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Ask DSM Readers: How Do You Save Money at Disney World?

by Tara Kuczykowski on June 10, 2010 · 68 comments

Disney on a Budget

Every week I'll pose a question for you to share your experiences and tips. If you have a question that you'd like me to post, I'd love to hear from you!

Our family has been invited to attend a Toy Story 3 event at Disney World this weekend, and this will be our first time taking the kids. They're all beyond excited about meeting their favorite characters and riding the rides, but I know the expenses of a Disney vacation can quickly add up. I'd love to hear your best tips for making the most of our Disney experience without breaking the bank!

What's your best money-saving tip for Disney? What souvenirs, experiences or meals do you think are worth splurging on? What have you regretted spending money on?

Update: Make sure to check out the Disney discussion on Facebook for more tips. You guys are a wealth of information!

Join the discussion -- add your two cents to previous Ask DSM Readers questions too!

{ 68 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sarah June 10, 2010 at 11:33 am

I say brown bag the lunch. Eating there is expensive. Plus, a lot of time is lost waiting in the lunch line that could be spent in ride lines! Also, if staying on disney property, take advantage of the free shuttles to the parks to forgo parking fees.

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2 Crissy S. June 10, 2010 at 9:04 pm

If you are staying on property, parking is free. If you are staying off-property and taking advantage of shuttles (which I really do not recommend for first timers), make sure you really research how reliable the buses are at that hotel.

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3 Michelle June 10, 2010 at 11:39 am

I agree ~ the most expensive things are the parking & food! If you can take plenty of snacks & use the shuttles you will save the most that way!

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4 Katie June 10, 2010 at 11:44 am

Buy gift cards ahead of time. Then the trip is paid off when you get there. If you buy them at Dom's or Jewel, you can use a $5 of $50 or $6 off $60 or whatever you have. Hey, it may seem small but it's a 10% savings!!!!

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5 Stacey September 1, 2010 at 12:05 pm

We are going to Disney in October and i am trying to save where i can! :) I saw your post on Dealseekingmom. What or where is "DOM or Jewel?" And are these just visa gift cards or actual disney gift cards?

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6 Amber June 10, 2010 at 11:50 am

I purchase small Disney toys at Walgreens or Target to avoid the high prices in the parks and I then I surprise my kids when they start begging for things. The only thing my kids care about is that it has their favorites Disney character on it. This saves money and reduces begging for toys! They don't know I brought them with us! =)

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7 Jessica June 10, 2010 at 11:50 am

Actually if you're staying on Disney property, you'll get a free parking pass good at all the parks for the length of your stay. You'll be able to bring some snacks into the parks but nothing too extravagant. You have the option of going back to your hotel (particularly if you get a place in Downtown Disney with a kitchenette) for lunch, but that's a huge time suck (parking yourself if quicker) and if you have kids eager to see everything, it might not work. Try to sell it with a trip to the pool to beat the heat. Of course, I recommend planning a trip sometime between late August and early October, where rates are lower and Disney often offers free dining plan (and the park attendance is markedly lower as well), which is a HUGE savings.

Still, for this trip, having such short notice, the best thing you can do is budget how much you want to spend on food and souvenirs and buy Disney gift cards for that amount at Giant Eagle or Kroger. They're good in the parks and you'll get fuel credits at home.

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8 Jessica June 10, 2010 at 11:52 am
9 Jennifer June 10, 2010 at 11:57 am

Book everything (hotel, park tickets + dining plan) through the Disney travel service--(1-407-WDISNEY). This is the only way to take advantage of the DIsney meal plan. The plan is fantastic, saves a ton of money, has many, many options for where to eat + you get sooooo much food! Also, when booking through DIsney you only have to buy 2 days of park tickets to get the dining plan for your entire stay...you can then buy additional theme park tickets at a discounted price from AAA or undercovertourist.com for your remaining days. And, while staying on Disney property avoid renting a car + take advantage of the Disney Magic Express bus that will take you free of charge to + from the airport--they even get your baggage!
As for our must do--we ALWAYS have dinner at the "Hoop-Dee-Do-Revue" at Fort Wilderness. It's a great show with unlimited fried chicken, ribs, etc...

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10 Crissy S. June 10, 2010 at 9:07 pm

For many, the dining plan can be a waste. If you want your focus to be on rides, taking full advantage of the dining plan can use up time. Especially if your family is used to cereal or donuts or other items for breakfast that can be consumed in the room. I would suggest bringing your own snacks. I pack granola bars and slim jims in my purse because they are small and take up very little room. I also pack those powders you add to drinks because I think cups of water are free and definitely healthier even with the powder than sodas.

