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Old 12-03-2012, 10:00 PM   #1
Join Date: Nov 2012
Posts: 88

Our Bare-Bones Budget Disney trip

We're planning a budget trip to for four days at Disneyland during the last week of February and would love your expert tips on having a fun trip on at minimal expense. We've got a family of five - mom, dad, boy (7), girl (4), and baby (1).

We bought the Costco 4 day passes for 4 of us for $259 each, including a $50
gift card for Costco. The $209 x 4 = $836 for admissions.

The $200 Costco cards will be used for gas. Using a fuel estimator, it will cost just about $200 round trip, and I'll add $50 for around town driving.

I bought each family member a Mickey tee shirt at garage sales this summer, and have little souvenir treats for the kids. I'm budgeting $100 for souvenirs in the parks, but wouldn't be surprised to come home with that money. I'm not a big souvenir person.

I got a room at Ramada Inn Maingate, 4 nights for $293 including all taxes. No resort fee, no parking fee, breakfast included, and a short walk to the park. Yay, Travelocity!

So breakfast will be at the hotel (cereal, fruit, hard boiled eggs.) I'm budgeting $75 a day for food for one meal a day in a restaurant/counter service meal/Mickey ice cream and one meal and snacks brought from home to eat in the grocery store. $75 x 5 days = $375 for food. (Fifth day is for the half day travel each way.)

I'd especially love your ideas for food on the cheap!! Since we're planning on going back to the room for snacks, we can easily heat something for a quick, cheap meal in the room. Coupons and deals would be great.

I'd expect about $250 in miscellaneous expenses. You never know if some need will pop up.

So that puts me at just over $2,100 for the trip. Is there any major category that I'm missing? Anything I absolutely must budget in? Any deals I should take advantage of?

Help a frugal mama out!
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Old 12-03-2012, 10:17 PM   #2
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Join Date: Feb 2012
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folks on the boards can give you lots of advice on splitting meals in the parks. I know that there are some places with very generous portions. For instance two adults can split a fried chicken lunch at the Park Plaza Inn. You might find that your kids could split an adult meal more economically than buying two kid meals. While adult portions often seem generous I think a lot of the kid meals are pretty small.

Another favorite of mine is to bring drink mix, I love the kind that comes in a little squeeze bottle. I really don't like plain water but any counter service restaurant will give you a cup of water if you ask without purchasing anything. I just add a squirt of lemonade mix or whatever and I'm good.

You can also bring snacks and sandwiches into the parks as long as you keep in reasonable. It is technically against policy but everyone will tell you that a soft sided cooler is acceptable. If you are going to have a stroller for your little one you will have a spot to put stuff like that probably.

Definitely steer clear of the gift shops and if you are going to do some shopping wait and see if you get a 20% off coupon from any dining you do in the parks. I know my last trip I had them coming out my ears but I don't remember what places gave them out. Maybe someone else could clue you in.

Hope you have a great trip. Our trip in February is of the budget variety. It was a budget trip or no trip and it has actually been kind of fun planning the most bang for our buck. DD and I should be able to do 4 days for under $1000! Free plane tickets, only one park ticket to buy and a relatively inexpensive hotel. I'm also giving DD a gift card for her spending money so she knows what the limit is. Last time there was no limit and I could barely close our suitcase for the trip home
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Old 12-03-2012, 10:39 PM   #3
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Join Date: Jan 2012
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This is what we do. We bring in water bottles and frozen capri suns. We keep bags of snacks in our room that we use to fill up zip lock baggies for the parks. We usually buy 3 adult meals for the 5 of us to split. We also have breakfast at the hotel. Sometimes we go to the McDonald"s on Harbour for lunch. Last time we were there we sat next to a family eating their McDonald's hamburgers. Have a great trip!
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Old 12-03-2012, 11:32 PM   #4
Join Date: Jan 2010
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A few of the things we've done:

Fill up on breakfast at the hotel as much as you can. Bring snacks into the park with you: jerky, granola bars, nuts, etc. When you get hungry, eat the snacks. Then, have a late lunch/early dinner in the park, and a snack later if you need it. That way, you're only paying for one big meal, but it still feels special because you are splurging in the park. Also, bring in a water bottle that you can refill or a travel mug and Starbucks via packets if you're a coffee drinker.

