A trip to the most magical place on Earth, or at least in the U.S., can scare the mouse ears off parents’ strapped budgets. But that doesn’t mean you can’t afford a Disney vacation. You just simply need a few tried and true tricks.
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As you’re planning your trip to Disney, make sure to use these tricks to stretch your dollar further as you explore the parks.
1. Visit the Magic Kingdom Later in the Week
After buying your tickets (we like Undercover Tourist for discount Disney tickets) the first stop on your list is probably the iconic Walt Disney World castle. You’ll make the most of your trip riding the most number of rides and enjoying the max number of attractions if you visit the Magic Kingdom toward the end of the week. Most families head to the Magic Kingdom early in their trip when visiting Mouseland for a week or so. Going later in the week can trim down time lost waiting in line.
Another option, plan your Disney trip for later in the summer. The least busy time to visit is just after Labor Day,when you can practically walk onto the rides.
2. Watch the Parades While In Line
Parades are nice, but you’re paying a lot of money to stand on the sidelines and watch the fun pass you by. So while most of the park is waving to the parade participants, hop on a ride (which the parks still operate during the festivities) when the lines are considerably shorter. You may be able to squeeze in more than one ride on a star attraction while a parade is going on. Just make sure to position yourself on the same side of the parade route as the ride before it starts or you may never get across.
3. Prioritize Your Activities – Don’t Waste Time
Be selective. There’s a LOT to do at Disney, and depending on the amount of time you have, you may not be able to take in every attraction (ride, show, parade, dining opportunity, etc.). And if you don’t manage your time wisely, you may not see or do the things your family has their hearts set on.
While planning your Disney trip, ask yourself a few questions. Where do I want to stay? What do I want to see? What about parking? In the spirit of saving time (and surprisingly, money) it’s best to stay in a Disney hotel. That way, not only will you beat Orlando traffic, you’ll save over $17/day on parking.
4. Visit the Animal Kingdom 30 Minutes Early
Arrive at the Animal Kingdom a half hour or so before the park opens. Your family can enjoy some “free” fun watching the wild animals at their friskiest. It’s also a good way to be one of the first to hop on the safari ride before the crowds arrive.
While we’re talking about the Animal Kingdom, you may want to get the Disney Park Hopper option when purchasing your tickets. Every park has different hours and attractions, and without the Park Hopper you can’t visit more than one park per day. If you want to beat the crowds at the Animal Kingdom, but later have dinner at Epcot, the Park Hopper is a must.
On the other hand, if you have small children and don’t mind sticking to one park per day of your trip, skip the Park Hopper option.
5. Disney’s Free Dining Plan Isn’t Really Free
The “free” Disney Dining Plan may not be a deal considering you can already score a 30 percent discount off food with your room. Crunch the numbers before plunking down extra cash for “free” dining to make sure you’re paying the best price for the number of meals and size of your party.
6. Forget Dole Whips, the Citrus Swirl Is Cheaper
Speaking of food, Dole Whips have a stellar – and well-deserved — reputation. But they’re pricey! The lesser-known Citrus Swirl served at the Sunshine Tree Terrace in the Magic Kingdom is just as delicious but a bit friendlier to your budget.
7. Brag About Your Special Occasion!
If you’re visiting the park for someone’s birthday, anniversary, etc., pin on a button touting the celebration at your resort hotel or in Guest Services. You may receive special treatment if wearing the button.
8. Use the Free Disney Wifi
Give your data plan a break, and take advantage of the free Wi-Fi that’s available in Disney parks and resort hotels.
9. Don’t Waste Your Time in Downtown Disney
Unless you’re really into shopping or counting on one of its restaurants to complete your trip, skip visiting Downtown Disney. Instead dedicate that time to attractions to make your vacation dollars stretch as far as possible.
10. Buy the PhotoPass+ for Unlimited Snaps
Don’t pay per snap. Instead of splurging for a $10 (or more) photo from each of your kid’s favorite rides, buy a PhotoPass+ for UNLIMITED on-ride photos plus photos from PhotoPass photographers around the parks. Pre-purchasing before your day/trip begins will score you an even bigger savings.