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11 joy September 4, 2011 at 5:46 pm

MEAL PLAN! LOVE IT! They have several different plans so you can customize it

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12 Carrie June 10, 2010 at 12:01 pm

We buy things ahead of time, like toys etc. The disney store has great deals. That way you can take them with you. If driving by car there is a great disney world outlet not far from the theme parks. We always stay on property. This allows us free parking and close proximity to the parks. We like to take advantage of the free dining and the disney dining plan. The character meals are pricey but well worth it. I would try to do one at least. We love Chef Mickeys and the crystal palace. Another perk to staying on property is the extra magic hours! You can enter the park early on certain days and stay late on others. Garden Grocer is a great way to buy things like bottled water and snacks etc and have them shipped right to your room. Or stop at Target or Walmart if you have a car. We save a ton on water this way. In the parks it is expensive. I could go on forever! I have alot of tips since we go every year! Shoot me an email if you have any specific questions! Have a great trip!!

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13 caroline June 10, 2010 at 12:02 pm

The Wal-Mart in Orlando has lots of Disney souvenirs, bathing suits, towels, etc with Disney characters without the markup.

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14 LouAnn June 10, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Unless you're on the Disney dining plan don't eat in the park unless you have to! It's way more expensive. You can take small backpacks with snacks and bottled waters into the park. We also go in September when the crowds are much lower!

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15 Cherie July 20, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Get the burger combo which all come with two burger patties and get an extra bun. Some places will allow you to get 2 slices of bread and there is peanut butter and jelly over by the condiments. Cosmic Ray's at MK has a full chicken/mashed pot/green beans that two can share. :)

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16 LouAnn June 10, 2010 at 12:13 pm

if you are going in september and staying on property, you can get the dining plan free - which is awesome and has a lot of food!

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17 Brandi June 10, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Pack a couple of small carry coolers. We put fruit and drinks in one and our lunch or dinner in the other. We rent a locker, approx. $7 but you get $5 back when you turn in your key, so that they stay cool. We refill our water bottles at the water fountains. Water is $4 a bottle there!!! If you're not staying in the park, park your vehicle at downtown disney and take the tram into the parks. You do not have to pay a parking fee then, approx. $10-15 a day. Also the tram can take you to all the hotels where you can board shuttle boats to take you to the parks for free. We like to take the kids to the value resorts so they can see all the enormous characters. There's a huge buzz and woody.

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18 Crissy S. June 10, 2010 at 9:09 pm

At every park entrance, you will have to allow them to search your bags. You will not be able to bring in a cooler on wheels, but small collapsible coolers will probably be fine.

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19 Alicia January 13, 2013 at 6:02 am

Disney has a little-known policy that any food seller in any of their parks will give you cups of ice water for free. You just have to ask!

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20 Heather H. June 10, 2010 at 12:19 pm

We eat a large breakfast before we go and make sure to eat carbs and protein. We take bottles of water with us and 16.9oz drink mixes. Once we finish the water, we refill from water fountains and use the drink mixes. We also take light snacks and only plan on buying one meal in the park and will sometimes even share that. If still hungry nothing is better than a treat of Mickey ice cream. Make sure to stop by the information area on Main Street to get the kids "My First Visit" buttons. A free souvenir of the trip.

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21 Cherie July 20, 2010 at 2:33 pm

We have gone recently and they will allow any drinks that are in plastic containers, no straws at Animal Kingdom (so no juice boxes or Capri Sun), drinks are $2.50 including water. There are several places in each park that have fountain drinks with free refills. You can bring just about any non-perishable snack into the parks as well. You can take advantage of Free Disney Dining Plan and save quite a bit of money. http://www.mousesavers.com and http://www.allears.net are both great sites for deals and discounts. The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World is a great book for everything Disney. Magic Strollers has discounted strollers for kids up to probably 3 or so. (i guess i should say they are discounted compared to Disney's). Also, pay for your strollers for the entire stay....it saves you $3 per day. And if you're really brave :) you can get a Disney Visa. THey offer special discounts, 1% back on all purchases to be used for everything Disney, and give you 6mths no interest to pay for your DIsney vacation when you book a vacation package. Also, use Small World Vacations to help with travel planning. I use Angela Dail. Most of the agents are SAHM's. It is free for you to use their service. Try to go in the fall when it's cooler and less crowded.. You will get more for your money this way. http://www.touringplans.com has Crowd Calendars that can tell you the crowd level for any given day of the year as well as has touring plans that really work.

