 for a cheeseburger and fries). If you’re also having to convert from your currency like we do, it becomes even pricier ($15 cheeseburger anyone?). Add in the snacks, and for a family of four to eat two meals in the park, you’re looking at spending minimum of $100 per day. For our complete food guide, check out our post here. Ultimately what it boils down to is running to Target or Walmart and grabbing some ready-to-eat sandwiches and/or salads to eat in the park. Pack snacks that will help with the hunger like cheese sticks, yogurt tubes, individual hummus cups, crackers, pepperoni sticks… you get the picture. Especially if you’re heading to the park with your mini humans. Get ahead of the whining, and have something to throw at them to turn them back into the little angels they are. We’ve also got a list of our go-to snacks, which you can find here in our blog post about what to pack for a day in the parks.
3. Research. Like, a lot!
Honestly, saving money takes time. It takes looking at different websites and making spreadsheets (No? Just me? K, cool). Start looking up to a year in advance. Look at different dates, look at different sites. We like expedia.ca, booking.com, and hotels.com; as well as the hotels’ actual sites. Often we can call with an internet rate and they will come down in price for booking directly with them. Places like kayak.com and google.ca/flights have flight trackers that will email you on the regular to let you know if prices have stayed the same, increased, or decreased. They also let you know if they think that you should book. This can feel really overwhelming. Check our post on booking your trip for some ideas of where to stay and how to book. And use that incognito window. I tried book a last minute trip to WDW (for that post, click here), and every time I looked at the same hotel the price went up… then I tried with an incognito window, and voila! The prices were lower again.
4. Pack Water and Drinks
When I travel, my system always reacts poorly to a change in water. We come from Vancouver where they bottle our tap water and California’s water is heavily chlorinated. I often find I get an upset stomach when I drink it. So what are my options? Spending four dollars USD in the parks every time I’m thirsty? I think not. If we have a car we always hit up Target, Costco, and Walmart for groceries and water. If we don’t have a car we Uber to just Target; it’s worth the cost. This is one of our biggest money saving tips. You can get 1 L of water for under a dollar, we always travel with our water bottles so we just fill them up and bring them into the park.
Another thing I like to do for the kids is buy juice boxes. I stick them in the freezer part of the hotel fridge so they will freeze. On a hot day it’s a great way to keep the drinks cold, and it doubles as an ice pack… win, win!
If you aren’t sensitive to water like I am, the water from the fountains in Disney is certainly drinkable. One way to get around that nasty taste is to bring water flavour enhancers into the park. They come in liquid drops or little packets. Easily thrown into your backpack or stroller. Every restaurant in Disney will give you ice water if you ask for free. When it’s hot they have them stacked and ready to go. Don’t feel shy, Disney does not want you to get heat stroke any more than you do! We pour the ice water right into our water bottles. Or you can get free water and ice from the soda stations around the parks. S’well water bottles are my favourite because they keep the water cold, even on a hot day. We find those a little heavy, so our favourite are Brita water bottles with built in filters.
5. Stay Within Walking Distance (Disneyland)
This is something our family only started doing in the last decade, but let me tell you it saves a lot of money. Especially considering the alternative is parking your car in the Disney lots, which are $25/day. The furthest I personally have stayed is a bit past the Anaheim GardenWalk and it only took about 15 minutes to walk. We even did this with a toddler in her stroller. This is probably the maximum distance you would want to stay from the parks as Disney is a huge day of walking and sometimes the last thing you want to do at the end of the day is walk a half hour to your hotel. Also, since we had a rental vehicle, we looked for a hotel that offered free parking so that we weren’t paying for the vehicle every day we were there (every penny counts!). On the map to the left, any hotel you find in this area is within walking distance to Disneyland. We like hotels on the East and South of Disneyland. We have stayed as far as a 20 minute walk away (close to the Target) and we do think its doable, but you will definitely want to check the distance before you book. There are a lot of hotels that claim to be walking distance and just aren’t.
6. Two Words: Continental Breakfast
This is the number one factor we look at when booking a hotel (besides proximity to the parks). Not having to buy breakfast will not only save you money, but time as well. We are not the people that get into the parks and then go straight to breakfast. Mornings are when you will find the shortest line-ups of the day. You can get on several rides in a row, and it starts the day off on the right foot. Don’t get me wrong, character breakfasts are delightful, and if you have that on your list, great! But for the day to day it’s nice to get up, have breakfast and go.
