Learn how you can take your whole family on your dream Disney vacation without going broke. This is your go-to guide for planning a cheap Disney vacation.
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Many families dream of going to Disney, either to Disney World, Disneyland, or taking a Disney Cruise. Unfortunately Disney is really expensive. Not only are daily tickets super pricey but food, souvenirs, accommodations, and getting there can all add up.
Fortunately there are ways to take your dream Disney Vacation on the cheap. We took our last cheap Disney vacation through a combination of snagging good deals, using side hustles, and using programs like Ebates to make our trip a reality.
Why Go to Disney?
It’s fun! Even if you aren’t a huge Mickey Mouse lover, you will find something enjoyable to do here. It’s called Disney magic for a reason. It’s MAGICAL!
Everything at a Disney park is meticulously well-planned. From the cool details on the buildings, to the games you can play in lines, there is always something to marvel at when you’re there.
Truth be told, the hubby and I weren’t Disney-philes before we took our family on a Disney vacation. After that first trip however, we’ve gone full-blown Disney.
That trip touched us in such a profound way because our family had so much fun together. Everyone had something to do and everyone had the time of their lives.
I was even able to get my “too-cool-for-school,” tattoo-artist hubby to wear matching outfits with the family on this last trip!
Investing in a cheap Disney vacation was sooooo worth it to our family. Now we want to go back as much as we possibly can. That’s where planning thrifty Disney trips comes into play.
First Things First
Planning a cheap Disney vacation takes some work. I recommend starting your plans a year in advance if you can.
The first thing to do is subscribe to the Disney Parks email list. They will periodically send you emails with special travel discounts. Read them (you know, instead of swiping past them like 99% of your inbox). One reason we took a trip this past summer, so close after our winter trip, was because Disney Parks sent me an email with a deal too good to pass up.
Plan in Advance
You may not exactly know when you’re going. That’s okay. Start planning anyway.
By planning ahead you’ll have a nice little cushion of cash to act upon when the right deal pops up.
Certain times of the year offer deep discounts while others are super expensive. Be as flexible as possible in your travel dates for maximum savings.
Different websites have different packages and they can vary drastically in price.
Southwest.com has affordable packages, so does the Disney Parks website. The benefit of buying a package deal as opposed to making arrangements one by one is the time and (sometimes) cost-savings involved. Especially if it’s your first Disney trip, a package might be the best solution.
Make sure to compare numbers. I’ve heard packages by AAA (Triple A) are really pricey. So even if you’ve found a good deal, make sure to compare prices.
Use a Disney Certified Travel Agent
Disney Vacation Planner’s do not charge anything extra to plan and book your trip. You can tell them the amount you want to spend and they can build a cheap Disney vacation around your budget.
Disney’s Vacation planners tend to know the best deals and how to score them. Plus, they are great at recommending hotels, events, and restaurants you might not have been aware of.
Dave Weichert is a Disney Vacation planner. He is a regular guest on the podcast Two Men and the Mouse (which I HIGHLY recommend). I’m always amazed by his level of expertise when he’s on the show. Plus he just sounds like a cool dude. I haven’t personally used a Disney Vacation planner yet (because I’m a neurotic planner) but now that I’ve “been there, done that,” I’m ready to use Dave for our next Disney trip.
Consider Staying Off-Property
Staying at an non-Disney hotel has a lot of advantages. They are usually cheaper, which means you can afford a larger room with a kitchenette. This is a great cost-saving option because you can eat breakfast in the room and make sandwiches and snacks to take with you into the park. Plus, you’ll get a coffee maker. (Value resorts on Disney property do not provide an in-room coffee maker. Oh the horrors!)
You need to consider how you’re going get to and from the parks if you stay in an off-property hotel. Many of the non-Disney hotels offer free transportation to and from the parks. Just make sure to confirm that before you book your reservation.
There are other accommodation options too. You can check out Airbnb for good deals. I haven’t used Airbnb for Disney but I recently used it on a trip to Minneapolis and it was a GREAT experience.
Disney has a line of “value” resorts. These include the “All Star” resorts (at Disney World). Prices tend to be around $119 (sometimes lower) a night and they include free transportation to all the Disney Parks. Value resort rooms do not have an in-room coffee maker or microwave so consider bringing your own coffee maker and a small, portable toaster oven.
