Disney vacations are a magical experience, and they are wonderful memories that can last a lifetime. However, they can also be extremely expensive. If you are planning to take your entire family, it can amount to a few thousand dollars. With this in mind, every dollar counts. You want to be able to save as much money as humanly possible, so that you can stretch your vacation budget as far as humanly possible. Here are 30 tips to saving hundreds of dollars on your next Disney vacation.
40. DIY Mickey Ears
If you buy Mickey Ears at Disney World or the Disney Store, they cost roughly $28. If you are buying ears for a family of four, that’s already over $100 just to have a cute souvenir that you are really only wearing on vacation! You can save tons of money by making your own Disney ears at home. All you need is a headband, and some material to make the ears. Check out this YouTube tutorial by Sierra Schultzzie, where she goes over how to make high-quality ears at home. This can also be a great craft to do together with your kids, because they will feel incredibly proud that they made those ears themselves.
39. Use The “Price Bridging” Technique To Save Hundreds On Annual Passes
If it is your first time going to a Disney Park, you may not think you want to get a season pass. But there are plenty of people who realize how amazing it was, and want to come back next year. Lucky for you, it’s possible to upgrade your tickets and turn them into an annual pass. Whatever you paid for those tickets will go towards the cost of your season pass, so you just pay the difference. This is called “price bridging” technique. Some people can save even more money by getting discounted tickets from third parties, like Costco Travel.
Any guest service window inside of the park will be able to help you bridge your ticket into a season pass. If you buy a discounted pass, a scenario can be something like this: Pay $450 for a one-week pass at Costco. Normally, that same pass costs $515, if you were to try to buy it online or at the gate. So you are already saving $65 before you go do your upgrades. If you are doing this for your entire family, the technique can add up to hundreds of dollars in savings.
Considering how expensive tickets to Disney Parks can be, time is precious. You want to be able to do as much as humanly possible in the time you have there. Before you go, try to figure out a strategy of which rides are you must-see attractions. If you get to the park early, make sure you go towards the left. This is because most people are right-handed, and therefore tend to veer to the right. So, if you go left, you will get to the rides that have fewer people waiting in line. As you can imagine, standing in line becomes one of the biggest time-wasters. It may be worth it for you to get a fast pass, so that you are not waiting for hours.
Keep in mind that after dark, a lot of families with small children will go home. If you’re an adult, go back to the busy rides at night, and the lines should be significantly shorter. Same goes with shopping. The stores and restaurants stay open later to accommodate adult guests. So instead of waiting in line to buy a must-have souvenir, just wait until the end of the day. Unless the item you want is limited edition, it is likely not going anywhere.
Since most people going to Disney parks are bringing their children on vacation, they become crowded during the summer holiday, and spring break. There are also certain festivals and events throughout the year that draw big crowds, as well. Logically, if you want to go to Disney at a time that is less crowded, it would only make sense to go during a time of year that is less popular. A travel expert called Undercover Tourist keeps a calendar of all of the upcoming events in Orlando, Florida and they help you to navigate the best time to go to Disney World.
When there are fewer people booking vacations, that means the price drops, as well. The coldest months of the winter- January and February are very cheap. Lucky for you, though, Florida and California stay warm all year long. September, October, November, and December are all also cheap (besides the Christmas holiday). Look for special deals on the Disney park websites, but also try to get discounts through Costco Travel and other third party sites, where you might find an even better deal.
Considering that most people book their vacation time months ahead of schedule, you really have no way of knowing if a rain storm is going to come rolling through. You can always check the weather on the day you arrive, of course, but that is not always 100% accurate every day. If you wait to buy umbrellas and ponchos inside of the park, expect to pay tons of money. But they are available for just $1 at any Dollar Tree. Buy as many as you need for your family, and bring them to the park, just in case. And if you don’t use them, you can always save the ponchos for your next trip.
