10 Easy Ways To Save Money At Disney World in 2019
Before we get started, there’s a few different reasons you may be interested in saving money during or when panning your Disney vacation. First and foremost, many of us have been in the position where we needed to keep a trip as budget friendly as humanly possible, and while Disney still remains quite expensive, it doesn’t have to be the monumental expense that many prospective travelers view it as.
We’ve done Disney on so many different budgets. I can remember our early trips where we stayed at Caribbean Beach (when it used to cost around $100 a night!), cut coupons for the grocery store for months to save money for the trip, and were incredibly selective about the few dining reservations we could afford.
At that point, Hollywood Studios was still showing “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire: Play It!”, Test Track was breaking down almost daily over at Epcot, and Fantasyland still featured the lake which once held 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea: Submarine Voyage. It was a different time in Disney history, but a savings experience nonetheless. Today, we tend to travel a little bit differently and have been known to stay at Deluxe resorts and eat at many table service dining locations, but for us the same frugal mindset still applies. We cut certain things out, prepare in advance, and do whatever we can to save money in order to afford our typical vacation “style.”
So, today we’re going to look closer at what we do or have considered doing to save money over the years in one way or another. The biggest thing to remember is that when implementing these tips, you may have to give something up during your vacation. The key to getting the most out of these tips is not to cut out something the makes a huge difference during your vacation but rather to cut the small things that aren’t necessarily fundamental to your vacation style. We tend to splurge on resort accommodations because that’s what we enjoy, but other guests may not spend the time in the resort necessary to make a difference in their vacation experience. Everyone’s situation is going to be different so you’ll have to apply what tips work for you in the long run to truly maximize your savings.
1. Take Some Food With You
This is perhaps one of our simplest tips on the list. If you’re driving to Disney World, pack up a cooler with fruit, drinks, and snacks that you would otherwise have to buy at your resort or make a trip to an Orlando area grocery store to pick up when you arrive at your resort. Buying simple snacks on Disney property can be ridiculously expensive and items that seem fairly simple tend to be the most expensive. Take for example a gallon of milk. Expect to pay near twice what you would typically pay at a grocery store if you buy a gallon at one of Disney’s resort hotels. From Disney’s perspective it’s simply a necessity scenario. They know if you need it, you’ll buy it and pay just about anything to get it.
If you’re flying, you still have a few options. Personally, I’ve heard excellent recommendations for Garden Grocer. The company is a grocery delivery service which services Disney property and surrounding areas. I know many Disney sites do have an affiliate relationship with them but I can assure you I am not one of them at this time. I simply recommend them because it could save you money compared to buying food on Disney property or catching a town car or uber to the closest grocery store.
Lastly, in regards to food, we tend to recommend that guests, no matter if you’re flying or driving, grab at the very least some cheese crackers or granola bars from home before embarking on their Disney vacation. Not only do they travel well and meet TSA guidelines, you can avoid a ton of breakfast costs by skipping counter service breakfast and simply doing a grab and go breakfast with a granola bar on the bus to the parks. If you still want to grab that full breakfast, wait until around 10:30 and use it as a breakfast and a lunch and save yourself an extra meal to be paid for in the end. To learn more about that strategy, before sure to check out our Disney World Dining Plan Tips and Tricks.
2. Reconsider the Dining Plan
If you’ve spent much time here one the site, you likely already know my opinion of the dining plan. It’s a great program but a convenience rather that a good deal. If you cut out the dining plan (which seems like a good deal on paper), you may be surprised what you can save. The main plan will cost you near identical to what you would pay for the included items out of pocket. However, the kicker to it all is that most guests will never be able to fully enjoy the full showcase of offerings the dining plan provides. By the time you eat a full table service meal, which is oftentimes a buffet at Walt Disney World, you’re typically so full you wont eat the next meal of the day. On top of that, your snack offerings tend to get used as secondary meals if you use them most effectively as mentioned in tip number 6 below.
All things consider, most guests end up paying for something that they wouldn’t typically buy in the first place if they were paying for the meals directly out of pocket rather that on a plan. It’s vastly convenient but if you’re looking to save many, it’s not your best option unless you are someone who travels to the parks as a culinary adventure rather that a theme park experience. We’ve done that before, and it’s a ton of fun, but certainly not the most cost effective option for the vast majority of guests.