Staying in a Disney resort means you never have to leave the “magic.” You don’t have to fight traffic after the park closes, every employee you encounter is part of the Disney staff so they’re going to be super helpful and friendly, and it’s just more convenient.
Cheap Disney Vacation Travel Tips
Go during the off-season if you can. The parks tend to be busiest around early summer, Christmas, Thanksgiving, long weekends like Labor Day, and Easter. Also, consider going during the middle of the week. The parks are less crowded on weekdays and hotel prices are lower.
Consider renting a house and sharing it with another family. There are plenty of websites that offer vacation home rentals, like HomeAway.com. You can split the cost of the home if you go with another family.
Free Stuff at Disney
There are a ton of things you can do in the parks that don’t cost a dime.
Ride the monorail all around the park property. It’s fun, air-conditioned and free.
Use the Disney photo pass photographers. They will be walking around the parks with a big camera. If you ask, they will take a picture of your family with our own phone or camera so you don’t have to pay for the Memory Maker photo package.
Watch concerts, fireworks, parades, meet characters, and see the Beauty and the Beast Broadway show.
All of these free things are included in your park ticket.
Also, all the quick service restaurants (ones where you order food at a counter) will give your free ice water in a cup. This is a big deal on hot summer days.
Be aware there are plenty of water fountains around so bring your reusable water bottle. If you need flavors, just bring along personal flavor packets and pour them into your water bottle.
If you’re dying for a carbonated beverage, check out Epcot’s Cool Club. They have free samples of international Coca Cola products. Not only can you hang around and try as many as you like, it’s also fun to try all the international flavors.
Epcot has free art projects in every country. These are fun and are an easy way to bring home a free souvenir.
Disney has free wi-fi. You will definitely want to download the Disney Parks App onto your smart phone. This gives you access to maps of the parks, wait times for rides, and allows you to modify and create FastPass appointments. You can also make dining reservations on the app.
There are a ton of free pins provided by Disney. These include pins saying it’s a first time trip, a birthday, or anniversary. You can pick these up at your Disney hotel concierge or at an information booth inside the park.
Visit Disney Springs
Disney Springs, formally called Downtown Disney, is an open-air mall. They have an uh-mazing Lego store with plenty of places for your kids to build. The Disney store here is also a must-do. Even if you’re not buying anything, it’s an amazing place to look around. You do not need a ticket to see Disney Springs, it’s free to visit.
Take Your Own Princess and Pirate Supplies
Your kids will see a lot of other kids at the parks decked out in princess, pirate, and other Disney costumes. (Sorry, adults aren’t allowed to wear costumes in the parks). Disney has packages you purchase that lets kids to be dressed up as a pirate or princess. These are EXPENSIVE. Plan ahead and bring your own pirate and princess supplies and dress them before heading to the parks.
Bring Your Own Souvenirs
Most outlet malls have a Disney outlet store. These always stock items from the Disney parks. You can also shop at places like Dollar Tree. Wherever you purchase them, buy your Disney souvenirs at home and take them with you on your vacation. Then surprise your kids with a few throughout the trip.
Also, the Disney Store runs great sales every so often. You can shop there through Ebates too.
One of the cool things about Disney parks are character meals. These are restaurants where you can eat a sit-down meal while different Disney characters come by your table to take pictures with you. If your family really wants to meet characters but doesn’t want to wait in the lines to see them, character meals can be a great option.
Book these meals at breakfast time. The cost will be lower and if you plan it right, you’ll get early access to the park. Our favorite is the breakfast buffet at The Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom. All of the characters from the 100 Acre Woods come by and greet you and your kids. Plus they have a cute little parade that your kiddos can participate in.
Early morning is also a great time to snag photos inside the park without a million people milling about in the background.
Bring Your Own Supplies
Don’t wait until you’re at Disney to buy things like sunscreen and hats. Bring them with you.
Also, sign up for Amazon Pantry and you can have food and supplies shipped right to your hotel room. This way you aren’t lugging around diapers, formula, cereal, granola bars, and all the other things that a family needs.
Set a Budget
Determine the amount you will need to go on your cheap Disney vacation. If you play your cards right, a family of four can travel to Disney World for about 4 thousand dollars. Maybe bump this up to 4.5K so that you have some cushion. (I have seen packages for a family of four in the 2K range but it didn’t include travel to Florida.)
