Becky Hart | Jan 12, 2023
If you’ve been planning a family vacation to visit Mickey lately, you’ve probably asked yourself how people afford Disney on a budget. Like most travel these days, a trip to Disney World is getting more expensive.
With the right tips and tricks, you can visit the Disney theme parks on a budget. And traveling more cheaply doesn’t mean it’s any less magical.
To get the best Disney budget hacks, we talked to Todd and Erica, avid Disney fans and some of the most frugal people we know. Here’s what they said.
When you’re trying to save money, hiring someone else to do your planning might sound counterintuitive. However, a good travel agent can find deals that a less-experienced vacation planner wouldn’t be aware of. Your agent will know the ins and outs of Disney vacation packages and help you decide where you’ll get the best bang for your buck.
Just like any tourist attraction, you can often find lower prices outside of peak travel time. “Tickets, resort hotels, dining, and more are variably priced by date, so check calendars for the cheapest times,” said Todd and Erica.
The best time to go to Disney World, if you’re trying to save money, is typically in January and February after the holidays, May, and September.
Think about what you want to do during your stay in Orlando, and then estimate the costs of transportation to and from those activities. If you plan on staying at the resort and theme parks the entire time, you might not need a rental car. But if you’re going to venture out into the region, maybe to see the manatees at Blue Spring State Park, you’ll want a car.
Regardless of your plans, it’s important to research the prices of a rental car versus taking the Mears Connect, a shuttle between the Orlando airport and Disney World.
You can reduce transportation expenses by using the free monorails, buses, and boats to get around Disney rather than hiring the Minnie Van Service. Those polka dotted vans are cute, but you’ll pay for them.
As part of the My Disney Experience mobile app, you get free access to Disney Genie, a service that helps you plan and personalize your itinerary, reminds you when you can make dining and activity reservations, and more.
To save money, stick with the complimentary Genie services. Upgrading to Genie+ will get you additional features, but they aren’t necessary.
Disney World offers so much in the way of entertainment, from rides to shows to simply taking in the atmosphere. Some activities are included in the price of admission, while others are an extra fee.
To save money, skip the dessert parties, After Hours, and other events that will add to your bill. “These cost a lot of money for a short payoff,” said Todd and Erica. “Instead, enjoy the nighttime shows from regular guest locations and avoid paying the high price.”
Seven Corners writer Ashley Fritz echoed this for when it comes to looking for the prime spot to view Disney’s fireworks shows. You could pay extra to see the show from the Magic Kingdom, but it’s not necessary.
“You don’t even have to be a guest of Disney at all to explore Disney property and find some good firework spots,” she said.
“One of the best ‘secret’ firework locations is the beach of the Polynesian Resort. You can sit right there on the beach and get a perfect few of Tinker Bell flying over the park while Mickey-shaped fireworks light up the sky.”
If you want to catch EPCOT’s closing fireworks, Ashley’s favorite spot is the Disney Boardwalk, which is open to anyone. “Grab a sweet treat from Beaches and Cream and enjoy the show. The staff usually even plays the show’s music so you can get the whole experience without bothering with the park’s crowds.”
One of the sneakiest expenses can be souvenirs. Before you know it, you’ve just dropped a large amount of money on Mickey ears for the kids, a fridge magnet to take home to Abuela, postcards, and countless other things you don’t technically need.
Todd and Erica remind us that it’s possible to buy Disney-branded merchandise outside of the parks, and that that is often less expensive. They recommend making browsing as the activity instead of purchasing unnecessary trinkets.
Ashley also recommends exchanging pins, a practice she adopted from her grandfather, who collected hundreds of Disney pins and has been a fan since the opening of Disneyland in 1955.
“You can purchase pins throughout the parks and even in some nearby Orlando shops,” she said. “It doesn’t cost much to purchase a starter pack, and from there you can trade up for free. Cast Members who work throughout the Resort are actually required to trade pins with you if you ask. So, if you want to take something home but can’t splurge on the life-size plush Stitch, you can start by spending a few on pins and finding Cast Members to trade with to get the more coveted pins.”
Multi-day passes to the theme parks are expensive. You can save a bit of money by exploring the resorts or Disney Springs one day instead of going into the parks. This is free to do.
“Pools can only be used by guests of that resort, but shopping, dining, and the grounds are available to all,” said Todd.
Visiting Disney Springs is also great if you’re only in town for a day or two. You can still get a taste of the Disney magic without a major time commitment or spending all that money.
While staying within the confines of the Walt Disney World Resort can be convenient, it’s certainly not necessary. Especially if you plan on bringing young kids who may not necessarily remember their stay in the resort, you may consider booking a nearby Airbnb or Vrbo rental.
Ashely also recommends this for the adult crowd who might not prioritize being immersed in the magic of Disney every minute of their trip. "On a recent post-graduate trip with my own 20-something friends, we found it was cheaper to simply find an Airbnb just minutes off property.”
Both Ashley and our frugal friends Todd and Erica mentioned factoring in the cost of parking as you plan your trip. As of January 2023, Disney eliminated overnight self-parking fees for hotel guests. I you want to use valet parking, however, there is a charge.
Those who choose to stay somewhere other than a resort still have to pay for parking at the theme parks. Prior to the 2023 season, the cost of parking cost between $25 and $50 per day depending on the day and time of year.
But, as Ashley said, “If you plan on splitting the cost amongst your party, this may end up being just as — if not more — cost efficient than staying in Disney housing.”
You have so many meal options at Disney theme parks. Yes, it’s delicious, but it’s also overwhelming.
Todd and Erica recommend doing more Quick-Service meals as opposed to table service. There are more than 100 casual locations to pick from, you’ll spend less money than if you choose table service restaurants, and it will be quicker. That means more time enjoying the park, and less time waiting for food.
Other Disney hacks for saving money on dining include sharing meals and bringing some food into the park with you. Check the park’s requirements for coolers before you go as there are limitations on size, and loose ice is generally not permitted.
Over the years, Todd and Erica have made many trips to Disney World. They’ve both run during Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend with Todd completing the 48.6-mile Dopey Challenge — the 5K, 10K, half marathon, and full marathon over four consecutive days — multiple times.
They’ve also taken Disney Cruises, which they’ve been including in their vacation plans more frequently in recent years because of cost.
“Disney just raised a bunch of prices, and their moderate resort hotels are often about $400 per night!” said Todd. “That’s part of the reason we’ve been on a Disney Cruise Line kick. It is still very expensive compared to other cruise lines, but it is currently providing us more value than the theme parks.”
If you’re looking for the Disney experience but aren’t committed to going to the Magic Kingdom or visiting EPCOT, you might be able to save some money by taking a cruise instead.
We asked Todd and Erica for their favorite budget-friendly tips for Disney cruises, and they delivered. “You don’t need to spend more than the original fare to have an awesome trip,” they said.
We’ve unveiled the secrets for how you can save money on a trip to Disney. That being said, even Disney on a budget can feel like a major investment. To protect the money you spent for your trip, consider purchasing travel insurance. Seven Corners’ licensed agents can help you choose the best travel insurance for Disney trips so you can have a magical time.
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