Ever since Magic Kingdom opened its doors in 1971, Disney World vacations have been a right-of-passage for generations of young families. Today, the resort is bigger and better than ever before. There has never been a better time to visit Disney than the present!
Disney World is comprised of four expansive theme parks, two gigantic water parks, more than twenty-five resort hotels, over a hundred restaurants of all types, four golf courses, shopping, and nightlife. Whatever your age – or wherever your interests may lie – you are bound to love something about this destination. I can attest to the fact that adults love the park just as much as the kids!
Not surprisingly, the major downside is the cost. A family of four can expect to spend at least a few thousand dollars on a five-day Disney World vacation. And that’s not including airfare! However, there are a number of strategies you can implement in order to make your family vacation as affordable as possible.
With that said, here are my top 5 ways to save on a Disney World vacation without compromising your level of fun.
1. Stay at a Disney Value Resort
Disney World has 3 tiers of resort hotels: Value, Moderate, and Deluxe. Disney Value resorts are far and away the least expensive tier and an optimal choice for families on a shoestring budget.
Each of the five Disney Value resorts have fun themes and decor geared towards kids, fantastic pools, arcades, and food courts serving quick meals. Because you are staying at a Disney-owned resort, guests receive certain perks which those staying off-property do not receive. These include: Extra Magic Hours (extended time at a designated theme park beyond normal operating hours), free transportation to/from the theme parks, free shuttle service to/from Orlando International Airport, up to 60-day advance booking for FastPass+ selections, and an extended window to make advance dining reservations.
Possibly the most appealing reason to stay at a Disney Value resort is their low cost. As of 2018, the least expensive Value resorts start at a just $110 per night (All-Star Movies, All-Star Music, and All-Star Sports). Standard rooms at a Disney Deluxe Resort often cost three or four times this amount!
As far as negatives go, Value resorts have no-frills decor, the rooms are small and can only be accessed from the outdoors (ie, no interior corridors), there are no table service dining options, and you are limited to bus transportation to get to the theme parks. Value resorts also tend to be more noisy than Moderates and Deluxes because the resorts are less spread out and seem to attract more families with younger children. However, Value resorts are a no-brainer if your bottom line is of utmost consideration. If money is less of an object, consider the Moderates and Deluxe resorts because they are admittedly nicer, more spacious, and have superior transportation options.
If you will have a car for the duration of your trip, you may want to consider renting a property in the Orlando area. Websites such as Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO, and FlipKey have plenty of listings at different price points. Rentals offer the potential to save you money while also giving you a little more space and privacy.
Another option is to stay at an off-property (non-Disney) resort hotel. Often times these are less expensive than Disney resorts yet still offer fabulous amenities and complimentary shuttle service to the park. However, there is something extra magical about staying at a Disney resort which you will miss out on by staying off-property. My recommendation is to go with a Disney Value resort!
2. Go during the Off-Season
Disney World is the single most visited resort in the world. As such, there are rarely days when the park isn’t crowded. However, certain times of the year are less crowded than others. Often these less crowded periods coincide with the times in which Disney offers lower resort rates and seasonal promotions.
Unfortunately, the crowded season typically occurs when schools are out on break. Disney is constantly adjusting room rates based on the demand, but as a general rule, you can expect higher rates during holiday breaks, weekends, summers, and other peak periods (usually any school vacation period or when Disney hosts special events). More specifically, busy times include President’s Day weekend, February school vacation, Easter vacation, Spring break, Memorial Day weekend, summer vacation from late May until mid August, Labor Day weekend, Thanksgiving vacation, and Christmas vacation through New Year’s.
The least crowded (and often cheapest) time to visit Disney includes the weekdays, January through mid-February (except MLK holiday weekend), and September through early December (excluding Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, and Thanksgiving week).
My favorite time to visit the park is during the autumn months of September and October because the crowds are subdued, the rates at tend to be lower, and the Florida weather is beautiful that time of year. Unfortunately, this time frame doesn’t always work out well for young families. But if it does, try to plan your trip during the autumn time.
I would recommend viewing a Disney Crowd Calendar for crowd estimates before booking your trip.
3. Save on Theme Park Tickets
With the exception of those in the military, Disney World doesn’t offer much in the way of theme park discounts. However, there are a few things that you should be aware of which could potentially save you money.
