Nowadays, the price of everything rising fast – and the cost of a Disney World is no exception. Though Walt Disney World is still technically the most magical place on Earth, working through your vacation plan and seeing the astronomical prices are sure to send you into a sticker shock. To help you recover, here are a few tips I’ve learned throughout the years from my time working and playing in the Disney parks. With some big tips and some smaller ones, I’m sure you’ll find something that will help you save some money at Disney World!
- Don’t stay at a Disney Resort
Most Disney resorts are incredible. They have an amazing atmosphere, can be super relaxing, and have interesting themes – but they cost an arm and a leg. Most vacationers will be spending almost all of their time in the theme parks. If you wake up in the morning, head to the park, then come back at night, you’ll be tired and ready for bed without having much time to spend exploring and enjoying the resort. Unlike other more relaxing vacations you have probably been on, Disney is a whole different animal. Though staying with Disney has its perks lice transportation and early park entry, they simply aren’t worth the steep cost. Those funds can be better used for extra days in the trip, souvenirs, or for savings. Plus, if you want to experience what the Disney resort hotels have to offer, you can always visit them during the free time you have during your trip. If you are looking for the single choice to reduce your vacation cost the most, this tip is the one to follow.
- Pick and Choose Where to Eat
Many park visitors overestimate how many nicer sit-down meals they will have in the parks. Similar to the logic for my first tip, time inside the parks is very valuable. Taking 15 minutes to be seated, 45 minutes for the service, and another 10 to get the check and clear out, and you are spending over an hour just for a single meal. Add in the time that you have to spend worrying about making it to the reservation in the first place, and you’ve docked an hour and a half of valuable park time for that meal. For some guests, that meal is worth it. For others, it may not be. When planning out when and where to eat, be cognizant of what your priorities for the day are. I always recommend visitors have a nice dinner during their EPCOT and Animal Kingdom days, since these parks have better food and/or less time needed to cover all of the park attractions. I recommend quick service restaurants for Hollywood Studios.
As a side note, many of the Disney character dining experiences are not worth the prices. It’s better to take the time to grab better food somewhere else, or spend that dining time actually meeting the princesses or other characters in the parks themselves.
- Free Water
While we’re on the topic of food and drink, you should know that all Florida theme parks are required by law to provide you with cups of ice water when asked. At Disney, you can get a free cup of water from any restaurant location that has fountain drinks (look for the Coca Cola, Sprite, Diet Coke square logos). A soda costs just short of $5 each nowadays, so even for just one meal, your family of 4 could be saving nearly $20 by choosing water instead of soda. This is also a smart idea to keep you hydrated and feeling energized to keep moving through the parks on hot Florida days. If anyone in your group is carrying a small backpack, you can also dump the ice water into bottles which can retain the coolness. Alternatively, you can also bring water bottles into the park yourself. If you dump a little bit of the water out, turn it on its side, and place it in the freeze the night before, you’ll have a half-frozen bottle that can stay cool most of the day.
- Use Disney’s Transportation
Even if you are not staying at a Disney Resort, you can still use their transportation for free. That means all of the busses, boats, monorails, and Skyliner will take you anywhere you need to go while inside the resort. Don’t use Uber or Lyft when you can easily avoid it! Most of the time, Disney Transportation will get you to your destination only a couple of minutes slower than an rideshare service would, and it usually drops you closer to the destination, too. For the disabled and special needs guests who requires ECV’s to maneuver through the theme parks try Disney scooter rental tips and services.
- Buy More Park Days
It’s almost counterintuitive but buying more theme park days can actually save you a lot of money. All Orlando area theme parks charge less per day the more days you buy (by a significant amount). If you have plenty of time for your trip, this means you take all the time you need in the parks and around the resort. When helping create vacation plans, I hardly ever recommend visitors use the Park Hopper ticket option (which allows you to visit multiple different parks in the same day) because it has a massive fee attached to it. Instead, it’s often far more effective to just buy more days in the park and spend all the time you need in each. Disney wants every guest to visit every park, so prices are only slightly reduced through 4 days. Once you hit 5 or more, however, the price per day drops drastically. The difference between a 7-day ticket and 8-day ticket, for example, can be as low as $20. Combining this tip with the first tip (staying off Disney property) is a great way to have a longer, more fulfilling vacation without breaking the bank.
- Pack Your Own Snacks
Park food is extremely expensive, so bringing some light snacks is a great way to keep your family going without having to spend extra money. Popcorn or a small ice cream bar is $6 and a pretzel is $8. Having some nuts, fruit, or a bag of chips that you can snack on while waiting in line for a ride can save you both time and money.
- Manage Expectations
Though it is a little more abstract than other pointers on this list, the importance of managing expectations cannot be understated when it comes to spending money. If your kids have been dying to go to Disney World for years, they might be dreaming of a perfect world where mickey-shaped food is unlimited and all the toys they want fall right into their arms. Be sure that your kids are briefed on the expectations for the trip. Think about how much can they spend on a souvenirs and communicate that to them to keep them on track during the vacation. Temptations are everywhere since most rides end up in a gift shop, so it’s better to be prepared with set standards to avoid having to choose between a meltdown and blowing $60 on an Ariel doll.
One more consideration on this topic is the point of Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique princess makeovers. Disney offers hair, makeup, and dresses to girls and knight attire for boys in order for them to really feel the part during the day. If your kids see this, they are bound to be jealous. If you’re not ready to fork over $150 for a pixie-dusting, try preparing some fantasy-inspired outfits before the trip to keep your kids satisfied.
- Prepare for the Rain
In Florida, especially during the summer, it rains a lot. If you keep an eye on the weather and prepare for the rain, you’ll save a bunch struggling to find ponchos in the parks. Ponchos are $15 per person and fairly low quality. If you have room in your luggage, pack light rain jackets for everyone in your group. If you can’t quite fit that, buy some of the same plastic ponchos you’ll find in the parks and bring them along.
- Book a Reservation for Breakfast Instead of Lunch or Dinner
Though we’ve talked about some of the downfalls of nicer meals in the parks, breakfasts sometimes work around those problems. In terms of cost, they’re lower. They can also be made for times BEFORE the park actually opens. This means you’re allowed to enter the park and go to the restaurant, enjoy your meal, and exit just as the park is opening.
- Pin Trading
As a way to interact with cast members and a way to collect some great souvenirs, pin trading is an excellent activity for the parks. Basically, you’re allowed to trade any Disney pin for another one you see on a cast member. However, in the parks, these pins are ridiculously expensive. Before visiting, you can buy a pack of trader pins in bulk. Then trade the ones you don’t want for better ones! The only caveat here is to make sure that you’re buying real Disney pins – you can’t trade ones that aren’t authentic or non-Disney.