50 Tips for doing Disney on a Budget
I recently updated this post 1/1/19, while at Disney World and drinking coffee. There are more than 50 tips here now so get ready to make that Disney vacation possible NOW.
A trip to Walt Disney World is a dream come true for most people. The challenge is finding tips and tricks that are going to actually save you money and help you go to Disney on a budget. Luckily, there are many ways to cut corners from the moment you leave your home. The perfect Disney vacation is not out of your reach.
I absolutely love Disney World, I’ve been there over three dozen times. But I have a regular income so I HAVE to find ways to save money.
We are going to break this down into 4 categories:
Getting There & Getting Around
Tickets & More
Getting There & Getting Around
SkyScanner is one of my favorite flight tools and that’s because you can look at prices for flights across an entire month. I use this option when I am unsure of my vacation dates and you should too! That way you can build your vacation around the cheaper dates.
What does this mean for you? If you have date flexibility, choose your date around flight costs using SkyScanner. This can lead to an easy savings of $200 each way each person. That’s $1600 total for a family of four.
Driving to Disney World
I am fully aware how long and tiring a drive to Disney can be. I just did it from NJ a few days before writing this. I also have something on my most recent drive to Disney. But driving is significantly cheaper than flying. Especially if you have more than two people in your family. Use the AAA Gas Calculator to estimate gas costs.
My most recent trip took 18 hours, three gas stops of $60 (we drove a sedan) and nothing more.
Cheap Disney Tickets
You need to become a Disney ticket pro. On my most trip, I spent $274 on two 1 day Disney tickets. They are expensive! Bookmark this post that is all about cheap Disney tickets and maximizing your money.
Disney’s Magical Express
There’s nothing better than to get off the plane, onto this comfortable and magical bus FOR FREE. As long as you are staying at the WDW Resort, I would click here and make sure to use this awesome, free resource. A cab to Disney can run $60 each way while renting a car can cost hundreds.
One of Disney’s goals is to keep you on the Disney resort. So they make it easy not to have a car. Even if you don’t…take advantage of Disney’s free transportation. Yea you
heard read right. FREE
This allows you to skip a car rental or avoid l gas or parking fees from driving to the parks.
If you’ve read my story and why PlanningTheMagic exists, you know that JetBlue Getaways saved me. Often, on various sites, you’ll see hotel and flight “packages” that are the same price as getting them individually. JetBlue Getaways is super discounted. Watch the video below and see how it’s done.
Don’t Rent a Car and Use Uber
I have found from all my various trips to Disney that not renting a car is the way to go. When you stay on the Disney property, Disney’s free transportation is your best friend in helping you get around, and did I mention it’s free!
For those moments where you leave the park, whether it’s to one of the other local attractions, or grocery shopping -there is always Uber.
Uber is a taxi service which is usually less expensive than the other taxi companies. This is a way to save hundreds on your trip. Learn how to use Uber and get a free trip.
Credit Card Points
There might be something better than a free bus ride (Magical Express). A free flight and/or hotel room! If you plan correctly and use PointsToNeverland.com, you will find your way to high valued freebies.
Credit card and maximizing their rewards is a science all in itself, which is why websites like PointsToNeverland exist. If you’re not looking to get too into it, start with a card like Chase Sapphire Preferred.
Check out the newly updated Disney on a Budget ebook
Value season, or basically the time when kids are in school, is always the best time to go to Disney. Crowds are smaller, flights are cheaper, and usually, Disney has a special/discount going on. Think of it this way, airlines want to make money and they know parents want to travel to Orlando airport (MCO) during spring break, so they hike up the prices.
Fee-free Travel Agent
Many don’t know that a travel agent is usually free, and if you get a good one it is so worth it. Travel agents who specialize in Disney will know all of the ins-and-outs. They will know how to get discounts and even adjust your package once it books. Imagine waking up to an email about hundreds of dollars of savings.
Hotel Tonight – Phone App
If you have the flexibility to wait last minute – you can use this cool phone app called Hotel Tonight. You can score last minute, non-Disney hotel rooms for cheap. Included in this are the Disney Springs hotels on Disney property.
I used to suggest Hotel Tonight all the time, but recently I found it didn’t have the best deals, it was just an illusion. For the best prices on accommodations or car rentals, Priceline is the way to go. They have proven to me, time and time again, that they have the most reach and therefore best prices.
