The most magical place on Earth is also one of the most costly places on Earth. As a broke college student, I saved up and used these tips in order to go to Disney World on a budget. I had an amazing time and didn’t go in debt as a bonus. I didn’t have any less fun from sticking to my budget either, it’s all about balance and prioritizing. So here are some frugal tips for Walt Disney World!
Skip the Dining Plan
This may not be true for all families, but for most it is not worth the money. I’ve seen a lot of families end up taking home twenty bags of popcorn to try and recoup the credits they never used. Skip this if you eat light, don’t care for sit down meals, or have small children.
Quick Service over Table Service
Food is more expensive in the parks no matter where you eat, but quick service is the cheapest option. By choosing quick service over table service you can save upwards of forty dollars a person.
Snacks Can Be Meals
I am not telling you to starve yourself by any means, but there are items in the parks at snack prices for meal portions. The loaded tater tots at Friar’s Nook in Magic Kingdom or the chicken fried rice at Yak & Yeti in Animal Kingdom are some of my favorites. Not to mention turkey legs and mac n cheese!
Pack Snacks or Meals
Disney World does allow you to bring your own food into the park! The only exception is hard-sided coolers, so make sure to check their policies before packing. However, a couple of protein bars or PB&J’s might save you serious money on snacks.
Don’t Buy Water Bottles
Every food location that sells soda that isn’t bottled will give you cups of water for free. A great way to stay hydrated is to stop every time you pass one. All you have to do is go up to the pick up counter and ask!
Get Groceries Sent To Your Hotel Room
Maybe plan to eat lunch in your room, when the park is hot and crowded. You can get groceries sent to your room for a small fee instead of being forced to eat on property for every meal.
This also goes for essentials, strollers, or anything else you may need during your stay.
Splurge On One Meal For Extra Benefits
One example being getting an early breakfast reservation in order to get into the park early. Another extra benefit would be eating at a resort for free parking! The possibilities are limitless and it’s a good way to treat yourself.
Pick Breakfast For a Sit Down Meal
For most restaurants on property, breakfast is the cheapest meal! It can be a good time to load up and be ready to take on the day. I may have a little bias because breakfast foods are my favorite- plus who could say no to a Mickey waffle?
Meet Characters in the Park Instead of Dining
This might technically not be a dining tip, but it will save you money nonetheless. Instead of spending a lot of money on a character meal, meet them in the park instead. Unless your child’s favorite is a super rare character you can only meet at one meal, use a fastpass for them.
Buy From Verified Online Discount Websites
Be careful, as there are a lot of scams out there. Websites like Undercover Tourist and Mouse Savers are trusted, and I’ve even used one of them myself. Usually you can get around 10% off depending on how many days and what time of year it is.
Take a Non-Park Day
I know what you’re thinking- why go all the way to Disney World and not spend every second in the park? First of all, it’s important to pace yourself so you don’t feel exhausted by the end of your trip. Spend some time in pool or shopping and save money on tickets and food@
Say No To “Extras”
In order to have a great time at Disney World, you do not need to get every single add-on to your vacation. Park-hopper passes are a big example of this, and aren’t necessary if you plan well. Same goes for the memory maker package or the dining plan- do your research to make sure it’s worth the money before investing.
Ask About Discounts
There are so many discounts available for tickets! Ask about military, Florida residents, or Disney Visa discounts when purchasing your tickets. This also goes for merchandise in the park as well, and it never hurts to ask.
Listen to a Timeshare Spiel
This may be unconventional, but most timeshare companies will offer free or extremely cheap tickets to Disney World for listening to their pitch. The Disney Vacation Club booths in the parks have been known to give out fastpasses for listening as well. I wouldn’t advise this if pushy salespeople make you uncomfortable, but it is an option to get a deal.
Use an Authorized Vacation Planner
These folks are already paid a commission from Disney, so there is no cost to you! Ask them to scope out some deals for you, whether it be tickets or your resort room. They are a great tool to utilize for saving money.
