It may seem impossible, but you really CAN have a budget-friendly Disney vacation. There are no real ifs, ands or buts about it: Planning a trip to Walt Disney World is expensive. Everything from traveling to Orlando to booking a hotel room to buying the park tickets is costly, and the prices are only rising each and every year. For some, it may almost seem like that dream vacation to see Mickey Mouse and ride Space Mountain over and over again is unattainable. Despite the price tag of a weeklong hotel stay in the Orlando area and park admission, a Disney vacation doesn’t have to break the bank — and you can still have the family trip of a lifetime. All it takes is a little extra time, careful planning and some insider tips for saving money.
There’s a lot that goes into knowing how to plan a Walt Disney World vacation, from where to stay to where to eat and what to do. The best thing you can do to save money? Book early. Not only will this give you more time to strategize and plan, but it will also give you time to save money.
Use a travel agent
Travel agents may seem old-school, but travel agents have secrets that will save you money and get you special deals. The best part? Most of the time, Disney is the one who pays travel agents, not you! So not only will a travel agent make planning your trip easier, it won’t even cost you a dime!
Join Walt Disney World forums
You know who has the best insight on saving big dollars at Walt Disney World? Fellow travelers and Disney fanatics. Joining an online message board, such as Disboards or WDW Magic, can give you valuable insight on the best times to go, deals you may not hear about elsewhere and tips and tricks for making the most of your money and time.
Sign up for Disney emails
When Walt Disney World runs a special deal on room rates, park tickets or dining, subscribers to their emails are the first to know. Keeping your eyes and ears to the ground can help you nab those deals before anyone else has even heard of them.
Go during off-peak periods
Most Disney fans will tell you there is no true off season anymore, and while that is more or less true, there are still times when it is less expensive to fly to and stay in Orlando. Flying in on a Monday morning during spring break and leaving the following Sunday afternoon, is not how to book a cheap flight! Walt Disney World has also changed their ticket prices so they vary from day to day. Check the price calendar before you go. Going to the parks during the last week of August instead of during peak summer break, for instance, will amount to instant savings.
Stay off site
It’s tempting to stay at a Walt Disney World resort. They’re right on the property, are brilliantly themed, and can be easier to maneuver through. But these hotels come at a premium price. Even the so-called “value” resorts will start at $100 a night. You can find good neighboring hotels and AirBnBs in the area for considerably less.
…Or on site
Wait! Didn’t we literally just tell you to stay off site? While staying in the Disney Springs area or in greater Orlando can save you money, there are a lot of things to consider. Staying at a Walt Disney World resort gives you free shuttle service to and from the airport, free transportation to the parks, and free parking should you choose to drive. The price of taxis to and from the airport and parking at the theme parks is something to be considered when planning your trip. Lodging is one of the biggest Disney vacation expenses; spend a lot of time considering what’s best for you and your family.
Buy Disney gift cards at Target
If you have a Target RedCard, you save 5 percent on all purchases made at the store — and that includes Disney gift cards, which are good for park tickets, resort stays, food and souvenirs. That means you can get $100 worth of Disney vacation for $95. The savings are modest, but every penny counts! Plus, paying for your vacation this way allows you to spread out when you spend the money over a long period of time instead of dropping a few thousand dollars at once.
Open a Disney Chase Visa card
If you’re a big Disney vacationer, opening a Disney Visa credit card can save you money. Cardmembers get discounts on merchandise, select dining locations and select guided tours.
Consider becoming an Annual Passholder or Disney Vacation Club member
It may seem counterintuitive to become an annual passholder or DVC member, because the upfront costs are huge. But if you and your family are frequent Disney vacationers, it could be worth it. Passholders and DVC members get free Memory Maker access and discounts on dining, merchandise, special events and select resort activities.
Go before your children turn 3
Children under the age of 3 get into the parks for free, so book a family trip right before that third birthday. Not only will your toddler love seeing Cinderella in real life and riding It’s A Small World, but you’ll save all that money on their park tickets.
Check whether you’re eligible for discounted tickets from Disney
Disney also offers discounts for members of the military, AAA members, AARP members and Florida residents. Before you buy your park tickets, make sure you check out all of your options.
Buy tickets from reputable discount sellers
Park tickets are a huge expense, so before you buy them directly from Disney, shop around. Websites like Undercover Tourist and Working Advantage offer tickets for cheaper (because they buy them in bulk). This can lead to sizable savings.
