They say that money can't buy happiness, but Disney seems to prove that statement false. As the self-proclaimed "Happiest Place on Earth," Disneyland (along with California Adventure) is indeed a lot of fun for the whole family.
But with exorbitant prices on everything from tickets to food, it could make your available funding fall faster than the Tower of Terror. Luckily, there are some ways to get around these inflated costs. (See also: "6 ways my family scores free travel with credit cards.")
Although Disneyland ended its free entrance on your birthday program in 2010 -- as well as its volunteering program in which the first 1 million volunteers to sign up would receive free tickets -- there are still plenty of discounts available.
It's especially helpful if you live in Southern California, because residents, select governmental employees and university students in SoCal get special pricing.
Buying tickets online and printing them yourself can save you a little, as can buying through your employer, if it sells them through your company's human resources department. Discounts are also available for AAA and military members. Have a toddler under the age of 3? Then you're in luck -- they get in free.
Finally, if possible, go during the off-season, when you'll not only get on more rides due to less crowding, but also find more ticket deals.
The price for parking at Disneyland have risen from $12 in 2009 to $15. This encompasses all-day parking in both the Mickey and Friends parking lots, as well as the Toy Story lot on Harbor Boulevard. Transportation to and from the lots is provided by Disney, but even with this convenience, there are cheaper alternatives.
Those going to Disneyland or California Adventure for only a few hours might want to try parking in the Downtown Disney lot, where parking is free for the first three hours and $6 per hour after that, charged in 20-minute increments. You can bypass the crowded main entrance by showing your ticket at the Monorail station in Downtown Disney, located to the right of Rainforest Café. This will take you to another Monorail stop on the outskirts of Tomorrowland, near the Finding Nemo ride.
Food and drinks
Disneyland used to have a restriction on bringing food and drinks into the park, but now it allows select items to be brought inside (you're supposed to eat them at the picnic tables provided). So, instead of paying more than $10 for a decent meal (bottled water not included) or $3.75 for a churro in the park, you can bring something from home for free.
Disneyland has enormous overhead costs, so the cost of everything is going to be more than what you'd find elsewhere. Keep this in mind before you go, and use the surrounding stores in Anaheim to your advantage. Of course, if you run out of food during the day, you can always head over to California Adventure and get free bread.
Avoiding ride waits
When there are huge crowds and you can wait in line longer than an hour, it becomes somewhat difficult to make the most of your $80 one-day ticket ($105 for the one-day park hopper). Fortunately, there are ways you can speed up your journey around the Happiest Place on Earth.
One is the single rider pass, which allows you to go to a separate line (or through the exit) on a ride, as long as you're riding by yourself. Rides that have single-rider lines include Indiana Jones and Splash Mountain in Disneyland and California Screamin', Soarin' Over California, and Grizzly Bear Rapids in California Adventure.
Kiosks in the park let you check the wait times on each ride, allowing you to plot your route around the park more effectively. If a ride you want to go on has a long wait time, consider getting a Fastpass -- a free reservation that assigns you a time to come back to the ride (generally 45 minutes to three hours after you check in). After you make the reservation with Fastpass, you can go see the rest of the park. When you return at the appointed time, you go through a special express line.
Theme parks don't have to be outrageously expensive, even those with the brand name of Disney on them. Following these tips ought to help you save money without cutting back on the fun.