It should come as no surprise that Disney World is the single most visited vacation resort in the world. After all, a Disney vacation is a right-of-passage for many young families.
But Disney World isn’t just for kids. There is really something for every age bracket and personality type at this magical Orlando resort. Comprising 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 25+ hotel resorts – and restaurants, lounges, nightlife, sporting activities, and shopping galore – boredom is never an option!
But with all of this fun comes a high price tag. A family of four typically spends in the range of $3,000 – $10,000 for a 5-day vacation package. Ouch!
While the prospect of shelling out thousands of dollars may dampen your Disney enthusiasm, take comfort in knowing there are plenty of strategies you can employ to make your vacation more affordable.
Here is my list of the top 8 proven ways to save on your next Disney vacation – without compromising your level of enjoyment in the process.
1. Go During the Off-Season
The best time of year to visit Disney World is during the off-season when the price is lower, lines are shorter, and dining reservations are easier to make.
This is often an “easier said than done” situation because Disney’s off-season typically coincides with a normal family’s “busy season.” However, if you can swing it so your vacation time happens during Disney’s off-season, you will be rewarded with more saving and fewer crowds.
Although Disney frequently adjusts room rates based on demand, you should always expect higher rates during weekends, holiday periods, and peak periods (which typically coincide with school vacations and special events).
If possible, try to avoid President’s Day weekend, February vacation, Easter break, Spring break, Memorial Day weekend, Summer vacation (late May – mid-August), Labor Day weekend, Thanksgiving week, and mid-December through the New Year (Christmas vacation).
The best times to go on a Disney vacation include weekdays, January to mid-February (with the exception of the MLK holiday), and during the end of August until early December (excluding Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, and Thanksgiving week).
September is an especially nice month to visit because the weather is fantastic, the crowds are moderate, and the rates are more affordable. Plus, Disney typically offers free dining vacation packages during these slower periods (usually in January and between September and mid-December).
Consult a Disney World Crowd Calendar for daily crowd estimates.
2. Stay at a Disney Value Resort
Value resorts are far and away the least expensive tier. If you are on a shoestring budget, staying at a Value resort is certainly the way to go.
While the accommodations are admittedly basic (similar to a chain motel), Value resorts do come with all of the perks of any other on-site Disney resort: fun (kid-friendly) themes, free shuttle service to/from the parks, free transportation to/from Orlando International airport, Extra Magic Hours, advance booking for dining and FastPass+ reservations, beautiful pools, and more than adequate quick service food courts.
All three All-Star resorts have similar accommodations, share bus service to the theme parks, and are priced in the same range. With room rates starting around $110 per night (2018), the All-Star resorts are the least expensive lodging at Disney World.
While Art of Animation has nicer amenities, a better food court, and its own transportation (not shared with other resorts), rooms are priced significantly higher than the All-Stars, and somewhat higher than the quirky (in a good way) Pop Century resort.
3. Stay Off Resort on Your Next Disney Vacation
Off-site (non-Disney owned) hotels can be significantly less expensive than most in-park Disney resorts. Many Orlando-area hotels offer complimentary breakfast, free shuttle service to/from Disney World, and have nice amenities to boot.
Of course, the downside is you will sacrifice some “magic” by staying outside the premises of Disney World. Plus, you don’t have the perks (mentioned previously) of Disney resort guests. However, you will be rewarded with extra savings to spend on other aspects of your vacation.
A second option is to rent a property for the duration of your trip. This is especially appealing if you have a car or a large group of people.
There are plenty of affordable Orlando-area listings on such websites as Airbnb, VRBO, FlipKey or HomeAway, many of which have kitchens (save money by cooking your own meals), much more square footage than hotel rooms, and more privacy away from the hustle and bustle of the park.
4. Bring Your Own Lunch
While most people opt for the Disney Dining Plan, you can save a bundle if you bring your own lunch, snacks, and beverages. Surprisingly, Disney allows guests to bypass the pricey Disney food and bring their own food into the theme parks if you so choose.
In order to save on beverage expenses, many guests opt to bring a refillable water bottle with them. There are plenty of water fountains throughout the park to get a refill.
Disney also provides free tap water at any Disney counter service restaurant (just ask).
Over the course of your trip, bringing your own food and beverages into the theme parks can really save you lots of money.
5. Extend Your Disney Vacation
This one may seem like a head-scratcher, but hear me out.
Disney theme park tickets become progressively less expensive the more days you go. For example, three days of standard theme park tickets start at $101.65 per day (2018), whereas tickets for five days start at $79 per day and ten days at $44.50.
That’s a huge difference!
I understand not everyone has the time to spend 10 consecutive days at Disney World. However, I point out this price drop to illustrate how Disney incentivizes you into extending your trip. The longer you stay, the less your average cost per day ends up being.
