Not all Disney vacations are created equal and if you are on a budget, these tips may help make your visit a magical and less expensive one:
1. Resort stay vs outside lodging
This one will depend on your idea of convenience and budget. Staying off site requires a rental car, paying for parking and driving to and from the parks. (See below.) The Resort stay includes airport transfers and transportation around Walt Disney World which saves time and money. At $92 USD a night, the All Star Resorts are the cheapest fare. Unless the hotel you chose outside the resort has shuttles and airport rides included with the hotel nightly rate, your best bet is going with Disney Resort accommodations.
You get exclusive extra park time and perks for being a Resort guest, like the MagicBand. Do the math carefully and choose wisely.
2. Rental Car vs Airport Transfers
At a cost of $60 to $90 USD for a family of 4, it is best to rent a compact or economy car than to pay the fee. However, if you don’t have a Shuttle at your offsite hotel paying for parking will dimish the savings. The Disney Hotel/Resort stay includes transfers to and from the airport via the Disney Magical Express, and to the parks via internal trams, monorail and boat. You just need to book the pick up and drop off time in advance. The staff will yake care of checked luggage at the airport delivering bags to your room within 3 hrs of arrival.
3. Standard parking vs Preferred
Standard parking is $20 USD a day per park but you must take a trolley to access the main gates from the parking lot. Preferred runs $35 USD a day per park and is within walking distance to your vehicle. If it rains, both options will get you drenched if you don’t have a poncho or water resistant shoes and outerwear. Unless you have to make frequent trips to the car (park reentry is allowed) the extra cost is not warranted. Make sure to leave earlier or later than the guests who exit after the fireworks and traffic will run smoothly for both options.
4. Book your FastPass+ and restaurant or special event reservations in advance
You can reserve FastPasses six months in advance of your visit. Only three passes per day per guest are allowed. Check approximate wait times and book passes for the most popular attractions way ahead of schedule. Frozen Ever After, Peter Pan’s Flight, Dinosaurs, restaurant reservations and some special events sell out days and even months before. Planning ahead is the key to successfully navigate these parks especially during summer/high season and spring break.
5. Take advantage of the return policy
So your kid threw a tantrum and you caved in purchasing an item that got discarded or ignored 5 minutes later…Don’t worry! Keep the tags on and the receipts and head on to any store or kiosk to return or exchange the item. However, some sales are final and excluded from the return policy hence check or confirm the item is eligible before completing the purchase. This works well for people who buy impulse souveniers and realize they can’t truly afford them. Unworn, unwashed items with tags will be accepted. Mickey ears with tags and no visible wear can be returned too. Another alternative if you are on a budget is to buy souveniers in the cheap stores outside the resort and sneak them in and give them to your kids. Win-win.
6. Bring your own snacks
This one was new to me and it is the tip that ends up saving you the most. Fill a backpack or bag with goodies and you won’t need to spend $3 USD on water or snacks plus you won’t have to worry about alergies or nutritional content. Meals run $10.99 USD and up for adults, $7.99 USD for kids, which adds up fast for a family of four. Water and soft drink bottles are permitted too. No alcohol please. (All the parks except Magic Kingdom sell alcohol starting at $7 USD.)
Bring your own poncho. Most dollar stores sell them and they are waaay cheaper than buying them onsite.
7. Stroller rental vs bringing your own
This one depends on a few factors. If you have a 5 or 6 year old that doesn’t have a stroller, you may want to rent one so they can take a nap or walking break. If you have your own stroller, and you don’t want to carry it around, the parks offer one and two seat vehicles for rent from $15 USD. Packages may be available for longer stays; check online for details. During the high season these sell out quickly. Make reservations promptly.
8. 4 Day Magic Tickets vs Park Hopper
Until the Thursday before Memorial Day Weekend, Disney is offering a 4 day Magic Ticket that retails for $279 USD plus tax. This special puts park entry at $70 USD per day and comes with black out dates in April during popular Spring Break dates. You can visit one park per day, with reentry privileges, within 14 days of activating the ticket during your first park admittance. The park hopper is at least $60 USD more expensive but allows you to hop between the parks at your convenience. The hopper is a good bsrgain for those.who only wany to bist for 2 or 3 days and have been there before. Book online and ask a reservations castmember for more details.
9. MagicBands vs regular ticket card
The MagicBand comes included with your Disney Resort package as it doubles as the room key. You will be able to charge purchases to your room and access the park with the band. However, the option to use the band for just park entry is available. Basic color bands are available for purchase at the main ticket booths for $13.99 USD. Character and limited edition bands retail for up to $27.99 USD each. The new band will be activated to your account and the room key capability transfers as well. Castmembers will ask you to scan the card or band to tie pictures, FastPasses, and payments (hotel guests only). If you want a collectible and functional souvenier, splurging on MagicBands is an alternative. If you are okay keeping track of the cards for each family member, skip this one.
Remember to use the same finger when logging into the entrance scanners.
10. Take your own pictures
In most character spots and greet areas there will be a Disney Castmember willing to take a picture with your device. You can also take your own candid shots and won’t be penalized or scolded for choosing to do so. The photographers are very understanding and aware of this rule and only ask that you move along as quickly as possible in an orderly manner. Have your cameras ready for maximum efficiency. Selfie sticks are not allowed inside the parks; leave them at home. Memory Maker, the Disney photo service, runs about $60 USD a day or $170 for the entire stay and allows you to print and download pictures and videos for personal use. You have 30 days to decide if you will purchase this add on and the photos will be yours for life! Expensive but worth it if you are a horrible photographer or don’t have quality image devices.
Feel free to ask for more tips or advice in the comments section. 🙂