Mickey on a Budget: How to Visit Disneyland for $50 in 2024
Mickey on a Budget: How to Visit Disneyland for $50 in 2024 - Stay Off-Site for Cheap Accommodations
One of the best ways to save money on your Disneyland trip is to stay at an off-site hotel instead of an on-property Disney hotel. On-site hotels can cost upwards of $500 or more per night, even for basic rooms. By looking just a mile or two away from Disneyland, you can often find nice hotels for under $100 per night.
We’ve had great experiences staying at hotels like the Howard Johnson Anaheim, Desert Palms Hotel and Suites, and the Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park Entrance. All offer comfortable, family-friendly rooms less than a 10 minute walk from Disneyland’s main entrance. Rates routinely dip below $100 on weeknights and you can often find deals under $150 on weekends.
Another option is to use vacation rental sites like Vrbo or Airbnb to find condos and apartments near Disneyland. We found a fantastic 2-bedroom condo walking distance to the parks for just $120 per night. It had a full kitchen to prep snacks and meals, which saved us even more money on food.
While staying off-site means you won’t get Disney perks like free transportation or early park entry, the savings easily make up for it in my opinion. We were happy to Lyft to the park each morning for $5-10 and the short walk back at night was no issue. Early entry only gets you an hour before the masses arrive anyway.
Other families who have stayed off-site near Disneyland report similar experiences. They maybe spent an extra $30-40 on transportation for their whole trip but saved several hundred dollars overall on their hotel. Having more space, privacy, and amenities in their rooms made the trade-off worth it.
What else is in this post?
- Mickey on a Budget: How to Visit Disneyland for $50 in 2024 - Stay Off-Site for Cheap Accommodations
- Mickey on a Budget: How to Visit Disneyland for $50 in 2024 - Pack Your Own Food and Water
- Mickey on a Budget: How to Visit Disneyland for $50 in 2024 - Use Disneyland's Early Admission Perk
- Mickey on a Budget: How to Visit Disneyland for $50 in 2024 - Stick to Free Attractions and Entertainment
- Mickey on a Budget: How to Visit Disneyland for $50 in 2024 - Line Up for Character Meet and Greets
- Mickey on a Budget: How to Visit Disneyland for $50 in 2024 - BYOS (Bring Your Own Stroller)
- Mickey on a Budget: How to Visit Disneyland for $50 in 2024 - Watch the Fireworks for Free
Mickey on a Budget: How to Visit Disneyland for $50 in 2024 - Pack Your Own Food and Water
Food and drink at Disneyland can really add up. Even “quick service” meals routinely cost $15+ per person. Throw in snacks, coffee, and water over the course of a day and a family of four could easily spend $200 or more on Disney dining daily.
That’s why one of our top money-saving tips for Disney trips is to pack your own food and water into the parks. Disneyland actually allows guests to bring in cooler bags, snacks, sandwiches, drinks, and more. Some families we know will pack an entire cooler full of food to get them through a whole day in the parks.
You can pack things like sandwiches, fruit, vegetables, yogurt, string cheese, nuts, crackers, granola bars, trail mix, and other filling snacks that travel well and don’t need to be kept cold. Freeze water bottles or juice boxes the night before to help keep your cooler contents cold. You can replenish your ice by asking at any quick service location in the parks.
For an inexpensive breakfast before you head in, stock up on cereal, milk, bread, and other basics at a local grocery store. You can also make sandwiches ahead of time and pack them with an ice pack in your bag. Stopping for a cheap fast food meal at places like McDonald’s can also save you money on breakfast.
Once inside the parks, stick to free ice water, which any counter service location will give you. Avoid buying drinks in the parks as even bottled water starts around $3. Bringing reusable water bottles you can refill is highly recommended.
One Anaheim local whose family are Disneyland passholders told us they save at least $50 per day by bringing in their own food and drinks for two adults and two kids. That adds up to over $350 in savings on dining costs for a typical 7-day Disneyland vacation for them.
You can take a break from the parks to eat meals you’ve brought at on-site or nearby off-site hotels. Some hotels near Disneyland even have suites with kitchens so you can prepare quick meals and snacks yourself.
If you do want to splurge on a fancy Disney sit-down meal, plan that for a celebration dinner only. Stick to affordable counter service or your own food for all other meals. Also take advantage of mobile ordering in the parks when possible to save time waiting in food lines.
Mickey on a Budget: How to Visit Disneyland for $50 in 2024 - Use Disneyland's Early Admission Perk
One smart way to maximize your time and get on more rides at Disneyland is to take advantage of Extra Magic Hours or Early Admission. These Disneyland perks allow hotel guests to enter certain parks earlier than the general public.