The dollar store has tons of Disney stuff. One time, I bought Disney-themed coloring books, giant pen, and a few other little things and brought them with us on the trip. For our upcoming visit, I bought t-shirts on Disney.com for about $6/ea.

Two things come to mind when I think of great, inexpensive souvenirs. The first is the silhouette shop on Main Street. It's really cool to watch them hand-cut the silhouette, and really reasonably priced. I can't remember how much it is, but my dh actually had a tattoo made of the silhouette we got of our kids! The other souvenir we really liked was from a little leather stand in Frontierland. They will make a leather bracelet with your name and a Disney character. I think we paid under $10 a few years back, and it's not so over the top Disney that you'd never wear it again, yk?
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Old 12-03-2012, 11:49 PM   #5
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We don't buy much food while in the park. We take in snacks, lunches and water bottles. On our last trip, the kids had PB&J'S and we made some chicken wraps for the adults. Like a PP said, eat a snack when you get hungry and that will put off your actual meal. Eating at off-times also helps finding a place to sit & eat and avoid long lines.

As for souvenirs, I gave my 3 boys a total of $30 for the 6 days we were there. But I doled it out to them at $5 per day. They could spend it each day or save it up and have more to spend later in the trip. My oldest wanted his $ each day and bought a pickle each day with his money and a hat at ESPN Zone with what was left. My other 2 came home with most of their money. They would ask me to buy them things to which I replied "how much of your spending money do you have?". They were much more willing to try and spend mom's money rather than their own! LOL
Me DH , DS 15 , DS 12 , DNe 9
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Old 12-03-2012, 11:52 PM   #6
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Beef jerky keeps well. There's a store not far down on Katella that's super cheap--(food 4 less) I got a huge thing of muffins there for under $5. Hot chocolate packs are great in the park-- you can ask for hot water I think at that coffee place on main street for free. Corn nuts are great to bring with you and I also got a bag of clementine oranges ==those are small and don't bruise or anything-- that kind of stuff is great when you are waiting on fireworks or Fantasmic etc. You can get small gel packs to freeze to throw in with sandwiches in a cooler to keep them bettter. I've heard of people bringing small crock pots with them and they have food waiting for them when they get back to the room. You can get crock pot liners so there's no mess. I brought my George Foreman (small) and had hamburgers one night--the pre made kind. We always freeze our sandwich meat for the drive then by the time we get there it's perfect. Hey-- there's a Shakeys on Harbor just a tiny distance from the park and you can join their e-club and get a great deal. They also have a buffet between 3-6 I believe and it is sooo good. There's a Mcormack and schmicks at Garden walk which has an incredibly cheap and good happy hour between 3-6 and our hotel-- anaheim plaza had $1 tacos for their happy hour.
It's snowing in Disneyland!
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Old 12-04-2012, 12:49 AM   #7
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We just got home Friday night from 5 days in the park and we do it on a tight budget too. I bring in empty water bottles and refill in the park. You can also get cups of water at the counter service restaurants. We get the packets of water flavoring from Target or Walmart (10 packets for $1-$2) to add to the water to make it a little more fun. We bring in lunchables (the kinds w/o a drink are about $1.50 each) and sandwiches for adults for lunch and then kids have an early dinner in the room around 4:30 (mac n cheese, pizza English muffins, etc). We loved dinner at Flo's V8 Cafe. Since the kids ate a bit already, we had 2 $11 dinners and that was more than enough for 2 adults and the kids were able to each a bit more (they are 8 and 11). So $22 + tax for dinner in the park, nothing for breakfast or lunch (other than the groceries for lunch). There is a Mexican restaurant in each park and their meals can be split the same way. We had a big baggie in the backpack with little paper plates that helped with lunch and splitting dinner.

