Many of you are probably planning your 2017 Walt Disney World vacations. This post helps you figure out ways to budget for the trip to make it cost less! To help you get the most out of your vacation dollars, we’re here with 10 money-saving tips for your next Walt Disney World vacation.
Regardless of your budget, it’s never a bad idea to consider ways to save more money. For some of you, cutting spending may be the only way you can afford a trip to Walt Disney World. For others, saving money might not be strictly necessary, but rather is a way to fund a slightly longer trip…or a second Disney trip.
We have been in both positions (I still vividly remember the days or ordering an extra bun so we could “split” a double cheeseburger at Cosmic Ray’s!) and while we are able to splurge more now, we still pay careful attention to our spending and make every effort to get the most bang for our buck. After all, those wasted dollars could be the makings of another trip!
Here are some of our recommendations for saving money on your 2017 Walt Disney World vacation (post last updated March 31, 2017). Not all of these things will be for everyone. We each value different aspects of our trips differently, and what is unnecessary for some might be make or break for someone else. These are just possible ideas, not across the board recommendations for everyone. Cost-cutting is not a good idea when it’s at the expense of the fundamental experience–if you cut things that are important to you, don’t be surprised if the amount of fun you have is negatively impacted.
With that, let’s dig into the list!
10. Grocery Delivery
Basically, for a small delivery fee, these stores will deliver groceries you order (you choose from a limited menu of what they offer at price points they set). It’s more expensive than going out and shopping yourself, but it’s cheaper than buying groceries from Disney gift shops. Plus, you save time (and potentially the cost of a rental car) by having the groceries delivered.
We have used Garden Grocer with great success, but there are other options, as well. We cover all of the ways to get groceries in our Tips for Buying Groceries at Walt Disney World post. If you don’t want to use a grocery delivery service or visit a store, and just need smaller snack, another option is mailing yourself an Amazon package (details here).
9. Say No to Soda
Large drinks at Walt Disney World are over $3 a pop (no pun intended–used in the colloquial sense, as I don’t want to start a pop v. soda v. coke debate!). If you’re soda-addicted, you could be spending $10 or more per day on soda. I speak from first-hand experience, and I’ll be the first to admit I’m guilty of this. In looking over receipts from a recent trip, I was shocked at how much I had wasted on soda.
This is something I’m personally planning to correct this year (update: I haven’t purchased a single soda in 2016 at Walt Disney World or Disneyland thus far!). If you need the caffeine, get your fill of coffee in the morning from your hotel room or get your fix at a restaurant offering free refills.
8. Use Credit Cards
Many proponents of saving money are opponents of credit cards. This is ludicrous. I will acknowledge that others have dramatically different views when it comes to credit cards, but we view them as glorious tools that, like water balloon launchers, have the potential for humans to abuse and misuse. The potential for misuse does not mean something is intrinsically bad. If that were the case, everyone who uses credit cards would have debilitating debt, which is not the case at all. For example, we have earned tens of thousands of dollars in rewards on credit cards, without ever paying a cent of interest (although we have paid annual fees on certain cards). We cover which credit cards we recommend using to save money on travel in our Best Credit Cards for Disney Travel post.
Beyond travel-specific credit cards, getting a good “everyday” credit card for daily purchases can be a great way to earn money that you can earmark for vacations. This gives a different meaning to “saving” money, but it’s an idea nonetheless. Rather than using the Disney Chase Visa credit cards that are popular with many Disney fans, we recommend cards like the Chase Freedom Rewards or AMEX Blue Cash (the AMEX has an annual fee, but if you spend enough, better reward rates can easily compensate for an annual fee) for everyday use, as these cards have better reward rates. Just because rewards aren’t in the form of a Disney gift card doesn’t mean that you can’t save them for Disney. Hate credit cards if you want, but there’s no arguing that paying your balance off in full each month and using credit cards responsibly can save you money.
7. Gift Card Hacks
This is one we learned about a few years ago (thanks to readers of the blog, actually!) and we’ve been utilizing with great success. There are a few different methods for saving up to 10% on Disney gift cards, and we cover all of the methods in our Tips for Saving Money on Disney Gift Cards post.
You can save money at Kroger, Sam’s Club, and other stores just by making strategic Disney gift card purchases. These strategies undoubtedly work with other credit cards, too (we have cards with rotating 5% back categories and other time-limited incentives).
6. Skip the Park Hopper
As much as it pains me to say this since I love Park Hopping, but if you’re on a budget, it might be wise to skip it–depending upon what park ticket discounts are available when you book. It’s tempting to upgrade to the Park Hopper tickets because they usually aren’t that much more, but if you aren’t going to Park Hop much, it’s still a waste. Plus, for your family, the “small” cost of Park Hoppers does add up quickly, and you might be able to save $250 or more simply by skipping the Park Hopper option. Determine whether this is something you need or can drop in our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post.
If we were not Annual Passholders, Park Hopping is not something we could live without, but your mileage may vary on that. We like to stay in the park that is open latest, and that usually means hopping to that park towards the end of the day. For us, it would unquestionably be worth the extra cost, even if on a budget, and even if that meant sacrificing something else. Many guests, especially those with young kids, aren’t staying late at night anyway, and Animal Kingdom or another park they’re in closing at 7 p.m. isn’t going to be a big deal to them. If you are on a tight budget, consider how important Park Hopping is to you, and whether you can do without it.