Let me preface this by saying Disney World is always busy, and attendance has only increased in the past few years. But there are times of year that tend to be less busy, like September (when everyone already took their summer vacation). Not only do you get your money’s worth by spending less time in line, you can save on tickets and resort stays.
This is one of the most important tips of all! Time is money, and Disney World wants you to get your money’s worth. Pick three fastpasses early in the day and keep getting one more at a time until they run out.
Do not be forced to buy a twelve dollar poncho when it starts pouring! Buy a pack from Amazon or grab one from Walmart for less than half the cost. Same goes for sunglasses, hats, sunscreen, and any other essential you may forget- planning ahead of time can save some serious cash.
Buy Gift Cards with Cash Back
There are only so many places you can save money and you will have to buy some things. Using gifts can come in handy, as places like Target give 5% cash back on those purchases. It may seem like pennies, but it can add up quickly!
Stay at Value Resort
This one is pretty obvious, but it can be a big money saver in the long run. I highly suggest staying on property for all the added benefits, especially if you can get a room at a discounted rate. If you’re still stuck on staying at a resort like the Polynesian, you can always begin your trip at a value resort and get your stuff sent over for the last couple days.
Plan, Plan, Plan
If this wasn’t clear from the whole planning section, a plan for your trip can make or break the bank. For example, fastpasses become available 60 days before your stay if you are going to be on property. Don’t leave dining reservations or room reservations until the last minute, as that is when availability lowers and prices increase.
Budget with Gift Cards
Something I saw a lot in parks were parents who gave their kids a set amount on a gift card to spend on souvenirs and snacks. Not only is this a good idea for kids, it can work for entire families too! Set limits on how much you want to spend every day by using gift cards- though I recommend bringing another form of payment in case of an emergency.
Save On Transportation/Parking
Paying twenty five dollars every day to get into the parks can seriously hurt your wallet. Staying on site can mean cheaper parking and free transportation to the parks. Considering an off property hotel with a shuttle may save you some money in the long run as well.
In The Park Tips:
Buy Souvenirs Elsewhere
For the inevitable moment when your kids beg for something every twenty minutes, consider buying toys from Walmart or Amazon beforehand to surprise your children with. This will prevent meltdowns and save lots of money on souvenirs. And there are plenty of off-brand Disney stores in Orlando to buy cheap gifts from as well.
Use Rider Swap
This is a system Disney World has in place to help families with small kids. One parent can experience an attraction with one child while the other waits with the younger kids, then the parents switch. This saves time, which in turn saves money- just ask a cast member at the entrance of the ride.
Quality Time, Not Quantity
You may think in order to get your money’s worth out of your trip, you have to stay from open to close. This can be exhausting and frustrating for all ages, causing more issues than magic. I highly suggest arriving at the opening of the park and coming back to the resort during the afternoon to rest, then going back for the remainder of the day.
Get Souvenirs Sent Back to Your Room
One service Disney World does that few people know about is complimentary package delivery to your hotel room or to the front of the park! Don’t waste money on a locker and don’t waste time by taking it back to your car. Just ask a cast member about it at checkout and pick it up at the end of the day.
Use Non-Park Strollers or Pay For The Week
One cost that tends to add up without you realizing is renting a stroller every day in the park. A cheaper option for this is using a third party company for the week and get the stroller sent to your room. Also renting up front for a whole week can save money as well.
Check Out All The Freebies On Property
There are so many free things to do when you stick around the resorts. Swimming in the pool, taking part in afternoon activities, walk-through tours of restaurants, and so much more! Take a day to enjoy some complimentary things to do.
Pin Trading As Your Souvenirs
This has become increasingly popular in the past few years, but pin trading is a great alternative keepsake. They are relatively cheap in comparison, and you can trade to get virtually whatever you want. You can buy them in large packs from Ebay, but I wouldn’t suggest that unless you don’t mind fakes.
And with all that, anyone can survive at Disney World on a budget. My mom went about once a year growing up in Florida and remembers eating sandwiches her parents brought to save money. I guess it runs in the family! Comment below which tip or trick worked best for you. And have a magical day!
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