The Disney Vacation Club is a timeshare opportunity where you and your family can purchase a portion of an apartment in one of the Disney resort locations. The cost pays for itself over the course of 7 years. However, if you decide to skip going to Disney one year, it may take you longer to get back the money you spent in the first place. This is why a lot of people are willing to rent their club points to others.
Most parents tell their kids about Santa and the Tooth Fairy, so why not add another mythical creature into the mix? A YouTube channel The Malea Show explains how she uses the story of the “Disney Fairy” to help keep her kids well-behaved during their vacation. Before leaving for vacation, Malea buys cheap Disney themed toys, stickers, and art supplies in the clearances sections, and holds on to them throughout the year. Then, every time her kids beg for expensive toys in the store, she tells them to patiently wait, because the Disney fairy will have something waiting on their pillow when they get back. Genius!
If you love enamel pins, you really need to get into pin trading! This can be a really fun activity that is cheap and easy for your kids to do. Every single Disney park employee wears a lanyard filled with pins. There are also designated “pin trading stations” throughout the park. You have the option to walk up to any employees, and ask to trade one of your pins for theirs. You get to choose whichever one you want. However, if you start out your trading journey by getting pins from the stores, you will pay anywhere from $10 to $25 for a single pin! It is much, much cheaper to go on eBay and find a collection in bulk. Just keep in mind that you can only trade official Disney pins, so be careful to make sure you do not buy fakes.
Before you book your hotel, do your due-diligence to figure out where the cheapest deal may be. Is it a few miles outside of the park in an AirBnB? A value resort? Or a Motel 6? Evaluate all of these factors, and judge based on there. By the way, a “good” price is going to be in the Ballpark of $100. So if you find that in a Disney Resort, you might as well snatch that up, because you are getting all of the added perks that come with an in-park experience.
Sometimes, you can politely ask the hotel staff if there is a chance that you can get an upgrade. Instead of asking for free stuff straight away, mention the special occasion you are celebrating, and ask how much it would cost to upgrade your room. If you are very polite, and if there is room available, you may be surprised to find out what kind of perks you can get from the hotel staff. However, if they say “no”, or give you an answer you were not expecting, accept defeat with grace. You never know what may happen later.
30. Buy Dollar Store Glow Sticks For Night Time Fun
Most families who are hoping to get the most out of their time in Disney parks will want to stay from morning until night. Even though the park is well-lit, you still may encounter moments when it’s dark outside. There are also fireworks shows, and they always sell light-up toys for kids. Glow sticks are often only $1 for a multi-pack. They are cheap, and light to carry around. It may not be as exciting as a fancy toy they are selling at the park, but it’s better than nothing, and your kids will probably have a lot of fun with them.
If you are staying in an AirBnB or a cheaper hotel outside of the park, it may be inevitable to rent a car or call an Uber. But if you are planning to go directly to the Disney park from the airport, you do not need to pay for transportation at all! Instead of paying a fortune on Uber or Taxi Service, you can use Disney’s Magical Express. It shuttles people back and forth from the Orlando International Airport to Disney World and back for free, so long as you are staying at a Disney resort.
28. Check Out Disney’s Value Resorts and Campgrounds
Disney Value Resorts are usually just $150 per night, or less. This is often just as cheap as a hotel that you can find in the surrounding city or AirBnB, but you get the added convenience of being inside of the park, transportation to and from the hotel, etc. They also offer space at campgrounds, in case you are coming with an RV, or arrived with a tent in your car. These camping spaces are a lot cheaper than any hotel option, and you also get to enjoy the great outdoors.
When kids meet their favorite Disney characters, they will often want their autograph. At the Disney store, these books usually cost around $10. That’s not too bad, but if you have several kids, it can easily begin to add up. Instead of buying the official books, scope out your local dollar tree for notebooks. You can make it even more fun by customizing these books together with your kids. Make it a craft day! Use stickers, magazine cutouts, glitter- whatever you want to make these DIY autograph books fun and unique.
