Disney World on a Budget: Part Three, Saving Money While You're in the "World"

Your vacation to Walt Disney World is quickly approaching, and you're preparing yourself for sticker shock on everything from food to souvenirs. Don't! I've got you covered!

This is the last post in my three-part series on how to stretch your vacation budget when you're planning a trip to Walt Disney World.  In Part One, I talked about how to save money in the planning stage of your trip.  In Part Two, I discussed ways to stretch your budget before you leave for your vacation.  In this post, I plan to offer advice on how to save money while you are on your Disney trip.

One of the most common complaints that I hear is regarding the cost of food at Disney World.  While dining at Disney can be expensive, it doesn’t have to be.  The Disney Dining Plan can be a money-saver in some circumstances, especially for families with young children who plan on enjoying a few character meals.  Alternatively, you could forego the character meals completely, as most of the same characters are available for meet-and-greets elsewhere in the parks and are free with admission.  To save even more money on food, online services exist that will deliver reasonably-priced groceries (including bottled water) to your hotel room (our favorite is Garden Grocer).  If you’ve rented a car, stop at a grocery store on the way to your resort instead of using a delivery service.  With a few food staples, you can eat breakfast in your hotel room and pack a lunch to enjoy at the theme parks each day.  For dinner, if you’ve rented a car, consider dining at a more economically-priced offsite chain restaurant instead of in the parks.  Finally, devote a carry-on piece of luggage to prepackaged snacks and juice boxes.  Instead of splurging on pricey food items from vendor carts in the parks, bring your own snacks and drinks with you.  The same piece of luggage can be filled with souvenirs on the way home.      

Speaking of souvenirs, offsite stores are generally much cheaper than theme park gift shops, and while offsite merchandise is not “official”, much of it features the same characters as the onsite goods.  It’s also important to set a budget for souvenirs before you depart for your vacation…and then stick to it.  On our first Disney trip, we went a little overboard with souvenirs (it’s easy to do), so we came up with a solution to limit them on our subsequent vacations.  We now give each of our kids a predetermined amount of money (enough to cover one item).  If they’d like additional items (or a more expensive item), they are responsible for the difference.  When we have a Disney vacation coming up, the kids usually start saving their own money (allowance, birthday money, etc.) for their souvenirs.  Even though our children are still young (five and seven years old), this system works well.  Since they are using their own money, they are more likely to make sure that their purchase is something that they really want.

When it comes to Disney apparel, DO NOT purchase it in the theme parks (where it is incredibly expensive).  Instead, take a trip to your local Disney Store (or visit it online) before your trip.  Twice a year, the Disney Store has a massive clearance; during this time, it is often possible to find official Disney apparel for a VERY reasonable price (sometimes less than $5)!

Finally, if you have a Disney VISA card, bring it along on your trip.  You can save 10% on purchases of $50 or more at most retail locations in the Walt Disney World Resort.  To take advantage of this benefit, however, you will need to use your Disney VISA and tell the cast member that you want the 10% off (they will not always give it to you automatically). 

I’m turning it over to you now!  What are your best money-saving tips when you’re planning a Walt Disney World vacation?

Meredith McCutcheon

Disney Specialist, Ginger's Getaways

Drinking the Kool-Aid: A Mom's Guide to Disney World

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Meredith McCutcheon January 13, 2013 at 05:10 PM
Hi Hartland. How wonderful to be married at the Yacht Club! What a great memory! And what a great suggestion! I know quite a few people who have stayed at the Dolphin or Swan. In addition to the downside that you mentioned (conventions), many people feel that these hotels are less extensively-themed than the Disney-owned resorts; also, you are not eligible to add the Disney Dining Plan if you are staying at the Dophin/Swam. Nevertheless, I know LOTS of people who absolutely love these resorts. The proximity to the parks can't be beat, their transportation is frequent and dependable, AND guests of the Dolphin/Swan can participate in Disney's Extra Magic Hours!! Thanks for commenting!!
Peter Griffin January 13, 2013 at 05:23 PM
Meredith -- thanks for the info. I may do some price checking on the Caribbean Beach or Port Orleans Riverside --- they sound nice. Thanks again.
Meredith McCutcheon January 13, 2013 at 05:47 PM
Peter, you're very welcome! I'm glad I could help. If you find that you could use a little assistance finding the best available deals, you can always e-mail me at disneymadeeasy@yahoo.com or visit my business website at Ginger's Getaways: http://www.mm-gingersgetaways.com!
Christina Schultz January 13, 2013 at 09:12 PM
Hi there! We are going to Disney for only 2 days (march 29th and 30th) on our drive to south Florida. We have two kids, 4 and 7. Where do you recommend we purchase our tickets to the park? We plan on going to magic kingdom on fri and animal kingdom on sat. Also, with that being spring break, what are tips to save time waiting in lines?
Meredith McCutcheon January 13, 2013 at 09:25 PM
Hi Christina! Since you are only going to need 2-day park tickets, your best bet would be to purchase them directly from Disney (Undercover Tourist, a certified third party Disney ticket wholesaler, has discounts -- but only for three or more days). Purchase them before your trip to save time in line. Spring Break is definitely a busy time at Disney (one of the busiest), but you CAN have success in the parks if you have a plan. As a travel professional, my specialty is creating personalized itineraries and daily touring plans to help people stay ahead of the crowds when they visit Disney World. If you are interested, you can e-mail me at disneymadeeasy@yahoo.com or check out my touring plan website at http://themagicminusthemayhemonline.vpweb.com. While I can't give away all of my "tricks of the trade" for free, I CAN tell you that my #1 biggest tip for people visiting Disney World (especially during busy times) is to get to the parks early (before they open). Tour in the morning, take an afternoon break (when it's hot and crowded), and return in the evening. Hope this helps. Good luck!


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