Pick the right time to go
As with any popular destination, prices for resort stays tend to rise during peak season, especially during school breaks in the summer, Thanksgiving week, and the days around Christmas and New Year. Weekends are always more expensive as well. Traveling during non-peak dates may be a challenge, but you can save an average of $400 a night.
Insider tip: Crowds tend to be smaller during weekdays in winter, from January to March, as well as September and early November.
Forgo the Park Hopper
Disneyland and Disney World are comprised of multiple parks, each with its own entrance fees. As the name suggests,
Park Hopper is an option that lets you visit multiple parks per day, but you will pay significantly more for this privilege. The difference between a single park ticket and one with Park Hopper can be up to about $85 per day; for a family of four, that’s a savings of $300 to $350.
Another reason to skip the Park Hopper concerns logistics. There’s plenty to do at each of Disney’s parks, so I recommend dedicating an entire day to one park, instead of stressing to rush to another. You can take it slow and enjoy all the amenities of a single park. This is especially true for Walt Disney World, where the parks are located far apart and you would waste time shuttling from one to another.
Insider tip: Park Hopper makes sense if you are an experienced visitor who wants to hit specific areas or rides at each park. With some strategic planning, it is possible to visit two or more parks, especially at Disneyland and the adjacent California Adventure. The Park Hopper Plus option lets you visit select water parks and golf courses.
Explore your ticket discount options
While Disney doesn’t generally offer discounts on park tickets, there are a few money-saving options to explore before paying full price. First, nail down how many days you plan to be in the parks; there is a price break depending on how many days you visit. For example, if you go to Disney World for just one day, it would be about $109 per day. If you opt to go for five, the price drops to $88 a day. Keep in mind that the standard tickets don’t include water parks, golf courses, and other non-theme park areas.
Know a friend or relative in Florida? State residents can
save 40% off a four-day ticket in addition to other discounts. The catch is that the resident must be present and show verification at the time of entry, so they will need to be included in your group. If it’s a close family friend or grandparent, that may not be an issue. From time to time, Southern California residents may also receive a similar offer.
Insider tip: Check out ticket brokers, such as Undercover Tourist or Get Away Today, as well as membership-only clubs like AAA and Costco Travel, which often have deals on Disney resorts and packages. If it applies to your family, Disney also offers a military discount for four-day and five-day ticket packages. Travel agents who specialize in Disney vacations may offer discounted packages as well.
Make wise restaurant choices
There is a large selection of dining options at either resort and prices range from budget to premium. For example, a New York Strip at the upscale Steakhouse 55 in the Disneyland Hotel costs $58 (that is just for the steak, sides not included). But at the casual Bengal Barbeque eatery inside Disneyland, you can enjoy a delicious Bengal Beef Skewer for $5.49.
The key is to research the various food outlets available at the park you will be visiting, basing it on your budget and family’s eating habits. If you don’t care about sit-down meals and can run on hot dogs and churros from a street cart, you can cut down on food expenses.
Note that some restaurants, such as the aforementioned Steakhouse 55, are still temporarily closed.
Insider tip: You are allowed to bring your own food and non-alcoholic beverages inside the park, with a few exceptions. In addition to saving money, this is great for those with dietary needs or picky eaters. You can also save time not having to queue up to order food. However, this option isn’t always feasible, especially when you’re traveling and staying in hotels, or you just don’t want to haul extra items. Even if you don’t plan to bring in full meals, it is smart to carry snacks such as granola bars, fruits, or nuts.
Get food delivered
Another option for cutting down on food costs is to have groceries delivered to a hotel, as many rooms have mini-fridges and microwaves — great for stocking up on water, sodas, snacks, and even quick-heat and pre-made meals and alcohol. If your room has a full-sized kitchen, consider cooking some meals “at home” or for bringing inside the park (see our tip above).
Amazon Prime delivers to hotels, while Garden Grocer specializes in Disney World deliveries.
Insider tip: My family always likes to get an early start in the morning, so I make instant oatmeal before heading out. I also bring K-Cup pods of my favorite coffee in case we get a room with a Keurig coffee maker, which is becoming more common in Disney hotel rooms. And, if you like to unwind with a drink at the end of the day, you can save money by mixing a cocktail or pouring a glass of wine in your room.
Bring a refillable water bottle
With all the walking you will do, it’s important to stay hydrated, especially during the hotter months in Florida and California. Skip the bottled water the park sells (a bottle of Dasani costs around $4) and opt for a money-saving and environmentally friendly refillable water bottle instead.
You can fill water bottles at restaurants or one of the refill stations. But keep in mind, refill stations are few and far between, and due to COVID-19 cleanliness protocols, it is harder to fill your own water bottle.
Insider Reviews recommends the
Vapur Element and Hydaway Collapsible Water Bottle because they are lightweight when empty and easy to pack.
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Stick to a souvenir budget
Disney is skilled at dividing guests from their money, especially when it comes to keepsakes. In most areas of the parks, you won’t be able to go more than 20 feet without being lured by the siren song of souvenirs. It can be very tempting to walk away with a droid from Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge ($99) or a replica of the
Enchanted Tiki Room Sign ($150), but try to keep those temptations at bay.
