I am fortunate enough that one of my best friends is a Disney expert- and she’s good- REALLY good! She has taught us how to do Disney on the cheap! Disney park tickets are expensive but there are a lot of other ways you can save some cash while taking a Disney trip! Here are a few of our top tricks and tips we use to save money!
Tip #1- Stay Off Site
While there is something truly “magical” about staying at a Disney resort, you will pay a premium for that experience. If we are strictly focusing on money saving tips, this is an important one. There are lots of really nice and inexpensive hotels that are just minutes from Disney. Keep in mind though that if you do not stay at a Disney property you will be paying $20 per day for parking. Some of the off site hotels offer free shuttle services to the disney Parks which would be a way to avoid he parking fee. Ask about the shuttle options when you are booking your room!
If you have your heart set on staying on Disney property, then your best bet is to book a Value resort. The value resorts are all going to give you that magical Disney experience at the cheapest possible price. A downside of the value resorts is that they are often crowded which means crowded pools, grounds and dinning options. It may not matter to you if you plan to spend most of your time at the parks.
If you are looking for a way to stay in one of the more luxury resorts for a cheaper price the best way to do that is by renting DVC (Disney Vacation Club) points. This is essentially renting another person’s unwanted timeshare points. The DVC resorts are some of the very best that Disney has to offer and you can often book them at a fraction of the price by renting unused DVC points. I will leave a link below to some great websites that can facilitate this!
Tip #2- Bring Your Own Food
It is a common misconception that you cannot bring outside food into the Disney Parks. While Disney is known for their incredible food faire, it can get pricey if you eat every meal there. I recommend packing your own snacks, drink, and at least one meal. Oftentimes we will eat breakfast in the hotel (oatmeal packets, cereal, bread and peanut butter, etc), eat lunch at a park restaurant, and pack a cooler with a diner meal (usually sandwiches, fruits, veggies, etc) The reason we choose to eat lunch at a restaurant is because the lunch menus are much more inexpensive than the dinner menu. Oftentimes you can eat the same meal, but it is actually cheaper during the lunchtime hours. Unless Disney is offering “free dining” you can save a lot of money by passing on the dining plan and packing your own food.
Tip#3- Share Your Meals
Disney portion sizes are huge! While the food can be expensive (but not more expensive than your average theme park), they definitely do not cheap out on portion sizes. On our first few trips we made the mistake of ordering everyone their own meal and we ended up throwing out half of it! Now, we often order two adult portions and my husband, myself and our 2 kids share (and there is plenty!) or we will actually all order a kids meal which is MORE than enough for an adult and MUCH cheaper!
Tip #4- Bring Your Own Water Bottle
Depending on which month you visit Disney, it can be HOT! Bottled water and drinks can be expensive and really add up! We bring water bottles with us to the park. Outside of almost every restroom there are water fountains where you can fill up your water bottles. All quick serve food counters also give out FREE cups of ice water as well. There is really no need to spend money on water.
Tip #5- Bring A Rain Poncho
Florida is a rainy place! It is very likely that it will rain at least one day during your trip. Fortunately it typically doesn’t last all day, but you don’t want to get caught in it unprepared. Disney sells rain ponchos but they are around $10 each for adults (a little cheaper for kids). You can easily purchase ponchos from the dollar store before you go! When those storm clouds come rolling in you will be happy to have them!
Tip #6- Buy a Refillable Popcorn Bucket
Even if you bring your own snacks (which I highly recommend), it’s still fun to have a little “treat” from the Disney Parks. You can purchase Popcorn buckets for $10. The bucket is re-fillable for $1.50 for the length of your stay. We often purchase one on the first day and then keep it with us to snack on! Once we run out we just stop by a popcorn cart and refill it for $1.50. The popcorn is delicious and our kids love it! Another tip- there is a popcorn trolley in Frontierland in Magic Kingdom that serves MAPLE POPCORN and it is SOOO good and still only $1.50 per refill! And I mean SOOOO good guys!