If you are looking for dining plan tips, be sure to check out our Disney World Dining Plan Tips and Tricks post or our 5 Disney Dining Plan Mistakes You Want To Avoid And Why.
3. Consider dropping the Park Hopper
I’m not ashamed to admit that I love the park hopper option on tickets. It allows you to jump from park to park as much as you want and in my opinion really allows you to maximize your time on vacation. If you want to ride Flight of Passage again but you’re in Magic Kingdom, no problem! Jump on a bus and head to Animal Kingdom and jump in line. For us, the opportunities it provides vastly outweighs its cost in the long run, but with that being said, when traveling with a larger party the costs associated with the ticket add-on each day tends to get expensive.
Additionally, be aware of the reversed diminishing returns. If you go for a shorter ticketed stay, the park hopper isn’t going to be all that useful to you because you will be spending each full day trying to cover as much of that particular park as possible on each given day. However, if you plan on a 7 day stay (if so you may want to try Our Typical Disney World 7 Day Itinerary) or a comparable length of stay, the park hopper can be incredibly beneficial. It can free up a ton of different dining options for each day of your trip and really allows you to bounce from park to park to make the most of every minute of your trip.
With all of that under consideration, if you want to save as much as humanely possible, avoid the park hopper altogether. It’s an expense that can be avoided unless it is fundamental to your vacation style. If you’re a first time guest, you wont miss the park hopper option in the slightest.
4. Try a Moderate or Value Resort
I openly admitted at the beginning of this article that we typically stay at Deluxe resorts. For us, it tends to be the splurge of most of our vacations. Sometimes, it’s a bigger splurge that others, like when we tried club level for the first time. Granted, that was likely a once in a lifetime trip that we booked for a special occasion at a rate that we lucked into at the last minute. Even considering that reality, it may require the sacrifice we talk about in number 7 to do so.
As in life, Disney planning is very much about weighing what things are worth to you and your given situation. For us, we travel with people that get carsick very easily. So, as a result, we try to book resorts that have water transportation or monorail transportation rather that buses. There’s nothing worse that arriving at a park carsick and fighting with that feeling for the first few hours. For us, it’s worth the extra costs, but that is just one of many reasons we tend to stay deluxe.
In the long run, we’ve still stayed at moderate resorts time and time again and for a vast majority of guests they are top tier accommodations. We adored Port Orleans French Quarter and spent year after year staying exclusively at Caribbean Beach. Sure, you may have to walk further to the bus stops, or even walk quite a ways to get to the pool, but the trade off can save you $100 or more per night of your stay.
5. Buy Disney Gift Cards
This tip is something that may or may not work for everyone. As a relatively new trend in the Disney planning online community, many guests have started buying Disney gift cards to pay for their vacations. In concept that sounds a bit strange but many guest have found it as a great way to save money and sometimes quite a bit of money.
The kicker to the whole system is to buy the gift cards you’ll use to pay for your vacation or to use on your vacation from a local grocery store or hardware store that sells gift cards and has a loyalty program.
Kroger stores are perhaps the best example. When you buy these gift cards, there are often kickback offers throughout the year that allow the purchases to influence points used in exchange for gas station discounts at their gas stations. Typically, if you buy so many gift cards, you get a certain amount of cents off each gallon of gas purchased.
If you do so carefully, you can max out your cents per gallon savings each month leading up to your vacation and save hundreds of dollars on gasoline while storing up gift cards to pay for your vacation expenses.
Additionally, retail giant Target will occasionally run Black Friday type sales on gift cards offering a set percentage off of the total amount of the gift card in order to get people in their stores in hopes that they will buy something else while they’re there. Most of the time, these offers are capped at a certain dollar amount of cards you can buy, but it could save you some money nonetheless.
It me be the strangest option on our list but it has been proven to save some guests hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
6. Use High Quality “Snacks” to Avoid Full Meal Costs
If you’re concerned about meal costs or simply want to cut back on meal spending, look for high quality snacks in the parks. If you’re eating a table service breakfast or even some select counter service meals, you may not be hungry for a full fledge meal at the next meal time. Instead, head to a bakery and grab a muffin or a caramel apple, or even the iconic Turkey legs (not a dining plan snack) in the parks for a snack offering that will get you to the next meal without breaking the bank on an unnecessary full counter service meal.
