When most people think of a Disney World vacation, they see dollar signs. It's true that although it's not the most budget-friendly vacation destination, you can still go without breaking the bank. Here's some of our favorite ways to save money! Hope it helps!
1- PLAN AHEAD.
The sooner you can start planning your Disney vacation, the more you'll save...and not just money. You'll save your sanity if you know what you're getting into before you arrive. We always book our resort stay over six months out and almost never know what sort of discount we will get but because we book so early, we can wait and adjust our reservations as needed. We stay informed and keep our eyes out for new discounts. The most popular are Disney's Free Dining Promotion, room-only discounts coupled with 3rd party discounted tickets (which I'll cover below), AAA discounts and Disney's Military Discounts. We do the numbers and based on how many people are going, how many rooms we'll need and what we want to do while we're there, we find the best discount for our family and add it to our existing reservation BUT we are always aware that Disney isn't a charity and there's always a very real possibility that we'll have to pay the full price we are quoted when we book...thankfully, that has yet to happen.
*When you book a room or resort package (room with tickets and/or dining) you're only required (currently) to put a $200 deposit down. The remainder is due 45 days before your arrival.
2- GO DURING A VALUE SEASON.
At Disney World, not all days are equal. Peak season weekend nights can cost you almost twice as much as the same room would cost you on a weekday night in the value season. Also, some of the special dining experiences that have a set price will also go up in the busier times of year...not to mention the crowd levels!
Value season is generally considered...
January (after New Year's) UNTIL just before President's Day week in February
The week AFTER Labor Day (the later in the week, generally the better the crowds) until the week before Thanksgiving
The week AFTER Thanksgiving weekend until around mid-December
Clearly, if you have children who attend school, you'll need to decide how willing you are to pull them out and for how long.
3- STAY ON PROPERTY.
Granted, even the most economical Disney Value Resorts will cost you at least $84 a night (a weeknight during a value season) which is more than you might be able to find off-property but by staying on-property, you save yourself the hassle of having to take a taxi, rent a car or bring your own (which will cost you $14 a day to park). In fact, if you fly in, Disney will pick you up at the airport and take you straight to your resort for free with their Magical Express service. A couple weeks before your vacation, you'll get luggage tags in the mail. You put them on your checked bags at your home airport and you don't even have to lift a finger for them again until they magically arrive in your room a couple hours after you check-in.
*Be sure to pack at least a full days worth of clothing including swim wear in your carry-on so you don't end up waiting for your checked bags to arrive before you can go to the parks or go swimming
Before someone comments that other hotels/resorts offer airport pick-up, drop-off and transportation to and from the parks, let us just say this...they may offer the service, but Disney has it perfected. The wait time for Disney transportation is ALWAYS significantly better than non-Disney-owned resorts. For more information about staying on-property vs staying off-property (with particular emphasis on the military resort Shades of Green) go HERE.
Lastly when it comes to staying on-property, by doing so, you are eligible for Disney's Dining Plan which brings us to tip #4...
You have to eat and Disney's Dining Plan offers resort guests the chance to basically pre-pay for meals at discounted rates, generally saving you (if you were to order exactly the same food out of pocket) around 15% but more than the money savings, it's a convenience issue. You pre-pay it and don't have to think twice about how much to bring for food-except to remember to budget for tips which are not included. But the big savings with the Dining Plan comes when Disney offers it as a free package inclusion. It can save you a TON of money...in fact, this fall our family will be at Disney World for 8 days and we will save nearly $1000 just on food because we were able to get free dining as a package inclusion.
If, you decide NOT to stay on property-as some people do because they have timeshares or extra large families, there's still ways to save on dining at Disney World. You can choose to only eat at counter service restaurants (fast food style but generally higher quality food...all of the parks and resorts have counter service options) rather than the more expensive sit-down restaurants. Or, you can can limit your sit-down meals to a few special experiences and bring food from home. Even though we almost always opt for the dining plan, we also like to bring breakfast bars. We use them both in the morning at the resort and in the parks as pick-me-ups for the kiddos.
*Keep in mind that children under 3 not only get FREE park admission, they also are permitted to eat off their parent's plates at all Disney restaurants so be sure to look into the various buffet restaurants.
The tickets are not cheap. There's no way around it and they seem to get more and more expensive each year but there are discounts offered. However, even at full price, the longer you stay, the less you'll pay per day...for example...
An adult (10 years and up) ticket (without park hopping or water park options added) will cost $89 but if you were to stay for 7 days, it's only $288 which averages out to be about $41 a day. If you stay for 10 days, it goes down to less than $32 a day.
But who wants to pay full price so let's talk discounts. First, we're a military family so we need to mention the Military Discount on Tickets. For only $138 you can get four days of park hopping tickets. Unfortunately, the current promotion ends at the end of September. It is expected that Disney will release another military discount but no word on if it will be the same discount just extended or a whole other offer. We will update when we hear more. If you're not a military family, there are still discounts available...Mousesavers and Undercover Tourists (our personal favorite) are two of the most popular websites that offer discounted tickets.
*Discounted tickets generally include a minimum of 3 days
If you don't get your tickets either directly from Disney, from your local military ITT or MWR office, or from one of the two sites I posted here, be sure to do your research. There are scammers out there and it would be heart breaking to think you're buying official Disney Park tickets only find out once you're in Orlando that you've been scammed.
