So you’re thinking about taking a vacation to wonderful Walt Disney World!? You have made a great decision to take a trip to the happiest place on Earth. You will get to participate in many life-changing experiences that you can’t have anywhere else and if you’re here I’m assuming it’s because your planning a trip to Disney on a budget (aren’t we all?).
Sadly, a Disney World vacation is anything but cheap. It can be one of the most costly vacations you’ll ever take. Have you ever visited the Disneyworld website to see how much hotel, tickets, and dining cost? It’s a ton, isn’t it?! Who can afford to spend $5,000 or more on their vacation? Well, I guess wealthy people can, but I’m not talking to them. I’m talking to those that are planning a trip to Disney World on a budget and need to cut corners wherever they can.
Do the high prices mean you shouldn’t go? Absolutely not! There are always ways to save money on a Disney vacation if you just listen to the self-proclaimed Disney experts (that’s me!). I am here to reveal some interesting and surprising money-saving strategies you can use during the planning and the actual vacation. You may have heard some of them before, but others may have you saying, “I would never have thought of that!” Keep these things in mind and you’re sure to save hundreds, even thousands of dollars! You will find information about saving on your hotel, food, park tickets, transportation, and more.
Planning A Trip To Disney On A Budget
Below you will find some of the best tips when it comes to going to Disney on a budget. We have broken down the categories to the following (you can click on them if you would like to skip to that section as well)
Visit During Off-Peak Times Of The Year
We have a very flexible schedule, so we’re lucky to be able to drop everything and take a trip to Florida whenever we feel like it. When I do this, I usually pick a time that has low Disney crowds. These times are also better, in my opinion, because the hotel rates are sometimes cheaper. You want to avoid anytime schools are on a break. If you have school-aged children, this may be more difficult. The cheapest times are during the early Fall, early to mid-May, and mid-January through mid-February. Of course, you would want to make your own comparables in price to be sure what works best for you.
Stay At Off Property Hotels
I want to preface this tip with saying that I prefer to stay on- site every time I visit Disney World. Disney Parks Resorts exude the epitome of hotel theming, and they do an amazing job drawing the magic of the parks into the hotels very seamlessly. Not to mention, there are numerous perks to staying on-site that Disney offers (transportation being the main one). Having said all of that, staying off-site can save you quite a bit of money and when you’re going to Disney on a budget, this many times is the first place to look to save some money.
Off-site hotels offer a variety of options depending on your needs. Have a large party? You can find off-site hotel suites with 1-4 bedrooms only a few miles away from the parks. Websites like VRBO.com and Airbnb have made it easy to rent houses close to Disney World, too. Non-Disney accommodations also tend to have larger rooms than Disney does. And because the hotels are competing directly with Disney, they might offer nice perks to staying with them, like free parking, free scheduled shuttle to the parks, and even free breakfast. As with any lodging decision, read up on current customer reviews on sites like Tripadvisor before booking. You’d hate to have to spend a week staying at a hotel with bad customer service, long commutes to the parks, or dirty facilities just save a few bucks.
Rent DVC Points
While it is definitely very costly to be a Disney Vacation Club member, it is not outrageous to be a Disney Vacation Club “points renter.” Renting points is a fairly easy process that can save you a bundle in the long run. What this entails is contacting a points rental website or about the dates you are interested in traveling, what hotel you want to stay at (it has to be a Disney Vacation Club site), and then paying a flat deposit. Your deposit ensures you are serious about renting the points and will go toward the total cost of the hotel.
The website will then check availability with Disney to see if your particular dates and location are available. If they are and you agree to the booking, the representative will check if they have a vacation club member willing to part with their points. Once a member is confirmed, you then pay for the price of the entire hotel stay. Depending on the company, you pay a certain amount per point needed for each night, usually between $12 and $18 per point. I have to say that I use this method all the time and have been able to stay at some really nice places for around 60% off Disney rack rates. Check out dvcrequest.com to see if renting points is the option for you.
