10 Ways to Save Money on Your 2014 Disney World Vacation


As the year draws to a close, many of you are probably planning your 2014 Walt Disney World trips. Part of that trip planning likely involves figuring out a way to budget for the trip, and determining what you realistically will spend on the trip. 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 that second (or seventh!) Disney trip of the year. 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 2014 (or beyond!) Walt Disney World vacation. 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

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In the spirit of the warning above that not all of these tips are for everyone, here’s one that we’ll one money-saving tip that I doubt we’ll ever employ. However, a lot of people are fans of the various Orlando grocery delivery services, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention them. Basically, for a set delivery fee (usually ~$15), 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.

There are a couple of reasons why I doubt we’ll ever do this. I could see doing a small number of grab and go items for breakfast and snacks, but I think the better option for that is mailing yourself an Amazon package (details here). First, because eating at the Disney restaurants are part of the experience for us. We know we could save more by eating off-site or making our own food, but we enjoy the theming, experience, and food of the Disney restaurants. That’s a really important aspect of our enjoyment of the parks. Second, because I am awful at cooking (so I’d never do it) and I can’t fathom asking Sarah to cook on vacation. “Honey, it’s time for vacation. Now could you go to the kitchen a couple hours each day, just like at home? I’ll be on the balcony watching the sunset!” I realize others enjoy cooking or don’t have a problem with it on vacation, and that’s fine. But in our house, cooking is a chore. (Now Sarah better remember I said this the next time the lawn needs to be mowed outside our building at Saratoga Springs! ;))

9. Say No to Soda

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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 in 2014. 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

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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).

Using credit cards 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. Wouldn’t you rather have $500 in cash back rewards to devote to spending at Disney than $250 on a Disney gift card? 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. The Gift Card Racket

This is one we’ve never done, but a couple of readers on Facebook and in article comments have mentioned it, and it sounds brilliant. Stores like Kroger offer cash back or other incentives on purchases. Buying Disney gift cards via these means in essence saves money on other necessary purchases. Reader Megan Dyan explains: “Purchase Disney gift cards from Kroger…while they’re running their 4x fuel points event. For every dollar you spend on a gift card, you get 4 fuel points, and every 100 points = .10 off a gallon of gas. So $250 on Disney gift cards = $1 off a gallon of gas. My husband and I will fill both our tanks together under one transaction, and that’s a $35 savings…for money you’d spend at Disney anyway!”

Kroger isn’t the only place where this works. Other readers have reported using their Target Red Card (or Chase Sapphire Card) to get 5% cashback on Disney gift card purchases at Target. Reader Sharon cites this as her preference for using the Target card for gift cards prior to a trip over using the Disney Visa while on the trip: “I have not forgotten about the 2% bonus on Disney purchases [with the Disney Visa], but I’m not even factoring it in, because I will buy Disney gift cards with the Target Red Card Visa, and save 5% on them! They will be used to pay things on our trip, like the resort, dining, and merchandise. (Why buy Disney stuff to get 2% toward more Disney stuff, when I can just get 5% off Disney stuff?).”

These strategies undoubtedly work with other cards, too (we have cards with rotating 5% back categories and other time-limited incentives), but these are the most popular two, it seems.

6. Skip the Park Hopper

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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–even if that means adding an extra day of park tickets and spending part of your free day (more on this below) in a park. For example, a 5-day Park Hopper is currently $349.95 after discount from Undercover Tourist, whereas a 6-day ticket without Park Hopping is $307.95.

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.

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

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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, forgo the above advice and just rent a vacation home. VBRO.com is a great way to find available homes to rent. Our friends over at the WDW Today podcast have been touting the benefits of All Star Vacation Homes for years, and they’ve never steered us wrong before! All Star has vacation homes for about the nightly rate of a stay in the All Star Resort at Walt Disney World!

2. Cut Out Souvenirs

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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

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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!

For trip planning tips and comprehensive advice, make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide and Disneyland Trip Planning Guide.

For updates on Walt Disney World, the latest news, discount information, and tips, sign up for our free monthly newsletter!

Your Thoughts…

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!

