Doing Walt Disney World on a Budget
Happy Monday, friends! Spring has sprung here in Florida and that means spring break is right around the corner, or for some of you it might be starting soon! That means that a lot of you guys might be headed to the Disney parks soon to enjoy Space Mountain and a Dole Whip, but let's be honest, going to Disney can get expensive pretty quickly. So today I have 10 tips on how to do Disney on a budget. These tips can be used any time of year, by almost anyone going to the parks. My family uses these all the time and we've saved so much over the years, so I think you will too
1. Don't ever buy bottled water at a Disney Park!
One thing I tell everyone who's planning on going to a Disney Park is to not buy bottled water. Disney water is expensive and they don't put any sort of magic inside a $3 bottle of water, so skip that and bring your own. You can get a case of water delivered to your resort from amazon for just a few dollars more than one bottle inside the park, or you can stop at one of the gas stations at inside Walt Disney World and pick up a case there. You can also pick up free water from any quick service location inside the parks. Just go up to the counter and ask for a cup of water. Or if you're already in line for your morning coffee at Starbucks, ask them for a cup of water, and they will gladly give one to you, along with your coffee. Starbucks will also give out free water to guests the whole park day. If you don't believe me on the water, let's say a family of four buys three bottles of water for each person each day for a five day vacation. That savings alone is $180 JUST ON WATER!
2. Don't purchase the Disney Dining Plan
In my experience the Disney Dining Plan can be a major money waster. If your family isn't used to eating three meals a day along with multiple snacks each day then you end up with so many dining credits that you're miserable by the end of your trip and are bringing a whole suitcase of just pre-packaged snacks from the parks back home with you. Depending on your family, the dining plan might, and I say might lightly, be a good idea for you, but it's something you need to price out and consider your family's eating habits carefully. Most of the time the cost of the dining plan versus just paying for your food without the dining plan is about the same or even less by paying without the dining plan. Let's say you were looking at the mid-level dining plan for your family of four (two adults and two children) for the same five days, four nights, which includes:
one counter-service meal (per night)
one sit-down meal (per night)
two snacks (per night)
a refillable drink mug (per stay)
This is per person, per night, with a cost of $75.49 per adult and $25.75 per child. So if you didn't do this plan you would be saving about $810! There's a lot of great places you can eat at Disney for five days for less than $810 for your whole trip, especially if you follow my next tip!
3. Buy kids meals when possible
Disney's kids meals have gotten really good over the past few years, especially at the resorts. It's not all chicken nuggets and French fries anymore. Many places have some sort of sustainable fish, vegetables, or grilled chicken or steak. The kids meals are pretty big and after walking around a Disney park all day and eating ice cream, you just want something small. To me, Disney kids meals are the size of a normal adult lunch plate at a restaurant you might eat at back at home. Most kids meals are a few dollars less than adult meals, so the savings here is small, but can add up throughout the week. If the two adults in our scenario eat four kids meals between them on their five day vacation, and the difference in kids meals and adult meals is $4, the savings is $16.
4. Use Disney gift cards to pay for things
This tip is more about staying on your budget even before you leave home. Buy a few Disney gift cards to pay for big meals you might be having, any resort fees you have left or have acquired, or to pay for any souvenirs you want to bring home. If you buy your gift cards at Target with a Target Red Card, you save 5% on the gift card, so a $100 is $95. That five dollars can add up pretty quick when you're buying multiple $100 gift cards. Let's say you're getting $400 in gift cards, $100 for each person in your family, so the savings is $20!
5. Stay at a Walt Disney World resort if possible
There are a lot of reasons to stay at a Walt Disney World resort, the theming, the close proximity to the parks, the awesome cast members. But one of my best budget tips is that you won't have to pay for a rental car if you're flying into Orlando! Disney has a pretty good complimentary transportation to and from all four parks, two water parks, and Disney Springs so you technically wouldn't need a car! Let's say your rental car was $100 per day for a mid-sized car. The savings there is $500!
6. Look for the free things at Disney
There's so much to do at Walt Disney World that sometimes the best days are the ones you spend not going to the parks and enjoying the "free" things around the area. For example, hopping on the monorail to explore the resorts is a great way to spend a day, and sometimes there's characters at the resorts on really special days! You could also have a pool day at your resort, head over to Disney Springs to explore, or hang out at the Boardwalk for a bike ride and ice cream with the family. Save a day on tickets and do some of the things outside of the parks. Some of this will still cost money, like getting ice cream, so technically not "free", but still a major money saver!
7. Bring your own snacks into the parks with you
This is something I do quite often, especially on days when I know I'm going to be park hopping and don't have a lunch or dinner reservation somewhere. There's moments in a line that can get pretty long, like Flight of Passage, where you just want a snack. So you'd be smart to pack some in your backpack that you and your family like, instead of buying them at the parks each time you're hungry. Park snacks can be anywhere from $4 - $6, so if each member of our family of four buys a $4, three times a day for five days, that's $240 just on snacks! If we cut that by half because we brought out own, that's an instant savings of $120!
8. Bring your own ponchos
It rains in Florida, especially from April through October. I would highly suggest purchasing cheap throw-away ponchos from Target for one dollar for the family (think one per person per day) versus the $20 ponchos from Disney. The good thing about Disney ponchos is they have a lifetime guarantee, so if they rip at all, Disney will replace them without question. Yeah that's 20 ponchos, but no one wants to re-wear a wet poncho. What you paid for your whole family to stay dry, is what it would cost for one Disney poncho. The savings here is $60!
9. Consider applying for a Disney Visa
If you don't already have a Disney Visa, I would consider applying for one. These can save 10% on food, merchandise, and resort stays (sometimes), among other benefits each time you use it!
10. Consider purchasing an Annual Pass
This last one might seem counter intuitive to what I've been saying during this whole post, but here me out. If you're family goes to Walt Disney World the same week every year, your pass is good for 12 months from the first time you use it, so that would mean it's good the same time next year. If you're buying a day-pass into the parks for $100, for five days, you've basically already spent the money it cost to buy an annual pass. You will definitely need to price this one out for your family, but it's one to consider since AP's get discounts on food, merchandise, resort stays, some special events, and other things!
All of that savings adds up to just over $1,700! Obviously you don't have to do all of these all at once, and you should do what's best for your family, but these are some really simple ways to save at Walt Disney World!
For more tips and tricks around the Disney parks be sure to follow me on Instagram, and leave a comment here letting me know how you save at the Disney parks!
Be magical today!