13 Ways to Save Money at Disney World
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It’s no secret that a trip to Disney World isn’t cheap … but does that mean that a Disney vacation isn’t an option for your family if you’re on a tight budget?
Nope. Fortunately, there are many ways to do Disney and some of them can be cheaper than others.
Here are 13 ways you can save. Some of them will save you just a little, while others can save you quite a bit.
Table of Contents
- 1 1. Skip the PhotoPass — but do use the photographers.
- 2 ✅ 2. Take advantage of the free stuff at Disney World.
- 3 3. Pack your own lunch.
- 4 ✅ 4. Find ways to save money on Disney souvenirs
- 5 5. Skip the Park Hopper tickets
- 6 6. Consider staying off-property
- 7 7. Have a non-park day.
- 8 5. Consider camping instead of getting a hotel room.
- 9 7. Visit Disney World right before your child’s third birthday
- 10 8. Bring your own stroller.
- 11 9. Bring your own rain ponchos.
- 12 10. Book your vacation during non-peak times.
- 13 11. Be smart when ordering counter service meals and snacks.
1. Skip the PhotoPass — but do use the photographers.
You don’t have to shell out the big bucks for PhotoPass to get some nice photos. During the character meet and greets, just give the PhotoPass photographer your phone or camera and they’ll be glad to take a photo for you.
✅ 2. Take advantage of the free stuff at Disney World.
Yes, there are actually a few things at Disney World if you know where to look. (Some of them are more impressive than others.) Here are a few of them:
* Water — You can ask for a cup of ice water (or hot water) at any quick service restaurant.
* Soda — Club Cool, in Future World at Epcot, is a Coca-Cola sponsored soda that provides unlimited, help-yourself samples of Coke products from around the world. It’s a nice place to duck into when you need air conditioning and a drink, especially if you have a big soda drinker in the family
* Balloons — If you’re staying at a Disney resort (other than Animal Kingdom Lodge), you can stop at the front desk and get free balloons.
* First Aid Supplies — Each park has a First Aid Center, where you can get things like cold medicine, cough drops, tissue packets, and Band-Aids.
* Leis — If you stop by The Polynesian Resort on the monorail line (which you should), just ask and they will give you a free lei. (I still have my lei from when we had dinner at O’hana in the Polynesian and I learned how to Hula dance.)
* Celebration Buttons — Is someone in your family celebrating a birthday or anniversary? Be sure to let a cast member know as soon as you enter the park, and they’ll give you a button you can wear. Not only does it make a nice souvenir, but it will get you some extra smile and greetings throughout the day. And if you’re really lucky, it might possibly lead you to getting another freebie at some point.
* Park Maps — This may not get you too excited at first, but if you like to scrapbook and such, these can come in handy. Even if you don’t, they make a pretty unique souvenir, if you think about it. Imagine if my parents had kept the park map from our Disney World trip when I was a kid and rode 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride!
3. Pack your own lunch.
You can save a ton of money by packing your own picnic lunch, especially if you have a large family and you do it multiple days. You’ll probably eat a lot healthier, too. Just sayin’.
Some ideas for what to pack include:
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
Meat and cheese sandwiches
Bagels and cream cheese
Apples and grapes
Some nice places to enjoy your picnic include Tom Sawyer’s Island in Frontierland, the hub at Main Street near Casey’s Corner (great for people watching!), and various areas of Future World in Epcot.
You can use a backpack cooler to conveniently carry bring all your food around in the parks:
The Best Backpacks for Disney World
✅ 4. Find ways to save money on Disney souvenirs
Some people like to save money on souvenirs by secretly buying Disney stuff before the trip and doling them out to their kids a little at a time during the vacation.
A great souvenir that makes the entire trip more fun is to get a pack of Official Disney trading pins before the trip. (Make sure they’re official pins.)
Rebecca and I split this pack on our last trip and had a great time being always on the lookout for cast members and looking for pins we wanted.
Not only is pin trading a nice way to chat with the cast members, but it gives you the feeling that you’re constantly shopping for new souvenirs … without spending any money.
And when you consider that buying just ONE pin at Disney world can cost ten dollars (or more!), it’s a great deal to do it this way.
Note: I would highly recommend buying these butterfly clutch pin backs to replace the backs on the pins you buy in bulk. Otherwise, you’re almost sure to lose one of your pins — or at the very least, spend half your vacation worrying that you might lose one.
If you want to get a Disney lanyard for your pins, you can get this set of two lanyards — a Minnie and Mickey — for the price of what one lanyard in the parks would cost.
Here’s a cute way to display your pins after you get home:
DIY Disney Crafts: How to Display Disney Pins
Another cheap souvenir idea that also keeps you busy during the trip is pressed pennies. There are severa pressed penny machines around the parks that crush a Disney-themed design into pennies. You can use an empty M&M’s mini tube to stack layers of two quarters and one penny so you’re not fumbling around for change all day.
If you like, you can buy a book to organize your pressed pennies after the trip.
Another trick for keeping souvenir costs down trick is to put the responsibility on your kids: Buy each child a $25 or $50 Disney gift card to spend how they wish. (You can buy discounted Disney gift cards at eBay, Gift Card Granny, Sam’s Club.) Now only does that give you one less thing to worry about and have to keep track of, but it’s a really good exercise in them managing their money and making decisions.
5. Skip the Park Hopper tickets
Currently, a 3-day Magic Your Way Base Ticket is $346, while a 3-day Magic Your Way Hopper Ticket is $415. Is it really worth the $69 (per person) for the privilege of visiting two different parks in one day?
I would argue that no, it is not.
Each individual park has plenty to keep you busy. (Yes, even Animal Kingdom, which I often feel gets a bad rap, but I’ll save that for another post.) We got the Base tickets for our first four family visits, and I never felt deprived or wish we had sprung for Hopper passes.
