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We continue our Disney World series by looking at some of the best ways to save money at Disney World. If you’ve ever planned a Disney vacation, you know it can be expensive. From Disney tickets to hotels or vacation rentals to flights and other travel expenses, taking your family to Disney is no small financial feat.
When we search for money-saving tips, we want action steps that will reduce our trip’s cost. There are plenty of ways to squeeze more value out of a Disney vacation or save time in the parks, but these Disney hacks often increase trip expenses.
We’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite money-saving strategies when planning a family trip to Walt Disney World. There are also some Disney World tips for saving money in the parks. Most of these tips are geared toward keeping more money in your pocket, but there are also some tips to find more value during your Disney World vacation.
1. Plan ahead
We love scoring last-minute travel deals, and some destinations are more suited for spur-of-the-moment planning.
Walt Disney World is not that place.
Advance planning is the single most important part of a successful Disney World vacation. Every part of your trip, from where you stay and how you get there to park tickets, food and other decisions, requires advance planning.
You should be planning your Disney World trip at least a year in advance if possible. There are exceptions to this. My latest adventure to Lake Buena Vista was planned a few months beforehand, but this was a solo trip, not a full-blown family vacation.
2. Travel during off-peak seasons
If you’ve visited Walt Disney World in the past few years, it seems more crowded than ever before. We love seeing more people using their vacation days and PTO to travel more, and from what I can tell, many of them are headed to Disney.
While Walt Disney World often has large crowds, there are still times during the year when crowds are noticeably lower. Disney World (and the greater Orlando area) know this and sometimes offers discounted rates on hotel and resort accommodations. Flights and other transportation may be less expensive during these times, too. Disney tickets and Genie+ also feature dynamic pricing, which fluctuates based on when you visit. With the right timing, you may score cheap Disney World tickets.
Plan your Disney World trip during lighter seasons if your travel schedule allows it.
3. Pack food
Walt Disney World has some of the most generous guidelines on outside food. The parks have some exceptions, like alcoholic beverages, glass bottles (except baby food jars), and large coolers. Bags are subject to inspection, but we’ve been able to breeze through security the past several trips (except when we pack several power banks to recharge our phones).
Do yourself a favor and pack a backpack cooler with snacks, beverages, and other food items. We usually pack lunch for everyone and then dine in the park for dinner. The best part is that the backpack gets lighter as the day progresses.
4. Get creative with park food
Disney parks offer a wide variety of dining options, from sit-down restaurants requiring reservations to quick-service restaurants, dining carts, and other options for less formal dining.
We generally avoid restaurants that require dining reservations. They usually cost more than other options. Plus, it’s difficult to predict how our day will go, and we’d rather not be tied down to eating at a specific time.
If we make dining reservations, we usually only choose one restaurant per trip to keep our dining budget down. We usually eat at Rainforest Cafe at Disney Springs on our arrival day. I know it’s not the best dining option, but our kids love it and continue to ask to go.
There are plenty of ways to save money dining in the parks like:
- Split meals
- Order from the kids’ menu
- Pack sandwiched and order sides and treats at quick service spots
5. Avoid buying soft drinks and water
Soft drinks can quickly double the cost of meals at Disney Parks. Disney meals do not automatically come with beverages. Save money by bringing your own soft drinks or avoiding them altogether.
If you want to save money, do not buy water bottles at Disney Parks. There are plenty of other options, including packing your own. Almost all quick-service restaurants offer free cups of ice water, including Starbucks. There are also drinking fountains and water bottle refill stations throughout the four parks (although there should be more).
Stay hydrated, but plan ahead and bring plenty of water or enjoy free options.
6. Buy Discount Disney World Tickets from Undercover Tourist
If you’re not staying on-property and are not an annual passholder, check out Undercover Tourist for discount Disney World tickets. Undercover Tourist is an authorized seller of tickets for Disney World and other area attractions. These are actual Disney tickets, not some special resale version.
