Are you planning a Disney vacation with your family in the future? Come get my favorite tips and tricks from our own Disney World holiday that saved us lots of time and money!
Disneyland and Disney World may well be the happiest places on earth, but they’re certainly not the cheapest. Don’t fret—you can plan a vacation that the whole family will love even if you’re on a tight budget. Here are 18 clever tips for visiting Disney (World or Land) without breaking the bank. (No wishing upon a star required.)
1. Buy Discount Disney Tickets.
Did you know that there are several authorized resellers that sell the very same Disney park tickets that Disney sells, but at a discount? These tickets carry the same perks and access that you would have if you purchased from Disney itself.
2. Think Twice Before Getting The Disney Dining Plan
The Disney Dining Plan has its pros and cons. On the plus side, you know what you’ll be spending on food well ahead of time and can budget for that in advance with no surprises. For those who love to indulge in multi-course, table-service meals or lots of character meals on their trip, the meal plan can make a lot of sense.
But, for many families, particularly those with young children (or grown-ups) who are picky or light eaters, the meal plan is simply too much food, and you end up paying more than you would by just choosing what you want to eat and paying as you go. Worth noting is a relatively recent update to the dining plan—the inclusion of an alcoholic drink with each meal. If you like to have an adult beverage with your meal (you are on vacation after all), this can make the dining plan significantly more cost-effective.
3. Skip The Disney Hotels
Sure, the park resorts are pretty magical but their prices are anything but. Save money by opting for a hotel or apartment within walking distance of the park—or one with a free shuttle (more on that later). The Hilton Garden Inn, for example, is just 1.5 miles away from Disney World resorts and offers free Wi-Fi and free shuttles to the parks, starting from just $98/night for a family of four.
4. Use Undercover Tourist For A Discount
One of the most beloved options for travelers going to Disney World is the Undercover Tourist ticket broker. Huge Disney World fans that make multiple trips per year vouch for this service is a helpful asset to find the cheapest prices.
Undercover Tourist frequently lists sales for discounted Disney World tickets. Other fun things to do in the area will also be shown on the site if you’re looking to add variety to your trip. It is worth checking out before planning a trip to score out which deals are out there for you. Undercover Tourist has been helping travelers for years and should be remembered.
5. Make A Game Plan
You’re more likely to make costly mistakes when you’re stressed. Get the most out of your trip and keep your budget in check by coming up with a (rough) schedule. Remember to take advantage of Fast Pass+ reservations that will allow you to book those can’t-miss rides (ahem, Splash Mountain) beforehand.
6. Buy Memory Maker
This one will cost you up front, but in the long run, could save you time and money. Disney has official Disney PhotoPass photographers stationed throughout the parks at key photo-op and character meeting spots. Purchase Memory Maker and you’ll get unlimited hi-res downloads of all the professional-quality photos you can possibly pause for on your trip, plus awesome souvenir photos from many of the rides.
You’ll save so much time and hassle not having to pull out your phone to take selfies or ask strangers to snap a pic of your group, plus your photos will be way better than any you’d take yourself. Do it right and you can skip the annual family portrait session for your holiday cards—you’ll come home with more professional photos than you know what to do with. To take the portrait sesh to the next level, head to the Disney PhotoPass Service Studio at Disney Springs and choose from a range of backdrops and props for your own personal photo shoot.
7. Kids Under 3 Get Free Admission
Families are the biggest source of travelers that make their way to Disney World. It is considered a dream vacation for parents to take their children for a memorable time. Children of all ages will enjoy Disney World given the variety of fun activities there.
One clutch rule that helps families save money is free admission to any child under the age of 3-years-old. As long as your child has yet to reach their third birthday, they will be allowed free entrance into Disney World. This is ideal for families with multiple children as one kid getting free access is a lot of money saved.
8. Bring Your Own Stroller.
Stroller rentals are pricey (approximately $15/day) and there’s no guarantee that there’ll be one available for your little prince or princess. Skip the hassle and the extra cost by bringing your own—just make sure that it fits Disney’s size parameters (no larger than 36 inches by 52 inches) and think about tying a bright ribbon around it so that you can easily find it in a sea of other strollers.
9. Buy Groceries For The Room
This is one of the easiest ways to reduce your daily spend, no matter the size of your room. If you’re staying in a Disney Vacation Club villa (pictured), timeshare, Airbnb or another rental with a kitchen, buying groceries and cooking some of your meals in the room can be a great way to slash your dining expenses. If you have access to a car, there are several nearby grocery stores. If not, Amazon Prime, Instacart, and several local options will all deliver groceries to you.
