by Brenda Kaufman
Everyone knows Disney is the happiest place on earth. It can also be very expensive. Any Disney related entity does not miss an opportunity to separate you from your money. I’m lucky enough to live about three hours away from Walt Disney World and have been fortunate enough to visit a few times a year since 1996. My family and I have been Walt Disney World passholders for over 10 years and have found a few ways to save a few dollars when visiting the mouse.
Become a passholder
If you plan to visit more than two times per year. If you are able to budge the monthly payment for annual passes, you may save some money on tickets in the long run. As a passholder, you can get discounts on rooms, discounts at most stores at WDW and discounts at many restaurants on property. There are also discounted tickets for specialty parties (such as MNSSHP and MVMCP) as well as special passholder previews for new openings for various levels of passholder. On the down side, free dining is not an option when offered since a full package including tickets is required to qualify for that promotion.
Share meals if you don’t have a dining plan
I have a 7 year old picky eater, so his meals are rarely anything other than chicken tenders and French fries – sometimes just the fries. If we are at a quick service restaurant, my husband and I get meals with fries and share the fries. There are usually enough fries in two meals to serve three people. When at a table service dining option, we find that the entrees are typically enough to split between the two of us. Check on My Disney Experience under the restaurant description/menu or ask your server if there is a charge for sharing. So far, we have never been charged. One of our favorite meals to split is the Gratin de Macaroni (Macaroni Baked) at Chefs de France in Epcot. It is absolutely delicious but who wants to eat a giant bowl of pasta and walk around world Showcase in the Florida heat? Half is just filling enough to get the flavor of the dish but not too filling that you want to take a nap after eating it. Then there’s dessert. Which we almost never have room for if we each get an entrée. If a table service has a dessert we want to try, we order an appetizer to share and each have a dessert, or two appetizers and split a dessert.
If you can get a discounted room, stay Club Level
I know – makes no sense if you’re trying to save money, right? If you can get a discounted club level room, you may find you save money on food and drinks – more money than if you booked a standard room and paid for drinks and food. Included in your room price is access to the club room and concierge staff. Club levels typically serve food three to five times daily starting with a continental type breakfast and ending with cordials and desserts. During breakfast, you may find a few hot items like eggs, oatmeal, or quinoa. The lunch time set up may have cold cuts and cheeses, salads, and a few snacks. Afternoon snack time trends toward a few sweet and salty treats – gummy bears, trail mix, house-made chips, or cookies. At dinner time there are usually a few hot items, a few salads, cheese, bread, and a veggie tray. While it may not be enough for big eaters, we have been able to fill up on things like bacon wrapped scallops, teriyaki chicken skewers, and caprese salad. Dessert and cordials are close to fireworks time and some resort club rooms have fireworks viewing areas. If you time it right, you can watch the fireworks comfortably in the club room and then zip the kids off to bed. Fruit, coffee, tea, water, sodas, beer, and wine are always available. When we are able to stay club level, we do not make any table service reservations. We usually have to get fries for our little Stitch, and maybe some specialty items like Dole Whip, cronuts, and popcorn, but we can usually get our money’s worth from the food served in the club room.
Stock up on food and beverages
If club level is not in the budget, bring water and other drinks and cold or room temperature breakfast items. Most rooms have a mini-fridge to keep milk, yogurt, and fruit. Have breakfast in your room while you’re planning your day at the parks. Bring bread, peanut butter and jelly, cereal boxes, granola or granola bars, protein bars. You can even bring a small, soft-sided cooler to the parks with you (check to be sure this is still possible before your trip as security measures often change). You can bring your sandwiches and save money for a nice dinner. Another option is to pre-order online from a local grocery stores or Amazon who will deliver food, beverages and supplies right to your resort. Many beer and wine distributors also offer resort delivery.
We back a few packages of gummy bears, fish crackers, nuts, and protein bars – anything that won’t melt and fits in your backpack. No, it isn’t a Mickey shaped ice cream bar or pretzel, but it can save some money if you can deal with the tantrums. I try to keep my tantrums to a minimum ;)
Use Disney Gift Cards
If you can purchase them at wholesale stores where you get a discount, or earn gas points, you can use the cards to pay for your room charges when you use your magic band for food and souvenirs.
Plan a non-park day
Depending on how many days you are planning for your trip, plan one or two of them to be swimming, arcade, or Disney Springs days. You can save on park tickets by reducing the number of days and take a day to rest and decompress from the hustle and bustle of the parks.
If your credit and budget allows, get a Disney Visa
You get discounts on purchases, special meet and greats, and your purchases get rewards that can be put on a card to use at Disney on food or other purchases. If you have enough rewards, you can use the points to pay for your room.
Purchase souvenirs and gifts close to home and bring them with you
You can find Disney products at dollar stores and other retailers that will be at a slightly lower cost than at Disney. I have purchased decorations and went to the room before my husband and son and decorated the room for different holidays. Nothing that sticks to the walls or requires hanging. For Halloween, I purchased a few things online – a strand of Mickey lights, banner, cobwebs, etc. and draped them on the end of the bunk bed, TV and dresser. I had balloons and some gift items delivered to the room so we each had a special treat from Mickey, and we were able to have a much less expensive in room celebration.
Find a good travel agent who may offer you a special gift for booking with them
The services of a travel agent are free and do not change the price of your trip if you were to book on your own. BUT, with the right travel agent, all of your wishes for your magical trip will be taken care of without the stress of doing it yourself. If something does go wrong, you have one person in your corner who can handle any issues that may arise. As an added benefit, some travel agents may gift you some pixie dust for choosing them out of all the options available to you. Check out Magic Family Travel’s bonus gift
These are just a few ways you can save a little money on your Walt Disney World vacation. They don’t work for everyone, but one or two might work for you and your family. Whether you choose to stay on property or off, how many days you spend at the parks, how many family members are traveling with you, or how many table service meals you have planned, your Walt Disney World vacation can be magical.
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Brenda Ajay, CTA
Brenda Ajay is a travel adviser and travel writer based in Central Pennsylvania. She specializes in family and luxury travel.
Brenda Kaufman is a travel adviser and blogger based in Cape Coral, FL. She specializes in family travel, and ocean and river cruising.