When planning a Walt Disney World vacation, every dollar counts. With the dozens of upcoming changes coming in the next few years, it’s unlikely that vacations to the Most Magical Place on Earth will get cheaper. Planning your dream Disney trip isn’t just about how much money you save. It’s about making sure that money goes as far as possible during your stay.
Last week, we gave you six easy hacks to save money on your next trip—things as simple as buying certain souvenirs ahead of time, making your own breakfast, and draining low balance gift cards to cut the edge off of expenses in the parks.
We found six more ways for you to save big on your next Walt Disney World vacation. Some of these require a little foresight, but the savings on your vacation budget can prove invaluable.
1. Have a battle plan for dining
Flying by the seat of your pants may be a fun concept for a ride (how has Disney not thought of this yet?), but it’s not a great way to save money at Walt Disney World. In our first article, we discussed the fact that Disney banks on guests making impulse buys once they’re in the parks. Nowhere does this cost visitors more money than in Disney dining.
We’ve all done it. You’re walking through World Showcase, determined to make your Frozen Ever After Fastpass+ reservation. You know you have a lunch reservation shortly afterwards. You didn’t bring any snacks and the Florida sun has drained your strength. The aroma of sweet pastries assaults you in France. You linger and stare at giant pretzels gleaming with salt and butter in Germany. A guest skips by licking a gelato cone in Italy. By the time you make it to Norway, you find yourself standing outside Kringla Bakeri with a troll horn, a tall soda, and a sandwich plate wondering what happened.
When it comes to Disney dining, the best way to save money is to have a battle plan.
Before your trip, research both table service and counter service restaurants that you want to visit. You can view menus at Walt Disney World’s website and can even see pictures of food here at ThemeParkTourist or at popular Disney food blogs.
Those who have used the Disney dining plan may be familiar with the strategy of planning your table service and counter service credits carefully. If you’re looking to save money, don’t plan on eating table service for every meal. Know what the average entrée price is at the restaurants you have in mind. Buffets get wonderful mileage for Disney dining plan credits but may prove expensive for light eaters paying the standard way. We already mentioned the hack of making your own breakfast most of your trip then splurging on one awesome Disney dining breakfast.
The key is make reservations at the places you want to visit the most, then have a list of counter-service restaurants in each park that you can head to for one of your daily meals. When you eat counter service, don’t just automatically assume that you have to pay for combos. In many cases, you can ask cashiers to leave side items off for a slightly discounted price. As we mentioned in our previous article, skip the sodas (drinking from a personal water bottle instead) and bring your own snacks so you can limit the treats you buy to the ones you want most, not just what you need to keep going.
Most importantly, come up with a budget and stick to it. You can plan for some flexibility, but many a guests pocketbook has gotten away from us when our stomachs start making decisions. Go in prepared, knowing where you want to go, and don’t let impulse buys change your plans.
2. Skip the rental car
This particular trick works best if you are staying on Disney property. Many guests visiting Walt Disney World don’t realize that you really don’t need a rental car. Even guests planning on exploring Florida do not need a rental car every day of their trip.
Take advantage of Disney’s Magical Express to get from Orlando airport to your resort. While the bus system isn’t perfect, our experience has generally been pleasant, particularly the off season. Kids love the cartoons playing during the trip! It’s a free and convenient way to get to and from the airport, so long as you don’t mind a little extra travel time.
Once you’re at Walt Disney World, Disney’s transportation system generally leaves little need for guests to have a personal car. Particularly if you are visiting Magic Kingdom, the extra time required to park (which you may have to pay for), find a parking lot tram, then take a Monorail from the Transportation and Ticket Center to the main gate will often far outweigh the time you would take using Disney’s busses. Passholders who get free parking visiting a non-Magic Kingdom park during the off-season may be able to beat the busses, but most visitors will not.
If you have strong legs and are staying at an Epcot resort, you’ll be able to reach a number of destinations by walking or taking Friendship boats. In exciting news, it was also announced at D23 that guests staying on property over the next few years will find new transportation options in Disney's "Skyliner" gondolas and "Minnie Van" services.
If you are planning on visiting Universal Studios or other Orlando sights, Mears shuttles or other transportation services may save you a fair deal over getting a rental car. Even if shuttles are not ideal, you can make arrangements with rental car companies in Orlando to get a rental car for a few short days of your trip rather than a whole week.
The one area where many guests find the busses lacking is in resort to resort transportation, such as what you would need for dining reservations. Fortunately, there’s a good solution for guests with that need.