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The Ultimate Guide to Affordable Disney Vacations

Disney vacations can be one of the most memorable trips you ever go on…but it sure can get pricey! Here are some tips for making your Disney vacation a little more affordable.

disney castle at christmas

Disneyland is truly one of my favorite places.

It holds so many happy memories for me – both as a child and an adult. I know people sometimes think it’s weird that it’s my vacation of choice – but what can I say…it’s magical!

But there’s no doubt that it is an investment. Prices ALWAYS seem to rise every year, and everything in the park is expensive.

However, there are things you can do to make it a little more affordable without compromising the excitement that comes from Disneyland.

I have gone to Disneyland many times, and I feel like every time I come away with more tips. My biggest one? Book through Get Away Today. They always are offering the BEST prices on tickets and vacation packages, and they make it worry-free. I have booked every trip I’ve planned through them, and I wouldn’t do it any other way. You can even get $10 off a vacation package with the code Clarkscondensed.

Now, without further adieu…here is your ultimate guide!

Make sure you signup for our planning guide:

Originally posted in 2014; updated. in2020.

Planning Your Trip

Determine your budget

Before you do anything…decide on your budget. Be realistic with it (so, if you have a family of six and you are flying to California from across the country, don’t think you can do it for under $1,000.)

By starting out with a specific budget in mind, you will know how much wiggle room you have.

Here are a few things you will likely need to pay for, to help you determine that budget:

  • Disney Tickets (obviously). These vary in price depending on the time of year, how many days you get, etc. The worst day is a day long pass, and the best deals come as you purchase more days.
  • Hotel or Lodging: Lodging varies a lot. If you stay on Disney premises, you will be paying a lot more than at an off-site location. I’ll talk a little bit more later though.
  • Travel Costs: Flying? Driving?
  • Food: This also varies, depending on how much you want to eat in the park
  • Souvenieers
  • Incidentals

Disney Vacation Cost Calculator

Obviously, your budget is going to depend a lot on how many people are going to go to, how many days you want to go, your hotel, and what/how you plan to eat.

Here is a basic calculation for determining how much you will pay, at a minimum.

For all the current prices for tickets, click here. Get Away Today frequently has promotions, so keep your eyes open for those.

You may not use all of these different options, so just skip those if necessary:

Adults (10+) x ticket price =

Children (3-9) x ticket price =

Cost of hotel x nights =

Hotel parking x nights =

Disneyland Parking ($25 at this writing) x days =

$30 x number of people = cost of souvenirs (adjust this to what you feel is appropriate. Souvenirs aren’t cheap!)

$20 x number of people = cost of food per day (this is on the low end and if you are trying to save money. Check out Disneyland Dining on a Budget for this. This could be up to around $50+ per day if you aren’t trying to do it on a budget).

Then add all those calculations together. Here is what my family minimum budget would be, based on the trip we are planning for in November:

2 Adults (10+) x 360 = $720 (this is for a three day park hopper)

2 Children (3-9) x 249 = $498

Cost of hotel x nights =

Hotel parking x nights =

Disneyland Parking ($25 at this writing) x days =

$30 x number of people = cost of souvenirs (adjust this to what you feel is appropriate. Souvenirs aren’t cheap!)

$20 x number of people = cost of food per day (this is on the low end and if you are trying to save money. Check out Disneyland Dining on a Budget for this. This could be up to around $50+ per day if you aren’t trying to do it on a budget).

Obviously you have a lot of fill in the blanks above. The price of your ticket will vary depending on if you get a Park Hopper pass or a one park per day pass, as well as how many days you stay.

For your hotel, you will need to price that out as well. We always book through Get Away Today. Be sure to read this post about the best hotels near Disneyland for families.

Consider Layaway with Get Away Today (only available for Southern California vacations)

I’ll mention Get Away Today a few more times throughout this post (yes, I am an affiliate, but I truly love what they have to offer).

However, one of the huge advantages of booking through them is their Layaway program. It’s great for planning a vacation several months in advance, and not having to pay it all up front.

