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There’s no way around it; a Walt Disney World Vacation is gonna cost you. But how much does it cost you? That all depends on how you play it.
We’ll teach you about value days, how to order food cheaply, what not to spend money on, and what kind of freebies you can get at the park.
If you’re looking for more ways to do a Disney vacation on a budget, we have a mega list of tips and hacks that applies to all Disney vacations.
Before you go. . .
1. Get to know the four parks so you know where you want to go.
Listen, when people say “We’re going to Disney World!” I always ask, “Which one?” because that’s like saying you’re going to New York. Cool, but you’re gonna have to be more specific.
Truth is, the Walt Disney World Resort is made up of FOUR theme parks (and two water parks, and a ton of hotels, but we’ll just focus on the theme parks for now). At the start of your Disney World journey, you’re gonna need to know about each of the parks and figure out where you want to go:
- Magic Kingdom: The flagship theme park with all the Mountains (Space, Splash, and Thunder) and classics like the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, It’s A Small World, and Peter Pan’s Flight. Good for all ages.
- Epcot: Has a handful of decent rides around the big silver ball (known as “Spaceship Earth”), but is known for the World Showcase — 11 pavilions representing countries around the world. Good for adults and younger kids.
- Hollywood Studios: The reason you go to this theme park is Star Wars Land. All the new rides (and incredible architecture) are here, including Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, Star Tours, and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Good for all ages, but best for teens/young adults.
- Animal Kingdom: They’ve got the high-speed Everest ride and the popular ride based on the movie Avatar, but this theme park also has 2,000 animals representing 300 species, with plenty of chances to experience animals in a wide-open habitat. Good for all ages.
2. Check Disney World crowd calendars before you buy your tickets.
Crowd calendars are amazing. They take into account a number of things — from school calendars to conferences to holidays — to give a forecast for how busy various parks will be. There are several online, but here are a few of our favorites:
- WDW Prep School: Provides an explanation for each season and why certain dates are optimal for your Walt Disney World vacation.
- Is It Packed: Let’s you know the day-by-day estimate of the number of people in the park. It also gives you recommendations for the best times to go into the park.
- Undercover Tourist: Not only gives you the best days to go into the park, but it also lets you know the events that are going on in each park.
3. If you can, plan your Disney World visit for January or September.
While crowd calendars are handy for specific days, if you’re generally looking for the least-crowded days of the year, you’ll want to plan your Disney parks trip for January (except for MLK weekend) and September (except for Labor Day weekend).
Plus, ticket prices fluctuate throughout the year, and the cheapest prices are January, February, August, and September (with the exception of holiday weekends). During “Value Season” you’ll easily save up to $20 per ticket over the peak season prices.
4. Check Disney’s Park Pass calendar to make sure they have capacity for you during your preferred dates.
You can’t just buy tickets and show up whenever you want, because Disney parks limit the number of people that can visit on a given day. You’ll need to reserve a Disney Park Pass through the Walt Disney World website.
Before you even buy tickets, you should check availability for the dates you want to visit. If they haven’t hit capacity, buy your tickets, and then link your newly purchased tickets to a Park Pass using your My Disney Experience account.
5. Third-party sellers have the best prices on multi-day Disney World tickets.
Disney allows certain companies to sell tickets at a discount, and if you’re looking at three or more days at the park, third-party sellers are the way to go.
Now, you might think your per-day cost would go down the longer you stay, but that’s not always true. While a 5-day Park Hopper pass is 9% off Disney’s price, the 6-day base ticket is only 5.9% off. The biggest discount we found, 6.4%, actually was for a 3-day, one-park base ticket.
Here’s a list of some Disney ticket sellers — keep in mind that some sites may actually be MORE expensive than Disney! (Make sure to check as many sites as possible, since prices fluctuate based on the season.)
TIP: Never buy tickets on Craigslist or eBay. They can’t be verified for their authenticity, and you do not want to travel all the way to a Disney park only to find out your tickets aren’t legit.
6. But if you’re planning only one day at a park, Disney has the best price.
Rest assured that when you’re buying a 1-day ticket direct from Disney, you’re getting the best price. The best Disney World prices we found from third-party sellers match Disney’s direct price, and in a few cases, these tickets are MORE expensive through the third-party sellers.
And if you’re going to go for just one day, go midweek to save about $65. In general, regular 1-Day ticket prices for Disney World Magic Kingdom start at $174 if you go on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or Monday. So, go on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday to get the Value Ticket price, which starts at just $109.
Value Tickets aren’t available in the peak season, though. So plan ahead and go when they’re available.
