How to save money on a Disneyworld vacation
Even if you are on a tight budget, you can still enjoy a family trip to Disney. Use these 15 frugal tips to save hundreds (or thousands!) on your 2017 Disney World vacation.
I’ve seen instances where people have spent $10,000 for a family of four to go to Disney World! Talk about sticker shock!
You can have the vacation you (and your kids) dream of without that kind of price tag. I’ve been to Disney World several times and haven’t spent that much for all my trips combined!
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When you are spending a large amount on a single trip, you’ll want to plan ahead so you can maximize your time there. Look into what rides and shows you want to do, and think about what ones you want to skip.
Unless you happen to be lucky enough to go at a low-crowd time, a plan will help make the most of your trip.
These guides are chock-full of information about everything at Disney World. If you don’t want to buy it, just see if your local library has a copy and use it while you are planning your trip.
Stay at a Disney hotel
When you stay at a Disney property, their Magical Express buses will bring you from the airport to the hotel (and back on departure day). Plus, they have an elaborate bus system to/from the hotels and each of the parks.
You’ll be able to skip the rental car and save $200+, depending on the length of your stay and whether you are travelling at a peak time.
Even if you drive to Disney, you can use the bus system. Or you can drive to the parks yourself. Hotels guests get free parking at the theme parks-saving you $17 a day.
There are some off property hotels where you can certainly get a better room rate, but read the fine print. Many have a “daily resort fee” of up to $15. Add in what you’ll pay to park in the theme parks and you might not be saving anything by staying off property.
Many of the well known hotel chains are comparable in price to the Disney hotels, so you might as well take advantage of the perks of staying on Disney property.
Choose a value Disney hotel
These include the All-Star hotels and Pop Century. I’ve stayed in their value hotels on every Disney trip and have always been completely satisfied with the room. It’s a great way to save money on your Disney World vacation.
How often do you really plan on being in your room anyway? If it’s just to sleep, then why pay double or triple for one of their fancy hotels?
Travel at off-peak times
Not only will you find better hotel and air fare rates, the parks will be less busy.
Smaller crowds=bigger bang for your buck! Ticket prices will still be the same, but you’ll feel like you got to do much more.
When we’ve gone at an off-peak time, the longest wait we had was 20 minutes for a ride. Another time we went around Memorial Day and it was a completely different story. We did not get to do nearly as many rides as we wanted and waits were much longer.
WDW Prep School has a great crowd calendar listing crowd levels for the year along with average weather temperatures in one graphic.
Drive instead of fly
Depending on where you live and how many people are in your party, it may be cost effective to drive to Disney World. Consider the cost of gas, tolls, food, and if you will need a hotel along the way when making the price comparison.
Driving will give you more freedom to explore outside of Disney and potentially save money on food costs by eating away from the parks.
Go when your child is under 3
Kids under 3 get free admission to the parks. A four-day ticket when they are over 3 is $297.00 (2017). You could go just before they turn 3 and save almost $300!
I took my youngest daughter just a few months before her 3rd birthday and there was still plenty of rides we could do. Some people might think that it’s too young to take a child to Disney World, but she still remembers that trip fondly even two years later. She asks me all the time when we can go to Disney again!
Adjust the length of your stay
If you stay longer, you will have increased food and hotel costs, but ticket prices only go up $15 a day after 4 days. A 4-day ticket ends up averaging out to $81 a day, while a 10-day ticket is half of that-averaging out to $40 a day. (No matter how much I love Disney World, I don’t think I could handle 10 days there!)
Consider making your stay shorter to save on hotel and food costs. We usually do 5 nights and have 4 days in the park. We don’t get to do everything, but we still pack plenty of rides and activities in that time frame.
Determine if the Dining Plan is a good deal for your family
Pros of the Disney Dining Plan:
- You know most of your meals are paid for.
- If you plan right, it can be cheaper than buying the food outright.
- Meals include a beverage and lunch/dinner includes dessert.
Cons of the Disney Dining Plan:
- You have to plan carefully to maximize your dining dollars. We would use a snack credit for breakfast (pastry) and desserts as snacks. Plus we would do dinner at the hotel where we could use the refillable mugs and still get water bottles with the meal (to use in the park). It felt restricting.
- The basic dining plan is 2 quick service meals and a snack per person, per day. You may still need additional snacks or drinks that are not included.
- Kid’s meal choices are boring. Most of the quick service restaurant choices are the same: chicken nuggets, pizza, mac and cheese, or uncrustables. This can get old quick-especially when your kids are on the higher end of the age range.