 

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58 Responses to “10 Ways to Save Money on Your 2014 Disney World Vacation”

  1. Ellen says:

    If you have small children, grocery delivery can be a huge benefit, not just to save money, but to save time and put healthy food into children in the morning prior to the onslaught of the park. It is not easy to get my children to eat unfamiliar food in a highly sensory experience like a food court. Having breakfast in the room is efficient, both with time and money, and having a bowl of cereal or peanut butter toast as they eat at home ensures a good start to a day of touring.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      This is why it’s great to have comments offering different views than mine–I had never thought about using meals as a healthy way to give kids energy. While Disney has healthy foods, they are definitely not easy to find at breakfast. Thanks for offering your perspective on this!

  2. Lucas says:

    The Delta Credit card is a great option, if you are a single traveler or a pair who can each sign up. I am taking my next trip using 30,000 Delta points that I got by spending 1k in the first 3 months. This cuts my trip cost down to just my tickets and my room.

    Also, book your Disney hotel on Expedia. Expedia’s room rate for Pop Century for this March was $25 less than when I booked directly through Disney, saving me a total of $125 for a 5 night trip. The Disney hotels appear to all have free cancellation on Expedia up until a couple days out. You can also take your confirmation number and plug it into MDE to do fastpass reservations and such.

    • Amanda says:

      Also with the Delta AMEX you either get a $99 companion fare or free companion fare a year, depending on which card you have.

  3. ann says:

    Using the Target Redcard to save 5% intrigued me… so I was just reading online that you have to go down to the front desk every day or two to apply your giftcards to your room… and that takes up a lot of time… but the posts I found were a couple years old. Can anyone who has used the giftcards recently to pay for the room confirm or refute that how it works?

    Also do you get charged tax when purchasing a Disney gift card at Target? Thanks!

    • Kayla says:

      Room charges will automatically charge to the credit card on file on the night of your last full day/morning of your check-out day. They will also charge to your card if you hit a certain amount, like $500 or $1000. That is why you should apply the gift cards to your room charge balance every few days, just to prevent it from charging to your credit card.

      If you want to pay for the actual room using gift cards, that can be done in advance whether it’s a room only or a package.

      There is no tax charged on gift card purchases.

      • Tom Bricker says:

        Wouldn’t you be able to side-step this issue by just paying for the room with gift cards and NOT enabling room-charging on your KTTW (or now, Magic Bands) card? Pay for in-park purchases directly with gift cards? Then you don’t have to mess with the front desk.

        Or am I missing something? Like I said, we haven’t done this (yet).

      • Sharon says:

        Exactly, Tom. People use Disney gift cards all over Disney resorts all the time. But maybe the actual room charge is what you might have to pay for in advance or as you go along.
        You can still enable room charging, though. Just use the gift cards for purchases until they run out, and then convert over to your KTTW card/band.
        I will let you know how it all goes after our April trip! I’ve got a stack of Disney gift cards at the ready! :-)

    • You don’t HAVE to do this, but like Kayla said, sometimes they charge a certain amount to your room when you hit a “limit.” So ask the desk when you check in what that “limit” is and make sure you use gift cards when you get close to that. Otherwise, you don’t have to apply your gift card until the night before you check out (that’s when we did it) because they charge you overnight.

    • Kelly says:

      If you fill prescriptions at Target, then you can also stack a 5% pharmacy rewards certificate with your 5% red card savings for an even greater benefit!

    • Jennifer says:

      No tax charged if you buy gift cards through Target and if you have the 5% Pharmacy rewards, you save 10% total. And you don’t have to go down every day to add a gift card. We paid our entire balance off with gift cards before we even arrived and then paid $500 in room credits to our room before we even arrived. The credit card was only used at the end of the week if we didn’t have enough room credit on our account before we checked out (was only $56). If you booked through a TA, just have your TA call and do this for you to save yourself the few minutes it takes to read off 30 gift card #’s to the Disney rep :-)

    • Amy says:

      We used a Chase Ink card for 5% cash back at Staples. It took some compiling Disney gift cards, but we paid off our advance hotel reservation ($3900ish) with $25 gift cards. You have to book everything so far in advance that we had plenty of time to input the gift cards into the computer system at work, or during our free time or whatever. Sure you could look at it as a hassle but for almost $200 savings, why not?! While we are travelling, Chase Freedom has a 5% cash back on food & dining so we’ll use our Freedom card while we are there.
      Credit card ‘cash back’ goes into points that we cashed out for our airfare (approx. $1,000 flying South West) and really only spent the equivalent of $550 with our chase points we had earned through the year. (Flying using points actually has a lower dollar value breakdown than if you paid outright in cash). Putting $10 out for processing fees when we booked our flight, and that’s all it cost….$10 for round trip from California to FL all because we bought everything this year with credit cards instead of bank/debit cards or cash :)

      Target card gives 5% back on purchases, which will include your Disney Gift Card but they take it off right at the register & it doesn’t go into points like other credit cards.

