It goes without saying, Disney World vacations can get spendy and it often feels like it’s not even worth the pain of planning and expenses. I totally get it. I’m a Disney Travel Planner and I’m always looking for new ways to knock off a few dimes to help ease the financial pain for my clients. The truth is, Disney Travel Planners can’t offer special ticket and hotel discounts, so we offer concierge services like planning itineraries and book dining instead. While we can’t give you discounted tickets, I know a few websites that may be able help reduce the price a bit. I’ve also learned some tricks that will help shave off the total price of your vacation!
1) Buy All Your Essentials on Amazon Beforehand There are a number of ways you can save money on your vacation, but one of the easiest ways to is by stocking up on necessities before you arrive at your hotel. Disney hikes up the prices of everything, so buying some essentials beforehand will save you loads of money. This might include band-aids, ibuprofen, allergy medicine, and sunblock. There’s no way I’m paying $14 or a Disney poncho when I can buy a pack of six for $10 on Amazon. If you don’t want to pack them in your suitcase, you can have your items shipped to your hotel about a week before you arrive. Just make sure they are all in one box and call the hotel ahead of time so they know to expect it.`
2) Visit During Non-Peak Season In 2018, Disney switched to seasonal ticket pricing as opposed to one set price all year round. Much like Universal Studios, each month is divided into value, regular, and peak day prices. If you visit during a slow season like the month of February, the prices will be a bit cheaper than if you visited in August. Disney will sometimes offer hotel and package deals during slow seasons too. Non-peak seasons usually fall between the second week of January through May (skipping Spring Breaks) and September through the second week of November. Book your room early and always keep an eye out for new promotions throughout the year. You can always apply discounts as they are announced.
3) Buy Disney Gift Cards to Save Money The age-old hack is to purchase Disney gift cards with a Target Red Credit or Debit Card. Target cards give you 5% back on all purchases. This means that a $100 gift card will cost you $95 and saves you $5 towards your vacation. You can buy gift cards online or at your local store and use them to pay for Disney dining, merchandise, and your vacation package. Don’t spend it all in one place! Oh, wait…you should definitely do that.
4) Set a Budget with Disney Gift Cards This is a popular tactic to keep yourself on a strict budget. It’s so popular that Disney sells gift card wristbands during Epcot’s Food & Wine Festivals. The wristbands help set a limit on how much you want to spend on food and tequila shots. Gift cards are also useful if you’re traveling with a group and want to set a budget for each person.
5) Skip the Extras – Park Hoppers/Memory Makers/Water Parks Some people can’t live without Park Hoppers, but if you’re trying to save, they’re not necessary. In my experience, it’s a better use of your time to spend a full day in each park and less time transferring between parks anyway. As for the Memory Maker, any PhotoPass Cast Member will take your picture using your own phone or camera. The only thing you’ll miss are the attraction photos, which you can buy individually from the My Disney Experience app. Also, the water parks have been losing their appeal in the last few years, especially since the miraculous Volcano Bay opened in Universal Studios. If you’re on a tight budget, you’ll find better ways to spend your money, I promise!
6) Credit Card Rewards You’re paying a large sum all at once, so you might as well take the opportunity to earn some rewards. I’ve had a Disney Visa Card for a long time and most people are very partial to them. You get discounts on Disney dining, merchandise, private tours, and trips to the spa. The downside is that you can you can only spend your earned rewards on more Disney products. Lately, I’ve found that I enjoy my CitiBank credit card much more because I get cold hard cash, instead of Disney Rewards Points. This is entirely up to your spending habits!
7) Use Discount Travel Websites For Disney World, Priceline and Hotel Tonight offer fairly discounted hotel rates. It’s hard to find Disney properties on either website, but I’ve booked Disney Springs hotels through Priceline’s Express Deals a few times. I’ve also seen the Swan & Dolphin Resorts pop up here too. For Disneyland, either Priceline or Hotel Tonight will work, but I much prefer using Get Away Today. They are a trusted company that sells Disneyland park tickets and ‘Disney Good Neighbor Hotels’ at discounted rates. I recommend purchasing their travel insurance if you feel like your travel plans may change.
Word of Warning: Always check for added costs like resort fees, parking, shuttles, and airport transfers. The cheap hotel may seem enticing, but once you start calculating transportation and resort fees that price can be well over what you initially agreed to. With free shuttles and airport transfers, sometimes a Disney Value Resort can be a better deal in the long run.
