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6 Ways to Save Money on your Disney World Vacation





Being a parent usually means that a Disney World vacation is in the cards sooner or later. While Disney World is a lot of fun for adults and kids alike, it can also cost a lot of money. With the flight being the largest cost (at least from Newfoundland), the ideal situation is to use a travel rewards credit card, and fly down on points. But besides (or in addition to) using points, here are some effective ways to reduce your Disney World vacation costs.

Six Ways to Save Money at Disney World

1. Time your Trip – Go During Low Season

Perhaps one of the biggest ways to reduce the cost of a Disney vacation is to go during low season.  When is low season?  In Orlando, low season is when kids are in school.  September to early December, then January to early June (minus holidays, like Christmas and Easter which are extremely busy).  Yes, even the stifling hot summer months are high season for Disney.

Disney recognizes the low season and usually has reduced pricing for their onsite resorts during the fall.  In fact, in recent history, they have included free dining (~$50/person/day for the standard plan) for guests who stay at a Disney resort during the fall season.  In addition to reduced Disney resort rates, accommodations all over the Orlando area usually have reduced pricing during this time.

 2. For Larger Groups or Families, Stay Off Site

If you have a larger family or group that requires multiple bedrooms, it’s usually more cost effective to stay offsite.  There are numerous resorts just outside Disney World that have condos and townhouses at very affordable rates, particularly during low season.

From our research, a 3 bedroom condo at a highly rated and popular resort outside of Disney World costs around $100/night including taxes and cleaning fee (providing that you stay longer than a week).   We received numerous quotes that ranged from $68/night to $130/night. Besides price though, there are considerations like reputation, communications with the owner, proximity to the resort pool, distance to Disney World, and the condo level (the higher the floor may mean less noise).  In addition,  the more popular resorts will have gated security, a large swimming pool, a clubhouse, and a play ground for kids.

3. Save Money on Car Rentals

My article on how to save money on car rentals explains a strategy, that I have used a few times, to help get the best price possible on a car rental.  At a high level, watch car rental prices over a few weeks on Hotwire until you see a price that you are happy with.  Then bid a slightly lower price on Priceline.  Note that car rental prices in Orlando are typically very reasonable during low season.

4. Save Money on Disney World Tickets

Another significant cost of a Disney vacation are the Disney World tickets themselves!  I must admit that I was in disbelief when I first did a quote for how much tickets would cost.  For  a single day pass, it costs around $96 USD/adult, however, ticket prices reduce quite significantly when you purchase more than a 3 day pass. For example, once you get up to the 5 day pass level, the price per day works out to be closer to $55/day/adult (around $50/day/kids ages 3-9).

Unfortunately, there are very limited legit ways of getting discounted Disney tickets, however, there is one way that saved us around $35 or 4.5% off our tickets.  A popular site to buy Orlando theme park tickets is UnderCoverTourist which has some reduced pricing on multi-day passes.  However, Mousesavers has a special link which gives you further reduced pricing on UnderCover’Tourist, particularly when you buy a 5 day pass.

5. Plan your Park Visits to Save Time (and Money)

A park day will go by much faster than you think, likely because of all the time spent in line ups.  If you have limited park days purchased, then time is money, so I recommend planning and optimizing your park visits.

One strategy is show up when the park opens and go to the busiest rides first while utilizing the FastPass system as much as possible.  One of the better resources I’ve found is a blog post on EasyWDW that includes “cheat sheets” on the recommended order of rides to take.

Another great resource for planning your Disney vacation is “The Unofficial Guide to Disney World” which can be picked up in most libraries.

6. Save Money on Food

If you are staying outside the park, I would recommend a hearty breakfast before you leave for the theme parks.  However, even still you’ll need to consider lunch and dinner meals which can be costly if eating out with a large group.  If you follow the strategy of showing up first thing in the morning, then it’s likely that you’re going to have a meal in the park itself.  Fortunately, lunch meals in the parks are not too onerous and average around $10/per adult ($5.99 for kids meals) and some of the portions can be generous for sharing.

One tip is that all meals come with sides included, but if you request to not have the side, you’ll save $2 on the meal.  Another tip is to bring a back pack full of snacks and freeze water bottles the night before.

If you decide to leave the park in the evening and go out for supper, the good news is that eating out at the franchises in Orlando is very inexpensive.  For example, IHOP has a promotion where kids eat free after 4pm, or Applebees offers an appetizer and two entrees for $20.  As well, coupon books are plentiful in Orlando, so keep your eye out and you’ll likely find appealing restaurant deals.

