Ask My Readers | Saving Money at Walt Disney World

question 150x150 Ask My Readers | Saving Money at Walt Disney WorldToday’s reader question comes from Elly.

I am beginning to plan a Disney/Universal vacation for January and am looking for ideas on how to do it cheaply.

My family is still in the “saving for Disney” phase, so I don’t have any been-there-done-that advice for Elly. I can suggest that you check out my friend Sara from Saving for Someday, who has partnered with The Affordable Mouse – as she might have some good money-saving ideas.

I’d also love to hear from those of you that have vacationed in Disney – whether you did it on a tight budget or a more lavish one. Where can you save? Where should you splurge? And let’s talk kosher meal options on a budget, too!

Do you have a question about budgeting, couponing, menu planning or anything else? Please send me an email – I love hearing from my readers!

Comments

comments

Comments

  1. However you do it, it will be expensive. We went to Disneyworld this past January with our 3 year old daughter. We had an amazing time! The best money saving tips I think were using points from our credit card- we ended up using them on our hotel instead of flights because it was a better deal that way. Also, you can buy tickets to the theme parks on ebay, and it ends up being cheaper. Or you can buy multiple day passes and sell the extra days to help defray the cost. You dont need to stay on Disney grounds, where hotels are more expensive, but that means you needs to rent a car- the parks are a 10-20 minute drive. Bring your food with you! A George Forman, a pot and a burner will serve you well. If I think of anything else I will let you know!

    • Chana,

      I would caution against buying Disney tickets from eBay as there is no way to know if they are legitimate. Also, Disney World uses biometrics (finger scans) and if the tickets have been used and you can not authenticate them, Disney has the right to deny entry and confiscate the tickets.

      Same with selling the tickets once they’ve been used. Once used, Disney tickets clearly state they are not transferrable. Again, I would caution against doing this because it’s not fair to the buyer if they end up having useless tickets.

  2. We did Disney for our honeymoon, on a budget although not a strict one. Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you with my tips!

  3. My family and my sister’s family have both stayed at the World Quest Resort: http://www.worldquestorlando.com/ Fully equipped 3-BR apts with kitchen, 2 bathrooms, dining/living room, terrace, etc. Having a fridge, etc. made things so much easier in terms of eating, and there was plenty of space for everyone. For us, having that extra space and the kitchen was worth staying outside of the park. It’s about a 10-minute drive from Disney, and it has a great pool to return to when you’re hot and tired at the end of the day. Look on their website for specials. It was very reasonably priced.

  4. one suggestion I have is look into Renting DVC points, some of the units have kitchens. Regarding tickets from ebay, please be careful. I’ve seen many people get caught by the timeshare trap or with bad tickets.

    If you know someone in the military, their tickets are discounted along with staying at Shades of Green

    • Shades of Green requires eligibility verification, so you can’t just “know someone in the military”. The appropriate military personnel must be traveling with the group. Also, military tickets are discounted for military personnel and their immediate family and should not be sold to non-military. Disney does have the right to ask for appropriate military ID or enquire about how the tickets were obtained.

  5. Hotel with a kitchenette off grounds–cooked ALL of our own food. rbought lunch and water bottles. Spend no money inside the park. Tickets, Flight, car rental and parking will be your only fees.
    Buy souvenirs at the dollar store or your local disney store on clearance and give one to the kids each morning–itll satisfy there urge for a toy.

  6. rivkybg says:

    We went to Disney this past January, and it is one of the cheaper times to go, although no matter how you do it, it will cost money. However, one tip I can give you is this: We stayed on Disney property for about as much as any hotel off property would cost. Some financial advantages to staying on property – free transportation to parks from resorts, and to and from the airport. Also the ability to purchase a meal plan, and there are plenty of places that carry kosher food, although it is best to find out which places to go for kosher beforehand. We did not need to bring any cooking or food items with us (except for cereal bars for breakfast). So, the way we saved on staying on Disney property was this: People who own Disney timeshares sometimes don’t use them, and they sell off their “points” at a discount to at least recoup some of their money for the year. You can buy however many points you need to stay where you want, from the travel agency, and they can make your reservations for you. I signed up for the weekly emails from one travel agency, and we were able to buy soon-to-expire points at a really great discount.

