Disneyland Splurges for Kids & Disneyland on a Budget Tips
Yes, Disneyland is already a magical place. Throwing in a few splurges here and there on your trip will really put a twinkle in your child’s eye! If you’re planning a once-in-a-lifetime Disneyland vacation, you may just want to really plus-up your Disney days. These are some of the Disneyland splurges for kids that they’ll love, with a range to fit any budget. I’ve also included Disney hacks for saving money on things that still feel like a splurge!
Please note that I include affiliate links in this post. Clicking the link and making a purchase helps me in a small financial way, thank you! This post was originally published Feb 15, 2017 and has been updated.
Disneyland Resort is a Stay On-Site Splurge
From the themed rooms, Extra Magic Hour, and the amazing pools, staying at a Disneyland Resort hotel is a splurge worth making. I’ve stayed in all three of the Disneyland Resort hotels and each offers their own magic. Disney’s Grand Californian Resort & Spa is the highest priced and allows guests staying here private access to a special entrance right into Disney California Adventure park (with valid park ticket).
The Disneyland Hotel has an extra-special pool area with Monorail-themed water slides and light up musical headboards in the rooms that kids adore. The Paradise Pier hotel is about 15 minutes walk to the front gate and many rooms overlook Disney California Adventure park (especially stunning at night!) This is also the least expensive of the three so if you’re wanting to save a little money, consider booking here.
If you’d rather stay off-site and save your spending money to use inside the parks, consider the Howard Johnson, Anaheim Majestic Garden Hotel, Country Inn & Suites or Holiday Inn Express Anaheim. The Anaheim Majestic Garden Hotel even has a special princess greeting wake-up or bedtime story reading (scroll through to find out more details, with photos!)
*Money Saving Splurge* – Naturally weekends, holidays and peak season dates will have higher prices. Stay mid-week and in the off-season to save on a Resort room. Sign up for offers and you may be sent a discount code in the mail or via email.
Save Money on Your Disneyland Vacation!
My travel partner Get Away Today offers the best discounted hotel and Disneyland ticket prices. Use the code REWRITTEN on SoCal vacation packages to save $10 off the cost of a 2+ day package.
Sweet Disneyland Treats
When I think of Disneyland splurges, one of the first things I think about is dessert! All those sweet treats to indulge in, with many of them perfectly designed for the delight of children. Some treats are sold only on a limited time basis for certain special events or holidays.
If you’re traveling to Disneyland when they are running a special promotion or it’s during a holiday season, you’ll want to check the Disney Parks Blog ahead of your trip to see what fun treats will be offered. Here are a few peeks on some of the seasonal treats from Disneyland in the past:
Items like the Poison Apple Cake Pop during Halloween Time at Disneyland are a fun little splurge that won’t break the bank (and it was so yummy!)
During the holiday season, there are always a bunch of amazing churros in every flavor, like this one with chocolate drizzle, pretzels and peppermint bits.
More Disneyland Treats for Kids
Many other Disneyland sweet treats are staples you can find year-round. There are character-themed marshmallows on a stick sold all over the Park, unique sundaes, milk shakes and smoothies and lots of adorable Disney themed cookies. Check out the Cheshire Cat cookie, it matched my daughter’s leggings!
And of course there are some amazing caramel apples sold throughout the Parks. We love watching them create the apples at Marceline’s in Downtown Disney District. Each apple is painstakingly dipped and decorated by hand. Many of the sweet shops throughout the Disneyland parks have windows where you can watch the treats being crafted. Watch the video below where you can see how this particular Minnie Mouse-themed candied apple is made.
*Money Saving Splurge* – Buy a caramel apple and request to have it cut into slices. Then everyone can indulge and share the treat!
Must-try Treat Splurges at Disneyland
(all subject to menu change):
- Alien Pizza Planet – S’mores Parfait
- Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor – hand made waffle cones and hand scooped ice cream in 9 flavors plus sundaes like the Firehouse Dalmatian Mint Sundae (two Scoops of mint chocolate chip ice cream served in a waffle cup with fudge topping, whipped cream and a cherry).
- The Golden Horseshoe – House-made Chocolate-Chunk Cookie Sundae (a warm, rich triple chocolate-chunk cookie made with brown butter, topped with hand-scooped vanilla ice cream, and drizzled with caramel and chocolate sauce).
- Hungry Bear Restaurant – Cherry Coca-Cola Funnel Cake (sweet and tart cherries stewed in Coca-Cola, served over a warm crispy funnel cake topped with whipped cream).
- Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe – a variety of cookies, pastries and cupcakes including the Mickey Mouse-shaped Sugar Cookie & Matterhorn Macaroon.