In conjunction with this tip, avoid the combo style meals at counter service locations. You don’t always need to buy a drink and a side to get a full meal at Walt Disney World. Order a big cheeseburger, a giant hotdog, or even a half rack of ribs and forget the combo. You probably wont eat all of the side items anyway and avoiding the drink alone (and opting for tip 9 instead) can save you a ton of money over the span of a weeks vacation.
7. Cut a Park Day
We’ve done this time after time to offset costs. I know it seems counter productive, but you dont have to go the parks every day of your vacation to have an amazing day. Just to share with you a few options we came up with The Top 5 Things To Do At Walt Disney World Outside Of The Parks (on a budget).
You will be shocked at how much time you can spend resort hoping or touring Disney Springs for a fraction of the cost of touring the parks even when you include a table service meal at the Springs or at a resort hotel.
We take advantage of this on nearly every trip at some point and it has become one of the highlights of our longer trips to the parks. You’ll be shocked at all their is to do at the different resorts and more importantly, you’ll be surprised at how little it costs when you compare it to the cost of an additional ticketed day on shorter stays.
8. Travel With Friends To Make Deluxe Affordable
This single tip is the main reason we can afford staying Deluxe on nearly every vacation. When we travel, we travel with friends. For example, on our next trip we’ll be traveling in a group of seven people. While that many guests requires a 2 bedroom villa or larger accommodations available mostly at deluxe resorts, its often cheaper to do that and all stay in one room that it is to book multiple rooms at moderate tier or even value tier resorts at times. This is especially true when you consider the tradeoffs of a full kitchen and better transportation.
When you spread out the cost among seven individuals, the cost per person, or even per family decreases exponentially. A room that was at one time unattainable for a single family becomes much more affordable when split two or more ways.
For most groups, this is the ideal situation. you don’t have to break up your party, you save money, and you get to do almost everything together. If you want a few minutes away from the group, typically doors separate sections of the villa rooms that can easily be closed to partition off the accommodations. It’s a win-win for everybody if you can find family or a group of friends you enjoy traveling with.
9. Drink Lots of Water
This is a two sided tip. It can save you money while greatly influencing your health during your trip. Every Disney counter service location will give you a free cup of ice water just for asking for it. It doesn’t matter what you order, or if you order nothing at all, they’ll give it to you and you can save a ton of money doing so.
If you can avoid soft drinks it will save you more money that you may expect. Fountain drinks at Walt Disney World parks and resorts tend to be a bit aggressively priced. Not only that, but in the heat of the summer, water will ultimately be the best thing for you and your health as you walk many miles each day. In the end it might not only save you money, but also keep you from falling into that “Disney Funk” many guests talk about half way through their week long vacation. The body can only stand so much junk food before it starts having adverse effects in the Florida heat. Take my advice from experience and make yourself feel better while saving money along the way. Ok, rant over (lol).
10. Avoid The “Hidden Costs”
For many guests, this expense is the greatest expense of them all. Disney is designed to suck you into gift shop after gift shop full of unique merchandise to commemorate your experiences. From dated logo gear to attraction specific merchandise, it’s easy to want one of everything that you walk past. If you can avoid the temptation to buy these souvenirs or convince yourself to wait and find that one ideal souvenir to commemorate you’re whole trip rather that just one facet of it, you can save a ton of money.
In a similar way, watch for hidden fees of off property resorts. If you want to stay off property to save money, I would reconsider it. Many times, after paying resort fees, parking costs at the resort and parks, or fighting with non-Disney shuttles you’ll realize the couple bucks you may or may not have saved wasn’t worth it in the long run. Trust me, I’ve tried it many times, and it’s just not worth it. The sole exception to this tip is the Swan and Dolphin. It’s an excellent resort but features Disney transportation and official Disney “bonuses” that very few off site resorts currently offer in early 2018.
Hopefully these tips get you on the right track to saving money on your Disney vacation. This is far from an all inclusive list but hopefully a great place for you to start or add something to your planning process.
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