7. MagicBands aren’t free anymore — they now cost $20 and up.
Instead of having to get out your ticket every time you park hop, check into a Lightning Lane or buy a snack, MagicBands will just let you scan its computer chip.
Disney used to give these MagicBands to hotel guests for free, but now that you can do everything a MagicBand could do (and more) with a smartphone or Apple Watch, they’ve discontinued this freebie. But they do still work, and you still can buy them (for $29.99 and up. . . although people do resell them online).
8. If you’re a Costco member, look into their current Disney World vacation packages; they have perks and freebies.
Costco Travel offers specials and all-inclusive Disney Resort vacations that you can book online.
Costco deals for Disney World include a variety of discounted multi-day vacation packages. You’ll receive up to a $245 Disney gift card, Magical extras savings at Disney Springs, and a collectible Disney pin and lanyard with purchase.
Plus, Costco Executive members get 2% back on all travel purchases up to $1,000.
9. If you live in Florida, you can get discounted Disney World tickets.
It’s called the Disney World Florida Resident Ticket. All you have to do is fill out your Florida information when you check out with your tickets.
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.
If you’re a teacher or a college student in the Orlando area, check with your student union or teacher’s union; you might be eligible for a discount.
10. Get up to 40% off park tickets with a military discount.
Disney World’s military discount includes offers 4-Day Park Hopper passes for $329 (savings of $124) and 5-Day Park Hopper passes for $359 (savings of $135). These prices are valid through December 2022.
You’ll need to purchase tickets on Base or at participating military sales outlets. There are plenty of other military discounts happening all year long — check out our list.
When you get to Orlando. . .
11. Don’t count on free tickets from a timeshare presentation.
Not that many years ago, there were gobs of resorts that wanted you to check out their timeshares, and when you were done, you’d get free tickets to Disney. No longer.
The only timeshares we’ve found that are actively doing these tours are Westgate Lakes Resort in Orlando and the Disney Vacation Club. Westgate makes you pay $40 to attend, which goes toward any “gift” you receive at the end of the presentation (usually a $100 Disney gift card), plus “special rates” on park tickets. There are a bunch of other timeshares in the Orlando area that follow the same format.
Disney Vacation Club freebies vary but usually come in the form of a $25 – $100 Disney gift card, breakfast, or dessert. Making it through an awkward presentation doesn’t pay like it used to.
This is one of our Goofy Disney Hacks that Don’t Work.
12. Before you get into the park, download the Disney World app — it’ll help plan your day and avoid lines.
The Disney World app is essential to maximizing your time at Disney World. With the new Disney Genie feature, you can add your can’t-miss experiences to the app before you get into the park, and it will come up with the best itinerary for your trip.
Plus, it keeps track of all your Lightning Lane reservations, gives you a map that has up-to-the-minute estimated wait times for attractions, and you can buy your food in advance for any counter-service restaurant.
13. Get into the parks early by staying at a Disney hotel or by making a breakfast reservation.
If you make a breakfast reservation before the parks open, you’ll be able to get in 40 minutes earlier than anyone else. You’ll have to make the reservation months before you get into the park, so make sure to book it as soon as possible.
But if you’re staying at a Disney resort hotel, you’ll often be able to get into the park 30 minutes early as part of Disney World’s Early Theme Park Entry program.
14. Don’t go to the parks on Magic Hour days — they’re super busy.
For now, thanks to Covid, Disney Parks aren’t doing Extra Magic Hours — which gives resort guests an extra hour at the beginning or end of the day. (But they are doing Early Entry; see the last tip.)
Although Extra Magic Hours seem really great if you’re staying at a Disney hotel, they make the parks more crowded. So any time you save by getting in early gets gobbled up by bigger crowds.
So, for future reference, stay away if you can. For example, if the Magic Kingdom’s Magic Hours happen on Monday, you should go to Epcot instead for shorter wait times.
To find out when Magic Hours are happening, check the Disney park calendar, and it’ll let you know which parks are offering them on which days.
15. Anybody can go to the ‘Rope Drop’ an hour before opening.
Disney parks officially open at 8 a.m., but if you get to the parks an hour early, you can watch the “Rope Drop” and get into the parks early.
When they do the “Rope Drop” is dependent on the Cast Member in charge, but you can expect to get into the park about 40 minutes early.
And these are just a few of the ways you can avoid crowds at Disney.
16. Don’t rent a stroller! Bring your own cheap stroller even if you have to ship it to your hotel.
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.
