Disney on a Budget: Get the Most from Your Trip

Whether you're on a student class day trip or you're celebrating a graduation, Disney is a sensational destination filled with magic and excitement. As everyone's favorite theme park, it is certainly pricey. We understand that it can get quite expensive and while some things about Disney are non-negotiable, there are ways to save money to get the most out of your dream Disney trip.

1. Decide on the Park - Base this decision mainly on traveling costs. If you live in, say, west Texas it would be less expensive to travel to Disneyland in California whereas New York residents would be closer to Disney World, Florida. There are many factors to consider when comparing parks but you would have a blast at either and this issue when discussing budgeting Disney, comes down to price.

2. Traveling - This links to the first point. For the most part, driving is less expensive than flying but it obviously takes longer. You'd have to price this out and compare costs.

3. Know when to go - Even if you don't mind the crowds, you probably mind the prices the peak season brings. Off-seasons usher in discounted resort prices and perhaps even ticket discounts and extra vacation package perks. Between January and February, mid-August through September, October, November, and early December are Disney World's slowest times and cheapest prices. Don't book your trip until you know the off-season prices and what you can get for your money.

4. Hotels vs. Resorts - Disney Resorts are fantastic and offer a myriad of extra perks like free transportation, pool areas, outdoor activities, and the list goes on. Value resorts like Disney All-Star resorts are the cheapest and offer discounted prices up to 15% off from early April through mid-June and during other off-seasons. They may not be the prettiest of Disney resorts but they have great pool areas and great deals. Also, Fort Wilderness and Campground is another choice where you can camp for as low as $43 a night and participate in their fun campground activities. If the Disney resorts are too much, there are some chain hotels outside the park grounds that offer free park transportation and prices lower than Disney's lodging but you also don't get any of the perks and they're farther away.

5. Dining - Some sites recommend a dining plan, and this helps for families with small kids, but if you're a young adult with a couple of friends or a group of teens, it's unnecessary. Simply put, dining is all about strategy, just like the rides. Take advantage of the counter service restaurants which sell food at a fraction of the price and it's still better than any theme park food you've ever had. If there's a sit-down restaurant you really have your eye on like a character meet restaurant or someplace like Beast's Castle, go for lunch when menus are shortened and prices are cheaper and then rely on counter service for dinner. Also, bring your own snacks and drinks into the park. Absolutely do not spend your money on bottled water. Bring your own reusable bottle and fill it up at the water fountains. There is an incredible markup for prepackaged snacks, candy, and bottled water and sodas which add up. They let you bring your own snacks so take advantage of it.

6. Make a Plan - This is crucial to utilizing time and money. Know where you want to go and make a plan to get there. If you don't already know, research the rides that always have long wait times and get there as soon as the park opens to beat the crowds. Have a general idea of park layout so that you can get to your rides quickly and efficiently and beat the lines with pre-scheduled Fast Passes, especially for the longer wait times. You can schedule your day around your few Fast Passes. For example, if you're at Hollywood
Studios at Disney World, get there before the park opens its gates and then make a beeline for the Tower of Terror or Star Tours as both rack up the riders and wait times can stretch into a couple of hours. Single rider lines are almost always faster especially with rides like Expedition Everest (hint: if you jump in the single rider line with a friend, chances are you'll end up riding at the same time). Also be sure to schedule a time for breaks, meals, and transportation - if you're doing a park-hopper pass or have dinner reservations in another area of the park, leave yourself at least 30 minutes extra for travel time.

Hint: My Disney Experience app is amazing! Download it for free to your smartphone and have your entire trip planned out including updated wait times, Fast Pass reservations, park maps, and everything else you could want.

7. Ways to Get Discounts:

  • AAA members
  • Florida and California residents
  • Military and Civil Service (4-day military promotional tickets offer a park Hopper or Water Park Fun & More option for $177/ticket)
  • Corporate, Government, or Members discounts (certain large companies, usually those with over 200 employees, qualify to buy discounted Disney tickets)
  • Disney Vacation Club members
  • Discount tickets at Disney World Walmarts - there are two stores in Kissimmee that sell discounted multi-day tickets but they must be bought in person. Call ahead to verify pricing and availability.
  • University of Central Florida students and faculty
  • Youth Groups - groups of ten or more ages 3-22.
  • Y.E.S. - Youth Education Series grades 1-12.


8. Free or Cheap Things to do at Disney:

  • Downtown Disney
  • Disney Boardwalk
  • Resort/hotel activities - Port Orleans Riverside offers movies on the bayou every night and other resorts have campfires, nature trails, butterfly gardens, etc.
  • Monorail and ferries - get to and from places in style by flying along the monorail or riding comfortably to Downtown Disney on a river ferry. You can pay a little extra to ride a horse-drawn carriage or wagon, too.
  • Swim - all resorts have swimming pools and many have themed water park slides for added fun. Spend an afternoon swimming or if you don't like your resort's pool, you can slip over to another (hint: even though they technically don't like you to, they won't kick you out). It's especially cool to do this if you sample another resort's restaurants.
  • Make your own fun - try to find all the hidden Mickeys, take a picture with every character you run into, get a book full of autographs, get a pressed penny from every country at Epcot's World Showcase, etc.