This is the goal you’re working towards. Now you gotta figure out how to get it.
Create a Savings Plan
If you’re planning in advance, break up the 4.5K (or whatever amount you want) into 52 weeks. If it’s 4.5K, that’s $87 dollars a week.
The next step is figuring out how to get that $87 a week.
Here are some ideas:
- Do all your shopping online and use Ebates. There will be a few essential travel items you need to take with you to Disney. If you’re going to Florida during the summer, I suggest taking your own rain ponchos. The one’s at the park are super expensive. You’ll also want to bring your own sunblock, cooling towels, personal fans, sunglasses, hats, good walking shoes, and band-aids. Stock up on all your essential Disney packing items by shopping online using Ebates.
Do any other household shopping on Ebates too. Ebates will send you a rebate check once a month. Make sure to shop the Ebates homepage for stores that have the highest cash-back that day. If you sign up through my link, you’ll get $10 added to your account automatically.
Ebates hack. Order online and choose store pick-up. You’ll get the points and get to pick it up that day.
- Take surveys. Swagbucks have great opportunities for earning money by taking surveys. It’s free to join and they also have a referral program where you can make money by inviting your friends to join too. The average survey on this site is about 10 minutes. Join for free HERE.
- Start a blog. This is a slow build but if you love writing, it’s a great way to make extra money. There are some blogs that immediately take off and start earning real money quickly. Others take a few years to start earning good money. A blog is a long-term way to create extra money. I host my blog on Bluehost for only $3.45 a month.
- Get your finances in order. Use a company like Personal Capital that allows you to view all your accounts and get a better feel of your finances. This gives you a better idea of where your money is coming and going. Best of all it’s free and safe. It’s impossible to set a budget if you don’t know where your money is and how it’s being used.
- Involve your family in the savings plan. It will be hard to do all this work alone. Try to get the family on-board with some of these money-saving hacks. Get the kids to collect aluminum cans for trade-in. Have your spouse or partner take surveys with you in the evening.
- Use discount gift cards. Buy Target gift cards from Raise.com for a discounted rate. Use your Target gift cards to purchase Disney gift cards. The Disney gift cards can be used at any Disney park and be used to buy park tickets and food, as well as souvenirs. Sign up for Raise through my link and receive $5 off your first $25 purchase.
- Use Swagbucks. This is an all-in-one app where you can take surveys, watch videos, and shop through the app. All of these activities earn “swagbucks” that you can redeem for gift cards. Buy gift cards to Target. Then, at Target buy Disney gift cards. You can read more about how I use Swagbucks here.
- Drive instead of fly. If your car (and your sanity) are up to the challenge, take a road trip.
You can cut gas costs by buying gas gift cards through Raise.com. Also, if you already have an airline rewards credit card, many of them let you use points on car rental. If you don’t want to put the wear and tear on your own car, consider renting one with airline miles.
- Use Holidays to earn more gift cards.
When friends or family ask you what you want for your birthday, tell them you want Disney gift cards. Explain that you’re saving for a Disney trip so they are more likely to follow through with your request.
If your kids are troopers and understand the importance of your Disney savings, have them ask for Disney gift cards too. Graduations, birthdays, and religious holidays all have the potential for earning Disney money.
If your kids are super-excited about going, spend the money you would buy their own gifts with and buy Disney gift-cards instead. They might be more on-board with this idea if you have a visible family chart with your Disney money goal somewhere they can see it often.
- Travel Hack. If you’re really organized and are good about paying off credit card debt read this post by Richmond Savers. They give a detailed plan of how they used credit card reward points to make their trip almost entirely free- meaning they paid very little out-of-pocket. This is not for the faint of heart and personally, I haven’t used these travel hacks because I shy away from credit cards. BUT, if you are confident you can open credit cards without overloading them, these travel hacks are worth checking out.
- Use an installment plan. If you book through the Disney Parks website or use a Disney Vacation planner, you can pay off your vacation package in installments. Just make sure to make the last payment 30 days before you travel.
I’m just in the beginning stages of planning our next cheap Disney vacation. Even though I’m not sure when we will go, I’ve already started using these ideas to bulk up my Disney savings plan.
Please share any tips you have for making a cheap Disney vacation a reality. I’d love to hear them!