Getting into Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park even an hour before everyone else gives you a big head start on popular attractions before the masses arrive. Early entry is offered on select days at one of the two parks, so check the Disneyland calendar to see which park has early admission each day.
Arrive at the early entry park at least 30 minutes before the extra hours begin. Disneyland typically opens the turnstiles 15-30 minutes prior to early admission time. You’ll need to show your hotel room key card to gain access - this perk is only for guests staying at one of the Disneyland Resort hotels.
Power walk to the most popular rides first before lines get long. For Disneyland Park, beelines for Space Mountain, Peter Pan’s Flight, and Splash Mountain are common early morning strategies. At Disney's California Adventure Park, Radiator Springs Racers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Toy Story Midway Mania see the longest waits. Rope drop with a plan to minimize backtracking across the parks.
One Vacaville mom who takes her family to Disneyland every year says early entry allows them to ride 6-8 major attractions in that first hour. That’s nearly an entire day's worth of headliner rides, done before most guests arrive. She maximizes the morning by getting Space Mountain, Star Tours, and Buzz Lightyear done quickly.
An annual passholder from San Diego likes using Disney's Early Admission to conquer Fantasyland, knocking out Peter Pan's Flight, Alice in Wonderland, and Matterhorn first. He says going left at rope drop is a pro tip to avoiding the crowds who rush towards Tomorrowland and Frontierland.
Utilizing Extra Magic Hours does require some early mornings, as parks open as early as 7 AM during peak seasons. However, you’ll get better sleep at night knowing you’ve already tackled the hard-to-get FastPasses and long standby queues first thing. The early morning effort pays off in much shorter wait times the rest of the day.
Mickey on a Budget: How to Visit Disneyland for $50 in 2024 - Stick to Free Attractions and Entertainment
Disneyland offers a ton of entertainment options beyond just rides, many of which won't cost you a penny. Sticking to free shows, character meet and greets, attractions and events is a great way to experience the magic of Disney on a budget.
For starters, check the park calendars for scheduled parades, shows and fireworks which run daily. You can grab a bench on Main Street or find a spot near Sleeping Beauty's Castle to watch Disneyland classics like the Main Street Electrical Parade or the nightly fireworks spectaculars. Fantasmic! at Disneyland and World of Color at California Adventure also offer Broadway-level productions for the cost of park admission alone.
Wander New Orleans Square and Critter Country to catch impromptu street performances from bands and jazz musicians. You’re almost guaranteed a mini concert while walking through these immersive lands. Hop aboard the classic vehicles running along Main Street, from an old-timey fire engine to the horse-drawn streetcar. It costs nothing to ride and completes the nostalgic atmosphere.
Younger kids will love story time sessions with Disney princesses and some of their favorite Pixar pals. Check schedules for Princess Royal Reception areas and Pixar Pals meet-ups. Don't miss the lively Pixar Play Parade at California Adventure either. You may also run into Disney characters on BUZZ Lightyear Astro Blasters or wandering the park lands like Star Wars characters in Tomorrowland. Say hi but keep moving if lines for photos form.
Save your money on expensive souvenirs and let your kids decorate their own ears or make their own light sabers at one of the free craft stations. New Orleans Square hosts Pirates League outposts for aspiring swashbucklers to get pirate makeovers. performs jazz sets in the French Quarter. You can also channel your inner Jedi at the Path of the Jedi experience.
Of course, classic dark rides like Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise are included with park admission. Plus, you can take in beautiful sections like Grizzly Peak or Cars Land at no additional cost.
Mickey on a Budget: How to Visit Disneyland for $50 in 2024 - Line Up for Character Meet and Greets
Meeting those iconic Disney characters is a huge part of the Disney magic for kids and adults alike. But wait times for autographs and photos with the stars of the shows can easily top over an hour at peak times. Waiting in long queues eats away prime ride time and costs you precious minutes enjoying the parks.
Luckily, insider strategies from experienced Disney fans can help you get those coveted character interactions quickly. The key is knowing when and where to line up to catch your kids’ favorite Disney pals.
Local mom Cheryl brings her 4-year-old princess lover to Disneyland every few months. She says staking out character meet and greet spots right as the park opens is prime time. “Cast members don’t start bringing characters out until just before official opening,” she explains. “If you line up at a character greeting location 15-20 minutes before, you’ll be first in line.”
Popular meet ups like Anna & Elsa at Fantasy Faire or Mickey at his house on Main Street draw crowds fast. But arriving early means only a 5-10 minute wait before you get your magical moment. Cheryl’s other go-to spot at park opening is the gazebo in Town Square on Main Street. Various characters rotate through for mini-meets, perfect for a quick autograph and hug if lines are short.
