The second in a two-part series. The previous post covered what we did and how we managed with teenagers and baby. This part covers how much we spent and how we paid for it.
A visit to Disneyland/ Universal Studios is never cheap. But there are ways to reduce costs and make it more affordable. I spent $1,450 for me, teenager, and baby for 3 park days. When we went a year ago I spent $1,200 for 2 parks days. I could do it more cheaply, and hopefully someday I will. For now, here’s what we spent and how we did it.
This trip was a little bit special because the idea was hatched as a birthday present from my parents to my niece. I paid my own way for my family, except my mom and dad paid for some things too. I spent about $1,450, but I didn’t pay for everything.
FLIGHTS spent $0
Part of my and my oldest daughter’s Christmas present was airline tickets. My parents spend a bit less than 10,000 Southwest points for each of us to fly roundtrip from Idaho. This saved about $390. If I had had more time to plan I could have gotten my own free Southwest miles by applying for and reaching spending limits on a Southwest card. I will definitely plan to accrue some airline miles before our next Disney trip.
Flying Southwest as a larger group, and with a lap baby was honestly a bit stressful. Southwest does not have seat assignments. While families board after the group A folks, when you have a connecting flight, you can’t guarantee you’re going to be there in time to board early. On both of our connections I got on the plane near the end of the boarding. Luckily the flights were short. But having a baby on your lap sitting in the middle between two strangers, with the rest of your family spread throughout the plane, is not optimal!
HOTEL spent $430 plus tip
We stayed at the charming Candy Cane Inn. It’s the second time I have been there and there’s lots love about it. The nightly AAA rate for two queen beds and a port-a-crib was $135. Not too bad right? We did add a rollaway bed for 3 nights at $20 per night, which was totally worth it. Everyone had their own bed, although the teenagers shared 2 out of the 4 nights. My good-natured aunt stayed in the room with me, my teenager and baby J, so we were able to split the cost of 3 of the nights she was there, making the accommodations very affordable. I paid $430, plus housekeeping tip for 4 nights. We definitely got the better bargain than my kind aunt.
The Candy Cane Inn is a great option for your visit. It’s about a quarter mile walk to the park, plus they offer a free super convenient shuttle that leaves every half-hour. And it’s on the same side of the street as the park, so no busy street crossings. The grounds are lovely with hanging flower baskets, fountain and benches. A free breakfast is served pool-side every day. And among the small amenities, they have cucumber-lemon ice water in the lobby, which is great for hydration before and after walking around at Disneyland all day. It was maybe a little noisy on our last day, but if you’re travelling with baby it’s a good idea to bring your white noise machine anyway. The sleepers in our room with white noise were not bothered at all.
Next time we go we are considering trying one of the Hyatt hotels nearby. There are a Hyatt House and a Hyatt Place right down the street from the Disneyland entrance. The prices for September run around $125-$144 per night, or 12,000 Hyatt points, or 6,000 points plus $75 for rooms with 2 queen beds and a sleeper sofa. I have plenty of points options through my Chase Ultimate Rewards account credit card sign-up bonuses, and could easily get us a free room next time we’re in town. These hotels also offer family rooms with king bed, bunk beds and sleeper sofa, enough for a bed for everyone. Our family of 7 might even fit! They run $174 in September, but can’t be purchased with points. I’m using a September date because we’re expecting to go again in a year or two after the Star Wars land opens.
GROUND TRANSPORTATION spent $60
We took a private shuttle to and from the airport-hotel. The Candy Cane Inn set us up with this small independent company. We spent $10 per person each way (baby free), plus tip, totaling $135, for all of us to go to and from the airport. That’s about the going rate. Next time we go I’m going to look into a towncar/limo option. It may not be that much more expensive for the entire group.
To get to Universal Studios in Los Angeles we rented a car. Again, we found a small private company through our hotel. We paid about $65 to rent a minivan fitting all of us for the day, plus $30 for parking. We got the upgraded parking because it was raining and we didn’t have to walk as far. The car rental came and picked us up at the hotel first thing in the morning. Once we signed paperwork at their office we were off. When we came back at night we simply left the car in the parking lot with the keys at the front desk. Super convenient.
