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How-To: Actually afford your trip to Disneyland

Photo by Alexandra Dersch
Photo by Alexandra Dersch

Photo by Alexandra Dersch A tight college budget shouldn't keep your from seeing the famous Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse installment along with all the perks of visiting Disneyland.
Photo by Alexandra Dersch

Let’s face it, whenever a break from school rolls around, we all get that itch to leave our dorms or cramped apartments behind and go on some sort of out-of-town adventure. For me, a self-professed Disney fanatic, that means the rest of the year revolves around one thing: Saving up for a trip to Anaheim.

But between balancing a close-to-minimum-wage job, college payments, car insurance, etc., an escape to the "Happiest Place on Earth" often seems financially hindering. That didn’t stop me though – money (or the lack thereof) can’t quell this Disneyland addiction. Thus, with Tyler Cox, the wonderful ASU Campus Representative for the Disney College Program by my side, I came up with a few simple tips and tricks to make that sought-after Disney trip affordable.

When, Where and How Much

Photo by Alexandra Dersch Bring an entourage to your trip to lessen the individual cost of getting to experience the magic at Disney.
Photo by Alexandra Dersch


When I was a kid, the only time I noticed the lines at Disneyland were when my parents would complain about them. Now that I’m not completely overwhelmed by the magic within the parks, the lines sometimes get to me too. Going to Disney during its off-season is therefore much more enjoyable than going when cast members have to direct one-way traffic just for visitors to walk from Fantasyland to Tomorrowland.

Disneyland is always less crowded during weekdays and whenever school is in session. Knowing some of my professors though, missing a few days to run away to Disney wouldn’t do any justice for my grade; my trips are generally limited to spring, winter and summer break. This makes it essential to check Disneyland’s Blockout Calendar. The calendar shows when the park allows different levels of annual pass-holders to enter the parks. If the days are blocked out, it means Disney is expecting medium-to-high traffic. In general, the best times to visit the park are during the second-half of January though early February, late April and from September up until the start of Disney’s official holiday season.

As far as hotels go, I’m generally ok staying in fairly average spaces, but choose a hotel acceptable for your comfort level. When you stay at a hotel in Anaheim, you’re generally paying for its proximity to Disney, not for a flawlessly renovated room. Be cautious when searching hotels through search programs like Travelocity or Expedia. While they can often find you the cheapest place to say, they can also lead you to some pretty creepy hotels (I once walked into a completely abandoned hotel “lobby” where the clerk was asleep for a solid five minutes before I managed to wake him). Read reviews, scroll through pictures and choose your hotel carefully. Keep in mind that the more people you invite on your trip, the less your individual cost will be. Splitting gas and hotel rooms is a great solution to a small vacation budget.

Buy a Multi-Day Park Hopper Ticket

Photo by Alexandra Dersch Plan your visit for more than one day and take advntage of discounted Park Hopper Tickets. Photo by Alexandra Dersch

Cox and I both agree that it’s impossible to experience Disneyland in just one day. If you want to visit California Adventure on top of that, a one-day trip to the parks is going to be stressful, hectic and tiring. In the last few years, California Adventure rapidly evolved to include Cars Land, World of Color and Buena Vista Street. While it’s possible to happily spend an entire day in California Adventure, the same cannot be said about Disneyland and its many attractions.

“To comfortably experience both parks with enough time to hit your favorite attractions more than once stay at least three days,” Cox recommends.

Even if you have to attend Disneyland during some of its blockout dates, three days gives you enough time to step out of the parks, relax and go back once the crowds have died down a bit. Do your research too. AAA offers discounted Park Hopper tickets to its members and Sam’s Club and Costco have been known to sometimes offer discounted packages as well.

Snacks and Dining Options

Once you’re in Disneyland, the tempting smells of churros and popcorn are practically everywhere. I’m not saying you should restrain those churro urges (that would just be sinful), but maybe take the churro count down from three-a-day to one or two during the entirety of your trip. Cox recommends the delicious pineapple Dole Whip treats located right in front of The Enchanted Tiki Room for a refreshing break from a hot day in Disney. Keep in mind that ice water is free at any quick-service dining station too.

While all Disney aficionados would love to eat at the Blue Bayou or Carthay Circle Restaurant during every stay at the parks, these two delicious venues generally aren’t in the cards for college kids on a budget. Nevertheless, the Blue Bayou is a magical, tasty experience – go if you don’t mind splurging around $100 for two.

By and large (insert Wall-E reference here), dining at Disney is pretty expensive. Meals are usually $10 or more, which is a little difficult to shell out even when you love Disney food. Therefore, plan your meals in advance. Know when you are going to eat in the parks and when you are not. Denny’s, IHOP and McDonald’s are all right outside Disneyland, perfect for a cheaper meal. Downtown Disney also has cheaper restaurants like Earl of Sandwich, Napolini and the Rainforest Café. That being said, don’t miss out on the delicious gumbo at the Royal Street Veranda in New Orleans Square – it’s the same gumbo they serve in the Blue Bayou so it has to be good!

Just go already!

Photo by Alexandra Dersch Don't let a tight budget or a sad wallet send you spinning in circles. Splurging is sometimes okay, but planning out a trip can too save you cash from such a splurge.
Photo by Alexandra Dersch

From someone who is pretty stingy, just know that you have to treat yourself to something every once in a while. For me, that something is going to Disneyland; being able to relax and have a blast at my favorite place in the world is worth the extra money. Budget it out, see what you can afford and take the trip.

If you’re as Disney-crazed as I am, make sure to check out the Disney College Program (which I’m applying to next month)! The Disney College Program allows current college students to spend a semester working at the Disneyland parks, connecting them with multiple career opportunities and influential staff members. It also opens the door to applying to the Disney professional internship programs and allows you to come back as a seasonal cast member. Go to the DCP website here to learn more or shoot Tyler Cox an email at

Have a magical day!


Contact me at or @AlexDerschwith questions, suggestions or comments.

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