It’s funny to me at times how often people think that you really have to spend more and more money at Walt Disney World to get more enjoyment out of the experience. Sure, on paper, sometimes it does seem that way but that’s a myth I hope to debunk in an unusual way today. Without a doubt, you can spend thousands of dollars at WDW to partake in all kinds of extra experiences and special events, but you *do not have to!*
Instead, often times you can spend no extra money at all and still reap tons of extra benefits at Walt Disney World! Here are 20 of my top recommended ways to improve your WDW vacation without spending any extra money!
In all honesty, this list can be summarized in the first three recommendations. That truly is what matters the most. It’s also worth mentioning that I look at Disney from a very seasoned perspective. I’ve been in the parks multiple times each and every year of my entire life. I know the parks like the back of my hand and in all reality I can guarantee you what’s really going to matter to you in the future and the memories that will stand out to you the most years from now are the moments you could never plan, that you never expected, and that often times have no correlation to any specific aspect of the parks themselves. It truly is about the memories the place helps develop rather than what you’re actually doing while touring the Walt Disney World parks and resorts that matters years down the road.
I think that’s important to keep in mind and that perspective is quite a key point in my list overall. If you keep that perspective in mind or at least even remotely appreciate that perspective I think you’ll retain an immense amount of value out of this list but it’s not a perspective that everyone loves and that is also worth noting. So… let’s dive right into it!
- Live In The Moment: I cannot stress this enough. I know I’m about to sound like an old man but humor me for a moment. One of my greatest pet peeves is the live streaming and video recording in the parks. I like to call it “The iPhone Effect.” Truthfully, I totally just made that up but let me explain. Next time you’re in the parks, particularly around fireworks time, look around you at the sea of people viewing the show through the back of an iPhone. Please don’t be that person if it’s your first time viewing a show or even riding an attraction. Trust me, I know better than anyone the desire to capture and record every minute but there’s an inherent value in being present in the moment when you can. I say “when you can” for a reason though. Sometimes you just can’t put it down because at moments life gets in the way and it’s just not possible or you have someone back at home that you want to bring with you into this experience. I get that, but still make an honest effort to put it all away and be present in those unique and memorable moments.
- Try Not to Over Plan: This one also tends to be very important to me. Please, do not be that person who plans every minute of every day you’re in Walt Disney World. I get this one too. You don’t want to waste a minute but the inherent reality is that when you try not to waste a minute you don’t make the most of every moment as it happens and the latter is far more important. Enjoy the time you have and enjoy being there as it happens. What you get accomplished, you get accomplished, and don’t worry about not getting to something in the parks or not checking something off your list. Just enjoy what you get to do because you can never see and do it all. Trust me, I’m living proof of that! There are hundreds of things at WDW that I still havent tried!
- Worry Less About Attractions and More About Experiences: This one may sound counter productive to some but stick with me here. Worry less about an attraction you want to ride or even a wait time that is astronomically long and instead do things with a experiential perspective. Every single part of Walt Disney World is filled with theming and backstories and oftentimes those little details get vastly overlooked. Those things are what set Disney apart from any other vacation destination. Don’t be in such a rush to jump from place to place that you avoid stopping to see a pop up show in the streets of Frontierland or even an act in one of the countries of the World Showcase that you’ve never taken the time to stop and enjoy. Sometimes those moments become some of your favorite parts of your vacation and things that make it on your “must do” list for your next visit.
- Get Out of the Parks: Yep, I said it and I meant it! Cut a park day off your ticket, or even just make it a partial park day and go explore something else on property. Don’t get me wrong, the parks are a huge portion of the experience and you should go to them but they’re also just the tip of the iceberg in regard to all that Disney encompasses. It’s truly unbelievable at times how much there is to do outside of the parks. I kid you not, my last trip to WDW I spent two full days on Disney property without stepping foot in a park. Why? Because I was at Disney Springs or the Boardwalk, or even in this particularly case wandering some of the other resorts simply enjoying the food and all that they have to offer. In the grand scheme of things you can cut park days and save a ton of money doing just this! I also know that for me, as an annual passholder who is in the parks quite frequently, that is certainly easier to rationalize than most but at least consider it! You wont regret it!
- Take the Time to Relax: Taking the time to relax can make a huge difference in your WDW vacation experience. I know this sounds crazy but it’s 100% true. If you’re going 18+ hours a day going from park opening to park closing times and sleeping 4-6 hours a night, it WILL catch up with you in a hurry. Take breaks throughout your park days to go back to the resort, refresh a little, take a quick nap, visit the pool and cool off, or simply get off your feet for a while in a nearby resort lobby. It makes all the difference in the world and costs you absolutely nothing! The time you “miss out on” will be more than made up by the quality of experience you gain when taking frequent breaks to relax.
