Disney On The Cheap- Part I

While these tips are based on Disneyland, they can be applied to any Disney vacation

The entire reason I started this blog was because I had 5-6 friends all asking for my save money tips at one time. Then they asked for craft tutorials. Instead of re-writing emails or clogging up my family blog with craft tutorials, I started Love Our Disney. My first “real” post was Disney on a Dime. I shared a lot of my save money tips. Being my first post, it was a bit scatter brained and unorganized. I just get so excited when people ask me about Disney that sometimes it is hard for me to get organized.

Recently, I had been thinking about doing another Disney for cheap post when a comment on the facebook page of “if I can find a good deal” prompted me to ask if anybody would want me to do a new post. The response was a quick and apparent- YES!

So, let me share how we are able to, on a single income with both Disney Daddy and I being in school full time, go to Disneyland 2 times a year.
After writing up the post, I realized how long it was. So, I decided to break it into 2 parts. For part 1 I focused on the the bookings/plans you make BEFORE your trip.

1) Throw out the notion that packages are the best deal!

I dove into whether or not packages were a good deal and did a “mock” booking in this post, Are Packages a Good Deal. I am not against packages, and have discussed when and why I think a travel agent, or using Disney’s site, might be a good idea in the past. If you are looking to do Disney on the cheap however, you have to invest time and do the work yourself. Time is money right? Well, the more time YOU spend, the more money YOU save.

2) Pick a date that saves you money!

If you are going to go during peak seasons, you are going to pay more all around. Hotels will cost more, tickets may cost more, and the tourist tax might be higher. Not to mention gas, airfare, rental vehicles may all cost more as well. If you do not have children in school, or if you are willing to let kids miss school, you can go during the “dead times”.

January 5 – March 15 are usually really dead. January, many rides close for at least a few days for refurbishments and to take down Holiday decor, but this is almost always the least busy time of year. After Labor Day to the week before Thanksgiving is another great time to visit. It is usually pretty warm this time of year (at least enough that getting wet on splash mountain during the day still feels good). We often go in October. Days that the Mickey’s Halloween Party are going to tend to be much busier though. After Thanksgiving, the first 1-2 weeks of December is quite dead. This is a great time to go if you want to see the park all decked out for the Holidays, but don’t want to fight crowds.

As for other times of the year, the park is pretty full and you are going to have more crowds, and in turn, higher costs. Of the summer months, June is the least busy.

AVOID HOLIDAY WEEKENDS! Prices spike and crowds are large.

3) Lodging- a key to Disney on the Cheap.

Lodging is a major part of saving money on a Disney trip. First and foremost- you can’t beat free. If you have family or friends in the area, and they are pretty open to guests, you might consider staying with them. If you prefer your own space, there are ways to save.

Avoid staying at the park. Again, staying at the park is fun and fine, but not when you are trying to do Disney for cheap. Also avoid hotels that are right across the street from the park. Most of them are either pretty steep in price, or pretty run down (and there for steep in price for what you get).

Search for a hotel in close surrounding areas. I love staying in Buena Park. I get hotels for about 35% less than the same brand near Disneyland. They are quieter, there is a shopping center and several restaurants near by. It is only a 10 minute drive to Disneyland on the freeway if there is no traffic. If you are taking or renting a car, you can even head farther out to places like Costa Mesa. Still within 30 minutes of the park, but even cheaper lodging.

When booking, use Hotwire Hot Rates (my preference) or Priceline Name Your Own Price. I prefer Hotwire because you are given the price rather than having to bid, plus you are given some of the amenities of the hotel. Between knowing area, amenities, price, and star rating I use the Better Bidding site to figure out which hotel it could be (CLICK HERE to go directly to Better Biddings List of Hotwire Hotels in the California).

Use this Hotwire Box to see how much you can save! Remember, you don’t know the hotel until after you book, but I have found their star ratings to be right on!

Another great option is if you know someone with a timeshare. In October 2011, my sister let us use a timeshare in Oceanside. While it was a good 45 minute drive to Disneyland, we paid $77 and got a 2 bedroom, 2 bath 1000 Sq Ft condo for a full week. And we were right on the beach!


