It’s no secret that Disney is downright expensive. After all, it is a business. They provide the best of the best to all ages and if you want to enjoy what they have to offer, you have to pay for it. While there are some Disney costs out of our control, there are some areas where everyone can cut corners and save a lot of money. A vacation to Walt Disney World is something that should be on everyone’s bucket list. It’s not just about kids, characters and rides. There’s so much for all ages to enjoy. The following provides helpful information to contemplate and cost-saving information so maybe you can check your Walt Disney World vacation off of your bucket list without breaking the bank.
The basic items that are needed to spend money for a vacation to WDW are transportation, theme park tickets, resort and food. Technically, you can get away with not having to go into the parks, but the point behind going to WDW is to check off the whole experience off of your bucket list. Additional shows would be nice, but not necessary in order to accomplish the ultimate task. It would be great to buy some souvenirs, but it’s not a “need”. That’s a “want”. This is all about the basics for a Walt Disney World vacation.
Ways to save money or plan your Walt Disney World vacation:
- First and foremost, some people like to save for a big ticket item. Try to allocate your own money in your own account at your own back in order to help you save the money you think you will need for your vacation to the Happiest Place On Earth.
- Apply for a Chase Disney Credit Card. I have gone on countless Disney vacations simply by using my Chase Disney card on EVERYTHING possible. You earn 1% in Disney Dollars. I now have the Chase Disney Premier card, which has an annual fee, but I earn 2% in Disney Dollars on dining, Disney purchases, gas and grocery. Everything else earns 1%. The additional 1% in Disney Dollars earnings surpass the annual fee for me. My reward dollars can now also be used for flights with the Premier card. Depending on how many Disney dollars you earn, you could get away with a free stay. We saved Disney dollars and went to Disney every two years with only having to pay for our flights. For more details on the Chase Disney Credit Card, go to the article on this site and/or chase.com/disney.
- One of the most popular ways to pay for a WDW vacation is to simply book your stay, tickets and dining plan a year or more in advance (or when Disney releases the packages) and make monthly payments. As of right now, the required down payment is $200. Then, break down how much is left to pay and make monthly payments. Just remember that the trip needs to be paid for, in its entirety, 30 days in advance of your checkin date. Remember that the flight/transportation costs will be sometime in between then, as well. By the time you go on your trip, the entire trip is paid for (if you bought the dining plan) except for souvenirs and a few meals the dining plan does not cover. Disney can book your flights for you, as well, if that's something you wish to do.
- If you don't want option B, use a credit card that accrues mileage for an airline. Try applying for a new card so you get the bonus of “new card sign-up bonus” points. Depending on where you are flying from, you may have one or more free flights.
Depending on where you are, you will need to take a plane, train or automobile. Sometimes, you can save so much more money by driving depending on how many people are in your group. Only you can help yourself save on transportation costs, because you will know what’s best depending on where you live. Here’s a few important thoughts that could help you decide:
- If you are not an Annual Passholder and/or stay off Disney property, there are high parking fees to park at the theme parks.
- If you stay on Disney property or off Disney property and rent a car, there are overnight resort parking fees along with many other local resorts and theme parks outside of Disney. For more about Walt Disney World parking fees and potential exemption, click here.
- If you stay on Disney property and fly into Orlando, you can take the free Disney Magical Express (DME) from the airport directly to your Disney resort.
- If you stay off property, you need to rent a car. Depending on time of year and number of people, it can be costly. Some resorts off property do have a shuttle, but the ride from the airport to the resort can be costly. No resort that I know of has a FREE shuttle from the airport other than Disney.
- Depending on airline, you may have baggage fees.
- If you rent a car or drive in, you can bring inexpensive non-perishable food, water, beer, wine, etc., from your own store or a store outside of Disney property. If your room has a refrigerator, you can bring a few small perishable items you would need for breakfast or other meals/snacks.
- The train and bus stations are not close to Disney so you would need to pay for transportation to Disney.