I will say that sticking to the Base tickets requires a little more thought and planning (as opposed to being able to jet-set over to another park on a whim whenever you want), but that’s a small price to pay to potentially save a few hundred dollars.
6. Consider staying off-property
I have mixed feelings about this one, because the last time we went to Disney World, I swore that we would never stay off-property again, even if it meant having to wait longer before we could go back, and I stick to that.
But on our very first Disney trip (when our girls were two and four years old and my son didn’t exist yet), we got a condo with my parents and had a wonderful vacation off-property, eating many of our meals off-property as well.
Did we experience everything Disney World has to offer?
But, interestingly, we didn’t really miss it. (Except that I do distinctly remember being envious of the people who hopped off the monorail to go to the Polynesian resort, when we still had to wander around the parking lot looking for our car and then drive for 20 minutes.)
With the girls being that little, just going to Disney World was incredibly exciting for them. They had no idea that they “should” be going to character meals, and they happily called our condo “The Disney House.”
Oh, and the interesting part? My girls loved the entire trip … but they said that playing in the pool at the condo was their favorite part of the vacation. Just something to think about.
Note: If you do stay off-property, you can get discounted park tickets from Undercover Tourist.
7. Have a non-park day.
This easily goes hand-in-hand with number two. Our “down day” at the pools and Disney Springs not only saved us money, but was a relief, as we needed a break from the lines and the more frantic pace of being in the parks.
5. Consider camping instead of getting a hotel room.
Ha ha ha ha ha — that’s a good one!
Oh, wait — you were serious? People actually do that?
I feel the same way Jim Gaffigan does about camping, probably because I’m a city girl from a city family who born in the Bronx and vividly remembers walking to Shop Rite (the grocery store in New Jersey) with our own grocery cart.
But hey, if you’re gonna camp, what better place to do it then Disney World? Disney’s Fort Wilderness Lodge can sleep up to 10 people for $50/night, which is an amazing deal, especially if you can vacation with another family.
There are several dining options at Fort Wilderness, including a character meal (Mickey’s Backyard BBQ). They even have a pool with a water slide, which is always a treat.
Best of all, you get all the perks from staying at any other Disney resort, even though you’re paying only a fraction of the costs.
These perks includes things like booking your FastPasses 60 days ahead of your stay, booking your dining reservations extra early, Magic Bands, Extra Magic Hours, the Magical Express shuttle, and transportation to all of the parks and Disney Springs.
7. Visit Disney World right before your child’s third birthday
We ended up doing this by accident, so to speak. Even though we didn’t plan it that way because we were pretty clueless about Disney World back then, Rebecca was exactly two and a half on our first Disney trip, so she got in for free. This cut the cost considerably from what it would have been if we went seven months later.
Not only do kids under age 3 not need a park ticket (or a FastPass), but they can eat off your plate and get free access to buffet restaurants, so they essentially eat for free too (or at least close to it).
By the way, the it’s the age at the check-in that matters. So, for example, if the first day of your Disney vacation is on Monday, but your child’s third birthday is on Tuesday, they are considered “under 3” (and therefore free) for the entire vacation.
8. Bring your own stroller.
Renting the strollers at Disney World — and the other stroller rental companies in Orlando — can get pretty pricey, especially if you need strollers for two kids.
One alternative that’s convenient as well as fairly cheap is order a lightweight umbrella stroller on Amazon Prime and have it shipped directly to your resort just before you arrive.
Click here to try it for free!
The Best Strollers to Take to Disney World
9. Bring your own rain ponchos.
After being caught in a sudden downpour on one trip, I decided to get smart on our next trip. I ordered this pack of ten rain panchos that are densely wrapped individually so you can easily tuck them into a diaper bag or purse.
The only problem with my plan was that I didn’t think of it until a few days before we left, and the rain ponchos arrived in our mailbox hours after we had left for Disney. And guess what — it started pouring, and we sucked it up and spent $27 on three ponchos for five people to try to share.
Dumb dumb dee dumb ….
Don’t make our mistakes. Order your rain ponchos now!
Wealers Rain Poncho Emergency Disposable 20 Ponchos Per Pack 5 Different Colors Adult SizeLingito 20 Rain Ponchos Family Pack – Adults and Children Poncho – Disposable Emergency Ponchos (0.2) one time useLingito Rain Poncho Family Pack: Extra Thick -Disposable Emergency Rain Ponchos for Men, Women and Teens, Children (8pack)
10. Book your vacation during non-peak times.
Not everyone has the luxury of being able to do this, but as much as possible, try to book during the “slower” seasons. (I put that in quotes because there is no such thing as a truly slow season at Disney World anymore.)
Generally speaking, September, January, and early November and early December are good times to go. This, of course, has the added benefits of avoiding both huge crowds and the brutal Disney summer heat.
11. Be smart when ordering counter service meals and snacks.
You probably don’t need (or want) an entire meal for yourself (especially if you’re planning to ride Space Mountain or the Mad Tea Party shortly afterward).
Some people swear by only ordering kids’ meals. We’ve always been pros at splitting things, whether it’s a cream cheese pretzel (the family’s favorite snack) or a counter service meal. The combo meals at Cosmic Ray’s in Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland are perfect for splitting.
Another neat trick at Cosmic Ray’s is to order one burger or sandwich for two people to split and then go to town at the toppings bar. Toppings include not only things like lettuce tomato, and pickles, but also sauerkraut and even mushrooms. If you like veggies, you create an entire separate meal just from the toppings.
Tortuga Tavern in Adventureland and Pecos Bill at Frontierland also have these toppings bars … but they don’t have Sonny Eclipse. (That’s not a menu item, but rather the animatronic entertainment.)
The Best Quick Service Meals in Disney World