ImageA trip to Disneyland can be expensive, with the lowest price SoCal resident one-day, one-park ticket starting at $81 for kids 3-9 years old.  Admission is only one expense.  There’s gas, meals, snacks and souvenirs, and if you plan to stay overnight, the cost of a hotel.  In order to truly enjoy your visit and not worry about money, figure out which elements of your trip are worth splurging on for you and your family, plan ahead to help defray costs, and then just have fun.

If you have the buckage, staying at one of the Disneyland Resort Hotels is the way to go.  The Disneyland Hotel, The Grand California Hotel & Spa and the Paradise Pier Hotel are all fabulous and carry over the Disney brand of extreme hospitality and spirit in décor, ambient music and other touches, and there are added perks, like Magic Hour early admission and a private park entrance.  All three Disney hotels also have great pools and waterslides.  The Disneyland Resort site (http://disneyland.disney.go.com/) features a number of packages that slightly discount Disney hotels plus admission tickets and dining options.

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You can save a lot by staying off-Disney, at one of the partner hotels, which offer much lower room rates.  The nearby big convention hotels have a more corporate ambience, but hotels such as the Hilton Anaheim Hotel (http://www.hiltonanaheimhotel.com/), with room rates starting at $94, cater to Disneyland visitors with child-friendly features, such as a terrific water feature at the hotel pool and an on-site Disney Desk staffed by resort cast members.

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The Hilton is also walking distance from the park, if you are a sturdy walker, or you can hitch a free shuttle bus across the street to the park that will drop you off right at the park entrance.

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Count on food at the park being expensive.  Entrees at the restaurants are pretty generous, so you can share if you have a modest appetite.  If you are really hungry, the all-you-want-to-enjoy buffets are a pricey but satisfying option, and some offer character dining, such as at Goofy’s Kitchen, where the characters come by to hang with you at your table – which can be a two-fer option if you don’t want to wait in line at the park to pose with characters for photos.  If you are on a tight budget for meals, dining outside the park offers the usual cheap fast-food and moderately priced casual dining options, or if you can shop at the local supermarket and eat at the complimentary picnic area just outside the main entrance.  No outside food or beverage is allowed in the park, and security does search your bags when you enter.

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It will cost you a little sleep but no extra money to get in more Disney by arriving when the park opens so you can maximize your visit.  Lines are shorter for the first hour or so, so head to the attractions that historically have the longer lines, which are generally the rides that feature FASTPASS, which is also a great program to take advantage of to reduce your time waiting in lines.

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The themed merchandise at the shops is tempting, so set a budget for yourself and the kids each day.  Use gift cards or Disney Dollars to enforce the limit.  Once the allowance is gone, that’s it.  Better yet, tell the kids that you are saving the last hour of the last day for shopping, so you can stave off the constant pleas for souvenirs at every turn.

Lastly, be prepared.  Take along extra batteries, a change of clothes and towel for wet rides, and a sweatshirt or jacket for when the sun goes down, so you don’t end up buying these things at the park.

LastlImagey, don’t feel deprived just to save yourself a few bucks.  Budget in one or two spontaneous purchases, and enjoy the Happiest Place on Earth without regret.

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