Ok, I’m going to admit, I read every article on this topic and usually I am angry by the time I finish because, although they *may* have saved money, they missed incredible experiences, or unknowingly spent more than they could have and still missed out!
As a travel agent, I know about all the deals and promotions available at certain times of the year. More importantly, as someone who goes to Disney multiple times a year, I know that the best “promotion” may not be best for your family!
So, behold my top 10 money-saving tips for Walt Disney World!
1. Stay on Property! – I don’t care what anyone says, it will save you money! Between the three different levels of hotels, something will work for your budget. If you are on property, you don’t need a car – Disney will transport you to and from the airport and all over Disney property for free! It is roughly $17/day to park at Disney and gone are the days where you could “sneak” your car into a resort or park at Downtown Disney and use the buses! They are really cracking down on this and towing cars! Factor in the cost of a car for a week and parking and I guarantee a Disney resort of some kind is cheaper!
2. Go during value season! – While I agree that there is no longer a time when the parks are dead, there is still a noticeable difference in crowd level and prices! We always go in January and it is significantly easier to use the promotions and not overly crowded! You get “more for your money” in the fact that you aren’t standing in line for 2 hours to ride each ride!
3. Price out the dining plan – Yes, it’s true, even with “free dining,” the dining plan and/or the free dining promotion may not be best for your family! We love to eat, but will often share lunches if we have a big dinner planned. In the way we vacation, the dining plan is almost always a waste of money because we just don’t eat that much food! Look at menus and the prices of the things you like! We like appetizers and not dessert, so we end up adding things on and skipping parts that we already paid for! It’s just not for everyone! (more on this to come!)
4. Pay in gift cards! – Seriously this can save you a boat load! Our local grocery store offers $0.10 off a gallon of gas at their gas station for every $50 spent in gift cards. At different times during the year they offer $0.20 off fuel perks! We always stock up and pay for our trip, giving us free gas! We do this for flights too – we are on our third free tank (you can fill up one car and one gas can per trip when using the fuel perks), so we take a 10 gallon gas can and can actually fill both cars! That is easily a $75 savings per free tank with our car and SUV! Although it won’t save you money on your trip, it will save you money in everyday life.
On the other hand, you can buy your gift cards at Target using your Target red card (credit or debit) and save 5% on your total. That can be $150 off of a $3000 trip!
5. Pack your own breakfast and snacks – This is a big one for us too! We pack some pop tarts and cereal in our suitcase, along with snacks we can throw in our bag for the park. That saves so much money instead of stopping for a $10 snack every time you need something to munch on! We get a half gallon of milk at the resort upon check in and use it for breakfast! We also always get the kids meals that come with things like grapes in the small packages and carry them with us for a later snack for our little one since she won’t eat everything in one sitting! Saves so much money!
6. FREE ice water! – Every quick service location on property will give you a cup of ice water for free if you ask for it! Make sure to specify that you want a cup of ice water or you will get a $4 bottle of water! I can’t tell you how much money this saved on our last trip!!
7. Bring your Souvenirs with You! – Everything at the parks and the gift shops are expensive. Did you know that you can get the same merchandise (except for park-exclusives) from the Disney Store Online for much cheaper? That’s because there aren’t sales in Disney World, but there are at the Disney Store! Also, many other retailers offer Disney products for much better prices! Our rule of thumb is we buy one thing each trip, everything else we bring with us! This goes for ponchos too! It rains in Florida, bring them with you! They are $5 at Walgreens – or $17 in the park!
8. Stroller Rentals – If you are in the stroller age group, you know how hard it can be traveling with a stroller. Unless you are flying where your stroller flies free (thank you Southwest!), I strongly recommend renting from an outside vendor. Kingdom Strollers is by far our favorite, it is delivered to your resort and at the end of your trip, they will pick it up from bell services. Pricing is about $65 for the week for a City Mini stroller that is extremely easy to transport and also includes insurance! Those hard, plastic strollers in the park are about $15 per day and cannot leave the park. So if you can’t bring your own, this is the next best thing! If your child is a little bit older, I recommend buying a cheapy umbrella stroller from Walmart or Amazon *you can have it shipped to your resort!* and for $20 have a stroller for the week! At the end of the week, give it to bell services and “pay it forward” to another family who needs one!
9. Skip the Park Hopper! – Unless you are veteran WDW goers, you are going to need full days in each park to see and experience everything! The park hopper is an extra $60 per person, which can add up quickly!
10. Plan Ahead!!!! – If nothing else, the surefire way to save money in Walt Disney World is to plan ahead. I usually take a day and look at our dining reservations and the menus and have a rough idea of what we are going to spend for the week in dining. Obviously this is going to be a ball-park number because sometimes you just get hungry, but on our last trip I was within $60 of what we actually spent! I also lay out our days to maximize the most fun. We go to the park which has extra magic hours on that day so we can play longer, we eat in locations that are close to the park we are going to be at so we don’t waste time traveling.
Disney is never going to be a *cheap* vacation, but it can always be a do-able vacation if you plan ahead and do it right!!