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If you’re hoping to do a Disney vacation on a budget, you’re probably looking for cheap Disney World tickets — or thinking about how much Disneyland tickets are at Costco. You’re on the right track!
I’ve made my way to the House of Mouse and picked up some pretty great strategies to save time, money and brain cells. The 17 tips that follow are a bit of an overview; if you want to learn more, you’re gonna want to do some more reading.
So slow your moaning about it being the “Most Expensive Day Ever” and get ready to actually enjoy yourself on your magical Disney vacation.
1. Spend less on Disney tickets when you buy from third-party sellers.
Sure, it seems easy to just jump on Disney.com and buy some Disney park or cruise tickets, but you’re better than that. Here’s what you do:
- Disney World: Visit Orlando Fun Tickets. . . you’ll save between 4.5% and 9% on multi-day park tickets.
- Disneyland: Visit aRes Travel. . . you’ll save between 6.1% and 6.4% on multi-day park tickets.
- Disney Cruises: Book through a travel agent to get discounts and onboard credit.
- For everything: Check out Costco’s travel options if you’re a member; you could save 2 – 4 % and get some perks and freebies.
Disney has the best price on single-day tickets for the theme parks; if you buy tickets direct from Disney, pay for them with Disney gift cards, which you can buy with Target RedCard for 5% off.
2. Plan your Disney vacation during non-peak months to save hundreds of dollars.
No matter what Disney vacation you’re going on, you’re not going to want to book your tip for Spring Break, during summer, or in the days surrounding Christmas. Here’s where to aim instead:
- Disney parks: January (excluding Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend) and September (excluding Labor Day weekend)
- Disney Cruises: Mid-September, before Halloween, before Thanksgiving, early December
3. Always check crowd calendars and Park Pass availability — BEFORE you buy tickets.
This one applies to just the Disney parks. Even if you’ve picked a non-peak week to go to Disney, you want to look at crowd calendars to figure out which parks will be the least crowded during your dates.
Also (and more importantly), Disney parks now have limited capacity, so in addition to buying your park ticket, you have to connect it to a reservation for a specific day — a Park Pass. Availability for Park Passes is limited, so you’ll want to make your reservation as quickly as you can. You should definitely check the Park Pass calendar (Disney World / Disneyland) before you buy to make sure your dates are available.
4. Use airline miles to book free plane tickets.
Although airlines offer their own vacation packages, they do something Costco doesn’t — they accept airline miles as payment.
These airlines allow you to book a portion or all of your vacation package with miles:
- American Airlines: Cover the cost of your flight to Florida or California with AAdvantage Miles, plus you can put as few as 1,000 points toward the non-flight portion of your vacation, which you can redeem for gift cards, car rentals, and even hotel stays.
- Delta Airlines: Use your SkyMiles to cover the cost of flight and hotel, plus you’ll get $350 off your booking if you’re a SkyMiles Member.
- JetBlue: Use TrueBlue points to book the airline portion of your Disney vacation through JetBlue. You’ll see prices like 12,800 points + $473. The points will cover fights and tickets to the parks, and the dollar amount covers per night at the hotel.
- Southwest Airlines: Become a Rapid Rewards member and you can save up to 25% on your flight and stay at a Disney resort when you book with Southwest Airlines Vacations. You can’t book with points, but Southwest has a Lowest Price Promise, which means if the same trip you’ve booked is now at a lower price on their website, you’ll get travel credit for the price difference and you get to keep your points.
We even found a way to fly your entire family to Disney for free using your miles.
5. If you’re a local, Disney wants to give you 25% – 40% off tickets.
If you’re a Disney local, Mickey rolls out the red carpet for you with discounts on park tickets and cruises — with verification of residency, of course.
- Walt Disney World: You can get a 3-Day, 1 Park Per Day Ticket for 30% off and a 4-Day, 1 Park Per Day Ticket for 40% off.
- Disney Cruises: If at least one adult in your stateroom is a Florida resident, you can get up to 35% off a cruise to the Bahamas.
