Known as the most magical places on earth, Disney’s resorts can easily become some of the most expensive, too. On the other hand, visiting one with your family may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and is worth saving up for.
As a rough guide, you can figure on admission costing $100 a day per person, not including lodging, food, and drink to the tune of another $200 or so. Throw in extra activities, transport, and a few mementos, and the total bill for your vacation can easily run to several thousand dollars.
Don’t be discouraged, though: you can shave several hundred off that figure using these Disney World money-saving tips. With a little bit of planning, you may well be able to stay an extra day for the same price, cram in a few more events, or be able to make the trip sooner than you think. Right now, with tourist facilities still on the ropes after the pandemic, there are many opportunities to save money at Disneyworld if you know where to look – so, what are you waiting for?
Table of Contents
- 0.1 Start by Bringing the Right Attitude
- 0.2 Take a Backpack
- 0.3 Draw up a Budget (and Ask Your Kids to Do the Same)
- 0.4 Use the Right Credit Card
- 0.5 Check Out Disney’s Vacation Packages First
- 0.6 Be Smart About Choosing Where to Stay
- 0.7 Timing Is Everything
- 0.8 Schedule One Park per Day
- 0.9 Watch Out for Those Extras
- 0.10 Research Cheap Activities Unique to a Disney Vacation
- 0.11 Make Use of Free Amenities
- 0.12 Consider Joining the Disney Vacation Club
- 0.13 Eat Out for Less
- 0.14 Book and Buy Everything You Can Online – and Look for Discounts
- 0.15 Trade Time for Money When Traveling
- 1 * * *
Start by Bringing the Right Attitude
You may have heard the expression that money can’t buy happiness. Like many cliches, this is true only up to a point: poverty and sorrow are frequently found in the same house. It’s still worth listening to, though. A lot of people view family vacations as an opportunity to kick back and treat themselves, but this doesn’t have to mean racking up a ton of credit card debt.
Fun is where you find it and often free. This is one of the most important lessons you can teach your kids – impulse spending is a habit that’s frequently formed in childhood and ends up burdening a person for the rest of their lives. Getting this message across without seeming like a fairytale ogre may be hard in a glamorous environment such as a Disney park, but you’ll find that setting an example instead of just prattling about being frugal will soon convince the little ones.
Pack water, snacks, and lunch instead of spending both money and time at restaurants and food stands. You’re soon going to be sick of standing in queues, so being able to eat wherever you find a shady spot is much kinder to your wallet as well as your mood. (Unlike some other theme parks, Disney allows you to bring your own food and drinks, alcohol and anything in glass packaging being the exceptions). Should your kids (or you, for that matter) want to go in costume, check used clothing markets and even DIY sewing patterns rather than paying top dollar for something that’s only going to be worn once.
You can also unleash your artistic side and do your own face painting before you even enter the park – getting an employee to do it costs at least $10 and sometimes twice that. In no way does saving money at Disney world have to put a damper on the magic you’ll experience. Once you capture the right mindset, you’ll find plenty of ways to get into the spirit of things without spending a lot of money.
Take a Backpack
One of the best Disney world money saving tips you’ll ever hear is to drag along everything you might need during a long, tiring day in the hot California or Florida sun, like
- Moist towelettes
- Lip balm
- Aspirin and band-aids
- Baseball caps
- Travel ponchos or umbrellas
- Cooling towels like these – they really work.
All of these items are available inside the park itself but at a much higher price. A little planning can save you from having to decide between spending extra, or accepting discomfort and diminishing what could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Draw up a Budget (and Ask Your Kids to Do the Same)
We’ve mentioned the importance of teaching kids not to spend money at the drop of a hat. If they don’t learn this lesson by the time they’re teenagers, getting out of this groove later in life will be very difficult. The antidote, of course, is to think about what you’re going to spend money on before you spend it and consider the alternatives. Everything you buy means doing without something else.
As an adult, you’ll probably have to draw up several different test budgets to reflect these tradeoffs. Flying instead of driving down, for instance, costs more but saves time. It also means that you’re limited to accommodation in or near a Disney park, or one that offers a shuttle service unless you also plan on also hiring a car. All these options, many of which are touched upon in this article, have to be weighed against one another in dollar-and-cent terms.
A kid’s holiday budget is much simpler but no less important. With younger children, you could tell them that they’re allowed to choose one toy or souvenir from those you point out. Once they’re older and understand a little math, you can give them a suitable amount of cash to spend on whatever they’d like. Doing this introduces them to the concept of relative value: is a stormtrooper helmet more or less desirable than five ice creams, or three Minnie Mouse bracelets?
Having a firm number for each child’s optional purchases will simplify your own planning. Perhaps more importantly, letting them make their own choices on how to save money at Disneyworld will help them make better decisions later in life when they need to choose between, say, buying a new car and remodeling their kitchen.
Use the Right Credit Card
A dollar is a dollar is a dollar no matter how you spend it, right? Actually, this isn’t the case: assuming that you use the right credit card and pay off your balance each month, spending a dollar may cost you as little as ninety-five cents.