Tip #7- Souvenir Shop At The Disney Parks Outlet Store
Most people want to purchase a souvenir keepsake to remember their amazing trip! While the disney souvenir shops have some amazingly cute items, they can be a little pricey sometimes. If you have your own vehicle or a rental car (or feel like Uber-ing it) you should visit the Disney Parks Outlet Store. This outlet store is not just a Disney Outlet store but a store that exclusively sells DISNEY PARK merchandise. It is only about a 10- 15 minute drive from Disney and is located in the Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets. Many time when we have visited I have found the exact same items we saw in the park shops at the outlet for a fraction of the price. The plus side to this store is that the prices are often very good. The downside is that it is a TRUE outlet, meaning they are getting new and different merchandise daily. For this reason it can be hit or miss. There have been times where we have found a lot of amazing things and then there have been times where the stock wasn’t as great. It is worth checking out though!
Tip #8- Utilize Disney Springs
While Disney Springs is not a theme park, it is special in it’s own right! Disney springs has a lot of amazing shops and restaurants, but they also offer a lot of fun FREE or inexpensive things the kids will enjoy! The evenings at Disney Springs are the best because there are many live street performers- and they are GOOD! It’s fun to walk from presentation to presentation to check them out. Disney Springs also has a main stage where there are often special dance performances (which my kids love to watch!). Oftentimes in the evenings there is a huge dance party at the main stage with live DJ’s, dancing and games for kids and grownups! You could easily spend an hour or so at the main stage with the kids! The kids also enjoy exploring the LEGO store down there where they can play with (and try out) different lego. One of my daughter’s favourite things to do is visit the Sprinkles Cupcake Store where you can order a cupcake through their super cool cupcake vending machine! My son’s Favourite place to check out is the T- REX Restaurant that is filled with life-size animatronic dinosaurs. Even if you don’t eat here (you will need a reservation for sure) it’s still fun to go in and look around.
Tip #9- Resort Movie Nights
Almost all of the Disney Resorts have an activities calendar. Most of the resorts show Disney movies outdoors on a big screen in the evenings. They also provide mats to sit on and complementary popcorn. Our kids LOVE this! Some of the locations also have a bonfire where kids can roast marshmallows. These are all FREE activities! You do not have to be staying at a specific resort to enjoy these events. Simply look up their evening events calendar online and pop over for a visit!
Tip #10- Visit Disney Resorts
This tip goes along with tip #9. Many of the disney resorts have amazing grounds that are fun to visit. You don’t have to be staying at the resort to pop by for a visit! When you arrive to the security station, just let them know that you are interested in touring through the resort and they’ll gladly let you in! When our son was little he LOVED the Cars movie. We were staying off site to keep the cost of our vacation down but we took him to the Art Of Animation Resort one afternoon to look around! He LOVED it! We spent about an hour walking through the property looking at all of the life sized Cars statues. After we were finished looking through the grounds my daughter took a FREE animation class given by a Disney animator in the lobby of the resort where she learned how to draw pluto. These classes are offered every day at the Art Of Animation Hotel at 11am, 2pm and 5pm. While we took a little break from the parks, it was still super fun and was totally FREE!
Tip #11- Skip The Hopper Passes
When you purchase your Disney tickets you will be offered the option to upgrade your park passes to “hopper passes”. A hopper pass allows you to visit more than one park per day, whereas a regular park pass only allows you to visit one park per day. Each of the 4 parks are so packed full of amazing rides, shows, parades, etc that it is almost impossible to do everything in one park in a day. The extra cost for the hopper option is $37.28 per person per day. There really is no need to try to do two parks in one day and you will save big bucks by skipping the hopper pass option. Foregoing the hopper option is an easy way to save some big money!
Tip #12- Make Your Own Autograph Books
One of the the highlights for the kids can be meeting the characters and getting their autographs. Autograph books and pens at Disney can be pretty pricey. We purchase little notebooks at the dollar store and have the kids decorate them with stickers ahead of time to bring as their autograph books. This is a fun activity for the kids to do and then they can have their own customized autograph books for around $2 or less!
Tip #13- Utilize The Disney Photographers
All throughout the parks you will see Disney photographers taking photos for those who have the Disney Photopass Plus cards (these are an expensive additional cost) The photographers are more than happy to take photos for you on your phone FREE of charge if you ask them nicely.
There is a reason people say that Disney is “the happiest place on earth”. A Disney vacation can be filled with amazing memories for you and your family! Your disney vacation doesn’t HAVE to cost a small fortune in order to be memorable! I hope some of these tips will help you to create a magical experience!
If you have any tips to share I would love to hear them! Leave them in the comment section below!