Planning a Disney Vacation is incredibly simple mostly because, conveniently, (like their business depends on it or something) Disney has excellent vacation planning guides on their websites but it really
all depends on what kind of Disney Vacation you want to have, however.
We've done Disney in luxury, we've done Disney like hobos and every way in between.
You can have a great Disney vacation on any budget.
The Money Challenged Vacation
(Disclaimer, you will have to spend money to go on a vacation. That's the unfortunate money motivated society we live in. Sorry to burst that bubble, BUT, it will be for significantly less than you thought.)
The key to this vacation plan is...Flexibility! (seems like a running theme...)
Also, we are from out of state, so in-state people just have to worry about parking fees, tickets and gas. Lucky you guys!
Han and I did a money challenged Disneyland vacation back in 2011. He was still in school working part time. I was working full time but not making a lot of money.
We booked two RT flights on skyscanner from PDX to LAX for $121 each for a total of $242. (Flexibility will help you save the most $$ on airfare. Go on over to skyscanner and research it out.)
Flights: $242 (First purchase, a few months out)
We couldn't afford to stay on Disney property with our budget and in my experience (with Disneyland), there isn't as much incentive to pay the big $$$$ to stay on property in California as there is in Disney World anyway. There are a million hotels right outside the entrance gate to DL, unlike in Orlando, so we decided to stay at a little hotel about 15 minutes walk from the main gate.
Rodeway Inn & Suites
It's a rundown little shack at the far end of Harbor from the main gates, but the front desk people were very very friendly and accommodating. Offered to have us back again at the same price we booked ($34 a night) anytime we wanted. It was clean enough and under budget.
We managed to book a room for 3 nights. (Looks like it's nearing peak season right now, so rooms are more expensive at $59 and keep in mind that because it's further down Harbor, it's cheaper than those by the gate)
Taxi to and from the airport $16 per person, each way = $64 (We booked a shared shuttle van. Slower, but cheaper)
Hotel $34 X 3 Nights = $140 (plus taxes and fees, let's round that to $140)
Disney Tickets $250 a piece for 3 day park hopper = $500 (ticket prices have since gone up to $260 but they've added magic morning to it whether you stay on property or not, so that's a plus)
(We discovered on the 3rd day of our trip that 3 days is just too much for us. 2 is perfect. So next time, we know to book the 2 day park hopper instead, but that's just us.)
You CAN technically save money here by doing the One park per day tickets...but my suggestion is to just get the park hopper. It's not that much more, and considering how small the Disneyland resort & Cali adventure are (in comparison to DW), you'll want the autonomy to move back and forth.
To save money on food, we went to The ABC Market on Harbor (It's on the corner of Harbor and Katella between The Candy Cane Inn and Desert Palms)
They have everything you need or want for significantly cheaper than eating out in the parks. Buy your water here. It's like $8 a bottle inside the parks.
We also bought food at our local Winco to take with us. Carried it on the plane in a reusable bag with no problems. You can fly with any kind of food (except liquids, so leave the capri suns at home) within the US.
Food: ~$150 (we splurged at The Rainforest Cafe one night and that was 1/3 of our total food cost!)
We didn't buy any souvenirs or food in the parks. Still had a lovely time and did everything we wanted to do.
Total came to about $1100 for a 3 day vacation to Disneyland in "the off season" in September.
How you can do it: Be flexible and non picky. The people who really know what it's like to be scrounging for money will understand the go with the flow mentality. You're just there to have a good time and do it cheaply! Anything else is a waste of time. Search booking.com and skyscanner for cheap lodging & flights. Do couchsurfing.org if you want to do it even cheaper.
The Middle of the Packers Vacation
We did this style of vacation in September 2013. We did a few days in San Diego and then took a train into Anaheim to do 2 days at Disneyland.
Again, we booked one way flights on skyscanner. We did PDX- SD and then LAX-PDX (took a train between SD & LA)
Train: $56 (one way from SD to Anaheim for 2 coach seats)
We walked from the train station to our Hotel. It was maybe 3 miles straight down Harbor. For us, being young and (kinda) supple, it wasn't a big deal.
But you can catch an Anaheim resort bus right off the train on Harbor if you are not up to walking. The bus costs $2 per person. There is a gas station with an ATM right behind the bus stop where you can get cash if you need it.
Hotel: This time we booked a hotel only a 5 minute walk away from the main gate. (Movin on up in the world.)
The Desert Palms Hotel & Suites
We managed to book this hotel for 3 nights at $323.62 (plus fee's let's round to $360)
This was a STEAL. We found it this cheap on booking.com and it had free breakfast included. We also got a free upgrade to a suite facing the parks just for asking. Be polite, and don't expect anything. It just might work.
Disney tickets: $420
I'd say we spent $250 on food/snacks.
We also bought souvenirs for family back home (mostly christmas ornaments because they have literally the best ones ever. My favorites are the Disney Villains sets!)
Total came to about $1660 for a 2 day vacation to Disneyland in "the off season" in (again) September. If we include the San Diego portion of the trip, that brings it to about $2100.
How you can do it: The nice thing about this one is you can be less flexible and more picky. Spend more time perusing your hotels for the choicest selections. Free wi-fi, parking AND breakfast?! Of course you can. I still try to save some money, but I'm willing to spend more for worthwhile amenities. Key here is to spend within your budget but feel free to splurge a little when you deem it necessary.
The "Insiders" Disney Vacation
It was my 2nd time there and Han's first. We also did Universal Studios for 2 days at the end of it.
This time, we stayed at the Coronado Springs Resort
It is considered a Moderate resort on the Disney hotel scale, but if you wanted me to talk to you about staying at the $680 per night villa suites at The Grand Floridian, this wouldn't be me and this wouldn't be my blog. I appreciate that Disney has those options for those that can afford it. It's how they've been so successful all these years, but that is insane and completely unhelpful to the rest of the poor dreamers (like myself) reading this. I won't tantalize you with false hope that I was able to afford something like that.
Our resort was beautiful and we booked a "Water view King." The lucky break came when I had seen the "Free Deluxe Disney dining plan" when you book 3 nights promotion going around, but wasn't sure we could book it because we would be one day inside the black out for it. I called Disney and asked if we could still do it even though we were technically outside the date range by a day and they allowed it anyway.
Kudos Disney because that officially won me over to your side.
Resort: $1000 X 4 nights
Disney Deluxe Dining Plan: FREE with package purchase (normally ~$880)
Tickets: $630 (no park hopper for us)
Total about $2500 without paying for the dining plan. We absolutely loved the freedom the plan affords you and will probably purchase it in the future on our next trip for my 25th birthday!
If you include our bookings at Universal, our total was close to $4000 for our entire Honeymoon trip.
How you can do it: This trip was a result of incredible generosity shown by our wedding guests. We would not have been able to afford but half if they hadn't given us such amazing gifts. We also got really lucky with the dining plan. It's not pure luck,but you do have to be prepared to spend a lot at the Orlando resorts. It's possible to stay off site at Orlando, but the perks of getting free resort transportation are too good to pass up when it's 90 plus degrees outside.
I've been to a Disney park at least once a year since 2010 but we went many many times before that while growing up as well.
Check out these Disney Apps. The dining one is my personal favorite. Dining at Disney World is like a cut throat deal on the black market. You get in, you get the reservation and you hold onto it for dear life because about 50 people want that spot...and they're coming for you.
Disney Dining App
Cheaper hidden mickey app
Expensive Hidden Mickey App