You might not need that Park Hopper pass after all
A Disney vacation may be on the top of many families’ bucket lists: But let’s face it: The “Happiest Place on Earth” is also pretty pricey. Hold on to your mouse ears! There are a few tips and tricks that might make your Disney family vacation a little easier on your wallet. From taking advantage of “non-peak” days to saving on snacks and merchandise, here are the best ways to save at Disneyland and Disney World.
Disney Savings Tip 1: Use Gift Cards to Save Money
Retailers like Costco, Best Buy, and Sam’s Club sell Disney gift cards at a discount. Deals vary, but you may be able to buy a $50 gift card for $45. Target’s Red Card gives customers 5% off of all purchases, including gift cards. Although these discounts may seem modest ($18 off a $360 3-day park-hopper at Disneyland, for instance), the saving can add up (that would mean a $72 discount for a family of four).
Be aware that many retailers limit the number of cards you can buy in a single transaction, so it pays to plan and purchase gift cards one at a time as soon as you decide to go to Disney.
Disney Savings Tip 2: Get a Disney Credit Card
Getting a Disney credit card means every dollar you spend will earn you Disney Reward Dollars to spend at Disney World and Disneyland. Cardholders also receive discounts between 10%-20% on merchandise, food, and tours. As a bonus, you can flash your card for access to exclusive photo spots around the park.
Disney Savings Tip 3: Buy Merchandise Beforehand
When you’ve got a gaggle of kids begging “Pleeeeeeeaase” for every doll, toy, and knickknack they see at a Disney park, it’s easy to end up with a stroller-full of stuff (and an empty wallet) by day’s end. But you can cut your kid off at the pass! Plan ahead by buying the things your kids will want… before they even know they want them. This merchandise pack from Amazon, for instance, has all the Disney park basics. Here are some shopping tips to help you save:
- Check the special offers section at the Disney Store online to save up to 50% on authentic Disney merch. Just visit Shopdisney.com and click on the “Sale” section to find items for way cheaper than you’ll find them in the park.
- Buy your mouse ears on Etsy! According to DisneyFoodBlog, Disney Minnie ears now cost a whopping $39,99 inside the park! Save yourself the cash and buy your ears beforehand. Etsy has an amazing selection, with everything from sparkly ears to basic black, with prices as low as about $7 per headband.
- Buy Disney duds at Walmart. From Frozen PJs to Star Wars sweatshirts, Walmart carries a big stock of Disney clothing and merchandise at prices way lower than you’ll find at the parks or the Disney store. Keep in mind: According to KrazyCouponLady, these items are made specifically for Walmart and may be lower quality than what you’d find at official Disney locations (but who cares if you’re only using them for a few park days).
- Buy Disney costumes from JCPenney. With daily deals that slash prices in half, JCPenney has a wide array of authentic Disney Collection costumes, with most costumes selling for half-off, at $25.
- If you’re headed for Disney World, go to the Character Warehouse Outlet store first. This is where Disney sends all of its merchandise after its first run—and it’s where you can find prices up to 80% less than what you’d see in the parks! The store sells everything from clothing and high-end Disney purses to toys, dolls, and those light-up bubble wands every Disney-bound toddler wants by night’s end.
- In a pinch, you can get deliveries from places like Amazon and Target to your hotel. You may be able to find souvenirs for less and get them overnight.
Disney Savings Tip 4: Be Smart About Food
Those adorable Disney treats may be irresistible once you’ve got a few hungry little bellies inside any Disney park! Our advice: Pack your actual meals (Disney allows outside food into the park), and leave your spare cash for special treats like the mouse-shaped chocolate popsicles or caramel-covered apples that your kids really want. Note: There are some restrictions on what you can bring into the park, so be sure to review them before you go. Some other tips to save on munchies:
- Eat breakfast in your room before you leave for the park. If your room has a small refrigerator, you can have a filling breakfast with bagels and spreads, cereal, and fruit. (Don’t forget to bring utensils or snag some from the park)
- Bring a water bottle, and fill it up for free around the park. If you want to carry a water bottle around, you can get cups of water for free at food and beverage stands, although they tend to be small.
- Skip the character meals (unless that’s a must for your family). Meals with Disney characters are magical, but not necessary to have a great trip. Stick to quick-service meals instead of sit-down feasts, and you will save a ton while still eating well. Some quick-service meals are large enough to share, especially with young children, so eyeball the portion sizes before ordering too much. If you absolutely must dine with the Disney characters, choose breakfast over lunch or dinner; it’s less expensive, according to this Disney blogger.