If you’d rather cook back at the condo/house, then groceries are very reasonable at the Target/Walmart/Publix nearby.

Final Thoughts

Disney is a very enjoyable trip, but even more enjoyable knowing that you got the best deal possible (at least it is for me).  Do you have any money saving tips for a Disney World vacation?

 





24 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. When we went to disney, you could buy partially used day passes at all the local gas bars. I think it was people who bought week passes and only used 5 days of the 7, the gas bars picked these up and resold them as two day passes. We didn’t use the service because we had ours purchased already, but one could save quite a bit by purchasing passes on the aftermarket like that. I’ve no idea if those are aboveboard or not, but they were everywhere.

  2. 2. J Frank

    If you live near the US border (as so many Canadians do), it is almost always much less expensive to drive across the border and fly from there. Canadian air taxes on international flights are quite significant, and there is less carrier choice from Canada.
    From my home in London Ontario, I can drive two hours to Toronto and pay through the nose for our flights, or I can drive two hours to Detroit [with some help from Nexus for the border :-)] and save $$. Of course this tip applies to any international air travel, not just to WDW.

  3. @LifeInsuranceCanada, I’ve seen those used ticket sales as well. From my research, it appears that it’s not legal to sell used tickets, and disney uses a finger print system to verify ticket owners. Not sure how used tickets would work out once you get to the gate.

  4. Yeah, maybe the tickets have changed. When we went our kids were this high (holds hand down here) and now the kids are this high (holds hand over my head).

  5. @ J_Frank – if you’re near the east coast, it’s not just flying that’s cheaper/better. You can consider taking the train as well. The train system in the eastern U.S. is outstanding.

    A couple of years ago I went to NYC from Buffalo by train. Normally I fly, which means a 2 hour lead time at the airport, plus another hour to clear the border to be safe. An hour up and down on the flight, then another hour or so from the airport to downtown and $50 for a cab. In the end, probably 6 hours for an hour and a half flight.

    By contrast, I took the train for the same price (but I had business class upgrade, so huge seats). Way more comfortable. Get to the train station, walk right on. super huge seats and lots of legroom. Worked on my laptop. Rubber hamburgers heated in the microwave right there. Walk around, or watch the small towns go by. And the train station dumped me right downtown – a block from my hotel. I gave up 2 additional hours compared to flying to arrive at my destination relaxed and happy and with a days work done instead of a day wasted.

    I looked at taking trains from Buffalo to southern U.S. but that doesn’t seem feasible. But from Buffalo to the eastern seaboard, definitely in consideration.

  6. 6. vmty

    7. don’t go. It’s all crap and you brainwash your child with it.

  7. We spent 10 days at Disney and it cost $5,000 for 2 adults and 3 kids (I’m considering all expenses from the moment we left the house to the moment we came back).

    I think it was pretty cheap for the most amazing vacation of our life! A year ago, we went to Virginia Beach and we had to spend over $1,000 for 4 nights in hotel only!

    We brought a luggage full of food so we could have breakfast in our room and never bought snacks. The dinning package are pretty good too since you can use your snack to get more vegetables and fruits.

    Each kid had their own budget before we left. Therefore, there were no additional costs when we get there. They only had to manage their budget accordingly.

  8. 8. Thomas

    I hate all things Disney, McDonalds too! Save your money and enjoy the great outdoors in Canada, help the local economy at the same time :)

  9. 9. Goldberg

    If you goal is a journey to a million dollar. Then clearly, spending (a little less) money on superficial stuff before you achieved that goal is… counter productive, to remain polite.

    On the other hand, if your goal is to be like the Jones then this article is helpful in spending 1000′s of dollars a little more efficiently…

  10. 10. canucktuary

    Yikes, I’m not looking forward to the Disney years – sounds too expensive for my cheap tastes! Not much culture to it either, unless you go to watch how many calories are consumed at the local IHOP or Applebees!

  11. @The Dividend Guy, how much did your flight cost?

    @Goldberg, you are always tough on me! :) I actually appreciate it, helps keep me on track. However, while the goal is for a million dollars in net worth, my kids will only be this young once, so trying to balance the equation a bit. I do agree with you, the trip was a bit on the extravagant side from our standards.

  12. 12. SST

    @Canuckruary — want to go on a vacation your kids (and you) will never forget? Go to India. The real deal sights, sounds, tastes, smells, thrills, and spills are incomparable to any manufactured Mickey Mouse amusement park.

  13. @SST, we would really like to do a trip to Asia as a family, but the airline tickets alone would cost more than an entire Disney trip!

