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Top Ten Tips for Saving Money on Your Disney Vacation
When most people start to think about taking a trip to Walt Disney World the first thing that they think about is the cost. Yes, a trip to Disney is expensive, but there are ways to cut the costs. Saving small amounts here and there will add up quickly and help you to save overall.
It doesn’t matter if your trip to Disney is a once in a lifetime opportunity or if you are a seasoned pro, you will still want to save. While all of the tips here won’t apply to everyone, they will give you a general idea of places where you can cut back on your spending. Use the tips that work for your situation, apply them to your vacation and enjoy the savings. You may discover that a Disney vacation is more affordable than you imagined!
With this list I’ve tried to group similar items together to make it easier to use. These are not the only ways to save money, but hopefully they will help you to think of other places where you might be able to cut back as well. There is a reason that some people return to Disney year after year, it’s truly a magical place. It also doesn’t have to break the bank.
10. Use a Travel Agent
Since it is relatively easy to plan a vacation online you might think that using a travel agent is just going to add to the cost. You can book your flight online, make room reservations online and even buy your tickets online. Too many people think that a travel agent is no longer necessary. Those people are wrong. Travel agents, especially those that specialize in planning Disney vacations, have a wealth of knowledge. They know of discounts and special offers and can even apply those after you are booked if your reservation is eligible and available for that offer. They will also be able to answer your questions and give you advice. When planning your trip to Disney you will want to find an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner because they will have even more special knowledge and insider secrets. You can tell a travel agency is authorized by the special logo with mouse ears on the site.
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9. Travel Off Season
If possible, take your trip off season. Not only will the parks be less crowded but you will also find huge discounts on hotels. If you’re planning on staying at a Disney Resort Hotel they will often include the Disney Dining Plan (restrictions apply) during less busy times of the year. Disney lists their rooms and prices right on their website by how busy the time of year will be, the savings can be substantial. If you’re planning to stay off property the area hotels also slash their prices during the off season to fill their rooms. No one is saying to take the kids out of school to spend a week in Florida, but if you can plan your trip around a time when schools are in session you will save quite a bit on lodging, which is one of the largest expenses of a Disney vacation.
8. Where to Stay
This is a complicated topic, one for which there is really no right or wrong answer. There are three main choices on where to stay, not including timeshares.
The first choice that you have is to stay on Disney property at a Disney Resort Hotel. Yes, even the value rooms can seem expensive, but if you add in a few other factors you will see that staying on Disney property could save you money. If you are flying into Orlando and planning on doing nothing but Disney it might make sense to stay at a Disney hotel. With Disney’s Magical Express they will pick you up at the airport so you can save the expense of renting a car. You also won’t have to pay for parking at the parks. Transportation on Disney property is easy, you just grab a bus or a boat. Remember that if you’re planning on leaving Disney at some point and you don’t have a car you can use a taxi or Uber. When you’re staying at a Disney Resort you’re also eligible for the Disney Dining Plan which, depending on how you and your family eat, can save a lot of money, as much as 30%.
Your second choice is to stay at one of the many non-Disney hotels in the area. They are everywhere and many advertise their current rates right out front. If you don’t care about immersing yourself in the “Disney experience” 24/7 you might want to stay at one of these. Many of the closest hotels to Disney include limited transportation to the parks so you will not have to pay for parking at the theme parks. If you’re looking at your room as just a place to sleep this might be the option for you. If you’re flying into Orlando you will want to rent a car but you will have the freedom to go anywhere in the area that you want to go, you won’t be limited to only Disney. Many of the hotels in the area also offer a free breakfast so that is one less meal that you will need to pay for. Be sure to check all of their terms, however, because many of the offsite hotels do charge for parking and some have a daily resort fee.
The third choice works well if you have several people traveling with you. If you have a large family or are planning on vacationing with others you might want to consider renting a vacation home. There are plenty of them available only a few miles from Disney and they are more affordable than you might think. With a vacation home you will have plenty of room to spread out and you’ll enjoy all of the comforts of home. You will have a full kitchen (another place to save money), several bedrooms and most likely a private pool. Having a car is a must at such a place, many are not on the bus line and there will be no transportation to the parks.
7. Buy From an Authorized Ticket Reseller
Tickets are a tricky thing. They’re expensive so you’re going to want to save money on them. If you stay offsite or choose not to book a Magic Your Way package at a Walt Disney World resort you will need to purchase tickets individually. You should research the pricing of the packages if you are staying at a Disney resort, because with some discount offers you may be much better off bundling everything as a package.