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22 Mel June 10, 2010 at 12:20 pm

A must "splurge" are the Mickey ears. They aren't too expensive anyway, and my kids (4 and 2) are still playing with them now.

We enjoyed the 1400 park fare dinner with Cinderella and Prince charming (the step mother and evil step sisters are there too). You will need to make reservations for that.

We also bought the way overpriced balloons, which were just a hassle. That would be something to avoid!

We enjoyed eating at Boma at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. It is African food, but they have all the mainstays for the kids.

Have a good time!

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23 Breezy June 10, 2010 at 12:34 pm

I save money by not going to any Disney parks. It is SO expensive. The one day pass alone is darn near $100 per person. I don't understand how a family of 4+ can afford such a vacation. Add on airfare, hotel, food. Whew, out of my budget. For those who can afford to go... ENJOY! Have a great day.

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24 AC4 June 10, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Check out the off season rates. The hotels on site can go for under $100 a night. This year they have a program to volunteer a day somewhere and get a Disney ticket. The whole family can do this for a free day. You can plan a few days at Disney very cheap if you look hard enough.

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25 Carla June 10, 2010 at 5:00 pm

The volunteer program is full - so if you aren't already signed up, you're out of luck. :(

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26 Cherie July 20, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Remember too that tickets get cheaper with the additional days purchased. The difference from a 4day to a 7day ticket is only $6. Don't add on park hopper if you can plan to go to one park per day. Planning is key. http://www.mousesavers.com has links for discounts on tickets. They are usually free shipping. Buy the tickets a little along. They do not go into effect until the first day you USE them. We recently stayed at Sheraton Vistana Villages for $86 per night. It's a 2 bedroom CONDO that sleeps eight. There are great deals to be found out there I promise. Not to say that some planning and saving might be necessary but the memories made will be worth it.

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27 Emerald July 15, 2010 at 5:25 pm

I am a single mom and I am taking my two children next feb with a large group of other moms. We are staying in a beautiful resort, renting vans, getting the group rate on park tickets, cooking all of our meals in room, and I am getting a good deal on airline tickets from CA to Orlando. Expected price tag? $1200-$1500 for a weeklong vacation. Not too shabby if you ask me. And definitely within my budget.

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28 LORNA June 10, 2010 at 12:41 pm

the one thing i found when i went to Disney is the price of b everages is ridiculous. there are water fountains everywhere. I bought large refillable water jugs for each kid. froze them 1/2 way at nite with water and then filled them the rest of the way.

if they ran out of water we refilled at a fountain..

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29 Becky June 10, 2010 at 12:47 pm

We shipped a box down in advance (to save on luggage charges) with snacks, KoolAid Sugar Free packets (to add to water), reusable water bottles, sunscreen, "glow things" for the kids to have in the evenings (purchased on Ebay for very little), etc. Since we were going with my brother and his family, we chipped in on the box and loaded up for both families. HUGE box for so much less than the cost of one extra bag on the plane.

We purchased a meal plan for our week and found that there was way more food than we could consume. (These little ones can only eat so much that we just shared ours with the kiddos).

By taking the glow things, we really reduced the need / desire to purchase those kinds of things that are sure to grab any kids attention!

We also purchased Disney bucks in advance so the kids knew - once it's gone, it's gone. I would recommend the Bucks over the gift cards because you can get CASH back on the bucks. Anything not used on the card will stay on the card.

HAVE FUN TARA!!!

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30 Lea June 10, 2010 at 12:51 pm

I agree with the posters above who advise bringing your own food, snacks, and water. The last time we went to Disney, I also brought along those little flavor pouches you add to bottled water.

Buying souvenirs off-site is also a good idea, but for kids who are old enough to remember (and grown-ups who are particular), it's important to get a "real" Disney souvenir on-site. The Mickey Mouse ears are one way to go. Another way to go is through what I like to call "double-duty items." These are things like keepsake travel mugs and plastic popcorn tubs. They are usually around $4-$7 and you get a keepsake with a snack or beverage in it.

Also, pack rain ponchos for everyone. Standing in the rain in overpriced weather gear purchased at the Magic Kingdom can quickly make it seem like it is not the happiest place on earth.......

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31 Christy June 10, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Oh my goodness, how exciting!! My youngest would be thrilled about the Toy Story 3 event. I am sure you will have a fabulous time.

My kids have a ton of fun trading pins with the cast members. I have a post on my blog explaining all about the pin trading and how to do it cheaply. If you are interested, you can find it here:
http://www.thriftyandthriving.com/2010/04/disney-on-a-budget-pin-trading/

We also save money, by packing in our own food and water bottles. It's fun to splurge a little at the Disney parks, I don't have any regrets. Have a wonderful time!

