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Disneyland is a dream destination, but the prices can seem out of reach. Learn TravelingMom’s tips and tricks for visiting Disneyland on a budget.
I’m a fan of giving experiences over gifts. For my daughter’s birthday I surprised her with a trip to Disneyland. I was able to give her an over-the-top trip to Disneyland on a budget.
Getting to Disneyland on a Budget
Since we traveled from the East Coast, flying was the only option. To get to California I used Southwest Airlines’ companion pass. I achieved the pass last year via two credit card signup bonuses and still have a bunch of Rapids Rewards points left over. Two Southwest card bonuses–a personal and a business–will achieve the companion pass.
Three southern California airports serve Disneyland but the best by far is Santa Ana (SNA).
TravelingMom Tip: Be sure to search all of your gateways both coming and going. In my example, DCA is the far more common Southwest gateway but connections made getting to Santa Ana difficult. IAD had both the best routing and the lowest price. Check out Traveling Mom’s tips for buying air tickets.
Disneyland on a Budget: Should You Rent a Car?
We went back and forth on car rental and settled upon a happy medium: many rental agencies allow rental pickup from Santa Ana airport and dropoff at a downtown Southern California location. We used the car for grocery shopping and visiting local restaurants then returned it for the Disneyland portion of the trip.
The two-day car rental cost less than an Uber from the airport. Note that the one-way car rental only works FROM the airport. Taxi regulations prohibit one way returns at Santa Ana airport.
Where to Stay at Disneyland on a Budget
Here’s one area where the Disneyland experience varies from Disney World: staying offside at Disneyland is no big sacrifice. The extra magic hours benefit exists at Disneyland Hotels but you get a similar benefit on one morning with a 3+ day ticket so I don’t value it as highly. In fact I’d pick the opposite park of the Extra Magic Morning to visit.
If you are within driving distance or decide to rent a car, you will want a hotel that offers both free parking and a hotel shuttle. We found the options in nearby Buena Park to be more car-friendly than hotels in Anaheim. Disneyland charges $20 a day for parking, which adds up quickly. Many Anaheim hotels charge resort fees as well, which we didn’t find in Buena Park.
Where Can I Eat Near Disneyland on a Budget?
We saved a ton on food by staying and dining in Buena Park over Anaheim. Not only did we save, but we enjoyed four truly unique meals in Buena Park.
Dinner Theater Near Disneyland
Buena Park features a number of dinner shows; the most famous is Medieval Times. However, the award for the most unique dinner show goes to Pirate’s Dinner Adventure. Held in a theatre-in-the-round, the performance features a full sized pirate ship surrounded by water and performances far and above your regular dinner theatre.
The spectacle includes Cirque quality acts that fly through the air and left us gasping for breath. I was surprised by the quality of Pirate’s Dinner Adventure: both the meal and the show.
To be honest, my culinary bar for dinner shows is pretty low, but Pirate’s Dinner Adventure featured shrimp skewers, grilled chicken, and fresh grilled vegetables that both my daughter and I finished. That’s a rare accolade – I guess even carrots and zucchini are better in Buena Park.
Traveling Mom Tip: Check Groupon for frequent specials on Pirate Dinner Adventure tickets.
If you use Yelp as often as I do, you have probably eaten at a town favorite or two. What if I told you that Porto’s Cafe in Buena Park was crowned the nation’s favorite in 2016? You’d probably expect Michelin stars and prices to match. I know I did.
Imagine my surprise to arrive at Porto’s and realize it is a family owned bakery! However, “bakery” is a misnomer. The 25,000 square foot location sells millions of pastries a month. Lines form out the door for the bakery’s famous cheese rolls, guava pastries, and goodies both sweet and savory. Don’t let that stop you. The lines move quickly and the food at Porto’s is worth the wait.
We enjoyed a Cuban sandwich that would have felt at home in Calle Ocho along with a tres leches cake that I can still taste weeks later. Accompanying it all was a “cortado” (short) cuban coffee imported directly for Porto’s. The best part? You can easily feed a family of 4 at Porto’s for $40 and still have some left over for take home pastries.
Traveling Mom Tip: Go before 10:30am or from 2-4:30pm to miss the longest lines.
Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor
If you’re of a certain age, you might remember Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor from your childhood. I’m happy to report the candy-striped uniforms and 30 scoop Zoo sundaes are alive and well in Buena Park. The birthday songs have been updated- we heard Farrell-ized versions of One Direction and Justin Bieber. But the cheerful vibe and tasty burgers remain.
Traveling Mom Tip: Farrell’s offers candy-making lessons: sign-up online in advance.
Mrs. Knott’s Chicken
Of course, Knott’s Berry Farm deserves its own visit, but you don’t have to buy park tickets to enjoy the Knott’s experience. Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner serves fried chicken that made me re-think the dish entirely.
I never considered fried chicken “gourmet” but Mrs. Knott’s takes poultry to a level I never knew existed: juicy, not greasy, and full of herbs rather than salt. Portions are huge and sharing is encouraged. We ordered two meals for two people and took half of it back to our room for breakfast the next day. If you don’t end up with leftovers, you can grab a boysenberry pie from the bakery next door.
Traveling Mom Tip: Mrs. Knott’s offers take out. This is an affordable and tasty option, especially for large families.
To learn more about Buena Park’s dining options, check out the free Buena Park travel guide.
Where can I Buy Disneyland Tickets at a Discount?
Tickets are the most expensive part of the trip. I decided on five day park hopper tickets as days four and five are only about $15 once you buy the first three. I know five days is a bit much for most people but my daughter and I are both sufficiently Disney-obsessed that we enjoyed the luxury of a slower pace. By having five days we didn’t feel bad about sleeping in or calling it a day early. TravelingMom has an affiliate relationship with Get Away Today, the best source for tickets at Disneyland on a budget.
We found MaxPass essential to enjoy our trip. The $10/day extra saved us hours in lines. The downsides of MaxPass are the extra cost and the fact that you can only buy it once you are on-site.