Disney trips are expensive, but there are several hacks to save money at Disney World. My days as a Cast Member and the resulting trips back to pick up shifts during my broke college days taught me all kinds of secrets to save money at Disney World. Read on for my best tips for Disney World on a budget.
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Find the cheapest place to stay at Disney World
The cheapest place to stay at Disney World will be an eternal debate. Going only off of the dollar amount for your hotel room, staying off-property will almost always be cheaper. However, factoring in the additional monetary and intangible benefits that come with a Disney Resort stay make the savings debatable. Staying on property at Disney World entitles you to free transportation to and from the airport on the Magical Express, morning and evening Extra Magic Hours, free Magic Bands, free and convenient internal transportation, free parking (as of this writing in 2017, this is $20/day), earlier dining and FastPass reservations, and significant time savings compared to driving in from off-site.
I priced it out for my last trip and decided to go with an on-property hotel because after calculating what an airport shuttle or cab would cost round trip to the airport, what we’d spend on Magic Bands, and how long it took the hotel shuttles from the partner hotels near Disney Springs the one time I stayed in that area, I thought it was better to stay at one of the value resorts on site.
Rent Disney Vacation Club points
The Disney Vacation Club is a timeshare program where Disney fans can buy points to use at various resorts around property. Non-DVC members can rent those points using third party sites and stay at some of Disney’s nicer resorts for much lower prices. This is an ideal way to snag a stay at one of the deluxe resorts for mid-range prices.
I calculated a few dates for 2018 and the Animal Kingdom Lodge (one of my bucket list resorts!) was the cheapest option. An eight-night stay using points averaged out to $172/night. It’s by no means cheap, but when compared to the booking price for the same dates on Disney’s website – averaging $433/night – you’re looking at substantial savings of almost 40%.
Buy discount Disney World tickets
But not from Ebay, Craigslist, or those shady roadside stands you see all over Orlando. That’s a good way to get scammed and show up ready for a day of Disney World fun only to find out that your ticket is worthless. There are a few authorized discount retailers that can be trusted. If you’re a AAA member, they offer Disney World discounts. Costco also sells trip packages for their members.
For those of you who are part of those exclusive clubs (that’s a joke), you can check out the Undercover Tourist website for discounts. You can save $30-40 per adult ticket with their specials. It’s not a huge percentage when you’re looking at upwards of $400 for multi-day tickets, but if you multiply that out by the number of people in your group, it adds up quickly and can easily pay for a whole meal at the parks.
I used Undercover Tourist for my discounted Disney World tickets on my last trip and had a perfect experience (and as a bonus, you can get cash back from Ebates – keep reading for more on that – from your purchase here). Your tickets are official and can be added to your Magic Bands and used to book FastPasses beforehand just like ones ordered directly from Disney.
Bring your own breakfast
I’m the first to admit that I’m not a huge breakfast person, so skimping on this one is a no-brainer for me. Your typical Disney World resort food court breakfast will cost you about $10 per adult, which adds up pretty quickly (and takes up a lot of valuable morning park time). Buy some protein bars or other portable breakfast foods at your local grocery store (or one near Disney World if you have transportation) and you can save your family a small fortune over the course of a week-long stay.
Have groceries delivered to your hotel
There are several grocery delivery operations specializing in deliveries to Disney World hotels for families on a budget. Even with delivery fees and Disney’s new surcharge per package, you’ll save a lot of money by ordering food this way rather than eating in the parks and hotel restaurants. Amazon Prime members can also take advantage of online orders.
You can even try Prime for free for 30 days.
Share combo meals or order just the entrée
Disney World’s counter service meals are gigantic. There is approximately a 0% chance that I would ever be able to eat a whole one on my own. Two adults or a parent and a child can easily split a giant burger and fries. If you need a little snack later on, split a pretzel or one of the fabulous frozen treats in the parks and you’ll still come out ahead. To save even more money, ask for a cup of water at counter service locations that have fountain drinks.
