There’s nothing more magical than a trip to Disney World—the castles, the fairytales, the thrills, your favorite animated stars come to life. But as prices rise with every passing year, it’s become one of the most costly vacations a family, couple, or group of friends can take. How to make the hit to your bank account hurt a little less? Follow these 12 cost-saving tips for visiting Disney on a budget.
Staying on property. Some might argue that Disney’s hotels are pricey, but you get far more from them than just the room you sleep in. Complimentary around-the-clock shuttles to every Disney park mean zero parking and rental car fees—not to mention easy access to Disney’s Extra Magic Hours, when certain parks open earlier or stay open longer on select days. And, while “value” hotels like Pop Century and All-Star Movies may not be the most glamorous options (we're looking at you, Grand Floridian), they get the job done. Want something even cheaper? Camping at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort is an adventurous and wallet-friendly alternative. An added perk: Magic Bands—electronic bracelets that serve as your ticket to parks, rides, and even your hotel room—are free when you stay at a Disney resort. Stay outside the park boundaries and they’ll cost around $15 a pop—that's a $60 hit for a family of four.
Buying tickets up front. It pays—literally—to plan ahead. Every extra day you spend inside a Disney park cuts dollars off park admission as a whole. Current regular admission rates top out at $115 per adult per day ($109 per child), but stay three days and that price per day drops to $96 (and $90). Stay four days and it drops to $87.50 (and $82.50)...you get the picture. Also, if you already know you’re headed to Disney in the coming year, don't wait to buy. The parks rack up their entrance fees every year, so if you plan ahead, you can invest before those increases take effect.
Visiting during non-peak times. Holidays, while festive, are a disaster when it comes to crowds and cash. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Spring Break, basically all of summer—avoid them if you can. Admission prices during peak times begin at $119 pre-tax, whereas if you visit during a "Value" window, rates drop to $99. Mid-January to March and late August through early October usually provide the best deals. And, of course, staying during the week is FAR cheaper than on a weekend. This calendar can help you track costs and see which days Disney designates as "Peak" verses "Value."
Shopping around. Discounts can be hard to come by—unless you know where to look. Undercover Tourist and Mouse Savers are two great resources for tracking limited-time sales on tickets, hotels, and vacation packages. And if you work for a large company, look into whether they offer benefits for taking a Disney World trip.
Free activities. Disney World is its own small universe, and there’s far more to be discovered beyond just the parks themselves. Animal Kingdom Lodge is one of the more luxurious places to stay at Disney World, but even non-hotel guests are free to walk around the property and see if they can spot resident zebra, giraffe, gazelle, and flamingoes. Traveling with a couple of night owls? Campfire sing-alongs with Chip 'n' Dale (s'mores included) capped by an outdoor screening of a Disney movie are held every night at Fort Wilderness—no reservations required. And Disney Springs is a whole world of its own, with shops, restaurants, and shows for all ages. A free boat ride sails guests from one side of the boardwalk to the other. Don't miss popping into The Lego Store, home to hands-on play tables and gigantic models of Disney characters.
Planning every day of your trip out—including meals. The scope of Disney World is overwhelming. Between the rides, the lines, the meals, the characters, the shows, the shops, and time spent at your resort, time rockets by. While it may seem like a headache to plan everything out in advance, you’ll be patting yourself on the back. Make a chart of when to hit the most popular rides to best avoid wait times (JS Tip: get these out of the way first so you have the rest of the day to enjoy). Download the Disney app to track wait times for rides, manage your FastPass+ reservations, and have a map of every park handy at all times so you can plan the best walking route. Also, pick where to have lunch and dinner in advance so you can secure those reservations and not have to debate whether you’re looking for pizza or salad come lunchtime—or end up shelling out extra because the only restaurant with last-minute space available is the priciest in the park.
Making the most of it. Parks don’t shut down when the sun goes down—and neither should you. The IllumiNations light show at Epcot, extended park hours, fireworks at Magic Kingdom—it’s already free with your park admission and worth staying up (or waking up) for that extra hour or two to enjoy.
Park Hopper passes. The luxury of hopping between multiple parks in a single day is both expensive AND time-consuming. Chances are, you're staying in Disney long enough to experience each park at least once. Also, Park Hopper passes don’t include access to water parks. Still worried about having extra time to kill before dinner? Kick back at your resort or take a stroll down Disney Springs.
All the extra trimmings. There's a lot of pressure to make Disney perfect, but you don't need to cash in on every amenity to make memories that will last a lifetime. Add-ons like a Memory Maker photo pass or water park pass may seem tempting, but if you're worried about staying in budget, just say no. You WILL take your own photos, and even characters around the parks are willing to help snap a photo with your own camera. Water parks are fun, but you didn't come to Disney World for them. Your hotel will no doubt have a pool to splash around in—not to mention having access to your own room means dry clothes are always within reach.
Character Meals. Disclaimer: unless you’re traveling with kids (in which case, this experience is an absolute must). If your group is older, your favorite friends are already scattered throughout the parks, which makes finding them all the more fun!
An all-inclusive meal plan. A travel trick few visitors ever capitalize on? Bringing their own food! Here's a little-known fact: Disney World actually allows outside food (barring glass bottles and anything that requires a microwave, of course) and Disney Resorts allow visitors to ship drinks and snacks to their hotel room in advance. Bringing your own food is not only cheaper, it provides a quick fix for tackling hunger on the spot—without having to wait in a lengthy line.
Buying bottles of water. After spending eight or more hours walking between restaurants and rides, exploring Disney may seem like a marathon. And it is. You will get thirsty, and with all that Florida sun, it is even more important to stay hydrated. Quick-service restaurants provide water and ice to guests free of charge, even if you're not purchasing food. Bringing an empty water bottle will save you $5 for every bottle you would have bought.