The Walt Disney World Resort in Florida is one of the most popular family vacation destinations in the U.S. and most people will travel to Disney World at least once in their lifetimes. Unfortunately, many folks will also suffer from a serious case of sticker shock when planning a trip to what is billed as “ The Most Magical Place on Earth.” A Disney World vacation doesn’t have to break the bank and can actually be far more affordable than people realize. A little bit of advance planning can work wonders to stretch your hard-earned dollars. Here are my top five tips for going frugal in Disney!
1. Use an Authorized Disney Travel Planner
Okay, I have to offer a disclaimer here. I am an Authorized Disney Travel Planner, so I’m obviously biased about this topic. However, the benefits of using a knowledgeable Disney travel planner are endless and one of the greatest benefits of utilizing a planner’s expertise is that you will save money.
First of all, the services of a Disney travel planner should always be completely free of charge—that’s right, you pay absolutely nothing for these services. Secondly, one of the most important aspects of a Disney travel planner’s job is to keep an eye out for discounts. If Disney releases a savings offer that is good for your travel dates, your travel planner will apply the offer to your Disney reservation even after the reservation has been made. Finally, an Authorized Disney Travel Planner knows the ins and outs of getting the biggest bang for your buck when planning your Disney vacation. What time of the year is the least expensive? How can I save money on airline tickets? Is the Disney Dining Plan a good value? Which restaurants should I choose to pack the most savings punch with the dining plan? Should I purchase a park hopper ticket? Will 30% off at a Deluxe Resort save me more money than a free dining plan at a Moderate Resort? Is a Magic Your Way package more cost-effective than purchasing vacation components a la carte? Your Disney planner has done the math on all of these options multiple times and will be able to help you make the best decisions for your budget.
In addition to their advertised savings offers, another way to save on your vacation is to receive some pixie dust directly from Disney in the form of a pin code. No one knows exactly how Disney chooses the recipients of these magical codes, but one way to increase your chances is by signing up for everything Disney-related you can find. If you are treated to a Disney pin code, give it to your travel planner to see what the savings will be when applied to your reservation. Your travel planner can also ask one of the Disney cast members if there is a pin code associated with your name and address—sometimes people have pin codes connected to their Disney accounts without even knowing it!
2. Stretch Your Food Budget
The debate over whether or not to purchase one of the Disney Dining Plans for your vacation is endless and complicated and I’m not going to go into that here. Suffice it to say that there are many instances in which the Disney Dining Plan can be a fantastic option for families and equally as many when it is not the best choice. Personally, I love having the dining plan for its convenience but I also max it out as much as possible and tend to add it to my vacation if I score it for free and it generates the most savings. In that vein, I am going to talk about ways to save money on eating at Disney World without using the Disney Dining Plan. Many of these options can be used if you have added the Dining Plan as well.
- Bring some groceries and/or use a grocery delivery service. I have used Garden Grocer on several trips with great success. I have milk, juice, yogurts, bananas, cold cuts, cream cheese, hummus, tortilla chips and bread delivered to my resort and Guest Services usually has my groceries stocked in my resort room refrigerator when I arrive. I also pack lots of non-perishable items—granola bars, jam and peanut butter are absolutes along with bagels, nuts and dried fruit. This allows us to eat breakfast in our room (saving money as well as TIME); pack snacks to bring into the parks and even make sandwiches to eat for lunch by the resort pool during our afternoon break.
- Share! The portions at the Disney restaurants are often huge and I’ve never encountered any problems opting to share entrées. You can save a great deal of money doing this and be plenty full. Additionally, when we’re not on the Disney Dining Plan we also choose a la carte menu restaurants over the pricier buffets. Finally, if we do opt to dine at a character buffet, we choose the latest possible breakfast time in order to take advantage of the lower prices at breakfast and use the meal as an early lunch. None of us wants to eat an enormous breakfast at 8:00 a.m., but by 11:00 a.m. we’re all starving and ready to take a break from park touring having arrived early in the morning for rope drop.