Look For Discounts Or Special Offers If Staying On Property
If you do your homework, and have a little flexibility, you should never have to pay for Disney rack rates for their hotels. On their website, Disney has an entire section on “Special Offers” that lists most of the current discounts available on rooms, tickets, and/or packages. Depending on the offer, you can save SOOOO much money with these discounts. Keep this tip in mind when booking, especially if you are a military family, Disney Vacation Club member, or Annual Passholder. With these discounts, even if you are going to Disney on a budget, it can be possible to be cheaper to stay at Disney than an offsite hotel.
Do Not Get The Disney Dining Plan…Unless It’s Already Free
Some may not agree with me on this tip, but I prefer not to purchase the Disney Dining Plan when visiting Disney World. I have used it once before and found it to be totally not worth it.
If you are unfamiliar with the way it works, here is a quick rundown: Through Disney, you purchase a level of dining plan that allows all members of your party a certain number of dining credits. These credits go toward the meals you have in the parks, resorts, and the Downtown Disney area. They are classified as either a snack, quick service, or table service credits. The more expensive the plan, the more credits you get.
Great right? Well, it depends. While it is nice to have an already determined number of credits to use before you even get to the parks, you have limited options of where and what you can eat. Some restaurants are not available on the dining plan, and you may be restricted on what meals you can have at the restaurants that are. Plus, a few fancier and high demand places require 2 table service credits if you dine there, like Cinderella’s Royal Table.
You also have to keep track of who has used which type of credits and how many are left. Such a hassle! My biggest complaint about it was having a lot of snack credits leftover that I never used, mostly because the quick service and table service meals were so big!
For me, I prefer to pay for my meals on my own. You’ll end up saving money if you choose to forgo the dining plans. I find that you’ll save more money by choosing the “Room Only” discount and paying for food out of pocket. Do the math next time the offer pops up and you’ll see!
Have Groceries Delivered To Your Hotel Room
A fairly new option to vacationers going to Disney has been to have groceries sent to your room for the time you are there. Garden Grocers is one group that offers this service in the Disney World area, and it’s growing in popularity.
Amazon Now is a very new service that has Amazon delivering groceries. These companies realize that you may not always want to eat every single meal in the parks, so they give the option of providing groceries to you. Garden Grocers does charge a small fee, so keep that in mind when you order.
Of course, the amount of groceries you purchase and what meals you can have in the room depends on your accommodations; do you have a full kitchen or just a kitchenette? I think grocery delivery and having some meals in your hotel room is a great idea. I especially like having breakfast in my room, and maybe a few lunches, too.
Bring Your Own Food And Drinks Into The Parks
As a one-off of the previous tip, you can bring your own food into the parks to save some serious dough. You can take in a large tote bag or cooler with packed lunches, drinks, and snacks. I recommend sticking with items that will not get soggy or runny, like pretzels, crackers, and lunchable type meals.
This is also a good option for those with special dietary needs that have to pay close attention to what they eat and those going to Disney on a budget. Plus, you won’t have to wait in any quick service restaurant lines! Just remember that all of your bags and coolers will have to go through bag check before entering the park.
Bonus Tip: Tables In Wonderland Card
The Tables in Wonderland card is a way to receive some beaucoup discounts on certain meals in Disney World. A number of restaurants on property offer 20% off of meals, which is pretty significant of a discount. You also get a special dining invitation and complimentary valet parking. The only drawback is that you have to be a Disney Vacation Club member, Florida resident, or Annual Passholder to even purchase this card.
Only Buy What You Will Use
During the initial planning phase, you’ll need to determine how many days will actually be spent in the parks. This will vary for each family, but a good rule of thumb for most is one day per park. You can do more or less, but my advice is to only buy a Magic Your Way package for how many days you will use.
Don’t get a Magic Your Way Base ticket for 5 days when you only want to visit the parks for 3 days. Those unused days will expire 2 weeks after first use! On top of the number of days to buy, you’ll need to decide if purchasing the park hopper or water park option is worth it.
