How to Plan a Disney Vacation Without Breaking the Bank

Disney World Family Vacation…

This is probably the most popular travel bucket list item for families. It’s not a surprise, though, is it? I mean, what do you expect when Disney World is called the “happiest place on Earth”? However, people are often surprised when they find out how much it can cost to plan a Disney vacation. There ARE some things you can do to save money and still have an amazing experience at either Disney World OR Disneyland!

How much, you ask? According to Walt Disney World Prep School, it can cost anywhere from $2,000-$10,00 for a family of 4. Yikes! Once you take into account transportation, lodging, and park tickets, it can add up quickly.

So, what can you do to fund your vacation without breaking the bank? Here are 10 tried-and-true tips to save money on a Disney vacation the entire family will remember forever.

My Family, circa 2015, Disney World

Book Through a Disney Travel Agent

This may seem counterintuitive. If you’re trying to save money for a vacation, wouldn’t it be best to DIY the entire planning process rather than paying someone else to do it for you? I think that question is what really trips people up. Because the assumption i that Disney travel agents charge for their services. In reality, the service provided by Disney travel agents don’t cost you a dime. Instead, they are paid a commission from Disney every time they book a vacation.

You don’t have to pay any hidden fees or mark-ups. What you pay through a travel agent will never be more than you would have paid on your own if you booked directly through Disney. And because Disney travel agents are experts on all things Disney, they know about all of the cool discounts, freebies, and loopholes, so you will likely end up saving money.

Not sure which travel agent to book through? Want my personal recommendation? It would definitely be to book your vacation through Get Away Today. They specialize in Southern California vacation and are fantastic at finding the best deals on everything from flights and hotels to Disney packages and more! Check out our page with Discounted Disney Deals to see what the current deals are. Then head on over to the Get Away Today website OR call 855-GET-AWAY to speak to a live agent. Be sure to ask them about the Fabulessly Frugal discount (and their awesome layaway plan).

My little family, circa 2005

Sign Up for a Disney Rewards Visa Card

Consider joining Disney’s Visa Rewards program to save even more money throughout the planning and vacationing process. The populr rewards program gives you opportunities to save money and attend fun events all throughout the year. Card members get special perks, such as:

  • Exclusive Character Experiences at Disney parks
  • Free photo downloads of special park moments through Disney Photo Pass
  • Discounts when shopping at the Disney Store (both in person and online)
  • 10-15% discounts on merchandise, restaurants, and tours at Disney parks
  • Savings on dining and tours at Disney
  • Meet “N Greet events
  • Earning Disney Dream Reward Dollars that can be used on things like Disney DVS, movie tickets, toys, costumes, and Disney travel

To see more of the perks of having a Disney Rewards Card, check out these cardmember stories. (If you have a rewards card and want to share your referral link in the comments below, go for it!)

My and my oldest daughter, circa 2015 @ Disney World

Ask About Membership Discounts

Disney offers cool discounts (some of them quite substantial) to special groups. There are discounted rates for military members, AARP members, AAA members, college students, credit unions, corporate and government groups, teachers, and even youth groups. So it’s definitely worth it to check into whether you are eligible for any discounts. If you are a card-holding member of D23 (the official Disney Fan Club), you can save even more money.

Check Online for Deals

While you are planning your Disney trip (and even in the days or hours leading up to it), be sure to keep an eye on their website. They often offer discounts and special offers on things like accommodations, meal plans, and ticket packages. If you happen to be a military family, you’re even more likely to find some cool discounts.  However, don’t just depend on the Disney website for deals. Shop around! Look at the Disney website first so that you have a point of comparison, then do searches for Disney packages on other sites. I would search as many sites as possible. Statistically, you’re more like to score a great deal if you expand your search area. I personally found the best deals from GetAwayToday.

If you haven’t already, you should also set up a free Disney account so that you receive updates and special offers from Disney.

Consider Driving

If you live in the continental United States, you may find that it is more cost-effective to drive to Orlando rather than purchasing plane tickets for your entire family (plus paying baggage fees and all of that other stuff). Of course, if you live on the other side of the country (or outside the United States), this may not be feasible. But if you live in the South or on the East Coast, I would definitely go this route.