FOOD spent $250
Although I felt like I was spending a lot on food during the trip, it only added up to $250. But that’s just for 2 of us plus baby. And, my mom and aunt bought two of the big meals. The tightwad in me feels anxious about buying every meal out for 4 plus days, and I could have planned or set expectations better about bringing some picnic lunch meals with us. Anyway, we all got fed and enjoyed some of the special treats at both parks. It’s all part of the experience I guess! Breakfast was free at the hotel, which made our mornings really relaxed, and cheap. There were donuts, bagels, yogurt, cereal, oatmeal, hard-boiled eggs, coffee, juice and the like. More than enough variety for all ages. For snacks we had Dole Whips in Adventureland, churros and ice cream on Main Street, and a daily coffee break at the single Starbucks at the park. Sadly, I was craving a corndog from the corndog cart, but never did get one. We ate at 2 Disney restaurants. I recommend the Mexican restaurant, Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante at Frontierland because of the pleasant and roomy outdoor seating, bathroom access, free water dispenser, and baby-friendly food such as rice and beans. Located between Big Thunder Railroad and a super secret entrance to Fantasyland, it’s a pleasant place to regroup and plan your next set of rides. We ate dinner twice at Downtown Disney. Earl of Sandwich is a pretty inexpensive option with its cafeteria style service and fresh salad and sandwich fare. And we ate twice at Universal Studios and Universal Riverwalk (like Downtown Disney). Dining at the Three Broomsticks Restaurant in “Hogsmeade’ and partaking of both the hot and cold butterbeer was totally worth the money. Just this once. As was having a giant donut in The Simpson’s Springfield.
The least satisfying meal was almost $100 for 5 of us at California Kitchen at the Airport waiting to leave Santa Ana. Next time maybe McDonald’s would be better. Or granola bars.
In general, minimizing the meals requiring a tip is probably a useful money savings strategy. Bringing your own snacks and drinks is relatively easy now at Disneyland. They don’t officially allow food and drinks to be brought into the park, but they are not sticklers. We bought in granola bars, cheese, carrots and water bottles with no problem. Also, giving teenagers and gradeschoolers their own drinks and snacks to carry makes them feel independent and saves you the back stress.
PARK TICKETS spent $566
Park tickets are the gotcha at Disneyland and Universal and make any trip there expensive. You can get flights and hotels through points, and bring your own food, but even discounted park tickets are costly. I spend $566 at AAA on park entries for me and my teenager. The baby was free everywhere. We got 2-day single park ticket for Disneyland at $188 each, a savings of about $2 of off two single park tickets on their least expensive day. We also bought the Universal Studios tickets at AAA for $95 each, which was the going rate for the day we were going. If you live in Southern California or are a member of the Military you might be able to get some great park ticket deals. For the rest of us mortals, there’s not much relief. But, buying tickets in advance is a great time savings strategy once you’re there, plus allowed us to get into Universal Studios up to an hour earlier than those purchasing tickets at the ticket booth.
SOUVENIRS spent $200
I did buy some souvenirs. $200 worth. You can go without buying the trinkets and gear, but I was pretty happy with what I bought. My teenage daughter got a hoodie sweatshirt from Universal that she has worn every day to school since we’ve been back. I started a pin collection for my baby daughter. Some of my family have started collecting pins, so it will be a way for her to enjoy Disney with our family when she is older, plus have mementos from her first visit. I bought a lanyard, a packet of 2017 pins for everyone, and a special winnie-the-pooh & tigger pin just for her. I bought a few other sundries and small gifts for people back home, but nothing extreme. And baby J and my niece both got free 1st Time Visitor Pins for the asking. My purchases didn’t break the bank and we have some sweet ways to commemorate our trip. My daughter also had some of her own money that she spent, about $40. My mom and aunt bought a souvenir for each of the girls as well.
Here is our final tally
Hotel ……$430 plus $10 tip
Park Tickets …. $566
Total ….. $1456
Ways to Save Money at Disneyland & Universal
- Share. We went in a group and that led to significant cost savings. We shared a room with my aunt. We shared a shuttle and rental car with my whole family. This saved us money and spread the work too. It would have been a struggle to go to Disneyland with a baby and no other adult.
- Have a food plan. We need to eat and feed our kids. But how you do it is discretionary. A good meal plan can really save you a big chunk of money during your Disney visit. No plan can spiral your spending out of control. To me Disneyland is not about the food. Keep your meals simple and cheap for an affordable Disney trip. Breakfast: Can you get a hotel with a free breakfast? Or are you willing to eat breakfast in the room from items you bring from home? Granola bars, yogurts, mini-cereals, bagels and cream cheese can all be easily stored and eaten. A mini-fridge is probably a good idea when you are planning your accommodations. We were lucky to have free breakfast at our hotel. It made breakfast totally stress free, and might be worth considering when you book your hotel. DIY breakfast would have worked fine for us too, with a bit more planning. Lunch: Do you want to bring lunch items into the park? It’s fairly easy now. Many pre-made lunch items, including sandwiches, cheese and crackers, or cut up fruit and veggies can be taken into the park without raising too many eyebrows. And of course, baby foods and children’s specialty foods. Technically, Disneyland does not allow outside food at the park, but it seems like they accept that many people do it. There were drug and convenience stores near our hotel where food items could be purchased if you have limited space on the plane. Have older kids carry backpacks or