That said, it is possible to save some on tickets. The discount is not going to be drastic but every little bit makes a difference. You need to look for an authorized Disney ticket reseller. Once again, there’s a logo for it, mouse ears with the words “selected ticket seller” at the bottom. There are a lot of scams out there with tickets so be careful. Never buy used tickets, they are non-transferable and you will be turned away at the entrance. There are locations in Orlando that sell these tickets, and you may also see them listed on eBay or Craigslist. Remember that if a deal seems too good to be true, you probably shouldn’t trust it. There are also ticket deals that are linked to high pressure timeshare presentations.
The past couple of years ticket prices have gone up annually. The clock on your tickets doesn’t start until the first time that you go through the turnstile. Buy your tickets early and avoid a possible markup before your trip.
One final note, make sure that you only buy tickets for the number of days that you are going to use them. You pay less per day the more days that you have on your ticket, but if some of those days aren’t used you’re wasting your money. Also don’t add options that you’re not going to use. Read the choices carefully and make your decision wisely. You can often put together a very good plan without using the park hopper add-on option, for instance.
6. Consider Buying an Annual Pass
Sure, they are expensive, but there are times when buying an Annual Pass will actually save you money. If you plan to make Walt Disney World an annual destination you could save money if you buy an Annual Pass instead of regular tickets. For example, if you travel the first week of August one year and the last week of July the next an Annual Pass might cost you less. Annual Passholders get discounts on merchandise, on rooms and in some restaurants, and more plus you will receive free parking at the theme parks. (Not all Florida Resident Annual Pass options include parking.) You might want to consider buying one Annual Pass for someone in your group so that you can get the discounts and regular tickets for everyone else.
5. Bring Your Camera
Disney’s PhotoPass service is an incredible idea. You’ll see the photographers set up at all of the best picture taking spots. They will take the pictures for you and scan your Magic Band or ticket, or give you a card which will allow you to view them later. It’s a convenient service. It’s also an added expense if you decide to buy the pictures, and believe me, there will be a lot of them! Instead of counting on Disney to get the perfect picture for you and charging you later for it, bring your own camera. The PhotoPass photographers will be happy to take the same shot for you with your camera if you just ask. You will end up with the same basic picture but without the additional expense. Or you may choose to purchase the Memory Maker product which allows you unlimited downloads of all of your photos for a certain length of time for one price—if you take a lot this is well worth it since it also includes the ride photos and some ride videos.
4. Plan Your Meal Times
Disney dining can take up a large chunk of your vacation budget if you let it. You need to plan your meal times so that you won’t be hungry throughout the day, but so that you can still save. If your hotel has a free breakfast make sure you take advantage of it. If not, consider having cereal and milk or something like protein bars in your room. Once you hit the parks have a snack around lunchtime and then an early dinner. That way you’ll only pay for one full meal that day. If there is a full service restaurant that you really want to try, make a lunch reservation instead of a dinner one. Sometime the lunch menu is often cheaper than the dinner menu. If you are on the Disney Dining Plan that includes table service meals make sure that you have reservations for the same number of credits you have so that you make the most of the plan.
3. Bring Snacks
Many people don’t realize that Disney allows you to bring snacks and drinks into the parks. This is one huge way that you can save. Don’t overdo it, of course, but making your own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches back at the hotel can take care of lunch for the day. If you bring crackers or other small snacks with you, your kids will also not be quite as cranky when it is getting close to time to eat but you’re stuck in line. You can also bring in your own water bottles and fill them at the numerous drinking fountains, there is no reason to pay full price for a bottle of water.
2. Dine on Appetizers
Full service restaurants at Walt Disney World need to be experienced. They run from whimsical to romantic and everything in between. The meals also tend to be expensive. There are two simple ways that you can experience a full service restaurant, end up full, and still save money. The first is to make your meal off of the appetizer menu. Ask your server about the size of an appetizer, you’ll be surprised by how filling some of them are. The second way to save is to split an entrée (if you are not on the dining plan), at many of the restaurants they are huge. Your server will gladly bring you an extra dish or sometimes they will even divide the portion in two in the kitchen for you. You will still be able to experience all that the restaurant has to offer but you will have saved money. An added bonus is that you’ll be full but you won’t feel bloated and will have saved a few calories as well.
1. Scale Back on Souvenirs
Part of the fun of a Disney vacation is bragging to people back home that you were there. You’ll want to get T-shirts, caps, mugs and other unique mementos to remember your trip by. The price adds up quickly. Before you leave for Orlando you need to set a souvenir budget. Carrying a set amount of cash and using that for souvenirs helps, that way you won’t end up with a shocking credit card bill. You will also need to be prepared to say “no” to your children. They are going to find many things that they “just have to have” that they will forget about a week after you return home. If your kids are old enough you might want to give them a souvenir budget as well, a certain amount that they can spend each day. Make sure that they realize that they won’t get any more. If you can control the amount that you spend on souvenirs your trip will be a lot more affordable.