For starters, theme park tickets gradually decrease in price the more days you purchase. For example, three days worth of theme park tickets start at $101.65 per day (2018), while five days worth start at $79 per day, and nine days at just $48.34. Disney does this to incentive us to stay longer. But – of course – not everyone has the time or money to spend a full nine days at Disney World.
With this price drop in mind, it may be cost-advantageous to extend your Disney vacation by a few days while also making a pact with your family to take fewer vacations in the future. This offset could save you money in the long run.
Another thing I would point out is that a standard theme park ticket allows you entry into only one theme park for the day. In other words, if you buy a Magic Kingdom ticket, you won’t be able to use that ticket at Animal Kingdom, Epcot, or Universal Studios. Disney offers its “Park Hopper” ticket as a way around this restriction. The Park Hopper allows you to hop between any theme park you wish during the day with just the one ticket.
While this may sound great on the surface, the Park Hopper ticket will cost you roughly 30% more than a standard, single theme park ticket. When it comes down to it, the Park Hopper is not really worth the extra money because each theme park has plenty of attractions to keep you entertained for at least a full day. Plus, who wants to spend their valuable vacation time shuttling between parks when you could be enjoying the rides at the theme park of your choice? Stick with the standard theme park tickets and your wallet will thank you.
4. Skip the Theme Parks for a Day or Two
If extending your vacation to lock in lower-priced theme park tickets isn’t in the cards, you may want to take an entirely different approach. Why not spend a day or two away from the theme parks and explore the 47 square miles of Disney World? There are tons of free things to do around the park that won’t cost you a dime. Here are a few on my suggestions:
- Disney Springs: Head over to Disney Springs, the shopping and entertainment district of Disney World. Here you can watch the street performers and musicians, build something at the Lego Imagination Center (a 3,000 square foot LEGO play area), browse around the stores and souvenir shops, or hop on a Disney Springs water taxi and explore the nearby resorts.
- Disney’s BoardWalk: The BoardWalk is a vibrant quarter-mile promenade modeled after turn-of-the-century Coney Island. Stroll along the banks of Crescent Lake, watch the street performers, dine, window shop, or just do some people watching.
- Disney Transportation: Whether it is monorail, boat, or bus, all modes of Disney World transportation are free of charge. Board the monorail and loop around Magic Kingdom and the Contemporary, Grand Floridian, and Polynesian resorts. Get off at each resort to explore the beautiful lobbies and grounds. Or hop aboard a water taxi and enjoy a relaxing and scenic boat ride around the waterways of Disney World. View a Disney transportation mapto plan your route.
- Free Art Classes: Disney’s Art of Animation Resort offers free art classes throughout the daytime. An instructor will teach you how to draw a famous Disney cartoon character, and you get to keep your artwork as a souvenir. All ages are welcome and you don’t have to be staying at the resort to participate.
- Relax by the Pool: Take advantage of the afternoon calm and head to your resort’s pool or jacuzzi. Most guests will be at the theme parks so you may just have it all to yourself!
5. Use a Disney Travel Agent
First of foremost, Disney travel agents are completely free to you, the client. There are no hidden fees and Disney itself pays these agents a small commission to help their guests and promote the Disney World brand. With that misconception cleared up, there are several reasons to use a specialized Disney travel agent. Namely, they will likely save you money and make your life easier in the process.
Disney travel agents stay on top of all the discounts and promotions. They search for the best available rates for their clients and will even re-book the trip if a better rate becomes available after the initial booking. You can certainly book your own trip, but having someone there to search through all the available discounts is added insurance that you will get the best possible rate.
When you use a Disney travel agent, you have someone there to give you advice and answer your questions. Most agents have been to Disney dozens of times, so they can give your first-hand accounts and informed advice as to which resorts, theme parks, attractions, restaurants, etc. align with your vacation goals. They will also book your hotel stay, theme park tickets, dining reservations, and FastPass+ selections for you. When all is said and done, a Disney travel agent can save you time, money, and the stress of finding the best possible vacation package for you and your family. And since it won’t cost you a dime, there is really no reason not to use one!
Final Thoughts: In conclusion, I would also like to mention that children under the age of 3 years are granted free admission into the theme parks and water parks. This is great news for families with infants and toddlers! And finally, while most people purchase the Disney Dining Plan, be aware that you can bring your own food and (non-alcoholic) beverages into the theme parks to save money.
I hope these tips will help to make your Disney World family vacation more affordable. Have a magical trip!
Today’s guest post is by Disney World blogger Jonathan de Araujo. Read more of Jonathan’s articles at MagicGuides.com
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