Disney World on a Budget: Advice from a Travel Agent

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The following is a guest post from Karen Herman of MouseTales Travel.

Like many of you, I’m a busy mom. I work full time outside the home and I like to save money whenever and wherever I can. If your family is like ours, you dream of vacationing at Disney World but don’t know how to fit it into your budget.

Last year my family decided to make a trip to Disney World happen – you can, too! Here are some tips for saving on your trip both before and during your trip.

Before Your Trip

Be sure to plan your trip carefully to maximize your savings even before you go. Here are a few ideas:

Disney Dining Plan

Disney Value Seasons
If your travel dates are flexible, plan your trip around Disney Value Seasons. During Value Seasons (which are typically mid-September and very early spring), hotel rates can be almost half the cost of peak season rates. Often Disney offers the free dining plan in addition to Value Season, making this a great time to visit Disney World.

Disney Vacation Planning DVD
Request a free Disney vacation planning DVD for a great memento of your vacation. This is a fun way to preview all the best of Disney World or announce to your kids that you’re going to Disney World. You can request one from your travel agent.

Stay on Disney Property
If you stay on Disney property, you’ll get free transportation to and from Orlando airport via Disney’s Magical Express motor coach service. This is a huge savings over renting a car for a week. The buses are clean, air conditioned and comfortable, and they’ll also take care of your luggage and bring it to the hotel along with any purchases you make at the parks.

Determine Length of Stay
Oftentimes the longer you stay, the cost per day per person will drop.  If you can, plan to stay at least 4 or more days. Be sure to check ticket prices as there are times when a longer multiple-day ticket is cheaper than a shorter one.

Disney Rewards Visa
Besides getting cash back at DisneyStore.com, you can also book your trip on a Disney Rewards Visa and have 6 months at 0% interest to pay off your vacation. Add up the cost of your trip, divide by 6 and pay that amount each month.

Pre-Purchase Souvenirs
Many young children are thrilled with anything that has a Disney Princess or Cars image on it. During the months leading up to your trip, scour garage sales, discount stores and drug stores for souvenirs and fun items to pack in your children’s backpacks for the plane or car ride. Follow sales on DisneyStore.com and combine the sale with the discount from a Disney Rewards Visa.

During Your Trip

Once you’ve booked your trip, there are plenty of low-cost or free things to enjoy at Disney, not to mention ways to save on necessary expenses.

Luggage Tips
Pack carry-on suitcases only and plan to wash clothes once or twice at the resort laundry rooms to save yourself the $50 per bag fee with the airlines.

Saving on Food
Pack a cooler bag with snacks and sandwiches for your visit to the parks. You can also order sandwich fixings, breakfast foods and beverages from area stores that will deliver to your room at the resort. Eat a few breakfasts in your room during your stay and carry your own snacks in to the park. Disney restaurants will also give you a 21-oz. glass of ice water for free; just ask!

MouseTales Travel mickey and minnie

Kids’ Purchases
When at Disney World, load a small amount of money on a gift card for your children to purchase their own selections. When the card value is gone, shopping is done and this will help limit impulse buying.

Free WiFi
Disney parks and hotels now have free WiFi, and there are many Disney apps you can download to your phone to monitor wait times for rides and restaurants.

Things to Do and See

There are lots of fun, free things to do and see at Disney. If you are celebrating a special event or making your first visit to Disney World, stop by the welcome center at the entrance to the park and get a free “Happy Birthday” or “First Visit” celebration button.

Castle Couture
Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is a very fun (but also expensive) outing for little girls. As an alternative, stop and get “pixie dusted” at Castle Couture, right outside Cinderella’s Castle. Bring your little girls to have pixie dust (glitter) sprinkled on them as they make their enchanted wish. It’s fun and it’s free!

Epcot Scavenger Hunts
Older children can participate in a free scavenger hunt at Epcot; just ask at the welcome center when you arrive. Kids are given a paper to hunt for all of the hidden Mickeys in the World Showcase, and prizes are awarded if they find them all.

Lego Store
If you have a Lego lover in your house, be sure to visit the Lego Store at Downtown Disney where you can stay as long as you like while your children have fun playing with all kinds of fun Lego shapes and Lego racing cars.

Main Street Confectionery
Stop by the Main Street Confectionery at Magic Kingdom and you might find a cast member walking around with a tray full of samples for guests to try. Add this store to your list of places to visit if you’re looking for a small sweet after your lunch. The Ghirardelli Store in Downtown Disney also has a greeter who gives out free samples of chocolate.

Pool or Recreation Day
To save money on the cost of Disney Park tickets, cut one day off your ticket length and plan for a pool or recreation day where you can just relax and swim at your resort or enjoy Downtown Disney for a day. Disney parks also have splash zones and playgrounds that are great for a free, fun place to relax.

Disney characters

Sticker Souvenirs
While you’re walking around Disney with your children, cast members will hand them a sticker or two, usually Mickey Mouse but sometimes Cars, Princesses or Tinkerbell. These are fun and free souvenirs of your trip that you can save along with a collection of park maps and guides to have the makings of a great vacation scrapbook.

Disney character pins

Trading Pins
Not many people know that you can trade pins with Disney cast members. You can buy a wide selection of pins on eBay for a reasonable price, then trade them with cast members throughout the parks. This is especially fun for older kids.