      If you can control your urges to over spend on a credit card they can be really a fun way to make extra money!

    • Erica says:

      I don’t know if you can do this, but if you have several gift cards contact customer service to see if you can put all the balances on one card. Then you have all that money on one card.

  4. Kevin says:

    We combined the Disney Gift Card idea for when the Chase Freedom card was offering 5% cash back on purchases at a grocery store. We ended up with 5% off the price of our vacation, plus $100-$150 in free gas!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I wish I didn’t read that. We definitely have to remember to do it next time.

    • Sharon says:

      Oh wow, I wish my grocery store carried Disney gift cards! That double dipping on 5% cash back and gas rewards would be awesome, especially when the gas rewards are multiplied.
      My Target does count as a grocery store on the Disney Visa. I’m not sure if it counts on the Chase Freedom, but grocery is not a bonus category in 2014 :-(. Even if it were, though, it maxes at $1500 per quarter, which is way under what we spend in Disney purchases during a trip (just resort, dining, merchandise). The 2nd quarter category is restaurants, so that would work as well during the trip for the 5% cash back.

  5. Dan Heaton says:

    I’m glad you mentioned a vacation home. To me, the biggest way to keep costs from getting out of control in a WDW vacation is staying off-site. For families, a condo with more space and a kitchen is a huge bonus. Plus, you can find a nice one for like $100 a night! That’s a huge savings, and it also carries over to breakfast, which can be a lot of money at WDW resorts.

  6. Bernadette says:

    We have only been to WDW twice (8/12 and 9/13) – the first time we bought park hoppers, which I ended up regretting because we never used them. DH, teen son and I could have had a blast with the park hoppers, but our two younger kiddos didn’t have the stamina for rope drop *and* late nights.

    For us, ordering groceries has give us the ability to eat a quick breakfast in the room and get to the parks for rope drop – we have done one character breakfast each trip, however. Couldn’t agree more about using credit cards – our primary card puts 2% of every purchase into our teen’s college fund. As long as you pay off the card in full at the end of the month, it’s a great way to save money (even if it’s not going directly towards a WDW trip).

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Our credit card rewards never go directly to Disney trips. It’s usually more efficient for us to use them in other ways. However, saving $200 elsewhere in your budget means $200 “free” dollars that you can allocate towards Disney. We think too many people get sucked into the allure of the Disney Visa because of the ability to use it to “save for Disney.” You can save for Disney with ANY credit card!

  7. Bruce says:

    On our free day we visit downtown Disney and then take a bus to the Contemporary. We then visit all the hotels via monorail and then bus on over to other Disney hotels like AKL. Taking the boat from Downtown Disney to Port Orleans Riverside is nice and free too!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Totally agree on both counts. For the monorail loop tour, you can take whichever bus comes first: Downtown Disney or the Magic Kingdom (assuming you don’t actually want to go to DtD).

  8. Erin says:

    The Disney Store offers free shipping on purchases over $75 and has ornaments, tee shirts and other items similar to the park shops. You can even buy official park merchandise which isnt cheaper but still ships free. As crazy as it seems, we souvenir shopped online at Disney store.com while on vacation and boughtmore ffor less with free shipping.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Not only do they have free shipping, but they have a clearance section (unlike most park stores) and often have 20-30% off coupons. It’s much cheaper to buy there than in the parks!

      • Dana says:

        We just came back in October and actually most of our souveniers we bought we found for way cheaper online. A coworker wanted the Steve Macqueen race driver suit for her nephew in Park we paid $52.00 for it. Online I found it on sale for $30.00 Plus the plush I boughtmmMike W from Monster’s Inc was $18.00 in Park and $5.00 online. the Talking 60 pahrases and interactive purple dud from Mosters U was $49.00 in Park I got him for $20.00 online!! HUGE difference !!