- Mint Julep Bar – Mickey-shaped beignets dusted in powdered sugar.
- Red Rose Taverne – Grey Stuff Gâteau (white chocolate mousse and red velvet cake with a raspberry center).
- Royal Street Veranda – New Orleans Fritters (fresh made banana fritters served with a raspberry dipping sauce).
- Tropical Hideaway – Dole Whip pineapple soft serve swirl with either raspberry or orange.
More Tasty Splurges at Disney California Adventure
Disney California Adventure park
- Adorable Snowman Frosted Treats – Pixar Pier Frozen Parfait (blend of lemon soft-serve and blue raspberry slush)
- Clarabelle’s Hand Scooped Ice Cream – The Kitchen Sink (choice of any sundae served in a souvenir kitchen sink)
- Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop – 15 unique sundaes including the Golden Gate Banana Split & Twin Peaks Marshmallow Hot Fudge Sundae.
- Jack-Jack Cookie Num Nums – extra-large warm chocolate chip cookies and milk.
- Lamplight Lounge – Donuts (warm fluffy donuts with dipping sauces)
- Smokejumper’s Grill – S’more (chocolate dipped graham crackers layered with a decadent chocolate brownie and toasted house-made marshmallows).
Portrait Mementos of a Magical Vacation
If you’re looking for the ultimate memento of your Disneyland trip, consider booking a personal photography shoot inside the Parks. A & C Photography will custom design the most magical mementos of your children.
A & C Photography recently took my website head shot and they were amazingly fast and easy to work with. As you can see by these beautiful images, they know exactly how to work with kids in the Parks to get the best photos. What a wonderful memory of your vacation!
More Ways to Capture Your Kids in the Moment
Older kids may appreciate this more than youngsters but having your portrait done (in the streets of New Orleans Square, just down from the exit of Pirates of the Caribbean) is a souvenir worth framing. Choose from silly caricatures or more serious pastel drawings. The simple one color designs are a less expensive Disneyland splurge.
Another option and cherished memento is the Disneyland silhouette. The shop is found on Main Street U.S.A. Within just a few quick minutes, paper artists cut out the child’s silhouette and mount it onto a background that’s suitable for framing. It’s a very reasonably-priced piece of art. Take it home to frame or purchase a special frame in the shop. I still have the silhouette that my parents had made for me when I was just 5 years old!
*Money Saving Splurge* – Use of Disney PhotoPass photographers is completely free in the parks. You may hand over your personal camera to them and they will photograph for you.
Or invest $15 for MaxPass (per person per day). You only need one MaxPass if you just want the photos. Then any pictures that Disney PhotoPass photographers take are downloadable without any additional cost. The PhotoPass photographer took the image of my princess Rapunzel!
Splurge-Worthy Disney Souvenirs
If there’s one thing that Disney does well, it’s in creating some amazing take-home gifts that get kids excited! There are gifts big and small located in the shops all around the parks. You’ll also find kiosks (like these in Fantasyland with princess Mouse Ears) in every Land.
Star Wars fans can build their own light saber inside The Star Trader. There’s a large station with bits and parts to make it your own design. This area is usually crowded and you’ll be carrying around a big light saber so consider this a late stop in the day.
Start your daughter’s first Pandora charm bracelet and purchase a Disney themed charm. You can purchase charms through ShopDisney. There are also park exclusive designs in their shops located in the Downtown Disney District or Disneyland’s New Orlean’s Square.
Special Souvenirs That Feel Like a Splurge
A Disneyland souvenir in their hand will put a smile on a child’s face! Items like balloons, light-up toys, spinners, Princess wands, swords and bubble blowers add to the Disney joy and are a nice souvenir too. Of course there are many cuddly stuffed animals in a variety of sizes and characters.
*Money Saving Splurge* – Yes, there are many souvenirs in the park that are highly priced, but a great many of the smaller things like this can be found throughout the gift shops for less than $15 each. If you have a particular budget you’re trying to stay under, ask a Cast Member in the shop. They are always very courteous to point you in the right direction and help you find what you’re looking for.
Keep this tip in mind if you buy a balloon and it pops. Guests can return the remnants (along with the original receipt) to any balloon vendor in the Park for a replacement.
Splurge on Disneyland Dining
Looking for a Disneyland dining splurge you’ll never forget? Many of the Disneyland restaurants are fun, but one in particular is worth the splurge (for location alone!).
Consider a meal at Blue Bayou Restaurant. They have a location to die for inside the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction (it’s the only restaurant at Disneyland inside of an attraction!). There is also a restaurant menu that’s kid-friendly. There are simple dishes like mac and cheese with veggies or more sophisticated options like salmon and beef strip loin.
