*Caution, affiliate links ahead…Don’t worry, I’ll use the money for something practical, like wine…. or a pony!
I’m sure this has been done 1,000 times on 1,000 websites, but I really needed content this week and after traveling to Disney 2-3 times a year for the last 14 years with upwards of 6 kids, I really feel like I am the master of doing Disney on the cheap. Because I think every family should have the chance to experience the magic of Disney without taking out a second mortgage, I’m sharing my tips & tricks with all of you this week.
Stay off property
I know, I know. You really want to experience the Disney bubble. Unfortunately that Disney bubble comes at a price. No matter how many discounts Disney offers, it is almost always cheaper to stay off property than at the cheapest Disney resort.
Let’s do a quick breakdown on price:
I had a travel agent friend run a search for June 10-14, 2016 at the least expensive value resort and a moderate resort. I had her include rooms and tickets with no extras (no hopper, no water park).
Value Resort – $1,983
Moderate Resort- $2,264
I then checked with the Courtyard Lake Buena Vista (same hotel class as a value resort, plus complimentary shuttle to the parks) and the Hilton Lake Buena Vista (same hotel class as the moderate, plus complimentary shuttle to the parks AND extra magic hours) for the same dates and checked ticket prices with undercover tourist and came back with
Courtyard – $1690 savings of $293!
Hilton Lake Buena Vista – $1974 savings of $290!
An even better deal came about when I looked at vacation homes. I found a 3 bedroom 2 bath townhome for only $75 per night! While there is no transportation to the hotel, the ability to spread out in a large townhome may be worth having to drive. The total price for the townhome and tickets for June 10-14 would be $1680 (this price includes the daily parking fee for every day you are at the park)
Discount tickets are hard to come by, but they can be found if you are willing to look for them and sometimes tweak your ideal travel dates.
This is by far the best discount. Active & retired military members can take advantage of hugely discounted tickets. The current price for a military ticket is $196 for a 4 day hopper (Valid on specific dates) that is a discount of almost $200 per person off regular gate prices! Wow.
Disney offers special prices to educational groups including school groups, homeschool groups and girl scouts. These discounted prices are available to groups of 10 kids or more that attend an educational, behind the scenes program. This discount can be up to $100 per ticket (depending on the option you select) and is good for every member of the family, even if only one student is attending the class.
If you have no desire to organize your own group there are plenty of Disney fanatics that have organized their own YES trips and have opened registration to any one that can attend during specific travel dates. Here are the 2 that I have personally worked with and know well:
Traveling Homeschooler (You don’t have to be a homeschooler to attend)
Undercover Tourist is a reputable company that offers a small discount on tickets. Usually a family can save 5-25 dollars off regular gate prices. It’s not a huge discount, but hey, every bit counts, right?
Travel Off Season
Traveling during peak season (spring break, summer vacation and Christmas) means that you are going to pay peak prices. If you can travel outside of those times you can save a huge chunk of money.
If you were to stay on property (value resort) and travel June 10-14 you would pay $1983.00 for room and tickets.
However if you were to travel September 5- 9 you would pay 1769.00 for the same package. That saves you more than $200!
Let’s compare that to our off property comps from above:
Courtyard Lake Buena Vista
- Peak season – $1690
- Off Season- $1527
Savings of $163!
- Peak Season – $1680
- Off Season – $1460
Savings of $220!
Harmony Barber Shop
Bibiddi Bobbidi boutique is big business for Disney. What little girl doesn’t want to be pampered and made to look like her favorite princess? Unfortunately the boutique comes with a boutique price tag, the pampering sessions start at $60 (for some glitter, fake hair and a sash) that’s if you can even get a reservation, the salon books up MONTHS in advance.
A great alternative is the Harmony Barber Shop on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. For only $5 your kiddo can get a quick style (pony tail, bun, braid, Mohawk) sprinkled with pixie dust. While it isn’t quite the affair that the Bibiddi Bobbidi Boutique is, it is still fun and 1/10 of the cost.
Brita Water Bottles
This is the best money saving hack out there. A family could easily spend a year’s college tuition buying water bottles at Disney World. Sure you could bring your own, but once it’s gone you are going to have to buy more or risk filling it up at the drinking fountain, and if you have ever tasted Florida’s water, you know that is a less than appealing option.
My savior on our last 4 trips has been these on the go Britta water bottles.
They are the size of a regular water bottle and have a built in filter that makes Florida’s water taste like it was drawn from a mountain spring. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but it does make it more than palatable. Big difference.
