Planning a trip to Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park? These neighboring Anaheim theme parks are a dream vacation for many families. Why just a dream and not reality? In part, it’s because of the hefty admission fees. There are several strategies you can use—from the early planning stages through your days on-site—that will make the most of your time and money on your next visit to Disneyland.
Purchase tickets in advance to save money
You’ll save both time and money buying your tickets in advance instead of paying at the gate. Ticket prices at the gate are divided into 3 categories: Value, Regular and Peak. You’ll need to pay a premium for Peak tickets whenever the park is at its busiest. You can purchase a ticket to 1 Disneyland park or a “Park Hopper” that will let you visit all the parks in the same day. A 1-day Peak ticket for access to 1 park starts at $149 for ages 10 and up and $141 for children ages 3 to 9. The Park Hopper version costs $199 for those 10 and up and $191 for those aged 3 to 9.
Planning to stay longer than 1 day? Purchase a 3-day Disneyland pass visiting 1 park per day, as opposed to the “Park Hopper” option allowing you to visit both parks on the same day. If your pass is good for 3 days or more, you also get 1 “Magic Morning,” allowing you to get into the park an hour before the main gates open to the general public. Disneyland rewards you for even longer visits with a daily rate of only $68 if you buy a 5-day pass.
You can find discounted tickets elsewhere, but don’t expect drastic savings. It’s worth shopping around at your local SEIU chapter, warehouse clubs, bank or credit union. California residents and members of the military are often eligible for deeper discounts.
As with any vacation, it’s important to save up in advance. For tips on doing just that, see our story, Vow to make a budget and stick to it. Factor in smaller, unexpected fees that add up.
“Keep in mind, parking at Disney is also expensive,” advises Katie Rivezzo, a counselor in the Los Angeles Unified School District who frequently visits the region’s theme parks. Regular parking fees are $20 per car, per day. Preferred parking for spaces closer to the entrance is $35.
Consider meal costs, too. “The food at any theme park is expensive. Pack your own food and water and carry it in a backpack,” Rivezzo adds. While Disneyland doesn’t allow outside food to be carried in, there is a designated picnic area outside the main entrance. Store your lunch in the nearby lockers so it’s there when you’re ready. Or, dine out at a restaurant near Disneyland. Don’t forget that through SEIU Click & Save you can purchase $10 Restaurant.com vouchers that are worth $25 at a variety of dining establishments right near the park.
Choose the right time to visit
Making the most of your time at Disneyland means avoiding crowds; they slow you down. If you go on a weekend, holiday or during the summer, it’s going to be crowded. Just how much though will depend on which days you go and how you structure your days. If possible, try for a weekday or offseason visit to have a more pleasant experience at the park.
For starters, some holidays are better than others. “Christmas, Easter and summer are notoriously the most crowded times there,” says Jennifer Miner, a co-founder of the TheVacationGals.com site who lives nearby. “Halloween is less busy. But the least busy day of the year is Super Bowl Sunday. If you don’t mind skipping the big game, go to Disneyland on Super Bowl Sunday.”
The days of the week matter as well. “If you can't go offseason, at least try a Tuesday or Wednesday. These are generally the lightest days,” Rivezzo advises.
When you plan your day, the word “early” should be your mantra. Get to the gate at least 30 minutes before the official opening. If you stay at a Disneyland property, you benefit from the “Extra Magic Hour” allowing you in an hour before everyone else. (The “Extra Magic Hour” is a benefit that’s similar to the “Magic Morning” mentioned earlier, which offers early entry to individuals who hold a 3-day or longer ticket.) Have lunch at 11:30 a.m. and dinner at 5 p.m.—before the lines start to form at the restaurants.
Maximize your time in the parks
Making the most out of your investment also means covering as much ground as possible, instead of wandering the parks aimlessly. So make a plan before you get there. “Getting a map is always wise in order to plot your day,” suggests Rivezzo. Not only is there a Disneyland map on Disney’s website, but you’ll likely find printed copies in your hotel’s lobby.
Circle your must-see attractions and figure out what route makes the best sense. If you want to cover Disneyland in a day, some experts advise starting in Adventureland and traveling clockwise, since most people naturally tend to go right at the end of Main Street, toward Tomorrowland.
If your goal is to get as many rides in as possible, make a beeline for the most popular rides as soon as you arrive, or wait until evening. “Hit the most popular rides at the end of your day, preferably after 5 p.m. That’s when lines are shortest,” suggests Rivezzo.
Technology can also help. Free “Fast Passes” are distributed at popular rides, giving you a scheduled time to return and skip the general line. You can also use apps. “MouseWait is especially useful for maximizing our time. It tells us how long the line is at any given ride,” says Miner.
Photo courtesy of Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland.