Today’s guest post is by Disney blogger Jonathan de Araujo. Read more of Jonathan’s articles at MagicGuides.com
When it comes to family vacations, nothing quite compares to the magic of Walt Disney World. As the single most visited vacation resort in the world, this Orlando-area destination has something for everyone: exciting theme parks, dazzling resorts, excellent dining options, shopping, nightlife, sports, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, all of these possibilities come with a high price tag. A family of four can expect to spend anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 for a 5-day vacation package.
While the dollar figures can be eye-popping, there are a number of strategies to make Disney vacations more affordable. Below I have highlighted several ways you can rein in your spending without compromising your level of enjoyment. Here is my list of the 7 ways to save money on a Disney World vacation.
The best time to visit Disney World is during the off-season. Not only are the lines shorter and the dining and lodging reservations easier to make, but room rates and ticket prices are lower as well. The least expensive times to visit the park are typically January through early February, and much of September, October, and November (excluding holiday weeks/weekends). As a general rule, you can expect to pay more for theme park tickets and lodging during the busy school vacation periods, summer months, and around the holidays. Consult a Disney World Crowd Calendar for daily crowd estimates.
Stay Longer…but Go Less Frequently
Disney World theme park tickets get progressively cheaper the more days you go. For example, two days of standard theme park tickets start at $104.50 per day (2018), whereas five days of tickets start at $79 per day, and seven days at $59.29. With this in mind, it might make sense to extend your trip by a few days while taking Disney vacations less frequently (ie, every few years instead of every year or two).
Skip the Park Hopper Tickets
A “Disney Magic Your Way Park Hopper” ticket allows you access to more than one theme park in the same day. In other words, if you want to spend the morning at Magic Kingdom and the afternoon at Epcot, Hollywood Studios, or Animal Kingdom, the Park Hopper option allows you to do so whereas a standard theme park ticket does not. Nice, but Park Hopper tickets cost around 30% or so more than the standard (single theme park) tickets. Unless you plan on being at Disney World for just one day (not recommended) and want to experience as much as possible in a short amount of time, Park Hopper tickets really aren't worth the extra money.
Stay at a Disney Value Resort
Disney has 3 main tiers of on-site resorts: Value, Moderate, and Deluxe. As you may have guessed, Value resorts are easily the least expensive lodging option on Disney property. As far as the absolute cheapest Disney lodging goes, room rates of All-Star Movies, All-Star Music, and All-Star Sports all start at just $110 per night (2018).
While the themes are kid-friendly and fun, accommodations at Value resorts are admittedly basic (resembling a motel). With that said, Value resorts do come with all of the perks of any other on-site Disney resort: free shuttles to the parks, free transportation to and from Orlando airport, Extra Magic Hours, advanced booking for dining and FastPass+, and great pools and food courts. If you are on a shoestring budget but still want to stay at a Disney resort, the Value resort tier will save you the most money.
Staying at an off-site hotel (or motel) in the Orlando area can be significantly less expensive than most on-site Disney resorts. Many of these resorts offer nice pools, complimentary breakfast, and free shuttle service to and from Disney World. At the end of the day, you will sacrifice some convenience and “magic” by staying at non-Disney properties, but you are rewarded with extra savings to spend on other aspects of your vacation.
Another option (especially if you have a car) is to rent a property close to Disney World. I often see affordable listings on websites such as Airbnb, VRBO, FlipKey or HomeAway. Many of these properties are within 5-10 miles of the park and tend to be cheaper than Disney resorts. Plus, many rentals offer you more privacy, more room to spread out, and an opportunity to cook your own meals for much less than the cost of dining inside the park.
Bring Your Own Lunch into the Theme Parks
Many first-time guests don’t realize that Disney allows you to bring food into the theme parks. While most people purchase a Disney Dining Plan package – or use a pay-as-you-go system – Disney permits you to bring your own lunch, snacks, and beverages (glass containers and alcohol are not allowed) as an alternative to the pricey food inside. You can also ask for free tap water at any Disney counter service restaurant, or bring a water bottle to refill at a water fountain. Over the course of your trip, bringing your own food and beverages into the theme parks can save you a lot of cash.
Use a Disney Travel Agent
With all of the great online resources out there, hiring a travel agent to plan your vacation may seem antiquated and unnecessary. However, Disney World vacations are a notable exception.
To begin with, Disney World is 43 square miles of confusion. The resort comprises 4 theme parks, two water parks, 28 Disney-owned resort hotels, more an 140 restaurants, and several different modes of transportation going in all directions of the park. By using a Disney travel planner, you will have a personalized guide to help you navigate through the complexities of Disney World. They help you decide where to stay, which attractions are best, how to get where you want to go, and ultimately craft a vacation package that is specifically tailored to your needs.
They also book your theme park tickets, resort, dining reservations, and FastPass+ ride selections for you (this is time-sensitive and time-consuming!). Another advantage to using a Disney travel agent is they find you the lowest possible prices. By monitoring all of the seasonal promotions and deals that spring up from time to time, Disney travel planners can change your reservation to lock in a lower price (if one should arise after you have already booked your trip). And best of all is the cost. Their services are totally free! It seems like there must be a catch somewhere, but there isn't.
Disney World can be expensive. Following my 7 tips to save money on a Disney World vacation is a great way to save your hard earned money on your next Disney Vacation. Have a magical trip!
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.