Hello from Walt Disney World! (AHHH!!) I’ve had so many reader questions on how I did Disney on a Budget so I could run in the 2013 Princess Half Marathon that I had to do a post! I hope you enjoy, and if you have any advice on how your family did Disney on a budget, I hope you’ll let us know in the comment section below!
1. Find Discounts Never Pay Full Price For Park Tickets
If you are in the military, a college student, member of an autoclub, alumni or Panhellenic association or you work for a large corporation, you could have access to discounted tickets and hotel reservations. In the past, I would check with my college’s student office for special passes or visit my local library. Additionally, if you’re a Florida or southern California resident, you can get discounted year passes.
Some have also suggested that you can save big by going through Disney or a Disney approved travel/vacation specialist. If you’re booking by yourself- BOOK ONLINE. It’s much easier to comparison shop and always look for coupon codes. Finally, I have had family members snag discounted tickets on Craigslist, but as always- be savvy and cautious about Craigslist sellers!
Also, there may be some perks to signing up for a Disney Visa Card (I don’t have one, but I know plenty of people who do!) and there are also exclusive “PIN Codes” that are hard to snag and offer huge discounts and perks but there are some secrets to securing a Disney PIN Code.
2. Go Off Season & Book In Advance
Going to the parks off season will not only save you money but you can enjoy much shorter lines and less stress by avoiding the busy period between late May through the end of August.
Disney Hotels are typically more expensive than off site hotels, but if you go during the week and during off season, Disney often offers package deals that could have you staying on-site for the price you’d pay elsewhere. Comparison shop online to find the best deals and book far in advance to snag great package deals. Christmas time seems busy, but usually isn’t- especially during the week, and it’s usually extra festive!
3. Eat Breakfast In Your Room
This will save you at least $12 per person every day you do Disney. You can pack oatmeal packets, dried fruit, bagels and peanut butter in your checked luggage. I have used the coffee maker in my room to get hot water and eat it in the coffee cups (or you can bring bowls). Also, instant coffee and tea bags are easy to pack and easy to prepare in the room.
Disney hotels usually have fridges if you’re able to stop at a store, but typically (as is the case at Disneyland) it’s hard to track down perishable items for a deal unless you have a car to drive off-site and the gumption to track down food ”in the real world” instead of having fun at the parks. Stick to non-perishables for breakfast, snacks and treats to cut costs and you’re golden.
4. Sit Down For Lunch, Take Out For Dinner
If there’s a restaurant you’re dying to try but know it’s going to be a bit pricier, opt for lunch instead of dinner. Sit down meals are much cheaper during the morning and afternoon hours and prices sometimes double during the dinner hour.
Whenever possible, avoid any sit down dinners at the parks and instead, bring your own food or opt for the counter service. If you do sit down for dinner, make sure you’re going to get the most out of your money and do something extra fancy, like book at spot at Club 33 (I have yet to figure that out) or Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World (sigh). Go for big wins if you’re going to spend big!
5. Buy Souvenirs Before & After You Visit The Parks
While there are a few branded items that are exclusive to the parks, most items that you or your children will swoon over can be found online or at a Disney Warehouse Outlet Store. Using online coupon codes and clearance racks- you can satisfy your consumption sweet tooth by buying Disney shirts, stuffed animals and frames online if you can beat back the need to impulse by.
Disney Warehouse Outlet Stores will have park branded gear and special event gear (like for the half marathons) the year after at a steep discount. Many times, you’ll find dated and special edition gear that is seasonal and can’t be sold at the parks any longer. If there’s one in your area, check it out- otherwise, don’t hesitate to shmooze with a cast member to see if they can do some shopping at the employee store for you.
6. Only Buy Park Hoppers At Disneyland or If You’re Short On Time
Disneyland and California Adventure are much smaller than the Walt Disney World Parks and if you’re short on time, it will save headache and be more fun if you can hop from park to park without worry.
If you have more time or are headed to Walt Disney World, do the math and see if you really need to spend the extra money on Park Hopper passes. With the right planning, you may not need to jump from park to park at Walt Disney World and can save a few bucks by doing one at a time.
If you’re a southern California or Florida resident, do the math to see if getting an annual pass with parking would be a cost effective option for you. Chances are, if you go to the parks 2-3 times a year, it might be smart to invest in a pass, but of course- the numbers don’t lie!
7. Pack Smart & Be Prepared
I cannot tell you how many times I ended up buying a pair of flip flops at Disneyland because my shoes were bothering me so badly after long days of walking and waiting. I know most of us want to splurge on a new pair of shoes before a big vacation, but even a pair of tennis shoes can be unbearable if they’re not broken in!
Additionally, be sure to pack sunscreen, bandaids, pharmacy items & plenty of layers so you’re not caught in a heat wave, monsoon or cold front unprepared. Buying a Disney sweatshirt because you’re freezing during the fireworks just to stay warm, not because you really want it, is a silly way to spend your cash (but heck, I’ve done it!).
8. Collect Memories & Cash- Not Things
For awhile I had a major Vinylmation addiction, but now, I just collect runDisney bling! Of course, half marathon medals aren’t any cheaper or take up less space, but you get a lot more entertainment (and workouts) for your money! When I committed to do the Tinker Bell & Princess Half Marathons, I told my family and friends to not buy me stuff for birthdays and holidays, but to help contribute to my savings goals for the trips.
You will have to plan your Disney vacations far in advance to save the most money, so let your loved ones know that they’d appreciate vacation related items (like park tickets or Disney gift cards) in lieu of traditional gift “stuff.” You can also choose to opt out of gift giving all together and save up for the trip- it’s up to you where your money goes! Finally, when you get to the parks, put a limit on how much shopping you’ll do. Trust me, it’s easy to get out of control very fast with gift shops, but do your best to set daily limits and pay for it in cash!
How do you save money on Disney Vacations?
Do you make Disney work for your family on a budget?