Walt Disney World and Disneyland bring to mind ever-thrilling rides, Hidden Mickeys, lots of memories, and, these days—apps galore. And while “Disney” doesn’t exactly rhyme with “thrifty,” you can still save a bundle—we promise. Read on for 17 ways to make the most of all that magic.
photo: Nagi Usano via Flickr
Before You Go
1. Spend time online. Go ahead and fall down the rabbit hole with Alice because Disney research will pay off. If your mission is to save, Disney Parks offer Special Offers for Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Also be sure to check out mousesavers.com, which gathers tons of info about discounts and deals at every Disney destination. Don’t miss their extensive page of Freebies!
2. Remember memberships. Whether it’s a resort offering discounted tickets to military families or organizations like AAA (or Grandma’s AARP) doing so, you may find more ways to save before you’re even out the door.
photo: Keith Williamson via Flickr
3. Pre-party. Most likely, you’re trip planning months in advance, so remember Disney Gift Cards when family or friends ask what your little Mickey or Minnie want for that next birthday or holiday. They’re also a good way to teach tiny travelers how to budget, contribute, and spend on what they really want.
4. Check the calendar. If you can be flexible, travel when crowds are less intense, like after Thanksgiving but before Christmas, or before Spring Break. Especially if you prefer the milder Florida and SoCal weather during those times of the year.
When You’re at the Park
5. Time is money. Use apps like My Disney Experience or the Disneyland App to score tickets, make dinner reservations, find characters, and scope out wait times on your favorite rides and attractions. Less waiting means more playing. If you’re at Walt Disney World, you can do all this and more with your MagicBand.
6. Forgo PhotoPass. As cool as that Magic Shot of an animated teacup in the palm of your hand is, feasts for the eyes and the lens abound. Every snap is bound to capture a little magic. On the other hand, Aug. 19 is Disney PhotoPass Day and will offer bundle savings, as does a Memory Maker purchase throughout the year, especially if you buy in advance.
photo: Tommy Wong via Flickr
7. Use FastPass+/MaxPass like a Disney boss. Once you book your theme park ticket, you can start securing available rides through the Disney FastPass+ service at Walt Disney World or—as of Jul. 19—MaxPass at Disneyland, which now enables mobile booking through the Disneyland App as well as unlimited PhotoPass downloading. If you book ASAP, maximize your passes, and do and see all you want to, you can stay fewer days overall. For example, don’t waste passes on Splash Mountain (which you can save for closing time when it’s only a five-minute line). Do use them for Space Mountain.
8. Or, go all in. If you are a Disney enthusiast, Annual Passes (Walt Disney World) or Annual Passports (Disneyland) will give you perks like free parking, access to all theme parks on the same day, as well as discounts on merchandise, dining, photos, and tours. They come in three tiers with Disneyland’s options, for instance, paying for themselves in 5-8 day visits (so consider the length of your stay too when weighing which way to go).
Accommodation & Dining
9. Stay offsite. Accommodation is easily the most expensive part of the trip, so check what hotels are nearby. Many will offer free shuttles to the parks or discounted tickets. And you can use hotel points if you have them!
10. Make the most of a Disney Resort hotel. If you are onsite, take advantage of the many perks, like airport transport, even earlier FastPass+ booking, your own park entrance for Disney California Adventure Park, and—of course—Extra Magic Hours. Use them wisely. As one dedicated Disney-ist put it to me, “Don’t waste your Magic Hour on ‘It’s a Small World.’” Do use it on Peter Pan’s Flight or Tomorrowland.
11. Skip the Disney Dining Plan. While the ease of pre-paid meals may be worth it, the food itself may not live up to the price tag. Or, if you go with the plan, pick the lowest tier, as snacks can definitely be a meal.
photo: Chris Alcoran via Flickr
12. Put a cap on character dining. You’re paying for the experience rather than the food, and you can see the majority of the characters elsewhere. To make the most of one, check out breakfast or lunch at Ariel’s Grotto at Disney California Adventure Park. You will get to meet Ariel as well as many of her Princess friends who stop by each table (Oh, and reservations like these start booking 2-4 months out!).
13. Or, go all in again. Tables in Wonderland will earn you 20 percent off at Walt Disney World and its more than 100 participating restaurants (You just have to be a Disney Vacation Club member, Passholder, or Florida resident.).
14. Don’t pay full price. There are various ways to save on merch. With the Shop Disney Parks app, expect to save 10 percent. Higher tier Pass and Passport holders can save 20 percent.
15. Turn it into an adventure. Have the kids make a list of the toys they see and would like to have. At the end of the trip, they can decide which one thing they want the most. And you’ll have less to lug around!
photo: Eliud Gil Samaniego via Flickr
16. Bring your own. Whether it’s an Elsa dress, a homemade autograph book, or a favorite stuffed Dory, no need to buy what you surely already have on hand. Extra points for whoever can take the most pics of their beloved toy on its own Disney adventure!
17. Order online. You’ll likely pay the most onsite, so consider ordering whatever Moana and Maui can’t live without. Finding a package at the door will ease that end-of-vacation sting, too.
Have you discovered any Disney deals? Share them in the Comments below!
—Jennifer Massoni Pardini