This post helps you find ways to save money and cut your Walt Disney World vacation budget on hotels, dining, souvenirs, and more! Here’s info to get the most out of your travel dollars, with our 10 best tips to do WDW on a budget. (Updated January 24, 2020.)
Regardless of your finances, 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, spending less might not be strictly necessary, but rather is a way to fund a slightly longer trip, a second Disney trip, or simply not waste money unnecessarily. (No one wants to do that!)
We have been in both positions. Although we’re able to splurge on trips now, I still vividly remember the days or ordering an extra bun so we could “split” a double cheeseburger at Cosmic Ray’s. These days, we 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 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.
We’ve arranged this list so that the best options are at the top (meaning #10 should save you the most money, and #1 the least), but there’s obviously a ‘your mileage may vary’ element. For example, if you’re basically a Coca-Cola guzzling polar bear, maybe #2 would save you more than #9. (Then again, you can use #9 to get your Coke fix, so maybe not.) Anyway, we’re getting ahead of ourselves–here’s the list…
10. Never Pay Full Price for Hotels
For most people, hotels are the single most expensive component of a trip to Walt Disney World. If you plan on staying in a Deluxe Resort, your hotel could eat up more than half of your entire vacation budget. While we love the Deluxe Resorts, we hate their pricing, and (frankly) think they are not worth their rack rates. We have four alternatives to paying full price for Deluxe Resorts, with the best option last, so you have plenty of options if you “need” posh accommodations.
First, consider “downgrading” to a Moderate Resort. Two good options for this are the new Gran Destino and Port Orleans Riverside. Both are essentially “Deluxe Minus” hotels, albeit for very different reasons. Gran Destino has upscale amenities, fine dining, and feels reminiscent of a Las Vegas tower.
By contrast, Port Orleans Riverside has beautiful grounds, a relaxed setting, and top notch theme and detail. The rooms and dining aren’t on par with what you’ll find at Deluxes, but this is a distinctly Walt Disney World resort, and it shows. It’s now often overlooked thanks to improvements at other Moderates, but perfect for anyone wanting a romantic and charming setting for their vacation.
If you want an actual Deluxe resort at a Moderate price, your best option is renting Disney Vacation Club (or DVC) Points. If you want to know more, we cover the exact steps for doing this, and why we recommend it, 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.
Next, book a stay at the third-party Swan & Dolphin instead. You might equate “third-party” with off-site, but that’s not the case here, as these are within walking distance of Epcot. As we discuss in our Swan & Dolphin Review, these hotels are incredibly nice, just lacking in “Disney” theme. 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.
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.
The one-two punch of renting Disney Vacation Club points and doing grocery delivery can pretty easily cut the cost of your Walt Disney World vacation in half. (If not save you even more!)
8. Use Credit Cards
This one could rank higher, but we recognize it’s not for everyone, and also comes with an opportunity cost (if you use the points at Walt Disney World, you can’t use them elsewhere). Nonetheless, we think leveraging credit card rewards can be a great way of getting “free” airfare or hotel rooms…or just paying for some meals.
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.
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 Travelpost.
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.
These cards have better reward rates, and you can allocate their cash back to your vacation account, or use the rewards for airfare or other components of a Walt Disney World vacation. 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.
Few people “need” as much food as the Disney Dining Plan offers, 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?”
6. Skip the Park Hopper
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 calling it an early night rather than park hopping to the one that’s open latest each night 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. The big caveat to this is that not having the Park Hopper option will significantly limit your chances of experiencing Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. That’s definitely something to consider.
5. Gift Card Hacks
This is one we learned about a few years ago and we’ve been utilizing since. There are a few different methods for saving money on Disney gift cards, and we cover all of the methods in our Tips for Saving Money on Disney Gift Cards post. Unfortunately, the best ‘hack’ of stacking Raise.com plus a Target Red Card to save ~10% has been closed, but you can still save around 5%, which is not too shabby!
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.
4. 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.
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.
3. Skip Souvenirs
“Collect moments, not things.” This has become a mantra we’ve adopted over the last few 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.
There are two alternatives to this if you’re not ready to give up souvenirs cold turkey. First, 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). Second, consider making a trip to the outlet near Disney Springs for deep-discounts on parks merchandise–read our Disney Character Warehouse Outlet Tips for info & details.
2. 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 trip a few years ago, I was so shocked at how much I had wasted on soda that I swore it off at Walt Disney World from then on. Since then, I haven’t purchased Coke in the parks a single time! 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.
1. Pick the “Right” Season
We highly recommend traveling during the off-season, or at least non-peak times, which we highlight in our 2020 Walt Disney World Crowd Calendars. The obvious upside to visiting during the off-season is lower crowds. Intuitive but less obvious is that prices are more reasonable. Everything from airfare to park tickets to hotel rates to buffet prices is cheaper during the off-season.
While Walt Disney World has done a decent job of normalizing crowds throughout the year, so there’s no longer a “ghost town” off-season, in large part this is accomplished via aggressive discounting. On top of that, some off-season dates (like early November and December, January/February, and early May–but not September) are also among the best times to visit Florida in terms of weather. Lower crowds and prices…plus nicer weather–truly the best of all worlds!
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!
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? How do you cut the fat from your travel budget? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!