How I Save Money at Disney World and Visit the Parks More Often – What Works For Us
One of the more common questions I tend to get asked from friends and acquaintances alike is, “How do you afford to go to Disney so often?” To be honest, the answer really isn’t all that simple and while the majority of you reading this are likely aware of why I visit Disney so often, you may have wondered yourself the “how” behind the reality of that situation.
In the simplest of explanations I am blessed with the reality that all of our family is truly obsessed with the Disney parks and resorts and it’s been that way for years. Honestly, I can’t remember a time in my life without Disney in it. From the time I was 3 years old we made our yearly trips (which became much more frequent that yearly lol) to Walt Disney World. In many ways I can remember it like it was yesterday. We’d all sit around the phone as we called to make our resort reservation after saving our money for what felt like forever as a kid, we’d make our reservation, and then as a family we’d go over to the local Disney store to buy our tickets because it was the only place you could get “plastic” ticket cards instead of paper ones at the time and we always made a day of it.
For years we literally saved our pennies in a jar (or at least our parents did) and slowly but surely worked towards buying tickets and booking that reservation that we all eagerly anticipated. Back then there were no fastpass+ booking windows and really no true guides for touring the parks beyond the “Birnbaum” yearly edition. I can remember pouring over those books even before I could really comprehend what was written in the words of the pages. Every page told a story and took me “into the parks” through images. I loved every minute of it.
When our travel dates would finally roll around, sometimes even a year later, we’d meet up with our friends that we always traveled with, load up two Honda Odyssey minivans, and slowly yet surely make our drive down to Orlando from Kentucky. I can oh so vividly remember the little toys and games our parents had bought to keep us occupied hidden in the seat pockets and after hours of driving arriving at this incredible place of sunshine that seemed like something out of a dream.
I share this story for a reason and it may not be quite the reason you expect it to be. I share this because when we were making these trips that ultimately set in motion my personal journey surrounding the WDW parks and resorts, it wasn’t what anyone from the outside looking in would consider a “glamorous” picture perfect vacation, but to me it was everything I could have possibly imagined it to be. To me, that’s the key to all of this. Everything is about perspective and while Disney has a habit of glorifying their top resorts in the promotional material, it’s well worth noting that the moments you share with family at Walt Disney World aren’t about the resorts or the parks, or really anything else you would expect. It’s about the people. If you reread that story above you’ll notice there’s something missing from it all…. the parks. Sure, they were our end destination, but the memories in my mind are all about those little things like the travel, the booking experience, and ultimately the anticipation of the incredible experiences we would get to share with everyone once we arrived at the parks.
Sure, today we stay at Deluxe resorts more often that not, eat multiple table service meals per visit, and splurge for an annual pass, but the trips I remember the most are the trips that started just like that story above. More often that not our destination was Carribean Beach back when resort rooms were less that $100 a night and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire – Play It! was still popular at Hollywood Studios! The key to saving money at Disney World isn’t any one tip but rather stretching every dollar you can afford to throw at making memories that truly will last a lifetime. That’s not to say that we haven’t learned some great money saving tips over the years, so while keeping that in mind let’s dive into a few things that have really worked for us time and time again.
Travel With Family/Friends
As mentioned above, traveling with friends was a staple of our WDW experiences growing up and believe it or not we still get to travel with that same great group of folks now that were all adults and at different stages in life from time to time. I bring this tip up not only because it’s a great way to create memories with people you enjoy traveling with but also because it can play a big role in minimizing costs.
We’re no stranger to deluxe resort standard rooms but if I had my preference we would always opt for villas because they often accompany a lower price if you’re careful were you book, provide you with more room, and ultimately allow you to split up costs by booking a larger one or two bedroom villa and splitting up the payment.
Not only do you get the advantage of a bigger room compared to booking two or three separate standard rooms, but you also get the huge added benefit of a “full” kitchen at your disposal. Even if you don’t plan on cooking, it’s always nice to have a full size refrigerator or freezer, microwave, and full sink at your disposal if you want to store some food, water, or even leftovers from the night before. Additionally, a huge benefit is having a full washer and dryer in your room to dry swimsuits or wash some clothes if you spill something or get soaked one day in a pop up afternoon rain shower.
More that anything though, the benefits of the resort room vastly work in your favor and can even save you money when you split up the costs with another family to secure a larger room.
Combine Meal Times
This is one of our go-to plans for every single trip. If you’re looking to book table service meals but not go broke in the process, go ahead and book the meal you’ve been dying to try, but book it mid afternoon or as a late breakfast around 10:45 and combine meal times.
Use your late breakfast as breakfast and lunch or your late lunch as lunch and dinner. If you fill the gaps with cheaper snacks rather that full fledge counter service meals you’ll still get plenty of food and typically can offset the cost of an additional counter service meal that you may have bought if you ate at 6:30 or 7:00 at night. Book one meal at those seemingly strange times each day and you may be surprised at how little you eat the rest of the day after one big table service meal per day.
