It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that a Disney World vacation is more expensive now than it ever has been before. Part of it is simply the economics of the world we live in but either way a Disney vacation can get expensive in a hurry. I feel your pain and deal with it just as often, if not more often, than each and every one of you reading this. Just because I own a Disney travel planning site, doesn’t mean I’m exempt from the same costs you all pay. I get it my friends, it is a very expensive endeavor to travel to Walt Disney World in this day and age.
However, the way I see it, we can choose to either learn and adapt or we can stop going altogether and for many of us that second option is a pretty shocking reality that we certainly don’t want! It’s hard to imagine not being able to walk down Main Street USA, to not be able to hear that music again, or to see that look on our families faces as we enjoy the simple moments of joy a Disney vacation throws at us time and time again. So, instead, here’s what we do and how we make the most of our dollar while saving a few dollars before, during, and even while saving for our Disney vacation experience.
While I’ve written up quite a few money saving articles, this one is a bit different than content like my How I Spend Less, Save Money, and Visit Disney World So Often article from a few weeks back!
This is in no way, shape, or form an all inclusive list but it should give you a few highlights and things to look for when trying to cut costs for your vacation. There are a lot of mistakes and truly terrible tips shared in this Disney community, but here’s a few tips to save money that I personally use time and time again. If you really want to maximize your vacation, while minimizing costs, this is what I recommend. I can assure you that there are more cost savings and more aggressive ways to save money but these are a few that I find realistic and very easy to implement. As they like to say, knowledge is power and the best teacher in life is often doing the wrong thing and learning from it. I’ve made a lot of mistakes over the years, and parts of this list are living proof and lessons learned! Let’s dive in.
Staying Off Property
I’m starting this list off with perhaps the most controversial topic on our list. I think staying off property is a HUGE mistake. It is literally so important to me that I devoted an entire article to it in my – Why Staying On Disney Property Is Our Only Recommendation Post!
Hear me out on this one. Sure, you can buy into a timeshare, stay at a hotel near Disney Springs (technically on property but I refuse to count that), a near by budget friendly hotel, and take Uber or non-Disney bus transportation, and you may save a few dollars. You can save some money in doing this, but if you compare the average costs to that of staying on property at Art of Animation or Pop Century, you aren’t saving much and you’re sacrificing a lot in doing so. If you are fully determined to stay off site, there is one resort I do tend to recommend and it is the Double Tree at Disney Springs and here’s why.
Trust me, I know I seem like the ideal bias candidate in shamelessly promoting Disney resorts, but Disney doesn’t pay me a dime for any of this. I have simply learned this lesson the hard way. No matter how you slice it, when you stay in a non-Disney owned and operated resort you do lose out on a piece of the experience and ultimately loose that “Disney Bubble” effect where you’re constantly surrounded by magic. It sounds cliché but avoid staying off property. In the long run, you’re going to face resort fees, transportation fees, possibly an airport shuttle cost, and ultimately may only save a small amount of money once all the logistics are worked out.
In saying that, there is one small caveat I have to add. If you’ve been to Disney many many many times, booking a trip on Hilton Honors points for a free stay, staying with a local friend or something of the sorts, you’re just not going to beat some of those options. However, if you’re new to Disney, I wouldn’t try that for your first trip if you can avoid it. If it’s your only option, by all means find a way to get down to the Florida parks, but really weigh your options before jumping on the “off property is cheaper” band wagon.
Buying Only Quick Service Meals
If you know me or read here a lot, you can probably bypass this topic and here’s why. I preach about this constantly. I am hard pressed to go a week without mentioning this in an article and it’s because I think it is one of the single most overlooked and poorly publicized realities in Disney travel planning.
Do not be the person who will only eat counter service food because it’s “cheaper” than table service. If you genuinely believe that is the case all the time, you’re ordering the wrong items at certain table service dining offerings. I know this topic ruffles feathers but it’s worth sharing time and time again.
If you go to a table service restaurant, review the menus and costs before you go, and know what you’re getting yourself into, you will find dozens of budget friendly meals on the menus at table service dining locations in and beyond the parks. I’ve used this example more than once on this site but take Whispering Canyon (The Breakfast is amazing too!) for example. If you go in there and order the all you can eat Canyon Skillet it will be expensive. Not obscenely expensive but pricey nonetheless. If you go in there and order the Slow Smoked Pulled Pork Sandwich it’s a $14 meal and one that even made my 10 Excellent Entrees Under $15 at Walt Disney World. The experience of eating there and seeing Wilderness Lodge would be well worth $14 even if you didn’t get lunch too!
Don’t sacrifice an incredible dining experience at any number of table service offerings for the reasoning that quick service is cheaper. It’s just not the case. Research your menus, they’re all on Disney’s site, and be careful what you order and the costs aren’t astronomically different at the vast majority of dining locations in comparison. It’s all about what you order.
Being Unaware of Cancelation Fees
One thing to be aware of that could sneak up on you is cancelation fees at table service dining locations. If you book a dining reservation and cancel it less than one day ahead of time you will be charged a cancelation fee per person in your scheduled party. It’s typically a $10 per guest cancelation fee but can vary location by location. If in doubt, cancel. Disney does this so that it frees up reservations for other guests waiting to book, but it can be a costly mistake if overlooked.