Instead, spend your money on less expensive, classic park items that will hold their value (in sentimental ways), such as a pair of
Mickey Mouse ears with a name embroidered on them (about $23) or, my favorite, a hand-cut silhouette from one of the artists on Main Street ($10).
Insider tip: You can get creative by buying souvenirs before you step inside the parks. For example, if your child wants to frolic around the parks dressed as Cinderella, Belle, or Elsa, you can purchase an official Disney dress online for about $30. One of these dresses will set you back about twice that much inside the parks.
Stay at a value resort
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa are lovely, they are also expensive — the Grand Floridian starts at around $400 per night. If a hotel is purely a place to sleep, Disney’s Art of Animation or Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort are two of the more inexpensive options inside the Disney bubble, starting at around $179 a night.
Check out all our choices for the
best Disney World hotels here. If you’re willing to stay at a non-Disney resort, there are also many excellent hotels in Orlando and Kissimmee from as low as $66 per night, depending on the season.
If you want to go deluxe, consider renting DVC points
Disney Vacation Club (DVC) is Disney’s popular timeshare program that lets you rent studios, villas, and suites at one of the deluxe resorts. Membership is a big investment, but my friends who joined have been pleased with the program. Here’s a secret: You can take advantage of the program without being a member, by renting DVC points.
When you rent DVC points, you are essentially booking through a DVC member, not Disney. For a negotiated fee, you get access to their points and preferred rates (a member has a set number of deductible points that must be applied in order to get those rates), which can make those deluxe resorts drop down drastically in price.
For example, the price for a deluxe studio at Disney’s Riviera — depending on the date — is $559 a night, but you can rent points and pay about $275 for the same night. At Disney’s
Animal Kingdom Lodge, a studio is $616 a night, but with DVC points you pay $380. You are basically getting the same room for almost half the price. And, it’s not just for Florida: DVC also includes California properties.
Companies such as
David’s Vacation Club Rental and the DVC Rental Store can facilitate the points rental from DVC members, and the booking process is similar to a regular hotel reservation. There are plenty of caveats with this system, so make sure to go over all the restrictions and conditions from the broker or DVC member.
Insider tip: Experience a taste of a deluxe resort without staying in one. Have a Dole Whip at the Polynesian and stroll along its beach, or head to the Grand Floridian, grab a coffee, and take a seat in the lobby and bask in the old-timey vibe.
Schedule a non-park day
Save on park tickets by scheduling a non-park day. There are many ways to get a Disney resort experience, including spending hours by the pool, checking out the lobbies and restaurants at hotels, and heading to the Disney Springs shopping and entertainment center. Keep reading for our suggestions on free stuff to do at Disney World.
Richard Harbaugh/Disneyland Resort
Tips to save money at Disneyland
Stay at a Good Neighbor hotel
There are only three Disney-owned hotels within Disneyland —
the Grand Californian, the Disneyland Hotel, and Paradise Pier. While the hotels are fantastic and convenient, they are also expensive. For example, rates at the Grand Californian start at $586 a night. Thankfully, there are lots of affordable options surrounding the park. Read our roundup of nearby hotels ranging from the budget-friendly Hampton Inn & Suites to the new JW Marriott, which, even though it is a four-star property, is about half the price of the Grand Californian or the Disneyland Hotel.
Insider tip: Widen your hotel search to include Buena Park, California. Home to the Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park, Medieval Times dinner theater, popular Cuban eatery Porto’s, and other attractions, Anaheim’s neighbor boasts its share of quality accommodations. It’s just a quick 15-minute drive from Disneyland.
Splurge on the MaxPass (when it’s back)
MaxPass program is currently on hiatus due to COVID-19 restrictions, the MaxPass is well worth the extra $20 per ticket and will enhance the experience by saving you time. The MaxPass allows you to make FastPass selections from your phone and eliminates the need to trek over to the attraction to manually pick up a FastPass from a kiosk. A FastPass, for those unfamiliar, allows you to join a much shorter line for a ride (the feature is also paused).
Insider tip: The MaxPass also comes with unlimited PhotoPass downloads, so you can utilize the park photographers to capture lots of family photos to remember the trip. This is an excellent deal since downloading one photo costs $14.95.
Admission to Disney’s parks is expensive, but there are several fun attractions you can check out that don’t cost a penny. They add to the overall Disney vacation experience while keeping the cost down. (Some of these places and activities may be temporarily closed or unavailable.)
Walt Disney World
While Disneyland and Walt Disney World are open for business, to get the most bang for your buck, it might be best to wait. There’s a case for going now: reservations are required and capacity is controlled to promote distancing, so it’s less crowded than normal. But parades, fireworks, most live entertainment, the ease of the FastPass system, and close-up character encounters have yet to return. Dining options are also limited, and some hotels haven’t reopened.
Instead, take this time to plan and save up for the trip. When all of the parks’ amenities return, you and your family will have a more memorable experience.
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