Buy multi-day tickets
Single-day admission to the theme parks can be costly. A ticket to Magic Kingdom starts at $109 and can cost as much as $159 during the busiest time of year. However, if you buy all of your theme park tickets at once, costs start to decrease. On Disney’s website, two park days start at $107 per day, three days starts at $104, and so on. If you know you’re going to be on property for a while, buy accordingly.
Skip Park Hoppers
Park Hoppers, which give you the ability to go to more than one park per day on a single ticket, can really increase the cost of admission. That $109 starting price for one park per day jumps up to $169 per day when you add Park Hopper. If you plan carefully, you can easily forego this option and rack up massive savings.
Attend after-hours parties and events
Throughout the year, Disney has special event parties after the parks have technically closed for the day. These include Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party as well as after-hours parties at Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom. These parties come at an extra cost (starting at $80 for the holiday parties and $125 for the after-hours events), but if you take a day off your base park ticket and attend one of these, modest savings can be had. What you will absolutely get more of, though, is value for your dollar. Sure, you’re paying $125 to go to the parks from 7:30 to 11:30, but access during this time is extremely limited. Enjoy walking right on to Flights of Passage, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad or Tower of Terror instead of waiting over two hours in line for these experiences.
Spend a day outside the parks
Walt Disney World Resort offers a ton beyond the gates. Consider taking a day off your theme park pass and spend the time browsing the shops at Disney Springs, resort hopping or enjoying the amenities and pool at your own hotel. Honestly, spending your entire visit in the theme parks is doing yourself a major disservice. There are so many amazing and fun things to do at Disney without a park ticket.
Bring your own strollers and scooters
Renting a stroller at Disney World starts at $15 per day; double strollers cost $31 per day. If you pack your own stroller, you won’t have to spend that money (or risk confusing your stroller for someone else’s). Similarly, if you have mobility issues and require a scooter, try to bring your own. Renting an electric conveyance vehicle from Disney costs $50 a day and requires a $20 deposit. That’s a pretty steep price.
Pack everything you need
Make sure you pack every little thing you need for your Disney vacation. If you forget sunscreen, a pair of socks or a toothbrush, you’ll have to buy it at your resort, and those small, easily forgotten items don’t come cheap.
Make your own autograph book
One of the greatest joys of visiting Walt Disney World is meeting the characters (especially for young children). Instead of spending $15 on an autograph book at the parks, make your own before you go. It will cost you a fraction of the price, and your child will still get that much-coveted signature from Winnie the Pooh.
Buy souvenirs before you go
An autograph book isn’t the only souvenir you can buy before you even get to Orlando. Your kids won’t know if that Mickey Mouse plush you bought was from the Magic Kingdom or Target. Shop at the dollar store and big retailers during sales for Disney-themed trinkets. Give them to your children throughout the week. It’ll be just as if you bought them at the parks!
Ditch Memory Maker
It’s tempting to buy Disney’s Memory Maker in order to get high-quality photos from Walt Disney World, but think before you pay out that $199. You can still use the official Disney photographers to get that Instagrammable shot in front of Spaceship Earth — just hand them your camera.
Get your Disney shirts elsewhere
You don’t have to spend $40 for a T-shirt with Tinkerbell on it. Head to Uniqlo for high-quality, comfortable Disney-themed T-shirts. If you forget to buy them before you head to Orlando, don’t worry! There’s a store in Disney Springs with dozens of cute and uncommon Disney-themed shirts, and most only cost $15! Disney also licenses their characters to tons of budget-friendly clothing retailers. You can find adorable Disney shirts at Walmart, Target or Amazon with ease.
Use the shuttle bus service
If you’re staying on property, skip Ubers and taxis and take advantage of Disney’s shuttle bus service to get to the parks and around property. Disney will even pick you up and take you to the Orlando airport on Disney’s Magical Express, and that amounts to huge savings. If you’re staying off-site, check to see if your Orlando resort has buses to Disney parks. Chances are, they do. And this can save you a ton on parking.
Take advantage of free souvenirs at the parks
They say nothing is free at Disney parks, but actually, some things are. The park has a few fun and free tokens you can get, such as Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom cards from Main Street U.S.A., celebration pins all throughout the parks, maps from the theme parks and water parks, and stickers from cast members.