Booking Without a Package (For the cancelation element)
This tip is one that may seem odd at first but it is one that is pretty important to note. If you are booking a resort reservation online, always book it as a package if you are buying tickets. It will not save you money in most cases but you will be grandfathered into a cancelation window for you resort and your ticket purchase. If you buy tickets outside of a package they are a non refundable purchase. If they are in the package, they carry the same cancelation policy as the resort reservation.
Flying Allegiant Into Sanford (Sometimes)
I know of at least a few friends of mine that have been burned on this one over the last few years. Allegiant airlines rarely flies into Orlando International airport (MCO) and I do believe they may have stopped flying into that airport altogether. Instead, they fly into Sanford which is roughly 45 minutes to an hour away from Disney property.
It’s a fairly straight forward drive but a 49 mile Uber ride is not cheap and town car services can charge well over $100 in some cases to transport you to Disney property from that airport. The Magical Express does not pick up in Sanford. Your Allegiant flight may cost you $85 but the added transportation costs may cancel out your savings in a hurry. I have no problem with Allegiant when the costs work out but from my area of the country, Southwest or Delta end up being cheaper in the long run. If you want even more tips on flying to Walt Disney World, I did an entire write up on that topic in my Flying to Disney World – My Top Tips article!
Overlooking Resort Fees (At non-Disney resorts)
I genuinely despise the concept of resort fees and truthfully border line expect Disney to roll them out sometime in the future. For now though, be aware of resort fees because they can be a huge hidden revenue generator for Orlando resorts that are not owned and operated by Disney. I’ve seen resort fees as high as $45 per night of your stay. That can quickly turn a seemingly budget friendly hotel into a far more expensive one in the long run.
Renting a Car
I never recommend renting a car if you’re staying on Disney property. It’s absurdly expensive, you have to pay to park it at your resort, and truth be told it’s going to sit in the parking lot 90% of the week. If you really need a car, take an Uber or town car service and you’ll come out on top in the long run.
Doing Split Stays and Sharing Time With Other Area Parks
A lot of guests try to combine a Disney trip with Universal, SeaWorld, or my personal favorite non-Disney property, Discovery Cove. While there’s absolutely no problem with doing that, it can make your vacation more expensive because Disney deliberately discounts additional park days. If you split a stay and do three Disney days and 2 days elsewhere, it’s going to be more expensive on a per day basis for tickets.
For example, a 2 day Disney ticket is more expensive on a per day basis than a 5 day ticket on a per day basis. As you add days, the cost per ticketed day shrinks. It’s genius marketing by Disney that they’ve been utilizing for years to keep people in their parks instead of venturing out elsewhere. To be quite honest it has worked more often than not.
Spending Every Single Day in a Park
Another pet peeve of mine is the Disney resort guest who feels that any time not in a park on their Disney vacation is wasted time. It’s just not true. You can have just as much fun, if not more fun and a more memorable day without a park ticket than you can with a park ticket. No, I’m not crazy (well at least not yet), but the reality of the situation is that there is an entire world of things to do at Disney beyond the parks. In the most serious sense, there is actually far more to do outside of the parks at the resort, Disney Springs, and partaking in other activities than there are in the parks. That’s a statement I will stand behind.
Take one day on your next trip and cut your park ticket one day shorter than usual. Take that time and the money saved to go spend some time doing something fun at Disney Springs, enjoy the pool at your resort, catching a stunning sunset at a late night Toledo dinner, or even simply explore your resort. There’s magic in the simplicity and details of Disney that oh so often gets overlooked. If you need suggestions for dining beyond the parks, here are five of my top picks!
Booking Multiple Rooms for Larger Travel Parties (book villas)
Here is perhaps a very simple money saving tip. If you are traveling with a larger group, avoid booking multiple resort rooms and instead book villas or suite rooms. Some of the best options are the Boulder Ridge Villas at Wilderness Lodge or Boardwalk Villas. Another excellent option is the Swan and Dolphin suite rooms. They are excellent and typically come with a corner room view!
If you book one bigger room opposed to multiple standard rooms and split the overall nightly cost (which is very easy with online payments), the costs typically work out to far less for larger rooms opposed to multiple resort rooms, especially after taxes if booking separately.
Larger rooms also tend to come with extra amenities like a small kitchen or full size refrigerator which can be a huge bonus!
Over Paying for Transportation (Mears is not always your best option)
If you’re not going to take an Uber and do not want to take the Magical Express because of the extra time involved, consider looking into other area town car services. Mears tends to be the most popular but often times it is the most expensive option. Shop around a bit and you should be able to find some fairly reasonable prices on town car service from MCO to Disney property.
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!
Need a Travel Planner For Your Disney Vacation?
If you want or simply need a little bit of planning help to make your Disney vacation dream a reality, check out the quote request form below this article for our friends over at Destinations to Travel. They’ll let you do as much or as little of the planning as you’d like and may even save you some money along the way! As always, thanks for supporting those who support us.
Ready to Plan?
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!
Looking to save money on tickets? Check out our friends over at The Official Ticket Center for great deals that even made it into our 2019 Discount Disney World Ticket selections and another great way to help us create more content through your contributions at no additional cost to you! You’ll probably even save money along the way!