Note: Disney resorts have recently added a $6 charge to have groceries delivered to your room by Bell Services at your resort. To avoid this charge, you can meet your grocery delivery person and bring them to your room yourself.
Staying in a traditional hotel room and don’t have the means to cook? You can still get the basics, like cereal and milk for breakfast; PB&J, cold cuts and bread for lunch; granola bars and other grab-and-go snacks; and even a bottle of wine or two for grown-ups to enjoy after the kids go to bed. Not only will you save quite a bit of money when you replace a meal or snack with your groceries, but you’ll also save time by not having to waste precious minutes in the parks standing in line for a snack or sitting down for a meal.
10. Save Money On Parking
Depending on where you’re staying, you could save a serious chunk of change by leaving your car at home. Lots of hotels offer free shuttles to and from the park, and there are plenty of other transportation options that don’t involve spending $20 to $40 per day on parking. Phew.
11. Go During Low Season
Most people go to Disney World during the summer months because of the convenience. Kids get the summer off from school, and it is typically easier for many adults to get time off for a family vacation. However, it could save money to go during one of the least busy months.
January, September, and October are considered the most ideal times to visit. The crowds will be smaller, certain items will be cheaper, and the weather will be cooler. Finding a free weekend in one of the three ideal months could lead to a better overall time for anyone going to Disney World. If you live in Florida, there’s no excuse to not go during these months.
12. Plan A Resort Day
Disney resort hotels are so immersively themed and have such fabulous pools, restaurants, and recreation activities that they could all be destinations in their own right. Shave a day or two off the cost of your park tickets by designating “resort days” during your trip. Hit the pool (Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club pool, pictured, is a fan favorite), explore your resort, search for hidden Mickeys, and play games and do activities in your hotel’s Community Hall. Many Disney regulars enjoy their resort time so much that they’ll occasionally take entire trips where they never set foot in a park!
13. Buy Discounted Disney Gift Cards.
You can use Disney gift cards for nearly all of your expenses at Disney, including paying a vacation package before your trip. Getting those cards at a discount means you’ll save on nearly everything. There are a number of ways to get them: eBay, Gift Card Granny, Sam’s Club, or even grocery stores if you have a credit card that offers 5% cash back on grocery purchases. My personal favorite is getting cards at Target using the Target RedCard which offers 5% off Target purchases.
14. Spend A Day Doing Non-Park Activities.
There is a lot to do outside the parks, so save on a day of tickets by taking a theme park break. Instead, spend a day lounging by the pool, schedule a character meal at a non-park location, or explore Disney Springs (Downtown Disney at Disneyland).
15. Rental Cars Are Typically Cheaper Than General Disney Transportation
Transportation is another thing worth saving money on when it comes to the overall planning of a Disney World trip. Many people rely on the convenience of Disney transportation, but rental cars will save you more money in the long run. It is significantly faster to use the rental car to get around the locations you want to during a trip. If you are using Airbnb or a hotel away from the Disney property, a rental car is clearly the best bet. Research each option available to find the best overall deal to get around Orlando for your big vacation.
16. Souvenir Shop Before Your Trip.
Disney licensed products can be found everywhere these days. Consider purchasing items like t-shirts, autograph books, and trinkets beforehand for a cheaper price. In my family, “Tinkerbell” brings each child a small gift each night we stay at Disney (usually purchased at Target for $1 apiece). This strategy drastically reduces the whining for pricey park souvenirs throughout the day.
17. Find Affordable Restaurants Before And After
Eating is the easiest way to save money on a Disney World trip. Many travelers get suckered into eating at the fun restaurants associated with Disney. While fun, these places are significantly overpriced and will destroy your wallet if going for the expensive options.
The best bet for anyone going to Disney World looking to not spend too much would be eating before and after the day at the park. Try to have large enough meals in between the park visit to ensure you can avoid overpaying for food at Disney World. Use websites like Yelp to find the best affordable restaurants in the area.
18. Bring Your Own Parks Gear.
Any essentials you need to buy at the parks will cost more than they will back home. Pack these if you can: ponchos, baby supplies, and even little extras like glow necklaces. Of course, if you are flying and suitcase space is at a premium, choose carefully!