Kids will get a kick out of watching the ride boats float by and in the decor, which looks like you’re dining outside (complete with chirping crickets!) Just be sure to get an Advance Dining Reservation because this is a very popular dining location.
*Money Saving Splurge* – Dine for lunch at Blue Bayou instead of dinner to save on the cost of adult meals.
Book a Character Dining Meal
If you’re looking for a restaurant and entertainment combined, you can’t miss out on the character dining splurge! Families can enjoy a meal while favorite characters come to each table for a one-on-one with your children. You can take photos, request autographs and some of the characters will play or dance with the kids.
On our visit to Goofy’s Kitchen we let the staff know when we checked in that it was going to be my daughter’s birthday that week. They had Mickey and Minnie escort her to the dinner table and after our meal, the staff brought her a cupcake and sang a happy birthday song. It was very special!
*Money Saving Splurge* – Children who have not yet had their 3rd birthday dine for free, even at character dining locations. My daughter was 2-years old when we went to Goofy’s Kitchen (just five days before her third birthday) so her meal was cost-free!
These character meals are especially great if your little ones have a hearty appetite! All these character dining experiences have an unlimited buffet (I really think my daughter ate more than I did!) You’ll not only meet n’ greet with characters who come to your table, you’ll also have some great options for dining that will please everyone in your group.
*Money Saving Splurge* – Character dining is definitely a splurge but there is a way you can save on the cost. Choose breakfast when offered instead of lunch or dinner and cost decreases significantly. Another way to save is to choose a meal time in between that will serve as both a late-lunch/early-dinner. Then you can opt out of eating another full meal and just pack in your own snacks.
Disneyland Character Dining Locations
- Goofy’s Kitchen is a favorite, with an expansive buffet that includes pb & j pizza as well as freshly carved meats.
- Donald Duck’s Seaside Breakfast located at Disney’s PCH Grill is our breakfast buffet go-to with made-to-order omelettes.
- The Plaza Inn hosts Minnie in the mornings with a vast breakfast spread that kids will love (in between photo ops with a wide range of characters).
- Mickey’s Tales of Adventure Breakfast Buffet is located at Storyteller’s Cafe inside Disney’s Grand Californian Resort & Spa.
Disney Princess Breakfast Adventures
There’s a new option that is such an over-the-top splurge you won’t believe it! Disney Princess Breakfast Adventures. Located at Napa Rose in Disney’s Grand Californian Resort & Spa, this meal is three-course and also includes a personal portrait moment and a take-away keepsake. While the meal is touted as a “breakfast” and served in the morning hours, the dishes lean towards savory as well as sweet.
On the menu are traditional brunch offerings like pastries, fine coffee, fruit, turkey sausage and Princess waffles. You’ll also find slow braised short ribs, house made mac & cheese and pork belly which are more dinner-type dishes. Naturally there are desserts as well, including chocolate princess cake pops, a sea shell macaron and petite berry tarts.
All this also includes one-on-one time with popular princesses. You’ll definitely want your kiddos dressed to impress for what is sure to be a meal to remember! READ MORE: Is the Disney Princess Breakfast Worth the Cost? on Lovestalgia.
Splurge-Worthy Special Events
There are several special events and packages available at Disneyland if you’re wanting to splurge! They events change frequently so be sure to check the event calendar before your visit.
Disneyland & Disney California Adventure Dining Packages:
- World of Color Dessert Party – reserved seating as well as dessert and drinks during the show.
- World of Color Dining Package – dining at your choice of two restaurants and reserved viewing area for show.
- Frozen Dining Package – 3-course meal at Carthay Circle and reserved seating for the show.
- Plaza Inn Dining Package – lunch and reserved viewing area for Mickey’s Soundsational Parade.
- Tomorrowland Skyline Lounge Experience – boxed treats and viewing for nightly fireworks show.
- Purchase one of the Fantasmic! show Dinner Packages, which gives you reserved seating or reserved standing area for the evening show after your meal. Blue Bayou is the priciest option and River Belle Terrace a bit less, though both are a 3-course prix fixe meal. There is also less expensive “Fantasmic! On-the-Go” package from Hungry Bear. Guests dining at River Belle Terrace can choose to upgrade their dinner package and watch the show from their seat during the meal.
*Money Saving Splurge* – The more expensive Blue Bayou will give you a seat to watch Fantasmic! that’s just at the waterside. The upgraded package from River Belle Terrace will allow guests to eat in the restaurant and watch the show at the same time. The cheaper package from Hungry Bear reserves your standing room area. However standing or sitting, you’ll still be watching the same show!