And take advantage of free (or cheap) activities around the resort
If you want to keep yourself entertained but stay on a budget, there are an endless number of things you can do both inside and outside the parks that will make your trip extra magical and won’t cost an extra dime. Take a free tour of a resort (offered at Animal Kingdom Lodge, BoardWalk Inn, Wilderness Lodge, Grand Floridian and Yacht Club), take a sketching class at Art of Animation or ride a boat around the Seven Seas Lagoon. At the parks, an activity like the Jedi Training at Hollywood Studios feels exclusive, but is actually free for children ages 4 to 12.
Go for cheaper souvenirs if you’re buying at the parks
You don’t have to buy a $60 spirit jersey or a $25 stuffed Goofy to remember your Disney vacation. There are plenty of affordable, fun souvenir options available at the parks. Trading pins, mugs, keychains, magnets, figurines and small plushes can all cost less than $10 and are fun mementos.
Forget the Disney Dining Plan
It may be tempting to get the Disney Dining Plan; it seems like a good deal and it can make budgeting easier. However, on the standard dining plan ($75.49 a day), an adult guest will get one counter-service meal, one table-service meal and two snacks a day. This is a ton of food. Many guests have a problem eating this much per day while also riding rides, watching parades and meeting Disney characters. Forego this plan and eat at your own pace. You’ll likely end up spending less per day.
Get groceries delivered to your hotel
Packing food and drink in your luggage can be a pain (and take up valuable suitcase space). Get groceries delivered to your resort using services like Amazon Prime, Instacart or Garden Grocer. These grocery delivery services can bring snacks and bottles of water right to your hotel room door for cheap.
Drink coffee from your room
You need your morning caffeine fix. We get it. Before you run to the food court to buy a $3 coffee or head to a Starbucks in the parks, stop! Most Disney resort rooms (and other hotels) have coffee makers and complimentary coffee in the room. Have a cup of java before you leave to save.
Consider refillable resort mugs and popcorn buckets
If you’re staying on property and expect to drink a lot of soda, tea or coffee, consider buying a refillable resort mug. For $18.99, you can have unlimited refills on beverages from self-service beverage locations at Disney hotels throughout your entire stay. Similarly, if you and your family are big snackers, you can buy a refillable souvenir popcorn bucket. The buckets cost about $10 and refills cost $1.50. For a family, that’s a real budget-friendly way to have a quick afternoon bite! As a bonus, after your trip, a refillable bucket or mug is a great souvenir.
Bring your own food
Did you know that Disney allows you to bring food in to the parks? While they won’t allow big coolers in the park, you can bring anything edible that does not need to be heated in to the parks. The only exceptions are alcohol and things in glass containers (except baby food). Packing sandwiches and snacks and having a picnic in a quiet corner of the park can save you big bucks. If you’re not in to that, at least eating breakfast in your room before you head out for the day can amount to reasonable savings.
Bring your own water bottle
Disney can charge up to $4 for a bottle of water, and in the Florida heat, the price of buying water can add up fast. Instead, bring your own refillable water bottle and take advantage of the many water fountains across the park.
Get free ice water
A Disney park hack only insiders know? Every quick service location at Walt Disney World has cups of ice water available for guests? And trust us, when you’re walking 10 miles a day around the parks, you’ll need plenty of cold H2O to stay hydrated.
Snack around the park
Some of Walt Disney World’s most iconic foods, such as Mickey pretzels, popcorn, Dole Whip and Mickey ice cream bars, are cheap eats options, perfect for a quick bite between rides on Space Mountain. Snack your way around the world for lunch instead of eating at a restaurant. You’ll have some truly great eats and save along the way.
Eat at quick service restaurants
You may think you need to eat at California Grill, Be Our Guest, or Le Cellier to get the best food at Disney World and world-class theming, but you would be wrong! Reasonably-priced quick service restaurants such as Satu’li Canteen, ABC Commissary, Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Cafe and Sunshine Seasons have some truly irresistible (and affordable) offerings. These restaurants also offer the healthiest dining options at the parks.
Budget your time well
They say time is money, right? Making the most of this proverbial money at Walt Disney World can help you save your actual cash, so make a good, solid touring plan. Good touring plans including making the most out of Fastpass+, heading to the parks at rope drop, prioritizing what you want to do and knowing how to be flexible. If you’re waiting 90 minutes to meet Mickey Mouse or four hours for Flight of Passage, you might be doing something wrong (and you’re wasting precious hours and dollars). And wasting time while you’re at the parks is one of the big things NOT to do on a Disney vacation.
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