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11 money-saving tips for a Walt Disney World vacation on a budget

by Brooke Geiger McDonald

A Walt Disney World vacation is undeniably magical, but all that pixie dust comes with a pretty hefty price tag. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to cut costs that can add up to significant savings. Here are 11 of the best ways to save on your next trip to the Most Magical Place on Earth.

walt disney world

Use Disney Gift Cards to pay for everything

There are a number of stores that sell discounted Disney gift cards, so load up and use them to pay for everything – including your onsite hotel, park tickets, dining, and merchandise. 

disney gift card

You can usually find discounted Disney gift cards at Target (5 percent discount with a Red Card), Sam’s Club and BJ’s (3-4 percent discount). At Sam’s and BJ’s, pay with a cash-back credit card like Chase Freedom or Discover It when the card is offering wholesaler warehouses as a 5-percent cash-back category and you’ll save even more.

Other retailers, including Kroger, Meijer, and Lowe’s Home Improvement also occasionally have promotions that will nab you up to 10 percent off gift cards, so keep your eyes peeled!

Pass on the Disney Dining Plan

For some guests, the Disney Dining Plan can make a lot of sense, but it’s not always a good deal. If everyone in your party is a card-carrying member of the clean-plate club, you all enjoy multi-course table-service meals, or you try to pack in the character dining experiences, the Disney Dining Plan may deliver significant savings.

walt disney world

But, for many visitors, even the lightest Quick-Service Dining Plan is simply too much food. This is especially true for families with young children, as everyone in the party must be on the plan. If you have picky kids or lighter eaters – perhaps, for example, you share a starter, have a salad for your main course, or grab a Mickey bar on the go for dessert – chances are you’ll pay far more for the Dining Plan than you would by paying as you go.

Stay on property

Yes, in many cases, you pay a premium to stay onsite at an official Walt Disney World Resort hotel, but for many families, the cost is justified. Time is money, after all, and nothing gets you closer to the magic than staying on property.

walt disney world

Staying off property at a location that doesn’t provide park or airport transportation means you’ll need a rental car or a whole lot of Lyft or Uber trips. For families with children still in car seats, this gets even more complicated because you’ll need to rent or travel with car seats.

Staying on property gets you free transportation to and from the parks and Disney’s Magical Express provides free airport transportation to and from Orlando International Airport, eliminating any need for a rental car. You’ll also get access to Extra Magic Hours, extended park opening hours available only to onsite guests. (This fall you’ll even get Extra, Extra Magic Hours!)

Stay off-property

Now that we’ve touted the benefits of staying on property, we also have to acknowledge that staying off-property can make sense for some families too. Offsite hotels and Airbnb options will in most cases be cheaper, but you’ll need to remember to take the aforementioned transportation cost into account.

walt disney world

One great way to get the best of both worlds is to stay at an off-property “Official Walt Disney World hotel” like the Disney Springs Resort area hotels or my favorites, the recently renovated Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin.

The best thing about these resorts is you still get many of the perks you get when staying on property, including free park transportation (no Magical Express, though), and access to Extra Magic Hours. If you participate in a hotel loyalty program like Marriott Bonvoy or Hilton Honors, many of these resorts are also bookable using points.

Join Disney Vacation Club

If you visit Walt Disney World annually (or if you’d like to!), joining Disney Vacation Club (DVC), Disney’s far more flexible version of a timeshare program, can deliver significant savings.

disney vacation club

Purchase a certain number of points per year at one of Disney’s 15 DVC properties, your “home resort,” with contracts expiring between 2042 and 2070, depending on the resort. Buying into DVC means you lock in prices today and pay only an annual maintenance fee once you’ve purchased your contract. You can change up your stay each year too, trying out different room types at different deluxe DVC resorts at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Aulani in Hawaii.

You can even use your points on Disney Cruise Line and outside of Disney (though we don’t recommend that as it’s not a smart use of points). Becoming a DVC member also gets you discounts of up to 20 percent on merchandise, dining, and annual passes.

If you’re not ready to make the commitment to becoming a DVC member, renting DVC points is another great way to save on a stay at a deluxe resort. There are several sites that facilitate DVC point rentals, including DVC-Rental.comDavid’s Vacation Club Rentals, DVC Rental Store, and BuyandSellDVC.com.

Get groceries for your room

Whether you’re staying in a DVC villa with a full kitchen, an Airbnb, or just a basic hotel room, it makes sense to get some groceries for your room. Stop at a grocery store before you check in or order from Instacart or Amazon Prime (Keep in mind, Disney resorts charge $6 to deliver your groceries to your room).

walt disney world

Do breakfast in your room and pack your own snacks and sandwiches for lunch and you’ll shave a ton of money off your total spend. Having a quick breakfast in the room will also save you some time, freeing you up to hit the parks first thing when the lines are light.

Stick with breakfast for character meals 

Character meals are tons of fun and can be a great way to avoid wasting time in line to meet characters throughout the parks, but they are by far one of the most expensive dining options at Disney.

character dining

Limit your character meals to just one or two during your trip and stick to breakfasts, which tend to be around $9-15 cheaper than character lunches and dinners. Stretch your breakfast dollars even further by booking the latest possible breakfast reservation. If you fill up enough, you can skip lunch and get by on snacks until dinner!

Make most of your meals quick-service 

You’ll save a boatload of cash (and time) if you opt for quick-service meals rather than table service. We regularly feed a family of four at our favorite quick-service spots for about a quarter of what we end up spending at a table-service restaurant after gratuity.

walt disney world

There’s another benefit to Disney’s quick-service dining beyond cost too, particularly if you’re visiting Florida in the winter from someplace freezing and want to spend as much time as possible outside: outdoor seating. The majority of Walt Disney World table-service restaurants seat guests almost exclusively indoors. This can be great when it’s sweltering or pouring, but if you like to be outside, taking in all of the sights and sounds of Walt Disney World, quick-service can be the way to go.

Shop around before you book

Vacation packages that bundle components of your trip, including park tickets, hotel, flights, and even rental car, tend to deliver solid discounts, so be sure to shop around. Disney regularly runs package promotions with discounts of up to 30% off rack rates. Wholesalers like Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJ’s are also great places to book packages, and you can tailor them to include just the components you need. We also recommend booking through official travel agents like Mouse Fan Travel.

If you’ve got your flights and lodging covered and only need park tickets, get discounted tickets from an official online seller like Undercover Tourist. Also check to see if your employer participates in TicketsatWork, another site for discounted park tickets.

Buy a Souvenir Popcorn Bucket

Sure, we all love those iconic Disney snacks like Mickey pretzels, churros, and Dole Whips, but the cost adds up quick.

walt disney world

On your first day, buy a souvenir popcorn bucket for $10 you can keep refilling it for just $2 for the rest of your trip. Alternate your snacks between popcorn and the pricier options and you’ll save some cash without feeling deprived.

Sign up for a Disney Visa card

Get one of two types of Chase Disney Visa cards and you’ll nab yourself a sign-up bonus of between $50 and $200 once you’ve hit the minimum in qualifying purchases.

disney chase visa

The best things about these cards are the discounts and perks they get you, particularly if you’re not an Annual Passholder or DVC member and don’t otherwise have access to discounts. These include 10 percent off at select dining and merchandise locations, tours and spa treatments; special no-wait character meet-and-greets with a free PhotoPass photo; and 0 percent financing on select Disney vacation packages.


What are your go-to ways to save on your Disney vacation? Let us know in the comments below!

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