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Top 10 Tips for Disney on a Budget

Written by: Editorial Staff

January 28, 2011
Filed Under Vacations 


Contributed by Rosemary O’Brien, Info Guru

Disney is a magical place to visit, but it can be expensive if you do not watch your budget. Here are a few ways to get the most out of your Disney vacation.

By saving ahead of time and while you are on vacation, you can get the most out of the Mouse without spending the most money. It is possible: Disney on a Budget!

10. Plan ahead

The best way to save money on your Disney vacation is to plan as far in advance as possible. People have been known to plan two years in advance! And it pays. Planning ahead lets you save more money, learn about the parks and what the entire experience has to offer, and save you from wasting time while you are on vacation., and are a good place to start. These sites are only two of the many websites dedicated to helping travelers save money at Disney. The forums are invaluable because they contain discussions from fellow travelers in a variety of traveling situations such as parents of little ones, single adults and honeymooners. Everyone has an opinion and suggestions and they are not afraid to post them in the forums. Most importantly, the farther you plan your trip, the more money you will save.

9. Hit the books!

There are a number of excellent guidebooks, such as “The Ultimate Disney world savings guide,” written by a former Disney employee, or the PassPorter Guides Both books provide detailed information about all things Disney, gathered from a variety of sources. I have personally saved a ton of money by using the PassPorter guides. It has a place to record each day’s events and even contains pockets for memorabilia. These sites also contain forums where helpful travelers post information.

8. Where to stay

Value resorts are the best place to stay when trying to save at Walt Disney World. There are several exclusive services available to guests and it begins with the trip there. Most of the resorts have what they call the “Magical Express.” A free bus service to each Disney hotel, this bus gets you all excited for your visit by showing a fun video on the way to your hotel. Just make sure you book your seats when you make your hotel room reservation so you are assured a seat. If they do not know you are coming, they may not be able to accommodate you. This alone can save over $100 on travel expenses! The value resorts also offer guest “Extra Magic Hours” to the parks. These are early open or late closing to certain parks on certain days, and they are available to guests of the Walt Disney World resorts only. They are a great way to get a little extra magic built into your trip.

7. Pay slowly and save often

By depositing a certain amount in a separate account or savings CD each week or month, you can save up a lot of money for your trip. That is where planning ahead is especially important. Dedicate a big jar for all of your pocket change or dollar bills. You would be surprised at how much you can save by spending only paper money and saving your nickels and quarters. When the jar is filled, or almost too heavy to lift, take them to one of those coin machines or to your local bank. A coin machine is more convenient than a bank and can be found in most grocery or chain stores. Keep in mind that there is usually a slight fee to use one of these machines. Dollar bills will have to be taken to the bank. Gather a decent amount, such as $20 or $50, and exchange them for the bills. You will be less likely to spend a larger denomination. Lastly, if you get a decent tax refund, take a portion of it and put it into your special account. This is in fact the way we funded our first Walt Disney World vacation.

6. Discounts and cheap airfare

Check out this article on how to find cheap airfare. By booking early (there’s that word again!), and comparing prices, you can save on airfare. Another tip is to buy your tickets on Tuesday nights. All of the airfares reset overnight into Wednesday each week, so airlines want to sell their seats in preparation. Tuesday night is the best time to buy your tickets. Do a little research a few days in advance so you are familiar with the prices, which airport provides a better deal, and what times are generally available. Also check out any military or government employee discounts, or member discounts such as AAA, Costco or Sam’s Club. There is always a discount to be had. If you cannot find a good deal online, call the airline or your travel agent directly. They can sometimes sift through the deals more quickly and some will keep an eye out for deals and then call you when they find one.

5. Disney gift cards

Buy a Disney gift card and save it for your trip. Gift cards can be purchased online through the Disney Store or at many retail stores. Children can get gift cards in Christmas stockings or for birthday presents. You can even use them as part of a reward system for doing their chores or completing some other project. Use a set amount and put it on the gift card. It is a great way to stay on a strict budget or to just stay on track with your souvenir spending money.

4. Cheap eats

The value hotels have economical food courts that are only close from midnight to 6am each day. Disney also has a good deal on a dining plan, and many times it is discounted. You have to add the Dining Plan to your package when you book your room, but it may save you money. The simplest plan has credits for one table service, one snack and one counter-service meal per day per guest. It is priced according to age, so a 9-year-old who wants an adult meal, will still have to choose a kid’s meal option, though anyone can eat it. Since the adult meals usually have pretty large portions, we sometimes split the meal or one of the adults orders the kid’s meal and vice versa. Any credits you do not use can be carried over to the next day, but all of the credits expire at midnight on the checkout date. It is a good idea to redeem snack credits on the day of departure for things such as bottles of water or juice, or snacks for the journey home. Another idea is to go to the bakery on Main Street in Magic Kingdom instead of eating breakfast at your hotel. Dining Plan credits can be used at many restaurants and kiosks in the parks. Check the list of participating restaurants online and print it out before you leave home.

3. Pin-trading made easy

Many castmembers, or everyone who works at Disney, are festooned with collectable pins, some more collectable than others. Did you know that they have to trade pins if you ask? That’s right! The best idea is to purchase a pack of the cheaper pins to trade. The stores even sell packages designated as pins to trade. When you see a castmember with pins stuck all over his or her uniform, simply ask nicely if they want to trade. They will rarely decline the offer. It breaks up the workday for them, and you get to trade for a pin you want. Many of these castmembers have very collectable pins among the less collectable pieces, and some of them are rather rare. Go ahead and ask!

You can also collect free mementoes to take home as souvenirs. Think napkins, shampoo or soap from the hotel. If you order a fancy drink for the kids such as a straw with a blinking pirate attached, bring that home. Any of that flat items such as maps or park brochures can go into your Disney scrapbook and make a great memory.

2. Plan, but remain flexible

Disney offers a free map that you can customize for your vacation. Go online, choose the places you want to see at the parks you plan to visit, and they will mail you a printed copy and provide you with a link so you can print it out yourself. It is also another good way to plan your trip. Go through the Disney website and get a feel of which parks you want to visit. Figure out which ones are your favorite, when their Extra Magic Hours are and what parades and events will be held, and then plan your days. Disney World Park Hours can be found online and make your job easy. With that being said, be flexible. Your family may need a break after two days in the park even if you have purchased a 5-day park hopper ticket. Take the day off and explore Orlando, Downtown Disney or take in a movie. You have 14 days from the first day of use to use your days. You will have a much more enjoyable vacation if you remain flexible. Simply switch one of your off days with one of your park days if you need a break.

1. Have a pool day

And finally, pool days are a beautiful thing, too. Some resorts hold movie nights right in the pool, and many provide guests with games and fun things to do poolside or even in the pool. There is nothing like sitting in an inner tube holding a cold soda (or an adult beverage) while watching “101 Dalmatians.” Some hotels are also close enough to the parks to provide perfect views of the firework displays. And don’t forget pool hopping! With the exception of one or two of the deluxe resorts, resort guests can visit other resorts’ pools and spend the day.

A Disney vacation is much more accessible if you plan and save. With the many all-inclusive packages, plans and perks the resorts provide, you may spend less money than you would have elsewhere. Just do your homework, plan ahead and have a great time! Oh, yeah. Say hello to the Mouse for me.


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