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Do you want to go to Disney World?
Me too! I just love Disney World. And planning Disney vacations is one of my spiritual gifts.
For a family of four, a week at Disney could cost anywhere from $4,000–10,000 or more, which is a lot of money! But you can do it for less. There are plenty of ways you can save money on your Disney vacation—up to thousands of dollars, actually. You just have to do some planning up front.
When Is the Right Time to Plan a Disney Vacation?
Are you out of debt?
When you’re in Baby Steps 1, 2, or 3, Mickey will have to wait . . . for now. There’s no room in the budget for Disney because any extra money is either building up your starter emergency fund or paying down debt.
But don’t give up on your Disney dream just because you’re not debt-free! Actually, I encourage you use that dream as even more motivation to pay off your debt quickly. Just put on some Disney music as you do your budget each month and think about how good that Mickey Mouse ice cream will taste when you’re debt-free!
How old are your kids?
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There’s no right or wrong answer to this. In fact, I’m all for going to Disney without the kids! But if you want to take the whole family, there are some pros and cons to consider, depending on their ages.
A big pro of taking anyone under 3 years old is that their park admission is free. That’s a savings of $169 per day for the Park Hopper ticket! And I can tell you from experience: When I took my daughter to Disney around this age, there was nothing like seeing her meet Cinderella for the first time. That moment was priceless. The downside is she may not remember it when she’s older. But we’ll always have the pictures!
I hear the sweet spot is between the ages of 6 and 10. At that point, they’re old enough to enjoy the anticipation of planning a Disney vacation. Plus, they’re taller, so they can go on more of the rides.
10 Ways to Save Money (and Time!) on Your Disney Vacation
If you’re in a good position financially and it’s the right time for your family to go, I have good news for you! Here are 10 tips for you to do Disney on a budget and kick your experience up a notch at no extra cost.
1. Spend some days at the park and some days at the pool.
This is my favorite tip for your Disney vacation. You don’t have to spend every day of your vacation in the Disney parks! Trust me, your feet will thank you for breaking up the week with one day at the park and the next at your hotel pool. If you stay on property at a Disney hotel, the pools make you feel like you’re still at the park! They’re themed, they’re huge, and they’re just incredible.
There are plenty of other places you can go on your “off-park” days and still be immersed in Disney magic. Head over to Disney Springs for shopping, restaurants and free entertainment. Go to Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort for dinner and stay to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks on the beach—for free!
This one tip will save you hundreds or thousands of dollars in Disney park tickets, depending on how many people you’re going with and how many days you’re staying.
2. Skip the Park Hopper and visit one park per day.
It seems like a good deal to buy the $169 Park Hopper ticket and get access to all four Disney World parks in one day. However, if you’re staying for multiple days, you can make your budget go further if you forego park-hopping for a day or two and just visit one park per day. A single-park ticket is $109, saving you $60 per person, per day.*
It’s important to be realistic about how much you can and want to get done each day. Moving from park to park is time-consuming and can be exhausting, especially with little ones. But if you’re only going for a couple of days, maybe you do the Park Hopper ticket one of your days and spend another whole day at Magic Kingdom—which, believe me, is entirely possible and amazing and worth it!
3. Buy Disney gift cards at a discount.
If you’re a member of Costco or Sam’s Club, you have access to purchasing Disney gift cards at 5% off. You can use these gift cards to pay for your park tickets, Disney hotels, food on property and more. While it’s not a ton of money, it will save you $50 for every $1,000 you spend—and that’s, like, 10 Mickey Mouse ice cream bars!
4. Don’t buy the Dining Plan.
I love the food at Disney. Just give me all the food! But I don’t love the Dining Plan. It’s a way to prepay for your meals on Disney property, but it’s not a money saver. In fact, in order to make sure you don’t lose money, you’ll have to do some math on-site. For example, if you get too many ice cream sandwiches during the day, you’ll probably have to forfeit your fries at dinner.
