How to Save on a Disney World Vacation

Caleb, Pluto and me on the Disney Wonder in 2006.

I am here at Walt Disney World preparing to attend a blog conference. Yes, even the most magical place on earth caters to bloggers. But, you probably already knew that if you have read here for a while since I was invited to Walt Disney World nearly two years ago to learn more about the magic (as one of the #magicalmoms).

Our family is going on a Disney vacation next month. We’re going on our second Disney Cruise. On the newest ship, at that: the Disney Dream. We are unbelievably excited because of the vacation in itself. But, the first cruise we went on was amazing and we are all looking forward to enjoying our family vacation together on the Dream and spending a few days at the park afterwards.

As I started pricing out the 3 days at the resort and ticket prices, I realized that this was another mini vacation to pay for (we did the land/sea package before)!  I wanted to offer a few tips to you if you are looking to try to do Disney on a dime since I’ve told a few people about our upcoming trip and they wanted some tips. So, here are a few ways to save a big magical dime at Walt Disney World.

Look for Disney Specials

This is an obvious one, but Disney has specials all the time. You can find the current offers at Walt Disney World.com. At the time we were looking, we could get a family suite at a value resort, and a 4-pack of tickets valid for 2 days for.

There is currently a deal through PGR Getaways to get 5 Free Days at the Calypso Resort in Orlando when you purchase 2 Walt Disney World tickets. You can find more details on this deal here. I’m not sure how long this deal will last. It’s not on the Disney Property but if you are looking for a deal, it looks like a good one.

This is our second cruise and we did get a small deal when we booked: a $25 stateroom credit. No, it’s not a lot BUT it is more than we got last time! We always try to book these at least 6 months in advance. I’m sure you may be able to get a better deal if you waited but you take the risk in not getting a date you want. And, with the Dream being the newest ship, they are completely booked until June!

The Happy Housewife has some great posts outlining Disney Deals for Military personnel, Disney Homeschool Days, and her very informative 30 Days of Disney series.

Accommodations

Disney has several levels of resorts to choose for your stay: Deluxe, Moderate and Value. They offer deals for all three with the specials depending on which resort you select.

You can also stay off-site as well. We have done that in the past but honestly we will probably never do it again. You get the Free Magical Express shuttle service from the airport when you fly into Orlando. Plus, the shuttles take you to the parks literally all the time. And, the monorail runs through several resorts as well. The convenience offsets the minimal savings (if you do a Value Resort anyway).

Travel Considerations

Since we live a gazillion hours away, we have always flown to Disney. As you can imagine, this cost the same as giving birth to my child (literally, I think we paid as much for plane tickets for the five of us as we paid to deliver Andon).

The main thing here is flexibility. Our cruise embarks on Sunday. We were originally going to fly in Sunday morning but the plane tickets kept going up, up and up some more! I was originally trying to get us non-stop flights but those tickets were ridiculous! So, we are flying in the evening before with one stop on the flight to Orlando. Coming home we do have a non-stop flight which will be nice so we can crash on the plane.

If you’re driving, I would say having a vehicle that gets good gas mileage is a good thing. Do the math though to see which is more cost efficient. With gas at $3.60 a gallon and the miles it would take to drive there from Ohio with our van that gets good gas mileage, it’s a lot! Not to mention the wear/tear on the bodies, the “Mom, are we there yets” and the siblings at each others’ throats. I would have NEVER made it as a Griswold!

Packing Suggestions

You may not think that packing efficiently as a way to save. If that’s you, then you may not be flying, with 5 people and checked luggage! Oh my word – it is esspensive!! Katie has a great list of suggested packing items and tips to consider. Thanks to Katie, I have gum and a few other items on my shopping list already! I would also purchase some inexpensive and cheap disposable rain ponchos for the kids in case you have rain during your vacation.

Park Tickets

The last cruise we went on, we purchased a land/sea package. This  time, we just got the sea package and we then decided to do a few days  at the parks afterwards. We went on a family vacation to Disney in 2003.  That time we went, we didn’t have to purchase tickets. Our family used  to have a place in Florida and they had extended park hoppers. This was  the most economical choice since we knew that they could be used until  the days were all gone. So, we haven’t purchased tickets in almost 10  years!

Plan around Birthdays or Volunteer. Consider purchasing park hoppers to get more parks in. Ask for tickets for Christmas presents as Amanda suggests. I know people who have done this for the local amusement park so this makes complete sense.