If you are considering staying at a Deluxe or Deluxe Villa resort at Disney World, help yourself and save more than 50% by renting DVC points from David’s. Read more here.
Disney’s Fort Wilderness Lodge can sleep up to 10 people for $60/night. It is a super good value for bigger families and you get all of the same perks for being at a Disney resort.
Disney Spring’s Resorts Discount
Disney Springs hotels are the perfect compromise to stay on site but not at a Disney hotel. If you decide to go this route make sure to head over to MouseSavers.com and take advantage of their discounted rates.
There’s no doubt an offsite hotel is going to be cheaper. Just not more convenient. Use sites such as Priceline and Orbitz to find a room at the low end of $30/night. Here is a video from my Definitive Guide to Planning a Disney Vacation.
AirBnB has been a blessing for budget travelers like myself. Last April, I stayed on the beach in Cartagena, Colombia with an infinity pool for dirt cheap. I suggest this to my friends and they did the same thing a few months later.
Disney is no different. But what exactly is AirBnB? Well, BnB stands for bed and breakfast. It’s basically an online marketplace that allows people to rent out their entire homes or spare rooms to travelers. It’s very safe as there are various verifications measures in place, and it helps travelers save a ton.
Just head over to the website and look around, you won’t be disappointed.
Rent a House
A lot of people don’t ever think of renting a home when going on a Disney vacation but it really can bring you significant savings when traveling with a large group. There are homes that are less than 5 miles from Disney that are less than $100/night and fit 10 individuals. Think of how nice having a private pool would be. For more information, I suggest AllStar Vacation Homes.
Plan Out Your Meals
You really can’t go wrong by doing the research and outlining what your meals at Disney will look like. Not to say that you have to plan every meal out but doing the research will go a long way. Without a plan, you’re likely to make a bad decision in a moment of hunger. Cheap eats at Disney can be found here.
Pack It Up
Bring your own water and snacks to the park to cut out what can become an excessive cost. This last trip, we bought stainless steel canteens with us and refilled them at the fountains.
Disney’s Famous Free Dining Special
Disney often will have special deals going on but the Free Dining is the most well known. With certain vacation package purchases Disney will throw in free dining of some sort. This special often comes out in April and covers fall dates.
Use this grocery delivery service to get groceries delivered to your hotel for a $14 fee. Use groceries to save on meals, drinks, and snacks all around.
We are huge fans of Amazon. With Amazon Pantry you can send yourself non-perishable groceries. Your Disney resort will hold your package for you. Shipping is free for Prime Members and also orders over $35.
Grocery Store aka Publix
The most obvious way to get groceries, there is a Publix a few miles from Disney and a mini fridge in every Disney hotel room. You can drive if you have your own vehicle or take an Uber.
Know your Quick Service Options
Not all food locations at Disney are created equally. Some locations provide better quality or more food than others. Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe is a good example of a great location. Do your research to easily find the right places to eat.
Skip Disney’s Meal Plan
I do a very detailed layout in my eBook about why the dining plan is not for those who are looking to save money or get the most bang for their buck. You want to use groceries for some of your meals, plus discounts for restaurants, etc. The dining plan will take away that flexibility.
Eat Breakfast In Your Room
I do this every trip. It saves me a whole lot of money and a ton of time. I like to get to the parks a few minutes before they officially open, for that reason, I’m having breakfast on the go. Granola bars, a bagel with cream cheese, yogurt, and especially coffee.
Who Doesn’t LOVE Pizza
I look forward to Flippers when I head to Disney. You can feed a family of 4 quite cheaply. Please try the breadsticks!
We talked about Quick Service locations not being created equally. Many Disney meals come with sides and extras that make them very shareable. I rarely can finish an entire meal on my own.
Earl of Sandwich
Earl of Sandwich is great! Even people who don’t like sandwiches love this place. Sign up for their newsletter for coupons to use at their Disney Springs location!
A La Carte
Disney meals come with a few sides you might not like so it’s important that you are aware of the ability to order an entree “a la carte” to avoid wasting money.
Saving on Theme Park Tickets, Free Things to do, and More!
This is so important that I have an entire post written up on it. Souvenirs can really burn a hole in your pocket while you are at Disney World. If you pre-buy and surprise your kids with a few a day, you will save a ton of money!