Compare Disney ticket prices direct through Disney vs. Undercover Tourist before buying. In some cases, Undercover Tourist will be higher, but I’ve seen Adult tickets available for the cost of a child’s ticket. They offer single-day and multi-day base tickets, Park Hopper tickets, and Tickets with the water park and sports add-on option.
One of the things we love most about Undercover Tourist is that they don’t try to hide it when their tickets cost more than buying direct. As you search for tickets on Undercover Tourist’s website, they show exactly how much you can save on a particular ticket option. If the Undercover Tourist price is higher, there’s a note under the ticket option letting you know.
Also, Undercover Tourist shows the full ticket prices, including
Find Discount Tickets to the Walt Disney World® Resort.
Undercover Tourist is an authorized retailer of authentic Walt Disney World tickets. You'll find the same tickets for less. No catch!
Undercover Tourist offers the best price on the exact same theme park tickets, guaranteed.
7. Use Google Flights
Google Flights is one of the best search tools for flights, whether you’re headed to Disney World or other destinations. You won’t book flights through Google Flights. Do that directly through the airline unless you’re using travel rewards.
Google Flights offers several ways to search for flights. You can even set up alerts to receive notifications when prices drop for a specific destination and travel dates. If your travel dates are flexible, search surrounding dates for lower prices. Also, search round-trip and one-way flights. We typically book one-way flights. It allows us to take advantage of any deals on each leg of our trip. Plus, we’re not bound to one airline. Use search filters to narrow down flight results based on your preferences.
Some airlines, like Southwest, aren’t listed on Google Flights. So, you’ll still need to search for flights on airline sites not listed on Google Flights. Compare, find the best flight options and prices, and then book directly through the airline.
8. Check flight prices frequently after booking
After you’ve booked your flights, especially if you fly Southwest, mark your calendar to recheck current prices. If airfare prices have dropped, you can sometimes rebook at the lower price and receive a refund. We’ve done this for years, and it’s one of the most helpful travel hacks. In fact, I used this tip recently for several of my business flights and cut hundreds of dollars off the cost. Check with your airline’s refund policy to ensure you can cancel or rebook flights. It may depend on the type of fare you purchased.
9. Look for Disney Resort deals
Disney frequently has special offers throughout the year for select guests. Sometimes, it’s a limited-time deal for all guests. Other times, discounts are specific to groups, like Disney Plus subscribers, Florida residents, military members or annual passholders. Always check the Disney World Resort website before booking accommodations in case there’s a deal for discounted rates available for your travel dates.
10. Skip the park-hopper option
The Disney Park Hopper option is fantastic, but it’s unnecessary for most families visiting the parks during their vacation. Currently, you can only park hop after 2 PM. Unless you’re a seasoned Disney World guest and have already experienced the parks and various attractions, one park per day is enough. The difference between a base ticket and a Park Hopper ticket is significant.
11. Buy your souvenirs elsewhere
I love souvenir shopping. Ask my wife! I’m worse than our kids.
I 100% own that.
Disney parks are filled with gift shops and merchandise carts with every Disney-themed item you can think of. You’ll find Disney merchandise at Disney World Resorts, restaurants, and even the Ticket & Transportation Center and airport. It’s everywhere.
It’s also expensive. Yes, they offer items you won’t find anywhere else, even online. But there are alternative stores in the Orlando area that will save you considerable money, including:
- Disney Character Warehouse
The best way to save on souvenirs is not to buy any, but if you do plan to buy souvenirs, these are the best places to find inexpensive Disney gear.
Plan The Best Disney World Vacation For Your Family
Hopefully, the tips above can help you save money as you plan your next Disney World vacation. Use the tips that work for you, and skip the rest. Plan ahead and use a travel budget to help you save money for your next Disney adventure.
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Kevin Payne is the budgeting and family travel enthusiast behind FamilyMoneyAdventure.com. He’s also the host of the Family Money Adventure Show podcast, where he helps families learn to manage their money better so they can afford to do the things they love.
Kevin is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance and travel. He is a regular contributor to USA Today, Forbes Advisor, Bankrate, Fox Business, Credible, and CreditCards.com.