Jill drove to Disney and mentions purchasing tickets after seeing a discount listed on a billboard. They had to tour a time share and got a 20% discount no park tickets (remember you can always decline purchasing any time share if you don’t have an interest).

Dining Savings

We didn’t do this in 2006 (on our first land/sea Disney vacation). But, we really should have. During the Disney bloggers trip, we learned that the Free dining plan is typically offered between August and October. If your schedule allows a visit then, it’s time to go! Plus, it’s less crowded then since the Florida schools are back in session!

As I mentioned after the #magicalmoms trip, the Free dining is a great deal when it’s available.

Pre-Buy Souvenirs

We actually did purchase Disney Hats (with their names on the back) and the autograph book. We still have both and the kids can take them this year. Well, T may not since he’s 11 now and will likely think it’s not cool :-) The online Disney Store always has great sales and clearance to get Disney stuff super cheap! I’ll also hit up the Dollar Store before we depart to find any Disney-related items. Even a generic pirate sword would be applicable and I’m sure Andon would love it!

Don’t fret at all that your merchandise wasn’t purchased at Disney. I mentioned before that shirt that I still have from 2009 was at Disney AND at the Airport. It’s not that exclusive. The ears and autograph books are worth the money since they are a treasured memory. This week, I might get a blinged out Minnie headband. It’s Disney, I don’t care WHO you are, it makes you giddy and want to wear mouse ears!

Joey’s suggestion was a good one as well. Allow the kids to have one Disney-bought souvenir. When the kids have to be more selective about their trinket, it’s a little different than mom and dad are just on a buying spree!

Pack Non-Perishable Snacks

This was an overwhelming suggestion when I asked for Disney Savings Tips on Facebook! Rachel is a Floridian so it definitely makes sense for her to pack a family lunch. She and others suggested eating at Cosmic Ray’s in Magic Kingdom.

Many people also suggested taking drink packets to pour into water. Since you can take water in, just add a drink packet for a flavorful drink. Also making sure your hotel room has a fridge allows to keep perishable items fresh longer and keep your water nice and chilled!

One of Emily’s great Disney tips included ordering food from Garden Grocer. What a great tip! We will be using a shuttle to take us to the resort. I’m sure we could ask the shuttle service to stop at Walmart, but I doubt we will have the energy to run through and grab everything.  Plus, I’m sure they would charge us for the stop. So, we will be using the service this year. I love that they have produce available too!

Enjoy the Free Stuff

Christy at Southern Plate has a great list to help with enjoying and saving at Disney. One of the suggestions she shared, and many others have suggested, is to purchase the Disney Passporter book. Along with several great Disney planning tips and hints, it has a list of the free activities for kids to do! Great idea, right?!

Katie also has a great list of Free Disney stuff you can get too! Seriously, there is a lot of ways to enjoy Disney for cheap or Free that spending a fortune in the park isn’t necessary! Peggy’s tip to avoid the park offering a special during the time you are there to avoid with the crowd issues.

Of course, there are several experiences like the boutique for little girsl and the pirate adventure for the boys. My nieces are doing the boutique this year and I would love to go myself but we aren’t. I thought possibly doing the pirate day for Andon and Caleb but decided against it. We’ll be on a ship for 4 days, there’s not much more pirate you can get than that (and we get to see the Pirates of the Carribbean Ship at Castaway Cay!).

If you do any of these, Autumn has a tip to purchase the glitter and dresses at home rather than at the boutique. It’s just one way to save plus the kids won’t be pressured to make a fast decision the day of.

BYOE

That’s “bring your own equipment.” This one is specific for the cruise but I’m sure it’s applicable for the parks too. While there really is not a lot that you do need, when you stop on the excursions, you will get to do many things. Our FAVORITE stop was Castaway Cay. We are SOOOO looking forward to this again this year since it’s the best of both worlds: a cruise with fabulous entertainment, food and anything you could possibly want with your own private island at your desire.

Maria went on the inaugural Disney Dream cruise and she suggested we bring our own snorkels since the rental rate is rather high. Rentals typically are charged per hour so this makes sense. Most of our boys will want to use them, and Daddy will too.  I can get a snorkel really cheap so I’ll be packing that this year! Plus, the boys will use it throughout the summer here at home. It’s worth the small purchase.

Rent a Stroller

This may seem counter-intuitive to saving since you can likely take your own. We always took our strollers in the past. However, with our kids getting bigger, they aren’t really stroller-age. But, they are little and will likely wear out with walking so much in the parks. Emily from Mommin’ it Up has some good tips on stroller rental at Disney (and many other things). And, they all make complete sense AND cents! We aren’t sure which rental we will do yet but we will be leaving our stroller at home on this trip.

