For those of us who have visited Disney Parks in the last few years, you know that it can be expensive and prices only go up every year. But don’t let that deter you from planning a 2014 trip to Walt Disney World or Disneyland. By using these saving techniques to lessen your trip expenses, you can make that trip happen and still experience the magic of Disney.
- Buy souvenirs in advance – We’ve gone so many times over the years that we don’t really buy souvenirs, but we are big pin collectors, so 90% of our spending money goes towards buying Limited Edition pins while we’re at the parks. Of course, that’s not something that we can really buy in advance. But for most families, you’ll end up spending more money than you expect on stuffed animals and every other toy that your child just has to have. You can save money by buying these things in advance and just give them to your kids as a gift each morning when you’re at Disney. Disneystore.com often runs 40% off sales and you can easily find Disney related items at your local box stores, so start buying those gifts throughout the year so that you can save yourself from buying overpriced items at the parks.
- Share meals – If you’re a bit eater, then you can probably ignore this one, but my husband and I share at least half our quick service meals when we’re at WDW. The portions are very large at Disney and you can easily share a meal with another adult or even your kids. This saves us at least $100 each trip by sharing some meals.
- Buy Disney gift cards using Target Red Card or Kroger Fuel Rewards – For our most recent trip, we purchased $1500 in Disney gift cards from Target and used our Target Debit Red Card to save 5%. At the time, we also had an additional 5% off from Target Pharmacy Rewards, so we saved 10% (or $150) by buying the gift cards in advance of our trip. We used the gift cards to pay our room off in advance of our trip and then had the rest of the money applied to our room as a credit – and it was all done before we arrived, so we didn’t have to worry about adding 30 gift cards to pay for our room and food once we arrived. If you booked through a TA, be sure to ask them to do this for you! Another popular way to buy gift cards is to purchase them from stores like Kroger when they run 4x fuel rewards programs. You don’t get the money off the gift card cost, but you save $ on gas, which can be added to your Disney Fund as well.
- Give up sodas for the week, take advantage of free cups of water – I’m still surprised at how few people know that you can get cups of ice water for free from any counter service restaurant/stand at Disney World. The only time we ever drink soft drinks while at WDW is when we happen to eat at our resort and use the Disney mug or if we order a kids meals and get a soft drink. There’s really no point in paying nearly $3 for one cup of soda, especially if you can’t get a refill. Plus, it gets hot in Florida, so ice water will help keep you hydrated.
- Skip the parks on your arrival day – After our trip last week, we’ve decided that it will be in our best interests to avoid going to the parks on our arrival day, especially if we’re arriving on a weekend. If you’re flying, then it’s definitely a great idea to skip the parks and just chill the day you arrive. Even though our flight was only 1.5 hours to WDW, we found ourselves so exhausted by the time we left MK the day we arrived, even though we were only there a few hours. That next day was so tough on us. So, plan a day outside the parks – there is SO much to do outside of the parks that will help you relax and still enjoy the spirit of Disney. You’ll save yourself the cost of a park ticket for that day and if you have a large family, that’s a big cost savings.
- Rent DVC points – We’ve personally never done this, but we are definitely doing it next year for our big December trip. Renting DVC points can help you save a ton of money if you want to stay in a deluxe resort but pay half the price. We always ‘splurge’ and stay on resort for our Christmas trips, but after this year, we’re no longer going to stay at POP or any other value resort. With just us two adults going, we found the values to just be way too crowded, the bus systems were horrible and it’s just loud – and POP is the only resort we’ve ever stayed at, so we were very loyal to Pop Century. But after visiting AKL 3 different times this trip just to experience the peacefulness there, we’ll definitely rent DVC points for the next big trip, especially since it doesn’t cost that much more than staying in a value resort.
- Pay out of pocket for meals, ditch the dining plan – We’re not big fans of the dining plan. In fact, we’ve only gotten it once and that was because it was free. Yes, it was nice having the convenience, but since it was just the quick service dining plan, we ended up with way too much food to try and eat each day. We had the option of adding the dining plan for our recent trip since free dining wasn’t available for the first week of December, but we made a plan of all the places we typically eat and budgeted how much we usually spend on snacks and it came out to $100 less than what we’d pay on the dining plan. If you’re someone who does a lot of table service meals, then perhaps it’s a good idea for you, but for us, it’s just not worth having the convenience if we’re spending that much for food we won’t eat. And keep in mind, free dining isn’t really ‘free.’ We went the first week of December after changing from our week in November that had free dining – with our room-only discount and even if we had decided to pay out of pocket for the dining plan, our trip total was only $30 more for a less-crowded first week of December at Disney.
- Bring Snacks to the Parks and Eat Breakfast in Room – We always have good intentions of bringing snacks to the park, but our love of Disney sweets wins in the long run. However, if you are on a tight budget, then it’s a good idea to pack your favorite snacks with you and bring them to the parks each day so that you can save the money for something else. We aren’t big breakfast eaters, so we always seem to eat breakfast in our room or skip it all together for an early lunch while at WDW. We like to buy the “Emerald Breakfast on the go!” packs before we leave for our trip and we can just throw them in our bag as we head to the parks.
- Rent a vacation condo/townhome/house for large families – If you’re traveling with a large group, then you already know how expensive room costs can be, especially if everyone gets their own rooms. The cheapest option is to rent a condo/townhome or house off resort. The prices are VERY reasonable (usually $100/night or so) and can save you a ton of money. These homes are usually decorated with Disney themed items and offer nice pool amenities and full kitchens – another money saver if you want to cook dinner at your rental home before heading to the parks. We stay off resort 2-3 times each year and it’s the only reason why we’re able to afford to go more than once a year. Yes, you’ll pay for parking if you’re not an Annual Passholder like we are, but you’ll still only spend ~$100 for the week. And if you’re going in with family, then it makes it even cheaper once the costs are split, even if you have to rent a car.
- Don’t rent a car, utilize Disney transportation – If you’re staying on resort, then you’re probably already aware of Disney’s Magical Express. Disney will pick you up at the airport and take you to your resort, thus saving you the time, hassle and money of renting a car. And once you get to your resort, you can just hop on a Disney bus to get to the parks and Downtown Disney. Taking Disney transportation will save you at least $200 on the cost of a rental car. Of course, if you drove to the parks instead of flying, then you’ve already saved a ton of money by driving!
- Honorable Mention: Order groceries/food in advance – We’ve never done this, but ordering groceries so that they will be delivered to your resort is a popular option for many families. Companies like Garden Grocer will buy the grocery items you need and deliver them to your resort for a pretty reasonable fee. This is great if you have kids that need things like milk every day. You can also order items from places like Amazon and have them shipped directly to the resort – another cost-effective ways to order those non-perishable grocery items.
What are your tips for making a trip more affordable and cutting costs? Let me know in the comments below.