Disney is the dream, right?
Your kids have been bugging you for years to see Princess Ariel and Mary Poppins and Buzz Lightyear and Lightning McQueen and Elsa and Cinderella and…
...But you’ve always figured a trip like that would cost too much.
Well, never say never.
Before you deny the kids their ONLY CHANCE (according to them) to see their favourite movie characters, you may want to consider the possible investment a Disney vacation actually entails. With a few tricks and smart thinking, it may be cheaper than you think.
So without further ado, here are some tips to staying within budget for your Disney trip:
- When should you go?
- Tips for saving money on park tickets
- Where should you stay?
- What should you eat?
- A list of free activities
When should you go?
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that most people head south in the winter, therefore Disney is a pretty hopping spot during that season.
Even the summer months are busy, no doubt thanks to the break in the school calendar.
Check out the website called Undercover Tourist – they have an amazing "crowd calendar" that tells you which months and days of the week have the least number of patrons at the parks.
Obviously, if you want to avoid crowds you should stay away on US stat holidays. Don’t bother going on weekends either.
Overall, regular work-days are your best bet.
This helps more than just your personal space issues
This will also help you save money.
Disney knows that visitation drops during certain times and they act accordingly by offering great promotions to lure you in.
For instance, right now there's an offer to save up to 20% on rooms at select Disney resort hotels. As you can see, checking out these promotions can be a big help when trying to decide what time of year you should go.
Keep in mind that airlines often jack up prices to popular spots like Orlando during high-travel times of year (think Spring Break and Christmas time).
And, as with any flight, heading out mid-week instead of Friday through Sunday will save you many dollars.
Stay in the know
You really should visit the Disney website and join the email list.
They’ll send you all kinds of announcements and promotions, giving you a heads-up about the best events and deals throughout the year.
This information can be invaluable when deciding what time of year would be best to book your trip.
How much can going at the right time save you?
For an experiment, I looked up the cost of a one-way ticket to Orlando on Google Flights and took a look through their handy price calendar to see how prices fluctuated.
Here are the highs and lows for each month:
|Month||Lowest price||Highest price|
|April||$393 (Tuesday)||$960 (Sunday)|
|May||$384 (Tuesday, Wednesday)||$667 (Friday)|
|June||$384 (Tuesday, Wednesday)||$667 (Sunday)|
|July||$472 (Tuesday)||$658 (Saturday)|
|August||$438 (Wednesday)||$702 (Saturday)|
|September||$438 (Wednesday)||$506 (Sunday, Monday)|
|October||$438 (Tuesday)||$533 (Saturday)|
|November||$438 (Wednesday)||$661 (Thursday)|
|December||$443 (Tuesday)||$933 (Monday)|
|January||$515 (Wednesday)||$602 (Thursday)|
|February||$532 (Tuesday)||$762 (Thursday)|
Please note that because the first few months are closer, more deals are available which have brought the price down.
A few trends I observed:
- prices tended to be higher near the end of the month,
- September had low prices throughout the month,
- Christmas was by far the most expensive time,
- there were consistently higher prices on the weekends, and
- consistently lower prices on Tuesday and Wednesdays.
So opting to go at the right time (i.e. leaving midweek during fall or early summer) can save you upwards of $549 per way and per person.
It pays to be flexible.
Related: 13 Fly Ways To Find Cheap Flights
How to get cheap Disney World park tickets
Getting into the parks is never cheap.
But if you’re dedicated and open to opportunities, there are many ways you can save a few bucks – simply by using these memberships and tricks you may not have considered.
Canadian Military Discount
The Disney website says they offer a discount for military members, but this only applies to the US armed forces.
According to the Canadian Military Family Magazine, however, Canadian military folks can buy their passes through the American Shades of Green (an off-site resort that caters specifically to American armed forces personnel) and save the tax.
Considering how pricey the passes themselves are, this is some significant savings.
Related: 5 Best Ways To Redeem Your Air Miles
While Air Miles is a distinctly Canadian rewards program, you can still redeem them for use in the USA.
Use them for flights (that’s a no brainer), hotels, rental cars, and even for park passes.
Or cash them in for travel snacks at your local grocery store before you even leave town.
Want to earn Air Miles 2x faster? The BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard will give you 1 Mile for every $10 spent – the best earn rate in Canada.