11. Never Buy Bottled Water
Bottled water at Walt Disney World is about $2-3 per bottle. During a week-long vacation with a family of four, and temps around “scorching,” it can get expensive to stay hydrated. Instead, counter service restaurants will give you a free cup of cold or hot water (ask for a large cup!) anytime you ask.
12. Shop at Disney’s Character Warehouse
Skip buying souvenirs in the park. Disney’s Character Warehouse outlet carries heavily discounted and discontinued Disney merchandise. There are two locations off property; one on I-Drive near Universal Orlando and on Vineland near Downtown Disney. The Vineland location is larger and closer to Walt Disney World.
13. Parents Can Order From the Kids Menu Too
Parents shouldn’t feel pressured to order (and pay for) grown-up meals. Disney lets adults order from the kid’s menu creating an opportunity to save money while still getting a great meal.
14. Use Snack Credits Wisely
Don’t waste Disney Dining Plan snack credits on bottled water or fruit. Get the biggest bang for your dining buck by ordering awesome cupcakes or other treats instead.
15. Bring Your Own Poncho
You hope it won’t rain, but sometimes Mother Nature isn’t kind. Instead of buying a pricey throw-away poncho at Walt Disney World for almost $10/each, pick one up at your local dollar store or discount store like Walmart for around $1/each.
16. If You Have a Dining Plan, Skip Signature Restaurants
In most cases, your meal at a Signature spot probably wouldn’t cost twice as much as a normal table service restaurant if you paid out of pocket, however they’ll cost 2 dining credits as opposed to 1.
17. Super-Size Your Fountain Drinks
The Disney Dining Plan allows you to order a regular OR large fountain drink at counter service restaurants. However, the default size – unless specified — is regular. So if your bunch is thirsty, specify everyone wants a large.
18. Stay at the Park Past Closing
Mouseland doesn’t go to sleep precisely when the park closes. So if you get into a 60-minute line at 10:45 p.m. you’ll probably still get to stay well past closing as long as the kids can stay up late. This is a great way to get every possible bit of fun out of your vacation budget.
19. Compare Disney Tour Prices
Walt Disney World offers a wide variety of tours that range in price from free to super-expensive. One fabulous tour option that’s gentle to your budget is the Behind the Seeds Tour at Epcot.
Another great idea is to check at your warehouse club for deals on travel. Costo Travel has it’s own travel search engine, with deals on packages, meals, even flights to the resort.
20. Get a Free Caffeine Fix at Epcots Club Cool
Save moolah on beverages by stopping at Epcot’s Club Cool, which has 4.5 stars on Yelp. How can just a drink stand do so well on Yelp, and have such a huge following? They’ve taken fountain drinks to a new level, with Coke products from all around the world for you to try for free.
One more thing before you go! Check out the following apps to help you save money at Disney World, and make the most of your time in the parks:
1. My Disney Experience by Wald Disney World
The official app of Walt Disney World, My Disney Experience lets you plan and share your vacation. Explore the WDW resort, get wait times for attractions and showtimes for events, make dinner reservations and more all within the app. Available for iPhone and Android.
2. Lines by TouringPlans.com
Similar to the office WDW app, Touringplans.com made Lines, which helps you discover what to do and when to do it during your Disney vacation. If you want unbiased tips, this is the app for you! Available for iPhone and Android.
3. Disney World Maps Free by VersaEdge
One of the highest rated Disney apps in the iTunes Store, Disney World Maps makes it easy to navigate the parks. Restaurants, bathrooms, frequent parades and attractions (with wait times) are all clearly marked. And if you get lost, the location services arrow will find you on the map!
4. Disney World Dining by VersaEdge
Another favorite, Disney World Dining puts all of Disney’s dining options at your fingertips. Want pizza? Want a specific price range? Want to see a complete menu for each restaurant? Download this app to your iPhone.
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Photo Courtesy – Tom Bricker