A visit to Disneyland is a must for many families. It's one of those places you need to visit at least once, like Paris, New York City or Las Vegas.
But while Paris has fancy cuisine, New York City has nightlife and Las Vegas has sin, Disneyland is about family. While the place has so much going for it (rides! entertainment! magic!), a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth doesn't come cheap.
I'm a seasoned Disneyland pro, though, and from many visits there, I can tell you: there are ways cut costs—some little, some big.
1. Get the best deal on tickets. If you plan on going to Disneyland for more than one day, you really should take advantage of the multiple day discount. For example: a one-day (one park) ticket is $99; a two-day ticket is $92.50 per day. The price plummets to $55 per day for a five-day ticket. (Of course, you're only saving if you plan on being at Disneyland for five days).
If you are a member of a teacher's union, you may be eligible for a discount on tickets via your organization. There's also the Disney Military Promotional Tickets deal, though these discounted prices vary and are for "Eligible Service Members" who are active or retired members of the U.S. Military, including the National Guard, Reservists and the U.S. Coast Guard. Whatever you do, don't go to eBay or Craigslist to buy tickets (where you risk buying a bootlegged pass). Play it financially safe and stick with an official seller.
2. Stay at a Good Neighbor Hotel. Disney's Grand California Hotel and Spa, the Disneyland Hotel and Paradise Pier may be awesome, but they are also expensive. Standard rooms (during peak times) go up to about $500 a night. Thankfully, there are plenty of nearby "good neighbor" hotels from the Mission-style Anabelle Hotel , the popular Candy Cane Inn or the huge Hilton Anaheim. Book a hotel that's in walking distance (the closer the better), so you can save on parking as well.
3. Stock up before hand There are several big box stores (like Target and Walmart) near Disneyland that you can swing by to stock up on necessities before you hit the parks. Both are a short drive from Disneyland, and you can save money on drinks, sunscreen, swimsuits and anything else you may need or want without paying the upcharge at the parks.
4. Bring your own lunch If you have really picky palates in your group, or if you just want to save cash on meals, then bring your own lunch. There are no rules about bringing your own food into Disneyland. Just find a cozy spot, like a bench near Sleeping Beauty's castle, and have your feast with a fabulous view.
5. If not, go with the affordable food choice If you don't feel like lugging around your food all day, then splash out and buy your meals there. There are quite a few affordable (and healthy) food options. One of our favorites is Bengal Barbecue in Adventureland, where they sell the Banyan Beef Skewer, the Outback Vegetable Skewer and the Safari Skewer (bacon-wrapped asparagus)—each for under $5. Another favorite is Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante, where they serve up huge plates of classic Mexican fare—enchilada platters and fish tacos for under $12.
6. Bring a refillable water bottle Instead of buying bottles of water, go to the soda machines or to a water fountain and fill your water bottle for free.
7. One gift—with a budget When at Disneyland, your kids will beg and plead for some of the keepsakes. If you don't keep your wallet hidden and your impulse-buying urge in check, you could be in trouble. Give your kids (and yourself) a limit for the day. Instruct them to make their choice carefully, perhaps spending the day figuring out what they'll come home with before shelling out the cash.
8. Pick up a few awesome budget souvenirs There are a few souvenirs that are affordable and totally awesome. You could go with the classic Mickey Mouse ears (for about $10), a hand-cut profile at the Silhouette Studio (for about $10), or you can go really cheap and get a souvenir pressed penny (at a cost of 51 cents).
9. Stock up for pin trading Pin trading is an great social activity for children, and a chance to talk with Disney employees in order to make a trade. Before going to the parks, go on eBay and buy a few Disney pins for them to bring to the park. Make sure that they are real Disney pins (they should have the Disney stamp on the back). It doesn't matter what the pins are since your kids can "trade up" to get the pins they really want.
10. Get all the free goodies You've already spent hundreds of dollars on a day or two of fun, so try to get the most of it and grab all the freebies you can. You can get a button at City Hall (for your birthday, 1st visit or other celebration), you can get a cool souvenir map after riding The Jungle Cruise or score a free copy of The Buena Vista Bugle from California Adventure.