8) Rent a House/Condo via VRBO If you’re traveling with a large group, renting a house or condo can be the most economical choice. Paying for two rooms doubles your price, while a condo will reduce this cost quite a bit. Plus, you’ll have access to a kitchen to cook your own meals and save money on eating out. If you don’t like the idea of renting from a stranger, check the reviews before booking. I recommend using VRBO for large bookings, but Airbnb often has good options too. If your group is smaller, you can opt to stay at an offsite, non-Disney hotel or rent a small apartment from one of these sites.
9) Skip the Dining Plan Here’s the deal, the Dining Plan can be awesome if you want to purchase all your food in advance and eat steak for every dinner. But, it can cost you more if you don’t plan ahead and take advantage of the meals. My boyfriend is a vegan, so on our last trip he rarely ate snacks and ordered light options that were much cheaper than my meals. The Dining Plan ended up costing us more money on that trip. I’m also pretty sure a few of our snack credits got lost in translation, which resulted in us having fewer snacks left on our last day of vacation. I’m sure Disney would have replaced the missing credits if I asked, but this is something to be aware of. Take careful note of how many meals/snacks you’ve used over your vacation, just in case something like that happens to you.
10) Share Meals & Snacks I know. How lame! This is coming from someone who loves her Mickey Pretzels and Dole Whips. The thing is, Disney meals and snacks at are enormous. Most Quick Service items are easily shareable and given that these meals are about $14, you’ll feel much better about sharing. For instance, the burgers from Pecos Bill in the Magic Kingdom come with an all-access pass to the topping bar. Load that thing up with cheese, veggies, pickles, and as many condiments as you want.
11) Order Groceries I highly advise at least buying a case of water for your hotel room to take into the parks. Buying two bottles of water a day will add up quickly. If you don’t have a car, there are plenty of services that offer grocery deliveries right to your hotel. You can stock up on small snacks and breakfast items to take into the parks. My favorite grocery delivery services are Instacart and Amazon Prime Now.
12) Invest in Cheap, Yet Worthwhile Souvenirs I think everyone should bring something physical home from the parks, even if it’s something small. You definitely don’t need to bring home a $300 replica of Cinderella Castle. Some of my favorite, inexpensive souvenirs are pressed pennies, shot glasses, Funk Pops/small figurines, keychains, and Disney mugs. Also, there are a lot of creators on Etsy who sell Disney-inspired merch like Minnie ears and bows. Their products outshine Disney park merchandise in terms of quality and price.
13) Rent DVC Points If you like a bit of luxury, but don’t want to spend too much, try renting from Disney Vacation Club. The rooms are located in the Deluxe Resorts and will end up being cheaper than booking a room through Disney. I recommend using David’s Vacation Club Rentals. Another option is to do what we in the biz call a “split stay” and stay the majority of your vacation in a budget hotel then move over to a more lavish resort after. The Bell Hops can even move your luggage between Disney hotels!
14) Carry-Ons Only I’ve become an expert at cramming my tiny suitcase with everything I need. Skip the $25 per bag and stuff that suitcase full. You’re also allowed one personal item, so I always take a backpack and fill that up too. If you’re traveling in a group and feel like you’ll need more space, check one large suitcase that can be used by everyone.
15) Visiting for a Halloween or Christmas Party? Skip a Day or Two! A special-ticket event will cost about $100 per person. I always advise shaving a day or two off your regular park tickets to subsidize for this cost. The parties allow you to enter the Magic Kingdom around 4:00 PM, which means you’ll get a solid 8 hours of park time. Honestly, if you’re looking to save a bit of money, this is plenty of time to get the majority of attractions checked off your wish list. To make sure you’re getting your money’s worth at either event, I’ve got guides to the Halloween and Christmas Party you can check out.
I struggled to write this article because Disney is an indulgence and there’s only so much you can do to narrow down the price. A piece of advice I often tell clients is to keep your expectations in check. It sounds harsh, but the reality is you’ll spend a chunk of change on vacation. The important thing is to be mindful of your purchases and invest in memories, rather than things. I know it’s difficult to pass up that second Dole Whip because you’re on a budget, but I totally believe in you. How about one more ride on the Haunted Mansion instead?
Do you have a favorite Disney saving hack? I love hearing new ways to save some dough while on vacation. Tell me more in the comments below!
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