You’d be surprised at the number of places your CAA membership will give you discounts, and Disney is no different.
Your best bet is to call CAA customer service to extensively discuss the options, but here is a sample of the discounted ticket prices.
You can save hundreds of dollars this way.
Do you work for a large corporation? Chances are they’re partners with Disney, which means you're eligible for a discount.
It’s hard to find this information online, but I did see that General Motors employees get a deal at Disney. It can’t hurt to ask your HR representative if your company can aid your vacation budget.
If your work at all relates to public relations or journalism, you may qualify for 2 1-day Park Hopper ticket each year.
Whether you’re a blogger, sports reporter, meteorologist, or even a freelance travel writer, it’ll be worth your time to contact the people at Disney and see if you qualify.
Check out this link for the contact info.
Disney gift cards
Yes, they exist.
Even in Canada, you can find these gift cards at Walmart, various pharmacies, etc.
If you buy them on a day when the store is having a special (like Shoppers Drug Mart’s 4x the PC Optimum points event), you’ll also gain store rewards as you pay for your family’s vacation. A win-win.
Or you could buy them sometime when you’re in the USA and squirrel them away until trip time.
Bounce back offers
These are offers extended to official Walt Disney World hotel guests, asking if they’d like to come back to the hotel/park again. It’s kind of like a unique coupon code to entice you to book another vacation.
It can include discounts on your lodging or even on dining packages.
You’ll find these offers advertised via fliers left in your hotel room, in the magazines that come with your "welcome packet," or even via email. So pay attention.
Cheap Disney World hotels
To stay at a Disney resort or to not stay at a Disney resort? That is the question.
Your first thought might be that staying at a Disney resort is going to cost too much for your large family, but this may not be the case.
Each hotel is categorized into one of 3 price ranges: value, moderate, and deluxe.
For a list of resorts by category and their prices, check out this list.
Disney resort perks
Still not convinced that Disney accommodations are for you? Here’s a list of perks you’ll enjoy with an on-site stay.
You’re able to stay at the parks longer
These are called Magic Hours. Each day a different park opens early and stays open late, allowing you to get even more bang for your buck spent on park passes.
Complimentary shuttle from airport
Disney’s Magical Express will shuttle you and your luggage between the airport and your hotel.
You don’t even have to pick up your own bags from the carousel. Disney sends you special luggage tags in the mail, allowing them to retrieve your bags for you and deliver them directly to your hotel room.
Complimentary transportation to parks
Speaking of transportation – you don’t have to worry about getting to and from the parks either. You can use the complimentary bus, ferry, and monorail to get to any of the parks, waterparks, and even Downtown Disney.
Another perk to this is that you won’t have to pay for parking.
Free room delivery
Anything you purchase while enjoying the Disney parks can be delivered back to your room. No need to lug those 25 magnets you bought for your nieces and nephews around with you all day.
Disney Dining Plan
This is arguably the biggest perk of staying onsite.
You pay a pre-set price for a specified number of meals, snacks, and drinks from participating parks, hotels, and restaurants (of which there are many). Since there are several different plans available, you can choose the one that best fits the size and needs of your family.
It can save you money, time, and offer significant peace of mind.
Off-site Hotel Perks
Not quite convinced? Here are some perks of staying off-site too.
Many hotels near the parks will offer promos and specials for Disney visitors, including some that qualify you for the Extra Magic Hours (see a list of them here).
Cheaper room price
It's true that the further from the parks your hotel is, the cheaper the price tag.
But this also means you’ll have to worry about transportation to and from the parks, as well as parking.
Some non-Disney hotels will offer shuttles to and from, and some will offer parking vouchers. Just be sure to do your research to find out which places do and don’t offer these perks.
Cheaper non-hotel options
With Airbnb, VRBO, Home Away, and many other home-rental options are fantastic options.
You can easily find a home for a family of 4 that will cost less than $100 per night. And being able to cook your own food can save you a lot of money.
Despite the great value and convenience of these homes, though, it’s again important to factor in the cost and effort related to transportation and food.
What kid doesn’t love roasting marshmallows before sleeping in a tent, next to their favourite family members?
This can save you a boatload of cash as well as create unforgettable memories for you and your loved ones.
