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Avoid Mickey: More fun for less money

Disneyland ups the cost of a single-day ticket to nearly $100. That's just to walk in. A SoCal native tells you where to spend your money instead.

By MSN Money Partner Jun 4, 2013 6:09PM
This post is by Julie Tilsner, an editor at Smart Spending.

When Disneyland raised the price of a single-entry ticket to the Happiest Place on Earth last week to a staggering $92 a pop, I knew I'd probably never go the the Magic Kingdom again. Ever. And my kids agree with me.

Family of three loading car with luggage, low angle view © Juice Images, Cultura, Getty ImagesI say this as someone born and raised within 30 miles of Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. Some of my earliest memories involve the theme park (like my terror as a 3-year-old on the Pirates of the Caribbean, despite my parents' reassurance that it was all just pretend ... or spending most of the day playing with friends blissfully unsupervised on Tom Sawyer's island as an 8-year-old).

Good times. But then in the mid-'70s it cost only $5.50 or so for a book of A-E tickets, that gained you entry into the park and onto the most thrilling attractions.

The coveted E-ticket is a thing of the past. And today it will cost a family of four nearly $400 just to walk in the gate.

A daylong trip for you, your partner, and two kids can easily end up pushing $800 (especially if you plan on eating or buying the obligatory T-shirt or mouse ears).

That's way too much money for anyone. At these prices Disneyland stops being a family destination and starts being an obscene corporate joke on us. I say enough. There are dozens of ways you can spend a fun day in Southern California with the kids and not spend even half that amount.  Plus you'll miss the teeming throngs and long lines for everything from rides to food to the bathroom.

On your next visit, consider these fun and nearly free alternatives to the House of Mouse:

Balboa Park - San Diego's sprawling answer to Central Park. Most of the attractions, parks and museums contained within are free or carry a nominal charge. Most weekends there are international food vendors. Next door is the world-famous San Diego Zoo, another world-class family destination that's a vastly better value for visitors (a two-day adult pass is only $79, for example).

Getty Museum
- Up the road in Santa Monica. Parking costs $15. Everything else on this exquisite campus is free, (except for food, of course). World class exhibits, family-activities, music, and a giant grassy hill the kids are free to roll down as much as they want make this an affordable cultural experience that puts the Mouse to shame. If you plan ahead, you can visit the Getty Villa just up the road in Malibu for the price of one parking fee.

Crystal Cove - Yes, the beach. You're in Southern California, after all. The beach is what we specialize in. Parking is $10. Otherwise, free. With the hundreds of dollars you're saving by not going to Disneyland, buy yourself a cheap cooler and stock it full of picnic goodies and cold drinks. And get a beach umbrella, and buy the kids some beach toys while you're at it. And treat yourself to a dinner afterward. You can afford it! This unspoiled stretch of beach includes tide pools and hikes. Family friendly fun for a fraction of the cost and hassle.

Aquarium of the Pacific -- based in Long Beach, a world-class aquarium with petting tanks (pet the manta rays!), cool exhibits, outdoor shows and a family-oriented cafe, it's $26 for adults and $15 for kids 3-11. You can add a whale-watching cruise to the admission price and it's still only $60 per adult. What will you miss? Long lines, impenetrable crowds and a chance to take a photo with a princess. Take a photo with a shark or a Nemo fish instead . . . .

Santa Monica - Rent beach cruisers for whole day and bike up and down Santa Monica and Venice Beach. All day rental at Perry's CafeBeach Rentals is $30 . . . so the cost of bikes for a family of four is $120. That's a little more than ONE ticket to Disneyland.

Griffith Park Observatory - Recently-rehabbed art deco building atop Griffith Park on Mount Hollywood, guaranteed to astonish the kids with science and space exhibits and you with great views of Los Angeles -- for FREE! Drive down the hill into Los Feliz and grab lunch at any number of taquerias, where you'll get twice the food for half the price as you would at Disneyland. Three times as delicioso as well. (oh yeah, we have a zoo up here, too!)

Downtown Disney -- OK so the kids just won't stop whining until they get their Disney Fix? Visit Downtown Disney, an array of shops like Build-a-Bear and outdoor cafes and entertainment. Best of all, the parking is next door, and free. A Disney-themed experience without the high ticket price or madding crowds.

Got any favorite alternatives to Disneyland? Share them in the comments below.

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Jun 4, 2013 10:39PM
Considering all the knocks MSN Money has gotten (from readers' comments) over the years with their inane articles, THIS ONE IS TRULY A GOOD ARTICLE, and I applaud Julie Tilsner with writing this article and MSN Money to publish it here.
Considering the financial clout Disney has in the commerce world, it took a bit of courage to brazenly write and publish an article to encourage its readers to ditch the Disney parks and check out other entertainment fares.
Well done! Julie!    =D> (applause)  And Thank you MSN Money!
Jun 4, 2013 10:36PM
I agree 100% with this article. Disney is just all about greed and pushiung out the middle America with their rising prices. Goodbye Disney. I won't mis you.
Jun 4, 2013 11:55PM
Like this writer, I grew up near Disney and clearly remember as a 15-18 year old paying $18.00 to get into Disneyland during the late 70s early 80s. It MIGHT have been worth $100 for example if they so severely limited guests that there were basically no lines and you could spend the day on rides - instead of in a marathon of hour long lines! This $100 a day really is a joke - I will NEVER take my family there just on principle alone at this stage. 
Jun 4, 2013 11:53PM

Think about the money Disney Inc. is making off the seniors that pay an entrace fee, but because of their age can't go on the rides.

 Disney should figure a way the eldely can get a reduced price to enter the park while they enjoy seeing their grandkids experience the park/s. 

