There is no doubt about it that a Walt Disney World vacation is pricey. When planning a Walt Disney World trip you can often feel like you have to save for years in order to do everything there is to do. Over the years I have come up with a few money saving tips to help with your vacation. After all, every penny counts!
Most importantly – know what you can afford. Don’t stay at a deluxe Disney resort if your budget is moderate or value. Don’t over-plan and include lots of extra add-ons that just keep raising your bill.
Purchase park passes for a small discount. There are several options for doing this. A few suggestions are Undercover Tourist, purchasing Disney Gift Cards at Target with your Red Card for a 5% discount and then using those gift cards to purchase your park passes, Costco and BJ’s – just to name a few. The small savings on one ticket may not seem like alot, but purchase for a family of 5 or 6 and the savings add up.
Skip the Park Hopper add on unless you know for sure you will be moving from park to park during the day. Moving from park to park with little ones can be a hassle and time consuming.
Skip the Water Parks add on unless you know you will be spending a day or two at one of the Disney water parks.
Don’t purchase park passes for arrival and departure day. This will save you the cost of 2 days on your pass. Use your arrival day to tour your resort and relax from your travels so you can start out fresh and ready to go the next morning. Add in a “FREE” day to your vacation and you will save the cost of 3 days on your passes.
Spend a FREE day. By including a “free” day in your vacation, you will require one less day of park passes. You can swim at your resort, spend the day strolling through Disney Springs, tour different Disney resorts or take a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) tour. If you take a DVC tour, you are usually gifted a small Disney gift card too!
Choose Disney’s Value Resorts. If you plan to stay in the parks from morning to night and simply need a pillow to place your head on at night, choose one of the value resorts that Disney offers. If your family is large, considering renting a condo or house nearby or staying at an off-site hotel in the area. If you rent a house you can share the cost with another family since most of the rentals in the area sleep 12 to 14 people.
If possible, drive instead of fly to Orlando. This isn’t possible for everyone but if it is – do it. The cost of flying for a family adds quite a bit onto your vacation bill. If you do fly, be sure to use Disney’s Magical Express (free for WDW resort guests) from the airport to your Disney resort.
Bring your own snacks – If you are able to drive to Orlando – bring snacks, water and/or breakfast foods. This will allow you to eat breakfast in your room and bring snacks into the parks with you each day. I find I save lots of money this way. I bring a case of water from Walmart (cost around $3 for the case) vs. buying bottled water in the parks for $3 each bottle.
I always bring cereal, some fruit and cookies as well. Purchasing snacks in the parks really adds up. Even if you fly to Orlando, you can order items from several places to be delivered to your resort.
Room Key Charging – DON’T DO IT! Yes, it’s convenient to purchase something in the parks and just swipe your Magic Band to pay. No need to carry credit cards. No need to carry I.D. However, you tend to forget how much you are spending – I know I do.
At the end of your trip you will be amazed at how many times you swiped that Magic Band and what those charges add up to. Set a strict spending budget either with cash or gift cards and stick to it.
Be flexible with your travel dates. Disney has different rates for different seasons. Compare different dates to see which time of year will be less expensive. They also offer discounts for certain dates. Plan your visits to fit in with one of the offered promotions.
Even after booking, continue to check for new discounts and call Disney reservations to see if it can be applied to your booking.
Disney Dining Plan – PASS. Unless you get it free under a promotion, don’t buy it. The cost will far exceed what you will spend on food unless your family eats a tremendous amount of food every day.
Buy Disney t-shirts at Walmart or Target before you arrive. Both Walmart and Target carry official Disney merchandise. You can outfit the entire family in matching t-shirts for a fraction of the cost of paying t-shirts at Walt Disney World.
Buy Disney trinkets, stuffed animals and toys at Walt or Target before you arrive. I usually buy four or five items before going. I take them with me and give them to my grandchildren in the evening in the room. Or, surprise the kids by leaving one or two items out in the room when you leave in the morning for the kids to find when you return from the parks later that day.
Bring your own rain ponchos. It rains almost every day for a little while in the summer. Bring your own rain ponchos from home. You can purchase them in one of the many dollar stores very inexpensively. The Disney rain ponchos cost much, much more.
Don’t over-eat and over spend! Because many of the food items at Disney are large, I tend to waste food and money if I order a regular meal at one of the quick service locations.
To solve this problem, I often order a kids meal for myself or share the adult meal with another family member.
Skip the extras. If you are visiting for the first time I’m sure you want to try everything. Even without the extras, Disney will still be special and a memorable vacation. Don’t feel you have to add on all sort of extra activities and events just because everyone in your Disney Facebook group says you just HAVE TO DO IT. If your kids are too small or not interested – don’t add on the water park portion to your park pass.
The Memory Maker add on isn’t necessary. All PhotoPass photographers will take a picture of your family with your phone/camera. All you have to do is ask. No need to take a fireworks cruise. You can see the fireworks from many places for free. Just look up! If you add several extras onto your trip you can easily add on a thousand dollars to your costs.
Refillable Mug is nice if you get it free with a free Disney Dining Plan. If you have to pay for it – PASS. The refillable mug is only usable to refill at your resort. You can’t refill it in the parks so unless you plan to stay and eat/drink at your hotel all day, don’t waste your money.
Choose your character meals wisely. Breakfast and lunch with the characters is usually less expensive than dinner with the characters. Same characters. If you really want to add on a character meal, make it breakfast rather than dinner.
Get two meals in one. Most of the character meals are buffet style. Plan your breakfast with Mickey for one of the latest breakfast slots. This will allow you to eat enough to cover both breakfast and lunch. You may just need a snack mid-afternoon. You can use the same system for a character dinner. Choose the earliest time slot and use the meal as a late lunch/early dinner.
Eat inexpensively in Epcot World Showcase. Many of the kiosks spread out throughout the countries over small, tasty items for just a few dollars. The portions are more than enough for lunch and at a fraction of the cost of visiting a quick service or table service restaurant in the park.
Set a souvenir budget. Give each child a Disney gift card with a certain amount on it. When that amount is gone. No more souvenirs. Let the kids earn their souvenir money before your trip and spend their own cash – it’s amazing how few things they really NEED when paying for it themselves.
None of these tips individually will save you lots of money. But add them all together and you will definitely save quite a bit.
EXTRA TIP: Do you want to go to Walt Disney World but are having a hard time saving. Did you know that Get Away Today has a layaway program? The agency always has a deal of some sort that will save you money but you can use their layaway program and pay installments on your vacation. The Layaway Plan from Get Away Today lets you pay just a $125 deposit to lock-in your price, make payments and have your final payment made 15 days before travel. It’s incredibly flexible.