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Disney on the Cheap: How We Saved Money While Having a Great Time

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There are a BUNCH of ways that we saved money in Magic Kingdom. Some will get their own posts. But off the top of my head, these were the biggest ways that we pinched our pennies:

:: We used our Disney Chase Visa Rewards card for much of our spending (food, souvenirs, character meal, etc) in the Disney Parks. This card is a credit card that you earn $1 to spend at the parks or in Disney Stores (also online) for every $100 you charge. We used the card similarly to how you would use a bank debit card for the past year – charging everything (gas, groceries, etc) and paying the bill in full every month. This resulted in several hundred dollars on a Disney gift card for our vacation.

:: We used VRBO.com (VRBO= Vacation Rentals by Owner) to find a vacation home.  I know that many Disney fans swear by staying in the parks – that gets you free transportation to the parks, exclusive extra park hours and more, but since Disney Parks were only half of our trip, we decided against staying in the parks this time.  We found a rental house on VRBO in a private, gated community in Kissimmee – 10-15 minutes from Disney Main Gate.  Private townhouse, 3 bedrooms, 3 (full) bathrooms, living room, kitchen and community amenities (pool) for less than $600 (including all taxes and cleaning fees) for 7 nights.  Split between our fam and my dad/stepmom, it came down to $40/night for each of us.  That’s less than the cheapest, fleabag hotel in Orlando and we had a full kitchen (saved on meals by bringing food from our stockpile!) and Lily Bean had her own room – great for naptime.  Don’t make me recount the tale “Stuck in a Cruise Ship Cabin with a Baby ’10.”)  :)

:: We brought our own food into the parks. While we did buy some food in the parks, we also brought our own snacks and drinks. A couple of days we even packed some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to eat for lunch. Even quick meals in the park can easily total $20+, so cutting out several of those meals saved us a lot.

:: We used reusable filtered water bottles. It was like having a Brita pitcher in our backpack! We were able to fill up our bottles with fresh water from bathroom sinks and water fountains. The water was clean, filtered and had a good taste.

:: We bought Disney Park Multi-Day Park Hopper passes. It’s pretty simple – the more days you buy, the more you save. “Hoppers” allow you entrance into any of the Disney parks on any given day. You can also save on parking when you visit multiple parks in one day – pay for parking once at the first park you visit ($14), save your ticket and use it for free parking at any additional parks you visit that same day.  This came in handy, not just when we hopped from park to park, but some days we returned home in the afternoon so that Lily Bean could get in a good nap.  Refreshed and full of more life, we hit the parks at night for parades and fireworks – it was nice to avoid paying for parking a second time!

:: We brought souvenirs from home. Each night when we returned home from a park, a new souvenir was waiting for Lily Bean. Did she notice that we brought it from home and had purchased it on clearance or another sale? Nope. Did she love each new item? Yup.

:: We grabbed cheap costumes during Halloween clearance (plus Lily received her Belle dress from Nana and Poppy for Christmas!)  Let’s face it – kids LOVE to dress up in Disney.  Whether a little girl wants to dress the part of a princess or a boy wants to play the pirate while riding Pirates of the Caribbean, taking costumes can add to park excitement.  Be sure to stock up on deeply discounted costumes after Halloween.  Bonus: you bring home the costumes and end up with some cool additions to the family dress-up box!

:: We bought other souvenirs and supplies OUT of the parks. It just so happens that there is a huge Wal-Mart right down the road from the parks (as well as about 500 other souvenir outlets). Stop there to load up on your must-haves: autograph books, pens, shirts, blankets, towels, POSTCARDS. You will spend a fraction of the price for your Mickey-laden goods.

:: Check those receipts! Reader Maribel let me know that the WDW restaurant receipts offer 10% discounts at select Disney stores throughout the park.

:: I did my research before hitting the parks. I picked up some fabulous Disney World travel books after borrowing a friend’s copies (thanks, Jenny!). I got mine cheap from Amazon – but most local libraries will have these too. These books helped with everything from booking various dinners, getting around the parks, maximizing our time once we arrived and more.

:: Use hotel promotions to score freebies and discounts on future trips. This one is not Disney specific, but it certainly worked in our favor. When we drove to Texas in the fall, we stayed at several Country Inns and Suites along the way. We like this hotel chain a lot anyway, but even more of a lure was the promotion they were offering – stay M-Th and get 15,000 rewards points – which is enough points for a FREE one night stay at many of their hotels. We took advantage of this and ended up with enough points for THREE free nights to use on a future trip. We used two of these on the way down to Florida – which saved us well over $200.