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32 Irene S. June 10, 2010 at 1:10 pm

We were just there end of March. Definitely buy rain ponchos before you go. They are pricey inside the parks--I know because we had to get them! Also, at every beverage stand, if you ask them for a cup of ice water, they give it to you for free. Just take the flavor packets of juice mix to stir into it because the water there is a bit strong. Souvenirs at Wal-Mart are cheaper too, if you have transporation to get there. It's about 5-6 miles away. We stayed in a cabin at Fort Wilderness. All the amenities of home, the full size beds were a bit small considering we're used to queen+, but they gave you everything from the dishwasher soap to the shampoo. Have fun!!!

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33 Kylee June 10, 2010 at 1:14 pm

We are possibly going in October, so I have been researching a lot lately. One blog I follow and love is http://www.couponingtodisney.com she has a lot of tips, money saving ideas, and resources. She actually just went to Disney.
Good luck!

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34 Tommy June 10, 2010 at 1:18 pm

Some of this was mentioned ahead of time but here it is... Bring Everything Ahead of time. The most espensive part of trips to the park (besides the tickets which you can only, legally, buy from the parks anyway) is what you buy when you get there! Here is a quick comparison and list of what too bring---Ponchos-$8.00 - Walgreens-3 for $.99---- Squeezebreeze-$14.99-Walmart-$1.99----Food, Quicksvervice(cheapest food)-between $11-30.00 per person -Any store-Sandwiches probably like $1.00. Get my picture?

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35 Shannon June 10, 2010 at 1:48 pm

There are a couple of legit ticket brokers that you can purchase Disney tickets from. One is Undercovertourist.com. I have purchased from them a few times with great success. I believe the other one is mapleleaftickets.com. Mousesavers.com has all the info on these places. One thing to remember when comparing prices is that these brokers add in sales tax/shipping (or ship for free) in their prices, while disney does not.

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36 Cherie July 20, 2010 at 2:44 pm

http://www.allears.net has menus for all restaurants, including quick service to help you plan for pricing, places to eat, etc.

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37 Diane June 10, 2010 at 1:25 pm

I agree with what many of the posters above say about bringing toys from home. It is also a good idea (especially for little girls) to bring a few "princess outfits" to surprise them with in the morning. Then they won't get jealous and beg for the extremely overpriced version.

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38 Tonya June 10, 2010 at 1:34 pm

We always pack breakfast kinds of food to eat in our room (which we usually get at 40% off passholder rate) before we go to a park each day. We take our own snacks and drinks, and just eat one big meal in the park mid-afternoon. That leaves us pretty full, and we just enjoy a treat (cookie, ice cream, popcorn) late in the evening while we watch fireworks.

For that meal we have in the middle of the day, my husband and I usually share a huge combo meal. The kids usually have at least one of the sides leftover (grapes, applesauce) from their meals, so we have another snack for later.

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39 Lindsey June 10, 2010 at 1:57 pm

If staying on Disney property, I like the refillable mugs. You can fill them for free at any Disney resort with soda, hot chocolate, etc. You can also get free water (ice or hot) at any counter service (places you walk up and pay at a register) for free.

If dining in the park (especially Epcot) eat at the counter service instead of the sit down restaurants. You can eat the same food (or similar to it) at it's neighboring counter service spot for cheaper.

If you want to sit down, try to eat at lunch instead of dinner. Many of the restaurants have cheaper pricing for their lunch menus. You can see restaurant reviews as well as menus and pricing at allears.net. Also, I highly recommend making advanced dining reservations if this is your plan. You can book online at disneyworld.com.

As for souveniers, I recommend shopping ahead of time at Walgreens, etc. We are going in the fall and I have already started. Right now, Walgreens has princess and toy story light up spinner-things for 2.99 with a band that goes around your neck so you can wear them. These are great for night (esp. fantasmic, ect) and my kids LOVE them. Also, since my kids are younger, I bring coloring and activity books to keep them entertained. Wags has these 2/$1 in the summer section, as well as larger ones 2/$5 by the books.

However, we do have a few favorties in the park. One of these is the Mr. Potato head stuff you can get in a few stores. We get the fill a box for $19 and get tons of cute disney parts like suitcases, autograph books, mickey ears, buzz lightyear parts, etc. We have enough potatoes, so we just get the parts, but if you need one, you can fill the inside with parts too. For our son last time we did the make your own light saber at Once Upon a Toy where you can choose everything about it (color, style, 2-sided, etc). It comes with batteries and when you go to check out they'll ask if you are going to use it for good or evil. Depending on your answer, they will either give you an official jedi or sith trading pin. I think they're about $20 to make, but my son loves it and still plays with it so it was worth it for us.

