All My Favorite Tips for Saving Money at Disney!
Yes, a Disney vacation is expensive. And getting more and more expensive by the day. A lot of people think that taking a family vacation to Walt Disney World is only for the 1%, but that is simply not true! There are plenty of ways families are saving money at Disney. It is very possible to make Disney vacations happen for ALL incomes!! Here are some of my tried and true money-saving tips!
1. Travel in the off-season to save time and money
In 2018, Disney changed the way they priced their tickets. They eliminated the tickets that never expire, and began forcing you to choose the days you will visit the parks. They then began pricing tickets based on historical crowd data. This means that it is more expensive for you to attend the parks on, say, December 31 vs. January 1. Post-Covid has brought the advent of the Park Reservation system, too. The reason they did this was to attempt to more evenly distribute crowds throughout the year. Now, you may be thinking, “if they evenly distribute crowds, there IS no off-season.” And you would almost be right. The Disney parks are much busier every day now than they have ever been before. But there are, in fact, times that crowds are a bit more manageable than other times of the year.
Yes, it’s hot, but consider summer
To the surprise of many, the SUMMER is actually the most wide-open time to get to Walt Disney World. The crowds are actually much lighter than almost every other time of year, especially July (after the fourth) and August, which has become the lightest month of the year. This is a combination of the temperature being the surface of the sun, and kids in certain parts of the country actually starting school the first week of August. If you are able, August and September are the best crowd times to visit. CROWD, not weather. It is incredibly hot and you do take the chance that a hurricane or tropical storm will roll through. If you can handle the hot weather, you’re already on your way to saving money at Disney!
What about when the weather is not 300 kelvin?
January will give you the dream combo of cooler weather AND lower crowds, but try to avoid the holiday and marathon weekend. Mid-February-April is actually one of the busiest times to visit, because of both spring breaks and competitions, like Dance and Cheer. May is fairly open, plus you will have Flower and Garden available, but it will get busier near the end of the month, when school ends around the country, which leads into June, probably the busiest “summer” month.
Shouldn’t the fall be lighter, with kids being in school?
Now for fall. October is my FAVORITE time to visit, but I’m not alone. October is quite busy, especially on weekends. This is due to a combination of Food and Wine, Fall Breaks, and Halloween. Pack patience and sweatshirts! Early November is also an amazing time to visit. Crowds are low, weather is cooling, and Christmas decorations are up. Then Thanksgiving hits and things get nuts. If you want to spend Thanksgiving in Walt Disney World, plan as early as you can. Early December is a lot like early November, but the holidays are bonkers, the busiest time of the year. This is also one of the more expensive times of the year, so if you’re into saving money at Disney, maybe you want to avoid October-January 1!
In order to get the most bang for your buck, visit at a time when crowds are low. You will not wait in as many long lines and the weather will be great.
2. Book as far out as possible – Layaway for Vacations!
This is honestly the best way to be able to pay for your vacation. I can book your hotel room 500 days out. When you book a package, which currently includes room and tickets and is only available through October, 2023, right now, the deposit is $200, with the balance being due 30 days before your trip. Or you can book your room-only by paying the equivalent of one night as a down-payment, with your final balance due at check-in. Then you are free to pay any amount any time up until your due date. It’s like layaway for vacations.
3. Use Disney Gift Cards for all things from your hotel room to the kids’ souvenirs!
Gift cards for the kids
You know your kids are going to see mountains of stuffed animals and giant walls full of toys and things that glow in the dark and bubble toys and all kinds of crap. So what do you do? One thing I have always done is to tell friends and family to get my daughter Disney gift cards for all holidays and birthdays. That way, she will have her own money to spend. Kids can learn how to get the most bang for their buck and when their money is gone, it’s gone. Period. Look at that, it’s also a learning moment!
You can also use gift cards to pay for your trip
You can also use gift cards to pay for your trip, so if you are a discount junkie, you already know there are ways to get Disney gift cards at a discount, like Sam’s Club or Target RedCard and more. Get those gas points and that vacation money will save you money at the pump! Currently, there is no Disney Dining Plan for sale, so a good thing to do would be to take that money you would have spent on the dining plan and buy gift cards, that you then turn around and use on your food in the parks. Not having the dining plan is a bit inconvenient, yes, but if you know you would have spent that money anyway, just use it for gift cards!
Did you know that you can also PAY FOR YOUR HOTEL with a gift card? What about your Disney Cruise? Check out all the ways you can use Disney gift cards here!
