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Ask The Readers: How can we save money on a Disney vacation?

Today’s question is from Dana:

My parents would like to take my husband and I on a Disney vacation this year. This is a generous offer and I want to make sure we do everything we can to help save them money on the trip.

It has been 15 years since any of us have been to Disney and we are sure a lot has changed — like the passes to reserve a spot in line. We do not have children; it will just be 4 adults acting like kids while on vacation. Do you have any tips or sources to help us save money on this trip? -Dana

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  • Jennifer says:

    We are big fans of Disney – when we lived in Santa Monica we got Annual Passes. Now when we return for visits (we live in Australia) we go and stay for 2 nights at an off-Disney property and explore the parks for 2 days.

    We did go to DisneyWorld when we knew we were moving back to Aus (we were living in Texas at the time, so drove to Orlando). We stayed at Animal Kingdom which was a great facility, but we wouldn’t stay there again as you did have to wait quite awhile for their buses (which were free) and it was a distance from the parks.

    I would recommend if you’re going to DisneyWorld for 5+ days to stay at a Disney Park, possibly one with a Monarail station as it would be super convenient for you to get to the parks and around. We opted not to get the meal plan, but looked at it quite seriously.

    One thing we only discovered this past trip (we were in LA for Christmas) was the PhotoPass +. We’ve always had photos taken by the Disney staff who are all over the place, but its the first time we heard about the “plus” option. If you plan ahead, it costs $69 (we found out about it at our Character Dinner and paid $99). It allows you to get ALL the photos taken on rides, at character meals, and any others they take and you can download them to your computer or get a CD. The photos alone at a meal cost $35, and the rides are $15+ (which is why we’ve never bought them before). Our second day I left my hefty DSLR at the hotel and just let the Disney staff take all our photos – and I could be in them all!

    So if you think pictures for memories is going to be important to you, I highly recommend the PhotoPass+ – just make sure you go to at least a month before you go and look into it.

    • Jill says:

      I think Photopass works a little differently in Disney World. I purchased it for a large family trip two years ago and it cost $99 using a discount code. The regular price was around $149. We had to sign up for Photopass before our trip in order to get the discount. Not sure if it still works this way. Also, we were not able to get all of the pictures from the restuarants and rides put on photopass unless we purchased them first. Test Track was the only ride that we could put on our cards without purchasing. We just had to scan our card at the reader at the end of the ride. All other rides required purchasing the picture first and then they would add it to our card. A few of the table service places include a picture with the price of the meal. These pictures were put on our photopass without charging us. However, other places charge extra for the picture and we would have had to pay to have them added to the card. This was two years ago, so things may have changed. I would definitely check things out before going.

  • Michele says:

    Disney is so much fun!!! We just went this past December and had a blast. We are a family of 5 so eating out for us 3 times a day costs a lot. We rented a timeshare condo in Buena Vista rather than a hotel, got a good rate and it had kitchen, so we were able to cook breakfast and dinner every night, and then we brought a small cooler with us and packed our lunch every day and brought it into the parks with us.

    We purchased our park tickets from AAA and they seemed to have reasonable prices. Also, Sea World – which was my favorite – had a deal if you buy one day, they will let you validate your ticket to get a free day to go back. You should definitely look into that. The shows were amazing.

    Have fun!!!!!!!

  • Lydia says:

    Not 100% sure about this… but I think….. if you go in the month of your birthday, you get a free entrance pass for another time. A friend was trying to explain… and i think that is what she was saying (so if anyone shares birthday months try to go in that month)

  • Candice says:

    It doesn’t save you money per se, but will help you maximize your time at Disney. It is absolutely worth the small subscription fee. Another good resource worth the money is The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. Also, going in the down times doesn’t save you money, but will make your time much, MUCH, more enjoyable. October is a great time of year to go. The weather is gorgeous and the crowds are substantially smaller.

    The food at Disney is expensive and most of it is only mediocre. Packing refillable water bottles and filling snacks (trail mix, protein bars, etc.) will save you a substantial amount of money.

    We had enough hotel points to stay in a Marriott for free, so we chose one that had a free shuttle that ran several times in the morning and evening. This saved us the cost of a rental car. There is less flexibility in this, but several hundred dollars cheaper. We also decided if we wanted to leave the park at a time that the shuttles weren’t running, paying for a cab once or twice was still saving us money.

  • Dana says:

    Hands down the best way to save money is to stay in a condo offsite. We only paid $75 per night for a three bedroom wonderful condo on a resort with a huge pool, hot tub, etc, etc. we found it via We then made 50% of our meals at the condo which saved us a ton more.

    You can bring in drinks and food to Disney! Another huge money saver.

  • Kate SDDS says:

    Others may have already said this – but go during the ‘off season’ – typically January – March – we LOVE to go to Disneyland during February every couple of years – it is practically empty! The hours are shorter than during the summer and there are usually a couple rides closed for routine maintenance – but I promise you will get to do more during the off season than during June! Also go on a week day – Friday/Sat/Sunday are always much busier – also a Monday holiday is usually very busy too. The less time you spend in line (for everything from rides to the potty) is more time to enjoy – you will also get better seats at shows, the parades, etc! Hotels will also be cheaper at that time – we always go thru Hotwire or Priceline and use when we book for a little money back =)
    Make sure to bring your own water bottles! If you all wanted fun Disney attire watch for sales on disney store online rather than buying in the park (crazy expensive!)