- Take Breaks (and sometimes long breaks): As mentioned above, take breaks. It’s easy to go at that insane pace for a couple days but if you’re going to be around the parks for a week, don’t even try it. You will be exhausted and need a vacation from your vacation by the end of the week. If you’re feeling a bit exhausted, call it a day in the parks, book a last minute dining reservation and take your night to a relaxing evening at your resort or even a relaxing evening at a resort you’ve never visited before. It’s well worth your time and one of my most highly recommend things to do. If you’re worried about transportation, Uber and Lyft are always an option but you can always take Disney transportation by grabbing a bus or boat to any resort on property.
- Eat One Table Service Meal Instead of Two Quick Service: I understand this sounds counter productive but bear with me because this really can save you money or at the very least improve your Disney dining experience in many ways. Typically a table service meal (sit down style meal) is going to cost you roughly twice what a typical quick service meal will. Now there are certainly exceptions to that theory and actually quick service prices are rising steadily while the majority of table service locations haven’t increased much in price. As a result, you’re often better off eating one big table service meal a day and supplementing that meal with smaller snacks than you are buying two or three quick service meals. Not only will it shrink your costs in the long run or be near equivalent but it can also improve your vacation experience by allowing you to escape the heat for a bit and enjoy a meal away from the crowds.
- Escape the Parks For a Bit and Lengthen Your Day: I tend to stress this point and you’ll see it as a reoccurring theme on this list but take the time to step away from the parks a little bit. If you go early, take a break mid day to rest and relax or hit the pool. Any time you miss out on being in the parks will be more than made up for when you return later that night with more energy. Plus, you’ll be able to stay out that much later without feeling miserably tired.
- Conside Skipping the Magical Express (Technically this costs money): While at surface level this costs money, I highly recommend utilizing a town car service or even possibly an Uber instead of the Tragical (I mean Magical) Express. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great free offering but it takes forever and in many cases the trade off of spending $30-$50 is more than worth getting to spend a few extra hours in the parks or at your resort opposed to sitting on a bus as it makes stops at various resorts on it’s way to your destination. I’ve personally done both many times, but save your time and get alternative transportation if you can afford the extra money. It really can make a big difference. Really, your time is worth more to you when on vacation if the money isn’t a big issue.
- Stop Obsessing Over Fastpasses: This one constantly bothers me. So many guests go into panic mode if they cant get a fastpass they want on the first day of their fastpass+ booking window. Don’t stress out about this. A lot can change in 60 days and if you keep checking back you can usually uncover a fastpass someone else has let go of along the way. It’s not fool proof but even in a worst case scenario you can always get to the park when it opens and avoid a majority of the lines anyway.
- Stop Worrying About Dining Reservations: Along the same lines as the fastpass conundrum, don’t freak out about a dining reservation that isn’t available at first. Dining reservation openings for bookings change in a hurry. If you can’t get what you want right away, check back a day or so before your desired reservation time. More often than not as the cancelation window approaches openings for almost anything you could want will pop up. You may have to look aggressively and you may have to be flexible on dining reservation times but you can usually get what you want the day before or even day of on the app if you look hard enough. For reference, just last month, I booked a Ohana reservation 2 hours before arriving at the restaurant during a fairly peak time (during the “fall break” weeks) on the night of a Halloween party at Magic Kingdom. Yes, it is possible. Quite honestly, I saw four different reservations come and go that afternoon for dinner that night. It’s all a matter of taking the time to look when you have a couple minutes of down time and refreshing that page constantly. Things change fast!
- Try and Visit the Park Like A Local: If you haven’t noticed by this point, I have a different style of WDW travel than most. I’m there a lot and blessed to be able to do so, but it also brings with it a more “local” approach to the travel equation even though I’m not local. To explain what I mean, it’s kind of funny. Locals go into the parks with no schedule, usually no fastpasses, and more often than not a last minute dining reservation and a plan to simply enjoy being there. Truthfully, those are the very best days you can have in the parks. It’s a day of no worries and if you don’t get to something, who cares? You had a lot of fun and created some memories and that’s the point to all of this anyway, right??? I used to tour the parks like a crazy person and go with a list and a plan for every single thing we wanted to do, but now we simply go and enjoy it as it unfolds. There’s an inherent value in taking that approach that so many overlook. It’s a stress free Disney experience and it makes all the difference in the world if you let yourself go into it with this mentality. Plan your dining, plan your three fastpasses, and plan what park you want to go to each day based on hours, and let the rest happen as it unfolds. Just go with it!
- Cut a Park Day and Go To Disney Springs: Truth be told, this is the most common tip on my list today. You do hear this one fairly frequently but it is worth noting and repeating. If you don’t want to tack on an extra ticketed day to your park ticket for a longer vacation, forget the ticket and head to Disney Springs. Right now you can easily fill a day in this area and a lot of it won’t cost you a dime. If you feel like spending a little extra money you could try The Void virtual reality experience, check out the NBA Experience in the old Disney Quest building, or even go bowling at Splitsville. If any of that sounds too costly, consider jumping on a boat and riding the 15-20 minute (free) ride over to Port Orleans French Quarter for a quick service (fairly budget friendly) meal at Floatworks. If nothing else, a ride over there is picturesque enough to be worth the time all on its own. Just be aware of the boat schedule and the last ride of the night or you’ll have to take a bus back to Disney Springs.