When there are crowds, there is illness. People book their Disney vacation so far ahead of time, they will push through a cold or flu if it means being with their family at Disney. And, unfortunately, with so many anti-vaxxer parents out there who refuse to immunize their children, you never know if one of them is in the crowd. Even if they are immunized, children being generally messy and full of germs touching absolutely every doorknob, bathroom, and so much more. Yikes. Make sure you bring some hand sanitizer, wet wipes, and remind everyone in your family to wash their hands.
When you are in a crowded place or you choose to go on a fast ride, it is all too easy to accidentally drop your sunglasses and lose them forever. Can you imagine how devastated you would feel if a designer pair of Gucci or Prada sunglasses were lost in a Disney Park? While it may be tempting to look cute, remember that none of these people will ever see you again! It’s better safe than sorry. Dollar Tree sells tons of different sunglasses, and they are only $1 each. Bring your kids along for the shopping trip, and they can pick out what they like best.
Everyone loves Fast Passes, but they can be expensive. The good news is, you have an opportunity to get them for free. The Disney Vacation Club is a timeshare opportunity, and they are always trying to get new investors to join in. If you actually take the 60-90 minutes to listen to a presentation and watch a video, you will get reimbursed for your time by receiving a $50 gift card that can be used in the park, as well as 3 fast passes for any ride you want. Just keep in mind that since this entire process is pretty time consuming, it works best for people who are already staying in the Disney park for a couple days.
You and your kids can also get a free fast pass to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride if you complete a scavanger hunt called “Treasures of the High Seas.” This hunt also comes with free treasure maps, souvenirs, and most importantly- great memories.
Most people go to Disney during the spring and summer months, and they are also walking around for hours at a time. It is only natural to begin feeling hot and sweaty, so you might as well come prepared with a fan! There are a few different types of battery powered fans out there. Dollar Tree has those mini hand held fans that take AA batteries, but you can also find fans that plug into a cellphone (like the one pictured about) in places like 5 Below.
While we don’t want to encourage you to get into too much debt, there are plenty of people out there who are already planning to put some of their Disney vacation on a credit card, instead of paying it all in cash. If this sounds like you, seriously consider signing up for the Disney Visa Rewards Credit Card from Chase. They will give you a $50 statement credit after you make a purchase, which will help reimburse you for the annual fee. And once you have the card, you can get a 10% discount on some of the restaurants in the park, 1% back on items you buy in the parks, and other perks. You can also get special VIP experiences, like a private meet-and-greet for your children to take photos with their favorite Disney characters.
If you plan on bringing snacks on the airplane, car ride, or in your bag to take into the park, you will need to carry those snacks in some kind of container. Instead of using disposable Ziplock bags, you may want to scope out these cute containers from Dollar Tree. They come in different shapes and sizes, with several different characters from the Disney Channel and movies.
Before you go to a Disney Park, it is a good idea to plan out where you want to go, and how to get there. You won’t be able to do this unless you have a map, right? This is why the My Disney Experience app is a great to download ahead of time. The app gives you ride wait time information, as well as a character map. You will be able to see where and when your kid’s favorite characters are scheduled to show up, which is perfect if you kids want a photo and autograph.
Most busy families plan Disney vacations as far as a year ahead of time. If this is the case for you, seriously consider scoping out the Target and Walmart clearance section after Halloween. On November 1st, costumes typically reduce by 30 to 50% off, and smart shoppers rush to get the best characters. As the week goes on, though, the prices keep dropping lower and lower, until it plummets as low as 90% off. It is up to you how long you want to wait. Just keep in mind that the longer you wait, the more of a gamble it becomes. And, of course, there are those huge Halloween stores that open for a month or two in the fall.
Remember to estimate how much your child will grow by the time your vacation is ready to start. If you can hide these costumes long enough, you can try to combine these costumes with the “Disney Fairy” idea from #24 on this list. Can you imagine your little girl or boy waking up to find a sparkly costume waiting for them to become a prince or princess? It would surely be a priceless moment to remember.