- Disneyland: California residents with zip codes between 90000-93599, and 21000-22999 get discounts from time to time; in 2021, they got 25% off a 3-day, 1 Park Per Day Ticket.
Need some more savings strategies for Disneyland? We have the essential Disneyland tips you need to know.
6. At the top of your packing list should be ponchos and strollers.
Listen, you can make your Disney vacation so much more enjoyable when you pack the right stuff. From snacks to space-savers to cheap Disney goodies, you can hit the ground running if you’re prepared.
No matter what, though, make sure you don’t forget these two things: Ponchos and a stroller.
Stroller rentals inside Disney World will run you about $15 per day, and considering you can buy a cheap umbrella stroller on Amazon and use it for the length of your trip, this seems like a no-brainer. You could even have it shipped to your hotel.
And instead of getting Amazon ponchos for less than $1 apiece, or even for $0.99 at Walgreens in Orlando, I paid $42.00 for four ponchos in the park. Don’t be me.
Make sure you are prepared for your vacation by browsing our Ultimate Disney Packing List.
7. Help yourself to freebies — like celebration buttons.
We’ve got more to say about all the kinds of freebies you can get while you’re on your Disney Cruise, Disneyland vacation or Walt Disney World visit, but no matter where you are, you can get a celebration button. Whether you’re celebrating a birthday, anniversary or warm weather, gift shops, front desks and ticket counters will all hand you a free button. And as you go about your trip, Cast Members will comment on what you’re celebrating.
Other freebies include:
- Magic Kingdom: Try free soda from around the world at Club Cool in Walt Disney World’s Epcot, and a free Monorail driver’s license (coming soon).
- Disneyland: Both Disneyland and California Adventure have ongoing drawing classes where you learn to draw a different Disney character. You get to keep your handiwork.
- Disney Cruises: Get a free T-shirt from the “Friendship Rocks” show on the Disney Magic or Disney Wonder ships.
Want even more perks? We’ve got 40 Disney World deals and hacks you need to know.
8. Get Disney’s apps to help simplify your vacation and wait in line less.
Disney has smartphone apps for Disneyland, Walt Disney World and Disney Cruises that make life much easier. These apps act as your entry ticket, your room key, your payment method and your concierge, among other things.
For Disney parks, the apps will help you schedule Lightning Lane reservations and give you a schedule for the day, based on your interests and wait times.
For Disney Cruises, the app will speed up your check-in process, help you book experiences, and communicate with others onboard.
Learn more about how to save time and money on your Disney Cruise with the Navigator app.
9. Need to save a place in line for your group? You can! IF you tell as Cast Member.
While we were riding Star Tours, a member of our group got in line for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. When we met up, we sheepishly slid into line with the other member of our party.
A Cast Member promptly found us and said that our party could reunite in line, but in the future, we’d need to tell a Cast Member so we could be properly escorted to our spot.
It’s generally frowned upon to do this, so use it sparingly — but we were blown away that this was actually the policy!
We love avoiding those massive Disney crowds; here’s how you do it.
10. Wherever you go, you can trade pins with Cast Members and other vacationers.
Did you know that you can trade pins with the Cast Members at Disney parks and on a Disney Cruise? There are a few rules to this memorable (and totally free) activity — like, it must be a Disney pin, and the pins must be in good condition. Cast Members don’t own their pins; they’re given to them specifically for trading with guests, so don’t be shy about asking!
Plus, if you’re on a Disney Cruise, check out your schedule in the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app to know when the pin trading night will occur.
What else can you expect from your Disney Cruise? Hint: Savings.
11. Disney makes it easy to avoid waiting in lines or crowds for food.
Listen, you have a limited amount of time on your Disney vacation. Why would you waste tons of time waiting for food?
The Disney parks apps let you make dining reservations ahead of time and even place pickup orders at quick-service restaurants.
On Disney Cruises, you can avoid as many of the sit-down dinners as you want; instead, opt for free room service, available via the Navigator app.
