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Monday, February 11, 2013

How To Save Money At Disneyland

"I can see my house from here!" - WD

No, I haven't worked at Disneyland.  And no, I haven't been there a billion times (though it feels like it).  What I have done is been around that park many times and talked with many people who do work there, and I've picked up a few tips - either on my own or directly from cast members.  Part of the magic of Disneyland is sharing it with other people who enjoy it as much as you do, and that's the point of this article - for me to let you in on some of the cool things I have discovered about my favorite place.

Lots of these articles have been written, I know, and many of them are by people who claim to know everything about Disneyland.  Maybe they do, but they aren't sharing it all.  But I will - I'll tell you how I'm able to save money while in Disneyland, which allows me to go more often simply because it costs less than it does for most.

Some tips might be old news, some might not be of help at all, but none the less ... here they are.

Arguably the most expensive portion of your trip.  At $125 per person (for the Park Hopper) per day, even the shortest trip can quickly turn into an expensive one, even before you start buying souvenirs   If you don't live in California, you probably aren't going to go to Disneyland more than 6 times in a year, so you are better off getting the multiple day passes.  Duh, we all know that.  You can get a 5-Day park hopper pass for $270 - a smoking deal off of the normal price!  They are tricky, though, because you have to use the passes up within 15 days of your initial visit, so they are best for out of town folks on vacation.  Also, once you go in, that burns a day, so if you are in town for a half day before going to the park, you can't get in without using a day up.  There are no blackout days with them (meaning you can use them 365 days out of the year), and they are a good deal off of the per day price, so if you only go to Disneyland once a year, these might be your best bet.

But if you are like me and you enjoy going to the park multiple times throughout the year, then you should check out the Annual Passports.  I have the Deluxe Passport, which gives me 315 days of Disneyland fun for $465.  When I go, it's usually for the weekend, since my girlfriend doesn't get too much time off.  We drive down Friday, come back Sunday.  Without a passport, I'd have to buy the 3-day park hopper for $235, burn one day by going to the park Friday evening, one day Saturday, and then one on Sunday for the few hours we go before driving back home.  Some of the best times we've had at Disneyland have been after a long, 6 hour drive, just hanging out on a bench in Main Street, enjoying the lights.  With a passport, when you go to the park doesn't matter - you aren't shorting yourself by enjoying a half day.  There are blackout days here and there, but most of them are Christmas, Thanksgiving, and random weekends and to be honest, we have never been to the park during a blackout day - so for us, they don't matter.

Ok, so how does the Passport save you money?  Besides the savings per day, you get 10% off on all food purchases in the park, 10% off of all merchandise sales, and 20% off of the cool tours they have!  Every penny counts these days, and buying a pass really does help.  Another quick note - when you renew, you save $20 off your renewal price AND Disney gives you a one-time coupon for 20% off merch over $50!  Let's face it - you are going to be buying that cool wallet or jacket anyway, why not save some cash doing it?

Update: There are some events that will save you money on tickets.  One that I know of for sure is Dapper Day.  This is a non-sanctioned Disney event that happens across most Disney parks - even Disney Paris!  Twice a year, folks dress up in smart, period-style clothing (1940's and 1950's generally), and hang out in the park for the day.  The inspiration for this event is the concept drawings from the parks.  Artists typically drew crowds dressed fairly sharp, as if they were going out on the town instead of fighting sweaty crowds in the Sun.  Hooking up with this group can save you almost 50% off your ticket (I'm unclear if it is a park hopper or not) and in some cases it can save you on your hotel costs, too!  If you are into costumes, check their website out at www.dapperday.com and sign up for their newsletter for event information.  Since it's not a Disney event, tickets are available from the Dapper Day site.  I'm not sure you have to be dressed up to use the ticket to get into the park, so if you don't feel like dressing up, perhaps you can buy a ticket through their site for their next event and simply dress how you want.

Disney concept art, and something Dapper Day pulls inspiration from

Here is where that 10% from your passport comes in handy!  Sure you only end up saving about $2 per meal, but hey .. it adds up.  You really can't save money on food at the park - there aren't coupons or anything - but you can shop smart, at least.  The absolute best place to eat for the price is Ranch del Zocalo, in Frontier Land.  For about $10 you walk away with a pretty nice plate of food that keeps you full for a long time.  Some days, I'll skip breakfast and just eat here, and I won't be hungry until well after 5pm.  Plus, there is hardly anyone else eating here, so the lines are short.  Another secret - there are bathrooms right before the entrance to RDZ, which are always a hot commodity in Disneyland.

There are two places in the park that will actually give you free things.  One of them is the aforementioned Rancho del Zocal, who offers free refills on fountain drinks all day!  Simply walk in, refill, and present your receipt to the person at the checkout counter.  That's the key - you do need to hang on to your receipt, but they have lots of soda and iced tea and water - plus a filtered water fountain in the outdoor eating area, right on one of the food carts.  The other place is the coffee shop on Main Street.  Save your receipt and you can get free refills all day long on some decent coffee (don't forget to provide your passport first to save that 10%)!  Working the system like this can save you $10-$15 a day, depending on how much coffee and fountain drinks you consume in a day.

There are certain places in the park where food and drink prices vary, believe it or not.  I'll work on a post on that later, but for now, if you are into coffee but don't want the free refills, go to the gumbo stand by Pirates - they have coffee for almost $0.25 LESS than at the coffee house on Main St.  I know, a quarter, what's the big deal, but I'm here to save you money!

I have saved the most obvious for last, and that is to bring your own food into the park.  Disneyland allows you to pack your own in, just nothing in glass.  This is a good way to eat some healthy snacks and such.  If you are staying for a few days, there is a Trader Joe's store 6 miles away - if you have a car, I recommend going there to load up on snacks and such.  Families who are staying for a few days will like this, because TJ's has good, cheap food and snacks, and if your hotel has a fridge, you are set for the entire trip.  This can save you big money over eating in Down Town Disney, though there is some good food there.

If you forget sunscreen or diapers or whatever, go to the First Aid station and you can get this stuff for free.  Not really a way to save money, but just a cool thing to know.

A word about parking:  The easy thing to do is find a hotel with free parking, otherwise you are paying $15 per day.  Most of the hotels are walking distance (under a mile) and have free parking, so use it!  If you are smart and you got a passport, you can take advantage of the free parking in Downtown Disney.  When we go for our half day before heading home, I'll park in DTD.  You get 3 hours for free, and any hour after that is like $6.  True, there are signs that say "No Theme Park Parking" but there is never anyone enforcing it and if you get there early enough, there aren't any people working the booths so nobody knows!

There are other experiences too, that - while not saving money outright - can make you feel like you got your moneys worth.  The thing I love about Disneyland is the effort they put into the place.  Everywhere you look there is something you didn't know about, like the old time flip card movie viewer in the Penny Arcade (try it, it's only a penny!)  Or the old time party line phones in the Main Street coffee house - pick up the receiver and just listen.  Don't forget the short audio plays that go on by the locker rentals! Then there are the two boats that cruise around in New Orleans Square.  They are free and a good way to escape the crowd for a bit.

My girlfriend, enjoying the Mark Twain

There you go - my guide to saving you a bit of cash on your next trip.  Like I said, it's not a lot, but it does help, and you always feel kind of like an insider asking for your free coffee.


  1. Great post, JP. I didn't know about Ranch del Zocalo

  2. To get free refills, do you need to save your cup also?