If you want to visit the happiest or most magical places on earth — Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., and Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., respectively — you’ll have to save up for your vacation. One-day, single-park ticket prices at Disneyland range from $104 to $149 depending on the date and the basic ticket equivalent at Walt Disney World runs between $109 and $129. With an additional premium on food, lodging, travel and other items, a trip to these beloved Disney resorts could easily sink your budget.
Fortunately, die-hard fans can employ smart strategies to save money and still get the most out of their next magical visit. With a little extra planning, enjoy the Disney vacation of your dreams without going broke.
1. Come Prepared
If you want to save on your Disneyland trip, cutting out unnecessary expenses is crucial. Plan ahead while you’re still at home so you don’t have to purchase overpriced necessities at the park.
For example, check the weather in the days leading up to your trip so you don’t end up shelling out for sunscreen, an umbrella or sweatshirt. Umbrellas for kids at the Disney store typically start at $12.95 — but it costs nothing to come prepared. Also, if you are planning on lining up for water rides and don’t want to get wet, purchase a poncho from a dollar store in advance. You won’t feel guilty donating it afterward.
2. Buy Disney Souvenirs Elsewhere
Disney merchandise can be found just about anywhere these days, including Amazon, Walmart, Target, department stores and even your local grocery store. For example, the Disney store sells an adult-size Mickey Mouse Classic Ringer T-Shirt for $29.99, whereas a similar shirt can be found at Walmart for nearly $5 less. Instead of paying a premium to buy souvenirs on-site, you can save a lot of money by purchasing your Disney tees and mouse ears at local retailers before your trip.
3. Make Your Own Autograph Book
An autograph book is a must-have for Disney enthusiasts. It’s a great way to bring some of your memories home with you. These books cost between $9.95 and $19.99 at the Disney store, but there’s no reason why you can’t capture those memories for under $5.
Consider buying a generic photo album, memo pad or notebook — or even a Disney storybook — from retailers like Walmart, Target or Dollar Tree. You can always personalize your DIY book with photos and stickers, which might make the experience of collecting autographs from your favorite characters even more special.
Learn More: How We Paid for Our Disney Vacation in Cash
4. Take Advantage of Shuttle Services
Both Disneyland and Walt Disney World charge $25 per day for a standard parking spot. However, if you want to start your day close to the theme park entrances, preferred parking will set you back $40 per day at Disneyland and a staggering $50 per day at Disney World.
Luckily, you can secure transportation to each theme park for free or reduced prices. If your hotel is located in the Anaheim area, Anaheim Resort Transportation offers a day pass with lines to Disneyland for only $5.50 per adult and $2 per child. If you’re aiming for Magic Kingdom, hotels such as Holiday Inn Resort Lake Buena Vista provide daily complimentary shuttles to the park.
5. Bring Your Own Stroller or Wheelchair
Single strollers are available for rent at Disneyland and Walt Disney World for $15 per day. However, it’s more cost-effective to bring your own stroller or purchase a lightweight one if your Disney vacation extends beyond a couple of days. Target, for example, sells umbrella strollers for as little as $19.99. Keep in mind, though, that strollers must remain within the size limit of 36 inches by 52 inches.
Additionally, the rental price for manual wheelchairs is $12 per day at both Disneyland and Disney World — but you’ll have to put down a refundable deposit of $20 or $100, respectively, and wheelchairs cannot be reserved in advance. To save money and avoid dealing with the first-come, first-served system, you’re welcome to bring and use your own wheelchair throughout the parks, according to the Disneyland and Walt Disney World websites.
6. Eat Breakfast Before You Arrive
You’ll need fuel to prepare for a full day at one of the most popular U.S. tourist attractions. But breakfast inside the parks can be almost as pricey as lunch or dinner — especially if you’re traveling in a group. For example, a “celebrate Mickey” chicken and waffle breakfast at the Carnation Cafe in Disneyland costs $17, and Disney World’s famous Tonga Toast — a banana-stuffed, cinnamon sugar-covered French toast — costs $16 a pop.
Save money by eating breakfast before you take off for the parks. Choose a hotel room with a fridge so you can buy cereal, milk and other easily prepared meals — or take advantage of your hotel’s free continental breakfast if available.
7. Bring Your Own Food and Drinks
Disneyland and Walt Disney World allow you to bring outside food and beverages to the parks — with some limitations — so, take advantage of this policy to save money on dining out. For optimal enjoyment during your meal breaks, Disneyland even provides a complimentary picnic area located outside of its main entrance, complete with shade umbrellas, tables and chairs.
Both resorts bar you from bringing alcoholic beverages and glass containers, excluding small ones such as baby food jars. Disney World, in particular, specifies that you can only pack snacks or foods that don’t require heating.
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8. Get Discounted Disney Tickets
Disney has a variety of special offers for its guests, such as discounts for military service members and Southern California residents. These discounts can be quite substantial. For example, service members can purchase a four-day promotional ticket with the park hopper option at Walt Disney World for $241 plus tax. Meanwhile, a 4-Park Magic Value Ticket — which is a special offer available to all guests — starts at $340, and it includes only one park per day.
If you qualify for the military rate, contact your participating U.S. military base ticket office to score a steep discount on Disney tickets.
9. Book Your Trip During the Offseason
Everything from airfare to lodging can become more expensive if you travel during the busiest times of the year. To save money on your Disney vacation, plan your trip during the offseason: mid-January through mid-March, excluding Presidents Day weekend; mid-April through mid-May, excluding spring break; and mid-September through mid-November, excluding Halloween time.
