It’s safe to say the happiest place on Earth has gotten pricey in recent years. The typical trip to Disney World costs upwards of $6,000, and that’s before the cost of airfare, transportation, snacks, and souvenirs. For the average U.S. family, this price tag is too high to consider.
For the savvy traveler, however, this doesn’t have to be the whole story! Before you decide that the magic of Disney is out of reach, be sure to check out our tips below on planning your vacation on a budget.
Choose the Best Time to Visit
One of the best ways to save on a Disney vacation is to book at the right time. It’s hard to forecast the park visitor levels with accuracy, but you’ll often find heavy to moderate crowds throughout the spring, late fall, and mid-summer.
Experts recommend booking a trip in January, February, August, September, or early November. During this time, you can often find deals on accommodations and vacation packages. Even better, you can expect Florida’s temperatures to be moderate, and you’re more likely to see sunny skies with less rain.
Find Cheap Airfare
Depending on where you live, driving to Disney may not feel like a viable option. Booking cheap flights can help you offset the cost of park tickets and accommodations, and a few simple tips can help you score the right tickets.
Book Your Flight First
If you’re flexible about your travel dates, book your flight before finding accommodations. This often frees you up to find the cheapest possible travel dates, as resort and vacation rental tickets don’t tend to fluctuate as much as the average plane ticket. Sometimes, shifting your dates around by a day or two can save you $100 or more per ticket!
Use the Right Tools
In your hunt for bargain airfare, the right tools make all the difference. Google Flights is a powerful, user-friendly site that lets you compare multiple airlines at once. Its calendar tool allows you to toggle your dates and compare prices with ease, and you can also sign up for price alerts if you want notifications about discounts.
Alternative tools, like Skyscanner and Kayak, offer some similar features and are worth checking.
Search for One Adult
No matter how many people will be flying, try searching for one adult flyer with the price tools above. Searching for flights for multiple flyers can mess with a search tool’s algorithms, causing it to show you higher prices. In the worst-case scenario, you may need to book some passengers at a lower price and others at a higher price, which still saves you money.
Drive If You Can
Even with rising gas prices, driving to Disney is often far less expensive than flying. However, this may depend on your location: flying on budget airlines from neighboring states may cost you as little as $30. Flying from further away could cost $100 or more.
For smaller groups of two or three, flying may be the more reasonable option. For larger groups, you’ll often save hundreds by driving instead of paying for airfare!
If you’re on the fence, pull up your potential airfare prices and use a fuel cost calculator to estimate how much going to Disney by car would cost you.
Save Money on Lodgings
The next part of planning a vacation to Disney is finding the right lodgings. With countless crowd-favorite resorts as well as off-site hotels, there’s a great option for any budget.
Consider a Value Resort
An on-property Disney resort can be a great option for certain guests. These resorts offer a huge range of included activities, free parking, access to other resorts, free transportation to the parks, and transportation from the airport.
If you’re set on a Disney resort, consider opting for a lower-tier option. Disney splits its hotels into categories, of which Value Resorts have price tags that are often competitive with off-site hotels. Better still, these resorts still offer the same perks as other resorts, including free transportation and resort hopping.
Try a Camping Trip
If you want to combine your Disney trip with the magic of the great outdoors, try camping at Fort Wilderness Campground. You’ll need to sleep in your tent or RV camper, but you’ll get the same perks and amenities listed above. Tent sites can cost as little as $75 per night, and RV sites cost as little as $110 per night.
Book an Off-Site Option
If you’re planning a family vacation, keep in mind that very young kids may not remember the magic of a pricey Disney resort. In addition, some families prefer to rest after a long park day instead of exploring a resort, making off-site hotels a better deal.
For adult travelers, off-site hotels and vacation rentals are often a safer bet as well. Though you won’t have a Disney atmosphere everywhere you look, these options can be far cheaper. Even better, many hotels near the park offer free park shuttle services, Disney ticket packages, and other options to help you save even more.
However, if you choose this option, be mindful that you’ll have to pay for transportation to the parks or parking once you’re there. Factor in a parking cost of $25 per day or a one-way Uber or Lyft ride of $45-60.
Don’t Forget About Special Discounts
Certain people may be able to get discounts when booking hotel stays and park tickets.
If you’re a Florida resident, for example, you can score significant discounts on park tickets. The same is true of former or active-duty U.S. military members. AAA members and Disney Visa cardholders should check the current discounts, which can fluctuate.
Save on Disney Tickets
For most people, one of the biggest costs of a Disney vacation will be the park tickets. Luckily, there are several ways to score a discount on these pricey purchases.
Book in Advance
Disney raises the cost of its tickets each year, and the company never announces its price increases in advance. In other words, booking far in advance is smart, as it may allow you to enjoy an upcoming trip at last season’s prices.
