A Disney Vacation is generally an expensive trip for a family. But can you enjoy the experience while you are there without it costing the world?
I think so! As a Scottish banker, I have perhaps a unique perspective on value for money at Walt Disney World. Helping people save money is my job (or at least part of it)! There are some simple planning decisions that can really add up.
Key principle – Value your time
This is the key principle in my experience: to save on cost – but not the experience. You need to weigh up the value and appreciate that Walt Disney World is in no way a cheap vacation!
If you are lucky enough to come from the UK for 2 weeks, time is not so precious and opens up a lot of options offsite to save money, e.g., being able to leave the park and go to a local restaurant to eat, getting a 14-day ticket for the price of 7, staying offsite for all or part of the vacation to reduce cost.
However, for most of my American friends, shorter visits mean the need to maximize time in parks (and staying onsite to get 60-day access to precious FastPasses). You need to balance saving some cash with your vacation experience.
We cut a night off of our vacation to save money, as it enabled us to get cheaper flights home on a Thursday than a Friday. We would not really notice the extra day, and this means we can do more when we are there. It only cost us £50 to change our booking and we got refunded the night’s stay.
There have been whole books published on saving money for and at Disney World, so condensing everything into an article is not easy. However, here are some top money-saving tips I have picked up, which I hope can help your planning.
As we say in banking, “Fail to plan? Plan to Fail!”
Food and drink
1. Have breakfast in your accommodation:
Rather than buying breakfast from Disney, stock up on breakfast snacks for your room. You can get a shopping delivery, bring some food in the car, or do a Walmart shop. This can work out much cheaper than eating quick service or buying snacks at $4-7 dollars a time.
2. Take in snacks and food to the parks:
Those Mickey ice cream bars all add up! I think setting kids’ expectations as to what they can get beforehand can help. Some would advocate a small cool bag within a rucksack with sandwiches etc. Not paying park prices for food can certainly save. Don’t you dare feel bad! You have taken your kids to Disney World; an experience that most of the world’s kids will never have.
3. Make use of free water at each quick service location and/or take in your own frozen bottles:
If you want bottled water, buy from the supermarket; we like to take frozen bottles with us in the summer. However, you paid for the “free” water when you bought an entrance ticket — make use of it!
Ensure your kids have their favourite cup to refill with iced water. We find our kids drink better from their own cups.
4. Plan your in-park food ahead of time — Consider eating your main meal at lunchtime, which is often cheaper:
Though it might take some of the spontaneity out of the day, picking the right quick service can mean that you can get two meals between four of you to save and still all have enough, or two meals and a snack even. Or, timing can mean you can have your main meal early enough to last you through the day.
5. If able to eat offsite, have your main meal at lunchtime:
We would often go into park first thing, use morning FastPasses, and come out in the heat of the day. Children would sleep in the car on the way to a restaurant. You can then have a great meal at Longhorn Steakhouse, Chili’s, or Cracker Barrel for example. We have always found those to be great value, especially where there is a lunchtime menu.
If you don’t have a car, perhaps a homemade lunch at your hotel? Breaking up a long park day is important so you still have energy for evening fireworks or a show!
Can I save money on tickets? What ticket do I buy? Do I add park hopper? How many days?
This would be a whole other article (or several), and there is great ticket info on the site, but briefly here are some questions to think about:
- Do we have enough vacation time to justify a 10 day ticket? This is best value per day, and would mean much more time to leave the park and eat offsite.
- Do we really need park hopper? Can we spend a day in each park that we want to visit. It costs more to add park hopper and you can only buy FastPasses in advance for one park.
- Can we build in fun non-park days? Go hotel exploring, visit Disney Springs, see Cinderella at the Grand Floridian at 3 pm, experience fireworks from the Polynesian, go and see animals at Animal Kingdom Lodge, take a drawing class at Art of Animation, use your hotel pool to relax …
Make sure to ask your travel agent for their advice (Dreams Unlimited Travel agents are absolute experts!)
In summary, by planning in advance, you can save money and value your vacation time. I would highly recommend using the “Search” function on wdwinfo.com, where you can find other articles and some great info. I just recently realized this. (Doh!)
Remember — there is no right or wrong — just what is right for your family!