  7. We stayed in a hotel off Disney property and took the city bus to get to the park. Super cheap and you can make bagel and cream cheese sandwiches to eat on the bus. Go during the off season – meaning when your kids have school – so you can get better prices on airfare and hotel rooms.
    The kosher meals at Disney are not so expensive and they taste pretty good but of course it is cheaper to bring your own food. We chose our hotel because it was across the street from a Publix with significant kosher food options. We had a fridge and microwave in our hotel room. If you bring a lot of food, you can pay for a locker which is still cheaper than buying all meals and snacks in the park.
    Doing Disney this way meant we did not have to rent a car or buy very much food in the park. Our big splurges were the kosher ice cream sandwiches.

  8. Most of the non-disney hotels have a free shuttle running every 15-30 min to disney and back – much cheaper than staying on disney property or renting a car. Southwest airlines (if they fly in your region) tends to have great deals into orlando and you can shuttle from the airport to your hotel generally.

  9. a friend advised me to take the kids to Walmart before you go to the parks to get souvenirs and avoid buying them in the parks where they are marked up

  10. We got very discounted tickets by signing my kids up for the educational classes, which were AMAZING (access to the parks before they are open to the public, etc.) It does not look like they have the 2013 schedule posted yet, but here’s the webpage: http://www.disneyyouth.com/register/?location=WDW&program=individual-enrollment

    We also used Starwood Points to stay at the Disney Swan hotel and then at the Vistana Resort Villas. At the Swan we still got hit with a lot fees (resort fee, parking fee), so I don’t know if staying there was worth it, but it was really great to be able to walk to Epcot and Hollywood Studios, especially if your kids are older and could potentially go by themselves. Both resorts have excellent pools.

  11. Jennifer S says:

    We just started thinking about going to Disney next January!

    What I’ve found so far:

    1. Mousesavers.com has lots of tips for Disney on a budget, though not specifically kosher, of course. If you sign up for their monthly newsletter, it has an exclusive link to an extra discount at Undercover Tourist, which many people say has the best ticket prices. (So far, I’ve found that UT is cheaper than AAA, but I haven’t bought any tickets yet, so can’t comment on their service.)

    2. Disney’s Youth Education Series (YES Program) has *really* deep discounts on tickets (like several hundred $$ cheaper!), but you have to sign your child/ren up for a 3 hour “class” during your visit. More info here: http://www.disneyyouth.com/individual-enrollment. Classes are offered at all 4 parks and some include rides on attractions. Again, I have not done this myself, just mentioning in the spirit of information sharing.

    3. Visit easywdw.com for expected crowd levels and descriptions of which parks are best to visit on which day. January 2013 isn’t up yet because Disney hasn’t released the park hours yet (probably sometime in June) but you can look at January 2012 to see what it was like this year, to get some idea.

    Thoughts from previous experience (January 2008):

    1. This time around, I’m not going to bother with kosher restaurants. We went to two last time and they were extremely expensive, very crowded because of yeshiva week, and the food wasn’t very good. Since I live in New York and can go to many excellent kosher restaurants anytime I want, it’s not worth it to me. We stayed in a timeshare, so we had a full kitchen. Even though it wasn’t kosher, we could still heat up double-wrapped stuff in the oven & microwave, keep milk in the fridge, etc. We had a rental car and stocked up at the local Publix. We will probably stay in a timeshare again and this time we might drive down to save on plane tickets, in which case I’ll bring a lot of food from home.

    Of course, if you live in a place with no kosher restaurants or you’re staying in a hotel room with no way to heat or chill food, then you might want to go to the restaurants anyway. Be sure to make reservations if you go during yeshiva week.

    2. You can get kosher meals at any Disney restaurant if you order in advance, but you will pay the same price as the regular diners and eat airline food. Last time we did the Akershus princess breakfast at Epcot, and the kids had fun meeting the princesses but it was expensive. Probably won’t do that again either. Apparently now they have a place in Magic Kingdom where you can meet most of the princesses at one time anyway.

    I think the best way to save $$ on kosher food at Disney is bring your own and eat a lot of PB&J! And remember you’re not there for the food. ;-)

  12. Devorah says:

    Chabad of Southern Orlando sells discounted Disney tickets on their website.