      • Jackie says:

        We are going in April and last month they had free shipping and 25% off all park merchandise so I bought the autograph books and shirts for the kiddos ahead of time!

  9. Betsy says:

    I always bring my own breakfast foods and snacks to Disney. I’m not a big breakfast eater, so some sort of meal replacement bar (Luna, Kellogs Protein, etc) will suffice until an early lunch. I usually pack a box of these bars, some miniature boxes of cereal, fruit snacks, and 100 calorie snack packs to graze on throughout the morning/afternoon. It’s way cheaper than buying these things from the food court.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      We take protein bars from time to time as snacks in lieu of breakfast. Perhaps if Disney had better breakfast options (especially in the parks!) we wouldn’t do this.

  10. Josie Heisel says:

    Going off of your combo meal tip…my last Disney trip was in 2012. We discovered that even 2 college-aged students (myself and my boyfriend) were able to split at least one meal a day between the two of us. I know this might not work for everyone, but with all of the walking, heat, and distractions of rides, we realized that we could share one of the combo meals because the portions are quite large.

  11. OMB says:

    Another recommendation is to plan on two meals a day, with the mid-day meal being the bigger one of the two. Buffets are cheaper at breakfast and lunch (Boma is great btw). And the menus for lunch and dinner are somewhat the same, and usually cheaper at lunch. Sharing meals at dinner will also save some $$, as noted in other posts, the amount of food for one person is at times too much anyways.

    As we’ve gotten older, we don’t eat as much. But what we’ve been doing on recent visits, is eating our main meal around lunch time, then a lighter meal later in the day (e.g. sharing plates, etc).

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Great tip! Doing table service for lunch and counter service for dinner is generally a good plan. Counter service prices don’t fluctuate between lunch and dinner, whereas table service do!

    • Sharon says:

      Great tip! You can take your “midday break” right in the park, relaxing inside in shade & air conditioning, during the most crowded part of the day! I like it!

  12. Barb says:

    We always stay at the campground, Camp Wilderness. It saves money for “lodging” while still giving us all “on site” privileges, and it saves food money since we can cook and prepare any meals we want, including packing in lunches. We LOVE the campground!

  13. Phil says:

    One of the best tips I’ve found is to use an automatic savings plan in a high-yield savings account to help plan and save for your Disney trips. Use something like Capital One 360 to withdraw a certain amount from your checking account every month. This will go into a specific “travel” or “Disney” savings fund that is available for future trips. Plus, the savings earn interest (admittedly, not much these days). In any case, it’s great to have a fund to pull from that is mentally designated for “Disney.” Makes paying for trips a lot easier.

  14. Leanne says:

    We are die hard Disney visitors – I have been going since 1972 and we are there at least every 2 years! So… here are some of our tips…

    Parkhopper… we actually always get a park hopper. We like the flexibility of being able to leave one park, go have a rest and then go to another park for night or even dinner.

    Use the re-usable cups for water. Bottled water costs a fortune there… bring your own reusable water bottle or the disney pop cups with lids and refill at drinking fountains. Saves TONS especially in the summer when it is so hot. we bring carabiners (metal loops used for climbing) to attach the empty bottle on our backpack when not in use.

    Rain capes – we bring our raincapes back every trip. It always rains at one time or another… we bought the yellow ones way back about 10 years ago… keep them in a ziplock bag and bring them back each trip.

    Mickey ears… our family has a tradition of a family photo each trip, all wearing ears. (really cute since our first pic the kids were 2 yrs and 3 months and now they are teenagers) – we bought the headbands rather than hat. This way, they are packable and we bring them back every year. This will be our 9th trip in December and we still use the same ears as 15 years ago.

    Hope this helps… enjoy your trip!

    • Faith says:

      In lieu of buying bottles of water or having to carry around travel cups all day, you can get free cups of ice water at any kiosk or quick service restaurant that serves fountain drinks. All you have to do is simply ask for a cup of ice water. Drink your water and dispose of the cup! Nothing to have to keep up with all day and no out of pocket expense — it’s a win-win situation!