Try a Third-Party Seller
Third-party ticket sellers like Undercover Tourist often make it easy to buy and save on Disney tickets. You can even bundle your hotel stay with your tickets to save even more.
Buy More Tickets
If you’re planning a longer vacation, booking more tickets can help you save money. Disney’s 4-Park Magic Ticket, for example, costs $99 per day compared to a standard ticket.
Park Hopper vs. “Base” Tickets
If you’re opting for a standard ticket, splurging on a Park Hopper upgrade might seem like a smart move.
However, sticking with the base ticket, which means staying at one park per day, can often save you money and time. Many guests underestimate the size of the parks and the time it takes to travel from one to another. Frequent journeys in a single day can get tiring and frustrating fast.
Look for Special Event Tickets
Disney runs several special events throughout the year. From After Hours evening visits to Halloween and Christmas parties, you can often find short-term fun at a discount with these special tickets.
Check for Included Freebies
If your vacation plans include a resort stay, make sure you’re taking advantage of the included activities to avoid splurging on other things.
When you’re staying in any Disney resort, you can travel to the others by monorail, boat, or Skyliner. Be sure to explore crowd favorites like the Animal Kingdom Lodge, Fort Wilderness, and Old Key West! Here are some popular activities worth checking out:
- Free Disney movie nights on multiple properties
- Campfire sing-a-long at Fort Wilderness Resort
- Magic Kingdom fireworks viewings from multiple properties
- Butterfly Garden at Fort Wilderness and Contemporary Resorts
- Hunt for Hidden Mickies
- Electric Water Pageant at multiple Disney resorts
- The 2.5-mile nature trail at the Disney Wilderness Preserve
While you’re at your resort, be sure to ask about the available activities and special offers, as they are subject to change.
Stock Up on Personal Items
If you forget anything on your packing checklist, it can be rough on your wallet at Disney World! You’ll pay much more for personal items you buy at the park than you would elsewhere, including essentials like sunscreen and water bottles.
Plan to pack ponchos and umbrellas in case of unexpected rainfall, which is common for much of the year in Florida. Don’t forget about band-aids, toiletries, and snacks.
If you have a young child, bring your own stroller. Disney charges for stroller rentals by the day, but you can avoid the cost by packing your own, as airlines will often check them at the gate for no extra charge. If you prefer to rent one, opt to get your stroller for less from other Orlando companies, many of which will even deliver strollers to a hotel.
Eat on a Budget
What you eat on your trip can make or break your budget, so plan your meals in advance!
Skip the Disney Dining Plan
Disney’s Dining Plans, which will be returning in January 2024, might seem like a great addition to your vacation plans. However, these prepaid plans don’t always allow you to save as much as you’d think. To decide whether a plan is right for you, consider the tips below, calculate your daily budget without a dining plan, and compare the cost to a dining plan for your party.
Save Money at Disney Restaurants
If eating at Disney’s parks is a huge part of the fun for you, there are several ways to save at park restaurants.
First, do some research and plan on eating at low-cost restaurants in each park. Casey’s Corner and Sleepy Hollow are great budget options in Magic Kingdom, for example, while Sommerfest and Via Napoli are good choices in EPCOT.
Disney also has Quick Service restaurants that offer fast cafeteria-style or counter-service foods. These restaurants are often cheaper than alternatives.
You can also use tried-and-tested budgeting tactics to save. Grab a kid’s meal instead of an adult option, split an entree with a friend, choose water instead of soda, or buy a refillable item like a popcorn bucket.
Bring Your Own Food
Disney allows guests to bring their own food, within reason. Check the food policy and consider packing lightweight meals and snacks to eat instead of dining in at the park. You can also use Disney’s water fountains and hydration stations to refill your water bottle throughout the day.
Another great way to save money is by eating off-site. Stock up on groceries for your vacation rental and cook for your entire party or head to a local Orlando restaurant to sate your appetite.
Pay With Discounted Disney Gift Cards
Did you know you can pay for almost anything at Disney World with a Disney gift card? From your tickets to meals to souvenirs, all you need to do is hand over your gift card.
Even better, you may be able to get these gift cards at a discount. Costco and Sam’s Club members can sometimes find cards discounted by up to 4%, and Target Red Card members can get discounts of 5%. In addition, some major credit cards offer discounted Disney gift cards as rewards, especially Disney Chase credit cards and American Express charge cards.
These savings may seem minor, but don’t forget that you’re saving $4-5 for every $100 you spend at the parks. If you get enough gift cards, those savings can add up!
Use Credit Card Benefits
If you’re looking for a new credit card anyway, choosing a Disney Visa credit card from Chase may be a great option. This unique card allows you to collect Disney Rewards Dollars and put them toward experiences and purchases. Other perks include photo opportunities and savings on certain park dining locations.
You can also get rotating rewards and discounts just for opening a new card. The current rewards include a $300 credit on $1,000 worth of purchases and 0% APR on Disney vacation experiences for six months.