And of course, use a travel agent! We monitor Disney deals daily and will rebook your reservation automatically and apply the savings to your balance. In addition, we provide services such as complimentary custom park itineraries, dining reservations, and advice on which rides to visit first, which ones are closed for renovation, and which park to visit on each day of your vacation.

Enjoy your trip to Disney World!

Your turn: What tips do you have for saving at Disney World, both before and after your stay?


  1. Patrice says

    Good information! My suggestions would be to get water delivered to your hotel from either Costco or Walmart. You can get a 24 bottle flat from Costco for under $9 (S/H included). That way, you don't have to stand in a potentially long line to get a cup of water from a Disney restaurant. Also, we always bring the Wyler's add-in packets (I got a box of 10 for $0.75 from Big Lots last week) .

    Each of our trips to DisneyWorld has been during a free dining period –we usually go late August –although this promotion is offered other times of the year as well. It is a GREAT value! If you are paying for Disney food out-of-pocket, continue sharing your meals. Most of the servings are HUGE and you can easily share them.

    If you have school-age childen, check out the Disney Youth Education Series – if your child attends one of these classes while at Disney, they qualify for discounted tickets, and you can also purchase these discounted tickets for your family (I think it's something like 2 tickets for each kid attending a class).

  2. V says

    Does this info apply to either Florida or California Disney trips??? Is one cheaper or better than than the other?

    • Katrin says

      This is about Disney world (Florida), the place in California is called Disneyland. The difference is that Disney World is much bigger (about the size of San Francisco!) – so there is more to see and do – it has the 4 theme parks plus the water parks… If you have the choice and time go to Disney World! Animal kingdom, Epcot… it´s such a special experience! If you are looking for tips on how to experience Disney World on a budget, check http://www.disneyworldforless.com – going there is not as expensive as you think when you have the right kind of information.

  3. TM says

    The above is good info if you want to stay on Disney property. I personally prefer to rent a house with its own pool and get a rental car. My nightly rate is less than the cost of the cheapest Disney resort and I get a house with 3-4 bedrooms, a full kitchen, a swimming pool, and my own washer and dryer. Some even have their own game rooms. If two families split the cost of the house, it is an amazing value. Yes, I have to rent a car, but I save so much money on the lodging and food, it more than pays for itself. We have breakfast at the house before hitting the parks and we pack some drinks, sandwiches, and snacks to take with us to the parks. This saved us so much money.

    In addition, my kids can wind down from all of the Disney excitement of the day. Each of my kids can have their own bedroom too. Also, if my 4 or 6 year old are tired and having a melt-down, I don't have to worry about disturbing anyone. We usually stay a week and have 1-2 park free days where we hang out at the house and swim or go outlet mall shopping. You can buy souvenirs for cheap at some outlet stores. I really love being able to get away from the crowds and lines too.

  4. Holly Mather says

    Disney Souvenirs/forgotten items … I find Walgreens and Target stores near the park to be good. I went into a Target during my last stay and could not believe the Disney extensive merchandise selection. I am a Florida resident so there are often resident specials during off peak times but still the park is an expensive vacation so any savings are fabulous. Walgreens will occassionally have buy 1 get 1 free on their toys (which often includes Disney merchandise like plush toys).

    Also check the park hours calendar during your stay. If you stay at a Disney park they may have early hours or late hours for you. If you aren't staying at a WDW hotel you may want to do a different park that day since many of the WDW hotel guests will be planning to be there. Also WDW/Magic Kingdom can close early for special events that require an additional ticket (like Mickey's not so Scary Halloween or Mickey's Very Merry Christmas). You probably wouldn't want to use your day ticket at the park to have to leave early. Also look at the times of the parades and fireworks so you can plan around those times whether you want to see them or get on the rides when it may be less crowded

  5. Laura says

    We stayed in a mid-range hotel on Disney property during our school convention break in October, which is technically off season, but they were giving Florida residents special rates, so it was still busy. We had a refrigerator and microwave which enabled us to make some meals. I ordered groceries in advance and had them delivered to our room via gardengrocer.com . This worked beautifully and saved us a great deal in food expenses.

    Although I would never be opposed to staying off property to save some money, I have to say that being on property had distinct benefits, including ease of transportation and those extra perk hours that you get at the parks.

  6. Kellissia Ekezie says

    Great advice, we are planning to vacation in Disney mid July 2013 and need a great house to stay. or a creditable website, we checked out Reunion Resort kind of pricey. Any suggestions? Feel like I am very behind in planning…3 months away.

  7. Amanda A says

    All of this is very helpful! Thank you for sharing. I grew up in Florida, but we only went to Disney World a few times. I now live in Kentucky and can’t wait to take my three kids to Disney. But we will have a two year old with us..any advice on activities to do with a toddler? I thought it was better to stay at one of the resorts so in case of a sick child or just a fussy baby I could go back with them and the rest of the family enjoy. B ut I was also wondering if they would let us switch off at some rides. In example if my husband and our oldest wanted to ride splash mountain, would they let two of ride first and then let me pass off the baby to ny husband and then let me and our other son ride?

  8. Sarah Mueller says

    If you want to stay on property but not break the bank, try renting Disney Vacation Club points! Great way to stay in deluxe resorts but paying value-moderate resort prices. If you can go last minute or can wait to book hotel at the last minute and not have a heart attack like me :) ,Check out their discount points. If you use discount points you usually get less than 2 months notice but the savings might be worth it! Here is one of my favorite Disney Vacation Club rental sites. http://dvcrentalstore.com/


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