Looking for a cheap way to do a Disney Vacation? Well, that’s not going to happen. Let’s just get that out of the way right up front. Disney is expensive. Whether you’re heading to Disney World in Florida or DisneyLand in California, expect to pony up big bucks. There’s simply no such thing as an inexpensive trip to Disney. If you want to see the Big Mouse, you have to pay big bucks. But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to save. In fact, considering how much Disney costs these days, you’ll want to take advantage of every possible opportunity to cut costs where you can.
Aside from the fact that Disney is expensive no matter how you slice it, it can also be kind of complicated. There are a lot of ways to save money but you will have to do your homework. Disney World is a sprawling universe of theme parks, resorts, and neighboring towns. If you want to do it right, and get the best deals, you will have to put the time in. And the more you learn before your arrival, the better prepared you’ll be to make the most of every minute.
Now that we’ve got the disclaimers out of the way, let’s get to the tips.
Naturally, one of the first things you can do is find ways to trim a few dollars off of your flight. Get started with a look at The Best Airline Miles Credit Cards. Use one of these and you may be able to recoup some of your expenses in rebates, credits, and perks. For more, read on and check out these 10 ways to save money on your trip to Disney.
1. Avoid Visiting During the Holidays
What could be more magical than Disney on Christmas, right? Well, maybe. But you have to find intense crowds and general price spikes enchanting to really appreciate the magic. Lots of people have the great idea to go to Disney during the holidays…way too many people in fact.
Traveling Mom advises strongly against visiting Disney World during any of the major holidays. This isn’t necessarily about spending less. It’s about making the money you spend go a lot further. Traveling Mom says “do NOT plan a visit to Disney World the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Trust me, you do not want to try and brave the crowds during this particular week. Historically, this is the busiest week of the year as thousands of people give the gift of a Disney vacation to their children for Christmas. If you want to give Disney as a Christmas gift, consider waiting until after New Year’s before arriving. You will be so much happier you waited.”
Other heavy traffic days include the extended weekends around Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day and Thanksgiving. You should also avoid any portion of the year that students take Spring Break. This is generally early March through mid-April.
Denser crowds lead to bigger lines, longer waits, and a generally less efficient park experience. Considering how much you’ll be spending on the tickets to get in, getting your money’s worth is essential. You can avoid the crowds by planning your trip in early December; January through February; or late August through September. You’ll get a much bigger bang for your buck this way.
2. Look at Disney’s Special Offers
Before you do anything else, find out whether or not you could be eligible for any number of special offers directly through the theme park. Many of these special offers will require you to schedule your trip at certain times of the year. This is yet another reason to target off-peak travel dates for your vacation.
For instance, Disney+ subscribers can save as much as 25% on certain Disney Resort Hotel Rooms but you would have to plan your trip between the dates of July 8th and September 30th. Exclusions may also apply for certain nights and holidays. Military service members can also enjoy discounts on park tickets for any date outside of the Christmas and New Years holiday season. And if you’re willing to travel last minute, you may be able to get a pretty hefty discount on a Disney Resort hotel room. For instance, at the time of writing in May 2022, you could enjoy a $500 discount for a room in June or early July as long as you book through the Disney website.
3. Look for Travel Packages From Booking Services
Now that you’ve weighed your options with a look at Disney’s special offers, you’ll also want to compare these with some of the package deals and special offers available through an extremely wide array of online travel agencies. There are countless different offers out there for Disney vacation packages. The nature of your ticket will determine how much you spend. For instance, some booking services offer a fifth day of theme park tickets when you purchase four day’s worth. Some agencies offer access to cheaper per-person travel packages when you assemble a group of people.
Beyond that, the Disney Resort Hotels are notoriously expensive. Naturally, being directly onsite is a great way to maximize the magic at every turn. But this is not required, nor is it the most affordable way to do Disney. There are countless attractive lodging options in close proximity to the theme parks that will typically be slightly more affordable than Disney Resort Hotels. This may even be true once you’ve factored in any number of the special offers cited above.
Not only that, but many of these off-site hotels offer more affordable package deals where you can bundle some combination of flight, lodging and theme park entry. Make sure you look into your bundling options as you compare pricing.
4. Rent an RV and Park on a Disney Property
There is actually an alternative lodging option that rarely gets a ton of attention, but sounds pretty cool to us. Check out Disney’s Campsites at Fort Wilderness. These campsites are designed for RVs, which are widely available for rental these days. This could be an affordable alternative to lodging in a Disney Resort Hotel without sacrificing any of the magic or convenience that come with the onsite experience.
In fact, this is also a great reprieve from the crowds and costs of the theme park. According to Traveling Mom, “Fort Wilderness has miles of trails, archery, horseback riding, and canoeing over 750 acres of land. Also, it’s pet-friendly! You’ll get all the perks of staying on property like Extra Magic Hours with an outdoor twist that your kids will never forget.”
