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!
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! ;))
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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!
“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).
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!
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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!