These add-ons cost quite a bit more than just the base ticket. If you have children traveling with you, the water park option may be a no-brainer to buy, but you may want to forgo the park hopper option if you don’t mind visiting only 1 park per day. Bar none, the base ticket is the cheapest option on all fronts.
Buy An Annual Pass
This will be the first year that I purchase the Annual Pass. In the past, buying a Magic Your Way package made the most sense because I was only going to Disneyworld once per year at most, and visiting the parks for less than a week. That has changed now, and I will be a more frequent visitor, going multiple times per year.
An Annual Pass is the best option for those that are in my situation, that plan on visiting the parks more than once per year, or more than a total of 10 days spread out throughout that year. It is definitely more costly for Florida residents, for example, to buy Magic Your Way Park Hoppers every time they visit if they go once every few weeks or months. There are many Annual Pass options to choose from.
Purchase From An Official Disney Ticket Broker
Is becoming an Annual Passholder not for you? Go for discounted Magic Your Way tickets! You can scour the web to find places that offer tickets at a discount. Two sites that I have personally used in the past is Undercover Tourist and The Official Ticket Center.
Both are authorized Disney ticket sellers so you don’t have to worry about being scammed. The tickets you receive from these sellers are just like the ones Disney gives you. You just have to link them to your My Disney Experience account so that they work with your Magicbands.
I urge you to check into these sellers for tickets over resorting to buying them on Ebay or Craigslist. I have heard countless horror stories from people that have bought heavily discounted tickets from “authorized Disney ticket sellers,” and ended up receiving duds or tickets that no longer worked. It’s not worth it. Stick with the reputable sellers that offer a little bit of discount.
If you are a AAA member or served in the military, Disney offers discounted park tickets for you. Check Disneyworld.com for more details. They all offer nice discounts on food, merchandise, and even hotel stays.
Use Disney’s Magical Express
So you’ve finally made it to Orlando! If you are flying into Orlando International Airport, take advantage of Disney’s Magical Express. This is the Disney owned and operated transportation service that will take you from the airport to your Disney resort hotel, all included in the price of your stay!
You don’t even have to pick up your luggage from baggage claim. A Disney cast member will deliver it to your room just a few hours after checking in! I always use the Magical Express for its ease and convenience, especially if I choose not to rent a car. You will also be transported back to the airport at the end of your trip.
All you have to do is give Disney your arrival and departure flight details and they have everything covered! Choosing to use Magical Express takes away having to take an Uber or Taxi to and from the airport.
Use The Disney Transportation System
Once you are on Disney property, you can use the Disney transportation system for free! A set number of buses will transport guests to and from their hotel, Disney Springs, theme parks, and water parks. An average wait at the bus stops is about 15-20 minutes, which I find to be reasonable. Some resorts and parks offer transportation through the Disney Monorail.
You can find routes to and from the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Polynesian Village, Grand Floridian, The Contemporary, and the Ticket and Transportation Center. Some resorts also offer boat access to certain areas. Check with your resort hotel to see what your transportation options are. And remember, they are
Rent A Car
If you don’t want to use Disney transportation, or are staying off-site and prefer to forgo their shuttle service, renting a car is an option. But try not to rent from a company on the property, if possible.
The cheapest place I found to rent a car is at the Orlando International Airport. They have the lowest rates that I have seen in the area. If you do rent a car and stay on Disney property, keep in mind that parking at the resorts and theme parks is free, so that’s a nice little perk included in the price of your stay!
Take A Road Trip
Let’s just call a spade and spade – traveling expenses can be costly. While it may be quicker and more convenient to fly into Orlando for vacation, it may not be so friendly your wallet. If flying isn’t in the cards for you, driving may be your best option.
Taking your own car and driving with your family can actually be fun, too. While it will take longer enroute to your destination, it will end up saving you so much cash. It’s also a great opportunity to have a road trip experience, as you can make interesting stops along the way.
