I know, I know.. every mom blogger posts about their trip to DisneyWorld or DisneyLand right? Well never fear, for mine will be the best one ever! No, probably not. But what I can offer you is a cheapskates guide to surviving Disney without needing a second mortgage on your house.
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We need to start with one ground rule: What you spend on your Disney trip should depend on what kind of Disney experience you want. The great thing is, you can pick and choose the perks you want to pay for based on what matters most to you and your kids. And you can still save money on everything else.
Below, I will explain some ways to save a little or a lot of money. Please read the ‘You Should Know‘ sections to determine if that money savings is worth it for you.
And be sure to print my FREE Frugal Disney Planner!
1- Skip the Disney Resort
($63-$118 savings per night *Based on standard advertised prices for varying dates on the most basic Disney character room. Other character rooms are much more expensive.)
This is the first major decision you’ll need to make based on what kind of experience you’re looking for. When we went to Disney 3 years ago we stayed at a Disney Resort hotel (Art of Animation Resort, Little Mermaid standard room) and loved it. These resorts that are geared towards kids, are almost like theme parks themselves with giant Disney characters and lots of swimming pools. We spent one whole day just enjoying the resort experience.
Other perks about staying at a Disney Resort include:
- A shuttle takes you to the main front entrance to the park.
- You can get into the park an hour earlier.
But if you’re looking to save some major dough, you can stay at an off-site hotel like we did this year. We arrived in Orlando late in the day and pretty much just needed beds to sleep in anyway so it worked out fine.
Orlando and the surrounding towns cater to theme park visitors so there are tons of options from hotels to condos and townhouses to full house rentals.
Aside from the major savings, other perks about staying at an off-site hotel include:
- Many hotels surrounding Disney offer free shuttles to the parks.
- Self parking at the parks is only $20. (There is a preferred parking option for $30-$40 at Magic Kingdom but it’s just a closer spot in the same lot and you still need to take the tram to the entrance. So I would stick with the $20 option.)
- Some hotels also have free breakfast!
You should know: When you self park, you then take a tram to the first entrance, then you take the monorail or a ferry to the main park entrance. It does add significant time to the process of getting in and out of Magic Kingdom.
2- Take your own photos
Disney offers a package that includes photos from professional photographers inside the park. The upside is professional quality photos and you don’t have to worry about handling your own camera or trying to take awkward selfies (depending on your selfie skills). The downside, it’s $149 in advance and $169 if purchased at the park. My cell phone camera is free.
3- Take your own food and drinks
I’m actually amazed that Disney is so lenient on what you can take inside the park. According to their official rules, you can take in any food that does not need to be heated and any non-alcoholic drinks as long as they are not in glass containers.
From our previous trip I knew how much I hated standing in long lines for expensive food that my kids didn’t even eat. So this time I packed our own lunch, snacks and bottled water.
I spent $16 (at Dollar General) to feed my family of 4 with:
- Peanut butter
- Protein bars
- Water bottles
You should know: I learned that 2 giant water bottles were not enough for the whole day. It’s Florida, it’s hot, you need a lot of water. I also learned that the water in Disney water fountains, for whatever reason, is NOT good. So we ended up buying a cold drink, a small lemonade for $4.
You should also know: Lunch and snacks is where I draw the line with DIY food options. From our previous trip I knew that by dinner time we are all hot, exhausted and had short fuses. So we booked a restaurant reservation for dinner. It was the perfect opportunity for us to cool off, rest and recharge. After dinner the kids had a second wind and were raring to go. That dinner cost us around $100 (including tip) for the 4 of us. Money. Well. Spent.
4- Take your own Mickey Mouse ears
Walking around Disney you will realize that EVERYONE is wearing Mickey Mouse ears. It’s fun to wear them in ‘Mickey’s House’ and it’s a fun souvenir. But you will pay $20 to $30 or even more for those signature accessories.
This year we were lucky to already have some ears that we bought during our previous trip. But if you don’s already have some, you can buy them ahead of time and take them with you for A LOT less. I spotted these recently at Party City.
You can also get some cute styles of Mickey Mouse ears on Amazon.
5- Take your own glow wands
When the sun goes down, the lights come on and fireworks light up the sky and Disney becomes a truly magical place.. and the vendors come out with toys that light up and spin around and cost a small fortune. Those kind of things that make kids’ eyes light up and parents’ eyes roll. I opt for DIY glow wands for $1 each at Walmart.
6- Skip the autograph books
I’ve never really been into autographs so I haven’t really understood this craze, so I opted to save money by not buying autograph books. But if it’s something that you or your kids would be excited about, there are lots of ways to make your own instead of buying them at the park. Amazon also has some affordable options.
7- Have a souvenir plan & consider waiting
Part of the reason Disney is a money sucking place is that all the souvenirs are so cute and the kids want ALL of them. We handle this by having a pre-set plan. We allow the kids to get ONE and only ONE souvenir and encourage them to look in as many shops as they want to decide by the end of the day the ONE thing they really want. That way you also avoid carrying the souvenir all over the park all day. So on our last trip we spent a total of $60 on souvenirs, each child picked ONE $20 item… and so did I. 🙂
You can also pause buying souvenirs altogether until you get home and find them cheaper. For example, my husband was eyeing this awesome Star Wars coffee mug at Disney. When we got home I found the same mug on Amazon for 25% less! You can also look on eBay where former park visitors sell their souvenirs.
Another tactic would be to get those souvenirs before you go. Then the kids feel like they got a cool souvenir, and it won’t really matter if you bought it that day or not.
8- Make your own Disney themed T-shirts
You’ll see A LOT of people walking around the parks with adorable matching Disney shirts. You can design them on the Disney website for around $20 a person or on Zazzle.com which will also cost you around $20-$40 each. Or you can use lots of other ways to make them on your own.
The Crafty Organized Mom has a great tutorial on her blog for DIY Disney shirts. She also has an Etsy shop where you can buy personalized iron ons for just $7. You could buy a pack of basic shirts at Walmart, iron on these transfers and boom!- adorable Disney shirts, quick and cheap.
If you look around Etsy, you’ll see lots of cute and affordable options.
Amazon also has some options for shirts you can personalize.
Totally Free Things
You Should Take Advantage Of
The tragic joke about Disney is that you spend all day waiting in lines. Well, not if you take full advantage of Fast Pass. Before you go, pick three rides for your family in the morning. The Fast Pass is just what it sounds like, it lets you pass the entire line of waiting people to get into the ride right away or pretty quickly.
You get 3 fast passes to start with. After you’ve used all 3 you can add 1 more, then once you’ve used that 1, you can add 1 more, and so on and so on all day.
I would suggest packing your first 3 all in the morning as close together as you can. If you don’t go through your fast passes until the afternoon, by the time you get around to making your next fast pass selection a lot of the major rides won’t have any fast pass slots left for the rest of the day and you’re stuck standing in a 45-60 minute line or just skipping the ride altogether.
10- The app
Download the My Disney Experience app before you go to the park. It is so great for so many reasons:
- It shows all your fast passes and other events you’ve saved, so it’s sort of like your agenda for the day and can keep you on track.
- You can book your next fast passes right on the app.
- It has a map of the entire park showing the rides, attractions and bathrooms!
- It shows you where you are in the park and how to get to where you’re going.
You should know: Having the app open on and off all day did drain my phone battery. So I suggest packing a portable phone charger.
What’s In My Disney Backpack
- Lunch, snacks & water (Bagels, peanut butter, pretzels, protein bars, cookies, water bottles – bought at Dollar General for a total of $16)
- Portable cell phone charger (not pictured)
- Rain ponchos (If you’re not a Floridian you should know during certain seasons it will rain once a day every day. But it’s usually brief.)
- Sunscreen (It’s the Sunshine State after all and it can get brutal.)
- Wet wipes
- First aid kit (A very small kit I got at a pharmacy years ago holding a few bandaids, sterile pad and gauze.. just in case.)
- Ibuprofen (For the parents)
- Mickey ears (Bought on our previous Disney trip)
- Glow sticks & wands ($1 each at Walmart)
Don’t forget the fun stuff
If you have room in your backpack, remember to take along some items that might make the trip extra special for your little Disney fans. In the past when my daughter was obsessed with princesses and dressing up, I rolled up and tightly packed her Cinderella, Belle and Ariel dresses. It took up a little extra space, but it was super light and she was beside herself excited to wear the dress for the princess she was meeting.
I hope your vacation wishes all come true at Disney. And don’t forget any of these tips to save money on your trip! Download and print my FREE Frugal Disney Planner:
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