A couple years ago, we took our kids to Disneyland and they adored it! In 2013, we earned some serious air miles thanks to Chase sign-on bonuses and decided to redeem them for airfare to Orlando this December. We just got back from our trip two days ago and I wanted to share some of the ways we were able to save on our trip.
General Thoughts about Disney
A little bit about my experience with Disney – this is my 5th trip to the World, and I’ve made probably closer to 8 trips to Disneyland over my lifetime (I’ve lost count). So while I’m by no means an expert, I do have a fair number of Disney trips under my belt and am always working to find ways to make a dream Disney trip more affordable.
Here’s the biggest conclusion I’ve come to after my trips: focus most of your efforts on saving FOR Disney instead of AT Disney. Let’s face it, if you have $500 to spend on a family vacation, you probably should pick another destination. A “deal” on Disney is not likely to be the same “deal” you’d find on another getaway. While I think we did a pretty smashing job of finding a deal on our vacation, we still paid about $3,200 total. For today’s post, I am going to be straight up honest to help you make a decision of Disney is right for you and if so, what kind of budgeting you’ll need to do ahead of time.
In case you’re wondering – yes, Disney is worth it to me. I have such a strong connection to Disney – including childhood memories, celebrating my honeymoon there, and even completing a marathon. It’s a magical place and one of those places I’m willing to pay extra to have my family experience.
Planning for Disney
Before booking your trip, do some research! Here are a couple things to consider:
1. When to Visit
We enjoy visiting Disney Parks off-season because the crowds tend to be lighter. On our last day in Magic Kingdom, we got on Splash Mountain in under 10 minutes, Buzz Lightyear in about the same, and walked onto many rides including Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Dumbo, and the Teacups. Even though the park closed at 7pm, we were able to leave having done just about every major ride in the park! We also had the chance to meet major characters (including Mickey himself!) in under 10 minutes at Epcot.
2. To Stay on Property – or Off
We’ve been blessed with the opportunity to stay on property before, including the GORGEOUS Polynesian Resort, but for this trip, we sprung to book our hotel off-site using Hotwire. I found a killer deal on a condo – only $43 a night! The condo included a kitchen, Jacuzzi tub, and access to free washer & dryer across the hall.
When we arrived, we stopped at a grocery store for eggs, bacon, produce, milk, juice, oatmeal, and snacks. Every morning, I cooked up an omelet and fresh fruit and probably saved us a lot of money and time from dining elsewhere!
While it’s definitely more expensive to stay on-site at a Disney property, you can sometimes score some amazing perks that make it worth your while. My pal Christy from Thrifty and Thriving scored a FREE dining plan for her family when they stayed at the Coronodo Springs Resort a few weeks ago. I asked her if she spent any money out of pocket on food above and beyond the plan while they were there, and she assured me they did not.
3. Pick up some Great Planning Resources
This is my new favorite Disney guide:
It’s The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World (currently about $15 on Amazon). This book is SOLID and PACKED with all kinds of useful information including hotel and dining reviews, touring plans, and reader-submitted comments. The authors that compile this book are not sponsored or endorsed by Disney so you’re getting completely unbiased information. They are unafraid to tell you which attractions are not worth your time, or which restaurants to avoid. They even provide insider tips for how to score the best parade seats or which rooms to request when staying at the Polynesian Resort to minimize your walking time to the Parks. It’s also a gem if you have small kids as each and every attraction in the Parks is thoroughly reviewed (including height requirements and “fright” potential). They also cover nearby attractions including SeaWorld and Universal Studios.
I cannot recommend this comprehensive book enough if you are considering a trip! An amazing amount of research has gone to put this together!
Saving on Park Tickets
Without a doubt, THE question everyone wants to know is: “how do I save on park tickets?” This is admittedly a tough nut to crack unless you have an obvious “in” – such as if you live in Florida or are a military family.
Here are my best ideas:
- Check out Mousesavers.com. This site has the most comprehensive, legitimate ways of saving on park tickets I’ve seen. Be very, very wary of any site offering a discount like 50% off.
- Nix the options if you don’t need ’em. If you think you can stick to one park per day, skip the “hopper pass” option – it can tack on $34 for a one-day ticket (that’s $136 extra for a family of four!). I have found that hopping at Disney World isn’t nearly as efficient as Disneyland (where you basically walk across the street) – so we nixed this option. There are additional upgrades including water park tickets, and ensuring your tickets never expire. Be judicious!
- 4 or 5 Day Passes provide best “per ticket” value. A one day pass is $95 for Magic Kingdom, and a 2-day pass only provides a minor discount at $184 (works out to $92 per day). A 3-day pass is $262, which works out to about $87.34 – still not a huge drop. But when you get to a 4-day pass, the price per day drops to $69.75 ($279 total). We ended up opting for 5-day passes, which work out to $57.80 per day (and $289 total – only $10 more per ticket over the 4-day pass).
- Purchase your tickets using a Rewards card. While we didn’t really save on our tickets per se, I did purchase them using our Chase Southwest card, earning us some more air miles. Because I’d already saved the cash we needed for the tickets in our savings account, I was able to make an immediate payment on the credit card avoiding interest costs. We’ve also purchased Disneyland tickets at Fred Meyer before so we could earn Rewards and Fuel Rewards bonuses.
- Sit through a timeshare presentation. Now I’ve not done this myself, but I know people who have. This option is not for everyone, but many timeshares in the area will offer discounted passes in exchange for sitting through a presentation. In fact, we were offered such an opportunity when we checked into our condo. I’m personally on the fence about doing stuff like this – it’s not that I have an ethical issue about getting the freebie when you have no intention of signing up, but I’m just not sure that an aggressive 90-minutes sales pitch is worth me saving $50.
- Sign up for the Disney Chase Premier Credit Card. I noticed that they are running a new offer: spend $500 in the first 3 months and you’ll receive a $200 statement credit. There is a $49 annual fee that you’ll have to pay (no way around it from what I can see), so the $200 bonus is more like $151. Still, that’s a pretty nice way to discount those park tickets.
Tomorrow I’m going to share Part 2 of this post by tackling food costs, why we paid with cash for the majority of our purchases in Disney, and mistakes we made on our trip (that I’m sure you won’t!).
I’d love to hear your additional thoughts on this topic!
Other posts you might find useful:
- How we earned enough air miles to essential fly for free to Orlando
- How we saved 60% on our Walt Disney World area hotel booking
- 6 things we did to save at Disneyland
- Surviving Disneyland with Toddlers – from my pal Melody at This Beautiful Frugal Life
- Thrifty & Thriving’s Disney World Trip Report Part 1
- Thrifty & Thriving’s Disney World Trip Report Part 2
What is your favorite time of year to visit Walt Disney World?
How have you planned for your trip?
Do you have any additional thoughts for saving on park tickets?