Driving may be difficult with little ones, however, but if you are traveling with a large group, flying may be just as hard to do. I’ve driven to Orlando from Springfield, MO multiple times and while it is long, I appreciated how much money I saved in getting there. Plus, I didn’t have to rent a car once I arrived since I had my own.
Fly At Off-Peak Times
There are better times than others to fly. It’s no secret that taking a flight on Thanksgiving weekend or around Christmas will be expensive, but there are times where you can find flights at a cheaper rate.
First off, try booking your departing flight for mid-week, either Tuesday or Wednesday. I would avoid Fridays and Sundays, as that’s when most people choose to fly and rates are the highest. Mid day is generally the most expensive as well, so choose flights that fall in the early morning or late evening hours.
Lastly, try not to fly on major holidays when airports are the busiest and air travel is the more expensive. Earn points of credit cards to use toward flights
Keep Eye On Airfare Websites
There are a number of websites that keep tabs on airfare prices for you. Sites like kayak.com, priceline, and airfarewatchdog.com can customize a wishlist of flights for certain destinations that they watch for you. You can sign up to receive email blasts on a weekly or daily basis that tell you the prices of the airfare you are looking for.
These sites can be a valuable time and money saver in booking those flights you need, since changes in pricing can vary multiple times per day. You can always do the work on your own, but these companies can do this for you, for FREE!
Fly Into Another Airport Than Orlando International
When comparing flight prices, you may notice that flying into Orlando International Airport from certain parts of the country/world is more costly than other nearby airports.
I urge you to looking to flights arriving at Orlando-Sanford Airport or Tampa International Airport. While not super close to Disney World (you’ll have to rent a car and drive at least an hour to Orlando), you knock major bucks off the price of airfare.
There is also the advantage when flying in and out of either Orlando-Sanford or Tampa is that the security lines when heading back home aren’t going to be as busy as they are at Orlando Internal. Depending on the time of year you’re traveling you may have to get to the Orlando International Airport you will have to get to the airport 3-4 hours before your flight… Not a good time!
Obviously, many Disney vacationers have done a lot of the work in helping others to save money on their vacations, but you will have to put in some effort in saving as well.
Regularly check Disneyworld.com for special promotions, visit Disney message boards and forums, and stay up-to-date with Disney news outlets that give out information about saving money. Do your own research, too!
There may be a method to saving or receiving discounts that no one has even heard of! If you have some ideas not mentioned, I want to hear about it! I’m also here to answer any questions you may have. You can contact me through my blog, or visit any one of the social media platforms Capture the Magic participates in. Good luck on your Disney vacation planning!
Here is a short list of other ways to save a little money during the planning of your vacation:
Buy Souvenirs Before Traveling
Disney World has a high markup on literally everything, and you might just be able to find a similar item at a Disney Store or affiliate near your place of residence for much cheaper. You can also hit the Disney outlet stores in Orlando to save on souvenirs.
High Checked Bag Fees?
Mail your luggage to the hotel. Because checked bag fees can be super outrageous, you can avoid paying them if you bring just your personal item on the plane and ship everything else ahead of time.
Dollar Store Ponchos!
Since rain is almost guaranteed to happen at least once during your stay, buy a couple of cheap ponchos from a Dollar Store and pack them in your luggage. Disney sells their own brand of ponchos, but they cost significantly more.
Buy Discounted Disney Gift Cards To Pay For Your Trip!
For example, Target offers their Red Card holders a 5% discount, and Sam’s offers 5% to members as well. Purchasing $500 worth of gift cards would save you $25, which isn’t a huge savings, but I think it’s worth it.
We hope you found this article helpful in planning for your next Disney trip! Let us know what you think in the comments and even any tips you have that maybe we didn’t include on our list. If you enjoyed this article then you should check out our article about the best stroller for Disney World for your next trip!
By Jamie Lee
Jamie is a lifelong Disney fanatic that has been going to Disney parks since she was a child. She is the head writer here at Capture The Magic & co-host of the Capture The Magic Podcast. When she isn't planning her next Disney vacation, she can be found helping people plan their own Disney vacations and enjoying quality time with her family.
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