I could go on and on...so I'll finish with agreeing with Jessica about mousesavers.com. It's a great site for saving money and I use it all the time! Have fun!! It's our favorite family vacation!!

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40 Natasha June 10, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Coolers: Believe it or not you can take coolers into the Parks. I had no problem taking two soft coolers each day-I did this two years ago as well without any problems. I had heard only soft coolers were aloud, but I did see a medium 18 inch by 24 inch hard rolling cooler while we were there. The coolers saved us a lot of money on snacks, lunch, and drinks by carrying the food in ourselves.

Stroller Pass: These things are awesome! We didn't understand this last time we went but took full advantage of them this time thanks to my sister-in-law. If you have children who are to small for a ride and only one parent can go at a time you can ask for a Stroller Pass. BEFORE you enter the ride line ask the Disney attendant for a Stroller Pass (they will be at the beginning of each line). The Stroller pass works exactly like a Fast Pass except for the fact that you can take two other people with you when you go, so each Stroller pass is a Fast Pass ticket for up to three people! This worked really well for us because the older kids didn't have to wait they got to go with mom and dad on all the rides.

Disney Refillable Mugs: I was quite disappointed to find out that these mugs are location specific as to where you buy the mug. We verified this with two different people just to be sure. If you buy the mug at your resort you can only get refills at the resort and no where else. Same with the parks, each park has it's own mug so you will only get refills in the park you buy the mug. This turned out to not be a great deal so we didn't take advantage of it.

Fast Pass is the way to go! These passes will save you lots of time in line. During our entire 6 days in the park we always tried to have a Fast Pass in hand. Instead of waiting in line for an hour we could get through in 10 minutes. Sometimes we'd have a runner to get Fast Passes while the rest of the group went on a ride. Some of the rides that went really fast were Soarin', Peter Pan, Mount Everest, Toy Story Mania. and Rockin Roll Roller coaster.

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41 Cherie July 20, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Fast Pass is free. Overheard a family recently say they couldn't get the Fast Passes because they didn't buy them. Universal charges for theirs but Disney does not. They simply issue so many per hour until they are all gone for that ride. You are given a time to return, although if you get stuck somewhere (ie. eating, in another long line) and your time expires, they will still honor it. For example, your fast pass is to return between 100pm and 200pm but you don't get there until 230pm. They will still let you use the Fast Pass.

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42 AC4 June 10, 2010 at 2:48 pm

We stopped on the way at the grocery store and bought milk, cereal, lunchmeat and bread. We ate almost every meal in our room. The kids were so excited and happy about everything they didn't think twice about eating in the room.
For souveniers we decided ahead of time exactly what each kid would get. We stopped at the outlet and everyone was happy.
In a place full of material things, you can step back and just enjoy being with the family at Disney. I can't wait to go back!

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43 Becky June 10, 2010 at 2:50 pm

This is not something you can do at the last minute, but for those planning on a Disney vacation I recommend getting a Disney Visa. You will earn Disney dollars on every purchase (and, a 6 month no interest option on Disney vacations that are booked using the card), and if you pay your balance in full each month you won't get slapped with interest. Each time we have gone to Disney I have mananged to accumulate enough Disney dollars to pay for all our souvenirs and miscellaneous snack expenses (usually over $200 worth of 'stuff' for FREE!).

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44 Holly June 10, 2010 at 2:54 pm

We've been 3 times in the last 4 years. I found The Unofficial Guide to WDW (white paperback book) this last trip - my 5th to the park - and it changed my whole way of thinking about Disney. You MUST get it. I've recommended it to the last 5 friends who have gone and all agree it is a requirement.

As for savings, I'm a big believer in Disney Dollars. I get them at the Disney Store ahead of time and they are a currency (Monopoly Money?) you use in the park like cash. I get a certain amount and that is all we use for the incidentals, goodies, snacks, parking, etc. If you know how much you have going in, you won't spend as much.

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45 Mary June 10, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Buying the little toys beforehand is a huge savings. Don't even go into the souvenir shops. I also bought Disney pjs from the dot com on clearance, they were brand new for the trip.

The coffee is awful there. Bring your own, or now there's Via! I agree about the character breakfast. You don't chase characters down as much in the park.

Have a plan. Focus on the fun means you won't get taken in by all the buying opportunities. I do think an expensive Micky PBJ sandwich is a cool splurge, though.
The biggest tip is to start early each and every day. You get most of your rides packed into the morning, then you can do shows, less popular rides and swimming later in the day. Investing in the ride software is a great idea. It worked perfectly for me. Put in what you want to ride and it prints out the most efficient route.

