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The $6500 Disney Diaries Part 5: How I Saved Money at Disneyland!

Posted by Rachel R. Vanderveen on Monday, December 8th, 2014 at 10:43am.

Disneyland photoWith the trip all completed, I wanted to do a final run down of how we saved all of our money and made this trip happen on a such a small budget.

1) The RV: I can’t stress enough how much money the RV saved us, and really, for a family our size, it was just plain easier. You know when you’re in a hotel, you’re just surviving without the comforts of home. But I have my motorhome stocked with all of our “stuff.” We rarely feel like we’re missing out on something that we need, that we don’t have.

But more on the money saving aspect. As I have said before, when you have a family our size, hotels want about $350 minimum per night to put you in a suite that they deem appropriate for your size of family. If we had to use a hotel for all 18 days that we were gone, we would have been looking at $6300 right there. We are fortunate enough to own our RV, and I haven’t run the numbers, but even if you rented an RV, I think you’d probably do better than going to a hotel if you have a large family.

2) RV Parking: Initially, I had wanted to just find the cheapest place and park there, but then I backed down and decided to go for proximity to the parks which left us paying more for our stays. This was an error. I should have gone anywhere with electrical hook-ups to run the crock pot, but proximity to the parks was a non-issue because we discovered that parking the RV at the parks was the best route anyways, so drive time was just whatever. An extra 20 minutes would have been fine. I should have gone for cheaper spots and splurged on the weekends when the extra amenities would be useful. I also tried to park at Walmarts as often as possible, but our generator’s fuel pump died within the first week and Clint had to pull the thing apart and replace it all by himself. It was very sexy to say the least.

3) The Food: The second amazing factor is that the motorhome becomes your hub for food. You can continue to eat as normal. I have a hard time factoring all of our trips to Walmart for food into our final vacation cost, because we would have spent money on food if we were at home anyways. But I did factor it in, nonetheless. The cheapest dine-out meal that I got for our family on this trip was $38 plus tip. Typically, however, the cheapest meal I can get is around $50, and for that price…we probably will have indigestion. If we had to eat out all of our meals, the cost (if we did it super-cheap every single time) would have been $2700, not to mention the toll it would take on our waistline and digestive system.

4) The Crock Pot: Yes, it’s all fine and good to talk about making all of your own meals, but in the end, Disney takes it out of you. We came home every day BEYOND exhausted and the kids were too. There was no way we had the strength to prepare a meal once home. The kids were cranky and hungry, and if we didn’t have that crock pot, we would have caved and bought dinner every time.

I came up with a bunch of easy road ready recipes that cooked away while we were on the Matterhorn. We arrived home to a trailer that smelled awesome and all I had to do was open the lid and serve. This was a major lifesaver. Over the years I have become ultra sensitive to junk food and if I have too much, my body just starts to shut down. I feel awful all over. Having that crock pot packed with fresh veggies and meat, was amazing for keeping all of our energy up and our bodies running great.

5) Fruit Trays: Although I dutifully started out the vacation making gourmet sandwiches every day for our outings, I grew tired of it after a while and ended up getting fruit and veggie trays for the day. In the US, there seems to be a big push towards eating healthier, or at least there is in California, so when you walk into the Walmart, the first thing you see is a big fridge full of all kinds of healthy goodies, all pre-sliced and ready to eat. You can get bags of sliced peaches, apples, pineapples, pears etc. They also have a wide variety of fruit and veggie trays, and even lots of trays that have a bag of nuts and a few slices of cheese.

These became my go-to and the more we ate them, the better we all felt. For the 18 days that we were gone, I actually lost weight, and I’m 7 months pregnant! I haven’t felt so good in a long time! Having the trays on hand also saved us from any pangs of hunger from the kids which would have made us bend on our resolve not to buy park food. We also carried an insane amount of bottled water to make sure thirst was never an issue and it never was!

6) Souvenir Boundaries: We decided on one souvenir for the whole family, and that was the mouse ears. We made it clear that absolutely nothing else would be purchased. Although they had their moments, the kids generally tended to remember that we weren’t on a buying spree and that they were free to purchase anything they wanted with their own money. If you set your boundaries on extras before you set foot in the park, you’re less likely to flex on little things that seem valuable in the moment.

For example, Disneyland had bubble guns. Kids all over were playing with these guns that shoot bubbles. They looked super-cool even to me, but they were $12 each and when you do math over 6 kids, they aren’t so cool anymore. It was easier to just say that we got our mouse ears and that is all we would be getting.

7) Preplanning: Taking the time to price check and plan each day beforehand ended up being very valuable. One of the most valuable parts was that it allowed us to skip the parks on the weekend. It also allowed me to look for coupons and deals for each thing that we planned. State parks are also hard to get into, so preplanning is a must.

8) Ocean Time: Spending our weekend on the oceans was an awesome decision for so many reasons. The ocean is full of things to do totally free of charge and for homeschooling, you couldn’t ask for an environment richer with learning opportunities. We were never bored on the ocean. Clam digging was free for the kids to do, but for us, we had to have licenses. But then there was boogie boarding, surfing, swimming, collecting shells and sand dollars, sand castles, exploring seaweed, sleeping in the sun (that was Nilo’s day to barf), tanning etc, and at night, we had campfires and smores.

My favourite part of the whole trip was definitely Disneyland, but just a tiny hair behind that was our time at Silver Strand beach which we all agreed was the most beautiful RV park we had ever stayed at with the most beautiful section of oceanic beach we had ever visited. I can’t say enough about this place!

Disney Diaries

9) Southern California City Pass: So this pass, which I found priced best at Costco, includes 3 days Disneyland, one day Universal and one day SeaWorld (again…I’m sorry). This is your cheapest way to buy tickets, and I searched everywhere.

Next Segment: California Theme Parks Review

That's pretty much it for the budgeting end of the trip. I have one final section coming up about our personal review of the California theme parks. I would love to hear about your own Disney adventures and if you were able to use any of these tips and tricks! Feel free to post below in the comments of this blog, or on Facebook.

Rachel Vanderveen

The Vanderveen Team
Maxwell South Star Realty
Phone: 403.253.5678 Fax: 403.592.6736

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