    • Sharon R says:

      I am a bit of a bottled water snob. I don’t drink tap water, ever. Unless it is to make a drink mix, like lemonade or coffee or something.

      On past trips, I brought bottled water into the parks. Once the bottles were empty, I refilled them with the free cups of ice or ice water they provide at counter service locations, but I always added flavor powder packets. (Some locations will give you ice water, but some will only give you a cup of ice for some reason.)

      Our last trip was mid May, and quite a bit hotter than usual. My young son and I spent most of our time in Hollywood Studios, for Star Wars Weekends. Well, I forgot the packets, and we refilled our water bottles many many times from the water fountains, and the water tasted just fine! I’ve read a bunch of times that the Walt Disney Water tastes horrible, but I did not find this to be the case at all, at least at DHS. On our next trip, I plan to sample the water all over the property, just to test this out ;-), but at least I know the water fountain water at DHS is delicious!

      P.S. It’s nice that they give you the cup of water/ice, but you really need to finish it before you go into an attraction or show. You surely can’t bring in a paper cup with a flimsy lid onto a thrill ride, and you can’t very well store it somewhere to save it for later. That’s why I like to pour it into my used water bottle, because I can cap it and toss it into my bag if I need to!

  15. z paul says:

    What’s the best way to save money on accommodation.
    Any suggestions ?

    • Aman says:

      Depends on if you want to stay at a Disney resort or not. Tom has a great post on pros/cons of staying on site. I have two little kids, both under 3, so the convenience of on site makes it a no-brainer. I am sold on renting DVC points as the most economical way to stay on site. It requires advance planning, ideally 7-11 months in advance. Find Tom’s article on renting DVC points for more info.

  16. April says:

    Our tips are water bottle + cold brew teabags (for the constant caffeine fix). Also, we’re packing a jar of peanut butter and a bag or two of bagels for breakfasts in our luggage — they travel well and give a solid-feeling breakfast that can be eaten on the go.
    I need to pre-order ponchos – thanks for reminding me. I want to make sure I do NOT get whatever the current disney ones are (so if they’re clear, I want blue, or vice versa), so I don’t get lost.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Good call on getting a different color poncho from the Disney ones. We bring our own to avoid paying the $7+ Disney charges, but yours is a good reason, too.

  17. Claudia Wolf says:

    Bring a popup stroller…regardless of the age of the children (or seniors) in your group. It is the only thing you can legally “roll” your backpack around in. Additionally, you can park it in a secure area while you ride a ride or stand on a long line. Your backpacks get very heavy after several hours… since they may be filled with water bottles, snacks, rain gear, etc. I also know that we have used it to push around a tired, sleepy child… even when they haven’t been in a stroller for several years!

    • Cherylyn Hawke says:

      Thanks for your comment. I’m traveling over in April from Australia and I’ve been debating whether to take mine or just hire one when needed. But like you said it carries more then a tired child. I’ll be packing my pram now. As my baby was only 8 weeks old on our last trip, I found by putting a colourful wrap over it, it was easier to find when getting off the rides, particularly if the attendant has moved the prams.

  18. Aman says:

    The Amazon delivery is a great idea, but how do you schedule your Amazon deliver? The free delivery option is a 5-8 day window, but usually arrives at our house in N. Ca in about 3 days. How far in advance of your check-in date will the Hotel hold a package?

    • Erica says:

      The Coronado held our packages for about ten days, but I called in advance and explained I was ordering stuff to already be there. It may have helped that it was stuff from Disney.com haha. But seriously call your resort and ask.

    • Donna says:

      We usually order from Walmart about 7-10 days in advance and it’s always been at our hotel in time for our arrival. As long as you have your arrival date and name on there, they’ll hold for you in Concierge. We’ve done this at several different resort. Then it magically appears in our room with our luggage :-)

  19. Kim says:

    We’re planning our first family trip to Disney World in April. We’re staying at a resort and I plan on getting a refillable soda cup (I’m quite addicted to soda, unfortunately…) so my question is this – Where can I get refills, other than at the resorts? Thanks!
    P.S. We haven’t been to Disney since 9/11, which has forever cemented (for me) the fact that Disney is incredible to its customers. We were scheduled to fly out that morning, and since flights were obviously out of the question, they comped our room for another two nights as well as tickets to the parks. This was for a party of 15! They brought characters to the pools, helped people with phone calls, car rentals, etc. AMAZING, simply amazing.