- Enjoy Your Resort to the Full Extent (You’re already paying for it!): This is certainly a tip that I stress time and time again. So many guests spend hundreds of dollars per night to stay in an amazing resort and then never take advantage of 90% of the things that particular resort offers. From the value tier to the deluxe villas, every single resort offers unique activities like movies late at night under the stars, possibly a late night campfire, an afternoon scavenger hunt, and the list goes on. If nothing else, every resort has an intricate backstory and typically the average guest never takes the time to really dive in and uncover the intricacies of their resort. Take a break from the parks and just start exploring your resort or other resorts and you will be shocked what you find.
- Spend Some Time at The Boardwalk: If you’ve read my Boardwalk Resort articles you’re probably well aware of my border line obsession with the resort area. It truly is spectacular and is one of my all time favorite places to spend a few hours on Disney property. While the resort itself is a great place to stay it’s also an incredible place to visit for dinner, a snack, or even a simple sunset walk to tack onto your day at Epcot. The Boardwalk is quite literally just steps from Epcot’s rear entrance and the Skyliner so it’s easily accessible from just about anywhere you may end up. The area is a near perfect way to slow your pace, step back from the parks, and simply enjoy a casual night of good food and great views. As day fades to night watch the Boardwalk light up and the performers stroll out onto the Boardwalk for some extra free entertainment. It’s not to be missed and an excellent use of your time.
- Spend Some Time On The Monorail Loop: I love the monorail loop option because it kind of is that “gateway” for so many guests to try out resort hopping and jumping from place to place to shop, relax, and wander a day away in a simple, yet satisfying, way. Visiting resorts is such a “Disney” thing to do that you can’t get anywhere else. You can hop from resort to resort using boats, buses, monorails, etc. and quite literally spend a day just enjoying being there in the moment. Schedule a nice lunch, shoot some pool on the dock at the Contemporary (seasonal), relax and listen to the Grand Floridian band, and then grab a snack, pick out your perfect spot for fireworks and take in the Happily Ever After nighttime spectacular across the lake from any of the Monorail loop resorts. You won’t regret it and it’s a very budget friendly day. Worried about transportation? Don’t be. Just take your resort bus to Magic Kingdom and hop on the monorail. You will not need a ticket to get through security and access the monorail line. My only word of advice here is to stay away from the resort pools and leave those for guests actually staying at the resorts.
- Don’t Forget Resort Hopping Around Christmas: Building on the above, try that same monorail loop day and combine it with the christmas decor and you’ve got that much more to explore and a near perfect way to get ready for the holidays.
- Try Something New Every Single Trip: So many of us get stuck in a rut when it comes to Disney vacations. If you’ve been multiple times, take a moment, step back, and make an effort to try something new. There’s nothing wrong with having a pattern that you love but keep broadening those horizons. Try a new dining location, explore a new tour, go visit a new resort, and the list goes on and on. Of course, some things will cost more than others but the majority of activities won’t add to your overall vacation cost when replacing something else (another meal, etc.) during your vacation.
- Get Out of Your Dining “Comfort Zone”: I will admit I’m horrible at this. However, often times Disney is the perfect place to try something you wouldn’t try anywhere else. You can rest assured that Disney is rarely going to serve anything too terribly over the top so you can try a new Japanese restaurant without fear, or order something on the menu that you otherwise would never consider ordering back home. I also believe this is an inherent strength of the dining plan even though I don’t really recommend the dining plan in 95% of cases. However, with the plan you’re not thinking about the cost of an item on the menu but instead thinking “hey, I can order basically anything” and as a result you try something new. Truth be told this is the simplest place to really try something new without major concerns so why not get out of your comfort zone!
- Shut Down The Parks – Just Do It!: I bring this point up time and time again because it’s something hardly anyone ever does (even the locals). Go to a park and stay until the bitter end. In most cases you can stay in the parks up to two hours after scheduled closing time. You won’t be able to ride attractions, but as the attractions clear out the park stays open and many of the bigger stores stay open. The big draw is the atmosphere. As someone who takes absurd amounts of photos for the site, I have been conditioned to stay as late as possible for those “empty parks” photos and this is exactly how I get those shots. Everyone constantly asks, “how do you get photos without people?” You literally just wait it out until the very end of the night and scramble to grab a few shots. From a normal guests perspective though it’s worth hanging around. The parks take on an entirely different feel. The music seems louder, the walkways seem larger, the breeze feels a little different, and you start picking up on all kinds of details that tend to get lost in the hustle and bustle of the crowds of the day. Just do this and thank me later. You will not regret it.
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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Last but certainly not least, if you’re starting the planning process, a great place to start are with some of our top planning articles! Looking for dining? Check out Disney World Dining Tips For 2019. Want to start with some more tips? 44 Excellent Disney World Tips for 2019 or Disney World Planning Guide and Tips For 2019 are a great place to begin!
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