Let me start off by saying, that I am a big Disney fan. In my opinion, Hands down they have the best theme parks around. My wife and I visited Universal Studios in Florida last year, and it had some great rides. In fact, for adult thrill rides it trumps Disney, and the Harry Potter area was done really well. However, it fell flat in almost everything else. The parks weren’t as clean, the counter service & food was subpar (we waited in line for over 30 minutes just to get a burger, and no I am not making that up.), the parks weren’t as easy to get around, and the staff just didn’t seem as friendly.
So this year I decided to head back to Disney (which is funny because I don’t have children!). This will be my 4th Disney trip in 8 years, and in that time I have noticed the house of mouse is getting more expensive. While I love Disney, I need to stick within the budget, and looking for discounts & savings is important. With that in mind, here are some tips to get the most out of your next Disney trip.
Visit in off-season
This one is a no brainer. The date you decide to go to Disney will determine how much you pay for your room. If you want to experience Disney’s Christmas set up, during the week of Christmas, it will set you back $200 a night for a value resort. If you book your vacation in the first week of December that same room is only $125. Same room, same Disney Christmas experience, but the cost of the room is around 40% less.
Cost of your room is not the only reason to go during off-season. The parks are way less busy, so you’re not bumping into people all the time, and the lines are a fraction of what they are during peak season. This allows you to ride more rides, and see more attractions & shows. I.E. you experience more of Disney than you would during peak times.
There is a down side to going in off-season times. Most of the off-season times don’t line up with children’s school schedules. That may be an issue for some schools, so make sure you check. Additionally some off-season times are not optimal for weather. It may be hotter than you expect, or wetter than you want. Only you can decide if the trade off is worth it for you.
Check Disney for Specials
Again, this is a no brainer. Disney has a pretty solid occupancy rate most of the time, but if they see a soft spot in bookings they will offer specials and discounts. Always check sites like MouseSavers.com, and Disney’s special offers page. Specials range from 15%-30% off, and buy 4 nights, get “X” nights free, to free Disney Dining Plan. If you have time to plan, sign up for emails to get specials from them. Yes, it’s a pain dealing with all the emails, but if you can save 15% on the cost of your room, it’s worth it.
The down sides in doing this are you might limit the times you are able to book, or you will have to book on very short notice to hit the times you need to stay. Make sure you read all the restrictions on any specials before you get excited and pay.
Stay Off Site
When I say stay off site, I don’t mean the traditional “stay at the Marriot that is close.” What I mean is to look for a renting a car, you may need to rent one. Second, you don’t get the full Disney experience, which for some is worth the cost.
Stay On Site
I know, I just told you to stay off site, but this on site is different than just the run of the mill value resort room. This one ties in Disney vacation club members. Not everyone that is a vacation club member can get to Disney every year. However, they are required to pay the maintenance fees whether they go or not. To save money on the years they can’t make it there, they sell their timeshare for the year. Sites like eBay, and The DVC Rental Store have these listings all the time, so look to see what is available.
I just looked up a studio (sleeps 4) at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort (already rented), and it was $750 for the week of 4th of July (June 29-July 6). That works out to be around $107 a night for a studio unit with a queen bed and double sleeper sofa, kitchenette, private balcony. The price for a value resort the same week? $168.91 a night. Both offer transportation to and from the air port, and all the busses to and from the parks.
Stay On Site Part Deux
I know what you are thinking “didn’t he just tell me all the sweet reasons to stay on site?” Well that was for your room, these are just the bonus round. Disney really wants to keep you on property. That keeps you in their shops and restaurants, rather than their competition. To help your choice on where to stay, Disney throws in a few bonuses. If you fly into Orlando International, they will be waiting there for you with open arms. You don’t even need to get your luggage! The house of mouse gives you special tags for your luggage, and it shows up magically in your room. Along with that, they have a fleet of buses that pick you up, and drop you off at the airport for free.
Wait kids, that’s not all! Not only do they give you the free pick up and delivery from the airport, they also offer “extra magic hours” every day to certain parks. That’s right, if you stay on Disney property they keep the parks open later just for you! Who doesn’t want extra time at Disney?
Disney really wants you in their parks for more than one day. The longer they keep you in the parks, the more time they have to part you from your money. However, in this little trap there is still a silver lining. The long you stay, the cheaper your park passes get. A one day pass is a whooping $89, but if your buying a multiday pass for 4 days that price drops down to $64 per day, and you will be able to spend one day in each of the 4 parks. I’m going for 10 days, and my park passes will cost $31.80 a day, which is well over a 50% savings.
