Minnie greeting a little girl at Chef Mickey's

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…


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