We told the kids they can have one souvenir on the last day so keep their eyes open and think about what they want. It was a HUGE help and there was virtually no begging for anything. We did buy a 5-pack of Mickey head lollipops that was $6 and they thought that was a big deal. We also brought in some candy from home and put it (and other snacks) in baggies with special labels that I made from the Creative Disigns pages on this board. That is such a fun place to look for cute Disney pics and the DISigners will add names etc. for you. It makes a baggie of pretzels much more fun to have a personalized princess sticker (mailing label) on it. I made note paper (regular paper and added lines and a DISign image) for part of their gift. They wrote letters home, journal, etc.

People on these boards are so helpful and creative, so happy reading!!!
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Old 12-04-2012, 02:43 AM   #8
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Join Date: Jul 2012
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Regarding the above suggestion about bringing a crock pot for the hotel room, I would call the hotel front desk to ask about the policy on this. A crock pot could be a safety liability for the hotel and the smell of whatever is cooking could be very unwelcome to your neighbors. Also, housekeeping may well be instructed to turn off the crock pot when they find it, so it wouldn't be much good to you. Better to use the microwave and frig in your room. The hotel insurance must cover those.

Some of our money savers: don't buy soda or bottled water in the parks! At $3 or more per bottle per person, the cost really blows the budget at the end of the day. We bring a bottle and fill it at first aid or at CS restaurants (if they have a soda fountain, they can fill it with cold, filtered water). Also, don't wait until you are starving to eat. That just leads to spending way to much on food we don't finish. We share meals -- Rancho del Zocalo, Plaza Inn, Flo's, etc. all have generous portions, and no one leaves hungry. We get desserts we can share, like Dole Whip, a bag of chocolates or brittle from the Candy Kitchen or Trolley Treats, or one ice cream sundae.

The dining receipt coupons for 20% off merchandise are available at CS restaurants like Pizza Port or Plaza Inn.

Have a great trip!
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Old 12-04-2012, 06:17 AM   #9
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Great question, I was on my way to ask a similar one. We're a group of 13 and doing a week on the cheap as far as meals go too. So far have only 3 meals planned for eating out. One thing we do is order a big meal from El Pollo Loco then take all the leftovers put into large tortillas for burrito lunches the next day. That's a big hit with our group. Also Denny's has a promo going that if you buy a $25 dollar gift card you get $5 gc free. No limit. That's a 20% discount, without even any coupons yet. I think I might do the Shakeys that an above poster mentioned, sounds like a good deal.

Anyone have some good low ingredient crockpot ideas? We will have 3 to work with as well as two electric grills and a large roaster. I'd love some ideas from those that have done room cooking in past. Planning on sandwiches, hot dogs and burritos for lunches to be carried into park, any other ideas? Breakfast, cereal, muffins, eggs, bacon, pancakes planned so far but other ideas welcome.

I'd love to know what favorite snacks in park for around $5 so I can suggest to kids. Each of the nine kids will be given $15 gc for special treats, I hope they can get three out of that since they will be in parks 5 days.

Keep the ideas coming! Your help is appreciated!!
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Old 12-04-2012, 09:19 AM   #10
Join Date: Mar 2012
Location: West Coast of Canada
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We're a family of 6 and that used to be our fave place to stay when we travelled, even before Ramada bought it. We always took two large picnic coolers in the trunk filled with food. You can buy fresh blocks of ice at any of the gas stations around DL, because I don't think the Ramada has a place to re-freeze ice packs. I also brought a single burner camp stove, one pot and plastic bowls and cutlery, so I could cook soup and other single pot things. I never had a problem with the hotel staff. Since you'll have a car, there are lots of places to buy food near DL. And, we always grabbed an extra piece of fruit at breakfast, to take with us into the parks. For the times you want to actually eat out, there are lots of places on Harbor, just north of your hotel. That includes McDonald's, Denny's, and IHOP if those appeal to you. I think there's a pizza place in the little 'mall' area by the Ramada and also Tony Roma's. We never ate inside the parks when the kids were little except for maybe a snack, as a treat. For souvenirs, there are lots of little shops attached to the hotels on Harbor that sell stuff. They won't say Disneyland but they're still Disney licensed items that might be less than inside the parks.
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Old 12-04-2012, 02:02 PM   #11
Join Date: Nov 2012
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We're a-okay with sharing meals and drinking water, which is our standard for going out to eat currently! The hotel was picked in part for having a breakfast, and we'll definitely fill up before heading out. We'll also be bringing snacks and water bottles with us, too.