Despite the fact that the counter service menus typically only list combo options, you can also always order just the entrée and save a few bucks. Eating kids meals is another great option to save money at Disney World. As I mentioned before, I’m a lighter eater and a kids meal always fills me up. Plus, they come with a drink, unlike the adult combos. They’re exactly the right portion for me and cost significantly less.
Bring refillable water bottles
Disney World gets hot. You’ll be spending a lot of time walking around and standing in that heat. You’re going to need to drink a lot of water. Instead of spending a few dollars on a bottle of water every time you get thirsty, brink a bottle from home that you can refill and keep in your day bag. Over the course of your trip, you’ll save a ton of money. Sure, Disney World water isn’t the tastiest, but it’ll keep you hydrated.
Save money on souvenirs at Disney World
Those Disney World souvenir shops are tempting and who wouldn’t want to visit the Magic Kingdom in that adorable Mickey shirt? But they also cost a fortune and you can quickly blow through your budget at the very first store you see. Disney merchandise is widely available at stores everywhere. Hot Topic, Target, and Walmart all offer loads of Disney shirts and accessories. Hot Topic’s line is particularly awesome, and I’ve purchased many items there from a Powerline concert t-shirt to a Lilo copycat dress.
Princess dresses are another hot item at the parks – you can’t walk 10 feet without tripping over a little girl in a princess costume and plastic shoes – but buying one at Disney World will cost you nearly $70. If you have a little girl who might want to dress up at the parks, buy her dress beforehand and pack it as a special surprise. You can often get them on sale at Disney stores or on the Shop Disney Parks app, hunt them down on clearance after Halloween, or pick one like this Belle dress up on Amazon. Ebay is another great source for second-hand dresses. Your little princess won’t know the difference between an expensive dress from the store in the parks and a much cheaper option you brought from home.
Pin trading is another fun activity in the parks, but buying pins on-site adds up quickly as even the cheapest ones are going to be $6-7 after taxes. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of really cheap Disney pins available on Ebay though, so buying a bag of them ahead of time and giving them to your kids (or keeping them for yourself!) at the parks will allow them to trade for ones they really want and give them some fun interactions with Cast Members. Just make sure that they’re official Disney pins when you’re making your purchase as knock-offs do exist.
You can get free souvenirs at the Magic Kingdom by signing up for the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game. It comes with a free pack of cards that are used to play the game, which can then be saved for playing at home or scrapbooking. Epcot’s Kidcot stations are spots in the World Showcase pavilions where kids can make decorated cardboard masks.
Use Ebates to get cash back
If you shop on the internet and don’t use Ebates, you’re literally giving away money. It’s a site that offers you cash back on online purchases at tons of major stores. You link to a store you want to purchase something from and that retailer gives Ebates a cut of their profit for the referral. Ebates then splits that commission with you and sends quarterly rewards checks. Yes, actual checks that you can deposit in your bank account. My lifetime earnings on Ebates are over $1000. If you like free money, you can sign up here.
Certain hotel chains are participants, and if you keep an eye out, the Holiday Inn near Disney Springs (one of the best options if you choose not to stay at an official Disney World hotel) can generate up to 10% cash back when specials are going. On a week-long trip, that can kick back quite a bit of money. Orbitz.com also offers cash back, so if you book all or part of your travel with them it can add up quickly.
If you install the Ebates toolbar, it will notify you when you land on a store that offers cashback so you can activate your tracking code. Over time, little by little, that money adds up and turns into major savings.
Plan resorts days to save on park tickets at Disney World
You don’t have to spend every day at the parks to enjoy your Disney World vacation. Instead, plan on having a day or two for relaxing by the pool or exploring the other resorts. Not only does taking a relaxing day outside of the parks save you money, it’s also a great way to avoid getting burned out. Sleep in, have a nice, long swim, or book a character meal at one of the resorts. You’ll feel much more ready to tackle another day at the parks afterward, and you won’t have to pay for park tickets for that day.
Free things to do at Disney World
Yes, even Disney World has free activities you can take part in. Visiting Disney on a budget doesn’t mean that you can’t have any fun. Here are some of my favorites.
