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  • Writer's pictureBrenda

Disney on a Budget



You might have noticed that we like to visit Walt Disney World. A lot. Since we have yet to get a money tree to sprout in our yard we have plenty of experience finding ways to squeeze every single dollar out of our vacation budget. Let’s look at some of the ways we save money on our Walt Disney World vacations.


Take advantage of Disney discounts: Disney will release discounts on packages or room stays during low attendance times of year to encourage people to book trips during those times. If you can be flexible about the timing of your trip you can take advantage of these discounts to save money. In the past we have completely changed the time of year for a trip based on discounted package availability. Common discounts include 10-30% off room only rates - 10% for value resorts and up to 30% off deluxe resorts (bookable with room only and package reservations), 2-extra day tickets with purchase of 4-day or more package reservation, and Free Dining - this one is super popular.


Try to avoid peak crowd times: If your kids are on a break from school, odds are everyone’s kids are on a break from school and are flocking to Disney. This is especially true for Spring Breaks, Easter holidays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Holidays. Don’t get us wrong, we adore Disney at Christmas, the decorations are on point and the weather is amazing - but it comes with a premium price tag. If possible try to plan a trip outside of those time frames: early January through President’s Day in February - excluding MLK weekend and Disney Marathon weekend is a much better time to visit pricewise. Also late August into early September, before spooky season, and Fall breaks for schools is another good time to check for lower baseline prices.


Compare staying on-site versus off-site: When we run numbers, value resorts typically run us the same as staying offsite once you include cost of parking and factoring less convenient travel to and from the parks. However, if you are looking for a more spacious hotel room, or a suite with a kitchen so you can cook meals in your room, then it is likely you will be able to save some money by staying off-site. An authorized Disney travel agent can help you with this.


Pick and choose your extras: There are lots of ways to plus a Disney vacation, from ticket types that offer the convenience or park hopping or water parks to the ability to use lightning lanes or even paying for a special viewing area for fireworks. While these extras are fun, and sometimes make the trip more streamlined or convenient, they are not necessary for having a fun and magical vacation. Below are a few popular extras that are common to add to a trip, but again, not necessary.

  • Park Hopper: this ticket type allows you to “hop” between different parks in the same day. If you do not have this add-on you can only do one park per day. Lots of people like the flexibility that comes with Park Hopper, but you can have a lovely vacation by focusing on one park per day. We often will not purchase Park Hopper unless it is part of a discounted package or we are going for a shortened trip where the only way to do every park is with a Park Hopper.

  • Genie+: There is no denying that having Genie+ is a fun extra, and you feel a bit like a rock-star as you enter the Lightning Lane, but by rope dropping and having a park touring strategy it is more than possible to manage the lines and achieve your must do goals. Plan to arrive at the park an hour before the stated opening time, hit the busiest rides first thing - then take your time with the other attractions.

  • Disney Dining Plan: Adding the DDP to your package and having at least most of your meals per-paid is very convenient, it is nice to not have to worry about choosing whether or not to buy the steak or avoiding sticker shock at a character meal. However, unless you really opt for the steak level pricing at every meal and want to enjoy multiple buffets during your trip, the cost of DDP is not worth it, often costing more than you would pay out of pocket for the same food.

  • MemoryMaker This is a great way to have some excellent family photos of your trip, and the ride photos and magical shots are especially fun. For us, it is an add-on must. If you are looking to save some money though, this is an easy thing to skip over. ***Pro-tip, you can still wait in line and get the photo with your family on your phone or personal camera. Just ask the Photopass photographer and they will be more than happy to capture the photo on your phone too.


Be conscientious about food choices: There is a dizzying array of food options all over the parks and resorts, it is easy to spend more money than you intended on food. By being creative about how you approach meals and snacks at WDW you can save a lot of money. Try sharing meals and/or ordering kids meals. The food portion sizes are often very generous. It is easy for two adults to split a single meal at a table service or even a quick service location. Bring your own food for breakfast and your own snacks. We like to bring oatmeal or cereal for breakfast and then we just have to buy milk from either the resort shop or food court. We also will either pack snacks or get an Amazon grocery order delivered to the hotel with food items for our trip. Read about having food delivered via a service, like Amazon grocery, here. Bring a refillable water bottle to use at the parks instead of buying a ton of water bottles. Hydrating is super important when visiting the parks, but it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. If you bring a refillable water bottle you can get free iced water at any of the quick service locations and there are water bottle refill stations near most bathrooms.


Aim for overpacking: Everything from sunscreen to bandages and cough drops are priced at a serious premium. If you think you might need it - pack it. Pack all the sundries, first aid supplies, and medication. If there is any conceivable way you could need it - pack it.

Buy cheap rain ponchos to bring. It will rain. During the summer - every day in the afternoon. Be prepared so you do not have to shell out big bucks for a WDW rain poncho you will never use again. Check the weather and make sure to bring layers if it looks like it might be chilly, the Disney jacket is fun but often priced around $70 or more.


Limit your park merch spending: Set a budget for yourself ahead of time and stick to it. Those one of a kind souvenirs can add up fast and hurt your bank account. If you have kids you can buy some Disney toys ahead of time to surprise them with on your trip, instead of having them purchase the same or similar toy for twice the price. Also, there are lots of eye catching light-up toys and bubble wands that many a child has thrown a tantrum about wanting. You can buy similar items on Amazon or at Target for a fraction of the price and present them to your child in the right setting. We actually once bought a special R2D2 light up spinner on one of our trips and then brought it back on a number of subsequent trips.


Buy discounted Disney Gift Cards: At both Sam’s Club and Costco, with corresponding membership, or Target with a Red Card you can purchase Disney Gift Cards with a bit of a discount. There is a 5% savings on every purchase at Target with our Red card, so we save $5 on every $100 gift card. The discount at Sam’s Club and Costco varies, ranges from 2.5% to 7.5%. While this amount may not seem like much, if you use it to pay for your whole vacation package it is a sizable savings. We also get Disney Gift Cards to use while we are at the parks. We spend a little time picking out where we want to eat and estimating our budget - remembering to add tips for sit down dining. We also figure out how much money each family member has saved for and plans to spend on Disney merchandise. We total that up and purchase Disney gift cards at Target using our Red card. The Disney Gift Cards are accepted at essentially all locations on Disney property, with the exception of the gas station or McDonalds on property and a few vendors at Disney Springs. Anywhere you can use a MagicBand you can use a Disney Gift Card. https://www.disneygiftcard.com/ allows you to combine smaller cards onto a larger one - up to $1000. Just remember to save the card or cards you purchase the package with - if for any reason Disney has to refund your package or ticket purchase it will go back on the gift card or cards you used.


Disney Visa card: There are two different Disney Visa cards, one with no annual fee and a 1% Disney Reward Dollars per purchase rate, the other has a $49 annual fee and 2% Disney Reward Dollars per purchase rate. The Disney Reward Dollars can be transferred to a card for use on all Disney purchases. We like to use our card in the run up to our trip and then use the Disney Reward Dollars on merchandise purchases, but you can use the ‘free’ money toward your vacation package or to buy food. We have a family member who puts just about everything on her Disney Visa card and then pays it off every month. After a few years she has saved enough Disney rewards points to just about pay for her vacation package. Much like the Disney Gift Card, if you can use a MagicBand to purchase something, you can use the Disney Rewards Dollars.

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