Disney World vacations are a right-of-passage for many American families. As the single most visited vacation resort in the world, this Orlando-area destination is comprised of four theme parks, two water parks, over 25 resort hotels, and enough restaurants, sports, nightlife, and shopping to keep everyone thoroughly engaged and entertained. While Disney is often considered a park for kids, adults love it just as much as the kids!
Sounds great, but what does is cost? Well, like most good things, Disney World vacations don’t come cheap. When you factor in nightly room rates, dining plans, and theme park tickets, couples should expect to shell out a couple thousand on their trip. As for a family of four, a 5-day vacation package can easily cost $3,000 – $5000. Yikes!
The good news is there are plenty of ways to make your Disney vacation more affordable. So for those of you who must stay within a budget – but also don’t want to sacrifice your level of enjoyment – here is my list of the top 7 ways to save money at Disney World.
Today’s guest post is by Jonathan at MagicGuides.com. As a lifelong Disney enthusiast and frequent visitor to Disney World, Jonathan created his Disney blog to help people plan the ultimate Disney vacation.
Stay at a Disney Value Resort
Disney classifies its on-site resorts into 3 categories: Value, Moderate, and Deluxe. The Value resorts are the least expensive lodging option on Disney World property, and offer great pools, more than adequate food courts and transportation, and basic finishings and accommodations (similar to a motel rooms). Sure, these hotels are not Disney’s best, but they really aren’t bad either. Value resorts are especially great for young families with active children because each resort has a fun Disney theme and plenty of activities geared towards kids.
Of the 5 Disney Value resorts – All-Star Movies, All-Star Music, All-Star Sports, Art of Animation, and Pop Century – the three All-star resorts are the least expensive with rooms starting at just $110 per night (2018). This low rate makes them the absolute cheapest lodging option at Disney World. Pop Century’s rates are slightly higher, followed by Art of Animation as the most expensive of the Value resort (but also the nicest).
Staying at a Value resort entitles you to the same perks that Moderate and Deluxe guests receive: free transportation to/from the theme parks (in this case, buses), free shuttle service to/from Orlando airport, Extra Magic Hours, and advanced booking for FastPass+ and dining reservations. So if you want to stay at an in-park Disney resort but don’t think you can afford it, check out the Value resorts!
Find Off-Site Lodging
With the exception of some of the Value resorts, staying at an off-site, non-Disney hotel can be much less expensive. The Orlando area has a wide selection of lodging options which offer fantastic pools, free breakfast, and complimentary shuttle service to/from Disney World. The downside is you will not receive the perks that Disney resort guests have (like airport shuttle service, Extra Magic Hours, and advanced booking for dining and FastPass), and you will be further away from the theme parks. However, the lower rates and more spacious rooms may be worth the sacrifice.
Do you have a car? Another way to potentially save money on lodging is to stay at a nearby rental property. There are tons of nightly/weekly listings on Airbnb, VRBO, FlipKey or HomeAway, many of which are very affordable, within 5-10 miles of the park, and offer more space and privacy than your other options. Some also come with kitchen access (cooking your own meals is another good way to save money).
Bring Your Own Food
Speaking of meals, there are a few ways to save money on food a Disney World. For starters, Disney does allow guests to bring backpacks into the theme parks and also does allow you to bring food and non-alcoholic beverages into the park.
With this in mind, it may make sense to pack some non-perishable snacks and lunch items in your luggage to enjoy at the park (or simply buy some food supplies in and around Disney World, or have them shipped directly to your resort). I also recommend packing a refillable water bottle for those hot, humid days. You can get free water refills at any Disney counter service restaurant (just ask at the counter). This is a smart alternative to buying those pricey spring water bottles they sell throughout the park.
Food at Disney World is costly. Either come prepared with your own food, or be prepared to pay more for the Disney Dining Plan or out-of-pocket.
The best time to take Disney vacations is during the off-season. Not only are lines shorter and dining reservations easier to make, but the off-season is also the time when Disney runs special promotions and resorts offer their lowest rates of the year.
While Disney frequently changes their pricing based on demand, you can almost always count on higher rates during holiday periods, peak periods (which typically coincide with special events and school vacations), and on weekends.
As for the least expensive and least crowded seasons, the weekdays, January through mid-February (excluding the MLK holiday), and from the end of August until early December (excluding Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, and Thanksgiving week) are your best bets. I especially love to visit during September and October because the weather is perfect, the crowds are lighter than normal, and the resort rates are usually less expensive.
Check out my Disney World Crowd Calendar for crowd estimates of the four theme parks – Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios.
Go Longer (but Less Frequently)
This may seem counter-intuitive, but extending your vacation by a few days may potentially save you money. Let me explain…
Disney World theme park tickets become progressively less expensive per day the more you purchase. For example, standard theme park tickets for two days start at $104.50 per day (2018), whereas tickets for five days start at $79 per day, and eight days at $53.13. That is a big difference!
Now, going for 8 consecutive days isn’t in the cards for many of us. And obviously an 8-day vacation will still end up being more expensive than a 4-day vacation. However, I mention this price drop to show you how Disney financially incentivizes us to extend our trips in order to lessen our per-day costs. So if time allows, consider adding a few days to your next trip while at the same time making a pact to take fewer vacations in the future. If you stick to this self-imposed restriction, you can have a nice long Disney vacation this time, and save some money in the process by limiting your vacations in the future. Deal?
Skip the Theme Parks (For a Day)
Not sold on my extending your trip idea? No problem. How about doing the inverse and buying fewer days of theme park tickets? There are so many wonderful free things to see and do at Disney World that spending a couple of day outside the theme parks really isn’t much of a sacrifice. So put your wallet away and try a few of these free activities on your off-days:
- Ride the Magic Kingdom monorail loop and get off at each resort along the way to explore their beautiful grounds and lobbies (Polynesian, Contemporary, and the Grand Floridian).
- Head to Disney’s BoardWalk and Disney Springs (the shopping, dining, and entertainment districts of Disney World) to watch the free street performances, browse the souvenir shops, and take in the sights and sounds of these vibrant areas of Disney World.
- Participate in one of the three daily drawing classes held at the Art of Animation resort. Classes are free, open to the public (all ages), and you can take your drawing home as a free souvenir.
- Spend the afternoon on a boat. Like all Disney World transportation, boat rides are free of charge and loop around some of the most scenic areas of the park.
Avoid Park Hopper Tickets
While standard theme park tickets give you entrance to one theme park per day, Disney’s “Magic Your Way Park Hopper” allows you access to more than one park in the same day. For example, you could spend the morning at Magic Kingdom and the afternoon at Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, or Epcot. Cool – but Park Hopper tickets cost somewhere around 30% more than the standard, single theme park tickets.
Is the Park Hopper worth the extra cost? I don’t think so, especially if the duration of your trip is three days or longer. Unless you are doing a quick 1 or 2 day “vacation” and want to see as much of the theme parks in the shortest amount of time, the extra cost (and the time you will waste traveling between parks) really isn’t worth it.