Here are a couple of enhancers that we like to do for breakfast. We either pack (only in checked luggage) or buy a small container of peanut butter, or peanut butter to go. Most breakfasts don’t have it, and PB is something we like to have for that extra bump of protein. If you have a kid that is a slow eater or won’t eat much first thing in the morning, we will make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for them to eat en route to the parks. Some kids just can’t be rushed. Berries are another enhancer I like to add. Usually I buy blueberries at Target and add them to my plain oatmeal. The hotel we stayed at last had packets of honey and cinnamon. That took the oatmeal from boring to delicious.
7. Set a Daily Budget
One thing that is important to us is food. We love it, so we budget for one special treat per day in order to curb the desire to devour everything in sight (I’m looking at you Churros!) and not break the bank.
Also, if you want souvenirs, plan ahead of time how much you are willing to spend on what you are bringing back. I personally love the Starbucks “You Are Here” park mugs, and I would buy all of them if my husband would let me. But we don’t have the money (nor space) for that. So before even going to the parks, we talked about how many mugs I was allowed to buy.
If you have children, talk to them ahead of time about what is a reasonable price point for a special something. When we were little I remember my parents saving our allowances leading up to the trip and holding onto the money. Once we got to the park, we were allowed to pick one item. (Not going to lie, this was a stuffie. Every. Time. No shame.)
8. Buy One MaxPass per Party for Photos (Disneyland)
Now, this point might seem counter intuitive. Spending money does not in fact save you money. However, in this case think of it as money well spent. If one person upgrades their ticket to have the MaxPass on it, your party will have access to every photo taken in the park that day. Any Disney photographer, any ride snap shot will be available to you to download and keep forever. Gone are the days when you would buy a commemorative photo from Splash Mountain. By upgrading one person’s ticket, you have all the photos available to download. This even includes the character photos. Getting a family photo can be so difficult. The PhotoPass is worth the extra money because it means you can have professional photos of your entire family for the day, and not a blurry pic of your fam plus a stranger’s finger. For further MaxPass questions, check out our post here.
9. But First, Coffee
We always travel with our french presses. I pack my full-sized one, but we do also have travel ones. I need a good strong coffee as soon as I wake up, and you can’t always trust hotel coffee. It also saves you a couple of dollars per cup. For the afternoon we do usually buy a coffee in the park, but we also have bought the small Starbucks Doubleshots from the grocery store. It’s a fraction of the cost and the perfect afternoon pick me up. On the days we bring the Doubleshots, it’s usually a three coffee kind of day… haha. My trick is to buy a quad shot venti and ask for double cups. Then you are spending $7 for 2 people instead of $11, so you can buy another one after dinner! (See what I did there? Girl math.) VIAs from Starbucks are an easy, lightweight option to get your coffee fix as well. They come in a number of varieties… different blends, hot latte flavours, as well as iced options. Add them to water and you have a really nice coffee! Load your Starbucks card and make sure to use it in the parks… you can’t USE a free reward at the Starbucks but you CAN rack up those stars for a free one on the drive or airplane home (which you will definitely need!).
10. Buy Ponchos (before you go!)
Know what to buy before going into the park. Ponchos are a MUST to pre-purchase before you go. Especially in Florida. Rain comes hard and fast and will drench you and everything you own in 2 seconds flat. Of course you can purchase them in the parks… at $15 USD per poncho. You can find thicker ones at Walmart for around five dollars OR you can go to a dollar store and pick them up for a dollar or two. They do the trick. The local Walmart in Orlando had the really nice thick ones for $2.50!
I recently had a friend go to Walt Disney World for the first time. I told her to grab ponchos from the dollar store before she left. You know how crazy it can be before you go on vacation. She felt like it wasn’t important so decided against it. They ended up getting caught in a rain storm. They got so wet that it ended their evening earlier than they had anticipated. She came home and told me I was right! Trust us, they aren’t heavy and they will save you not only money, but from being uncomfortable in the parks. Pro Tip: It’s not a bad idea to have them in your bag or stroller for rides like Splash Mountain, Kali River Rapids, and Grizzly River Run. We like to keep our hair intact.
Hopefully these ten tips will help save you money and get you to the parks faster!
Have a magical day!
Erica, Heidi, Elisia and Danielle
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