    Have fun!

  • Kelly Hess says:

    Stay off property in a condo – we loved Windsor Hills!

  • Anna says:

    The “Fast Pass” is included in ALL tickets, so you don’t have to buy anything special for that.

    Disney lets you bring in whatever food you want, just no big coolers. So feel free to load up a backpack with food. So if you still want to eat out some you can but bringing lunch and eating breakfast before you go can save a ton of $$. Also bring water bottles and refill :). If its hot, go into any restaurant and ask for a cup of ice, its free, you can fill up with water from water fountain or just eat.

    Plan certain days for each park, that way you save on the park hopper. Its nice to have, but it also takes a decent chunk of time to park from park to park. So I’d forego it and decide how many days you want and which parks you want. Once you go for 3 days, each day after is very very discounted, you should be able to see ticket prices on the website.

    We have stayed on site and enjoyed Fort Wilderness, they have campsites and also have cabins. The cabins have full kitchens. The Disney POPcentury hotel and all-star hotels are part of their budget hotels and have good prices. They are simple rooms and not themed compared to other resorts but if youare just there to sleep they are so worth it. Transportation to the parks from the hotels is a lot easier than staying off, however if you can find a good deal, go for it. Keep in mind you will either need to have a hotel that will transfer you or pay for parking and driving yourself. Disney also offers free transfers from the airport, so you wouldn’t need to rent a car.

    During the summer, they have really long extended hours, and you get extra hours if you stay on site. However its HOT and super crowded. The least busy times are in the fall Oct/Nov and its super nice out.. but before Thanksgiving! Also Jan/Feb is nice after New years winds down and before Spring break starts up. Hotels are also cheapest during this time.

    Hope this Helps! Disney is super fun :). We had annual passes (gift from family) when we lived an hour away. Can’t wait to go back!

  • Erica says:

    Use to research hotel and ticket sales. Use their authorized ticket providers to purchase slightly discounted tickets. DO NOT buy tickets off craigslist or any of the ticket sales stands you might see on the side of the road. Often (not always) those are scams selling you used tickets which may or may not still have days on them.

    You can get ice water for free at any restaurant/counter service that has a soda fountain (i.e. not just selling bottles out of ice coolers). Just ask for ice water, instead of ordering a bottle of water. This saves us a TON of money! (I am lucky to live an hour away from WDW and visit almost every weekend.)

    Use to plan your trip too – often at Disney you can’t save a ton of money, just a little here and there, but you can save your time with good planning and preparation. They have a great podcast, too, called the Dis Unplugged, and they just finished doing “101” series (i.e. Magic Kingdom 101) which might be good for listening and learning what’s changed since you visited last!

    Splittsville just opened in Downtown Disney. Haven’t been yet, but reviews have been pretty positive, and might be a fun evening out one night for you guys. Also in Downtown Disney is Earl of Sandwich, which is a great way to get a made-to-order sandwich for less than $6 – one of the best deals on property, I think, and we eat there regularly.

    Most of all, savor the planning process and have a WONDERFUL MAGICAL vacation with your family!!

  • Kim S. says:

    This may be too late to respond; I’m a few days behind on reading posts. My family of 6 visited WDW in October. My two goals were to have fun while saving money. First I would say sign up for Mousesavers newsletters. They are packed with discount codes for hotels, tickets, and chocked full of helpful info. Also, I have found the best place to purchase tickets is Undercover Tourist. Sorry if these tips were already suggested. Have a great trip to the MousePalace.

    • Ann says:

      I didn’t see this on the list…there is a Disney Visa card where you get a $100 (or $200) gift card for Disney after you use the card 3 times. You also get 2% of grocery and gas purchases in “Disney Dollars”. So if you’re ok playing the credit card game (and pay it off every month, and request the gift card a month ahead) it’s a good way to get ahead.

      We brought water bottles and filled them at water fountains. That definitely saved a lot!

      I also bought some Disney trinkets ( a tiara and septer for my preschool daughter) from Michaels for $2, much better than anything at the stores.

      We also brought a book of Disney Princesses from home, and got signatures from the Princesses. Free! Epcot is the easiest place to get the signatures, there is a schedule of where the princesses will be with the maps.

      I’d recommend NOT getting the ParkHopper tickets; each park is big enough to take an entire day. The MouseSavers newsletter has links to better Undercover Tourist deals; when we went, it was buy a 3 day pass, get the 4th day free. The more days you go, the cheaper it is.

      And if you have a car and need a break from Disney, I highly recommend a day trip to Cocoa Beach or Blue Springs State Park (both are a 45 min-hour drive, but very worth it).

  • Renee says:

    Check out and sign up for email alerts. They were a great resource for new discounts when we went. I booked a package through Southwest which included transportation from and to the airport, hotel, and park tickets(watch for deals). later Disney released free dining package and when i called them they added it to my package with no problems! If history repeats itself I think they usually release the free dining promo late Feb/early March. Good luck and have a blast! if you go to Epcot dont miss the night show!

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