- Kids over 10 have to get the adult plan. This may be too much food for them.
I’ve done both the dining plan (back when it was 2 meals/2 snacks) and also paid for all my meals. It really depends on what your family eats.
They have menus and prices of the items at all the restaurants/food carts. The Disney World app also has the info.
Go through the menus and make a plan of what you’d expect to eat in a day and then compare to the cost of the dining plan. (Be sure to figure out if something will not be covered under the plan and will require out of pocket payment)
Go when the dining plan is free
In spring, Disney usually offers packages for fall travel that includes free dining. If you can go at this time of year, you could save hundreds on food alone!
This offer usually has requirements to buy a certain number of days for tickets and you can’t book a discount room rate in combination with the free dining plan.
Save money on tickets by skipping Park Hopper
Park Entry tickets are expensive enough on their own. The park hopper option will add $55-69 to each ticket (depends on length of your tickets), so really think about whether you’ll use this option.
You can save $220-$276 (for a family of four) just by skipping the park hopper option.
If you have younger kids, cut your ticket costs and skip the park hopper. There’s so much to see and do, they will be worn out after one park!
With older kids, park hopper may be a good idea. When I took my oldest, we did Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom in the morning, would head back to the hotel at 2 or so to rest and have lunch, and would head to Magic Kingdom for the evening to catch more rides, parades, and fireworks.
Bring snacks/breakfast from home
This is easier if you drive, but even if you fly you should be able to pack some on the go breakfasts-cereal bars, poptarts, etc. and snacks-like goldfish, trail mix, and peanut butter crackers.
Four pastries at breakfast will run you about $12 and full breakfast will run you about $24, not including drinks. Over the course of a week that could add up to an extra $100 in your pocket.
If you opt for the dining plan, you’ll save a snack or meal credit that you can use later in the day.
Buy Disney items before your trip
Little girls love to run around Disney in dresses of their favorite princess: Cinderella, Anna or Elsa from Frozen, or even Rapunzel. Plus, what’s better than meeting your favorite princess dressed like your favorite princess?!?
But if you step into any gift shop at Disney World, you might be a little shocked to see a Cinderella dress will set you back $100! My Target has several different princess dresses for around $30.
You can also buy a few souvenir type toys and pack them with you. Then every day or few days, bring one out for them to play with.
Think character play packs, coloring books, mouse ears, costumes of their favorite Disney character, and autograph books. What difference does it make if they were purchasd at a Disney gift shop or not?
Bring refillable water bottles
Bring your water bottles from home and save the $2.50 a bottle you’d pay in the park. With all the walking and the heat, you will drink a lot!
Or, buy the bottled waters and keep refilling them throughout your stay. If you aren’t fond of tap water, bring some flavor packets to add.
Give the kids a budget
Souvenirs can add up quickly, and when you multiply that by 2 or more kids, it can put a serious dent in your budget. The kids can ask relatives for gift cards for spending money or give them a set amount of spending money for the trip.
They will have to consider their options and whether a $15 balloon is what they really want to spend their money on.
Bring your stroller from home
If you have kids that are not ready to walk miles every day (we averaged 5-10 miles a day), you will want to have a stroller for when they are tired of walking. It will also give you the convenience of having a place to store snacks and drinks.
Don’t be afraid to have a stroller even for bigger kids, they may need the break! Stroller rental (for a single stroller) will run you $15 a day or $13 a day when you get a stroller for the length of your stay.
If you are bringing one, I’d recommend going as lightweight as possible (but not the cheapo umbrella strollers you can get for $10 at Walmart). You’ll have to fold and carry it on the buses, so you’ll want something that folds easily and is relatively small.
It ended up costing the same as what I would have spent to rent a stroller, but I got to use it to and from the parks, at the airport, and keep it when I got home.
Bonus tips for military families
Buy the Military Promotional tickets
If your family is active-duty or retired military, Disney has special priced 4 and 5 day ticket options (and they include Park Hopper). These special tickets are almost half the price of standard admission tickets.
If your Disney trip will be 4-5 days, this is a great option. Tickets can be purchased at your local base ticket office and spouses can use these (with proper military ID) even if the sponsor can’t go!
Take advantage of room discounts
As part of their Armed Forces Salute program, they also offer discounts on Disney World property hotels (subject to availability and black out dates). You do have to call to book this discount, you can’t get it by booking online. I saved 30% on my hotel when I used this and that was off one of the Value hotels.
For more information: Military Discount on Disney Hotels