We’ve got lots more strategies for avoiding Disney crowds.
12. The best food deal at Disney Parks is the refillable popcorn bucket.
Not only will you get a cool souvenir for $10 – $12 that you can take home from the parks, but you’ll be able to refill the bucket for only $2.
Plus, you can bring that bucket the next time you go to the parks, and you’ll still get the $2 popcorn refill.
If you’re staying at a Disney hotel (sadly, not the Cruise or Disneyland Resort hotel), spring for the $19.99 reusable rapid-fill mug; if you’re planning to refill it at least five times, it’ll pay for itself.
13. If you’re at the theme parks, budget $20 per person, per day for the Lightning Lane pass.
Look, we get it. You already spent a pretty penny just getting to Disney and into the park. Why spend more for Genie+ Lightning Lane access?
The photo above says it all; on the left is the crowded standby line for The Barnstormer. On the right, the empty Lightning Lane. You made it this far, what’s another $20 per person, per day so you can avoid the worst Disney crowds?
You can add Genie+ when you buy your tickets, or once you arrive at the park. Then, when parks open (or 7 a.m. if you’re staying at a Disney resort hotel), use the Disneyland or Disney World app to reserve your Lightning Lane time slot.
Some things to know:
- You can only book a Lightning Lane reservation once per ride, per day
- High-demand rides book up fastest; make your reservation as soon as possible for rides like Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
- Not all rides offer Lightning Lane; the app will tell you which ones have it
- Some rides offer Individual Lightning Lane tickets, which cost $7-$20 per person, per ride, depending on the season. For example, the Webslingers Individual Lightning Lane costs an additional $7 per person, on top of the Genie+ service.
We’ve got lots more Genius Ways to Avoid Disney Crowds.
14. You’ll pay too much if you add a Disney World visit to your Disney Cruise.
If you book a Disney Cruise through Disney, they’ll offer you an add-on to go to the theme parks on either side of your cruise.
While it’s convenient to have one deposit, one reservation and one due date for the balance of your tickets, the add-on doesn’t give you the chance to find better deals on park tickets.
Instead, read up on our Walt Disney World savings tips and our Disneyland hacks, and if you’re set on going to the parks, approach it separately from your cruise.
15. Bring your own food into the parks — and never buy water.
The best way to save money on food at Disney parks is to just pack your own food.
You could find a grocery store in the Orlando-Kissimmee area, or you could just stay put at your hotel and get groceries delivered by Amazon Fresh (free delivery for orders over $35), Instacart ($3.99 delivery for orders of $35+), or Walmart Grocery Delivery ($9.95 delivery fee).
If you schedule your food delivery for 6 – 8 a.m., you will be able to get your food before you enter the park.
Also, don’t spend $4 – $6 on a bottle of water; you can get a free cup of water at any counter-service restaurant. Just ask! (Or in some cases, you’ll find a water station with complimentary cups.)
16. Make dining reservations as soon as you possibly can.
Disney has mega-popular specialty restaurants at their parks and on their cruises, and if you were thinking you’d make reservations the day you arrive, you’re going to be sadly disappointed.
If you’ve bought park tickets, Disneyland and Walt Disney World will let you make a reservation to restaurants like Be Our Guest and the Blue Bayou up to 60 days in advance.
On Disney Cruises, specialty restaurants like Rapunzel’s Royal Table and the adults-only Remy are hotspots. Disney lets guests book between 75 and 120 days prior to the sail date, depending on your Castaway Club member status.
Check out all of our Disney Dining Tips the Mouse Doesn’t Want You to Know.
17. Beware Disney Tiktok tips; you may end up losing your bags.
There are a lot of people out there giving Disney vacation advice, but some of what they’re saying is inaccurate or just plain dumb.
For example, some people are trying to avoid using lockers at Disney parks and instead will turn their bags into Lost & Found, only to reclaim later. There’s a BIG problem with that line of thinking — we explain the problem with this and a bunch of other Goofy Disney tips.