If you don’t want to pack it on a flight, look into shipping it to your hotel. Most hotels will hold on to packages if you mail them to yourself; you can pick them up when you check in.
Note: Disney parks have a limit on the size of your stroller, so make sure it’s no bigger than 31×52. Wagons are not allowed at the parks.
If you’re not sure what to bring to Disney World, check out our ultimate Disney packing list that’ll save you big on your Disney vacation.
When you’re getting hungry. . .
17. If you’re staying at Disney Hotel, get the refillable mug.
Once you pay the $19.99 for Disney’s reusable rapid-fill mugs, you can refill them with water, soda, coffee, or tea as much as you want at your hotel. Individual drinks start at $3.99 each, so as long as you’re planning to refill at least five times, it’s totally worth it.
There’s an RFID chip inside the cups that tells the soda machine to pour, and 7 days after you bought the cup, it’ll no longer work. So yeah, you can’t cut corners by purchasing one of these cups on eBay.
18. Four important words: Bring your own food.
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. Plus, there are several ways to save some serious cash with Amazon Grocery.
19. Never buy water at Disney World — you can get it for free.
Did you know that you can get a free cup of water at any counter-service restaurant? This way you can save $4 – $6 on a bottle of water.
All you have to do is request a cup of water, and the Cast Member will hand you a small cupful. (If you want a larger cup, just ask.) Or bring in an empty bottle into the park and refill at stations scattered around the park (typically in dining areas).
20. Order your food ahead of time with the Disney World app.
One of the best features of the Disney World app is the ability to skip the food lines. With the app, you can browse menus, order food, select a pickup time, and keep moving.
This way, you can get your Dole Whip or turkey leg without having to wait in a long line.
21. You can get food freebies at a few different places.
There are a few places where you can get a free snack. Here are a few that we found:
- Free chocolate at Ghirardelli’s Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop in Walt Disney World’s Disney Springs
- Free samples at some kiosks (such as a Raspberry Dole Whip at Aloha Isle. It all depends on the Cast Member)
- Free soda from around the world at Club Cool in Walt Disney World’s Epcot
22. Ordering a kids’ meal at Disney World can save you 50%.
A typical meal at Disney will cost you around $11 – $16 for adults, so you can save by ordering a kids’ meal for only $7 – $8. They typically come with some fruit and a small drink as well, so it’s a better deal than ordering an adult item a la carte (which only saves you around $2).
23. The cheapest snack you can buy at Disney World is the Popcorn Bucket.
The Popcorn Bucket is a collectible plastic container that costs $10 – $12, but after that first purchase, you get popcorn refills for $2 throughout your time at the park — the cheapest snack available.
Since Covid, Cast Members give you your refill by filling a couple of smaller cups with popcorn, and you refill the bucket yourself.
Best of all, if you bring your popcorn bucket on your next Disney vacation, Cast Members will still give you the $2 deal.
We know of even more ways for you to beat Disney dining prices.
When you get in the park. . .
24. Pick up a free button if you’re celebrating a birthday, first Disney visit, or another special occasion.
You can get a button for your first visit, birthday, anniversary, or really anything else special, and Cast Members will acknowledge your celebration. They also offer blank buttons that say “I’m Celebrating ______” and you can fill in your own reason.
Most of the merchandise shops have these at the counter, so just ask! (Disney hotels have them, too.)
25. Budget at least $20/day per person for the Lightning Lane.
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 standby line for Space Mountain. On the right — the Lightning Lane. You made it this far, what’s another $20 per person, per day so you don’t spend your Disney vacation waiting in lines?
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, the Seven Dwarves Mine Train, and Test Track.
- 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.
26. Keep an eye on ride wait times using the park’s app.
One of the best parts of the Disneyland and Walt Disney World apps is the map feature, which lets you keep tabs on current wait times. If you’re waiting for your next Lightning Lane — or not doing one at all — this will help you figure out where to go for the shortest wait.
Tip: If you put your must-see attractions into Disney Genie — the free planning tool within the Disney apps — they’ll tell you the best times to get in the standby line.
27. As soon as you check into your Lightning Lane reservation, book a new one.
Lightning Lane is just like FastPass was, in that you can only schedule one Lightning Lane at a time. But as soon as you check in — using your phone, MagicBand, or ticket card — open the app and reserve your next Lightning Lane ride.
The sooner you do it, the better because Lightning Lane windows get booked quickly — and supply is limited. You’ve also got to use some strategy: Do you want to book the most popular ride later in the day? Or bounce from Lightning Lane to Lightning Lane, knowing you might miss out on your favorite ride’s Lightning Lane.