  13. We went a few years ago when we only had 2 kids and both were still free :). We stayed in an off grounds Hotel (we actually stayed at the Nickelodeon) where we got an AWESOME deal that I found on a budget travel site. This gave us a Suite with a kitchen and 2 bedrooms. We paid $50 a night! We took all our own food and we bought the kids an ice cream treat each day, but besides that we tried not to buy anything in the park. Since our girls were still little we were able to go over to a local Wal-Mart and pick up their Disney souvenirs for a fraction of the price. I think we paid $2 or $3 for their “autograph” books, and the same ones were selling for $10-$15 in the park. Since you are planning to go next winter I’d even suggest watching for Disney sales and pick up a few things ahead of time if your kids will go for it. We did have a car because my in-laws have a house in Florida so we drove to Disney from Boca using their car, but almost all of the off site hotels have free shuttles to the park. Disney is never cheap, but you can definitely do it on a budget!

  14. Rachel S says:

    I agree that cooking dinners and packing lunch are by far the best bet. We thought the quick serve kosher meals at the parks were terrible (like airplane meals without veggies) and expensive for what they were (about $10/person IIRC, but varied by park.). The Lower East Side restaurant (near the parks http://www.kosherorlando.com/menu-2/ ) was tasty but extremely slow and they were out of almost everything on the menu when we went in January (just had chicken and burgers). Cohen’s Deli was further away and had more variety and Shabbat takeout but almost everything was deep fried and not as tasty. http://www.cohensdeli.com/
    A budget evening activity we enjoyed was that The Fort Wilderness Campground has a free singalong and movie every night, open to all. You can bring s’mores supplies and make s’mores. http://www.buildabettermousetrip.com/activity-outdoormovie.php

  15. FrugalEngineer says:

    Does it have to be WDW? We just returned from Disneyland and found it to be another good option. (Our decision was made by jumping on the flights that hit my price point first: LAX or Orlando.) I got most of my best advice on the message boards at disboards.com . The advice includes how to get the most out of your time at the park (always get there early) b/c if you spend less time in line you get more for your money.

    In Anaheim Walt didn’t buy up all the land around the park so you can stay at a number of good hotels and still have the same walk distance as those staying “on-site”. We stayed at the Howard Johnson with a pirate themed pool area and a 7-minute walk to the gate for $59/night with the Entertainment Book special rate, which isn’t always offered but is fantastic when it is. (I didn’t have to buy the LA book, the card in my KC book worked fine.) The cheapest room was huge, sound-proof, (had a connecting door to my parents’ room), included a fridge (and microwave by request), and worked beautifully for us. The pool area had a great view of the park’s fireworks.

    I got DD a princess 4″x4″ notebook for $1.00 at the party supply store. It worked great for autographs. Not a budget tip, but she decided to spend her time in line for autographs sketching the character. It passed the time well and created some priceless reactions from characters when she displayed her portrait.

    I decided I could keep DD from needing a souvenir at every store if she did pin trading. I went to the Disney Outlet Store in Branson, MO and for $9.99 found a set of 4 Disneyland pins on a disney fabric piece that was attached to a clip that you might use if you had a work name badge that you wanted to clip on your belt but be able to pull out the cord and use the badge on an access door. [They called it a hip lanyard, but I thought the clip was worthless for the pin trading (it wouldn’t survive being clipped to her waist all day) but DH has already adopted one of the clips for his work badge.] I thought 12 was a good number of pins to have for a collection, so I got 3 of the same thing. The store didn’t have more than one type of set, but it didn’t matter the sets were all the same b/c she was going to trade. Normally pins cost $8+ each. $2.50 each for pins she traded was great. Having the clips for work badges is a bonus. I’m pleased that she’s pleased with the pins she ended up with. All would have cost more than $2.50. She even got a collectable Carsland one, which is a new area of Disney Calif Adventure park that opens in June. All cast members (employees) that have pins will trade with kids and they will accept any trade. They get special pins (like the Carsland ones) to trade and the kids can get up to 2 from each employee each day.

    I’ll agree that Disney won’t ever be cheap, but can be done on a realistic budget. And your family will enjoy it just as much as the ones with a fat wallet. Best yet, the cast members don’t know your budget and will treat you like royalty no matter what.

  16. 1. Since you’re investing in a Disney trip, make sure to maximize your time in the parks. Get a copy of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World from the library or a friend, and pick a daily plan that words for your family. This will make a big difference in time spent waiting on line vs. time spent on rides and other attractions. (The book also has lots of good suggestions for saving money at Disney.)

    2. Don’t buy the overpriced autograph books — instead, encourage your kids to make their own at home before your trip. I did this when I was 10 and was much more proud of my homemade book than I would have been over owning the standard store-bought version.

    3. Decide ahead of time what you can spend on souvenirs, and tell your kids what that amount is so they won’t expect anything more. Another idea is to skip the toys and gadgets entirely and go for a “family gift” like a group photo with Disney characters or with everyone in old-fashioned clothes, or a family caricature.

