It may be the happiest place on earth, but a vacation to Disney World or Disney Land can also feel like one of the most expensive. Still, you want to give your children the most magical experience you can, and with careful planning, it is possible.
When we started planning our first trip to Disney it was disappointing to find that a lot of the tips we saw seemed to be for families who were within driving distance, which we definitely aren’t. However, three trips later, I can say I’ve culled some great budgeting tips both for those who fly and those who drive.
1. Consider an All-Inclusive Package
The Magic Your Way vacation packages roll lodging at one of the on-property Disney resorts, theme park tickets and a dining plan into one price. It can be customized to fit your family’s needs and includes perks like Extra Magic Hours and transportation to the parks and from the airport.
If you have to fly, the money you save on car rentals, tolls and theme park parking alone may make it worth it to spend a little more to stay at a Disney resort. Another nice bonus that comes with booking a Magic Your Way package is that you can book early and make payments (your vacation needs to be paid off in full 45 days prior to arrival). It’s like putting your vacation on layaway!
2. Plan an Off-Peak Vacation Time
Peak visiting times at Disney are around the weeks of Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter, as well as during other common school vacations and midsummer. That’s when the crowds (and the prices) are at their highest. If you can manage to visit outside of those times, you’ll not only save some money, but you may also be able to take advantage of one of Disney World’s special offer discounts.
3. Look for Official Special Offer Discounts
Disney World and Disney Land frequently have special offers, which range from "free dining" with the purchase of a vacation package to room-only discount rates. They appear and change often, so even if you have a vacation planned, don’t hesitate to keep checking in with Disney to see if there’s a new offer that you can apply to your vacation.
4. Find Online Deals, Discounts and Newsletters
There are numerous websites devoted to deals and coupons for lodging and food in and around the Disney parks. The most well-known, MouseSavers.com and AllEars.net, not only always have discount codes for hotels, but also have newsletters you can subscribe to to get the most up-to-date information and deals.
5. Save with Disney Dining and Refillable Mugs
It may seem expensive to buy a Disney Dining Plan, but it actually works out well if you plan on eating in the parks anyway. Like Circle of Moms member Ronda D., we found that a dining plan saved "a ton of money." The meals are so large that our family of five often only got three meals to share among us.
You can also buy a refillable mug at your resort for under $15 (it’s included with some dining plans), that can be filled unlimited times at resort drinking stations. Since each meal comes with a drink, our family simply got water bottles with the meal to take into the parks for later.
6. Fill the Fridge
Whether you have leftover food from meals or not, filling the fridge in your hotel room with food you bring or buy off-site will save money. Many families find it easier to have a quick breakfast in the room before heading out for the day or a mid-afternoon snack before dinner. You can buy food at Disney stores on-property, but it’s very expensive. If you don’t have a car, think about using one of the many grocery delivery services that cater to Disney guests.
7. Bring Your Own Gear
You can buy anything you need at Disney, but it’s expensive! Plan well and bring everything you think you might need, from dollar store rain ponchos to extra sunscreen to character T-shirts purchased more reasonably at a store at home. Don’t forget your own stroller, too. You can rent them, but your child is bound to feel more comfortable in her own and it will be so much easier to find in the parks!
8. Give Gift Cards for Souvenir Purchases
We’ve always solved the problem of haggling with our kids over souvenirs by giving them a Disney gift card ahead of time. You can also purchase Disney Dollars at any resort desk or at Guest Relations in the parks. The "dollars" come in denominations of $1, $5 and $10 and have pictures of the characters on them.
9. Visit Downtown Disney
Downtown Disney is a wonderful place to spend a lot of time and not a lot of money. There’s no admission, and as Circle of Moms members Beverly H. and Jennifer point out, not only are there lots of interesting shops to browse in, but with the giant LEGO statues, the interactive fountains, and the decor outside the Rainforest Cafe, there are a lot of great picture-taking opportunities — which makes for memories you'll value long after you've paid for your trip!
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.