Disney Credit Card
Let me preface this one by saying I’m not advocating for you to go into debt to pay for a Disney vacation. I’m not. I am advocating using this card to take advantage of discounts and offers. First of all if you don’t have a Disney Rewards card, go get one. They usually give you a Disney gift card when you are approved and spend a certain amount of money. When we got ours, we received a $200 gift card (offer varies) just for opening and using our card for our regular purchases (that we paid off each month) for 3 months. It was basically free money.
Some of the other benefits of the card include:
10% off your souvenir purchase of $50 or more
10% off select restaurants on Disney property
Gift Cards from Target
Did you know that you can buy Disney gift cards at Target for 5% off? You can!! If you use your Target Red Card, you will get 5% off Disney gift card purchases, you can then use your gift cards to pay for your Disney tickets, resort hotels, food in the park, etc.
Skip the Park Hopper
Unless you are seasoned Disney travelers with a battle plan that includes only hitting your favorite attractions in each park, the park hopper is really just a luxury. You don’t NEED it to have a good time. Since it can add upwards of $50 per ticket, budget savvy disneyfiles might want to just skip the option altogether.
Skip the Dining Plan
I’m not a fan of the Disney dining plan. Like at all. I know some people like it for the convenience and I know die hard Disney foodies that won’t visit the park unless they have it, but honestly, it’s an unnecessary expense.
The times that we have had the dining plan, we wasted a huge amount of food. The amount of food you get on the dining plan is, well, obscene. If you love to eat and can pack it away, more power to you, but most families I know can’t consume the mass quantities that Disney gives you on the plan. Last time we visited we ended up with half our plan unused and had to stock up on junk food snacks to take home with us so we didn’t feel like we were just throwing money away.
The Disney Tourist Blog did a great breakdown & cost analysis of the Disney Dining Plan so you can see if it’s right for your budget.
Shop for Souvenirs Ahead of Time (Tinker Bell Delivery)
We have a special relationship with Disney. Mickey and I are so tight that he sends Tinker Bell to our hotel several times over the course of our vacation to surprise our kids with special souvenirs.
Tinker Bell Delivery is something we came up with years ago when we realized we could get souvenirs at huge discounts at the nearby outlets or online prior to our trip. We stock up on stuffed animals, play sets, pins, etc. and while one of us is taking the kids to the car or bus, the other stays behind and sets the gifts on their beds with a special note from Mickey Mouse.
The kids rarely ask for souvenirs while we are at the park, because they know that Tinker Bell will have visited while they were gone and left something special for them when they return. The kids get some Disney magic to take home and we get to keep more of our cash. Win-Win.
Want to experience the Disney bubble without the expense? Consider the campgrounds at Fort Wilderness! By camping at Disney you get all the benefits of resort guests (shuttle transportation, extra magic hours, advance dining and fast pass reservations, etc.) at a fraction of the cost.
June 10-14, 2016 in value resort, room and tickets = 1983.00
June 10-14, 2016 campground, tent site and tickets = 1692.00
That’s almost a $300 dollar savings. While camping isn’t for everybody, if it’s something your family enjoys, it’s a great way to save more money on your trip!
Pack Your Own Snacks
Disney allows you to bring outside food and drink into the park. A well packed snack bag can save your sanity and your wallet. Pack snacks that aren’t messy and are easy to eat. Goldfish, teddy grahams and fruit snacks are always safe choices. If you are feeling especially frugal, you can also pack a few sandwiches and chips for an impromptu picnic on the lawn. Not only will you save money, you will also save some time by not having to wait in line!
Eat Breakfast in Your Room
Breakfast in the room is the easiest way to save some money. Pick up some danishes, cereal, poptarts or granola bars from the grocery store when you get into town (or use a grocery delivery service). It will save you a pretty penny for sure. Besides, eating a huge breakfast will just make you sluggish and I know from experience that bellies full of pancakes and theme park rides don’t mix. Save the heavy meals for later in the day when your energy starts to wane and you will welcome the opportunity to sit down for a while.
Give Kids Their Own Disney Gift Card
Even if Tinker Bell is planning on making a delivery, it’s still nice for kids to have their own spending money. Give each kid a gift card with a specific amount on it. Let them know how much is on it and that once it’s gone, it’s gone. Kids love to feel responsible and they tend to be far more choosy when they are spending their own money.
Buy Your Own Disney Gift Card
Disney gift cards can help you set a budget and stick to it. Decide before hand what you are going to spend and buy gift cards to cover it. Leave credit cards behind in the hotel safe so you are not tempted to use them. Knowing that there is a pre-set spending limit helps you to stay within your budget without the temptation of over spending. Tip: take a picture of the front and back of the card and keep the receipt. If your card is lost or stolen, this is the only way they can track it.
As you can see with a little planning, some flexibility, and a little pixie dust, you can have a fabulous Disney vacation without depleting your bank account!
Did I miss any? What are your favorite money saving tips for a Disney vacation?