Don’t plan a trip around the holidays or a special Disney event, because these times tend to be especially crowded. If the offseason doesn’t work out, try going midweek — Tuesday to Thursday — for generally lower attendance.
10. Choose ‘Value’ Days for Cheaper Disneyland Tickets
Important Disney tip: Always look at the park calendar to find “value” days, and don’t wait until the last minute to buy your ticket. Value days at Disneyland cost $104 for one park, which is a whopping $45 cheaper compared to peak pricing. You can also save up to $20 at Walt Disney World by choosing the least expensive dates, which cost $109 per one-day, single-park ticket.
11. Attend a Timeshare Presentation
Travel finance blogger Danielle Desir of The Thought Card received $100 off tickets to Disney’s Animal Kingdom by simply attending a timeshare presentation by Hilton Grand Vacations. By combining her timeshare presentation offer with another promotion from travel booking platform Expedia, Desir also scored complimentary Blizzard Beach Water Park tickets for two people — saving $230 in total.
If you encounter the opportunity to attend a timeshare presentation near one of the Disney parks, it could mean serious savings for your vacation budget.
12. Get a Disney Credit Card
Disney offers two Visa credit cards from Chase that let you earn rewards dollars, which can be redeemed for Disney merchandise, theme park tickets, resort stays, cruise line packages and more.
As of Feb. 19, you’ll receive a $250 statement credit after spending $500 in the first three months from opening a Disney Premier Visa Card, and you’ll earn a $100 statement credit after making your first purchase with the Disney Visa Card. Keep in mind that the Disney Premier Visa Card comes with a annual fee, but if you find yourself frequently vacationing with Disney, the fee could be well worth it. Otherwise, you might be better-suited for the basic Disney Visa Card.
Of course, using your card responsibly and paying off the balance every month will help ensure you don’t rack up debt instead.
13. Bring Your Kids Before Age 3
Kids who are under 3 years old get into the Disney parks for free. If you need an incentive to plan your visit sooner rather than later, expect to pay as much as $141 per day at Disneyland and $124 per day at Walt Disney World for a single-park ticket for children ages 3 to 9. So, it’s not a bad idea to take your kids on a Disney vacation while they’re still very young.
14. Invest in an Annual Pass or Passport
If you’re a die-hard Disney fan, consider investing in an annual pass at Walt Disney World or an annual passport at Disneyland. It’ll pay for itself within a certain number of visits, so Southern California residents and Florida residents might find Disney’s passholder status worthwhile.
At Walt Disney World, the Disney Platinum Pass grants admission to all four theme parks — without block out dates — starting at $894 a year. Additional perks include standard parking, as well as 20 percent off select dining and merchandise. At Disneyland, the Disney Signature Plus Passport provides admission to both theme parks every day of the year — plus standard parking, 15 percent off select dining, 20 percent off select merchandise and more — for $1,399 annually.
15. Find Travel Packages Through Costco
If you’re traveling to Anaheim or Orlando, buying package deals is another great way to save money on your Disney vacation.
For example, Costco offers a multi-day Disneyland Resort hotels package that comes with a Disney gift card worth up to $245 depending on the length of your stay. Costco also offers a five-night stay at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort with five-day park hopper tickets to Walt Disney World — along with a $100 Costco cash card. These added incentives can help you purchase food, souvenirs, etc. before and during your trip, so make sure to take advantage of your Costco membership for vacation planning.
16. Press Pennies for Inexpensive Souvenirs
Instead of buying expensive mouse ears or other pricey souvenirs that will likely collect dust on your shelves after your Disney trip, consider visiting coin press locations throughout Disneyland and Walt Disney World for cheap memorabilia. You can collect over 150 different images on pennies, nickels, dimes or quarters at Disneyland, or press unique designs onto your pennies and quarters at multiple parks in Disney World.
The best part? It only costs 51 cents — two quarters and a penny — to create this cost-effective keepsake.
17. Stay at a Disney Resort
Seems counterintuitive, right? But if you want to immerse yourself in the full Disney experience and don’t mind spending more on the hotel, stay at one of Disney’s many resorts. If you book a night at the Disneyland resort — the Disneyland Hotel, Grand Californian Hotel & Spa or Paradise Pier Hotel — you’ll receive an extra hour in the parks, free from the general public.
Staying at one of the resorts in Disneyland or Walt Disney World can also help you save on transportation. The theme parks are only steps away from your hotel room at the Disneyland Resort. And, guests at certain hotels in Walt Disney World are provided complimentary travel options between the parks and hotel, as well as the airport.
How to Save Hundreds on Your Disney Vacation
Save yourself the stress of blowing your budget by taking the time to research your options ahead of your visit. Combining as many of these Disney hacks as possible — or even just a few tips — can help you reap significant savings on your next trip to the happiest or most magical places on earth.
The hard work will more than pay off on the eve of your trip — all you have to do is sit back with your family and enjoy the real magic of some savvy vacation planning.
Click to discover 15 places to have an unforgettable family vacation.
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Stephanie Bills contributed to the reporting for this article.
Photo Disclaimer: Please note photos are for illustrative purposes only. As a result, some of the photos might not reflect the tips listed in this article.
This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: 18 Disney Hacks That’ll Save You Hundreds on Your Next Magical Visit