I’m sure there are more, but those were the biggies. We saved (literally) hundreds of dollars by following the tips above.

And now it’s your turn! Fill up my comments with your OWN money-saving tips and tricks! They do not have to be Disney-specific – general vacation moneysavers are welcome too!

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  • I totally agree with taking food into the park, it saves TONS. My friend and I took our 2 girls by ourselves to Disney while our husbands were deployed and we did just that. We stayed at the DoubleTree in downtown disney at the end of October and it was $89 a night. I stayed there with my parents a few months prior and my mom did one of those surveys that you receive after you stay and won 2 free nights which they let us use even though she wasn’t with us. Our room had a refrigerator, microwave, sink. So we took cereal and milk and brought a toaster with us and had our own breakfast. We took PB, jelly and bread to make sandwiches for lunch. We took gummies and juice boxes for the girls to have as snacks and we took crackers and granola bars for ourselves. It really did save a lot of money. We rode together so we could split the gas cost. We only live about 6 hours away so the drive isn’t too bad! If you go toward the end of the year when school is in session then the hotel prices are cheaper.

  • asiamommi

    I agree with the you with the staying off property. We stay at Nick Hotel and usually just spend a day there just hanging out in the pool. Plus there is a fridge and microwave in the room. We got a 2 bedroom suite for $114 night. Well worth it to us when you consider how much we save on breakfast, snacks and how much time we spend in the water park.
    I suggest signing up for mailing list of resorts and hotels in the area where you are staying. They will send you emails with specials they are having. This is how we get discounts on our hotel rooms.
    AAA is our friend. We use it for discounts on tickets and car rentals in Orlando. More than pays for the membership.

  • Cori Smith

    We were lucky and always have our car when we go to WDW. We would drive out of the park area and eat at IHops (kids eat free) and Perkins. This saved us a ton of money and stocked our mini fridge in the room with breakfast foods and snacks we bought at the Walmart down the road. We did splurge on a character breakfast for our sons b-day but if you can get out of WDW (5 minute drive) then there are many cheap restaurants to choose from!

  • siobhan

    For the water in disney parks, I just go up to any place that serves soda and ask for a cup of ice water- its free… and I always go to disney in august when its 110degrees, so it really helps keep costs low, other wise i’d easily spend $40 a day on drinks. Plus its ice cold and wonderful!

  • Great tips! we are huge Disney fanatics and do much of the same! We also share meals a lot. Some of the portions are so big that my daughter and I can share with no problem.

  • Becky

    We went to Disney this Jan and had the hardest time finding discounted park tickets. We finally found a great program through Disney that included park tickets for about 50% off the gate price (It was about $160 for a 4 day hopper for an adult). Its a program through Disney called the Youth Education Program. Its mostly for homeschoolers but there are times during the year for open enrollment when anyone can register. I think all the programs are for school aged kids only but they did let our 3 year old tag along with our two older girls. The program we did was Wild by Nature. It was a 3 hr guided program in Animal Kingdom. We entered the program thinking we would just endure the 3hr education part just to get the discounted tickets but the class was actually really good too. We were very nervous thinking that it couldn’t be that easy to get such cheap Disney tickets but it is. We would od it again in a heart beat. Here’s the website we used I hope it helps someone. http://www.disneyyouth.com/individual-enrollment/

    • Jakeba

      Hi Becky,

      Thanks for the great information. I’m going in March for the Disney Institute Training program and thought I would extend my stay and take my 7 year old daughter with my Mom and another friend. Well, I knew Disney was expensive, but just not this expensive. Does the Disney Youth Program require adults to buy tickets to the class as well or just for the child (even though adult has to be present)? Also, do you mean if I sign up for the program, I can get tickets for other theme parks from them for a fraction of the cost (i.e. Adult pass normally $360, would be $160)? How does that work? Thank you

  • Becky

    Oh and we also used resturants.com at the House of Blues in Downtown Disney. We paid $4 for a $50 off a minimum of $100. They also had a $25 off a total of $50 for $2 but we’re a family of 6.

  • Randi

    Thanks for the great tips. I didn’t know Disneyworld lets you bring your own drinks and snacks, Cool!