This magic is called cashback and is one of the best reasons for getting a credit card (or several) in the first place. While not one of our Disney saving tips per se, it definitely applies: some credit cards are specifically targeted at people who spend a lot on travel, accommodation, and eating out. Given that the average four-person family trying to save money at Disneyworld will still go through at least $6,000, much of that on flights, hotels, restaurants, car hire, and the like, each percentage point cashback you can get means a $60 discount right off the bat. If you don’t yet have a traveler-friendly credit card, the following are currently worth looking at:
- Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card: No annual fee, 5% back on travel, 3% on dining out, 1.5% on all other purchases.
- Bank of America Travel Rewards Card: No annual fee, 1.5x points, 25,000 free points if you spend at least $1,000 within 90 days of opening an account.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Card: Double rewards on selected hotel, car rental, and Southwest Airlines spending, triple rewards on restaurant purchases, plus a $75 annual credit from Southwest.
In addition, some credit card rewards programs allow you to buy stuff like plane tickets and even Disney gift cards at a discount using points.
Check Out Disney’s Vacation Packages First
The tourism industry is a funny thing. Hotels, restaurants, airlines, and theme parks have to charge a certain price to make a profit, but they also lose money if they operate well below capacity. They are therefore eager to get people through the door when demand is low, like right now while the risk of coronavirus still weighs heavily on people’s minds.
Often, these special offers are in partnership with other companies or different divisions of the same company. If you book rooms at one of the several Disney Resort Hotels at the same time as your entrance tickets, for instance, you may end up saving on both, with numerous discounts on entertainment, eating, and shopping thrown in for free.
Be Smart About Choosing Where to Stay
Disney hotels offer a wide range of accommodation options to suit most budgets. This doesn’t mean that they’re always the cheapest, though. Spending a little time looking for good deals at other hotels near your destination is one of the best Disney saving tips around. A few minutes’ work may well end up saving you over a hundred dollars.
You’ll want to look out for extras like a shuttle service to Disney itself and free breakfasts. Smaller, independent hotels and AirBnBs will also sometimes allow you to use their kitchen (within reason and as long as you’re polite) and not make too much of a fuss if you prepare food in your room. Especially if you’re planning a multi-day stay, not having to eat out will save you big bucks.
Timing Is Everything
Another unique aspect of the tourism business, which not enough consumers take advantage of, is that there are clearly defined periods of high and low demand. Going when most people prefer not to not only means saving money at Disney World or Disneyland but also paying less for everything from airfare to car hire. In addition, the lines are a lot shorter and the staff less stressed out.
For Disney attractions, the cheapest months to go are January, February, September, and August. The parks don’t depend as much on weather as beaches or ski slopes, though, so the savings, while real, aren’t exactly massive. Other factors, like when you can most easily take time off work, may have a greater impact on your decision.
Schedule One Park per Day
Have you ever had a vacation that felt like running an obstacle course? The proximity of several different parks may sound like a buffet of fun, tempting you to overdo it. Take your time, though: each is designed to take (at least) a whole day to experience. If you rush through all the attractions, you simply won’t enjoy yourself as much as you should.
Extending your stay by a couple of days costs more and may therefore look a little out of place in a list of Disney World money-saving tips. It does, however, provide better value for money in terms of enjoyment – the memories will remain long after the bill is forgotten. In addition, you won’t have to pay extra for a Park Hopper pass, which runs to about $50 more than one that only allows you to access one location per day.
Watch Out for Those Extras
Getting your Mickey Mouse merchandise at the source, so to speak, does give it a little extra sentimental value. On the other hand, buying these kinds of knick-knacks inside the park itself rather than at any Disney Outlet or indeed on Amazon will set you back more. Disney is paid for the use of their images and characters in either case, and the quality of the products is exactly the same.
Similarly, using one of the parks’ official photographers to record your memories may not be the best use of your holiday money. Disney’s PhotoPass service charges you a fee for every image taken by them when you download it (or a flat rate for all of them if you opt for the Memory Maker package at around $200). Some of these may be worth having, but simply using your own DSLR or phone instead will help you save money at Disneyworld.
Research Cheap Activities Unique to a Disney Vacation
Most costume actors at Disney resorts have a sash studded with lapel pins representing different Disney characters. Guests are allowed (and actually encouraged) to trade these for pins of their own – a basic set costs only about ten dollars. Perfecting a collection can be huge fun for kids as well as more adults than you might think. Similarly, an official autograph book is only a few bucks but allows your children to interact with their favorite characters all day long.
Everyone will also have more fun during the vacation itself if you schedule a couple of family movie nights in the weeks leading up to your trip. Assuming you subscribe to a video streaming service, all you need to pay for is the popcorn. The last thing you want to do is get to Disney World and realize you’ve somehow forgotten the plot of Tangled.
Make Use of Free Amenities
While this piece of advice is not about saving money at Disney World as such, remember that comfortable shoes are your friends. You’ll be spending a great deal of time walking around and standing in line, so how well your feet hold up is critical.