Take some time to do the math first. First, figure out how long it would take you to drive to Orlando. This could easily take 2-3 days depending on where you live. If it takes more than a day, consider whether you will stop at a hotel to rest or if you will take turns driving straight there (which can save even more money). Then get an estimate of how much gas money you will need to get there and back (plus driving around in Orlando when you get there). I really like the Fuel Economy website because it lets you plan your trip, estimate fuel costs, and even compare cars (which comes in handy if you are a multi-car family and need to decide which car to take OR if you plan to rent a car for the trip).

Aside from saving money on plane tickets, another benefit of driving to Orlando is that you will have your own transportation in Orlando. That way, you don’t have to pay for a shuttle or wait around for free transportation. Plus, road trips can be fun! You might find some things along the way worth experiencing.

Go During the Off Season

Spring Break, summer vacation, and holidays are all really popular times to go to Disney World. They are also the most expensive times to go. Rather than going with the crowd, you should consider going during the off-season, such as in September or January. Not only will the lines be much shorter (enabling you to do more things in less time), you will also find that prices can be significantly lower . For example, hotel rooms that cost around $200 per night during peak season can cost as low as $85 per night during the low season. Tickets into the park are also more affordable during the off-season.

Book Rooms at a Budget-Friendly Resort

If you can afford to book rooms at a Disney resort, it’s definitely worth it. There are over two dozen official Walt DIsney World hotel resorts to choose from, so you are likely to find one that fits your budget. What makes these resorts worth the investment are all of the extra perks that you get when you’re a guest. These perks include (but are not limited to):

  • Flexible FastPass  Planning This enables you to reserve times for rides and attractions a full 60 days before your vacation. This is 30 days sooner than non-resort guests.
  • Extended Park Hours If you stay at certain hotels, you get the benefit of Extra Magic Hours. Each day, guests have the chance to either go to the park before it opens or stay after it closes to enjoy select attractions at one of the four parks. This means you get to have more fun and shorter waits in line.

Plan a Longer Stay

Rather than trying to fit all of your fun into one or two days, plan to stay at Disney for a longer time. The longer you stay, the more you are able to see and the less you pay per day. For example, a single-day ticket may cost $110, whereas a 6-day ticket may cost just $59 per day. Some hotels may even offer you free nights if you stay for a certain period of time!

Skip the Park Hopper Pass

Speaking of tickets, while people get excited about the Park Hopper passes, you may actually find that they aren’t a good investment. Personally, I think that they are only good if you only have one day in Disney World and if you don’t have small children with you. However, if you have small children (or any children), it can be really hard getting through just one park in a single day. It’s much better to just spend each day exploring a single park than stressing yourself out trying to see all of them.

Buy Souvenirs in Advance

Let’s be honest…Disney World is a big business. They want you to spend as much money as possible while you are there. There will be souvenirs every time you turn around – and your kids will feel left out if they don’t have cute shirts, fun hats, noisy toys, costumes and all the other cool things other parents buy for their kids at Disney.

My hack for making sure the kids are happy without breaking the bank? Buy souvenirs before you leave home. That’s right…I head to places like Target, Walmart, and our local mall to buy things for a fraction of the price as Disney world. I pack them away in our luggage where the kids won’t see them. Then, once we get settled in at Disney World, hand them out a bit at a time. No explanations necessary. More than likely, they won’t care WHERE the souvenirs came from. They just care that they have something cool.

If your kids are dead-set on getting souvenirs FROM Disney World, though, there are a few free ones they’ll love. Make a stop by Guest Services on Main Street to get cute buttons to take home. Love freebies? Check out this article that uncovers the 10 Best Free Souvenirs to Snap Up at Walmart.

Hopefully these tips will help you save big bucks when the time comes to plan a Disney vacation. Need more?

Check out these other ideas for saving money at Disney!

7 Tips to Help You Save Big at Disney World

Save Money at Disney

12 Reasons Why Disneyland Needs to be Your Next Family Vacation

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