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46 Sara Z. June 10, 2010 at 3:05 pm

If you are staying on Disney property, I highly recommend the Dining plan. Recently they were even including it free. There are so many wonderful restaurants in the parks. Paying out of pocket they are expensive, but the dining plan really saves money (even if you don't get the plan for free).

One of my favorite things for kids at Epcot is to buy them an Epcot passport. They are relatively inexpensive and your child can take their passport to each country in Epcot. Someone there will sign the passport and the child can place a "stamp" sticker on it to show that they been there. Its a fun activity for them!

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47 Geraldine June 10, 2010 at 3:06 pm

I concur with the many who suggest the advance purchases. We actually freeze half the waer we bring to the parks so that they stay cool and in the afternoon you have cold water.
We alwasy hit the Walmart just be careful and DO NOT go to the one in Kissimee on 192 it is not safe especially after dark.
With the saving we have we always book one character breakfast which is expensive but that is why we save everywhere else so we can have the nice once and a while. I am not a buffet person so we liek the Polynesian which is all you can eat family style. Enjoy and try and stay cool.

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48 Printable Coupon June 10, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Great tips. I'm always looking for new ways to save money and these are things I could be doing. With 2 kids almost ready for college (and a dog who eats more than I do!), every penny counts. I'm sure not making any in the stock market these days. I'm excited for our trip to Disney this summer

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49 Abbie June 10, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Go to WalMart when you get to Orlando. They have a HUGE selection of souveneirs at a fraction of what you would spend at one of the parks or downtown disney. I loaded up, and my little ones never knew they werent expensive.

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50 Kelly June 10, 2010 at 4:37 pm

In the Disney Marketplace there is a $10 and under store. It is mostly stuff that you would find in any Disney store, but there is a 4 for $10 section. I this section I have found really nice mugs, Christmas decorations, and cars. This section of the store is worth checking out.
In the parks, I always get a kids meal. It's a little over $5 and includes a drink. And it is enough food for an adult I think. It's really only for kids 9 and under I think, but no one ever mentioned anything to me.

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51 Suzanne June 10, 2010 at 7:09 pm

If you book through AAA, you can get a deal with tickets and meals - depending on how much you want to spend on that, you can go with the basic meal package (one really nice, one average, and one snack a day) or super deluxe. If you eat breakfast at the hotel, the other meals are more than enough. Plus, they roll over - so if I got two average meals one day and that was it, the extra snack and nice meal would stay on my "wish card" (they might call them something else now). If that's not how you're going, then I'd say always brown bag the lunch. Make turkey sandwiches the night before and freeze them, also frozen grapes, snack crackers, etc. That's what we did when I was 6. And we each got one treat (or if we had a family meal then that was it) a day. So, sometimes we'd have a meal in the park, sometimes we'd get a mickey ice cream. :)

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52 Adelina June 10, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Make sure your hotel room has mini fridge and microwave that way in the morning before you leave they can have cereal and load up their fany packs with cold water or juice boxes for the day.Take gum,granola bars and fruit rollups or fuity snacks,those are great to hold them up on the line those are allowed.Try to eat either eat with Micky and Minnie breakfast buffet around 10:30 or 11:00 and your family will not be hungry for most of the day.Also try to go later when a park you wish to visit opens late and eat at Epcot.They have an oriental section by the underthesea display whtlere is very affordable.Also, the chinese restaurant at Epcot has a value family meal at a great price.They may tell you that you need reservation but if you go and ask and see if they have an opening they will tell you to wait at least 30-60 minutes but they usually sit you around 15-20 minutes since many people forget their reservations.Walmart is your 1st stop for suveniers then also the premium outlet has a disney store outlet which has the best deals.Dont forget to print your coupons before you leave.Your hotel sells a mug which has free refills you can fill it before you go to the parks and at night when you need a fresh drink and is a good walk since the kids love to see other people.Make sure you tune in the disney park channel at the hotel that way it tells you of every day special appearances and park early and late hours to maximize your vacation.

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53 Crissy S. June 10, 2010 at 9:14 pm

Try looking for ideas at the Yahoo group, "The Mouse for Less."

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54 Crissy S. June 10, 2010 at 9:20 pm

I almost forgot...if you are a Verizon member, you can take advantage of their new Disney "app" as a free trial once per phone. We don't have a fancy smart phone, but we could still download the app.

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55 Disney2000 June 10, 2010 at 9:29 pm

Hmm... Disney... So much fun!!