5. Plan a “Free” Day
There’s some duplicity of meaning in “free” day. Here it means both a day where you don’t have the theme parks on your schedule, and also a day when you focus on things that are free. The idea is that you do something that is actually free in practice, not just in theory. Going shopping at Downtown Disney most likely will not be free even though there is no “admission” fee–it could very easily cost more than a day in the park. Do a resort tour (we’re partial to this one around Christmas!), go swimming in your hotel’s pool, or go for a walk around the resort. We actually have 1-Day “No Parks” Walt Disney World Itinerary that provides a plan of how you can enjoy a great day outside of the parks.
If you can’t do an entire day, the upside to this is that it doesn’t need to be the entire day. You can have it be the morning before a hard ticket event (if you feel these events are worth doing in light of your budget) so you don’t have to use a park ticket. Even if you do have to use a park ticket, if you can stay out of the park for more than half a day, chances are that you’re going to save some money by buying fewer snacks, cheaper meals, etc. On long vacations, we are fans of the free day for recharging your energy for the rest of the trip, so even though this might not be a source of great savings (and we’ll be frank–it’s probably not), we still recommend it.
4. Skip the Disney Dining Plan
Whether the Disney Dining Plan is worth the money is an age old debate (well, at least as old as the Dining Plan is). If saving money is your primary concern, it’s very difficult to argue in favor of the Disney Dining Plan. Yes, you absolutely can (still!) save money on the Disney Dining Plan, but that assumes a certain type of vacation style, namely one focused on eating steaks or other expensive entrees and eating a lot of food, or taking home snacks so as to not waste snack credits. Few people “need” this much food, and certainly no one “needs” to eat steak for every meal. (Although this might be a cool medical condition I wouldn’t mind having!) If saving money is a priority, you can eat far more economical meals off the Disney Dining Plan than on it.
If you’re looking to save money, the question to ask here is “how little could we spend on food and still have a good trip?” and compare that number to the cost of the Disney Dining Plan, not “how much would the same amount of food we’d get on the Disney Dining Plan cost if we paid for it out of pocket?”
3. Don’t Do Deluxe
If you don’t normally book Deluxe Resorts, this may not be savings at all. We actually have four alternatives to booking deluxe, so you have plenty of options if you “need” nice accommodations. Our first suggestion is to “downgrade” to a moderate, namely Port Orleans Riverside. This resort is basically a “Deluxe Minus” resort hotel anyway, so you shouldn’t notice much in the way of lost quality. (Moderates seem to be the forgotten category of hotels–people either book Values to save money or Deluxes to splurge, but we love the Moderates.)
If the location of Port Orleans is an issue, consider booking a stay at the Swan & Dolphin instead. Yes, they have a bunch of annoying fees, but the net price is still significantly less expensive than the nearby Boardwalk Inn or Yacht & Beach Clubs. If the Swan & Dolphin aren’t “Disney” enough for you, consider renting Disney Vacation Club points and staying in a Deluxe Villa as opposed to a Deluxe Resort. Same idea, but less mousekeeping…and a lot less money!
Finally, if you’re really serious about saving money, but you want nice accommodations, consider a vacation rental. No no no, not purchasing a second home in Florida. What we mean is renting something. We cover our favorite option in our Tips for Renting Disney Vacation Club Points post, which offers a great way to stay in Deluxe-caliber on-property rooms for significant savings.
2. Cut Out Souvenirs
“Collect moments, not things.” This has become a mantra of ours over the last couple of years as we’ve prioritized great experiences over stuff. Mind you, we still buy souvenirs and a fair amount of things, but we’ve gotten rid of a lot of our junk, and buy far fewer souvenirs these days. If this is a tough sell with your family, look at it this way: how many extra experiences or days in the parks could that souvenir budget buy you? The memories will last a lifetime, that Mickey Mouse bobblehead someone just had to have will wind up in the garage sale or on eBay in a few years.
An alternative to this is advance-purchasing souvenirs when they’re on sale on Amazon or at the DisneyStore. Pre-purchasing Disney Pins is also popular, albeit controversial (details here).
1. Say No to Combo Meals
Typically, the menu price listed at a Disney counter service restaurant is a “combo” price, including fries or some other side. The cost of these sides is around $1.50 to $2.00, which is included in the price on the menu, but deducted from the price guests pay if they order the entree only (a price that is normally, conveniently left off of the menu).
Many guests don’t even know that they have the option of ordering without fries or chips, and end up buying something they don’t need, simply because the way the menus are presented. As is the case with our skip the Disney Dining Plan advice: don’t order what you don’t want to eat.
Of course, there are plenty of other ways to save money on your Walt Disney World vacation, and what works for one party may not work for others. How much you can save all depends upon which compromises you’re willing to make, and what parts of the Disney experience are really important to you. Some people may be able to save a lot, others may find that none of these tips will work for them (others still might already be doing all of these things!). Hopefully, there’s at least an idea or two here that’s helpful to you!
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Do you have any of your own “quick tips” for saving money on a Walt Disney World vacation…or saving for a Walt Disney World vacation? Disagree with any of our tips? Hearing from you is half the fun, so share your thoughts in the comments!