4. Do Character BREAKFASTS, not dinners
Sticking with the food theme, if you are someone that likes to do character meals (which you should if you like to see characters, as it will free up extra park time you won’t have to spend in character lines), consider planning breakfasts as opposed to lunches and dinners. Many times, these meals are as much as half the price of the lunches and dinners, and you get the exact same character interactions. For example, breakfast at Chef Mickey’s will currently run you $42 (adult)/$27 (kids), but dinner is $55/$36. It’s not a massive discount, no, but it can add up over 4-5 days.
5. Grocery delivery
Again, speaking of food, a great way to save money is to order groceries for your hotel room and eat less in the parks. It is entirely possible to survive in the parks on, say, $40 for food per person, per day, especially if you have food in your room. Depending on what kind of hotel room you have (villas have full kitchens, family suites have kitchenettes, etc), you can go from whole, prepared meals, to quick breakfasts of pop tarts and pastries and fruit and cereal, to lunchmeat for sandwiches for lunch, freeing you up to plan maybe one big sit down meal per day, or only one quick service meal per day, and one or two snacks. The point is you don’t HAVE to eat every single meal at a restaurant in Walt Disney World. Read more about grocery delivery here.
6. Share meals
It is entirely possible for two people to eat one “meal” at Disney World. By meal, I am specifically talking about an appetizer, entree, dessert at a table service restaurant.
So I’m going to use one of MY family’s favorite restaurants as an example: Mama Melrose in Hollywood Studios. It is an Italian restaurant, and it is superb, BUT, the portions are enormous. For two people, you could split the delicious Caesar salad for your appetizer ($11), Margherita flatbread ($15), and cannoli ($7). Add $20 for drinks, give or take, and you’re looking at a bill for two people for dinner $53, as opposed to almost $100. And that’s just two people, that isn’t even your kids!
6. Get the refillable popcorn bucket
Hear me out, because I know it seems insane to spend $20 on a popcorn bucket. BUT let’s say there are 5 of you and you’re there for 6 days. Day 1 you get the $20 Steamboat Willie popcorn bucket that you snack on for the rest of the day. That’s $4 per person for a snack. Day 2, you take Willie and you and your family head to EPCOT.
The kids start whining about being hungry, so you take your bucket to the popcorn stand in Canada and fill it up. Refills are $2, no matter WHAT bucket you buy. So now, on day 2, your snack budget is $.40 per person. Day 3, another refill. So, essentially, over 6 days, you have spent $30 TOTAL on snacks. For 6 people. Comparatively, ONE Dole Whip starts at $5, which, for your family of 5, is $25 for just one day. Do that every day, that is $150. I’d say that’s one heckuva deal!
7. Bring your own stroller
A stroller rental can START at $30 per day. You likely already have a stroller at your house, so bring it. But be aware, strollers must fit the rules (31″ wide by 52″ long). But again, it may still be cheaper for you to buy and bring your own stroller than to rent, even if you just bring an umbrella stroller to throw away or regift upon leaving.
8. Bring your own reusable water bottles
The biggest waste of money in Disney Parks is to buy bottled water. For starters, they start around $3.50-$4 per bottle. You could get a whole case of bottled water for that price. Secondly, you can get cups of water for free at all quick service restaurants. So why on earth would you waste money on a bottle of water?
You could get filtered bottles (HIGHLY recommend, the Florida water does a number on my tummy) and/or bring flavoring (we like the koolaid liquid drops). Read more about water bottles and other ways to beat the Florida summer heat here.
9. Spend 1-2 days per trip outside of the parks
There is SO MUCH to do at Walt Disney World outside of going to the parks. Book a couple extra days on your trip that you don’t buy park tickets and spend the time relaxing at the pool, or exploring your resort, or resort hopping. There are even discounted and free activities included in the Magical Extras when you buy a vacation package, including FREE miniature golf! How’s that for saving money at Disney?!
10. Bring souvenirs with you instead of buying them
Sound crazy? Maybe, but your kids might whine less about you buying them stuff if you magically pull out a Mickey plush you spent $5 on at Walmart in the morning, instead of dropping $30 for one at the Emporium. Or you bring glow sticks and bubble wands that you got at Family Dollar and break them out of your backpack when all the nighttime vendor carts start making their appearance on Main St USA. And DEFINITELY bring your own ponchos, because a $15 piece of plastic with Mickey Mouse on it is really not worth it.
Do you have any other tips that lead to saving money at Disney? Let’s hear them in the comments!