This is a tricky one, because you could save a lot of money by staying off Disney property, but staying off property has quite a few downsides, too. To name a few:
- Pay for theme park parking (parking is VERY far away from entrances—waiting for Disney shuttle in the parking lot can be daunting.)
- Depending on the time of year, when the parks are getting a little too full, the first people cut out from being able to enter the theme parks are the non-resort guests. You may have tickets, but you can’t get in, because the remaining attendance availability is offered to resort guests first.
- Can’t take advantage of Extra Magic Hours. This is reserved for resort guests only.
- There’s no guarantee of a nice and/or clean stay. Many of the inexpensive hotels off of Disney property are old and run down. You get what you pay for.
- You can’t take the chance of leaving the park to go back to your hotel to rest and/or swim, because you may not be able to get back in depending on the time of year. And, it's a real long hike to your car with the possibility of not being able to get a parking spot when you return.
- The Disney Magical Express is not an option nor is the Disney Dining Plan. The Disney Dining Plan is offered to those who are booking a Disney resort stay and buying theme park tickets. If you don’t buy one or the other, you are not offered the dining plan.
- You can’t take advantage of the convenience of using the buses from the parks to your resort. This also means no “Drinking Around The World” at Epcot for the designated driver.
- Some non-Disney hotels have shuttles to the parks, but are limited.
Here’s a few benefits to staying off Disney property:
- Eat at any restaurant off of Disney property (save money).
- Don’t have to deal with the buses or monorail to get to your resort after the fireworks or any other time.
- Save money per night.
- Go to a store off of Disney property for anything at any time.
- If you find a vacation home to rent, you would have a full kitchen to cook meals.
Benefits to stay on Disney Property:
- Take the Disney Magical Coach from the airport directly to your resort for FREE. (And, take you back to the airport for FREE.)
- No need to rent a car at all, because you can use the free Disney transportation to get to all resorts, restaurants and theme parks.
- Able to utilize Extra Magic Hours. Sometimes, it’s an hour in the morning and, sometimes, it’s several hours at night at a particular park.
- The Disney Dining Plan is available for you to purchase in advance of your vacation as long as you buy theme park tickets, too.
- Guaranteed good, quality and clean stay.
- The DDP may be free during your stay as long as you meet stay requirements (number of nights) and minimum days of theme park days.
The only downside to staying on Disney property is if you opt to not rent a car if you fly in, which is a money saver, but you are stuck with paying all of the Disney prices if you need or want something at a store like cereal, alcohol, water, milk, bread, etc. If you drive to a Disney resort instead of flying, you have the best of both worlds. You can utilize Disney transportation on Disney property and leave Disney property, if you want. For most, that’s not an option, because they live too far away to drive. Those who do drive to the parks, are, most likely, locals and don’t need to stay overnight, anyway. They just drive home at the end of the day.
An important thing to remember is the Disney Value Resorts are a great way to stay on Disney property for a little more money than it would cost to stay off of Disney property. Look at it this way, you could take the cost of the rental car, parking fees and overall convenience and put it towards a Disney Value Resort. You would be able to take advantage of all the perks of staying on a Disney property. The rooms tend to be smaller and there are less amenities than the moderate and deluxe resorts, but they are still on the property and that’s the ultimate goal in order to take advantage of the perks of staying on the Disney property. Besides, how much time do you really spend in your room when you don't go to WDW very often, if not at all? When you're at WDW and you have theme park tickets, you won't be in your room for more than sleeping and taking a shower.
Theme Park Tickets
One of the most common questions that people ask when planning a Disney vacation is “How can I buy cheap tickets”? The answer: You can’t. Don’t go to Craigslist, Ebay, etc. Do NOT go to locations outside of Disney property advertising “Cheap Tickets”. They’re not valid tickets. You don’t want to get to the Disney gates just to be turned away for having invalid tickets. Trying to save money, may cost you a lot of money. Yes, scammers are reselling tickets illegally. Disney and the police are actively pressing charges, arresting, etc., anyone who tries to resell illegal Disney tickets. Buying theme park tickets is the one area that is out of your control. There are a few “authorized ticket agents” who can sell Disney theme park tickets. That’s who you need to look for in order to receive a discount. Yes, the tickets are still expensive, but a discount is better than nothing. A couple examples of locations with discounted tickets are military bases and AAA. Disney also has special offers on their site for discounted tickets at different times. Florida residents and active military are offered discounted tickets directly through Disney.