18. Download Disney Movies From Netflix To Your iPad or Laptop
Netflix allows you to download movies directly to your iPad, or Windows 10 device. This way, you can watch movies even if you do not have WiFi. This is perfect for your kids during a long road trip, airplane ride, or downtime in the hotel room. A lot of parents have a tradition of buying a new Disney DVD for these car rides, but that is still $20 you could be spending towards something else. If you are already paying for a Netflix subscription, you might as well use it!
Even if you want to save money on food, you may have one or two items in the park that are a must-have. Some people swoon over Dole Whips, while others want to try at least one of the upscale restaurants. Even if that’s the case, try to make a plan for your vacation. Many hotels provide a free breakfast buffet for paying guests. These buffets often have non-perishable snacks that you can carry in your bag, like granola bars and fruit. Before you leave home, try to bring some snacks in your luggage, as well.
Whether you are staying inside of a Disney resort, or you find a cheaper hotel somewhere in the surrounding area, you are likely to find a pool. However, very few hotels actually give you any pool toys. Dollar Tree has some pool toys for sale, and stores like Walmart and Target also have cheap options. If you are planning a trip as far as a year ahead of time, look out for pool toys when they go on 75% to 90% off clearance in the autumn. Obviously, try to bring toys that are light enough to bring in your luggage. Once you have them on-hand, it will be totally worth it, because your kids will enjoy being in the pool so much more.
Whether your kids are on the plane, bus, car ride, or just hanging out in the hotel room, there will be plenty of down-time where they might get bored of waiting to see their favorite characters and jump on the rides. A great Disney-themed activity that may keep them quiet is a good old-fashioned coloring book. Lucky for you, Dollar Tree has several different types of Disney themed coloring books for just $1 each. If you don’t find the characters you kids love in your local store, you can also shop on DollarTree.com.
There are several places throughout Disney parks where you can get free samples of food. This is perfect if you and your kids are feeling a bit hungry in-between meals. Ghiardelli chocolate gives out a free square, and the flavor changes to match the season. In Epcot, there is a spot in Germany called Karamel Kuche that gives away a free sample of caramel popcorn. There are multiple fireside spots that give out supplies for free s’mores, and the list goes on and on. Check out UrbanTasteBud to find a list of 10 spots to grab free food from Disney parks.
Bottles of water cost around $4 each at Disney Parks. Even if you try your best to hydrate before you leave, you may find yourself desperate for some water walking around in the summer sun. Throughout the park, there are a few water fountain locations. Bring an empty water bottle with you so that you can refill it as-needed. As an added bonus, consider buying your water bottles from Dollar Tree, where they sell kid’s reusable bottles with Disney characters. Another secret Disney hack is that if you ask any food stand employee for a cup of ice water, they will give it to you for free. The only downside to that, of course, if that you’ll need to stand in line to get it.
Some of you out there may be thinking, “Well, duh! Of course you should bring sun screen!” But unfortunately, we are all human, and it’s always possible to make a mistake. There is a reason why Disney parks sell sunscreen and hats in their gift shops. People forget to pack them all the time! And unfortunately, baseball hats are usually $20 to $30 each, and sunscreen is expensive, too. Remember to purchase these at your local dollar store or Walmart before you go. Target even carries Disney themed hats in both child and adult sizes. If you plan ahead for sun protection, you will not get price gauged once you get to your vacation destination.
Just because you are traveled to Anaheim California, Orlando Florida, or any of the other Disney Park locations around the world, that doesn’t mean you have to spend every single waking moment of your vacation in the parks. In fact, everyone is going to be exhausted, and you may feel like you need a vacation from that vacation! Consider planning one day where you and your family just hangs out at the hotel pool, watch a movie, take naps, and generally rest up before you get on your flight home.