4) Transportation to Orange County

When debating how to take your journey, look at the costs of flying versus driving. Normally, driving will always be cheaper for families. I know the time is a lot longer, but between the cost of flights, luggage fees, and either renting a car or paying for shuttles, driving most always saves money.

A lot of people don’t like the idea of driving with children. Disney Daddy and I travel 15 hours (drive time, 17+ hours total trip) from Idaho to California. One thing we do to make the trip with The Goof, and whatever other kid we might have with us, easier is we drive over night. It works well, We leave at night, and hit Vegas by the time the kids are awake. Stop for breakfast then head to the OC. We stop partway in Barstow to stretch our legs and get The Goof a snack.

If money weren’t an object- go for the flight. But otherwise, driving will almost always be cheaper. Take the extra time and drive.

If you really need to fly, save up airline miles, use rewards sites like Swag Bucks who offer points for using their search engine and then they have Southwest gift cards you can trade those points in for.

Now you have done your research, decided to travel during the “off season”, booked an amazing hotel for a low price, and figured out the most cost effective way to get to Anaheim. Next time, we will look at how to save during your time at the park, from tickets to food and souvenirs.

To read Part II of Disney on the Cheap- Click HERE

Want to know more? Finish reading this article on our site!


  1. Kassie says

    Thank you! I am looking to book a vacation for 2013 and the packages were way out of my budget! I am going to try your tips and see if I can make it more manageable.

  2. Amber L. says

    I just booked using hotwire, remembering your post from last year. We got a 4 star hotel near Disneyland for $89/night in February!

    We are debating driving or flying, but mostly because weather can be iffy that time of year.

    • says

      That is an awesome deal! No doubt part of the reason it was so cheap is because you are going in February.

      I know what you mean about the weather. We have thought about a November trip and we have been debating flying rather than driving as well for the exact same reason.

    • says

      Thanks for asking! It actually works well for us. We have a system. Disney Daddy naps the afternoon before we go, and then I drive the first 90 minute stretch so he can either sleep some more or have time to eat and wake up,whichever he prefers. We usually leave around 9-10 pm so that has him start driving around midnight (we stop and fuel up and have a potty break before we switch). He then drives the night and we hit Vegas around 7 am. We usually eat breakfast in North Vegas, go to a walmart and let the goof run around, and then I drive until Barstow (2 1/2 hours) while Disney Daddy sleeps again. Then he takes over after our Barstow break.
      We don’t feel tired really when we get there. If we do, we are usually there in time for a nap, or we just have an early bed time that night. Honestly, we prefer this method- no traffic, kid(s) sleep most the trip (so less stopping and less- are we there yet) and we don’t have to stay over night half way there or get in really late at night.

  3. says

    I’m your latest follower from the Raising Imperfection hop. This is great advice, and I’m glad you get to go as often as you do. We used to go quite a bit when we lived in FL. and I totally miss it!

  4. DisneyFam8 says

    I love your tips. Just a tip, if you go through like you are going to buy Priceline Name Your Own Price, at the screen where it summarizes (before you give your card info) it will give you a summary of the ammenities that are gaurunteed.

  5. Eleanor says

    So you are talking about Disneyland, right? I don’t think you mention that anywhere –until I read some familiar CA names. You might want to put that somewhere more prominently on your blog. Though, I am new and viewing your site on my mobile phone, so that may be why I was a little confused about which Disney park you were talking about.

    • says

      Hi Eleanor! This post is about Disneyland mostly, but these tips can be used for either Disneyland or WDW. The main thing is for those wanting to do Disney on the cheap to really compare everything, and not assume that a package through Disney (or a travel agent) is going to get them the best deal.

  6. Tabitha says

    These are awesome tips! You mention “Disneyland” several times in the beginning of the article so I think it is pretty clear that is where you are addressing, but I think you could use these tips for any vacation- not just Disney. Thanks for sharing!

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