Also consider this a single example of the many possible alternative lodging options that you have at your disposal. If you’re open-minded about your Disney experience, vacation rental sites like Airbnb and Vrbo may have all kinds of unique options in close range of the parks.
5. Get Base Tickets Instead of Park Hopper Tickets
If you’re trying to do all of Disney in a Day—good luck with that, by the way—get the Park Hopper Ticket. This gives you the power to traverse the entire Disney empire, which includes four separate theme parks—Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios. If you’ve only got one day and you want to cover as much ground as possible, the Park Hopper is the move for you. I’ve done it. It’s an intensely long, exhausting day, but it is pretty awesome.
That said, it’s the more expensive way to go for those staying longer. If you’re doing a week in Disney—which is the only actual way to see and do everything—you would be much better off buying base tickets for one park each day. Each and every park could easily occupy your family for a full day. It’s not only the most affordable way to go, but it’s also the most effective way to see as much as possible. Immerse yourself in one park every day and see everything it has to offer.
6. Know How and When to Get Use Genie+ and Lightning Lanes
According to Disney Tourist Blog, Disney has eliminated its famous Fastpass system and implemented a new preferential line-skipping feature through its new Genie+ mobile app and its Lightning Lanes. We’d explain exactly how these new features work here but the truth is, that explanation would constitute its own article. Turns out the new app is kind of really complicated. It has some free features, some premium features for pay, and a whole bunch of different rules and disclaimers.
But here’s what you need to know—there are times and places that the Genie+ pay-per features are worth it, and times and places where they are not worth it. Sometimes this can shorten your wait for a popular ride. Some popular attractions can be far more accessible if you simply plan your ride for an off-peak hour.
The point is, you’ll need to do your research and plan accordingly. Disney Tourist Blog actually does designate an entire article to explaining how you can optimize the new app. It’s not a bad idea to read the whole thing because there’s actually quite a lot to it! Start your research on the Genie+ and build your multi-park Disney itinerary accordingly.
7. Bring Your Own Food
Fun Fact: You are allowed to bring your own food and non-alcoholic beverages into the park with you. And while there are a lot of awesome dining experiences in Disney, there are also plenty of not-so-awesome dining experiences. There’s no shortage of over-priced, theme-park-quality fast-food at Disney. You’ll eat much better, and for much less money if you invest in a food-friendly backpack.
While Disney is filled with expensive food options, it’s also filled with all kinds of enchanting picnic groves, fountains, and sitting areas. You’ll save a ton if you can just pull up a bench anywhere and have a bite. If you’re traveling with kids—and we kind of assume you are—having food on hand at all times may also spare you some small measure of whining.
8. Sleep In and Save On Cheaper Tickets
Some families are bright-and-early morning folks. Good for you. I can’t relate. If I’m on vacation, I like to savor those extra minutes of sun-kissed morning repose. It turns out you can actually save a pretty good amount of money if you prefer your vacations at this speed. That’s because Disney actually offers discounted tickets for mid-day arrivals.
According to Polka Dots and Pixie Dust, “If you want to do Disney in tandem with another vacation, or know that you’re not getting the kids out of bed, or the pool, before 12 noon, then grab the mid-day ticket instead. You can save 30 bucks or more just by being a little strategic and realistic about your vacation plans. Why pay for a full-day ticket, if you’re not spending a full day in the parks?”
10. Buy Discounted Disney Gift Cards
A little while back, in our feature on ways to save when shopping online, we pointed to a few sites that do discounted gift card sales. Check out a gift card resale site like Card Cash for immediately usable gift cards selling at between 8% and 25% off of their original value. How does it work? Card Cash explains that “Other people’s gift cards are your way to save. We buy gift cards for less than their value from people just like you who don’t want them, and resell them at a discount so you can save. So any time you’re about to purchase anything — online or in-store, at 1,300+ retailers.”
Disney is one of those retailers. You can find pretty significant discounts on all sorts of in-park merchandise and experiences. Scour the web for gift cards and spend less up front so that you don’t have to pull out your wallet as often in the park.
10. Get the Disney Premier Visa Card
This isn’t meant to be a shameless plug for a card. You’ll actually get money back specifically for booking your trip while using the Disney Visa. According to DisneyWorld.com, you’ll get a $300 credit on your statement as long as you use the card to make more than $1000 in purchases during the first three months. Hint: If you’re using it to pay for your Disney Resort Hotel, that should be pretty easy.
That card comes with a bunch of other perks, including 6 months 0% APR for certain Disney vacation packages, as well as “2% in Disney Rewards Dollars on card purchases at gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants and most Disney locations. Earn 1% on all your other card purchases.”
Grab this card directly through the Disney special offers page to learn more about, and maximize, your benefits.
And if this is your first big trip since the onset of COVID-19, make sure you’re up to speed on all the latest travel requirements and restrictions, especially if you’re visiting a crowded theme park like Disney. Check out these 10 Ways the Pandemic Has Changed Travel.