With this in mind, it may be wise to extend your next trip by a few days, but – at the same time – agree to take fewer Disney vacations in the future (ie, go once every two or three years instead of every year).
Stick to this agreement and you will have an extra long vacation this time, and save money by going less frequently in the future.
6. Skip the Theme Parks (For a Day)
If extending your trip to lock in lower price theme park tickets doesn’t sound like a good idea, then consider doing the reverse by spending a day or two outside of the theme parks.
There is actually a ton of (potentially) free things to do without spending a dime. Here are some activities you could do on your day off:
- Go resort hopping: Ride the “inner” monorail (which circles around Magic Kingdom, Contemporary Resort, Grand Floridian, and Polynesian Resort). Get off at each resort and explore the beautiful lobbies and grounds.
- Stroll the BoardWalk: Disney’s BoardWalk is a quarter-mile promenade featuring street performers, dining, shopping, nightlife, and peaceful relaxation by the lake. It’s a great place to spend the afternoon or evening.
- Disney Springs: Like BoardWalk, the Disney Springs area of Disney World is a lively destination filled with wonderful dining and shopping. However, there are a few free things you can do, such as catching a street performer or musician, check out the Lego Imagination Center (an outdoor, 3,000-sq- ft interactive LEGO play area), or just go window shopping and take in the scenes.
- Take an Art Class: Art of Animation resort offers free daily art classes (11 am, 2 pm, and 5 pm) where you learn how to draw Disney cartoon characters. Classes are free and open to everyone, including guests staying at off-site resorts.
- Take a boat ride: All forms of Disney World transportation are free, including boat rides. Disney’s boat transportation offers a scenic and relaxing way to spend the afternoon or evening. The Port Orleans to Disney Springs boat loop runs down the Sassagoula River, while other routes include the Polynesian/Grand Floridian/Magic Kingdom loop, the Magic Kingdom/Contemporary/Wilderness Lodge/Fort Wilderness loop, and the Crescent Lake loop (making stops at Epcot, Boardwalk, Yacht/Beach Club, Swan/Dolphin, and Hollywood Studios).
- Stay at the pool: While everyone else is at the theme parks, you could have the pool all to yourself!
7. Avoid Park Hopper Tickets
While a standard theme park ticket gives you single-day access to one theme park (ie, an Epcot ticket), the “Magic Your Way Park Hopper” ticket gives you access to more than one theme park in the same day.
For example, a Park Hopper ticket will allow you to spend half your day at, say, the Magic Kingdom and the other half at Epcot, Hollywood Studios, or Animal Kingdom. Cool!
Unfortunately, the Park Hopper ticket isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. For one, they cost around 30% more than standard, single theme park tickets. Plus, who wants to lose valuable time traveling between theme parks when you could be on rides?
Park Hopper may be a good option for those who are only at Disney World for a day or two and want to see as much possible in a short amount of time. Otherwise, they aren’t worth the extra money.
8. Use a Disney Vacation Travel Agent
The travel industry has undergone major changes over the last few decades. Thanks to an abundance of online discount travel websites, travel bloggers, and other online vacation resources, there isn’t really much reason to hire a travel agent these days, right?
Not exactly, especially when it comes to Disney vacations.
For starters, Disney World is massive (43 sq miles) and confusing, especially for first-time guests. By using an experienced Disney travel planner, you have a personal guide to help you navigate through the complexities of Disney World vacations.
Disney travel agents help you craft a vacation package that is specifically tailored to your needs, including helping you choose where to stay, which attractions to prioritize and the best way to get around the park.
They also do the time-consuming and time-sensitive work of booking your resort, theme park tickets, advanced dining reservations, and FastPass+ ride selections. Plus, they scour the deals and special promotions to find you the absolute lowest possible price, and change your reservation to lock in an even lower price if a promotion should come along after you have already booked your trip.
Sounds good, but is there a commission or fee? Nope.
In most cases, the services of a Disney travel planner is totally free of charge. There is no catch, and there really is no downside to using one.
Last Thought on How to Save Money at Disney
Disney World vacations can be magical and memorable, but also a major expense. Follow my 8 proven ways to save on your next Disney trip and you should be able to make your vacation as affordable as possible.
Thanks for reading and I hope you have a magical time at Disney World!
BONUS: Disney Vacation Packing List
Found on The Farm Girls Gabs
There is nothing like getting to your family Disney vacation and forgetting to pack some of the essentials. With this incredible list you are sure to remeber everything you need to make your trip unforgetable. Pin this for others!
Today’s guest post is by Disney blogger Jonathan de Araujo. He is an avid Disney vacationer and money-saving wizard. You can read more of Jonathan’s work over at MagicGuides.