Quick Disney Trip on a Budget

Next week, I have 3 days off and I’ve decided to book a very very last minute trip to Disneyland. Having lived in Southern California and worked at Disneyland for 4 years, I know exactly how expensive everything can be. I’m a solo traveler, but I can’t imagine the cost of taking a family of 4 down there right now! 

Since this trip is going to be on a budget, I thought I might share what I’m doing in order to economize as much as possible. The first thing I started looking into for this trip was flights. There are two major airports in Southern California that most people consider flying into when they think of Disneyland. They are Santa Ana-John Wayne/Orange County (SNA) and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The closest airport by far is John Wayne.

You’ll see me use the three names for John Wayne interchangeable throughout this post. John Wayne is about 10 miles from Anaheim and is accessible within 20 minutes (with no traffic). LAX is the largest airport in Southern California and may offer the cheapest and largest amount of flights, but it sits about 45 to 60 minutes away (again with no traffic). LAX is an airport I would avoid if you are able to. 

One fantastic alternative to both of these airports is Long Beach (LGB). It’s tiny, has 1 terminal and about 6 gates, but is so easy to get into and out of. LGB is about a 30 minute drive from the Anaheim area and doesn’t typically have traffic that’s too bad since it’s so close to a residential area. For my trip coming up, I chose Long Beach as my airport of choice. LGB has a handful of carriers that fly into it. The one that offers the most flights from my home airports in the Bay Area is jetBlue. 

For a roundtrip flight, I was able to book my trip for $140. If you book earlier than a week in advance you can usually get much lower fares. When I was doing my initial research, I was looking into flying down on Southwest. SNA happens to be a Hub for Southwest, but their fares were a little too high for this budget traveler. United and Alaska Airlines also offered similar fares.

Once I was able to book my flight, the next thing to consider was how I am getting from the airport to my hotel. The available options are LGB, SNA and LAX are: shared ride van, taxi, Uber/Lyft, Disneyland Express bus or a rental car. Unless you are familiar with the Southern California freeways and crazy drivers I wouldn’t recommend a rental car. If you have enough people in your group, a taxi could make sense if you are traveling from SNA ($35-45) or LGB ($40-50). A taxi from LAX on the other hand would cost over $100.

If you are traveling with a child and don’t want to bother traveling with a carseat, the Disneyland Express bus, operated by Coach USA is an option. It travels from SNA and LAX, and will range from $10-30 depending on if you have a child or adult traveling. It was the option we recommended when I worked at Disneyland for families. The Disneyland Express bus had a nice variety of pick up times. Just make sure if you use it that your flight arrives before the last bus leaves the airport. It doesn’t wait for anybody. There info can be found here

Ride sharing services are pretty self explanatory. I just encourage you to be careful and diligent if you intend to use it as the driver can be fantastic or a horror story. I’ve heard too many stories to use them as a preferred method. I’d rather take a taxi. In a taxi at least the driver is required to post a copy of their license and  you know they have insurance!

The last option I listed was for a shared ride van. I’ll be taking it from the airport as I’ve used it a multitude of times and I like the ease of already having a reservation and having a driver who knows the area. It is to be the most cost effective mode of transportation. From Long Beach is costs about $37 each way. From SNA it’s only $10 and from LAX it’s about $50. The largest companies in Southern California are Supershuttle and Prime Time Shuttle. I personally prefer to use Supershuttle.

The last and most important piece of the trip was booking a hotel! This part is always the choose your own adventure. Some people prefer to have a Disney owned and operated property, some people prefer brand name chains and others will just go for the least expensive options. Every hotel has a pro and con. I would always recommend location as the most important factor. Does your prospective hotel offer a shuttle? Are you willing to walk back to your hotel after spending all day walking around Disneyland? Do you plan to spend all day at the theme parks or do you intend to come back and enjoy the pool, a nap, etc?

Only you can answer these questions. For me, I’ve worked at all 3 Disney hotels. I love them dearly, but I don’t have the money to spend on a room. If I did, I would have no hesitation paying for the convenience of staying on resort property. I would absolutely spend time in the room, at the pool and enjoy the adventure. However, knowing myself this time, I want to maximize the time I’ll be spending in the theme park. So I care more about the most affordable option within easy walking distance. 

The hotel I decided on is located off of Katella Street and Disneyland Drive. Of the streets surrounding Disneyland, it’s the side I like to stay on. Harbor Blvd. and Ball Road are very good locations as well, but those streets are often more congested and noisier. My hotel was about $200 for 2 nights and does not include any frills. I’d encourage you to go on a review site like Trip Advisor, Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia to read about your hotel property before you book it.

After the flight, hotel and transportation, the only other expenses to worry about are food and park tickets. I’m buying a 2 day 1 park per day ticket this time around for abut $235. For food, keep in mind you are allowed to bring in snacks and drinks to Disneyland is you want to save a little. I’m traveling light so I’ll be buying Starbucks for breakfast, have a big lunch and a heavy snack for dinner. Prices are expensive so budget $15 per meal per person if you’re going on the lower end. 

In the end, I’m spending about $600 when all is said and done. For 3 days it’s expensive, but the value I expect to get out of it is priceless for the memories. Southern California is again one of the most expensive areas in the US to travel to. I hope my thoughts and my outlook on my quick Disneyland trip helped give you some tips and advise. I’ll do another Disney series in the future. I have a lot of stories and a lot of information to share as a former Disney Cast Member.


    1. Thank you so much Kirin! I’m happy to share whatever I can to help make your trip magical!

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