How to do a Quick Disney Trip on a Minimal Budget
People ask me all the time for tips and tricks on Disneyland, so I figured it was probably just time to go ahead and share all my nuggets. I don’t pretend to be an expert – there are real Disney bloggers for that. But I think (and hope!!) you’ll find this all pretty helpful. There is more coming on Disney, but I wanted to start with this since our budgeted trip was fresh in my mind.
You’ll want to look for a mid-week flight if you can swing it. If you can do like a Tuesday-Thursday, you’ll get the best deal. I’ll get into a little more detail about how to do it in two days later on. Book on a Tuesday or a Wednesday, about a month out. This is when the flights tend to be the best priced. You can fly into LAX, Long Beach or John Wayne (among others, but these are the three that kind of make the most sense). We prefer John Wayne because it’s the closest to the park. LAX typically has more flights in, and tend to be a little cheaper. Sometimes, we fly into LAX and then out of John Wayne. You can get Uber or Lyft rides for $16-25 to and from your hotel, which is definitely the most economical option.
**We typically get an early morning flight on a Tuesday, so that we can get to the park by about noon (they close at midnight). Then we do the park on Tuesday and Wednesday and fly back Thursday morning.
Hotels close to the park range anywhere from $80 per night to over $200. Let me make this easy: ANY HOTEL WILL DO, SO DON’T SPEND THE $200. We usually choose a hotel close to the park (so we don’t have to worry about getting a shuttle to and from the park - some hotels make you pay for that), so that when the night is over or if we want to take a break, it’s easy to get back to our room. Pick a hotel with a continental breakfast so you don’t have to pay for that meal at the park. We like Del Sol Inn, Best Western Park Place, Anaheim Desert Inn and Suites and The Hilton (this one is a little farther away and has a Starbucks in it) J When you book, take a look on the map of where it is located. Pick one within 0-2 miles of the park. This will get you the most bang for your buck in terms of time and convenience.
I’m gonna cut to the chase on this one. Get the Park Hopper. This will allow you to go back and forth from Disneyland to California Adventure (the park right next to Disneyland). A two-day park hopper is $260. It’s steep, sometimes more than your flight will be. But that’s why we figure out how to save everywhere else.
**Download the Disneyland App on your phone and get the Max Pass for each day you’re there. It’s $10 per day, but it will guarantee you’ll get on every ride you want to get on. It allows you fast passes for a few rides at a time AND you can book your fast pass from your phone (rather than physically going to the ride itself to get the fast pass). This was MORE than worth the $10 when we went. The parks were CRAZY busy for Spring Break recently and we were so thankful we had heard about this.
In the park:
Once in the park, you’ll see ALL THE STORES with ALL THE DISNEY SWAG. My suggestion is WAIT to buy any of it until the end of your trip. You’ll see so many things you want to buy, and the truth is, picking ONE thing at the end of your trip as a memento or new piece of fashion, will suffice. Most of the money you’ll want to spend in the park will likely be on food. Duh. The only exception I usually make for this is if I find a REALLY cute pair of Minnie Mouse ears J
There is a Target and LOTS of little stores all along South Harbor Blvd, the main drag outside of Disney. You could probably go there to get snacks and bottles of water, etc. Security allows you to bring in your own food, which is great. This is a pretty cheap option, given even the snacks inside the park seem a little pricy.
But (and maybe this won’t be a popular thing to say), part of the magic of Disney is the amaaaaaazing food experiences they give you. We find ourselves kind of grazing all day, rather than eating full meals, just because there are so many things we don’t want to miss. However, if you plan it right, you could probably budget $30-50 per day per person for food if you’ve got a good continental breakfast at your hotel. Maybe even less than that. We have found that full meals inside Disney usually average about $15 per person. Snack type food range anywhere from like $4-10. There is a Starbucks inside the park, and SO MANY restaurants to choose from. Take your own water bottle so you don’t have to keep buying water (it’s super important to stay hydrated with all that walking and heat). Food is usually the area where we allot more money when we go, because once we get there, it’s the thing we’d most like to spend our money on. Ha! Big surprise the Disney nerd loves Churros and Dole Whip and Frozen Bananas and Mickey Waffles.
What you’re going to find is that once you get to the park, everyone around will have alllll the Disney swag. Mickey ears, shirts, pins, backpacks, all the things. From experience, I can tell you that you’ll only want to buy something IF you’ll use/wear it outside the park. I can’t tell you how many times I buy stuff at Disney, and everyone else inside the park has the same stuff (ears, shirts, etc), and then I get on the plane to come home and I’m wondering why NO ONE HAS MICKEY EARS?!?!!? And then I never wear it again, or even look at it, until my next trip.
Overall, you have to be willing to spend some cash to experience the Happiest Place on Earth. But to see it broken down, here is the cheapest we’ve ever done it:
Flight into LAX: $200
Ride from airport: $30
Hotel: $76 per night
Park Ticket*: $260
Food: $40 per day
*You could do one park (I’d suggest Disneyland if you’re going to choose one) for cheaper.
So for under $700 per person, you could totally go meet Mickey and friends, stay in a safe hotel, eat BOMB food and buy yourself a pair of ears (but please wear them on the airplane like I always do!!). I can tell you it’s totally worth it to have a moment to be a kid again. The feeling is unlike any other.
Bonus tip (and my new tagline): Only legit Disney princesses eat a Churro AND the Dole Whip at the same time.