You could even amp it up by camping at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort – best of both worlds, perhaps?
Are there Disneyland packages?
Disneyland offers fully customizable packages that include:
- theme park tickets,
- water park tickets, and
You can go here to start planning your package, starting with hotel rooms, then dining options, then amusement. The prices can range significantly depending on where you stay and how many parks you'd like to visit.
What should you eat at Disney World?
Think about how much money you spend on food at home…then think about how much it’s going to cost to feed your family at Disney...
First, you should consider the Disney meal plan options.
There are a range of plans to choose from, including:
- the Quick-Service Dining Plan,
- the regular ole Disney Dining Plan, and
- the Deluxe Dining Plan.
They’ve recently introduced Mobile Ordering, which makes it even more convenient to eat on-site. The beauty of these plans is that you pay just one price for your whole trip. No surprises. No extras.
Sometimes Disney will offer special vacation packages where the dining plans are included for free. According to Thrifty Nomads, these packages usually begin being advertised in late April and are good for visits during the slower fall months.
On the other hand, guests are allowed to bring their own food and drink into all Disney parks. Now, you’re not allowed to bring coolers in, but purses and fanny packs can go a long way towards saving you money.
Head to a local grocery store and stock up on fruit, granola bars, carrot sticks, fruit snacks, water bottles, etc.
Heck, you can even use a grocery delivery service and have all these goodies brought to your lodging place.
Convenience AND savings? Now that’s a win-win.
Related: How To Eat Healthy On A Budget
Did someone say free food?
An important detail to remember is that you can get free ice water (not bottled) at any food or drink vendor within the Disney parks. You can also stop at Epcot’s Flavors of Club Cool and try complimentary cola drinks from different countries around the world.
You can also score a complimentary pre-dinner tasting tour at the 3 restaurants found at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.
What can you do for free at Disney World?
It’s not all about the parks.
Here are some ideas for free entertainment you and the kiddos can enjoy in and around the Disney property.
This turn-of-the-century themed boardwalk is beautiful.
You can score free ice cream samples at the Ample Hills Creamery, watch a variety of super cool street performers, sip a coffee and gaze at the stunning water views…
Okay, so you might enjoy this more than the kids will. But it’s still a good idea.
Downtown Disney/Disney Springs
The best part of this is is the interactive fountains.
Your kiddos will also love the HUGE Imagination Center that’s filled with thousands of LEGO blocks.
There are also magic shows, Disney-themed photo ops, boat rides down the Sassagoula River…you could even spend a few bucks and ride the giant carousel.
Buzz Lightyear, Mr. Potato Head, Tramp (from Lady and the Tramp), and a giant Rubix cube are a few of the enormous icons found on-site at various Disney resorts and hotels.
Hello, amazing photo opportunities.
Riding the Monorail is free for all guests at Disney and is a cool experience for kids – especially for kids who don’t live near a subway or Skytrain system.
You may even be able to sit up front with the driver if you ask nicely. Remember there’s only room for 4 passengers up there though.
Electrical water parade
Visible from many resort decks, docks, and beaches on Disney property, this floating parade winds around the water for an hour every night.
Thousands of brilliant little lights illuminate different "floats," such as a giant sea monster, King Neptune, whales, turtles, crocodiles, and much more.
Campfire with Chip and Dale
Have you ever seen a chipmunk dance? This is your chance.
Head to the Fort Wilderness Resort and join in the singalong, roast some marshmallows (no charge), and catch an outdoor Disney film with a bunch of other families.
Chip ‘n’ Dale usually visit the festivities early in the evening.
Ready for the best scavenger hunt ever?
There are hidden Mickey heads/shapes all over Disney and you – er, I mean, the kids – will love finding them.
Nobody knows exactly how many hidden Mickeys there are, which isn’t surprising when you consider how many old attractions are dismantled and new attractions pop up.
Yes, there are fireworks every single night at Disney.
Each show even has a name:
- Happily Ever After,
- Once Upon a Time,
- Rivers of Light, and
- many more.
Special occasions like Halloween and Christmas require extra spectacular shows.
My last bit of money-saving advice for your once-in-a-lifetime family Disney trip? Invite the grandparents. We all know that grandma and grandpa like to spoil the little ones.
Now all that’s left is for you to book the trip.