As for saving money, here are some of my favorite tips.
1. If staying on-property at a disney hotel, be sure to buy a refillable mug! They run about $10-$12, and can be refilled at any hotel on property. We used them for coffee/hot chocolate in the morning, then took them on the buses with us to the parks filled with lemonade or soda. We also refilled them at night, or while hanging by the pool. Definitely a good deal if staying at a Disney hotel for a few nights.

2. Pack snacks and lots of water, but DO NOT FORGET TO SPLURGE! When people think theme parks, they think overpriced chicken fingers, burgers, and fries. This is 100% completely untrue at Disney world. They have some of the greatest foods and snacks that you can find. Turkey legs (a meal in itself), Popcorn, Churros, and Mickey ice Cream bars are all staples of Disney theme park food. However, whether It's a dole whip in adventureland, or a foreign treat from a country in World Showcase, don't miss out on disney's food! Don't deprive yourself, chances are it's worth it.

3. First visit buttons can be found at City hall, which is on your left as you enter the magic kingdom. They make a great (and FREE) souvenir

4. As far as souvenirs go, You'll be inundated with gift shop after gift shop. Which, is not always a bad thing. There's lots of selection. Three of my favorite and under $10 souvenirs are Disney Pins (there's one for everything!!!), Pressed pennies (the machines are everywhere... only $0.51 per souvenir!), and a new disney collectable called vinylmation (lots of selection... only $10 each for the 3" figures!)

5. Pictures and Autograph Books! If the kids are into meeting the characters (Who isn't!?) be sure to buy an autograph book for them to collect autographs. Be sure to take lots of pictures. There's no better way to preserve memories like pictures. They're only young once, and the possibilities of scrapbooking, frames, etc. are endless!

6. Have Fun!! Be sure to try and save money, be a little conservative, but be sure not to be too tight! It's vacation! Yes, you're going to spend money, but if you budget and watch how much you're spending, everything will be a-ok!

HAVE A GREAT TRIP!!!!!!!! (How could you not? ...It's Disney!)

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56 Carolyn June 10, 2010 at 9:29 pm

I don't mean to be controversial here, but one of my family's favorite parts of going to disney world is the food. We usually bring our own bagels for breakfast in the hotel room, but we always eat at least 1 nice meal at the parks a day (in a sit down restaurant). The atmosphere and food is so good and is really part of the whole experience to me. (especially when I went pregnant and couldn't ride or with little kids who can't ride the rides anyway).

We do bring snacks in (string cheese, crackers, etc...) but we always budget for the food and make reservations ahead of time so that we can make sure to eat at our favorite restaurants. (we like pretty much every one of the countries' restaurants in epcot. In Disney Studios we love prime time and the brown derby, though the brown derby is more expensive. Ohana at the Polynesian resort is awesome and at animal kingdom, we always go to flame tree barbecue. It's a counter service so it's cheaper but it's so good!)

Have fun :)

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57 Margaret June 10, 2010 at 9:52 pm

Many people complain about the water there but it does notbother us. At any counter that serves fountain pop, you can get a glass or more of ice water for free! This is great on hot day.

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58 Stacy June 10, 2010 at 10:57 pm

There are many restaurants with big breakfast buffets with discounted coupons in the area. We ate a big buffet style breakfast around 9-10Am then headed to the park. Tke kids were still full and ate a snack about 2-3Pm and we left the park arount 5 or 6 and ate dinner back at the hotel (order pizza, sandwich, etc) and went swimming in the evening. We were there about a week.
(The first day we ate a continental breakest and lunch in the park and it was twice as expensive than eating the breakest buffet. I have three kids and food it our biggest expense when we go on vacation.)

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59 Patricia June 11, 2010 at 9:10 am

As an frequent Disney guest, I agree with some of the statements above, (getting free ice water at the soda fountains, buying a case of bottled water to supply the trip, walmart having cheaper disney merchandise, bringing in snacks). I am also a HUGE fan of the outlets. While the Lake Buena Vista store doesn't have a great selection, you can sometimes walk out with a good amount of stuff, and the premium outlets and prime 1 outlets each have a character premiere store where all theme park exclusive merchandise is often 50% or lower. There have been times when I see current park merchandise in the store for half off! I try to buy most of my souvenirs there and my and my hubby often take note of what we like at the parks and try to find it on our next trip at the outlets (and we've been successful). We go about 2x a year so we catch the season clearouts. Buy discounted pins here and trade in the parks. Take advantage of character dining rather than racing across the parks and waiting in endless lines for a quick photo and autograph..it's much less stressful for them to come to you. On our last trip, we had a WDW tote bag and white pillowcases that we had characters sign (put the pillowcase in an embroidery hoop for even coverage). They made great birthday gifts to little disney fans back home (we're disney newlyweds so no kids for us just yet)! They are always in view unlike an autograph book...If you want any more tips don't forget to visit the disboards at disboards.com.

