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My family of 7 has gone to Disneyland for years on a tight budget. Here are 14 things we do to save money.

Richard Keller   

My family of 7 has gone to Disneyland for years on a tight budget. Here are 14 things we do to save money.
  • My family of 7 loves going to Disneyland, and we've figured out how to do it on a budget.
  • We always drive instead of flying, stay at nearby hotels, and opt for cheaper meals in the parks.

I've been to the US Disney parks dozens of times since 1974, and now I continue the tradition with my own kids.

With five children and two adults, a trip to Disneyland gets extremely pricey. But we've been able to enjoy the parks for under $2,000.

Read on to see how we save money on a Disney vacation.

Our kids get a set allowance for each day at the parks

A Disneyland trip requires an overall budget and smaller ones for each child.

We provide them with a set amount for each day that they can use to buy snacks and souvenirs. If they use all their money and want something beyond the budget, they have to wait until the next day or save toward a bigger goal.

It's a good way to help our kids establish responsibility and budget our vacation money.

We buy Disney-themed clothing ahead of time

Purchasing shirts and other clothing items at the merchandise stores in the parks can get pricey with five children.

Instead, we buy Disney-licensed clothing ahead of time online or at a nearby Walmart or Target.

They usually have Disney-based T-shirts, hats, and other items at affordable prices

It's always worth it for us to drive instead of flying

For us, driving to Disneyland is a necessity.

Flights from Denver to LA cost as much as or more than our total budget — plus several hundred more when we factor in a minivan rental once we land.

The only time we flew is when we found discounted tickets to Las Vegas. From there, Disneyland is a five-hour drive across the Mojave Desert. If you find an inexpensive flight-and-rental car package, this could be the way to go.

Instead of staying on property, we opt for nearby hotels

Unlike Disney World, Disneyland doesn't have a wealth of on-site hotels. There are four in total, and with a family of seven, booking a few days is a few thousand dollars no matter the time of year.

Instead, we stay at one of Disney's "Good Neighbor" hotels, which are pretty close to the parks and still come with a few perks.

They're less expensive, offer suites and other large rooms for big parties, and many of them are located on South Harbor Boulevard — Anaheim's main thoroughfare with a direct entrance to the parks.

The nightly fireworks displays can even be seen from many of the rooms.

It's more cost-effective to purchase single-park passes instead of Park Hoppers

For my family, Disneyland is much more interesting than California Adventure Park.

It takes us two full days to get through everything at the original park, and we only require a day, at most, at the newer one.

Because of this, it makes more sense for us to save money on single-park passes instead of springing for Park Hoppers that allow you to access both Disneyland parks in one day.

We always pack our own water bottles to refill throughout the day

It's not uncommon for temperatures to reach the upper 80s or low 90s at Disneyland. Spending the whole day in the sun can quickly leave you dehydrated.

You can purchase water bottles throughout the park, but it costs over $30 for a party of seven. It's more efficient and environmentally sustainable to bring our own bottles that we can fill up around the parks.

Tip: If you fill them up with ice ahead of time, the water remains cool during the hottest parts of the day.

Churros are a must, and they're big enough to share

We always have to stop at one of the churro carts. The under-$10 wands of fried dough are covered in cinnamon and sugar, and they're large enough to share.

There were plenty of times when my children split a churro and declared they were full.

We usually visit the cart near Haunted Mansion. Though there's a lot of nearby foot traffic, it tends to have a short line, and there are numerous shady places to sit while snacking.

Pizza is usually a cost-effective choice for us, and Alien Pizza Planet makes it a fun experience

The dining experience at Alien Pizza Planet is certainly unique.

During our first visit there we realized one pie wasn't going to work out, so we ended up ordering a second one. But the final cost was well worth it.

Alien Pizza Planet is in the heart of Tomorrowland, so it's incredibly busy from lunchtime onward. Luckily the line usually moves quickly and there are plenty of tables inside.

I love Hungry Bear Restaurant for its atmosphere — and it doesn't cost much more than typical fast food

Several locations in Disneyland serve burgers, but we enjoy Hungry Bear Restaurant in Critter Country the most.

The cost isn't much more than what we'd pay at a Red Robin, and there are two decks of shaded seating that overlook the Rivers of America.

Hungry Bear also has a large selection of allergy-friendly options.

We've become experts on inexpensive treats at Disneyland, and nothing beats Dole Whip

The iconic treat from the Tiki Juice Bar in Adventureland is inexpensive — usually around $5 or $6 — and my entire family loves it.

Other locations within the park sell Dole Whip, but Tiki Juice Bar is the most famous and popular.

Since food and drinks are allowed in the nearby Enchanted Tiki Room attraction, you also don't have to worry about getting a brain freeze from quickly eating the frozen treat on your way to the next activity.

Pacific Wharf Cafe is surprisingly inexpensive

I haven't given much love to California Adventure Park, but it's home to some of our favorite dining locations.

Pacific Wharf Cafe, is surprisingly inexpensive. We love the soup in a sourdough bread bowl, which comes with a huge portion of chili and plenty of bread for a little over $10.

It's another busy spot, but the staff keeps the line moving. And no matter what time of day, we've always found open seating along the park's Pacific Wharf and courtyard.

The Cozy Cone Motel is great for budget-conscious snacks

Cars Land in California Adventure is so immersive it makes you feel like you're in the Pixar movie.

Among the detailed spaces is a replica of Radiator Springs' Cozy Cone Motel. But instead of being a place to stay, the area features five separate locations for budget-conscious snacks.

I highly recommend the bread cones at Cozy Cone 3. The original one contains beef chili, cheddar cheese, and corn chips. It also recently introduced a version with mac n' cheese and roasted bacon.

The cones are only $10, and they're more like meals than snacks.

I like to bring my own snacks for additional hunger pangs

Both Disneyland and California Adventure require a lot of walking. By the end of the day, you could traverse several miles.

To avoid spending several hundred dollars on churros and turkey legs to keep us energized, I pack our own on-the-go snacks.

Trail mix, protein bars, and dried fruit are all great. In general, I like to include items with a good source of protein.

Always be on the lookout for bargains in the stores

Before we leave the parks, we always stop at the shops for souvenirs, usually at World of Disney or locations along Disneyland's Main Street.

Our goal is to find bargains among more expensive items.

Many stores have discount displays of clothing or other items they're trying to get rid of to make room for newer products. Sometimes, they're as much as 50% off.

My kids also love to buy smaller things, like postcards for their rooms, which I approve of since they last longer than their growth spurts.


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