    • Lisa says:

      I was just doing research on refillable cups because we are going to WDW in two weeks. Disney has (or will be shortly) instituted a new RFID system for filling soda cups. In essence, you will purchase a soda cup at the resort where you will be staying, the cost is 17.99 plus tax, so about $22.00. This cup is good only for the length of your stay and is not transferable to other resorts or the parks (you’ll have to buy a separate cup in the park). The cup fills up based on ounces so if you include ice, the spigot will turn off once your cup hits a certain weight. Once you fill up you must wait 5 mins before filling up again. This will cut down on people sharing soda. The cup is good for soda and coffee but not for milk (i am not sure about hot chocolate). You can purchase a cup with limited fills and the machine keeps track of your fills. So if you pre buy 10 fills, it will count down each time you use your cup. I will be at WDW for 3 days, if I pay $22.00 for a cup, I would have to fill it 8 times to pay for itself. Since we will not be at the resort for lunch or dinner and plan on bringing breakfast food and a coffee maker for the room, it does not make economical sense for us.

    • Erica says:

      If you buy the refillable cup at the resort (or have the Disney Dining Plan) you can refill at the resort (and resort pool bar). The water parks also have refillable cups that you can use at the water park. That’s it for refillable’s. Now I will say restaurant’s have been very kind refilling our drinks and even sending us out the door with full and disposable cups.

    • Stacey Jax says:

      Kim,
      My family took Britta Water Bottles which filters some of the weird taste out of the water (We are from Seattle so our water is what I have heard is the best in the country). We also brought Crystal light and Hawaiian Punch (for the kiddo’s) to put in ice water with our meals. Saved us so much money and the small packets were easy to carry. I believe this was a tip from Tom B. on his “What to pack” list!

      Cheers!

      Stacey

  20. Sandy says:

    The airlines usually allow one suitcase per person on flights. We combine the 2 children’s clothes into one suitcase, and fill the other with snacks, water, juice boxes, etc. (but don’t exceed weight limit). This saves money on snacks at the hotel and parks, and leaves us an empty suitcase to bring home souvenirs.

  21. Erica says:

    My first family vacation someone had a Mickey Mouse tote bag delivered to our room. It was full of snacks, and the bottom was insulated. Disney let us bring that in the park. My point is as long as it’s backpack sized, you can fill it with snacks for your kids.

    As far as sharing portions. Be careful where you go. Some of the counter service restaurants gave huge portions of food while others made me question who the food was supposed to fill.

  22. Rebekah says:

    Great tips, Tom! We usually use VRBO…Christmas 2012 we had a beautiful three bedroom, two bathroom condo, 6 miles from the gates for $565 for the whole week! Couldn’t beat that! We save the difference for additional trips, rather than spend the money to sleep and shower on property…that’s really all we do at the condo anyway, because we are at the parks all day! A friend of mine bought gift cards at Giant Eagle and ended up with 2 free tanks of gas for her van. I’m definitely going to do that next time!

  23. Stephanie says:

    A lot of people have mentioned credit card rewards and such, but did you know that Sam’s Club sells $150 Disney gift cards for $142.98 (or at least the one where we live in Northern New England does). So, we buy “discount” Disney gift cards using our credit card that earns rewards and double the savings! I’ve heard that BJ’s offers a similar discount, too.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Another awesome tip-thanks for the heads up. I’ve never seen this for myself at Sam’s, but I’ve also never looked. We’ll definitely check it out.

  24. Melissa says:

    We always stay in Kissimmee and drive the short distance to the parks. While there two years ago, we found that Wal-Mart actually sells many souvenirs (shirts, hats, etc.) for a fraction of the cost. They quality was wonderful and my daughter was thrilled to get four shirts instead of one.

  25. Donna says:

    We are big water drinkers so each year, we schedule a delivery from Walmart for bottled water. Each case is only a couple of dollars as opposed to $3 per bottle in the parks!! Then load up in the fridge in the room and fill up the insulated bottles each of us have. To get the free shipping, we usually add on some other items to the order that we would have been taking anyway such as snacks for the kids, wipes, shampoo, shower gel etc. Saves us from packing bulky items in our cases too!

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