Doing a Disney trip is always at the top of my list for vacations, especially now that we've got a young child and another on the way. Because Disney caters to families, there really is no easier vacation. Throw in the bonus for us that Disneyland is only 2.5 hours away by plane and it trumps all other holiday locations.
Disneyland is also a fairly affordable vacation. Because it's so close, we can choose the amount of days we want to visit (as little as a long weekend) and the hotel options surrounding the park vary greatly according to your budget. In fact, Disneyland was my families first ever big trip and we stayed in a very low budget hotel.
For the past 12 years or so, we have upgraded our accommodations until we found a hotel we loved (See my review on the Staybridge.) We have also learned a few other tricks to help keep our cost as low as possible. As we begin to plan and budget for our next trip in (hopefully) 2014, I thought I'd share a few of our money saving tips.
We travel off season. This keeps our hotel and flight rates at their lowest and usually Disney offers some kind of buy 3 days get 2 free deal on their passes.
It's also wise to plan far in advance if possible, as you'll have your best pick of dates and some flexibility. If you can't do this because of work or what not, you can often find really good deals at a month or less. However, if you want to go during a peak holiday this is unlikely to happen.
As against it as some are (probably because they've never tried...) we've tried to get a few trips in before our kids turn three. Why you ask? A couple of reasons. First is that all kids under three get in the parks for free. That's a savings of $250 per child. And when you have more then one child it makes a BIG difference. Second, if you can fly with that child before they turn two you always get lap child airfare for free. Another perk? Younger children eat a whole lot less so you won't be paying so much for food.
Speaking of food, this is an area that can make or break the bank on your trip. We always always always stay at a hotel that has a kitchen. We do a grocery run on our first day of arrival and buy tons of snacks, drinks and various basic meal items. We plan to eat in the parks for only one meal a day and usually try to make it a light lunch (aka counter service only.) So far we have never, ever paid for a sit down waiter served meal at Disney because it will double the price. I'd like to one day, but it has to be factored into your budget.
Often for us, breakfast and supper ends up being made in the kitchen of our hotel room. Or, of you choose well, your accommodations may offer a complimentary breakfast and or appetizers.
Snacks in the park are also outrageously expensive. $2.00 for one banana? No thank you. Each morning we pack our backpack full of snacks and drinks to last us how long we will be in the park. Usually it ends up being a few pieces of fruit, a couple granola bars, small packaged cookies or chips and some water bottles. Yes it's slightly annoying to carry around a backpack, but we usually want one with us for camera or whatever else anyways.
Disney claims to not allow you to bring food into the park, and maybe they'd have a problem with it if you were trying to come in with a cooler full of sandwiches or a bucket of chicken, but we've never had a problem.
As far as souvenirs go, try to wait until your final day or two to make your purchases. This was a family rule for me growing up because as kids we'd change our minds so often. Now it just makes sense because it gives you time to see all the store selections and decide what you really want without over spending.
If you are interested in the photo pass CD and are traveling with a group, collect everyone's photo cards and put them all onto one CD. Its passworded, so you can all have access to it and get what you want without spending the money on individual CDs.
It is really easy to go over budget on a Disney trip. Lets face it, they are a business and are exceptionally good at sucking the money from your wallet. But if you plan accordingly and are prepared, it'll be a lot easier to say 'no' to those expensive add ons that you may come across.