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.
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. Stay offsite. Accommodation is easily the most expensive part of the trip, but there's hope! For the remainder of 2019, Hilton guests can book through Travel.Hilton.com/Disneyland for a minimum 2-night stay at participating Hilton hotels in Southern California. When they do, they will have the opportunity to purchase admission tickets to Disneyland® Park and Disney California Adventure® Park at a 5% discount off the non-discounted price of the same ticket at the Disneyland® Resort Main Entrance ticket booth! Family savings can equal up to $30 for one-day Park Hopper passes and $80 for multi-day passes! Hilton has several hotels within a mile of Disneyland, plus dozens of Orange County and LA County Hilton hotels, like the DoubleTree Irvine-Spectrum, that have access to the coveted savings. L.A. is a great base for guests who want to see the sights across the city along with a day at Disneyland.
Why you'll love it: Hilton hotels feature more than just ticket perks. We scoped out the Irvine Spectrum DoubleTree and found comfy beds in upgraded rooms, on-site dining options, a swimming pool, a free shuttle to the John Wayne Airport and of course, those delicious chocolate chip cookies! A short 20-minute drive from the Disneyland Resort, the DoubleTree is close to both the freeway and local toll roads. Grab the free shuttle and head to the Irvine Spectrum Center to catch a movie at the Regal Theaters, enjoy dinner and do some shopping. You'll save big when you stay at a Hilton!
3. 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.
4. 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. You can use your Target REDCard to purchase a Disney Gift Card and save 5%!
5. 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.
6. Buy tickets ahead of time. In 2018, Walt Disney World launched a new ticket pricing system based on tiers, which makes certain days and times of year more expensive. By checking out peak calendar times, you can snag tickets at the lowest possible prices in lieu of buying the day you arrive. You can also save money by popping into Sam's Club and grabbing both single and multi-day park entry to both California and Florida parks, in addition to Magic Morning and Fast Passes.
When You're at the Park
7. 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.
8. 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 and also be a little tough on the wallet. Whip out your phone and don't be shy to ask a cast member to snap your family pics throughout the day.
9. 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 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.
10. 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).
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.
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.
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!
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.
—Jennifer Massoni Pardini & Karly Wood