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60 LeShelle June 11, 2010 at 10:42 am

If staying on property get the dining plan. The basic is more than enough. People are saying there's too much food, but I didn't think so. For breakfast we would go get a one meal to share between the two of us. The same for lunch or dinner. We did this a few times and save up for the few restaurants that took two sit down tickets. We never went hungry. And the cost is cheap, about the cost of one sit down dinner per day, you get a sit down, a fast food and a snack. Not bad.

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61 Millie June 11, 2010 at 12:36 pm

You can always get water for free at the parks. Don't bother packing bottled water and drinking from the fountains (which taste rather gross). Most walk up food eateries will give you ice water in a cup...some can't give you water but will at least give you ice in a cup. The cups are the same as the sodas - so you feel cool for walking around with it - and the water tastes great!

Also - bring your own lunch OR if you really want to eat there choose the sit down places for lunch and do a walk up place for dinner. Otherwise it's quite pricey.

Be sure to grab the free pins at the front of the park - it's a fun way to get a free souvenir!

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62 Carrie June 13, 2010 at 6:55 am

We JUST returned on Friday from our trip. I have to say that hands down, the biggest money saver for us was staying on property and the Quick Service Dining Plan. We were able to stretch our meals enough that we could eat breakfast at our hotel the last two days. We brought donuts and muffins from home for the first four days, and then we had enough meals left on our dining plan to get us breakfast in the hotel, as well as lunch and dinner the last two days. The buses from the resorts to the hotels are no brainers, and we never waited longer than 20 minutes. We had 8 snacks left on the last day, and cashed them out for the car ride home-small boxes of cereal, pop tarts, cookies, etc. all count as snacks. Also, the refillable mugs come with the dining plan. We would fill them everyday, many times, because we'd come back to the resort for breaks in the middle of the day. With each meal, you get a drink, and they are almost always bottled. We saved those up for in the parks, etc., and drank from our refillable mugs most of the time. We actually came home with about 6 bottles of pop/vitamin water, etc. Another perk with staying on Disney property is the buses. They run constantly, and going back to the resort in the middle of the day to rest, go to the pool, or do some of the resort activities can provide a much needed break from the parks. The resorts, even the Disney value resorts, have nice quick service food courts, as well as playground and many have more than one pool. We didn't want to schlep around a cooler, along with the backpack with baby essentials, as well as the stroller. Since you have to park your stroller well before getting in line, leaving our cooler with it didn't seem very appealing. We've done the taking our own food before, three years ago on our last trip, and will never do it again after doing the dining plan. Have fun!

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63 Shelley June 22, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Tour Guide Mike- www,tourguidemike.com was the best money (not too much)I spent. 3 others that work with me were on family vacations at WDW at the same time I was. They said that they had to stand in line forever. We used TGM and walked on every ride!

Stay on property and watch for code on http://www.passporter.com, http://www.disboards.com to save even more.

Value Resorts are great and you are hardly there so your room doesn't really matter!

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64 Heidi June 27, 2010 at 2:45 pm

I just returned from our 1st ever Disney trip ! We all earned the free vouchers through the Give a Day, Get a Day volunteer opportunity. This saved me a TON of money! I am hoping they do it again next year.. I would highly recommend jumping on the opportunity in January. This year, the program was already over by March 15th!
Also, I would say DEF bring a small cooler. The website tells you the dimensions of the cooler you can bring in. We spent probably $80 just in drinks the day we went. The cooler would be a great idea. Put in some drinks and some small snacks. That way you can save on food too. Also my husband and I ordered kids meals... that helped save about $10 or so each time we ate.
The Mickey ears are a MUST... but forget anything else. Balloons are $8. There is SO much to see with all the different characters and parades going on... Shouldn't need anything else!

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65 Cristalle August 4, 2010 at 3:40 pm

We spent a week at Disney World back in 2008. We didn't have access to a car, and the cost of a taxi was outrageous! I found a local grocery store online that delivered directly to the resort. I spent a little over $100 and had breakfast and lunches for my family of 4 for the entire week! While this is more than we would usually have spent, it was MUCH less than eating out for every meal. We also bought drinks and had brought our small cooler with us, so we brought our drinks and lunches into the parks every day.

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66 Joane Terrace January 12, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Great article. Waiting for more.

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