While I prefer the park hopper, not buying tickets with that option can save quite a bit of money. It’s not just about not being able to park hop during the day for no reason, when it’s busy at one park, etc. The park hopper allows you to eat dinner where ever you want without trying to figure out where you will be each day and line up dinner reservations appropriately. Example: we go to a park during the day, go back to our room to rest, shower, etc. and go to the restaurant for dinner, which is at a completely different park 9 times out of 10. We tend to eat dinner at Epcot at a different restaurant almost every night. We, obviously, are not going to Epcot every day so we need the park hopper option. If you don’t care about that and can make sure you stay in one park per day even if it gets too crowded, then don’t bother with the park hopper option. About $60 per person is a big savings! Important to remember that if you are only at WDW for 2 or 3 days, there are 4 parks. If you plan on attending more than 1 park per day during your stay, you need the park hopper option.
For resort guests who are also buying theme park tickets, the Disney Dining Plan is available for you to purchase. I used to think I could do better and save more money by not buying the DDP. I got to experience my first use of the DDP when it was offered for free. Disney gives you the receipts of what it would’ve cost so you can tip your server appropriately. I kept all of the slips and I admit that I was completely wrong. I am sold on the DDP. If you’re thinking that you would go back to your room for lunch, think again! Disney is just so big that going back to your room to eat lunch is time consuming, exhausting and very inconvenient...... never mind leaving Disney property all together for your hotel or restaurant off property, if you have a car.
It doesn’t matter what food item you buy on Disney property, it’s expensive. You can eat at quick service restaurants the entire time, live on sandwiches, pizza or grab a turkey leg every night; Or, you can look at the Disney Dining Plan and not worry about what you are ordering, because it’s already paid for. You can order that burger and pay $10 (don’t forget about tax, tip and a drink) or you can order a steak at the same restaurant that costs $30, because you're on the Disney Dining Plan and you pay nothing extra except for the tip. The only thing that is not included on the plan is the tip for your server and anything you buy outside of the plan like alcohol. No tipping is required at quick service restaurants. Use your DDP entitled snacks for breakfast or buy breakfast. It’s the least expensive meal of the day. There are a few levels of the DDP you can purchase. The one that gives you the most bang for your buck without giving you too much food or too few options is the regular Disney Dining Plan, which gives you 1 snack, 1 quick service and 1 table service per person per night’s stay.
TIP: Once you book your stay, buy your tickets and the DDP, keep an eye out for Disney specials on their site. As long as it’s more than 45 days before your check-in date, you can change your plan. So, if the free dining plan is offered during your stay, you can change to that as long as all the requirements have been met such as the length of stay and minimum days of theme park tickets. See the DDP page on this site or WDW's site for more details.
If you choose not to buy the DDP, here are some ways to save some money on food:
- Eat a late breakfast and an early dinner, which will cut out one meal per day.
- Make PB&J sandwiches in your room and pack in a backpack with bottles of water to bring to a park.
- Bring snacks into the park with you so that you will not be tempted to buy the food in the parks when you are hungry.
- Eat at quick service restaurants for every meal to avoid paying a tip and they have less expensive options. Every quick service restaurant has healthy options, too!
- Make reservations at a table service restaurant for lunch versus dinner. Lunch is less expensive than dinner.
Don’t forget to take a look at My Top 10 Favorite Things To Do Without A Theme Park Ticket in order to see what else you can do for no extra cost at WDW. And go to 9 Free Items At Walt Disney World to see where you can get free stuff. A couple of them make great, small souvenirs, too.
WDW--Walt Disney World
DDP--Disney Dining Plan
Quick Service--You walk up to order, pay for food and take to a table on a tray to eat.
Table Service--Seated at a table and waited on by a cast member.