Home » 6 Easy Hacks to Save Money on Your Next Walt Disney World Trip

6 Easy Hacks to Save Money on Your Next Walt Disney World Trip

Elena of Avalor signing autographs

Everyone loves saving money. Between rising prices and an increasing climate of upcharge experiences, Walt Disney World vacations aren’t getting any cheaper. Most people are aware of broad ways to save money like taking advantage of ticket discounts, choosing your resort wisely, or perhaps skipping the Disney Dining Plan if your family aren’t big eaters.

However, most don’t realize that there are dozens of small tricks you can employ to save money before and throughout your trip. We’ll be diving into these in a two-article series, starting with six easy hacks that may seem minute but add up quickly to help you save big! What’s your favorite trick for saving money at Walt Disney World?

1. Buy pins, autograph books, and pens ahead of time

Elena of Avalor signing autographs

Image: Disney

Disney makes untold amounts of money on one simple principle: once you are in, you’re a captive audience. It’s not a simple matter to leave the parks to head to a discount store, so if you happen to see something beyond the gates that will enhance your trip, you’re likely to purchase it even though you’ll be doing so at a markup.

One of the best examples is “Disney experience” souvenirs like pins, lanyards, autograph books, and pens. These items open the door to extra Disney magic by allowing guests to partake in pin trading with cast members and collecting autographs during character greets. Kids inevitably see other young visitors participating in these activities and get curious. Once they realize they can have access to all the fun with a simple swipe of mom and dad’s credit card, out come the puppy dog eyes. These impulse buys add up quickly. A basic kit of 4 pins and a lanyard alone can cost more than $30!  

Tigger checking out trading pins with guest

Image: Loren Javier, Flickr (license)

Instead of waiting until you’re in the parks and trying to steel yourself for frugalism, buy these key accessories ahead of time. Pin traders can purchase bundles of pins on eBay or from  online sellers for much cheaper than the Disney price. It is important to be aware that there is an ongoing issue with fake or “scrapper” pins flooding the online markets. These are knockoff pins with small flaws that don’t have the same collectible value as official Disney pins. While this doesn’t matter to a kid, serious collectors and those who want to do their best to make ethical purchases may want to spend a little extra to purchase your pin bundles from a reputable dealer. Despite this issue, the amount of money you save going this route will make it well worth the effort.

You can also purchase Disney autograph books and pens on eBay or Amazon for fairly reasonable prices. They key thing to remember is that whatever book and pen you get needs to be something the characters can easily handle with their gloves on. This is why Disney makes such a killing on those big fat pens in gift shops.

If you want to take a more customized approach, you can easily find a large pen or marker and a nice book to collect autographs in at most major hobby stores. If you or your little one have artistic skill, you could even make a customized autograph book for your trip. Little souvenirs like this work great for those employing the “Magic Backpack” trick to make your kids’ Disney experience extra magical while encouraging good behavior.

2. Get your grocery on – Bring your own snacks

Kid in grocery cart at store

Image: Doug Waldron, Flickr (license)

In the same way a guest is more likely to splurge on expensive souvenirs inside the parks, most of us don’t even think twice about spending on snacks. While a disciplined family may enter with the intention of not splurging on pretzels, rice treats, and churros, the relentless Florida sun and the sweet aroma of a cinnamon roll can beat down even the most stalwart of wills.

The best way to prevent these impulse purchases is to bring your own snacks. It’s not as tempting to shop with your stomach if it is full! Small snacks like chips, energy bars, non-meltable candy, and even fruit can be easily carried and munched on throughout the day. Rather than restricting you from getting snacks in the park, having a steady supply of cheap snacks frees up your budget to spend on the Disney treats you love the most.

There are a few ways to bring your own snacks. If you’re a Florida resident, pick up some groceries and keep a small cooler with you in your car or at the resort (resist the temptation to lug a giant Igloo into the parks). If you’re visiting from abroad, you can either bring non-perishable snacks with you in an extra suitcase or get reasonably priced groceries in Orlando at Walmart, Publix, Target, Winn-Dixie, Sam’s Club, or Costco. If you’re not using Disney’s Magical Express or a shuttle to get to your resort, you can plan a stop on the way from the airport to get all the groceries you’ll need.

Oranges at Publix

Image: Gianfranco Blanco, Flickr (license)

If you are staying on Disney property and don’t have a rental car, one option is to use Uber or Lyft to do a grocery run for about $25-35 (if you use their basic service and avoid surge pricing). If you’re a new user, you can save on your first trip by using a promo code like “p1z52ue” on Uber or “WEHAVELYFTOFF” on Lyft. All Lyft and Uber drives have referral codes they are eager give out, so if you know anyone who drives for the service, ask them for their code. You can also find these with a quick search online as drivers frequently publish them on Craigslist. The two codes above are from the Denver market but also work in Orlando.

If you’d prefer to avoid Uber, you can have groceries delivered right to your resort via a delivery service like Garden Grocer or Goodings. You can also have groceries shipped to your resort from an online grocery store like Amazon Prime, but do know that Disney charges $5 per box to do this.

The cheapest option is to bring your own groceries in an extra bag. It definitely makes it pay to pack light! Plus, if you have groceries, you can really save big on another area…

3. Skip breakfast (sort of)

Minnie greets a little girl at Chef Mickey's

Image: Disney

To clarify, we’re not saying skip breakfast entirely. Rather, make your own breakfast most days of your trip.