This site allows you to purchase discounted gift cards from multiple retailers. I’ve used them myself without issue. There are giftcards offered for gas, restaurants, Disney, etc. You can get giftcards for 5-12% off here. You can use Raise for anything like Pizza Hut or the movies and take what you save for Disney.
Free Disney GiftCards
Asking for Disney gift cards on Holidays like Christmas or on your birthday is a great way to save money! The gift cards can be used for just about anything, whether it’s for paying off your Disney package, park tickets, meals, or buying fun souvenirs at the park! The possibilities are endless with Disney gift cards.
WDW ticket discounts are so hard to come by but Undercover Tourist is an authorized dealer that will save you the most money possible. Expect to save as much as $40/ticket.
AAA members get discounts on Disney hotels and tickets. With the basic membership being anywhere between $53-$65, it can definitely be worth it.
One of my favorite things to do on a day where I am not visiting any parks, or have some downtime is to visit the Disney Boardwalk located at Disney’s Boardwalk Villas. There’s so much to do here from the different restaurants, ice cream parlors, arcades, and of course fun magic tricks! It’s a great place to take the kids for free or for a nice walk down the boardwalk and watching the amazing shows, and not to forget the delicious funnel cake!
Free Picture Memories
Believe it or not, any Disney photographer will take your photo for free with your own camera.
Loose Change Jar
I remember back in 2009ish, I had a 1991 Acura Legend that needed some type of repair. I took my change jar and got $90 out of it! I was a happy teenager! Do the same thing for your Disney vacation and see how fast your change adds up.
Rain, Rain, Go Away
Ponchos are sold at stores like Walmart, Target, and Amazon for about $1.50/each. At Disney, they’re about $10/each. Here’s an example
I am obsessed with Swagbucks. Basically, this site allows you to take surveys, watch videos and more to earn Swagbucks that you can convert to giftcards. I read an article on a woman who paid for 95% of her $3500 Disney vacation with Swagbuck’s gift cards. I’d love to just pay for Christmas gifts with this. And you get a bonus for using my link to sign up.
Chip And Dale’s Campfire Sing-A-Long
Join Chip and Dale for a nighttime celebration around the fire. Roast s’mores with your own supplies which will make this activity free!
Know Your Ticket Options
The worse thing you can do is over-buy park days or add on options you don’t need. Do research, or just wait. You can always add on at the park but you can’t get a refund for overbuying.
One Park a Day Keeps the Debt Away
If you’ve never been to Disney World before then it can get a little bit overwhelming to plan your agenda for your trip. I think a good place to start, that’s going to save you a ton of time and money, is to commit to one park a day. Here’s a chart I created that’s part of my guide to planning a Disney vacation. As you can see you can easily dedicate a full day or more to any given theme park.
Buy Disney Apparel Elsewhere
You’ll see most of the people at Disney with the cutest shirts. Disney shirts. Bring yours with you to avoid the high costs at the park. Buy these at Walmart or Target. This one is so cute!
Disney Visa Credit Card by Chase
With Disney’s reward dollars and 0% promotional APR for 6 months on certain vacation purchases, this might be the right route for you.
Resort hopping is so much fun and FREE. This never gets old for me. Head to the Polynesian for dinner or Port Orleans Riverside for some beignets.
Pin trading is an awesome Disney tradition. I mostly collect my pins. There are really nice pins you can get under $10. Not only are they inexpensive souvenirs, but they’re fun to trade too.
Pin’s off Amazon
We talked about pin trading and how some are collectible but some are great for trading! Amazon and eBay allow you to buy them in bulk for cheap! Perfect way to start your collection and get your kids going. Here’s 25 for less than $1 each
“One of my favorite souvenirs to collect is the pressed pennies! They have them located everywhere throughout Disney along with the penny collector book with slots to save all your pressed pennies. What better way to remember all my favorite parks, and favorite rides, not to mention such an awesome collection starter!” -Lisa
I can completely understand how strollers can be a nuisance at Disney. Especially since you have to close them on all Disney transportation (except the monorail), but bringing your own stroller is free. Renting a stroller costs $15/day at Disney. That’s over $100 for 7 days.
Plan Plan Plan
Plan your days at Disney as much as possible to make sure you are self-providing as much as you can (vs buying). This will also give you the ability to find ways to cut your costs.
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Birnbaum’s Disney Guide Book
You can usually get the official Disney World Guide (Currently under $15). The savings/budget part comes in with coupons that are in the back of the book.