  17. Disney is wonderful!
    You can take refillable water bottles into the park, so you never have to buy an overpriced drink.
    -Staying on site is more $$$, but may be worth it if a family has any “logistical” issues – a physical condition, special needs family member, etc. – because on site is easier in many ways.
    – Instead of getting a fancy group photo, any passerby not in a rush will likely be happy to take a group shot with your camera for free.
    – Be sure to pack any OTC medications you could conceivably need; it will be cheaper to buy them at home.
    – Assuming no allergies, it’s really handy to take a jar of peanut butter, several plastic knives and crackers in a noncrushable container. This will save a lot of junky snack purchases because of sudden hunger pains:) It’s an easy, portable parve snack to work into your day.
    – Disney is expensive, but you can get much more for your dollar by having related, free family activities both before and after the trip!
    For instance:
    – Get Disney movies at the library, and have Disney Movie nights (with snacks) once a week before you go.
    – Involve kids in the planning; show them online photos of Disneyworld and the attractions and print out a map that shows the route you will take to get to Disney.
    – If your kids are old enough, you can tell them that you will pay for transportation, room and board, Disney passes and parent- packed snacks – they want anything else, they need to spend their own money. Kids can earn this money be doing special chores in the weeks before the trip. We did this with our kids, with success – they spent time before the trip very constructively; and they were VERY careful with how they spent money for souvenirs. We spent zero for souvenirs (well, except for a couple of items we bought behind their backs for upcoming birthdays and Hannukah:) )

    Make and hang up a long paper chain with each link representing a day, with the number of links corresponding with the number of days until the trip. Children can take turns tearing off the links.
    – As another poster mentioned, have kids make their autograph books as an activity.
    – After the trip, the whole family can work on a scrapbook about the trip. Also, make Disney placemats using stiff cardboard as a bottom mat, a collage of photographs glued or taped on the mat, then covered with clear contact paper.
    Finally, if you are going in January, you might save a lot, if you make this the family’s Hannukah gift and omit any regular gifts.
    ,

  18. Rachel S says:

    2 more pointers:
    We used the Unofficial Guide very heavily, but don’t rely on its idea of buying ponchos in the park – they were very expensive, so bring your own in case of rain.

    Also, we got a great rental car deal ($120 for a week) – so it’s worth looking at mousesavers, slickdeals, etc. for codes.

  19. Disney offers several multi-day packages (which are further discounted on undercovertourist.com, the only legitimate nondisney place to buy tkts; do not buy used tickets on ebay!) They have a Water Park Fun & More Option (Includes visits to your choice of Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park1, Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park1, DisneyQuest Indoor Interactive Theme Park2, Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course3, ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex4, Disney’s Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf Course5 or Disney’s Winter Summerland Miniature Golf Course5. ) When you buy this package you actually get # days of magic your way tickets (to theme parks) plus that # days to the water parks also. For example, if you are there for 7 days (one is shabbos), you can buy a 3 day pass of this kind and get 6 admissions (3 to theme parks and 3 to water park/espn)
    Disney is NOT cheap. There is a couponing blog called couponingtodisney.com even she budgets $3000 for a weeklong trip to WDW!!! The tickets are the most expensive part and there is little you can do to get a discount so be prepared.
    Personally, recommend staying somewhere that has a good shuttle service, particularly a Disney property, if you can get DVC points for relatively cheap you will be in huge luck. We got a room at Animal Kingdom for $100/night using a friend’s points. It was an amazing experience for the kids. If you are driving, you will have to take 2 shuttles to get from the parking lot to the actual park.
    Next, prepare food with you. Kosher food at Disney is a serious waste of time and money. Disney allows you to take whatever you want into the park. Get rolls, PBJ, cream cheese, string cheese, tuna, hard boiled eggs, juice boxes, crackers, keep your bag full of lollipops for the kids while they are online getting antsy.
    From the get-go, I told my kids they are allowed one present each per day (we only went 2 days) and so whenever they saw something they liked and said I want, they were reminded how this is the their one present- do you want to get it now or wait til the end of the day to see all the choices? Worked like a charm, no tantrums at all.
    Make sure you maximize your FAST PASSes. You are allowed a new one when the time on your card comes up. Before you go to your ride, make sure to dip your cards at the next fast pass ride and have that time clock start ticking.
    HAVE FUN!!!!

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