Track Spending in the Parks
No matter how you’re paying for your trip, it can be hard to keep track of your spending on the go. When you’re jumping between parks and experiences, you may forget how much of your daily budget is left.
Consider using the cash envelope system to budget. This means putting whatever you’ve budgeted for each day in a single envelope. You’ll pay for your purchases and experiences using the cash in the envelope, and when it’s gone, you’ll have to skip any future temptations.
You can do something similar with Disney gift cards. Purchase one gift card per day of your vacation, and set the amount to whatever you’ve budgeted per day. Once the money’s gone, you’ll have to stick with free experiences for the rest of the day!
It’s tempting, once you’re at the park, to splurge beyond your budget on extra activities and fun. However, resist the urge! Here are a few enticing things guests get lured into buying once they’re at the parks.
Disney’s Genie has replaced the traditional FastPass experience, and it’s a great way to get around in the parks. The app’s planning service makes it easy to decide what to do based on your location, your preferred activities, and the current crowds. It even creates a personalized itinerary!
Genie+, on the other hand, is an upgrade that costs $15 per ticket per day. With it, you’ll get access to the Lightning Lane, which is the new FastPass system.
However, unlike the FastPass system, you can’t book a Lightning Lane selection in advance. You can also only make one Lightning Lane selection at a time. Most guests will have time to make two or three selections per day.
Instead, save money by arriving early and making the most of every minute at the parks!
Disney offers a host of special events. These include things like dessert parties, character breakfasts, special meet-and-greets, and even an extra charge to see the evening fireworks from a better location. However, these events can be pricey, and you can see the fireworks on your own and meet the characters around the parks instead.
Disney’s PhotoPass seems like a great idea: professional photographers capture your family’s photo around the parks as you enjoy your day. However, this service will cost you $70-$200 to download your photos, depending on how many days you opt in.
Instead, just ask the PhotoPass photographers to take your photo! As professional photographers, they can ensure a great shot, and you’ll walk away without having to pay for a download later.
Spend a Day by the Pool or Boardwalk
Save the money you’d spend on one day’s worth of park tickets by heading to free Disney properties instead.
Disney Springs is a free entertainment spot packed with shopping, restaurants, free music shows, and more. There are also free boat rides and play areas for kids.
You can also explore Disney’s Boardwalk, which has shops, nightlife, and street performers.
If you’ve booked a stay at a Disney resort, head to the pool to relax and recover from your days of park hopping. These resort pools often have a touch of Disney magic, making them fun and atmospheric for kids and adults alike.
Try Free Activities
In addition to the free experiences above, don’t forget that many Disney parks have free activities!
One example is EPCOT’s Country Traveler’s Card. With this card, you’ll get a stamp for each country in the park. When you’re done, you’ll head to America Pavilion for a special souvenir postcard.
Animal Kingdom offers a similar experience. Guests can become Wilderness Explorers by collecting over 25 badges throughout the park.
Be Smart About Souvenirs
Souvenirs are part of the fun during any trip, but Disney souvenirs can turn into a huge splurge. Even a simple set of Mickey Ears will cost you around $35 at a Disney park.
To save money, consider something counterintuitive: buy your souvenirs in advance! This allows your party to join in on the Disney fun by walking into the park ready to go.
If you know you’d love a set of Mickey Ears, for example, find comparable hats and headbands online for a fraction of the cost. Character costumes are often much cheaper online as well, and you can gift one to your child right before the trip to boost their excitement. Be sure to check out Disney’s costume policy first, of course.
While you’re at the parks, consider collecting something small.
Pressed pennies can be fun souvenirs you make yourself, and Disney even has larger pressed quarter machines as well. Hunting them down can be half the fun, but you can also find their locations on Disney’s site. Be sure to bring change!
Disney also offers Celebration Disney Buttons as free souvenirs. You can get them at any on-property resort, park ticket counter, or Guest Service desk. These buttons are great if you’re celebrating special occasions like a first visit, birthday, anniversary, or other personal triumph.
Another cheap but fun souvenir involves pin trading. Disney allows guests to trade collectible pins based on characters, movies, and more. You can trade with cast members and other guests.
Though you do have to pay for your initial pins before trading, you can avoid the high prices you’ll find at Disney by shopping online. You can often find pin collections in bulk for around $1 per pin on Amazon and eBay. This gives you a starting stock you can trade for interesting pins.
With souvenirs taken care of, try to treat Disney’s shops as an opportunity to browse. When you expect a fun activity and not a purchase, it’s easier to walk away with your budget intact.
Enjoy Your Trip to Disney With These Tips
A trip to Disney doesn’t have to feel out of reach. No matter your budget, these tips can help you save money without sacrificing fun.
If you have questions about booking your vacation on a budget, don’t hesitate to contact us online or give us a call at (866) 421-9364. Our experienced agents love helping park guests experience the magic of Disney!