On any vacation, costs can start to pile up. As a college student traveler, I am always looking for new ways to cut costs but still have great experiences! As someone who travels to Walt Disney World on week-long vacations at least 4-5 times a year, I have acquired a few tricks when it comes to saving money.
Walt Disney World vacations are amazing – there is so much to do and see on what seems like this entire new world you have entered in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. I don’t have to say how much I love Disney World (I think that’s pretty clear), but I will say that it is not always the most wallet-friendly vacation option. Between the hotel, tickets to the park, eating out at every meal, endless items of merchandise you’re trying to squeeze into your suitcase – the price can go up quickly.
I definitely would recommend getting the full Disney World experience by staying at on-site resorts and making dining reservations for a variety of Disney restaurants. However, there are ways to keep your Disney experience intact while being mindful of your money.
Here are some of my tips for saving some money on a Disney Vacation:
Eat Breakfast in the Room — It can definitely be difficult to keep your money in check when eating out every day, multiple times a day around the Disney parks and resorts. What my family and I often do is get some basic breakfast items, like bagels and cereal, so that we can eat breakfast in the room most days and save a good $40 or $50 on a meal (4 people eating at a Disney World restaurant, even quick-service, gets very expensive). I say eat breakfast in the room because it is the easiest, least bothersome way to save money on food. What I mean is that if you tried to eat other meals in the room you would probably need more cooking equipment and it could cut into the flow and plans for your day. All of the resorts also have general stores with these basic items (although those are also pricier than normal grocery stores, so try to bring your own for maximum savings!)
Eat Off-Site — Another way to save money on food is to simply not eat every meal on Disney property! I definitely think the experience of eating at Disney restaurants is part of the holistic vacation experience, however one or two nights off of Disney property gives you more food options and will definitely cost less. Often as a family of four, our Disney dinners at a moderate restaurant will be at least $80-$100 and there are places like Boma, the buffet at Animal Kingdom Lodge, where it will be at least $150-$200. One dinner at Olive Garden is often half or even less than half the price of a Disney meal, which makes eating off site for a night or two a sigh of relief for your wallet.
Set an Item Limit on Merchandise — Walking into World of Disney or The Emporium on Main Street is like walking into heaven whether you’re an avid parks-goer or a first-timer. It is kind of hard to put a monetary budget on yourself in terms of merchandise because everything is on the expensive side. Instead, I would suggest putting an item limit in addition to an estimated budget. Firstly, this keeps things equal between how much family gets and it will help everybody prioritize what items they will really use and cherish over what will become futile souvenirs.
Avoid the Merchandise Bundles — Usually when you get to the checkout at a lot of the main Disney merchandise stores, there will be a sign saying “If you spend this much, get this exclusive item for this much.” Sometimes the item is super cute and worth it, for example, my family got a beautiful Christmas-themed Mickey and Minnie throw which goes out into our living room every Christmas season. Most of the time though, the bundles are not worth their money and do exactly what their meant to do – get you to spend money on things you don’t need. It may look tempting, but only go for a bundle when you are absolutely in love with the product.
Use a Disney Rewards Credit Card — My family and I use Chase bank, and through Chase, you can enroll for the Disney Rewards Credit Card. The more you use the card throughout the year, the more rewards you get that we then spend at Disney World, mostly at restaurants. This is a great way to get rewards, especially if you come to Disney often or think you would use the card often. I don’t know all the details, so definitely consult a bank!
Try the Disney Dining Plan — I have never actually used the Disney Dining Plan and my family and I have been a little bit nervous to try it. Lately, there have been deals that Disney World offers that may include the Dining Plan with a certain hotel or ticket package. What I think is the biggest trick is that if you don’t use all of your snacks and meals, then you’re basically losing money because you paid for those as an entire package. I believe this system takes a bit more meticulous planning in terms of utilizing your meal and snack credits effectively, but if done right, can save you from spending a whole lot on food.
If you’re in it for the long haul…
If you know you love Walt Disney World and you are going to be going there a whole lot, I cannot recommend enough becoming an Annual Passholder and a Disney Vacation Club Member.
Annual passes allow you park admission for the entire year. There are different price points for Annual passes that are affected by what is available for you to do as a pass holder – if you get the least expensive pass, you’ll have to deal with block-out dates and other restricted accesses. I have a Premium Annual Pass which as high as it can go and it is a great investment for me and my family since we are always vacationing there and want everything that Disney has to offer – no block-out dates, admission to the Water Parks and premium discounts. Find the right pass that fits your Disney vacationing that way you are making the most out of your money and not buying day-to-day tickets that end up being just as or even more expensive than a pass! Make sure to check out your discounts too, which are offered at a lot of restaurants and merchandise locations.
The Disney Vacation Club is Disney’s version of a timeshare system. A long time ago, I think in 2005ish, my family and I invested in a certain amount of points that we would be issued yearly and be able to use to book our hotel rooms. This is the best way I see fit for staying on Disney property and saving money! Once you stay so many times at Disney resorts, you will have surpassed the monetary value of your original investment you made on your points. There are also discounts and special events associated with being a Disney Vacation Club Member! Pick a home resort and you can always add points onto it later or buy points associated with a second home resort for earlier booking slots. There are too many perks of being a DVC member to pass up!
If you want to learn more about the Disney Vacation Club, visit this link to my post on its perks: https://airplanemary.com/2017/10/13/disney-vacation-club-the-perks/
If you want to know more about my love for Disney World, read my post on My Disney Story!: https://airplanemary.com/2017/08/25/my-disney-story/
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I hope you enjoyed and learned a little something so you can start planning your vacation knowing that even at Walt Disney World, there’s ways you can stay in check with your wallet! Let me know if you have any tips yourself! Remember to subscribe to my blog by email and tune back in next Friday for a new post!