How to Save Money at Disney World
As with most vacations, lodging is one of the biggest expenses you can expect during a trip to Disney World. Although the Disney resorts are more convenient and come with more perks (including the Magical Express transportation service), that convenience comes with a hefty price tag. Think, a $400 per night price tag. Yikes!
You’ll likely spend most of your days exploring the parks so it could be a good idea to stay at a resort or Airbnb outside of the Disney property. If you do decide to stay on Disney property, consider staying at one of the Disney Springs resorts, which are typically a bit cheaper than booking a room at places like the popular Animal Kingdom Lodge or Contemporary Resort.
Find Deals on Tickets
Aside from lodging accommodations, the cost of theme park tickets can put a major dent in your budget. For prices in 2019, the cost of a one-day pass was about $109-$129 per adult or child. If you have a partner and two kids, that means you’re looking at an estimated $500 already.
However, there are discount websites that offer deals on tickets if you’re looking to save a few bucks. (As always, be sure to do your research before purchasing to make sure the tickets are legit.) You can also check with your job to see if they offer any employee discounts. Many companies have discount programs with deals on theme park tickets, hotels, car rentals, and more. This will take more legwork than purchasing directly from the Disney World website, but when you’re on a budget, every little bit counts!
Bring Your Own Food and Drinks
After lodging and theme park tickets, meals will probably be the next big expense in your vacation budget. If you have a big family, food at the park can easily cost you hundreds of dollars in one day. Luckily, park visitors are allowed to bring outside food and drinks, with the exception of alcohol or glass bottles.
To save money, plan to eat breakfast before going to the parks and pack snacks for the group to have throughout the day. It’s also likely that you’ll get thirsty from all the walking, so be sure to bring a reusable water bottle for yourself and any little ones.
Disney World dinner reservations can also be pricey, so if you’re thinking about planning a special night with your partner, opt instead for a late-afternoon meal or dinner at an off-site restaurant.
Purchase Base Tickets
Disney World has four main theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios. If this is your family’s first vacation to Disney World, you might be inclined to buy park hopper tickets, which allow you to visit each park throughout the day.
However, park hopper tickets can cost anywhere from $50-$60 more than base tickets, which allow entry to one park per day. With the crowds and travel time, it’s unlikely that you’ll get to do much at multiple parks in one day. Each park has plenty to explore so you can save that money and plan to spend the day in one place.
Buy Disney Gear Pre-vacation
Part of the magic of a Disney World vacation is the fun merchandise that can be found at every park checkpoint. From Tinkerbell tutus to Mickey Mouse ears, there’s no shortage of souvenirs to help you or the kids channel your favorite Disney characters.
However, those souvenirs are sure to come at a much higher price than similar merchandise purchased outside of the theme parks. You can still allow for some fun by purchasing a Disney-themed t-shirt or Mickey ears prior to your trip. Visit your local Disney store or check Amazon for budget-friendly merchandise to save yourself money and time. This can also help to ensure you don’t wind up overloading your luggage with extra souvenirs on the trip back home.
Visit During the Off-season
Probably the least magical things about Disney World are the crowds and long wait times. If you have flexibility in taking time off, you can plan for a more pleasurable experience by visiting during the off-season.
While Disney World is busy for most of the year, making it tricky to choose a “quiet” time to visit, the weeks immediately following Labor Day weekend and late January are typically the slowest. It’s also a good idea to avoid planning your vacation around major holidays in general.
Make a List of Essentials
The worst-case scenario during any vacation, is realizing you forgot to pack a specific item, forcing you to make an extra (and expensive) purchase. To minimize this risk, take out time to make a list of all the things you’ll need before your trip. Think of anything you’ll likely use during a day at the theme parks, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem.
Things to consider for a Disney World vacation include an umbrella, ponchos, water bottles, comfortable shoes, sunglasses, sunscreen, band-aids, bathing suits, and an extra set of clothes for any accidents. It might feel like overkill to bring so much, but it’s best to have more than you need than having less and going over budget.
Set Budget Expectations
Whether you have teenagers or toddlers, you’re likely to receive endless requests for every shiny object that catches the eye during vacation. Plan out your budget before the trip and let the kids know exactly how much they’ll be allowed to spend.
You can also avoid potential tantrums by handing out spending cash on a daily basis, rather than all at once. This way, your kids won’t have the chance to blow all their money on the first day and beg for more during the rest of the trip. Being firm about your budget with kids is easier said than done. Still, managing expectations beforehand could help save you money – and a headache.
Skip the Fancy Photo Packages
There will undoubtedly be tons of fun photo opps during your time at Disney World, whether it’s your toddler hugging Minnie Mouse or your partner’s frightened expression on the Tower of Terror. You’ll probably be tempted to shell out the cash for a glossy 8×10, but this could cost you a pretty penny.
While it might be worth paying for one or two professional photos, plan to take the rest on your own. The memories themselves are more important than a super high-quality photo package and with so many passersby in the parks, you’re sure to come across a friendly stranger to take a decent group photo when needed.
Buy Discounted Disney Gift Cards
If you shop at retailers like Costco, Sam’s Club, or Target, you can take advantage of discounts on Disney gift cards prior to your trip. You can save anywhere from 5-10% or even receive cash back rewards. There are additional discounts available if you make gift card purchases with a Chase or American Express credit card.
While the discounts aren’t huge, they can definitely come in handy should you forget one of those essential items from the list mentioned earlier. Plus, if you buy them several months in advance, it can give you a bit more breathing room in your budget for unexpected expenses that might pop up outside of the theme parks.
Plan a Day to Relax
When you factor in planning, travel arrangements, packing, managing kids, and walking around a theme park for hours, a vacation can actually be a lot of work. Depending on the time of year, hot or rainy weather could also put a damper on the fun. After a few days, you and your family will probably be exhausted and ready for some down time.
Choose a day during the week to relax by the pool or play board games and watch movies in your hotel room. Not only will it help you save money, but you’ll have a much-needed opportunity to recuperate before vacation is over.
Make it a Vacation to Remember
Budgeting for a Disney World vacation can be stressful, but keep in mind that you don’t have to spend tons of money to make it an enjoyable experience for your family. There are plenty of memories to be made that don’t involve breaking your budget.
For many of us, some of our fondest childhood memories come from family trips to Disney World. Take advantage of the deals where you can, then focus on being a part of the “magic” at Disney World with your loved ones.