We’ve all been there. And by “there” we mean thinking Disney is just not affordable. While most of our friends question over and over how exactly we can afford to frequent Disney as often as we do, we question them when they tell us there’s no way they could afford it. But isn’t it worth it to figure How You Can Afford It?
To be clear, we make travel, whether to Disney or other destinations, a priority. we don’t spend money on a lot of stuff, eat out very rarely and are just frugal in general. That being said, you don’t have to live like a minimalist to afford a Disney vacation. A lot of it has to do with very carefully planning to make sure we are always getting the best deal.
So here are some easy tips anyone can use to save money on a trip to Walt Disney World vacation.
1.NEVER pay full price
Guys, did you hear that? we said NEVER. Ok so here’s the thing. Disney has special offers. All the time actually! So many people make the mistake of getting on the Disney website, getting a price quote and either booking or not booking and leaving it at that. In fact even if you’ve already booked your high priced vacation you can still get on the phone and have them apply an offer. If you see that they’re suddenly offering a discount on rooms, packages or dining just call in and ask them to apply it. It can be time consuming, but it can save you hundreds. Check out Disney’s Special Offer Page. Yes, they have a whole page! And if you’re still not happy with price, head to AAA or MouseSavers. Both places will have deals and tips that get you there without breaking the bank.
2. Use a travel agent
Don’t want to worry about calling and asking for that discount? Use a travel agent! A good travel agent will make sure you get the absolute best price AND we’ve seen a lot of special offers through travel agencies who will offer little extras, like gift cards, themed goodie baskets and sometimes even free room upgrades! And the best part about a travel agent is that they’re 100% FREE to use! Here’s 10 reasons why we suggest using a Disney Certified Travel planner.
3. Book through a third party
Did you know you can book Disney Resorts through a third party and still receive the benefits of booking through Disney? Yep, you still get those 180 day ADRs, 60 day fastpasses, extra magic hours and magical express. And its so simple! To give you an idea of how much you can save, we recently booked through hotels.com for a moderate resort and saved close to $200 per night. And furthermore, if you have nights that can be redeemed through a site like hotels.com, you can use those free nights on Disney property too! Did someone say FREE ROOM at Disney? Yep, if you do it right, a free disney night could also be yours.
4. Use gift cards to pay for your trip
One of the easiest ways to save a little (or a lot) of money on a Disney vacation is by buying gift cards to pay for your trip. Love Target? You can save 5% at Target on Disney gift cards when you use your RedCard to pay for them! We live near a grocery chain that offers free fuel with the purchase of gift cards, so we buy our gift cards for the trip there and usually end up earning a few free tanks of gas! Be on the lookout for gift card deals too, some retailers offer extra perks or discounts on gift cards during “sales”.
5. Skip the Park Hopper Ticket at Disney
Ok so some people might disagree, but unless you are extremely strapped for time, the Park Hopper is really not necessary. Read in detail why we believe this to be true at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. We are Annual Passholders now, but we haven’t always been and to be honest, we’ve never purchased a Park Hopper. It does require a little more planning to have to stick to only one Park per day, but its definitely doable! And we actually love adding in resort trips on days where we may not be doing a whole lot int he parks. So if Animal Kingdom closes early we head over to Animal Kingdom Lodge for activities and an amazing dinner instead of seeking out another park. Or if we’re bent on seeing Magic Kingdom Fireworks, head over to the Contemporary and watch them from there.
6. Take Advantage of Disney’s Free Dining Offer
If you know anything about us, you’ll know that we love food. And the food at Disney World is no exception. So while this is not a given, Disney has offered Free Dining routinely in the fall. The details of the deal have changed over the years, but Free Dining really can be a great deal depending on your situation. The kicker: it must be purchased in a Magic Your Way package and you cant combine it with other offers. You can read this post to see if Free Dining is something that will save you the most money or not. But if you have a big family and are wincing at the potentially 70 dollars per person/ per day price tag to eat at Disney, keep an eye out for these deals.