Basically, they allow you to book a vacation, and lock-in that rate, for as low as $125 down. That fee includes a $50, non-refundable fee to lock in the rate.

After you pay that initial fee, all you have to do is make sure you pay off the vacation two weeks before it’s set to happen. You can make as many or as few payments as you want up until that two weeks before.

Personally, I think this is an amazing option, especially if you can’t necessarily pay for an entire vacation up front.

It’s great for people who only can allocate a certain amount of money per month to their Disney trip.

Layaway trips can be set up through the Get Away Today website, or by calling 855-GET-AWAY. And for any of my readers, if you use the code ClarksCondensed, you can get $10 off any vacation!

Disneyland Discounts

A lot of people wonder how to get discounts for Disneyland vacations, and while I’m not expert on the topic, here are a few tips I’ve found:

  • Book through Get Away Today. I know, I know, I’m sounding like a broken record. But they offer some of the best discounts available when they are able to.
  • Sign up (and use…but pay off 😉 a Disney Visa. You can get exclusive discounts this way.
  • Pin Codes — These are special codes that people get at random times…there’s no way to really predict when you will get one, but I’ve read that if you request a copy of the Disney Vacation DVD, create on account on Disney.com and save your family’s information and trip dates, or create a Disney customize map, your chances increase substantially.
  • AAA members can get great Disney discounts
  • and Military members, too!

Book several months in advance

The general consensus is to try to book your trip several months in advance. While you may be able to find some “last minute deals” somewhere, but personally, I think that would be too stressful!

In general, you need to find a happy medium — planning too far in advance (a year or more) isn’t really a good idea, but neither is planning to close (less than a month). You probably won’t find great deals, and won’t be getting the most bang for your buck.

I have booked a trip a couple times just a month or two in advance, and while it worked out, the availability of the hotels we were looking at was a lot less.

Typically, the most recommended time to schedule the trip is 4-6 months in advance. These typically yield some of the best deals,  plus it gives you plenty of time to change your mind.

However, starting to plan your trip before then would be a smart idea, too!

When to go to Disneyland?

There are definitely times that are better to go Disneyland.

As you could probably guess, during the summer will typically be the most expensive time.

Not only is it most expensive, but it’s also very hot, and likely to be super crowded.

Other times where it will be crowded and you aren’t as likely to get a good deal, is during spring break (so April-ish) or over the holidays.

The general consensus is that the best times to go are during the fall and winter and during the week.

I have gone during October twice, May once, July once, and November once, and honestly, it was busy almost every time. However, the lowest crowds were on rainy days and Wednesday.

This guide is specifically for 2020, but it should give you a general guide to when the best time to go to Disneyland is.

Determine Priorities

Some aspects of your trip may be more important than ever!

Perhaps you really want to attend a Disneyland character breakfast, or you really want to stay in one of the resorts on Disney grounds. Knowing what your priorities are from the start can help you make a decision early on where your money will be best spent.



I’ve already mentioned a few tips about buying tickets, but here are a few more things to consider:

  • Booking through Get Away Today is a great idea, too, for getting the best deals.
  • Children under three get in free!
  • Many tickets include one “Magic Morning Early Admission” pass, which is awesome for extending your stay.
  • As I already mentioned, you can get Military discounts.
  • Buying one-day passes are typically the worst deals.


If you are going overnight, you’ll need somewhere to stay. Thankfully, there’s a lot of great options out there, and you should be able to find something in your price range. Here are a few options:

  • Disney Hotels: This is probably the most fun option…but probably one of the most expensive as well. There’s definitely perks to staying on the Disney Park’s premises (they’ll deliver things you buy to your room, it’s close, and it’s magical), but it can definitely cost a pretty penny.
  • Off-site hotels: There are tons of hotels in the LA/Anaheim area, and many of them are reasonably priced. A lot of these hotels will have free breakfasts, and some may even provide free shuttles to Disney (or, even better, be within walking distance!) If you choose to stay off-site, I think that Get Away Today is definitely the place to go to check out hotels. They give you all the details of the hotels (free breakfast, free shuttle, and other amenities, as well as the distance), and, if you book for a certain amount of nights, you can get free ones. You can search for hotels that have things you specifically want, too.  Combined with buy tickets from Get Away Today, you can save a lot of money on lodging. And remember, if you use the code Clarkscondensed…you get 10 dollars off!
  • Camp on the Beach: Ever done this? I sure haven’t. But I know a lot of people have had very fun memories of camping on the beach before going to Disneyland. I have no idea what rules are associated with this, but hey, it’s worth looking into.
book vacation here


One of the most pricey parts of a Disney vacation is getting there! Unless you are lucky enough to live close to Disney, you will likely have to shell out a good amount of money on flights, or gas, to get there.

