A trip to Walt Disney World can really add up. We’re talking thousands of dollars between the basics—park tickets, airfare, hotels, ground transportation, and regular meals—and extras like character dining, bubble machines, and line-skipping privileges.
“I often say that Disney is the best company to make you spend money and enjoy doing it,” said Don Munsil, who runs the Disney discount site MouseSavers.com with his wife, Sarah Stone. “You’re like, ‘Oh my God, can I get it for this money? Well, please, here’s my money, take it.'”
Disney will definitely take your money. However, the entertainment giant can take a little less if travelers are savvy about timing, strategic planning ahead and decisive about priorities. A few familiar tips never hurt either.
1. Find cheaper flights at the end of summer
Disney says its theme park tickets start at $109 a day for a one-day pass to one park — but that price only applies on certain low-traffic days, usually at the end of summer when most kids are back in school. Which means those lowest prices will increase on weekdays later this month and into September. Buying multi-day tickets can reduce the price per day, but the total price will of course be higher.
At busier times, prices go up to $159 per day.
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While August and September in Central Florida can be hot and muggy, these cheaper times are also less crowded—a boon for those who can’t stand the peak crowds.
2. Consider sticking to one park a day
Park-hopper tickets allow guests to visit multiple theme parks in one day; there are four parks at the Walt Disney World resort. But the cost of a one-day ticket with this option will shoot up to at least $174.
Breeze Leonard, an associate manager and writer for TravelingMom.com, said she avoids upgrading on trips with her three children because of the cost and because there are plenty of things to fill a day at each park.
“You waste so much time traveling back and forth from the parks,” she said. “I know we’ll have plenty and save money.”
3. Get a discount on gift cards
Jackie Steele, who worked for Disney in Florida for several years and now writes for Disney’s travel planning site MagicGuides, said some warehouse clubs like Sam’s and BJ’s Wholesale offer Disney gift cards at a slight discount — which he said, “I always it excited. as a way to save money on vacation.” For Target customers using a store-brand credit or debit card, the 5 percent off purchase also applies to gift cards.
Gift cards can be used for theme park tickets, dining, shopping, hotel rooms and more.
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4. Buy your Disney gear and souvenirs elsewhere
Leonard says a rain poncho is essential to pack on a trip to Disney because storms are inevitable in Central Florida at certain times of the year.
“There’s a random rain shower and now you suddenly need it,” she said. “Now you’ll pay an arm and a leg for a poncho that you could buy for a dollar if you packed it ahead of time.” (In a 2021 story, the Disney Food Blog said he bought an adult poncho for about $12 and rated the experience.)
After spending “too much money” on bubble wands and other toys for her children on her first trip, Leonard began buying cheaper versions of their must-have toys and secretly taking them on the road.
“I would give them one a day, like something new every day, and they could take it to the parks,” she said. “And so it was a fun way for them to still have what they wanted, but I don’t have to spend money at the park to buy it.”
The family will also visit Disney’s Character Warehouse, an outlet store with two locations in the Orlando area, to purchase discounted official Mickey Mouse ears, clothing or other items.
“When they have money for souvenirs, we don’t let them spend it in the parks,” she said.
Stay out of the place. Nothing else even comes close to the savings you can get from it
— Dave Shute (@yourfirstvisit) August 10, 2022
5. Searching for hotels outside the location
The Orlando area is full of places to stay: on-site Disneyhotels, off-property chains, vacation rentals, timeshares, and more. Consider the solution that best suits your family and then compare.
On-site resorts can be extra, but Leonard said one lesser-known solution that can save a significant amount of money is renting points for luxury Disney Vacation Club properties, Disney’s version of a timeshare. Vacation Club members buy a timeshare and earn points that they can use to book their stays, but if they don’t use them, they can rent out those points.
“You will have all the same privileges or benefits of being on-site,” she said. Travelers essentially book rooms through owners, which companies like David’s Vacation Club Rentals make possible.
For members of the military, Shades of Green Resort at Walt Disney World offers rooms that are less expensive than comparable hotels.
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6. Eat strategically
There is no reason to buy three meals a day plus snacks at the Disney parks. Visitors can bring food inside, which is exactly what Leonard does.
“We just fill our backpacks with sandwiches and snacks,” she said. “And frankly, our kids are always going a hundred miles an hour when we’re at Disney and they want to see and do all the things. And as long as we’re in line waiting for the rides and I can occasionally feed them a snack from our bag, it looks like they’ll all stay happy.”
But if a family wants a special dining experience with the characters, Leonard said she recommends making reservations for breakfast or lunch, which are cheaper than dinner.
One thing they will spend money on: refillable popcorn buckets. Standard ones cost about $13, according to the Disney Food Blog, and can be refilled for $2.25 for the duration of the stay — a lot for a popcorn-loving family for a few days.
One thing no one needs to buy at Disney: ice water. Most quick service restaurants will provide free cups of ice water, which is a much better deal than $3.50 bottled water. There are also water fountains and bottle filling stations for those who bring reusable bottles.
“When you have a family of four buying bottled water two or three times a day, the money turns really quickly,” Steele said.
7. Take a day off
Munsil, of MouseSavers.com, said his family will often visit Disney for seven or eight days but only go to the parks for five or six. The site lists dozens of free or cheap activities on the resort complex, including riding the boats, rail system and the cable-cars that function as Disney transportation.
“There’s plenty of interesting stuff to do,” he said. One favorite is a monorail tour of the resorts near the Magic Kingdom.
“They’re all a great place to grab a little bite or snack or just relax and enjoy or walk around or go to one of the lounges,” he said. “It’s just pleasant to sit there and people-watch and have a drink and enjoy all the ambiance and the decorations.”
Steele said there’s something “beautiful” about taking a day to rest.
“You don’t feel like your vacation has absolutely murdered you by the time it was done,” he said. “That’s a great way to save a little bit of money.”