7. Stay off property
Ok this is actually a maybe guys. If you’re super strapped for cash and lodging costs will make or break your vacation, stay off property. You can save a lot of money on your room to stay off property but there are a lot of other expenses to consider when choosing this option. How will you get around? Will you need to rent a car? If so, how much will that cost? If you’re driving, you will need to pay for parking at your resort, rates vary, and again at the parks which is another $20/day. You also forgo certain discounts when you choose to stay off property as well. Read our On or Off Property posts for Walt Disney World and Disneyland.
Another benefit of staying off property is that you can take advantage of places like AirBnB where you can potentially have your own kitchen and cook your own food which will save you money too. Sign up through this link to save $40 off your first stay!
8. Buy your tickets from an authorized Disney Resale Website
We like Undercover Tourist for discounted tickets and this is one area that you need to be careful in. Make sure that you are buying from an authorized resale site so you don’t get scammed.
9. Use rewards sites and apps like Ebates, Swagbucks and Shopkick!
If you guys aren’t using Ebates, then why not? What is Ebates? Its like a rebate site/ app. Make purchases as you normally would through the site or the app and you’ll earn cash (or gift cards!) back. Its super easy and you’re basically earning on things you’re already buying! Also- remember those third party sites we talked about earlier? Book them through Ebates and you’ll even earn money back on your trip! Sign up through this link and you’ll get $10 just for joining!
Swagbucks is another great way to earn gift cards for your trip or gift cards for places like Target where you can buy your Disney gift card. There are lots of ways to earn with Swagbucks, so check it out and do what works best for you!
With Shopkick, you can earn quite a bit without spending a dime! By opening the app every time you enter a participating store, scanning items or uploading a receipt for certain products, you can earn points that translate to gift cards. I usually use this for our Starbucks runs while at Disney, but you can also redeem for Target gift cards as well. These are just examples of ways to use sites and apps to save money for your trip; there are tons of options out there!
10. Reconsider your meals and maybe pack a few
Ok so you can take the much less expensive route and not eat at Walt Disney World since you can bring your own food in. But we love the food at Walt Disney World and feel it would be a shame if you didn’t eat at least some of it.
One way we try to have the best of both worlds is by doing a little of each and bringing some of our own food and eating it at the hotel and then staggering our meals when we are at the Parks. So for example, we may eat breakfast in our room, grab a snack at the Park and then eat a late lunch/early dinner while at the Parks. This works really well if you enjoy buffets because you can fill up on whatever you’d like and the price doesn’t change.
Another option is to share your meals. Honestly, the portion sizes at WDW are pretty hefty and a lot of times my daughter and I are able to split a meal and still be full. We’d also recommend that if you didn’t get the Free Disney Dining Plan offer and need to go cheaper on the food, to grab a refillable mug for every person in your travel party. This way, you can still bring your packed food into the commissary at your resort, and refill that mug as needed.
11. Visit Disney During Off the Season
On season for Disney is the Summer and during Holidays ( think every holiday… and spring break). So this is really dependent on whether or not you can actually travel during slow times, pull kids out of school, get off work, etc. But if you can manage it, you can save a lot. Check out our best times to visit Disney post for your best bets. And the best time about traveling during the off season is that everything is cheaper including flights AND the crowds are much more manageable.
When we visited last January, not only was the weather much more tolerable, but it was extremely affordable and we’ve never seen crowds so low. Definitely a win.
12. Get an annual pass….maybe
Another big maybe for us on this list. One of our most popular posts, being an annual passholder breaks down how being a WDW AP has definitely changed how we vacation at Disney. An annual pass may save you tons of money depending on how you travel each year. Not only do you get discounts on food and merchandise, but you also get free parking at the parks plus Passholder only resort discounts as well. If you’re only planning a once in a while trip, then the annual pass is not for you, but if you plan to spend more than 10 days in the Parks per year, its definitely worth considering.
While there are many many ways to save on a Walt Disney World vacation, we hope these tips show you that a Walt Disney World can be affordable. What tips do you have for saving money at Disney? Tell us in the comments, we would love to know!