  14. My tip may be counterintuitive but, save your money altogether and don’t go :)
    We made a trip there a few years ago during Christmas season and we experienced record low temps ever in Florida, talk about bad timing.

    We purchased the weekly passes to visit a different theme park every day and I can tell you that the kids were bored by Day 3. They wanted to go back to the hotel to go swimming instead. WDW isn’t for everyone but perhaps one needs to experience it themselves to understand. It’s like going to the zoo, how many times can you go in a year to look at caged animals (Disney characters do walk around though).

  15. 15. SST

    @FrugalTrader — the expensive part is flying out of Canada. Whenever you fly anywhere in the world, unless you have deep pockets, you need to do transfers. Just as flights within the US costs pennies compared to within Canada, flights within Europe/Asia are less expensive when going from an internal location to your destination rather than an external.
    (And never underestimate the savings of driving to and flying out of the US. eg. Toronto – China: C$1600 each, NYC – China: C$1450 each; savings of $600)

    I don’t have specific details but hotels in China are currently offering stunning package deals (rooms+tours), something like $50 a night, simply because they need the business.

    You can also travel to “affected” countries.
    Years ago I went to Bali fairly soon after a terrorist incident (I didn’t plan it that way, it just happened). Huge discounts on almost everything there because the economic driver, tourism, had vanished. Lots of Canadians there. One group of women were the only guests in a 4-star beach front resort. They dined with the owner every night and he even gave them his car to use. Back then Bali for two weeks cost just as much as Mexico for one week.

    Another great experience (at a later date) is for your children to be exchange students in Europe or Asia. Much less expensive and with much more lasting benefits. It’s like your kids leaving home a year early and you get to go visit a far away place!

    Lots of travel options!

  16. I’m surprised at all the negative comments. We went to disney years ago. We had the trip of a lifetime and I don’t recall it being overpriced. We shopped around for an offsite condo to stay at that had a pool, so we had a kitchen for breakfast. We went to Disney for 3 days, enjoyed a day at the pool lazing around, and went fishing one day.

    The kids still talk about the trip occassionally – definitely a childhood memory for them that was worth every penny.

    The key to disney is you have to plan plan plan. It’s not a regular vacation, you should know ahead of time what parts of what parks you’re doing on what day – you need a schedule.

  17. 17. SST

    Don’t forget to plan/budget for your “tour concierge” as per this little bit of awesomeness:

    http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/15/us/disney-skipping-lines/index.html?hpt=hp_t5

  18. 18. Gen Y

    I just went to WDW for 8days/7nights in the past December, and it was spectacular. Disney vacations are expensive, but I had such a wonderful time. I believe the most important bit to saving money at Disney is going in off season and plan your time wisely. The unofficial guide and easy WDW mentioned above are great resources to help you do that. There are numerous WDW blogs to help you from food to best viewing areas. Also, unless you have young children, skip the parkhopper tickets and focus on one one park at a time. That will save you some money off the ticket prices.

  19. 19. canucktuary

    @SST sounds like we have similar tastes in travel. Nepal and Myanmar before we do India IMO.

  20. 20. SST

    If you travel to Myanmar (aka Burma) you might want to keep your eyes open while you are there for any possible business opportunities. From several sources, Myanmar will be the new economic hot spot in Asia due in part to the new foreign investment law and elimination of economic sanctions.

  21. 21. Harry

    Those are some very valid tips on saving money while visiting Disney World. I think the most important thing to do is to plan your trip well in advance and try to go closer to the off-season since you’ll get great discounts then. Even the hotels and other things tend to cost cheaper which can greatly reduce your expenses.

  22. For about the price of a 7-day pass, we bought a one year pass and went three times: first week of September when schools have reopened, winter break and during the summer. How’s that for value? At the time, we had no school age children. This pass also gave us free parking. We avoided the crowds because we knew where to go and when.

  23. 23. SST

    @#20: “If you travel to Myanmar (aka Burma) you might want to keep your eyes open while you are there for any possible business opportunities.”

    “…after 60 years, Coke is back in Myanmar. Just this week, Coca-Cola opened its new bottling plant…” — Planet Money

    If KO — the “perfect dividend stock” to some — thinks Myanmar is ripe for the taking…I wouldn’t hesitate to go head-long into the country.
    It’s got 60 years of Capitalistic catching up to do, and that’s a lot of money to be made.

    But that’s just me. And Coke. :)

  24. 24. Katrin

    If you are traveling on a budget, you might find http://www.disneyworldforless.com helpful. All the planning and decision making with discount offers can be overwhelming, but this is a great source where you have lots of useful information in one place

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