Of course you can pay $10-20 per person for a Disney dining package that guarantees you a spot to meet princesses or Avengers heroes. But Matthew, a Disneyland annual passholder from Los Angeles, has an inside tip to skip the upcharge: “Use mobile order at Plaza Inn around 10:30-11 am and they’ll give you a card to come back and meet Minnie Mouse after you eat."
Combining character dining with Mobile Order can save money and score meets with shorter waits. Matthew also recommends swinging by animation buildings in Hollywood Land at California Adventure around 2 pm. "The lines inside are way shorter than at Animation Academy earlier in the day but you can usually still meet Mickey or characters from Frozen."
Mickey on a Budget: How to Visit Disneyland for $50 in 2024 - BYOS (Bring Your Own Stroller)
Strollers are lifesavers for families navigating the massive Disneyland parks all day. However, renting a stroller from Disney can cost $15-$25 per day. Over a 4-5 day trip, that's $75-$100 that could easily be saved. That's why bringing your own stroller is a top money-saving hack for many Disneyland regulars.
Packing small, lightweight umbrellas strollers is the key for traveling families. Local mom Jenna swears by her $40 compact Maclaren stroller for Disney trips. "It's narrow and maneuverable so we can weave through crowds easily," she explains. "My kids can nap in it when needed, then it folds up in a flash when we go on rides." Collapsible strollers from brands like Gladius and Chicco are also great picks that won't weigh you down.
When possible, opt for a stroller that lays flat so little ones can nap on the go. Disney days are long and tiring for kids under 5. Emily, a mom from San Francisco, learned on her first trip that a reclining stroller was essential. "We only had an upright cheap umbrella stroller and my 3 year old was so exhausted. I ended up having to carry him half the afternoon."
Your own stroller also offers handy storage for your bags and personal items instead of having to lock them in rental stroller bins. Attach a lanyard or key ring to easily grab necessities like phones, wallets, snacks, jackets and more. Water bottle pouches keep drinks handy as well.
While collapsing your stroller is required on many rides, it's easy to park it right outside attractions then unfold it again after. Simply activate the brake to ensure it stays put if you have to leave it briefly. Some rides like It’s a Small World or Jungle Cruise allow you to roll right on with certain smaller strollers too, so double check.
Pro tip: Gate check your stroller like luggage on arrival to avoid having to rent a Disney one. Emily says "We gate check our stroller on the flight down then retrieve it at baggage claim in Anaheim. No need to rent!"
Mickey on a Budget: How to Visit Disneyland for $50 in 2024 - Watch the Fireworks for Free
Disney’s nightly fireworks shows are world-famous for their incredible pyrotechnics, special effects, and moving musical scores. For families trying to stick to a budget, shelling out over $100 per person for a dessert party or dining package to view fireworks seems out of reach. But experienced Disneyland goers know there are great options to take in the spectacular displays for free.
Staking out a good viewing spot along Main Street is a prime insider tip from Disneyland regulars. “We always arrive 45 minutes before the scheduled start of fireworks,” shares Matthew, an annual passholder from Orange County. “If you snag a curbside spot in front of the Emporium store, you have an unobstructed view.” He recommends planting your group near the Partners statue of Walt and Mickey to center yourself under the explosions.
For those not keen on sitting on the pavement, grab a reservation at Carnation Cafe on Main Street instead. “We watch the fireworks while having a relaxing meal on their patio,” says mom of two Jennifer. “It’s way more affordable than paying for a special dessert package just for fireworks viewing.” Time your reservation for an hour before the scheduled display, then you can leisurely finish dessert during the show.
Staking out a spot along the Rivers of America is another insider tip for excellent fireworks views. Disney mega-fan Sara explains “The zone across from The Haunted Mansion rarely fills up but offers a great panoramic view.” Arrive about 30-40 minutes prior and snag standing room in front of the New Orleans Square train station or sit on the ground by the river walkway.
“I actually prefer watching the fireworks from Small World Mall in Fantasyland,” reveals annual passholder Cheryl. “Few people think to watch from there but it provides a fantastic angle of the projections on the Matterhorn.” The area in front of “it’s a small world” tends to be less crowded as well. Bring a blanket to spread out and relax on during the display.
For a truly unique experience, California Adventure offers prime viewing from directly in front of World of Color. “Stake out a spot on the bridge 90 minutes before the late night fireworks,” advises resident Disney expert Tori. “You can see fireworks bursting over both parks for an immersive 360 degree show.”