Seasonal Event Splurges
Disneyland offers different seasonal special events throughout the year that can be big-time splurges for the kids. Some of these events sell out extremely fast (within days) so you’ll want to move quickly when tickets open for sale.
Disneyland After Dark events
Disneyland After Dark events would be great fun for older kids or teens who can stay up into the wee hours. These themed evening events (a recent event was 90s themed, another was Sweethearts themed for Valentine’s Day) have a limited number of tickets to keep crowd levels low. There is usually exclusive entertainment and special treats available during the event.
Disney Halloween Party
Visiting Disneyland during the fall? The nighttime Halloween trick or treat party is a yearly tradition! Oogie Boogie Bash – A Disney Halloween Party at Disney California Adventure will replace the annual Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland park starting in 2019.
*Money Saving Splurge* – Skip purchasing a regular Disneyland day ticket if attending the Halloween party at night. While the “party event” doesn’t officially start until evening, guests can get in to the park between 3-4 hours early (depending upon the day).
Here are some of the details guests can expect at this new event:
- Nighttime extravaganza World of Color show called Villainous!
- Redwood Creek Challenge Trail will be transformed into spooky areas inspired by movies that feature villains Ursula, Scar and the Queen of Hearts.
- Immersive Treat Trails where guests (adults too!) collect goodies along trails while villains like Oogie Boogie and the Mad Hatter oversee the festivities from their thrones. Additional trick or treating will be available at candy cauldron treat stations throughout the park.
- DescenDance dance party with the Isle of the Lost dance crew featuring hit songs from Disney’s Descendants films.
- Frightfully Fun Parade, where favorite Disney Characters march in masquerade along with Villains and characters from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.
- Mickey’s Trick & Treat live show fwith not-so-scary Halloween tales at the Disney Theater in Hollywood Land.
- Character Encounters where guests can meet, greet and pose with some of Disney’s most popular Characters wearing their Halloween costumes.
*Money Saving Splurge* – Don’t want to pay extra for the Halloween party? There is still tons of Halloween Time fun to be had at Disneyland park during the fall season that are a part of the regular park ticket (including ride overlays). Kids under 14 can still dress in their Halloween costume to celebrate the season, there’s just not the trick or treating (bring your own bag of candy!)
Take a Disneyland Guided Tour
A Disneyland guided tour is a wonderful way to learn more about the parks (or even skip the lines!) Older kids may enjoy the in-depth tour like “Walk in Walt’s Footsteps”. For a major splurge, reserve a “Plaid” for a VIP tour that will allow you priority access, reserved seating and a personal guide for the day.
*Money Saving Splurge* – Instead of splurging on a Disneyland guided tour, purchase a book pre-trip that will allow you insider access and secrets to the Park! Things like Hidden Mickey hunting and scavenger hunts are perfect for kids who like to explore more.
Afternoon Tea, Disney-Princess Style
Do you have a sophisticated little lady who would enjoy an elegant snack of scones, tiny sandwiches and sips of tea? The afternoon tea held at the Disneyland Hotel has three options (classic, premium or kid’s tea party) and takes place in the elegant Steakhouse 55 restaurant. Dress to impress!
*Money Saving Splurge* – If this upscale experience is too much, consider a stop at the more casual Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe inside Disneyland. You can still indulge in treats, sandwiches and hot tea or cocoa. You might even see Mary Poppins and Bert!
Sip and Splurge
Yes, even your beverages can be a splurge when you indulge in some of the fun that Disney offers. There are souvenir sippers, glow ice cubes and silly straws that can “upgrade” your drink. I found this Incredibles Elastigirl straw at Corn Dog Castle. Just look at the window (or ask) when you’re ordering to find out what fun upgrades are available during the time of your visit!
Check out the restaurant menu for other child-friendly beverage treats. Even the special events like Festival of Holidays and Food & Wine Festival offer specialty non-alcoholic beverages that kids will love. My daughter loved the coloring changing Yippee! Mickey’s Cotton Candy Soda that was only offered during the Disney California Food and Wine Festival.
Kid-Friendly Drink Splurges
- Bengal Barbecue – Piranha Lemonade Slushy (mango and pineapple lemonade with lychee and pomegranate popping pearls)
- Galactic Grill – Galactic Cosmic Blue Slush (flavors of pineapple and lime with souvenir light-up cube)
- Maurice’s Treats -Boysen Apple Freeze in souvenir mug
- Mint Julep Bar – (non-alcoholic) New Orleans mint julep
- Red Rose Taverne – Gaston’s Famous Brew (apple-mango punch topped with passion fruit foam) and
- Tiki Juice Bar – Dole Whip Float (Dole pineapple juice topped with pineapple Dole Whip soft-serve).