  • Diane

    GREAT tips!!! Haven’t done the Disney trip with my little one yet. . . but I’m sure we will be soon. We will also drive, and I’m glad to learn about the VRBO you used! This summer we’re driving to Florida and we’ll be staying at Comfort Inn properties to take advantage of the $50 gas card for staying 2 nights!

  • Kim

    My husband and I are HUGE Disney fans and go very frequently (we are also vacation club members-DVC). We are taking our twin boys (who will be 16 months at the time) in July for a 12 day trip…only 4 in the park though, the rest spent at the resort. I can’t wait to share Disney with them. DVC members get a discount on an annual pass and if you plan your trips right, you can get two visits in within that annual year and it ends up being cheaper than a park hopper.
    I hope you took advantage of the free picture offered through your Chase Disney Visa card, it’s in Epcot in the Innoventions area.
    We also save money by packing lunches and snacks as well as eating breakfast in our room with cereal and other items we bring from home. That way we only buy one meal in the parks. Most rooms have a fridge or you can request one for a small fee.
    You can also score some freebies from Guest Relations in each park if you are celebrating something or if it is your first visit. Sometimes cast members will go over the top and give you a certificate for items from the gift shops. We scored free ears with personalization a couple of years ago!
    You can save lots of money on souvenirs if you do the penny press, which we’ve always loved!
    Not a freebie but definitely a time saver: When visiting the park with siblings (one being smaller and unable to ride), you can take advantage of the “baby swap” so both you and your significant other can ride. You have to notify the cast member that you will be doing this but it’s great and your older child rides twice!

  • jan

    Thank you all so much for the great comments. I am excited to see them all. Great tips for everyone.

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  • Alissa

    This post (and all the comments) are SOOO helpful and came at a great time. My husband and I will be taking my son (3 yrs) to Disney in Nov. with another family that includes two girls (2 and 5). I’m already looking for money saving tips for us! We have the Chase Visa which will give us a great head start with those Rewards Dollars and I also LOVE the filtered water bottle idea. Im going to pick up a couple of those for sure.
    Does anyone have any tips for scoring a cheap rental car and child seats? I have AAA which is get me a discount through HERTZ but I was wondering if there are other discounts for other companies? Also, any experiences with getting discounted child seats (the cost of child seats is CRAZY and we really dont want to take our own on the plane)!!!

  • Brenda

    If anyone goes on vacation you can check out this site Save on resorts, they were great no problem what so ever. Also if you go on a 15 min tour of the hotel you will get tickets to DW, SW, SHOWS, ETC..the hotel was only 5 min away from DW, we went to the Pirates Dinner Adventure and that was so awesome for the kids so if anyone goes make sure you take the kids to the show, they have a pre-show so make sure you go cause they have all kinds of free food, they you have your dinner, and show after.

    • Karine Holloway

      Brenda,
      which hotel did you end up staying at> i checked the website thanks for it.
      working on organizing our oct trip so gathering as much info now.
      thank you

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  • Fabulous tips!

    A few things that saved us a ton of money:
    We bought Disney gift cards at Giant Eagle. We calculated the ticket price ahead of time, then bought gift cards for that amount at Giant Eagle. Thanks to their FuelPerks program, we were able to snag a few free fillups with just a bit of careful planning.

    If you are military, check into discounted park tickets. Currently, WDW is offering a 4 day ticket for $138 per person, and you can add the Park Hopper option on for just $27 more. That’s a pretty tidy savings.

    We also travel fairly often and choose Starwood hotels when we can. Disney’s Swan and Dolphin resorts are Starwood properties, and we were able to save up enough points to stay there for free. Not too shabby!

    Our family of three was able to enjoy four fun filled days at Disney for less than $1000. Worth every penny!

  • Mylene

    We also have taken our own food to Disney and saved $$. It helps that we take our igloo cooler backpack that is insulated and lightweight. I have 2 boys so there no princess outfits or boutique makeovers, but Pirates of the Carribean has a whole pirate makeover for all kids and family members and can choose from a various packages. They usually have a pirate parade/show for all kids to join around 4p. To save money, I brought pirate costumes from home and quickly dressed them before the parade and had lots of inquires of which package I had bought. Lol! When I explained, I got kuddos for being saavy. We also bring light up toys and souvenirs from home that were purchased in outlets from previous trips or surrounding discount stores. We have parked at downtown Disney (Disney springs ) and taken their Disney transportation to the parks before to save money in parking but that was before having kids. We need to have the car handy now.