A Budget-Friendly, Last Minute Disneyland Guide

Why Disneyland Doesn’t Need To Be Complicated

I’ve been traveling to Disneyland regularly since I was little. It’s one of my favorite places, and despite the growing crowds, I still love going. It’s odd, in light of my long track record of just going there, that there are so many detailed and lengthy guides for this huge California attraction. Looking at all this information, one would think that a trip to Disneyland requires months of planning and a budget just to buy all the gadgets that you will need before you even leave. So, can you do last minute Disneyland if you don’t live in the area?

last minute disneyland

(c) ABR 2018

Heck yes! Obviously, if you have kids, that makes things a little more complicated, but a trip to Disneyland can be simple and fun. Whether you’ve never been before or are an old pro trying to simplify, here are my Disneyland secret tips for a great time sans too much planning.

Tickets and Fast Passes

The main barrier to entry is of course, the ticket price. Seems like every year Disney increases the cost of a day at the park, so before you commit to going, always make sure that you update yourself on the current price for tickets. If you are on a budget, that will likely determine how long you can go for and that will influence every part of your last minute Disneyland plan. The most recent pricing scheme will make tickets more expensive during peak season, so factor the potential extra cost in. You can get up-to-date prices here: https://disneyland.disney.go.com/tickets/.

last minute disneyland

(c) ABR 2018

While purchasing tickets you might also want to consider whether or not you’d like to pick up the MaxPass. This is an extra $15 and allows you to pick up FastPasses via an app. In theory, you can maximize your time this way and pick up passes faster than people without, although you are still limited to one active FastPass at the time. I am on the fence about this service being worth the money, although primarily because I experienced a service outage that lasted an entire day- making the MaxPass worthless. Luckily, if you just don’t think it’s worth it, or don’t have the extra cash, FastPasses in Disneyland still work if you bring your ticket to the kiosk at the entrance of the rides.

Hotels

There are loads of hotels around Disneyland, and as you might expect, some are more expensive than others. For those budget travelers among you, more distance between the hotel and the park means bigger savings, but you’ll need to find something that makes up for the cost of parking (if you aren’t willing to hoof it). If you park at Disneyland, you will be paying upwards of $30 a day.

last minute disneyland

(c) ABR 2018

I’ve had some great luck with Hotwire for finding good deals in the area, but I will say, when it comes to finding a hotel that’s affordable but nice, you generally need time. This is one part of a last minute Disneyland trip that will be difficult for people on a tight budget.

Transportation

You have a few options for transportation and the most budget-friendly method will depend on where you are staying, but all can work for a last minute Disneyland trip. My favorite thing to do is stay close enough that I can walk to the park, and plenty of the hotels in the area have free shuttles.

last minute disneyland

(c) ABR 2018

If neither of those work for you, Lyft and Uber can be a great way to get to the park without having to worry about parking. However, method will only be cost effective if you can get there and back for less than $30- that’s the cost of parking at Disneyland.

Food

One of the most budget-friendly Disneyland secret tips is that you can bring your own food and water into the park. While I love to eat all of the increasingly delicious foods in Disneyland, meals and snacks add up really fast, especially when you have kids with you. If you are all about trying all the good foods, you can also save a little bit of cash by bringing a refillable water bottle in with you and filling up at fill stations and water fountains.

last minute disneyland

(c) ABR 2018

I have most recently become a Disneyland food fanatic, so I more than understand if you’d like to spend on some extra cash on food. I’d highly suggest checking out the Wonderful World of Food on Youtube. They put out seasonal guides to all of the great treats and meals that you can try in Disneyland and California Adventure.

Suggested Itinerary

My favorite Disneyland secret tips are to try to spend a couple days mid-week in the park. These tend to at least give you a little bit of a break from the crowd, particularly in the morning. Quieter times in the park are the best times to jump in as many lines as you can before they get too long. Usually, I visit the park for 2-3 days, coming up from outside of LA.

last minute disneyland

(c) ABR 2018

Of the two parks, Disneyland tends to be the more busy of the two (especially with the Star Wars section of the park opening in 2019), so I’d suggest going there first especially if that is the only weekday that you can swing on your last minute Disneyland trip. I can always spend more than a day in Disneyland, so if you feel likewise, you might consider returning for a second half-day or coming back for a third day. For you roller coaster riders, get fast-passes for Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones first.

last minute disneyland

(c) ABR 2018

On the second day of your trip, take a little breather from the crowds and go to California Adventure. Overall, if you haven’t been before, this park doesn’t have quite the history or atmosphere of Disneyland, but it is becoming increasingly well-themed. If you like big rides, the fast passes to go for first are the Radiator Springs Racers, the Incredicoaster, and the Guardians of the Galaxy.

For more California Travel Ideas…

…be sure to check out our Guide to California.

If you are looking to do a more thorough exploration of Southern California with Disneyland included on the itinerary, we also have the perfect travel plan for you.

last minute disneyland

last minute disneyland

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46 Comments

  1. Ann

    Great photos and good article! We chose the Max Pass our last trip, and it saved us from running back and forth between the lands to get fast passes. We strategized that it was possible to hold two fast passes at a time by waiting till the first one became available, then getting a second. You could almost do three rides in an hour if you chose a ride with a quick line first, then got into your first fast pass, then the second. That only worked in the morning though when it wasn’t too busy.

  2. Sarah Wilson

    Haven’t been to Disney for many years. I was a little bit shocked how expensive it is now, however having seen your photos, it would be fun to visit. The Max Pass sounds quite a good idea!