Disney California Adventure park
- Cozy Cone Motel – “Route” Beer Float in a Souvenir Glass or Red’s Apple Freeze
- Flo’s V8 Cafe – Flo’s Classic Shake in Souvenir Glass (vanilla, chocolate or strawberry with “Road Gravel”)
- Lamplight Lounge – Non-alcoholic beverages including the Infinity Fizz and 2319.
- Schmoozies! – variety of smoothies including many special event and seasonal offerings.
*Money Saving Splurge* – Ask for a “Shirley Temple” at some full-service restaurants. We were able to get this sweet drink (Sprite mixed with cherry juice) for the same cost as a fountain drink at the River Belle Terrace Restaurant.
No better time to splurge than for a birthday! Parents can pre-order a custom birthday cake to be served at select Disneyland Resort restaurants. Or contact Disney Floral & Gifts for a birthday themed in-room celebration that includes room decoration and special gifts (keep reading for more on that).
READ MORE: More ways to celebrate a birthday at Disneyland.
*Money Saving Splurge* – Pick up a complimentary personalized birthday button from guest services when you enter either of the Parks.
In-Room Disney Decor
Want to give your kids a magical impression from the moment they enter the hotel room? If you’re staying at a Disneyland Resort Hotel, contact Disney Floral & Gifts for an in-room celebration that includes decorations, goodies, treats and personalized souvenirs laid out for the kids when they arrive. What a wonderful Disneyland splurge to kick-off your vacation!
An alternative is having a gift basket delivered, like those from Pixie Magic. Baskets are unique and contain items culled especially for your needs or the basket theme. If staying at certain off-site hotels (like the Howard Johnson), your room can even be elaborately decorated before you check-in!
I was able to work with Jewell directly to create a special pre-birthday celebration basket for my daughter. I told her that Minnie Mouse was a favorite character and she stuffed the gift basket with delightful age-appropriate gifts including a large Minnie Mouse plush, Minnie tin box, treats, autograph book and a balloon bouquet.
*Money Saving Splurge* – Bring your own store-bought treats like bubbles and glow necklaces. Put them on your kid’s pillows and say that Tinker Bell delivered them!
A Snack & an Upgrade Splurge
Many of the snacks sold throughout the Disneyland Resort have an upgrade option. Choose to have your popcorn sold in a regular carton or splurge on a whimsical souvenir bucket. When ordering a kid’s meal at Flo’s V-8 Cafe you can opt for a Lightning McQueen keepsake. Order the “Kitchen Sink” like we did at Clarabelle’s and receive a souvenir Mickey-themed sink. Reuse them when you return home (my Kitchen Sink holds desk supplies at home!).
*Money Saving Splurge* – The Kitchen Sink is definitely big enough to share. Order ice cream cones separately if you want to fill them with the sundae from the “sink”.
A Magical Make-Over
What little princess wouldn’t love a head-to-toe fairy tale make-over from Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique? This special shop inside Fantasyland at Disneyland offers the ultimate splurge for kids under 12. There are several packages to choose from including grand make-overs that include a sparkling new gown, glittered up-do, make-up, nail polish and more!
Even your little prince can get in on the action with a Knight’s Package. For the over-the-top splurge, Disney PhotoPass photographers will capture the moment for you with a customized portrait series. What a sweet way to capture that beautiful make-over. A visit to Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at Disneyland is by appointment only and is only for kids 3+.
*Money Saving Splurge* – Purchase your own princess costume from ShopDisney online before your trip and wear it into the Park. Instead of going for the full-out make-over, you can still choose the hairstyle and make-up but save on the (very expensive) dress.
Have your child change into their costume before heading into the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. The cost savings could be upwards of $50 just by purchasing your dress before your trip!
Magical Splurge OUTSIDE the Parks!
The Disney magic doesn’t happen just inside the Parks; this is a splurge that will delight youngsters and it happens beyond the Park gates!
Anaheim Majestic Garden Hotel offers a special princess morning wake up or bedtime tuck-in. Princess Corinne came to our room at bedtime to read several story books she’d brought. My daughter received two fancy cupcakes, milk, a crown, certificate, and signed photo of the princess. It was a highlight for my (almost) three year old daughter and she still talks about Princess Corinne!
After making your reservation, you’ll want to call the hotel and book the greeting (your choice of either morning wake-up call or a bedtime tuck-in). There is an additional cost for this special event.