28. You can hold a spot in line for your group — IF you tell a Cast Member.
OK, story time: 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!
29. Got young kids? Use Rider Switch so both parents can ride.
Although kids under 3 years old don’t have to pay admission to Disney World, there are a lot of rides they can’t go on. Thankfully, there’s Rider Switch.
How does Rider Switch work at Disney World? One parent gets in line to ride, while the other sits with the kid. After the ride, the first parent sits with the kid, while the other bypasses the regular standby line.
To use Rider Switch, simply check with a Cast Member at the ride’s entrance to see if that particular attraction offers it. Then, the Cast Member will help you do the Rider Switch.
30. Don’t park hop until at least 3 p.m. to reduce wait times.
If you have a Park Hopper ticket, you’re able to switch parks as of 2 p.m. — but that’s when most people want to switch. At this time, you can expect commutes between parks to take around an hour.
If you go an hour later, you can avoid the line and spend more time in a park than on a bus.
Tip: If you are going from Epcot to Hollywood Studios (or vice versa), take the Skyliner gondola! It’s way more fun than a bus.
31. Single-rider lines can help you spend less time in some ride lines.
If you’re at least 7 years old, you can stand in the single-rider line, which typically gets you through lines faster. Here’s a list of rides at Walt Disney World where you can use single-rider lines:
- Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom
- Rock n’ Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios
- Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run at Hollywood Studios
- Test Track at EPCOT
32. Save time in larger gift shops by using mobile checkout.
When you’re at one of the bigger gift shops at Walt Disney World, keep an eye out for signage that allows you to check out using the Disney World app.
The app lets you scan the items you’re buying, and then you can pay using the payment card associated with your account. Then, you show your checkout screen to a Cast Member waiting near the exit doors. Save the waiting in line for things that matter — like rides!
33. Ride when people typically eat or are watching fireworks — the lines are much shorter.
This really works! We’d always have really strange eating times — like a 10 a.m. breakfast, a 3 p.m. lunch, and a late dinner (if necessary). When regular mealtimes would hit (11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and like 5-7 p.m.), people would be stuck in long lines for dinner, while we’d be blazing through the standby line on rides.
This tip is even stronger during the nightly fireworks shows; a two-hour wait for It’s A Small World turned into a walk-on ride (see photo above).
34. Need a break at Epcot? There’s a free play area for kids 5 and under.
Reward your young kids (I’m talking 5 and under) for being good sports at the Epcot World Showcase by letting them blow off some steam at Epcot’s large playground. It’s just beside the Creation Shop, near the Test Track ride, tucked up against the lagoon.
There’s plenty of seating for parents, and plenty of things to climb on for the kiddos.
35. Get your Disney merch at the Disney Character Warehouses.
The absolute best place to get your Disney merch is the Disney Character Warehouses located at the Orlando International Premium Outlet and the Orlando Vineland Premium Outlet.
Every item that isn’t sold in a Disney Store gets shipped to these warehouses, so all the merch is at a discounted price (around 20% off).
36. Trade pins with any Disney Cast Member who’s wearing a lanyard.
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!
37. Bring ponchos to the park to keep the magic going when it rains.
Listen, I knew about this tip before going to Disney World, and I ignored it. And then, we got caught in a cinematic downpour.
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.
38. Take a selfie with characters at the parks for free.
Meet and greets at the parks are a little different now. Characters stand or walk around specific roped areas in the parks to enforce social distancing. But they will have conversations with you and even take selfies — which are, of course, the new autograph book.
Disney World also has character cavalcades to replace their usual parades during park hours. So you’ll get to see your favorite character walk or ride by as they make their way through the parks.
39. Get free rides on monorails, boats, and the Skyliner gondola.
The Disney World Monorail, ferry boats, and buses also connect the Magic Kingdom with Animal Kingdom, the other parks, and hotels.
The Disney Skyliner is a gondola (think ski-lift) system that connects Disney hotels with Disney Hollywood Studios and Epcot. With all of these options, anybody can ride for free. Just walk up to the station and get in!
40. Get a free autographed postcard from your favorite Disney character in the mail.
The magic doesn’t start at the parks. You can write to your favorite Disney character, and Disney will send you an autographed postcard within 4 – 8 weeks.
Here’s a list of the characters that you’re most likely to get a reply from:
- Mickey Mouse
- Minnie Mouse
- Donald Duck
- Sleeping Beauty (Aurora)
- Snow White
You can send your letter to this address:
Walt Disney World Communications
P.O. Box 10040
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-0040