Disney Savings Tip 5: Buy Your Park Tickets Right
Disney park prices fluctuate throughout the year, with holidays and school vacations usually meaning higher ticket prices. To keep those exorbitant prices at bay, plan your trip accordingly by following these tips:
- Go off-peak. Tickets at Disneyland, for instance, range from $104 to $179—depending on what day you choose to book (Spring Break and Winter Break are the most expensive times). If you are flexible about your vacation plans, you can save hundreds of dollars just by booking a trip during September vs. August.
- Skip the “Park Hopper” pass. It may be tempting to buy a Park Hopper so that you can visit more than one park in a day. However, there is so much to do in each park this isn’t necessary to have a good time, especially if you’re there for more than one day (if you buy a three-day 1-park per day pass, you can alternate which park you want to visit each day).
- Use (reputable) ticket sellers to get discounts. Pricing fluctuates, but there are discounts to be found through retailers like Get Away Today for Disneyland and Undercover Tourist for Disney World. Remember, if something looks too good to be true it probably is—so make sure you purchase tickets through an authorized retailer (NOT Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or some tantalizing website that looks too good to be true). There may also be discounts for certain groups, including members of the military, Florida residents, Southern California residents, and Disney Vacation Club members. Dig around a little to see if you qualify before buying.
- Consider an annual pass. For frequent visitors, getting an annual pass may pay for itself. Not only will you get park admission, but you’ll get discounts on food, merchandise, and parking. You’ll also get access to exclusive merchandise and even some freebies. Unfortunately, annual passes no longer cover admission to both Disneyland and Disney World, even at the top tier, so you will need to choose which park you prefer to visit upfront. NOTE: Annual pass sales are currently paused at Disney World—and only the top tier of passes are available at Disneyland—but this may change, so keep checking the website to try to snag a pass.
Disney Savings Tip 6: Consider your Add-Ons Carefully
For some, photos are priceless and the value of a Disney PhotoPass or Memory Maker is well worth the investment. For those who don’t mind cell phone snaps or not being in every picture, it’s a better idea to save your money and spend it on something more meaningful for your family. Similarly, a Genie+ Lightning Lane pass will save you hours in line—but may not be necessary if you’re visiting during off-peak times.
Disney Savings Tip 7: Save on Hotel Rooms
If your Disney trip includes some overnights, you’ll be needing a place to stay. With costs ranging from about $200 to $600+ per night (with some rooms going well above $2,000 per night), your sleepover costs certainly add up. Here are some tips for saving while you slumber:
- Choose a Disney “Value” hotel if you want to stay on-site. There is no denying staying at an on-site hotel that keeps you in the “Disney Bubble” throughout your trip adds to the magic (and saves you money in parking!). If this is a priority, be sure to look at the budget hotels, including the Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness, which has cabins as well as campsites that can accommodate tents and RVs. At Disneyland, the Paradise Pier Hotel is a more affordable way to stay on property while not paying premium fees.
- If you do stay at a Disney hotel, try to make the most of your stay by taking advantage of perks, like adding a discount dining card onto your package if eligible. Disney hotels also offer transportation to the parks, which helps save on parking fees. You can also take advantage of hotels that offer unique experiences, such as views of nightly fireworks.
- Save money by staying off-site. There are plenty of hotels and Airbnbs close to Disney World and Disneyland (like this Mickey Mouse-themed condo in Kissimmee!). Many guests prefer this option, as these spots have more space and some offer amenities like full kitchens.
- Stay at a hotel with a free shuttle to the park. Don’t lose the money you saved by staying off-site on parking fees ($30 per day at Disneyland and $25 at Disney World). Instead, choose a hotel that offers free shuttles. These include the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress and the Best Western Orlando Gateway—or the Sheraton Park Hotel and the Desert Inn and Suites near Disneyland.
Disney Savings Tip 8: Plan for “Free” Time
Got a few days to spare? You can have a magical Disney vacation without spending every day in the parks. This can help you save a bundle. Check out free and low-cost activities near Disney World and Disneyland. Disney Springs in Orlando is run by Disney and is free to visit. While there are no rides, just walking around keeps you in the Disney bubble without paying for an additional day of park admission. In Anaheim, take a beach day for an inexpensive change of pace without losing those vacation vibes. You can also plan on spending a day just relaxing by the hotel pool in either location.
Pro Tip: Want a free ride without stepping foot into a Disney park? According to Parksavers.com, neither the Disney Monorail nor the Disney Skyliner (the massive aerial gondola that zips between hotels) requires a ticket to ride! Both offer a birds-eye view and enough of a thrill to keep kids giggling and grown-ups hanging on tight. If you time it right, you can even be on board when the Epcot fireworks go off!