Just pay for your food as you go with cash. Studies show that people spend more money when using a card instead of cash.(1) Plus, you won’t waste time trying to figure out if you’ve met your quota for the day.
5. Bring your own food.
Did you know that Disney allows you to bring food into the park? This is potentially huge savings in your budget! You can pack a nice picnic lunch with sandwiches, fruit, water bottles, cookies—whatever your family likes—and store it in lockers inside Disney for $7 per day. There are no coolers allowed, so limit what you bring to things that don’t need to be kept ice cold.
6. Arrive just before the park opens.
This is a huge time-saver, because if you’re right there and ready to go when they open the park, you can book it straight to your favorite ride. Lines get long later in the day, but if you get there early, you won’t have much of a wait—and you won’t have to waste a FastPass (more on those later)!
7. Use PhotoPass photographers but don’t buy the package.
For $199, Disney’s PhotoPass photographers will take professional photos of you all over the park. You get access to the photos online after your trip, but that’s a pretty big hit to your budget. The cool thing is, you can actually walk up to these photographers and ask them to take your picture with your phone. They’ll still take your photo with their camera too, but you don’t have to buy it. This way, you’ll have the picture instantly and save $200.
8. Buy your Mickey ears ahead of time.
You can find some really cute Mickey ears online. I found some on Etsy for $10.99, compared to the $27.99 you’ll pay in the park. And while we’re on the topic of souvenirs, you can save a bunch of money by ordering all of them online ahead of time! A friend of mine did this and left one toy on their kids’ hotel bed every night, like it was a gift from “Mickey.” How cute is that?
9. Don’t forget your sunscreen.
You guys, it’s Florida—the land of heat and sun. And the only thing I want you to bring home from your Disney vacation are amazing memories and maybe a cute souvenir, not a sunburn! But you’ll pay up to 40% more for sunscreen in the park, so be sure to pick some up at the grocery store before you go.
10. And the often debated topic of where to stay . . .
Disney Hotels: Are they the best value for your vacation budget?
When you’re making your Disney vacation budget, you might wonder whether or not it’s worth it to stay at one of Disney’s beautiful on-property resorts. There’s no denying it’s more expensive, but staying on property will save you money on transportation and gives you perks you won’t get anywhere else.
So, let’s break it down: The Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort is right next to Disney World in Orlando, and I found a rate for $121 per night. Disney’s own Pop Century Resort is $164 per night. At first glance, staying at the Wyndham looks like a savings of $43 per night.
However, Disney offers free shuttle transportation to and from all of the parks. Wyndham charges $7 per person for this service, which would be $28 per day for a family of four. If you’re flying, Disney also offers free transportation to and from the Orlando airport. This saves about $70 in Uber costs.
The other major benefit to staying at a Disney hotel is the ability to book your dining reservations and FastPasses early. And you guys, FastPasses are everything. They’re free, and you’re guaranteed three per day with any park ticket. FastPasses are a huge time-saver because they let you go right to the front of the line at whatever attraction you want!
When you stay with Disney, you’re able to reserve your FastPasses for the rides you want 60 days ahead of your trip. If you stay off-site, you can reserve them 30 days in advance. By the time your trip is 30 days out, there’s a good chance the most popular rides will be booked up for FastPasses. You might have to wait in line an hour or more for two minutes on Slinky Dog Dash!
As you can tell, I’m pretty passionate about saving money without sacrificing experience on a Disney vacation. The best way to plan for your Disney vacation is to budget for it! Check out our free app, EveryDollar, to start working on your budget today—and you’ll live happily ever after.
Neither Rachel Cruze nor the producers of this content are in any way affiliated with or sponsored by The Walt Disney Company or its subsidiaries. All marks and goodwill of Walt Disney World or related brands are that of The Walt Disney Company and/or its affiliates. Nothing in this article is a paid advertisement or endorsement of Walt Disney World or any affiliated brand.
*Prices in this article pulled from Disneyworld.disney.go.com on 4/1/19 and subject to change.