There are pros and cons to both methods of travel, which is especially dependent on how many people are going, and where you are coming from.


I always love using AAA’s fuel calculator when I’m trying to see if flying or driving is a cheaper option. It’s also important to consider the shape your car is in — will it cause significant wear and tear to drive a good distance in it?


If you are planning on flying, you can get some seriously cheap deals if you are vigilant about checking. There are, of course, sites like Priceline, Expedia, etc. that will help you see what prices are best at that given time.

We honestly fly Southwest most of the time, so we just look for flights through their website. We earn a lot of points using our Southwest credit card.

If we aren’t flying Southwest, I will use Google Flights and their flight tracker.

The Skyscanner app is also SUPER helpful for getting good deals on flights.

But if you want some of the BEST and unique tips for getting deals on flights, check out these posts from the Trip Fixers:

Obviously when buying a flight, you have to consider what time it leaves (many red eye flights are cheaper) and if they include any luggage with the price. While an airline like Spirit may seem super cheap, once they start piling on the feeds, it can get a little out of control.

There’s been numerous studies done on when the best time to buy a flight is, and apparently, 54 days, or about 7.5 weeks, before your departure date has been shown to have the best deals! I’ve never tested it myself, but it could be true. It’s also cheaper to fly on Tuesdays and Thursdays, as opposed to weekend dates.

Rental Cars

And finally, if you are going to be flying, you might want to invest in a rental car.

If you stay on Disney’s property, and you don’t plan to ever leave, you can probably get away with just using a shuttle to get to your hotel.

However, if you are staying off site, or plan to go to the beach, or anywhere else, having a rental car is worth it. I’ve seen some crazy low deals (we’re talking $15 a day or less) online…it just takes some searching. Websites like Priceline are where I’ve found the best deals.

You can also just use Uber or Lyft as well. This is what we did with our most recent trip. We stayed close to the Toy Story Parking Lot, so we just hopped on that shuttle each day (free! You don’t have to park there to get on).

Be sure to check out this post all about Disneyland transportation.

Another awesome reason to use Get Away Today? They can help you with ALL of your travel needs, including flying, rental cars, etc.


Spending money doesn’t stop once you’ve gotten your tickets, travel, and lodging taken care of. There’s definitely a lot of temptations to tempt you to empty your bank account…but try and resist them! Here are a few ways to save inside the park.


Ah…souvenirs. Something that most parents dread the thought of. If you can avoid buying anything in the park, you are better off.

However, it can be hard to resist Mickey Ears. So, if you want to let your kids buy a souvenir, just set a firm budget for each kid beforehand. I know some people will buy a Disney gift card beforehand for each child.

Some items can become rather tempting if you are walking around in the hot sun, such as spray bottles. Consider stopping by the Dollar Tree, or Target, before you leave and stocking up on spray bottles, hats, etc. to help keep you cool.

There are some free souvenirs you can collect while at Disney. I think the most well-known ones are buttons that say it’s your birthday, anniversary, first trip, etc.

These obviously aren’t anything big, but they are fun, and can even get you some special recognition throughout the park.

I’ve heard that if you tell restaurants that it’s your birthday or anniversary, some of them will even give you a free treat! Other free souvenirs include maps of Disney.

You can also buy souvenirs before you go. We have done this before, and we just pull things out of our backpack throughout the trip. The kids LOVE it. Be sure to read this post about the best Disneyland souvenirs to buy at the Dollar Tree.

How Much Cash Should You Bring to Disneyland?