A stroller is definitely coming with us. Our baby is too big to carry all day, but I'll have the baby carrier as well so the bigger kids can ride if they're too exhausted! Having room for the snacks and water bottles is a bonus! Also, our diaper bag has a big insulated section (about the size of a 6 pack of soda) that will keep snacks cold for awhile, so we'll take advantage of that!

I'll definitely add paper plates for sharing to our packing list. Great tip. Mrs.HRM - your idea for El Pollo Loco burritos is a good one! Warm them in the microwave before leaving the hotel and wrap in foil and they'll stay warm for a bit, too, which could be nice. Or add lettuce and salsa for more of a wrap.

I'd be nervous to leave a crockpot running in the room. LOL But after a day of packed in snacks, we're talking about going back to the hotel for late lunch and naps, and since we're driving, I can stretch the budget a lot further by eating outside of Disneyland. I've been looking at Yelp for more suggestions for cheap eats near the hotel.

I'll take Red Rosie's tip and tell the kids that they can pick something on the last day, with a specific dollar amount, so we can ward off some whinies. I love the silhouette idea for a souvenir! I'll definitely budget for that. I'll give the kids pennies to squish, too.

Keep the tips coming! I'm loving them!
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Old 12-04-2012, 02:18 PM   #12
Join Date: Nov 2012
Posts: 88

A Yelp recommended restaurant, Zankou Chicken, has a Mediteranean chicken meal for four for $16! It includes a whole rotisserie chicken, large hummus, large cabbage salad, small pickles, pita, and garlic sauces. Yum! We're definitely adding that to the list. With another side of salad and some extra pitas, we can likely stretch that to dinner one night and sandwiches to pack in the next day. Woo! It's not too far from Disneyland on Ball Street. zankouchicken DOT com

The prices aren't on their website, so I called them to ask how much it would be.
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Old 12-04-2012, 02:18 PM   #13
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Join Date: Jan 2006
Location: Seattle
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Sign up with Mimi's for email coupons/ specials. They are near the Hojos (not to be confused with Millies near the fairfield). Wait until near the time of your trip to sign up, so the initial discount offers will not expire before you travel. They also offer some good prices on "to go" meals that you could eat at your hotel.

For a little free souviner stop by city hall for buttons- first visit, birthday, etc.

Bring glow items from the dollar store with you (necklace, bracelets, etc). Way cheaper and the kids will think they are fun at night and on dark rides.
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Old 12-04-2012, 02:56 PM   #14
Join Date: Oct 2012
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Ohhhhh...Zankou! That chain is one of the best kept secrets in SoCal. I grew up near one, and have it every chance I get when back in LA. Be sure to get extra garlic sauce!
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Old 12-04-2012, 04:01 PM   #15
Join Date: Feb 2012
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The stroller is great for carrying all the water bottles and snacks. We drove from WA and it was so nice to pack up the cooler and food boxes. granola bars, fruit snacks, apples, pb/j and tuna fish were easy to do.
We brought cereal and bananas for breakfast to supplement our small hotel breakfast. Usually ate one meal out /day and then did one snack in the park like churros or ice cream. My husband splurged and let the boys do the make your own light saber. Yeah pretty cool actually and I bought them t shirts. Didn't get my DD anything. She did get to pick out a soft princess doll at walmart on our way out though. She also got to do the princess breakfast. I thought the photo pass plus was completely worth it as well. Fun to get all the ride photos and we did a mickey breakfast on our day off from the parks.
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