- Take advantage of free water! Disney offers guests large cups of ice water at all of their snack kiosks for free at all of the theme parks. There is no need to schlep refillable water bottles around the parks or to buy expensive bottles of water at the restaurants. We stay hydrated throughout our park days with these icy-cold cups of water. And to make the water more palatable for you non-water drinkers, just bring along a few packets of powdered drink mix in your backpack and you can instantly convert a huge ice water into a flavored drink.
…Souvenirs, princess dresses for the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, rain ponchos, trading pins, etc. Anything you buy on-site at Disney World is going to cost you a pretty penny and ponchos purchased at home are going to be far more affordable than those sold on Main Street, USA. Before your trip, hit up the dollar stores and the dollar bins at your local discount stores. Disney-themed goodies abound in the retail world and you can stock up on treats for your kids at home and surprise them with these little gifts throughout the trip. The Disney Store also has great sales and clearance offers throughout the year. Some things I’ve gotten in the past include coloring and activity books, markers, crayons and pens, sunglasses, t-shirts, flip flops, toothbrushes, band-aids, stickers and temporary tattoos, and pajamas. I like to get into our resort room on my own while my husband distracts the kids and lay out a bunch of treats on the beds as a surprise for when our girls first enter the room. I usually leave them a welcome letter from Mickey as well!
If your kids are attracted to the pin-trading craze, check out Ebay for low cost lots of Disney pins. You may have to do a bit of searching to find those that are authentic, but the savings is definitely worth your time. A trip to a second-hand or consignment shop will often find you Disney costumes at a fraction of the retail price and is a great way to recycle/reuse as well. If you have a reservation at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique for your princess, bringing your own gown will save you a huge amount of money over purchasing a new one there and the Fairy Godmothers in Training are wonderful about directing the girls to dressing rooms where they can change into dresses they brought from home.
Finally, stroller rental prices at Disney are beyond what I’m comfortable paying. Because my double stroller was a behemoth that was too cumbersome to bring on the plane, I always use an off-site stroller rental company that delivers my stroller right to my resort to be waiting for me upon arrival and is a fraction of the Disney cost. If you do have a stroller that is pleasantly portable, you can bring your own which gives you the perks of having it in the airport as well, especially if your kids are on the extra small side.
4. Enjoy Free (or almost free!) Entertainment
Disney World has innumerable options for free and inexpensive family fun. From nightly outdoor movies and campfires at every resort hotel to lounge acts, roaming park performers, cane pole fishing, boat and bicycle rentals, wagon rides, and kids’ poolside activities, a trip to Disney World can be truly enhanced by some of these magical extras. In addition to these ideas, keep in mind that what kids find entertaining is often incredibly simple—stickers from a cast member, old-fashioned games while waiting for the Hoop Dee Doo Revue, first visit or birthday buttons obtained at Guest Services, sweet samples at the Main Street Confectionary, and visiting the horses at the Tri-Circle D Ranch at Fort Wilderness can be thrill enough for younger travelers.
5. Utilize the Disney Transportation System
There is absolutely no reason to rent a car while staying on Disney World property. Sure it may take a bit more time and effort if you want to travel between the Disney resort hotels using Disney Transportation, but it is free, comfortable and efficient. Make a point to ride all of the different types of transportation in the Disney system during your vacation—buses, monorail, ferry boats, and smaller water launches. Additionally, Disney’s Magical Express offers complimentary airport transfers to and from your resort as well as luggage handling services. And boarding the Magical Express at Orlando International Airport is a great way to get into the Disney magic as soon as you land!
This list of money-saving ideas is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to going frugal in Disney World. I’d love to hear some of the ways you’ve stretched your dollars during your trip to the House of the Mouse!
About Gina Vercesi
Gina is a mama, a blogger, a teacher, a runner and a lover of all things Disney. When her husband put her on a (temporary!) Disney vacation moratorium, she found a new way to feed her Disney vice and became a Disney travel planner with MickeyTravels, LLC. Gina uses her wealth of knowledge about each of the unique Disney destinations to create customized, magical vacations for all of her clients.