Visiting WDW, although magical can set you back quite a few bucks! I know there are MANY posts out there about how to save money but here are my tips and the ones I gathered as the most helpful while researching over the last few years as well as the ones that I have “created” on my own or inherited from my mother.
1. Go off season! – This is a hard one, since many people usually only get vacations once or twice a year and they may fall within high season (Christmas, New Year’s Day, Memorial Day weekend, Labor Day weekend, summer, etc.). However, if it’s possible go during “low season“. This won’t always assure short lines, I just recently went during the first week of January 2013 and we did encounter more lines & people than expected but it wasn’t quite as impossible as the week of the 24th – 31st of December.
2. Don’t stay at Disney hotels! – I know, it’s a tough one. But the reality is that you are charged a lot for Mickey Mouse sheets and riding on Disney’s Magical Express from MCO to your resort. There are many hotels within the WDW area, specially on International Drive, Downtown Disney area, etc. Sometimes you may find hotels for well under $70 a night (and if you venture out to Kissimmee you’ll, generally, find the absolute cheapest prices.) Rent a car, which you can find for around $300 a week during high season. Some of the benefits of renting a car are: cheaper breakfast off WDW grounds, transportation to supermarket/pharmacy to buy snacks, water, milk, etc., in case of emergency you don’t have to wait for a cab, if you park at the parks you don’t have to wait for a shuttle after an entire day of walking, dinner off grounds as well, you’re not limited to staying in WDW for the entire trip. Combine that with staying off grounds and you’re likely to save quite a few $$$. Specially buying snacks and water for the parks before hand, my number 1 tip!!, I’m sorry but almost $3 for a bottle of water? Heck no! Although, an extra tip is that anywhere inside WDW that serves fountain soft drinks you can ask for a cup of ice water at no charge. Also, don’t be afraid to look into one week apartment rentals, there are tons of sites like Air B&B that offer short term rentals (even weekends) for great prices – even compared to “cheap” hotels nearby.
3. BYO-Snacks/Water/Lunches – I cannot stress this enough, even if it’s a few bananas from the buffet (don’t look at me like that, it’s acceptable tourist on a budget behavior!), cereal boxes, water, etc. absolutely anything is helpful. What I’ve always done (a behavior inherited from my parents) is go to the supermarket on the first day and buy packs of water, snacks and even plastic bows, cereal and milk for a quick midnight snack or even breakfast. Technically you’re not supposed to bring food in to the parks but the nice cast members at the entry will look the other way – unless it’s in a cooler. That is a huge Disney no-no. A few snack bars, cookies and PBJ/Ham and cheese sandwiches will get you through the day and then you can go off-property for a calm family dinner to recover from park mayhem. There are many local and chain restaurants that won’t empty your wallet if you drive 10-15 minutes.
4. Buy your souvenirs off-ground! Whether it’s at Walgreens, WalMart, Publix or special discount souvenir stores (you’ll see them everywhere!) take advantage of them. If you want to take something home to your loved ones the important thing is the detail not the value of it. A key chain will cost you $11.95 at the Magic Kingdom yet can easily be found for $2.99 at Publix (true story).
5. Give kids their own money! I have yet to do this since I don’t have kids but my parents did it with me and I will one day do it with my own. If it’s a surprise trip give them a certain amount ($40 for a 4 day trip?…you figure it out) when you get there or if it’s planned let them earn it at home ($5 for cleaning their room?) and when you get to WDW anything they want to buy has to come out of their wallets. Of course, food and beverage are not included but souvenirs, plush toys, funny pens, etc are. Teach them not to buy anything until the last day if possible, that way they’ll be sure of what they want and not regret having bought that $10 book of stickers the first day.
6. Buy Disney apparel beforehand! Sometimes K-Mart and Target have Disney themed apparel at great prices. What’s the point of spending $25 on a t-shirt when you can get it for $10. Check online as well, you can even get the same one for the whole family if you want to match. Also, buy Minnie/Mickey ears beforehand online, they’ll set you back at least $20 p/p at the parks.
7. BYO Poncho! – Florida weather is unpredictable, having lived there and gone to Disney four times before I still did not learn my lesson this January and left home without buying rain ponchos at Walgreens and had to spend $40 on 2 of them when it started raining on the 3rd day of our trip. Not worth it, trust me.
8. Share park treats! I usually only spend money on food on park treats that I can’t get at home (remember, I take my own snacks and have a filling breakfast and dinner off property!). Who can resist a Mickey premium? or a huge Mickey shaped pretzel with neon-orange cheese sauce? I know I can’t! But to save both money and calories split your treat with someone, they are generally pretty huge and you can ask for an extra plate (if necessary) at no extra charge. Limit treats to one per day, that way you won’t go overboard with calories, save money, and have something special every day. Also, lunches are pretty big so share one or order off of the kid’s meal for a good-sized lunch with healthy sides (usually apples or veggie sticks) that won’t break the budget.
9. BYO- Meds, lotions, shampoo, toothpaste, band aids, etc. – Your feet WILL hurt after a day at the parks even if you go at your own pace without kids (like we did) so take ibuprofen or acetaminophen, petroleum jelly (hey, I’m not here to judge, sometimes adults get diaper rash from walking in jeans all day, it’s okay..no need to be ashamed.), vapor rub, fever reducer, band aids for small cuts, sunscreen, aloe vera for sun burns, moisturizer for dry skin during the winter, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, diapers, etc. Anything you can bring from home to save you money from having to buy at the parks (or drive off property to do so) is a life saver, specially if you all of a sudden get a headache at 11p.m. before going to bead. Remember to follow TSA rules for traveling with liquids and the things that you absolutely cannot take. If you plan ahead of time you can even order plastic bottles online for a few dollars and fill at home with the products you already have and are used to.
10. Plan ahead as much as you can! No need to create a minute-by-minute plan. But at least a day by day on your cellphone, where to have breakfast, what snacks to take, what treat to buy, extras budget, etc. so you have as little surprise expenses at possible. They will happen, they are sort of a staple of any vacation but research menus online, prices of certain souvenirs you’re certain you’re going to want to bring home and such. Review it in the morning and keep it in mind. There are lots of free things to do at WDW grounds – which is the topic for an upcoming post (so please come back :)). Research, set a certain amount for an emergency (flight cancelled…have to spend 10 extra hours at the airport..you’re going to need cash!) better to be over prepared than to be faced with surprises unprepared. Overall, have fun, laugh, eat that funnel cake you’ve been thinking about since you got to EPCOT but don’t get caught up in the vacation craze and keep your head on the ground, remember that you’ll probably be paying for the hotel room for at least a few months, you don’t want added unnecessary expenses to the ones you’ll already have waiting for you at home.
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. All companies, websites, stores mentioned are done so by my own recommendation. Photo is taken by and is property of Disney and Sparkle, feel free to use it but if you can, link back to us!. Have a sparkle-y day.
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