Cut Park Days If You’re Not an Annual Passholder (let me explain…)
This is a tip that’s easy to suggest but hard to do if you’re not someone like us that tours the parks quite frequently. However, the tip in and of itself is to buy a shorter length of ticket. I know that sounds insane but bear with me. If you shorten your number of park days it can save you up to $100 per person per day depending on the seasonal pricing structure. With that $100 or even a small portion of the money you can try a meal you’ve always wanted to try outside of the parks, play a round of golf at one of the incredible courses on property (I personally recommend Magnolia), or even extend your resort stay by an entire extra day to enjoy the pool or the resort grounds.
There is far more to do at Disney that just the parks and with the ever expanding presence of Disney Springs you can make an entire day outside of the parks and quite possibly create an equally as great set of memories without spending that extra money.
Head to the Water Parks
Essentially following in the footsteps of my last recommendation, if you’re willing to leave the parks for a day, consider picking up a one day ticket to Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon. A waterpark ticket is only $69 and while that isn’t a huge savings over an additional day in the other four “main” parks depending on your length of stay, it is a savings. We applied this tactic one time a while back and absolutely loved it. Now, we don’t splurge for the waterparks add on to our annual pass, but the waterparks are an excellent experience that tends to get overlooked. Plus it’s a good way to escape some of the crowds and heat of those peak summer months!
Always Order Water
As possibly the simplest tip on our list, this is also most likely the tip that has saved us the most over the years with the sole exception of our annual pass purchases. If you are willing to order water at restaurants, you will be shocked at how fast the savings add up. It’s not out of the ordinary for a fountain drink to cost well over $3 in the parks. If you’re looking to drop costs quickly, this adds up shockingly fast over the course of a week. Just for a family of four you can knock $12 off of every dining bill if you opt for water.
If you want to take it a step further, avoid buying water bottles in the parks and additionally avoid the hassle of carrying around water bottles by walking up to any counter service location with a drink machine and asking for a cup of ice water. While rumors have floated around for quite some time that this could be going away, at the moment water is free everywhere there is a drink dispenser. Personally, I don’t see it going away anytime soon mostly because of the liability equation and the fact that they encourage guests to drink water time and time again in the peak heat summer months. If you can ditch the soft drinks you’ll save a ton of money in the long run but you’ll also end up bettering your experience by staying hydrated and healthy during your stay. Never underestimate the power of water to cure a heat headache and any number of heat rated issues that could pop up during your vacation. Florida summers are nothing to mess around with so keep yourself safe and make this one a priority even if it’s not for the cost savings.
Cut the Souvenir Budget
If you’re a repeat Disney World guest, this is going to be a bit more easy for you to implement that the first time guest. If you’re looking through gift shops and the variety of stores on poverty, I highly recommend working towards finding one nice, reasonably high end souvenir that means something to you to purchase, rather that buying the typical keychains, repeat t-shirts, and stuff that has been around for years that we fall into the trap of time and time again.
When Booking Look For “Hidden Rates” When Discount Offers Are Live
To many, this may seem like an odd tip and it’s one that needs a bit more of an explanation. When you’re booking your Disney trip, by default the online website will dump you to a discounted rate if there is one available. That’s excellent if your desired resort is available but what many guests don’t realize is that if the site shows “no availability” that doesn’t always mean quite what it implies. For example, Caribbean Beach might show no availability but what that’s really showing is that there’s no availability for that particular rate. Disney essentially caps the number of rooms allocated to discounted offers. After those rates are sold, they are marked as “no availability.” However, if you click off of that particular rate or discounted offer and click “resort room only” you will often find availability just at a different rate. In some cases this works in your favor like when a standard Little Mermaid room pops up on non-discounted rates for Art of Animation when compared to the higher priced suite rooms that are included in the discount.
Other times, preferred rooms may be available at discounted rates but a standard room at non discounted rates could be a better option for you in the long run depending on the rate and the timeframe of your vacation. No matter what, play around with the different offers available for your stay and compare prices before booking what appears like the cheapest option at face value.
In the long run, I hope that this post saves you some serious money, but more that anything I hope it helps to tell a story and put into perspective what really matters and what you really will remember years later from your vacation experience. Sometimes it’s the little things that get lostin the hustle and bustle of the planning equation, and sometimes all we need is a quick reminder to realize why we tour the parks in the first place. As always, if you have unanswered questions or questions in general feel free to shoot me a message on Facebook and I’ll get back to you soon. If you are interested in working with us, feel free to give me a shout there as well and we’ll see what we can make a realty!
As always, if you have thoughts, concerns, questions, or even some tips of your own to share, don’t hesitate to reach out to us on Facebook or your favorite social media platform. Give us a follow while you’re there, and we’ll keep the conversation going in the future. We’re not the largest Disney community, but we’re one that’s here and one that listens. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day wherever you are!
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A few short years ago, I was sitting in a college apartment trying to figure out what was "next" and came up with this idea to share my accumulated knowledge of the Disney Parks and Resorts with others. The end goal was to help others make the most of their Disney experience and it's been quite the journey!