Disclosure: Post contains affiliate links.
It is possible – honest it is! You can save some money on your Walt Disney World visits. I visit Walt Disney World Resort multiple times a year. Sometimes I treat myself and go full out deluxe. Sometimes I spend very little. Because I visit often, I do have an annual pass and park passes are a large portion of any visit to the happiest placed on earth. However, there are some legitimate ways to save a little bit on your tickets. And saving some on tickets, some on food, some on hotel stays – all adds up.
Take advantage of Disney promotions. Try to visit during a free dining promotion. This allows you to go on vacation and not pay for most of your food. All your food will be included. I do always recommend comparing your free dining package that requires a full priced room/ticket package to qualify against any room discounts that are available to see what will save you the most money. Some families are not big eaters so a discounted room and purchasing your own food may be a larger saving. You have to do the math.
The biggest money saver for me is my Target Red Debit Card. Head to your local Target (or Target.com) and get either a Target Red Card Credit Card or a Target Red Card Debit Card. I turn all of my Disney vacation money into Disney Gift Cards at Target using my Red Card and getting an automatic 5% savings. If you have to purchase two adult park hopper passes for four days – with tax – the cost is $839.22. Purchase $850 in Disney Gift Cards using your Target Red Card and you will only pay $807.50 for them. Use the Disney Gift Cards to purchase your park tickets and you have already started saving.
Now, imagine you book a package for your family of 4 (2 adults/2 children under 9) that totals $2,784.56. This package includes free dining, 5 nights in a moderate WDW resort and 4 day park hopper passes. TIP: Disney automatically includes 6 day park passes for a 5 night package. Change this selection to 4 day passes. I never include park passes for travel days. On arrival day – explore your resort. Head to Disney Springs for dinner. Relax by the pool. Anyway – all packages require a $200 deposit so you have a balance due of $2,584.56 which is due 30 days prior to arrival. Head to Target weekly or monthly turning your vacation funds into Disney Gift Cards using your Target Red Card, being sure to have your full amount due in Disney Gift Cards in time to make your final payment. Purchasing $2,800 in Disney Gift Cards using your Target Red Card will cost you $2,660. You have saved $140 and still have a few dollars left on your gift card and will eat for free under the free dining promotion. Just before leaving for WDW, I head to Target again to turn my spending money into Disney Gift Cards, again saving 5% on my allotted spending money.
Once you have your Disney Gift Cards at home, you can go to www.disneygiftcards.com and combine multiple cards onto one (up to $1,000) so you will only have a small number of gifts cards when it’s time to pay off your vacation.
When using your free dining – use it wisely. Free dining entitles you to one quick service meal, one table service meal and one snack per day (under the basic dining plan). Purchase your breakfast, use your quick service for lunch in the parks and table service for dinner. Breakfast items are the least expensive items to buy. Yogurt, cereal or fruit can also be ordered through a service like Garden Grocer and eaten in your room. Purchase non-perishable items like water, juice and snacks and then ship them to yourself at the hotel. Things you have purchased cheaply at your local grocery store. Call the resort for the correct address. Be sure your last name, reservation number and date of arrival are clearly marked on the carton and bell services will hold the box for your arrival for up to a week. When you arrive, call bell services and ask for your carton to be delivered to your room.
If it isn’t possible to travel under a free dining promotion, you can still visit WDW and save money. Always use the Target Red Card/Disney Gift Card process to automatically save 5%. Stay in one of Disney’s value resorts. Yes, the rooms are smaller, the beds are smaller. But so what! You are there to visit the parks. Chances are you will only head back to your room to sleep. They are clean. They are all themed in really cool and fun ways. If you drive into Orlando, bring a case of water that you buy at your local grocery store for $3 dollars for the entire case (the cost of one bottle on property) and take your own water into the parks. Same for soft drinks, juice and snacks. You can also include breakfast items to keep in your room. All quick service restaurants in the parks will also give you a cup of ice that you can fill with water for free. Just bring a re-fillable water bottle with you. You can also bring all your own snacks (and even sandwiches) into the parks with you.
A trip to a snack cart or shop at Disney can easily cost close to $10 for just a drink and one snack. Multiply that by your number of family members – multiply that by 2 or 3 snacks per day times the number of days you are there and you can easily save quite a bit of money by the end of your trip.
If not using the dining plan, I also order a kid’s meal for myself for lunch. The portions are large and include a drink, dessert and fruit. I rarely finish a kid’s meal lunch. A kid’s meal averages around $6. The same meal on the regular menu averages around $12 or $13 dollars.
Stay off property. Disney hotels are often two or three times more expensive than comparable hotels located just outside Disney’s property line. Most offer free shuttles to the parks. Or better yet, rent Disney Vacation Club points from a member. Davids DVC Rental is a reliable source and you will be surprised how much you can save. You can rent DVC points for a studio at Animal Kingdom Lodge for around $725 for 5 days/4 nights. The same unit through the Walt Disney World website would cost around $1,600 for 5 days/4 nights.
If you are on a budget, although it is always tempting to upgrade your park passes to park hopper tickets, don’t upgrade. It may not seem like a huge increase in cost but all the little savings add up. Will you really move from park to park each day? Depending on the size of your family, you may be able to save quite a bit by not purchasing the park hopper option. If there is a chance you won’t use it, don’t buy it. The park hopper option can add around $60 onto each ticket. For a family of 4 that’s about $240 extra dollars.
You can easily save on the kids wanting all those extra souvenirs. Walmart and Target both carry Disney licensed items. I usually purchase a few and bring them with me and give my granddaughter one each day. Four or five Disney items from Walmart very often cost less then one item in the parks. Set strict limits for souvenir purchases. Give each child their own Disney Gift Card (using the same Target 5% off method) with their spending cap for souvenirs.
Don’t pay for Memory Maker ($149 advance purchase/$169 if purchased upon arrival). While the Disney Photopass photographers are there to sell professional pictures, they’re happy to take a cell phone or camera picture with your equipment of your family when you ask.
If you really want the kids to experience a character meal – do it at breakfast. The breakfast character meals are often half the price of the lunch and dinners. Same characters!
How much you can save all depends on the compromises you are willing to make. Some families can save quite a bit while others think these tips won’t work for them. But overall, if you consistently save in each of these areas, you will end up saving several hundred dollars.