Breakfast at Walt Disney World is usually both expensive and unhealthy. Mickey Mouse pancakes and mega-cinnamon rolls are great, but you’ll end up spending hundreds of extra dollars if you take all your breakfasts at your resort or in the parks.

If you’re not staying on property, stay at a hotel that offers free breakfast or a kitchen in your room. On Disney property, you can get access to a kitchenette or full-kitchen if you stay in any of Disney’s vacation club/Villa resorts. This can make putting together breakfast for a full family easy.

Even if you don’t have access to a kitchen, you can plan quick breakfasts of microwaved oatmeal, cereal and milk, breakfast bars, or fruit to enjoy most mornings of your trip. The key is to get the energy you need before hitting the parks so you aren’t tempted to blow your budget on the first breakfast buffet you come across.

We usually splurge on one Disney breakfast. The options are myriad, but some visitor favorites include the Akershus Royal Dining Hall princess breakfast, Tusker House at Animal Kingdom, Chef Mickey’s, or the extra-delicious Kona Café at the Polynesian Resort (order the Tonga Toast and thank me later). We’ve had mixed reports of waning quality at Epcot’s Garden Grill, Liberty Tree Tavern, and even Crystal Palace, so your splurge breakfast may be better spent elsewhere.

4. Drain old gift cards

Kids at Windtraders with Baby Banshees

Image: Disney

Have you built up a stack of nearly-drained generic Visa/Mastercard gift cards over the years? If you regularly receive these from family and friends on birthdays and Christmas, you may have a whole drawer of potential Disney cash waiting to be tapped. This one requires a little foresight and patience, but you can actually drain those pesky micro cards at Disney if you’re clever about it.

Before your trip, gather together all your low-balance gift cards. Write down your balance in marker on the back of each of the cards and put them together in a pouch or envelope in order of balance. On a side note, if you have gift cards left over for specific restaurants and stores, do a quick check to see if any might be usable in Disney Springs.

During your Disney trip, before you make purchases, take a moment to get one or two of your low-balance gift cards out. While it’s tempting to start with the highest balance cards to cover a full purchase, try to do the opposite. You can either start with your lowest balance cards or pick a card that just short of what you’re looking to buy. Have it ready to go with the balance easily accessible before you get in line.

Kids playing with lightsabers in Launch Bay store

Image: Disney

When you reach the cash register, ask the cashier if you can divide your purchase between 2-3 cards. Try to avoid doing more than this, particularly if other guests are waiting. I would keep it to two cards if the store is busy. While some rookie cast members may not know how to do this, most Disney establishments can divide a purchase between two cards. Give them the gift card with the exact balance you’re looking to drain first, then put the rest of your purchase on your normal choice-method of payment. Make sure they know to run the cards as credit. I’ve had occasional confused cast members try to run them as Disney gift cards, which won’t work.

Do this every time you have a chance throughout your trip, particularly when buying souvenirs or snacks. By the time your vacation is over, you’ll have hopefully used up all that extra cash!

5. Bring key supplies and sundries (and leave behind non-essentials)

Backpack on sand

Image: André Köster, Flickr (license)

Just like Disney makes extra money off impulse buys for autograph books and snacks, they also make a huge amount of money selling basic sundries and incidentals in the park. It’s easy to forget basic supplies like sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, mosquito spray, moleskin, and especially rain ponchos. These little costs add up quickly and usually are not accounted for in budgets.

Instead of buying all these things in the parks at a markup, put together a Disney survival kit before you leave home. We detailed how to do this in our previous guide on the subject, but the basic gist is to purchase all these incidental supplies at home then bring them with you. Unless you’re buying all your sundries at Whole Foods, you’ll almost certainly save on what you would spend for the same items in the parks.

You can also save some money by realizing that you can get a number of “emergency” items in the parks for free at Disney First Aid. If you’re carrying over-the-counter medications, large supplies of band-aids, glasses repair kits, or even contact lens solution with you all over the parks, you can opt to leave these items out of your kit. If an emergency comes up, head to Disney parks First Aid to get all these incidentals for free. They even offer a full treatment for blisters. I’m not saying to go there to load up on drug store items like it’s your personal cache, but don’t hesitate to stop by and pick these things up if you need them. You can also get mosquito repellent for free at mosquito control stations in the parks.

6. Stay hydrated for cheap

Water bottles

Image: Franck Michel, Flickr (license)

A final area where guest budgets often get wiped by unnecessary costs is staying hydrated. An average soda at Disney World costs $3-4. Bottled water isn’t much cheaper. A family of four may end up buying 12 drinks a day. Over the course of a five-day trip, this can amount to over $200!

You can stay hydrated for free by getting filtered water from any Disney restaurant or kiosk with a soda machine. Most of the time, this is satisfactory. If you are concerned about the occasional “swampy” flavor of Florida’s drinking water, you don’t have to lug a giant crate of bottled waters to solve the issue…

Instead, bring a Bobble or Brita filtered water bottle. You can fill up your water bottle every morning at your resort then refill it throughout the day at drinking fountains in the parks (or even by using the aforementioned free water from restaurants and kiosks). Be sure and check your bottle to make sure it doesn’t leak before your trip. If it does, take it back to the retailer where you purchased it to get one that stays watertight.

By sticking to water, you’ll both save money and stay healthier throughout your trip. If you then want to splurge on a LeFou’s Brew or Dole Whip float, you’ll have extra funds to do so!  

Looking for more hacks to save money on your next Walt Disney World vacation? Tune in next week for six more tricks to save even more!