At every Target store, they have a section when you first walk through the doors called “Bullseye’s Playground.” You may remember this being called “The Dollar Spot” when everything was $3 or less. Now, the prices go up to $5 per item, but everything is still very affordable. They usually have seasonal items, but they will always have a kid’s section filled with Disney themed toys, games, socks, and more. If you buy some of these Disney items on your next Target run, you could save a lot of money by bringing them with you on vacation.
9. Make a Disney Themed “Activity Bag” For Your Kids
There will be a lot of downtime during the trip where your kids might get bored. It could be on the plane, a car ride, or in the hotel room. A great way to keep them happy and occupied is to pack a bag full of activities for them to do. This could be items you already own, like their video games and favorite books. Dollar Tree also has a lot of Disney themed items that you can buy for just $1 each, and it will help your kids feel like they are getting a special gift for their vacation.
When you stay at any of the Disney resorts around the world, your kids can wake up to a free phone call from the one and only Mickey Mouse. Exciting, right? And it’s absolutely free! When you get to your hotel room, press the Wake Up Call button. It will guide you through the settings, and you can choose what time to be wake up the next morning. This helps get your kids out of bed, because you can say, “Quick, it’s Mickey! Answer the phone!” Your younger children will love it, and it helps them feel excited to see him in the park later that day.
If you go to a restaurant in a Disney resort and completely fall in love with the taste, you can actually make it at home. Ask a restaurant employee if you can have the recipe, and they should be able to give it to you. It is also an option to go to the Disney Town Hall and get a printout of any information you would like to know. This will ultimately save you money in the long run, because you don’t have to go back to Disney to eat your new favorite meal.
Even if you cannot afford a season pass, try to bundle your trip with multi-day tickets, instead of buying your park each individual day. You may even be able to get away with three days out of a two-day multi-pass. The rules state that you must go to the park within a 14 hour period. So, if you arrive at night on the first day, you could go to Disney for dinner and a night time ride the first night, and then spend the next two days getting up in the morning to spend the full day. Always make sure you read the rules carefully, so that you don’t end up needing another ticket later!
Did you know it’s possible to earn airline miles on a credit card, and get flights completely free? Each credit card has a minimum amount that they expect you to spend on the card before you get a free flight. But if you are already paying for expensive things like tickets to a Disney park and flights for your children, that money is going to add up anyway. You might as well use the credit card to earn miles, which can translate into free flights next year. If you are interested in earning miles, a great first-time card is the the American Express Delta Skymiles Card.
When you go on a flight, each person is usually allowed to take a carry-on bag, and one checked back up to 50 pounds. If you are taking kids with you, the odds are that they are not going to need 50 pound’s worth of items in their own suitcases. When you are packing for the trip, store some essentials in your kid’s luggage so that the weight is more evenly distributed. This will save you from paying baggage overage fees.
Remember that going through the airport takes a lot of time, and there is always the possibility that your flight may get delayed. If you are too optimistic about your time line, you may end up losing precious hours of in-park time, and maybe even wasting an entire day’s worth of time. Instead of cutting it close, give yourself more time than normal, and even consider arriving a day early. This way, if you arrive at the hotel late at night, and it’s too late to bring the kids out, it’s not really a big deal. In fact, it may even be better, since you can all get a good night’s sleep.
When you are buying tickets to Disney, they will give you the “Park Hopper” option. This includes Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios. At first, you may be tempted to pay the extra money to get access to all of the parks, but the reality is that Disney is so huge, you cannot get through it all in one vacation. If this is your first time bringing your family to Disney, try to get the most out of the park you chose to go to, and then come back again later. This could save you hundreds of dollars.
For some of you out there, the idea of taking a road trip to Disney sounds like a nightmare. Before you say “no”, try to crunch the numbers to see what makes the most sense. How far away are you from the nearest Disney park, and how much gas and time would it take to get there? If you have a large family, you will probably save hundreds of dollars driving instead of flying, and you get the added benefit of eating out at cheaper restaurants, grocery shopping, and booking cheaper hotels outside of the resort.