What you may not know is that there are two lines, and you don’t need to be disabled or a millionaire to access the shorter one. Regardless of what kind of ticket you have, you can make up to three Fastpass+ reservations per day for specific rides, up to 30 days in advance. The easiest way to do so is to download the free mobile app; this will also allow you to make the most of your visit by informing you of special events, displaying the park’s schedule, and informing you of estimated ride wait times moment by moment. A Magic Band makes things even easier by serving as your electronic, Bluetooth-enabled park pass. These are free to guests in Disney World resort hotels but cost about $15 otherwise – at least they make nice souvenirs. Assuming your phone is compatible, you can also use this in much the same way with the MagicMobile app.
Finally, while some events require you to spend a little extra, it’s worth keeping an eye out for shows that are free to all parkgoers. One of the simpler Disney World money-saving tips is just to get up earlier than most other people and catch the “Let the Magic Begin” ceremony at the beginning of the day. If you like, you can also stay until the “Kiss Goodnight” event about half an hour after the rides shut down and many of the park businesses close. Both last only a few minutes but will remind you of why you visited the Magic Kingdom in the first place.
Consider Joining the Disney Vacation Club
Not everybody feels comfortable with the timeshare model of paying for a vacation and, in truth, it isn’t really the best option for everyone. In the case of Disney’s Vacation Club, however, almost a quarter of a million people have decided that it is worth joining up. Like all timeshare schemes, the rules are pretty complicated, including those on how you can sell points or buy them from existing members. With 15 separate Disney resorts to choose from, though, this can be a savings opportunity for anyone who wants to take more than just one vacation at their locations.
If you’re truly addicted to the fairytale experience and especially if you’re lucky enough to live near one of the Disney locations, season and annual passes may be worth looking at instead. These are incredibly cheap compared to paying by the day and also include discounts on food, merchandise, and parking. You can actually upgrade your ticket to an annual pass while you’re still in the park, just ask at the guest relations office. They run to about a thousand dollars each.
Eat Out for Less
Even if you get breakfast at the hotel and pack sandwiches for lunch, it’s inevitable that you’ll end up spending some money at restaurants – you are on vacation, after all. Most people don’t make good decisions when they’re starving, so it’s a good idea to have some kind of dining strategy in place ahead of time.
Within Disney parks themselves, joining the Tables in Wonderland program will automatically save you 20% on food and drinks at dozens of restaurants. Unfortunately, this option is only open to you if you live in-state, have a seasonal or annual pass, or are a member of the Disney Vacation Club. Another option is to pre-pay for your snacks and meals using the Disney Dining Plan. Various pricing options are available, and you won’t have to carry around too much cash and risk overspending in the moment. Apart from these Disney saving tips, you may also want to check out ProMoneySavings’ guide on how to save money on restaurants in general before you head off to the Magic Kingdom.
Book and Buy Everything You Can Online – and Look for Discounts
Don’t run the risk of finding out that a particular attraction is closed or fully booked on the day you’re going: you may not be able to predict the weather, but you can make a reservation beforehand. Ordering your tickets online from Disney or their authorized resellers can save you a significant amount of money. Since you’re here looking for Disney World money-saving tips: start searching for good deals months before you plan to go, and check back frequently until you find a truly good offer.
We have to warn you, though: don’t try saving money at Disney World by showing up with someone else’s tickets that still have a few unused days left on them or tickets you bought on eBay. There are some scams out there, but Disney Cast Members (the correct term for anyone who works at a Disney resort, whatever their job description) are well aware of them. This may have something to do with what happened during Florida Disneyland’s original opening in 1955: counterfeit tickets and people jumping over the fences meant that half the people crowding the park on that day weren’t actually paying customers!
Trade Time for Money When Traveling
Americans generally get only two weeks of vacation per year. Compared to the 25 paid days (at least) in countries like Denmark, Austria, and France, this barely gives you enough time to adjust to not being at work, never mind actually enjoying yourself, and is one reason why the majority of out-of-state visitors to Disney parks choose to fly.
If you’re able to take a more leisurely holiday, however, you should definitely look at other forms of transport when drawing up your vacation budget – saving money at Disney World itself is not the only way to afford more for less. Traveling by train, for instance, is very undervalued. Unlike when driving, you can relax as someone else takes care of getting to the destination, children can use the bathroom whenever they want, and, for shorter trips, the slower speed is easily canceled out by the time you’d otherwise have to spend waiting at the airport and getting groped by the TSA.
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A vacation you can’t afford will leave you far more stressed than simply staying at home. At the same time, research has shown that people who spend money on experiences rather than possessions tend to be happier. Seeing the lighthearted, fanciful innocence of your favorite movies come to life certainly counts in this regard, so a trip to a Disney park can easily be worth the money.
You don’t need to put a padlock on your wallet to make this dream come true, but a little restraint and planning will go a long way. Once you evaluate everything according to its real worth – home cooking vs restaurant meals, or cheap vs expensive hotel rooms you’ll use mainly for sleeping – you’ll be able to put your money where it will do the most good and have a lot more fun at Disney World.
Have you been there, or are you planning to go? If we’ve missed any important Disney saving tips, we’d like to know – please share yours with us in the comments.