The down side of this is obviously the cost of extra days in your room, and additional food costs. If you can swing more than 4 days though, that is when the cost of park tickets drop more quickly.
I Wanna be a Princess!
One of the most popular experiences at Disney for young girls is the Bippidi Boppidi Boutique. It turns your princess, into a full fledged Disney Princess, but it can bankrupt your kingdom if you let it. To save money buy your little princesses favorite dress online before you go. This allows you to look for coupon codes or specials rather than buying the dress at the park, which can cost 2-3 times more. It will still cost $50-$60 for the princess make over, but that is still significantly less expensive.
Don’t Rent a Stroller From Disney
Carrying a stroller through the airport is a serious pain, and renting stroller at Disney is $15 a day, or multi-day rental is $13 a day. To save money, check out third party stroller rentals from sites like Magic Strollers. They are $15 for the first day, and $8 for all days after that. If you are staying for a week, that can save you almost $30. They will also deliver it to your favorite Disney resort!
What About the Dining Plan?
Honestly, this is a “it depends” type of thing. I used to love the dining plan, but as of late the cost has gone up, and the amount you get has gone down. When I first used it, it was a table service (meal, appetizer, drink, desert, and tip), one counter service (meal, drink and desert), and two snacks per day. Now it costs quite a bit more, and you get one table service ( meal, desert, and drink, but no tip or appetizer), one counter service (meal, drink and desert), and one snack per day. Now this doesn’t sound bad, until you see how much the cost has gone up, and the biggest advantage is gone…. covering the tip.
If you have teens that have a hollow leg, never miss a meal, and are prone to ordering the most expensive things on the menu, you might come out ahead. If you have little ones that are full even if they split a meal, then I don’t think it is worth it. Sit down, plan out where you think you will eat, and what you want to order. Compare that with the costs of the meal plan, odds are, you will come out ahead not getting the meal plan. However, as mentioned above, if you get it for free with a Disney special (which I have gotten twice), and you come out ahead on the numbers for the hotel, then I would totally do it.
FatWallet Asks the Experts
Mary Waring from MouseSavers was nice enough to share a few of her favorite money saving tips:
- Many people are shocked to learn that the biggest expense for a Disney vacation is the admission tickets. There are a few authorized brokers who buy blocks of tickets directly from Disney and resell them at a discount. I recommend UndercoverTourist.com for Walt Disney World and aResTravel.com for Disneyland.
- Walt Disney World counter-service restaurant menus usually list only complete meals, such as a burger with fries or a personal pizza with salad. However, you can actually order just the entrée and leave off the side if you don’t want it. Typically this will save you about $2.
- Disney’s vacation packages are convenient, but they don’t normally save you money. It’s often cheaper to book a hotel reservation only and buy admission tickets, meals and flights separately.Tom Bricker from Disney Tourist blog agrees that you should skip the Disney vacation packages, and getting your tickets from a broker. He also suggests the following tips:
- You can undoubtedly save the most money by staying at a hotel that is off Disney property. Even the “Value” Disney hotels are pushing $70-110 per night after discounts. For that amount of money, you can get a much nicer hotel off-property. A hotel that matches Disney’s Value resorts, but is located off property might be as cheap as $40 a night.
- Eat lunch at Table Service restaurants instead of dinner; often the same menus are used, but at lower price-points, or purchase a Restaurant.com $25 gift card for $10 and use it at restaurants at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin hotels.
- Souvenirs come last on our list much like they do for most people visiting the parks on a budget. However, Walt Disney World souvenirs don’t have to be expensive. Our biggest tip for saving money on souvenirs is purchasing Disney pins for Pin Trading on eBay prior to your trip. Not only can you get them cheap ($1-2 pin versus the $8-20 that Disney charges for “normal” pins), but Pin Trading is a blast and will add another layer of fun to your Walt Disney World vacation.
There you have it! These are some the strategies my friends (with kids!), and I use to save a few dollars and get the most out of our Disney vacations. I know there are a plethora of other ways to save, but honesty, this post is getting a bit long winded. Feel free to tell us the ways you cut costs in the comments section below, and thanks for reading my ramblings!
Big thanks to Tom Bricker for allowing us to use his awesome photo!
Cash Back Travel Resources
Additional Disney Resources