    • waitingforrain28

      It is really expensive, sadly. But it can be worth it depending on how much you love it. I know I always enjoy myself, even when the crowds are crazy.

  3. Jayne

    There are some great ideas here for doing Disneyland on a budget. I agree that food in the park can add up but I found generally the coffee was well priced! Good call on Hotwire for last minute hotels

    • waitingforrain28

      Good to know! I actually don’t drink coffee so I didn’t even think about that!

  4. Disney can definitely be a little overwhelming if you’ve never been so this is a great guide. I always utilize FastPass!! Those are the best things ever invented! Wish Disney wasn’t so packed all the time, but there really is no way around such a popular destination πŸ™‚

    • waitingforrain28

      I keep trying to visit when it isn’t so packed, but thus far, I haven’t had much luck. hahaha.

  5. I’m going to Disneyland Paris in a few weeks time and I can’t wait. Whatever Disneyland you visit in the world, it’s just such an amazing experience for all. Reading this is making me even more excited.

    • waitingforrain28

      Have fun! I too have loved Disneyland in every country I have visited with it. πŸ˜€

  6. I haven’t been to Disneyland since I was a kid but there’s no doubt in my mind, I would be getting a Fast Pass if I went back to visit. The food looks… interesting, hahaha! Like all sweets mish-mashed in one plate. I can feel the sugar rush, it’s perfect for Disney!

    • waitingforrain28

      I am a huge sugar addict, sadly, so I absolutely loved all their desserts. XD FastPass is a definite must!

  7. I’ve never been but I keep seeing guides to Disney that make me feel like I have to spend 6 months planning every detail down to the minute. It’s refreshing to read a Disney guide that gives us last minute budget planners hope! The food at Disney looks so yummy, I think I would have to compromise and splurge on food but bring my own drinks.

    • waitingforrain28

      Maybe it’s just an SEO thing, but I am constantly blow away by how complicated people make it seem. Honestly, if you just showed up you’d be fine. It always takes more effort to save some money, but a few PB&Js could get you through in a pinch. Hahaha.

  8. Disneyland can definitely be overwhelming so this guide is so helpful to break it down into must sees. The food section is my favorite! Thanks for breaking down the itinerary by days too! It helps with organizing the planning process!

  9. I’ve never been to Disneyland, but I have been to Disneyworld– and I didn’t know you could bring your own food! Between that and being able to find a hotel within walking distance, I would’ve saved so much on my last trip. Next time, I guess πŸ™‚

    • waitingforrain28

      I’m not sure if there are any hotels within walking distance of Disneyworld, actually. But I could be wrong!

  10. Jean

    Oh who doesn’t love Disney land. Great to read a guide that covers the budget issue when visiting Disneyland. I’e only been to the Tokyo Disney and thankfully the parents paid for that experience.

  11. I have been to Disneyland before but it has already been 12 years ago. I need to go back again as soon as possible. Great guide you shared here. It sure helps me to figure out what to do when I do decide to go. Since I don’t even remember what It looks like there.

    • waitingforrain28

      It will be so different when you go! I hope you have fun!

  12. Love this, I have never been to Disneyland, one of the reasons for it being so expensive, but I will definitely save these tips for when I finally end up do going! Thanks for sharing!

    • waitingforrain28

      The expense is definitely a problem. :/ This sounds silly, but sometimes radio stations do Disneyland giveaways if you call in. My friends and I used to win those contests all the time. XD

  13. Candy

    Perfect information for heading out to Disney for vacation.

  14. Great article. I never knew about the max pass. I’m in the process of booking a trip so this was very helpful.

  15. I have visited Disney In Orlando and Paris and really want to check out the California one. This guide gets me super excited for visiting one day!

    • waitingforrain28

      I love comparing them! They are all great and different in little interesting ways.

  16. Lady Fuller

    We love Disney, so these tips are definitely welcome!! The fast pass is a must!! Thanks for sharing!!

    • waitingforrain28

      I completely agree! I love getting in the fast pass line!

  17. Thanks for the tips. Will take these tips on our next Disney trip! ALWAYS EXCITING!

  18. These are all great tips! I hope we can one day take our group. Got 4 kids and a strict budget, so saving while having fun is best!

    • waitingforrain28

      That’s difficult! There is definitely more you can do to save money, but the tickets for the park just get more and more expensive, sadly.

  19. Eze Azubike

    An indepth and useful piece for holiday makers. The pictures are quite inviting. Your information is valuable and good for planning.

  20. great tips. I will looking forward on going to disney in the near furture. thanks for sharing this.

  21. KeshiaRichmond

    Lots of great ideas in things to go and places to go in Disneyland that are easy on the wallet.

  22. Elizabeth O

    Disneyland is the ultimate vacation spot for so many kids that I often wonder what American kids whose parents can never afford to get them to go might think or feel. That said, your tips are definitely helpful to those who wish to make the trip.

    • waitingforrain28

      That’s a difficult situation, especially if you really want to take your kids. I wish they would have some different price brackets for people in different situations.

  23. Sheena Moncatar

    I have never been to both Disney Land and Disney World, I have only been to 1 Disney place in my life and that was in HK. Growing up, I have always been fascinated with anything that has something to do with Walt Disney. Someday, when I plan to visit the US again, I perhaps would want to see Disney World. Thanks for sharing great last minute tips! Definitely helpful!

    • waitingforrain28

      Disneyworld is so big, you could spend an entire week there exploring all the different parks! Disneyland is a bit more manageable on a budget, I think.

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