Jun 4, 2013 9:21PM
It is time to get out the mouse trap and put a end to this
Jun 4, 2013 7:17PM
How about Knott's or Magic Mountain or Universal Studios. Buy your tixs online and save $$. Another option would be to take the kids fishing.
How about visiting State or National Parks ? The ticket for a day (or more) could be $25 at most for a carload, and get to see natural beauty that can be great memories for all ages.  
Jun 4, 2013 8:33PM
On-line tickets for Knott's are under $40 each. It's smaller and easier to walk with kids, has better rides, and long lines won't ruin your day as they do at Disney. Then, before you go home, you can watch the Disney fireworks from the Knott's parking lot.

My nephew loves Legoland in Carlsbad. For $99 you can get a ticket that is good for Legoland, SeaWorld, and Legoland Water Park; that's admission into three resorts for the same price as a single Disney day.
Jun 4, 2013 10:58PM
The writer doesn't mention parking if you go for a day.  15 dollars at Walt Disney World and 16 bucks at Disneyland... JUST TO PARK YOUR CAR! !!!!   I agree that this is now a travesty, and Disney on both coasts should be boycotted.  Poor families having to shell out this kind of money for a little fun is totally obscene.  Disney brass should be ashamed of themselves.  If you love Southern California, go to the beach.. enjoy the ocean and the sun.  If you want a great part, visit Knott's Berry Farm, Universal studios, or take in a baseball game.  That's only scratching the surface... Screw the "rat."  Maybe then they'll get the message.
Jun 5, 2013 7:11AM

I’ll always remember the time my nephew visited when he was four years old. My wife and sister in law spent two days and about $900 on him and his sister on a Broadway show, a restaurant dinner, the mall, etc., etc. The day they were ready to leave I asked him what his favorite part of the visit was. He told me it was playing with the frog in our back yard pond. No one even knew he had done it.

Jun 4, 2013 11:20PM
I don't go to Disneyland, pro or college sports games, rock concerts, subscribe to satellite tv, and on and on because they've priced themselves out. Though I probably wouldn't go anyway because of the hassle, parking, crowding, overpriced bad food, and so on. There are so many other more enjoyable, more real, and nearly free things to do.    
Jun 4, 2013 11:15PM
Wow I think I'll save my $400.00 and spend a few nights at great America! Sorry Disney my kid doesn't like you that much and neither do I!
Jun 4, 2013 8:40PM
We've been to both Disneyland and Disney World.
In our opinion, Disneyland isn't worth the time or trouble.
Disney World is much, much better.

Jun 4, 2013 10:11PM
Consider: We can (the three of us) go to Disneyland for the day at a cost of a little over $400, where we can go on about a dozen event rides. Or, we can purchase an iPad for $400 and the three of us can use it a dozen or more times a day for a year or more.  

Also, we are taking a 3 day trip to Vegas later this year, where the room will cost us about $350 for the three days.  If you compare the cost for the souvenirs, meals, parking, and snacks between Disney and the Vegas trip, you should find it to be a wash out between a day at Disneyland versus the three days in Vegas.  You do the math, but it appears that the Disney Park Adventure looses its sparkle whet its price tag is about three times the cost of different adventures.
Maybe we can start a blog where everyone compares the cost of a family of three making a day trip at Disneyland and the same dollars at another venue.  We will get a bunch of prospects for short summer trips, that only costs the same as a day at the "happiest place on earth"!
Jun 4, 2013 9:41PM
I remember the park in the 60's during our junior and senior years we'd go there pay about $6 to enter and go to the Carnation Palace where they had a good band on weekends and we'd dance until they closed. Great times,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
Jun 5, 2013 2:10AM

How about the wild animal parks?

Many great beaches.

I was at Disneyland in the 60's, still had long lines.

Free parking and 6 bucks to get in with the books.

Prices are up about 10 times since then.

Disney is up over 15 times.


Jun 4, 2013 10:17PM
Sweety, do the math, attending four movies would cost $28, and about 12 hours of sitting time.  In the 12 hours at Disneyland you might go on 12 rides, and stand in line for 6 of those hours!  That's unless you ride the "tea cups" or "toon town coaster"!
Jun 5, 2013 9:17AM

Everyone expects Disney to constantly push the envelope when it comes to new rides, technologies, entertainment, cleanliness, etc. Disney is the standard by which all other theme parks are judged. However, people complain when they have to adjust their pricing to pay for these things. The new price increase is only $5-$6 more than last year.


When is the last time any of you have priced taking a family of 4 to a major college football game? Here in SEC country the nosebleed seats at most stadiums run $40-$60/person, add another $20-$30 for parking anywhere within reasonable walking distance, $40-$50 for hotdogs, drinks and some snacks, all for the privilege of sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with 80,000+ other diehard fans, usually in extremely hot and humid or freezing weather, all for 3-4 hours of entertainment.


Like pro football?  add another $200-$300 to this price range, all for the same type of experience.


Yes, these items include food and parking, but you basically spend 2 hours getting to/from the game, in bumper to bumper traffic, to sit for 3-4 hours to view a game that's technically only 60 minutes of play time. You have the same crowd issues to contend with as a Disney park during peak times.


With Disney you get 4-5 times as many hours of entertainment for roughly the same cost. Also, most folks spend multiple days at the Disney resorts, particularly Disney World given its size and number of parks. Once you get past a 1-2 day ticket the price per day dramatically drops off, a 5 day ticket averages out to around $58/day, a 7 day ticket averages out to $44/day, etc. If anything I think Disney is signaling that they want to decrease the number of locals visiting the parks by pricing the 1 and 2 day tickets so high. Maybe this is their new back-door strategy for decreasing crowd levels. They have always coveted the week long vacationers and try everything in their might to keep those folks on property and spending money.

Jun 4, 2013 11:11PM
The Huntington Library in Pasadena would be a good place to check out. 
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