suddenly-hip-again fanny packs with a granola bar or two, cheese or peanuts, and something to drink. Their own Disney lunchable. Dinner: If I had to do it again I would not eat any meals that required a tip. The sit down restaurants where we dined were fine. But in my opinion they do not add enough value to the experience to justify the 18-20% surcharge which I prefer to leave. We did have one really nice celebratory dinner with our family at Naples restaurant at Downtown Disney, which my mom and aunt paid for. Granted, that was nice and we toasted with Prosecco. Probably worth it for the sweet memory we now have. But if you are there with your nuclear family, or with other families with children, it’s simply not necessary. Disneyland is not known for it’s food. Save your money. There are lots of cafeteria style dining options within Disneyland park and Downtown Disney. We ate at the mexican restaurant inside the park and Earl of Sandwich in Downtown Disney, both more affordable options. Also consider leaving the parks and eating somewhere along the city’s business districts. There was a Subway across from our hotel. There are a multitude of restaurants right across from the Disney entrance. Trip Advisor has a list of the best cheap food in Anaheim. Fast food, cafeteria style dining, pizza, and sandwiches are some restaurant dining options that can save you money. Make a food plan before you go and spend your money on making memories not forgettable meals. Buying special snacks in the park may be a good investment. We discovered the unique Dole Whip on our last visit and made a special effort to get one again. We drank a cup of coffee at the Starbucks every day, which was totally worth the money, and I’m sure there are ways to earn free Starbucks through their points program. Or at least earn points while you’re at Disney. The teenagers had fancy ice cream cones and churros. I never got my corndog but wish I would have (be sure to ask for it without the bag of chips- cheaper). And I’ve heard about the Disney beignets and Monte Cristo sandwiches that will have to wait for another visit. If you’re going to spend money on food, figure out what’s important to you and focus on that. And keep the the rest of your meals simple and cheap.
- Reduce souvenir costs. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need to buy a lot of stuff to make my trip great. In fact I’d rather not have the clutter when I get home. I’m all about the experience. Here are some ideas: let each kid choose just one souvenir from the trip. This is my usual strategy. And I don’t buy many or any gifts for folks back home. Some people recommend buying less expensive Disney gear at the Disney store, Walmart, Target, Amazon, JCPenney or even thrift stores before you go. Mickey and Disney Princesses are everywhere. It is fun to feel a part of the Disney experience with your gear. Getting it in advance could be the difference of $15 compared to $35 for a Mickey Mouse t-shirt for example. Buy it as part of your trip planning. Also, you know those iconic Disney ears? I did see versions that I’m pretty sure were homemade, saving about $25. They were just as sweet and made the wearers just as happy. If you’re crafty, think about it! You can find all the specs on Pinterest. Choose your fave and put together a totally custom look. Glitter? Glow in the dark? A favorite character? Yes! No sewing required. Of course, photos. Take all you want. After the trip you can pick one or a few to frame or turn into an inexpensive flip book. Find bargains on the frames and flipbooks, of course. Pins and smashed pennies. Disney pins are not exactly cheap, at $9.99+ commonly, but if you buy one per trip and a lanyard, or put them on ballcaps, t-shirts or a wall hanging you can make at home, it can make a fun collection over time. There are a ton of smashed penny machines at Disneyland and they only cost 51 cents each. They’re not my thing, but they may be yours or your children’s.
- Use airlines and hotel points. Really. You have to have good credit to qualify. And you have to pay off your balance in full every month for this to be financially savvy. But you really can get free travel this way. We did this Disney trip with free points on Southwest Airlines earned through a credit card promotion. All 6 of us. Currently the sign-up bonus is 50,000 points. If you have never earned a credit card sign-up bonus there are significant pros and cons. Some further information can be found here and here. I suggest reading up more on whether it might be an effective option for you. Most importantly, you have to be fastidious about maintaining your credit and paying off all balances each month. Otherwise the bonus is lost to late fees and interest charges. Many airlines offer similar programs.We also could have stayed for free through Ultimate Rewards points, but I am conserving those. We only spent $430 for 4 nights lodging and I am happy with that. But, free is better. The Chase Preferred card will give you 50,000 Ultimate Rewards Points if you meet their moderate spending requirements within the first 90 days. They waive the first year’s fee and you are free to cancel before a year is up. So if you have to spend the money anyway, it truly is free. Save up any big purchases you have to make, pay for all of your food, gas, cell phone charges on the card, and many of us can reach the spending. There are two Anaheim Hyatt hotels which charge 12,000 Hyatt Points per night. Turn the 50,000 Chase points into 48,000 Hyatt points and you have 4 nights free.
- Here are some of the best resources for making an amazing, memorable and affordable trip for your family.
Mousesavers.com Possibly the best planning resource out there. Be sure you select Disneyland rather than the default Disneyworld.
Disneyland Official Website For maps, official prices, and all park information
http://www.ourcheapdisneyvacation.com/ Love this down-to-Earth family blog and reading about their trip to Disneyworld.
We did it for $1,456 this time. We’re planning to go again, and when we do, my goal is to get the cost under $1,000 for a three day trip for 3. Ah, a dream is a wish your heart makes. I loved visiting Disneyland with my daughters! Wishing your family a wonderful visit too.