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13 Ways to Save on Your Disney Vacation

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Holly JohnsonGuest Blogger
March 29, 2016 · 4.8k Views


(Holly is a guest blogger from Club Thrifty.)

While most kids are busy wondering when they’ll have a chance to go to Disney Land or Disney World, most parents are busy dreading the cost. 
No matter how go about it, a vacation to Disney World isn’t a cheap affair. Even if you find a way to save on your hotel or airfare, you’ll still be left with the cost of park tickets at the very least – plus a dozen other unavoidable expenses like transportation and food.

Still, a vacation to Disney World doesn’t have to be devastating for your budget – or your financial well-being. By finding some ways to save that fit your travel style – and combining them into a singular strategy - you can often cut the cost of your Disney vacation down by half of more. 

If you’re looking for ways to fit Disney World in your budget this further, here are twelve tips that can help make it happen:

1. Skip the airport and drive instead. 

According to an ongoing analysis by CheapAir.com, the average cost of a domestic airline ticket in the U.S. is currently around $366. For the average family of four, that means shelling out over $1,400 to get to Disney World before they spend a dime on anything fun.

If you live anywhere close to the southeastern part of the United States, driving to Disney World can be a huge money-saver. It may take a lot longer to get there, but you could easily cut your transportation costs in half or more. Plus, since you’ll already have your car on-site, you won’t need to rent one when you get there. If you plan to drive around Orlando or visit other local attractions anyway, this is huge.

2. Rent a vacation condo.

No matter where you vacation, eating at restaurants can “eat up” a huge percentage of your total budget. To save money, rent a vacation condo instead of staying in a traditional hotel. By renting a condo with a full kitchen, you’ll have the space and equipment to make a lot of your meals “at home.” Plus, you’ll have a spot to keep all the snacks and drinks your kids will require during your stay. And who wants to spend your vacation in a stuffy diner anyway? By eating before you leave and when you get home from the parks, you can avoid a long and drawn out meal and eat simply. 

3. Endure a timeshare presentation for a discounted stay.

Lots of timeshare companies offer packages that include a discounted stay at a resort nearby and park tickets, but only if you sit through a timeshare presentation, which can be up to two hours long. While these presentations can include high pressure sales tactics, they can also offer a great way to save on your Disney vacation – that is, as long as you don’t wind up buying a timeshare!

4. Earn airline miles to pay for your flights.

With the right airline credit card and some time, it’s pretty easy to earn enough miles to fly most of your family members to Disney World for free. Because Southwest Airlines offers hundreds of flights in and out of Orlando, Florida each day, its co-branded credit card – the Southwest Premier credit card – is one of the most popular options in this regard. This card’s signup bonus fluctuates from 25,000 miles to 50,000 miles, and that can buy several round-trip tickets if you score your seats on sale. From my home city of Indianapolis, for example, round-trip flights can cost as little as 12,000 miles!

5. Use hotel points for your hotel stay.

Just like you can use airline miles to pay for your flights, the right credit card can help you score hotel stays for free. With the Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express or the IHG Rewards Select credit card, for example, you can earn points that are redeemable for free hotel stays near or even on the park grounds. To earn these points, you generally have to sign up for one of these cards and complete a minimum spending requirement within a predetermined length of time. For the IHG credit card, for example, earning the signup bonus requires you to spend $1,000 within 90 days.

6. Bring your own rolling cooler in the park.

The cost of drinks and food can be absolutely absurd if you buy all of your meals and snacks on-site. Fortunately, each of the parks, including the Magic Kingdom, will allow you to bring a cooler if you want. 

A rolling cooler filled with drinks and snacks is a great way to cut down on your food budget for the week. And if you don’t want to haul a cooler around with you, you can easily bring one and leave it in the car.

7. Score discount park tickets.

Even if you save money on your hotel, airfare, and food, the cost of park tickets is one area where you’ll struggle to save. However, one website, Undercover Tourist, does offer ticket discounts on certain types of park passes. When you’re ready to shop, you should check them out first.

8. Avoid the Disney dining plan.

Disney offers several dining plans you can purchase before you arrive at the park. Some offer an abbreviated dining schedule with one or two meals and a snack, while the most comprehensive plans offer up to three meals and two snacks per day. 

While convenient, these plans rarely save you money. Most of the time, you’ll be better off splurging on one park meal you love and bringing the rest of your meals.

9. Skip the souvenirs.

While getting in the park is expensive on its own, the cost can surge if your children want a lot of souvenirs! Even something as small as a balloon to carry around can cost as much as $7. Although it can be difficult to tell your kids “no,” your wallet will thank you if you can avoid some of these costs altogether. 

10. Skip the Park Hopper option.

Most tickets purchased for Disney World include the option to visit one of its parks for the day. But if you want to visit more than one park during each calendar day, you’ll have to add on the “Park Hopper” option. Sadly, this option can add on an additional $50 per day, per person – or $200 for the average family.

Planning your park visits ahead of time can usually help you avoid this cost altogether. No matter how many days you’re visiting Disney World, choose one park for each day and make sure you visit each of its attractions so you don’t have to go back.

11. Explore Downtown Disney. 

If you want the “feel” of Disney for an additional day during your stay, consider visiting Downtown Disney – a free shopping area that includes an array of Disney attractions. While there aren’t any rides there per se, your kids will enjoy the excitement of Disney without all of the extra cost.

12. Add in a “free” day.

If you’re staying in a resort near Disney, chances are good your hotel will offer something to keep your kids busy. Many properties, like the local Orange Lake Resort in Kissimmee, have multiple pools and water attractions for kids. If you manage to spend at least one day “at home” during your trip, you can avoid the costs of visiting a park that day and still have a boatload of fun. 

13. Download the Whym app to get discounted tickets for multiple-day visits.

If you're planning to visit Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, you're in luck. Whym, an app for budget travelers who are looking to save on admission to a variety of tours, events, activities, and more, offers 3-day, 4-day, and 5-day Disneyland resort tickets with generous discounts that allow you to save up to $30 on admission to both Disneyland Park and Disney's California Adventure. 

  • 3-day One Park Per Day Ticket: $254.99 $242.24 
  • 3-day Park Hopper Ticket: $294.99 $280.24
  • 4-day One Park Per Day Ticket: $279.99 $265.99
  • 4-day Park Hopper Ticket: $319.99 $303.99
  • 5-day One Park Per Day Ticket: $294.99 $265.49
  • 5-day Park Hopper Ticket: $334.99 $304.84

If you're a southern California resident, Whym has a sweet deal for you! You can purchase a Southern California CityPASS for $312.54, originally $328.99, and receive everything mentioned in the list below:

  • 3-day Disneyland Resort Park Hopper Ticket (includes admission to both Disneyland Park and Disney's California Adventure)
  • 1-day admission to Legoland California (San Diego, CA)
  • 1-day admission to SeaWorld San Diego

*Note: These prices reflect adult tickets, ages 10+.

The Bottom Line

While it’s the “happiest place on Earth” for some, the cost of Disney can turn even happy parents into Negative Nancies. Fortunately, there really are plenty of ways to save if you’re willing to do things differently and cut out all the “extras.”

If you're planning your next Disney vacation, check out other DealsPlus articles to find ways to save and make planning easier!