Chip & Dale’s Campfire Singalong is a free event at Fort Wilderness that even allows you to meet characters, a rarity without park tickets. Those mischievous little chipmunks join you for a sing along and marshmallow roasting (you do have to bring your own s’mores ingredients) and it’s followed by a Disney movie. Check the resort schedule to find out what’s playing that night.
Fort Wilderness and the Wilderness Lodge (these are definitely not the same resort, so be careful when booking) are connected by a paved walking, biking, or roller blading trail that winds through a wooded area between the two locations. It’s a great way to get a taste of nature amid the hustle and bustle of Disney World and the shade keeps you cool on hot afternoons. I’ve seen deer very close to the trail many times, so you may also get lucky and see some wildlife.
Movie nights at the resorts are a fun evening activity offered at many of the hotels (you don’t have to be a guest at a particular resort to take part). Projection screens are set up at designated locations and a favorite Disney movie is played for everyone in attendance. The Yacht and Beach Club and Wilderness Lodge have some of my favorite locations.
Street performers are everywhere at Disney Springs and can be a fun source of free entertainment. With its newly enlarged space, Disney Springs could occupy a day all by itself. Spend some time wandering through Disney stores or high end shopping provided by outside name brand vendors. Kids will love the Lego store where they can play with huge tables of those wonderful colored blocks and the Coca Cola store.
Resort hopping is one of my favorite activities at Disney World. It’s a little easier if you have your own car, but you can do it using Disney transportation if you connect at parks and Disney Springs. All you have to do is pick a few different Disney hotels whose themes intrigue you and hop a bus or drive over to them. The Polynesian, Wilderness Lodge, Animal Kingdom Lodge, and Art of Animation are some of my favorites to explore.
Come fully prepared to save money at Disney World
Disney resort gift shops offer all kinds of essentials from sunscreen to over-the-counter medications. However, you could easily be paying double for these basics compared to what they’d cost at your local grocery store. You can save money to spend on fun activities or souvenirs by stocking up ahead of time. Bring enough sunscreen, band-aids, and other supplies you’ll need with you rather than paying gift shop prices for them. Due to Florida weather, you’ll almost certainly run into some rain, so save yourself the $10/poncho in the parks and pick some up at your local dollar store ahead of time. Trust me – they block water exactly the same way.
Check out my Disney World packing list for more tips on what to bring.
Book your trip for non-peak times
Not everyone can travel during the slower seasons, but if you’re not tied down to school schedules you can save money by booking your trip during off-seasons for travel. Flights and hotels will be cheaper, and you’ll also enjoy fewer crowds (though you’ll also be more likely to see rides closed for refurbishment). You can save hundreds of dollars on your hotel by traveling in non-peak months. The truly dead seasons at Disney World are becoming a thing of the past, but early November, the couple weeks before Christmas, and late January are typically among some of the slowest times at the parks. Avoid holidays, school breaks – it turns out that New Jersey schools get a random fall break and overrun the parks on a week in the fall – and most of the summer if you can.
Buy discounted gift cards
Sam’s Club offers discounted Disney gift cards that can be used at Disney World. Prior to my last trip, I bought 6 packages of gift cards worth $150 each. Instead of paying $150, I paid about $143. That adds up, especially since you can easily spend a couple thousand dollars on your hotel, tickets, and food. If you order online, Sam’s Club also offers Ebates cash back, so you’ll earn an extra percentage back. You can do something similar if you sign up for a Target Red Card and buy Disney gift cards there. This is such an easy tip to save money at Disney World that it would be a shame to pass up. You can even buy the packs of cards one at a time as you budget for your vacation. Pro tip: If you get the $50 cards, combine them online beforehand because running them individually at the hotel takes an eternity. I tied up one front desk clerk for a solid 20 minutes because whatever computer system they have there is painfully slow.
Do you have any other tips for how to save money at Disney World? Let me know in the comments!
See more Disney World tips from this former Cast Member here:
- The Grown-Up’s Guide to Disney World
- The Most Important FastPass+ at Every Disney World Park
- What to Pack for a Disney World Vacation
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