When it all comes down to it, planning CAN help you save more. Even though our cruise was a big expense, we have been planning for this for nearly two years (yes huh, I mentioned it in my first Disney post in 2009!).

Fast Passes Save Time

While the Fast Passes aren’t a money-saver, Fast Passes are a huge time saver so I can’t go without mentioning those. Our last trip we found the rides that offered fast passes and walked to as many close by to grab our passes. By the time we got the other passes it was time to go back and ride the first ride. You get the idea. Lots of time saved and getting all of the memories in without missing a thing!

Search the Web

There are so many great sites to check for more tips and advice to have the best Disney vacation ever! Some I’ve checked personally and others are suggestions. Here are a few: AllEars.net, Disney World Moms Panel Forum, Passporter, and DISBoards.com to name a few.

Do you have other tips to help save on a Disney World Vacation?

by Savings Lifestyle: Andrea on March 17, 2011

5 Comments

  • Alyssa - March 17, 2011 @ 3:06 pm
    1

    I forgot to mention on the facebook thread – consider purchasing things from Amazon.com and having them shipped directly to your hotel. Friends we went with did this – so she didn’t have to pack diapers, she ordered them off Amazon.com (free shipping with purchases over $25 for most items) and had them shipped to the hotel (along with some juice boxes and other items). It can help keep your luggage lighter and maybe even allow you to avoid checked luggage fees. We mailed down a box ahead of time with many of our pre-purchased souveniers, etc – it cost about $14 and saved us the $25 checked bag fee, so it was worth it.

  • Angie - March 18, 2011 @ 1:43 pm
    2

    We are heading off to the world in 42 days!! People always act like we spend so much money but 1 thing to keep in mind is we work all year round never call off and are always on time for work. I work 2 jobs and my husband works during the day and takes care of the kids at night when I work. So to get away for 2 weeks alone no pressure as a family is crucial for us to remain close and build some of those memories my kids and I will have for a lifetime. Disney is the front runner in vacations for a reason simply put no one does a vacation like Disney no one! My family buys an Annual Pass for each eligible person in the family and we go for the last 2 weeks in May one year and the following year the first 2 weeks in May. Essentially getting 2 years vacation for the cost of about 1. Our AP cost us just around $800 last year as my husbands mother purchased my husbands for us as our Christmas present and my son and I did the give a day get a day and applied that to our pass. The other reason we love the AP is you get extra discounts shopping and dining. But the biggest discount is called the AP room rate! We are staying at POR which is a moderate resort for 14 nights 2 adults 2 kids and 1 infant having basic dining (1 counter service, 1 table service, and a snack a day per person) for the price of $3715.56 We still have to get our DD a ticket as she is old enough to need one now but that will be about $260. So for under $4000 we have Disney paid. We are driving from Indiana but leaving at noon and driving straight through while the kiddos sleep we should arrive around 8 or 9 am. We will only have to eat 1 meal on the road dinner. And since we have paid for the dining plan we can eat at our hotel for breakfast! Last year we spent about $4800 on our trip so the first year is always more expensive. We go 2 years in a row then go to TN for a year then back to Disney this allows our funds to build. We plan gas to be around $400 round trip last year it was $250. And having the van to get water or snacks at Wal-mart wow so happy. Plus since I am a coupon-er I always find good deals on supplies throughout the year. I called to compare with Disney’s specials and it would cost us $200 more and we would only have 2 days in the park. It doesn’t work for everyone but we have made it work for us. We take about $1000 in spending and tip money. But to keep cost on that down the kids get the money they have saved from birthdays Christmas and allowance. Cruel: no because we are going to Disney after all.

  • stevedaniels - March 18, 2011 @ 5:14 pm
    3

    great article, I am def going to use some of these tips! Here is another tip on saving on park tickets – we bought at this site:www.reserveorlando.com/walt_disney_world_tickets.asp and got 2 days free with a purchase of a 3 day pass. We actually ended up staying a day longer because of it, which the kids really loved.

  • Melissa - March 19, 2011 @ 8:05 am
    4

    We are going on the Disney Dream next month too! Any chance you will be on the cruise that sets sail on April 10? If so, I will look for you. But I promise not to talk shop! ;0)

  • Savings Lifestyle: Andrea - March 20, 2011 @ 3:05 pm
    5

    Melissa, YES we are!! I’m gonna email you :)

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