Is it really possible to do Disney on a budget? With a little research and some preparation, there are lots of ways to save serious cash on your next Walt Disney World or Disneyland trip. Let TravelingMom show you how!
Disney vacations can be expensive for families. Airfare, park tickets, dining, hotels, souvenirs, and everything else can really add up.
You don’t have to wreck your family’s budget simply because you want to take your kids to meet Mickey. I travel to Disney parks several times a year and use all sorts of tricks to save money along the way. It can be done! Research and planning are powerful tools for money-saving success in all kinds of travel, but they are especially powerful tools at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
After dozens of Disney trips (and a few money-wasting mistakes along the way), here are my very best tips for saving money at Disney destinations.
1. Buy discount tickets.
Did you know that there are several authorized resellers that sell the very same Disney park tickets that Disney sells, but at a discount? These tickets carry the same perks and access that you would have if you purchased from a Disney itself. TravelingMom recommends Undercover Tourist, which sells both Disney World and Disneyland tickets with a wide variety of options.
2. Stay off-site.
Disney hotels often have immersive theming and cool perks, but they are usually more expensive than equivalent off-property hotels not owned by Disney. Staying elsewhere can save you a lot, especially for larger families who need a suite or more than one room. Plus, at Disneyland, many of these inexpensive hotels are within walking distance of the parks!
3. Stay on-site.
Wait, didn’t I just tell you off-site hotels are often cheaper? That’s true, but not always, particularly at Walt Disney World. Don’t forget the freebies that being a Walt Disney World resort guest entails: free parking, free Magical Express airport transfers, and free transportation from your resort to the parks. If you can snag Disney lodging during a sale, you can sometimes do Disney cheaper on-site.
4. Use a travel agent.
Disney is one of the few destinations that pays travel agents, which means there is no cost to you for using them. Travel agents often have access to and knowledge of the best deals, so it can even pay to use them. They can save you a ton of time, and time is money!
5. Cash in frequent flyer miles or hotel points.
Some of the biggest Disney trip costs are airfare and hotel, but there are ways to pay nothing for either of those aspects of your trip if you have miles and points in your loyalty accounts. (TravelingMom has lots of tips for maximizing frequent flyer miles, so get started!).
6. Sign up for Mousesavers.
Mousesavers is a site devoted to saving money on Disney and other theme park vacations. Get on their newsletter for exclusive discounts and notifications when sales are happening.
7. Sign up for Disney’s emails.
Disney has several sales and deals throughout the year – hotel discounts, free dining plan, and more. Sign up for emails from your favorite Disney park to make sure you don’t miss a deal as soon as it is live.
8. Take a refillable water bottle to the parks.
Both Orlando and Anaheim can get hot, so you’ll need to drink plenty of water while you are in the parks. Pack a small water bottle and refill at water fountains or in restaurants throughout the day to avoid the cost of bottled water.
9. Bring your own stroller.
If you have kids under the age of 5, a stroller is a good idea even if they’ve outgrown using it at home. Rental costs from Disney are costly at $15 a day. Consider bringing an umbrella stroller from home or renting from a third party company like Magic Strollers with lower costs.
10. Bring your own parks gear.
Any essentials you need to buy at the parks will cost more than they will back home. Pack these if you can: ponchos, baby supplies, and even little extras like glow necklaces. Of course, if you are flying and suitcase space is at a premium, choose carefully!
11. Souvenir shop before your trip.
Disney licensed products can be found everywhere these days. Consider purchasing items like t-shirts, autograph books, and trinkets beforehand for a cheaper price. In my family, “Tinkerbell” brings each child a small gift each night we stay at Disney (usually purchased at Target for $1 apiece). This strategy drastically reduces the whining for pricey park souvenirs throughout the day.
12. Make a grocery run.
Dining in the parks every day for every meal is a budget buster. Eat a meal or two using supplies you can stock in your hotel room. Don’t have time to make a trip off-site to get groceries? There are several inexpensive grocery delivery services in the Orlando area. You’ll still save a ton off of park prices even paying that fee.
13. Snack your way across the parks.
You can save a lot of money by simply making a meal of a few signature Disney snacks rather than a dining at a table service (or sometimes even quick service) restaurant. My favorite snack value? The giant turkey leg, hands down. Even more cheap snack options abound during special events like the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival (spring) or Food and Wine Festival (fall).
14. Spend a day doing non-park activities.
There is a lot to do outside the parks, so save on a day of tickets by taking a theme park break. Instead, spend a day lounging by the pool, schedule a character meal at a non-park location, or explore Disney Springs (Downtown Disney at Disneyland).
15. Skip the park hopper option.
Another way to save on ticket costs is to skip some of the add-ons, particularly the park hopper option. Park hopping takes time, particularly at Disney World, and might be too challenging for those with young kids.
16. Go right before your child turns 3.
As soon as your children turn three, they will need a park ticket to visit all Disney parks. Child discounts aren’t a huge savings off of the (very high) adult prices, so it really pays to go to Disney when your children are still free.
17. Get a Disney Chase credit card.
Chase bank offers two Disney credit cards that frequent Disney travelers should consider. Using them earns Disney dollar rewards that can be used at Disney, but the bigger perk is the dining and merchandise discounts that come with using the cards.
18. Buy discounted Disney gift cards.
You can use Disney gift cards for nearly all of your expenses at Disney, including paying a vacation package before your trip. Getting those cards at a discount means you’ll save on nearly everything. There are a number of ways to get them: eBay, Gift Card Granny, Sam’s Club, or even grocery stores if you have a credit card that offers 5% cash back on grocery purchases. My personal favorite is getting cards at Target using the Target RedCard which offers 5% off Target purchases.
19. Enroll your kids in Y.E.S.
The Disney Youth Education Series (Y.E.S.) is a great way for your child to learn while at Disney but it also entitles your family to ticket discounts. Combine a vacation and a learning experience for savings.
20. Pass on Photopass – but use the photographers!
Disney’s Memory Maker/Photopass service is great for capturing your Disney memories (I buy it almost every trip), but it simply doesn’t fit in every family’s budget. Even if you don’t purchase Photopass, photographers are happy to use your own camera to take a photo of you and your family.
21. Take advantage of Disney freebies.
Although there are plenty of things in Disney parks that are expensive, Disney is exceptionally generous with certain freebies. Don’t miss this list of 13 free things at Disney World.
How do you save money on your Disney vacations? Share your best tips with us!