6- Y.E.S. PROGRAM.
Technically this falls under the tickets category but it's really cool and deserves it's own spot on the list. This one is a little complicated but it can save you a ton of money and is PERFECT for homeschooling groups or large families that might not otherwise be able to go. Basically, Disney has a year-round amazing education program called the Youth Education Series or Y.E.S. for short. Within the program, children from Kindergarten through 12th grade can choose between Physical Science, Natural Science, Arts and Humanities and Leadership & Career programs. Students become theme park scientist learning physics by holding beakers of water while riding a roller coaster to see the effects or step behind the scenes of La Nuba by Cirque Du Solei to learn what it takes to run a Broadway-caliber show.
The different program options are amazing in and of themselves but the best part is that when you enroll your child/children in a Y.E.S. program, your entire family is eligible for deeply discounted tickets.
For the best, most up-to-date information call 1-877-WD-YOUTH.
With Disney, just about anything you can dream up is possible but not everything you can dream up is necessarily in the budget. As amazing as it is to have dinner INSIDE the castle at Cinderella's Royal Table, at a minimum of $65 for adults and $40 for children (more depending on the season), it can be too expensive for many families. Instead, go to Akershus in the Norway pavilion of Epcot and have and equally delightful Princess dinner (usually attended by Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Belle and Ariel...among others but it changes often enough that there's no way to know ahead of time) for as little as $42 for adults and $23 for children.
Another popular Princess attraction is the Bibbidy Boppidy Boutique but even the most basic package starts at over $50. If you can swing it, we REALLY recommend it, but not all families can and if you have more than one little princess, the total can really start to add up. Instead, consider taking your little princess to The Pirate's League for a Pirate Princess makeover starting around $30. If that's still too much for you, there's always the Harmony Barber Shop on Main St. Boys and girls of all ages can get colored hair gel (in some really fun designs) and glitter for only $7 (plus tip). We've had kiddos do all of the above and honestly had just as great of a time getting the glitter/hair gel treatment at Harmony Barber Shop as they had at the Bibbidy Boppidy Boutique.
*Whether you're wanting to do the Bibbidy Boppidy Boutique (407-WDW-STYLE), the Pirate's League (407-WDW-CREW) OR Harmony Barber Shop (407-WDW-PLAY), be sure to call ahead and make a reservation...you may be able to just walk into the Harmony Barber Shop (doubtful you can on the other two) but you'll end up waiting as it's a popular stop for "first hair cuts."
8- BRING IT, DON'T BUY IT.
In addition to some of our favorite snacks, there's a couple other things you can bring from home to save money...
Costumes-whether your little one is going to the Bibbidy Boppidy Boutique, the Pirate's League or just wants to dress up to meet Mickey and the gang, Disney costumes are not cheap. In fact, with accessories, it's not uncommon to pay well over $100 for one child's costume. Meanwhile, we bought fabric last night ($12) and plan to make new Peter Pan and Tinkerbell costumes. Even if you're not sewing-inclined, hop on ebay or amazon and save yourself a ton of money.
Light Up Toys-while you wait for one of the theme park fireworks to begin, Disney cast members will be there to sell your child every single light up toy known to man and at a minimum of $15 a piece, it can add up. Save yourself some money...or even just the headache of having to say no at Disney World (gasp! what parent would do that?!).
Disney Pins- pin trading is more popular than ever...particularly in Epcot and sometimes parents go assuming that their child (or they) won't be interested, which leaves them with few options in the parks if they're wrong. Spend $20 on ebay and save yourself $100.
Weather Gear-whether it's a stroller fan or rain pancho, Disney will happily sell it to you but it won't be cheap. Bring them from home and save money.
*Disney does NOT sell stroller rain covers! Unless you plan to rent from a 3rd party which does off stroller covers, you will NEED to bring your own...it's Florida. It rains. A lot.
Granted, there's some souvenirs you just have to have from the parks but for your kids' second grade teacher's assistant, there's no reason to spend buckets of money to bring home something special. If you have a car...your own or rented...you can go less than ten minutes from most Disney Resorts to the local super Walmart and get loads of Florida/Disney merchandise (Disney...but not specifically Disney Parks) for pennies on the dollar. Also nearby are a couple of very popular Disney Outlet Stores which do carry official Disney Parks Merchandise.
If you don't have a vehicle with you, you can still get a nice souvenir for not a lot of money. In fact, you can use your Disney Dining Plan snack credits to buy cute little boxes of Minnie's Cookies, giant Lollipops and other fun things...we like to do this with extra snack credits at the end of a vacation for our children's friends.
10. BUDGET. BUDGET. BUDGET.
The best way to save money at Disney World is to set a budget and stick to it. It's easy to get carried away in the magic of it all and spend $50 here $100 there and it adds up. Instead of charging souvenirs and restaurant tips back to your room, load up some Disney Gift Cards (available at your local Disney Store) or online before you go on your vacation and use those to stay within your budget.
Disney World is a blast. It's called the Happiest Place on Earth for good reason. It manages to set you apart from the rest of the chaos of the world and transports you to a simpler time. No matter what your budget is, you can have a magical time.