It is 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 is not just about kids, characters and rides. There is so much for all ages to enjoy. The following provides helpful information to contemplate and cost-saving information so 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, hotel 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 the whole experience off of your bucket list. It would be great to buy some souvenirs, but it is not a “need”. That is a want. This is all about the basics for a Walt Disney World vacation.
Ways to save money & 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 bank on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis in order to help you save the money you think you will need for your vacation to the Happiest Place On Earth. Get a big jar and put all of your coin in the jar every time you have some change in your pockets, in your purse, from the washer or dryer, etc. Maybe put in dollar bills or $5’s every time you have some of those, too. It all adds up quickly.
- Look for stores that sell Disney gift cards and buy a gift card every time you go to that store. Some of those stores offer discounts on Disney gift cards. I have seen some stores offer as much as 5% off. So, if you buy a $50 gift card, you only pay $47.50-$49.00 for the card (2%-5% off). Some discount is better than no discount! Buying multiple cards over a period of time gives you a pretty good savings!
- Apply for a Disney Credit Card. I have gone on countless Disney vacations simply by using my Disney card on EVERYTHING possible. You earn 1% in Disney Dollars. I have the 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 Dollar earnings surpass the annual fee for me. My reward dollars can also be used for flights, because I have 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 Disney Credit Card, click here.
- One of the most popular ways to pay for a WDW vacation is to simply book a package, which consists of your stay and tickets, a year in advance or as soon as Disney releases the packages and make monthly payments. Adding the dining plan to the package is optional. 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 check-in date. Remember that the flight/transportation costs will be sometime in between then, as well, unless you have Disney scheduling your flights for you. 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. In addition, be sure to go to www.disneyworld.com, scroll to the bottom and look for “Special Offers” (or click on this link). You can look before you book or after. Technically, it is best to book even if no specials are available during your stay, yet. This way, you get the room you want at the resort you want. Then, when you do see a special, you simply call Disney and they will apply the discount to your current reservation.
- If you do not 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 a 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 is best depending on where you live. Here are 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, call a taxi, car service, etc. There are no shuttles to hotels from the airport. Depending on the time of year and number of people, it can be costly. Some resorts off property do have a shuttle to Disney, but the ride from the airport to the resort can be costly.
- Depending on airline, you may have baggage fees.
- If you rent a car or drive in, you can bring inexpensive nonperishable 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. Click here for grocery delivery information.
- The train and bus stations are not close to Disney so you would need to pay for transportation to Disney.
First of all, if you are in the US military, are a US veteran and/or work for the US government, click here to see if you are able to book your stay at the military resort on Disney’s property, Shades of Green.
Accommodations can be 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. Click here for the Pros and Cons With Staying On or Off Walt Disney World Property. To name a few:
- Pay for theme park parking (parking is VERY far away from entrances and waiting for Disney tram in the parking lot can be daunting.)
- Depending on the time of year, when the parks are getting a little too full (closing in on capacity), the first people cut out from being able to enter the theme parks are the non-resort guests. You may have tickets, but you cannot get in, because the remaining attendance availability is offered to resort guests first. For more information, click here.
- You cannot take advantage of Extra Magic Hours. This is reserved for resort guests only.
- There is 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 cannot 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 is 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 do not buy one or the other, you are not offered the dining plan. (Other exceptions apply. Click here for details.)
- You cannot 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 are a few benefits to staying off Disney property
- Eat at any restaurant off of Disney property (save money).
- You do not 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. (Disney has villas with full kitchens, as well, but much more costly.)
Benefits to stay on Disney Property
- Take the Disney Magical Express 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 is an hour in the morning and, sometimes, it is 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. (Click here for an exception and more details.)
- 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.
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 unless you need multiple bedrooms and a kitchen. Click here to see the pros and cons of a value resort. 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 is the ultimate goal in order to take advantage of the perks of staying on the Disney property. Click here to see the difference between the value and moderate resorts. Something to contemplate, how much time will you spend in your room if you do not go to WDW very often? Many people take the time to enjoy the hotels, too, but many will not be in their room for more than sleeping, take a shower and they are not particular about the bedding, square footage, resort amenities, etc.
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 cannot. Please do NOT go to Craigslist, Ebay, etc. Do NOT go to locations outside of Disney who are advertising “cheap tickets”. They may not be valid tickets. You do not 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 and arresting anyone who try to resell illegal Disney tickets. Buying theme park tickets is the one area that is out of your control. You could do what I said above about Disney gift cards. That is one way to save money on tickets. There are a few authorized ticket agents who can sell Disney theme park tickets. That is who you need to look for in order to receive a discount. Yes, the tickets are still expensive, but any 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. Click here for more information about theme park tickets.
While I prefer the park hopper option, not buying tickets with that option can save quite a bit of money. It is not just about not being able to park hop during the day for no reason, when it is busy at one park. 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 do not care about that and can make sure you stay in one park per day even if it gets too crowded, then do not 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 several years ago. Disney gave us the receipts of what it would have cost for all meals. It is most important to have this so you can tip your server appropriately at a table service restaurant. I kept all of the slips and I admit that I was completely wrong. I am sold on the DDP depending on your vacation party and how you run your day. Click here for more details. If you are thinking that you would go back to your room for lunch, think again. Walt Disney World 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 does not matter what food item you buy on Disney property, it is expensive. You can eat at quick service restaurants the entire time. Click here for the best QS restaurants at the parks. This will save quite a bit of money. The portions are big. Some people can share meals. If you really want to eat at a table service restaurant, add the DDP to your package. Especially, if you plan on eating at a character restaurant. Very expensive. The Disney Dining Plan allows you to have the peace of mind and not worry about what you are ordering, because it is already paid for. You can order that plate of pasta and pay $20 (do not forget about tax, tip and a drink) or you can order a steak at the same restaurant that costs $50, because you are 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 an appetizer. No tipping is required at quick service restaurants. I prefer to use my DDP snack entitlements for breakfast. It is another meal I do not have to pay for. Click here for the greatest value for snack entitlements. Click here for DDP snack tips. Breakfast is 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 2 snacks, 1 quick service and 1 table service per person per night’s stay. Some locations offer an alcoholic drink included in the DDP for guests 21 years of age and older instead of a nonalcoholic beverage.
TIP: Do not forget, 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 is 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 the 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.
Saving reminders: Buy Disney gift cards at stores that offer a discount. Guests will buy a $25, $50 or $100 gift card every time they step into the store. Some places offer as much as a 5% discount when you purchase a gift card. Right before they are leaving for Disney, they transfer all of the balances to 1 or 2 cards online. Some people throw change and dollar bills into a jar at home every time they walk by or they find spare change in their pockets. Every little bit counts!
Do not forget to take a look at Fun Non-Theme Park Activities At Walt Disney World in order to see what else you can do for no extra cost at WDW. And go to 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.