I do recommend bringing cash over just relying on your credit cards. I’ve had situations where my credit card suddenly stopped working due to something being flagged as fraud – and that would not be fun to have happen in the middle of a trip!

Plus I think it helps curb spending a little bit.

I would recommend bringing $30 per person, per day in cash – if you plan to use credit cards. If you don’t want to use credit cards, I would probably say $40 per person, per day. You won’t necessarily need it, but it’s nice to have on hand.

First Aid

This may seem like a silly topic, but if you find yourself with blisters, or even a headache, head on over to the first aid station.

They have an assortment of OTC medications that guests can use, free of charge.

In addition, you can store medical equipment (such as a breast pump) if you don’t want to carry it around the park (and who would?!)


Okay, so obviously, if you have admission to the park, you don’t have to pay extra to go on rides.

However, there are a few ways to get the most bang for your buck, and get to see as much as the park as you can. Here are the two most popular ways:

  • Fast Passes: This is a great way to make sure you get to go on some of the more popular rides, without having to wait for hours in line. Basically, you get a pass from rides that offer them, and it tells you a time you can go back and get in the “Fast Pass” line. Generally, the wait time is a lot shorter, and you can spend your time going on rides with lines that are less long, or eating lunch. Sometimes you might run into people that give out fast passes they couldn’t use, which is always a pleasant surprise!
  • If you want to spend a little extra, you can purchase a MaxPass. We LOVE this, because it allows us to spend more time on rides and less time running around trying to get FastPasses. Here is everything you need to know about the MaxPass.
  • Ride Switch Passes: If you are traveling with small children, this is a must! Basically, it allows one parent or guardian to go on a ride with a child, and then, instead of having to wait in line again, the other parent can go straight to the front of the line afterward to go on the ride themselves with their child again. I love how Disney is such a family-oriented company, and they make it easy for families to go and have fun.


One of the most expensive parts of Disneyland is the food! It’s crazy how expensive some things are (and, after a long day of playing, how tempting the food gets, regardless of the price.) However, with a little bit of planning, you can save a lot!

While you aren’t supposed to bring large amounts of food into the park, they have some great picnic areas outside of the park.

If you are parking near Disney (or even just staying on the premises) you could leave a cooler there, and go grab your food when you are ready to eat. You can even throw a few granola bars and fruit snacks in your bag to help lessen the temptation to buy some of the overpriced treats in the park.

The outside food and drink rules are a bit iffy, but most people have said they have brought in food in their backpack and water bottles with no trouble – myself included. The main limitations are no alcohol, and no glass bottles.

You can get free water anywhere in the park, with a few exceptions. At most restaurants or food stations, you can walk up and ask for a cup of ice water. If you don’t want to carry around a water bottle, this is a great option.

I also feel like it’s worth it to try and book a room at a hotel that has a complimentary breakfast.

The hotel we stayed at when we went a few years ago had a full, hot breakfast, that was included with the booking of the room. It was a nice way to start the day, and it usually held us off until lunch.

Even if your hotel doesn’t have a breakfast, it will end up being a lot less expensive if you buy bagels, donuts, or cereal and milk, to store in your room. If you have a refrigerator, even better!

Some hotels come equipped with kitchens, as well, which makes it even easier to prep or eat food at the hotel.

Sometimes, certain Disney “clubs” will offer discounts on food, such as having a Disney visa. Downtown Disney restaurants often have coupons, as well, so be sure to check online before you go.

And of course, there’s tons of places to eat outside of Disney, that aren’t even too far away! I’m sure you can easily find fast food or other restaurants that are significantly cheaper than eating in Disney.

Of course, there are a lot of great places inside of Disney, and I think going to at least one is worth the splurge.

For the more “casual” places, you can easily buy the kid meals for adults, and they will probably have plenty of food. Some places will even let you get an upgraded kid’s meal, which is more of an adult portion, for just a few dollars more than a regular kid’s meal.

Here are some Disneyland food Posts you may enjoy:

I hope that this post has helped you think of some ways to make your next trip to Disneyland a little more affordable. Please feel free to ask any questions below


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