Disney World is expensive, like really, really expensive. But I’ve learned a LOT of tips and tricks over the years to make it affordable. We have four children and we’ve been able to take them every year for four years. I recently decided to start a DISNEY category to my blog so I can share some of the tips that I’ve gathered through the years, and also share some of the special events we’ve done and what it was like, so check back.
So the first thing I want to share is some of my tips and tricks for saving money.
1. This is going to be an obvious one that I’m sure you’ve heard of before but Undercovertourist.com is a great place to get your Disney World tickets. You can save a little bit of money versus buying them at Disneyworld.com or at the gate. And I would suggest you do that as soon as possible. I buy mine usually 8-10 months in advance because you never know when Disney will do a ticket increase so it’s best to get them before that could potentially happen.
2. We ALWAYS stay off Disney property. It is way cheaper and so much better! We usually stay either at the Sheraton Vistana Resort or the Sheraton Vistana Villages. They are the same except about a 1-2 miles apart and sometimes the Villages is a little cheaper. I pay $150 a night for a 2 bedroom villa. It has a washer/dryer, full kitchen, living room, dining room, two bathrooms, whirlpool tub and a great patio that overlooks a fountain. So after an exhausting day at Disney, we put the kids to bed, take a soak in the whirlpool tub and have a glass of wine on the patio. So it is a family vacation but with great moments of relaxing time as parents. I don’t think we’d enjoy our trip quite as much if we were in one of those “family” rooms at Disney with a couple of beds and a pull out all bunked together. I like being able to go into a bedroom and shut the door. We are staying at a new resort this year that is three bedrooms and allows dogs and it’s $160 a night. I’ll do a separate blog about the resort because I have a lot of tips of tricks for saving money on that. And also great pictures of the room and resort.
3. Costumes – little girls LOVE dressing up in costume at the parks and I usually have a whole suitcase dedicated to costumes. My two youngest are 4 and 6 and they dress up as a different character every day we’re there. Never, ever, ever, ever buy costumes at Disney World. They cost about $80-125 just for the dress, no accessories. It is ridiculous. You can buy the same princess dress on disneystore.com and shop for them when they’re on sale. I usually scoop up a bunch right after Halloween when they’re 40% off but they also have them at other parts of the year for 40% as well. So you can get that beautiful Cinderella dress for $30 versus $100. I like the Disney Store costumes over the ones they sell at Target or Wal-Mart. I just feel like the Disney Store ones are really good quality and wash well. They hold up for lots of wear. This dress was a sale Cinderella dress and I even got her the ring and shoes.
3. Bibbidy Bobbity Bootique – This a little girl’s dream to have her hair and makeup done. They offer packages for $300+ to get the dress and makeup and everything done. BUT if you buy the dress like I said above then you can bring that in and she can change into that and have her hair, makeup and nails painted for $55. They give you a cute little backpack too for that price. For $55 it is totally worth it. You get everything you get with the $300 package minus the dress. We took our then 4 year old on the day of her birthday and you get the birthday sash and button all included in the $55 which makes some incredible pictures.
4. Park treats – I go to the Dollar Store and buy packages of Disney Princess ring pops and lollipops for $1 for a package of 5. They even had Frozen ones last time. I pack them and load them into my bag so when we’re at the park, I can pull out a lollipop or ring pop and they feel like they’re having a disney treat instead of buying the ones in the store that sell for $3 EACH.
5. Disney shirts – I’ll do a whole other blog post about that. But simply put, you can search Etsy for Disney decals that are iron on with names for $4-5 each and then iron them on a cheap shirt and you have your shirts. It’s totally inexpensive versus trying to have them made. I’ve made them every time and it’s not expensive. I’ll share photos of that later. We have done photos not in shirts and it just doesn’t look as cute. This year when we went for Halloween I used one of our photos to make Christmas cards. Put a cute little border around it and Christmas cards were done.
6. Food – since we stay off property we go to Wal-Mart and buy groceries….breakfast foods, water, drinks, snacks and pack our kitchen. Our kids have breakfast in the morning and then I load a cooler with water, soda, juice and a bag of all kinds of protein bars, goldfish, cheez-its and maybe one sweet treat. I have my little girls Disney Store cups that I buy in store or online beforehand ($4 for any character with screw on lid and straw) and I bring MIO or Kool-Aid water flavorings. Pour in my bottled water or use the water fountain, add water flavoring and they’re all set. I also bring a box of Capri-Suns. You can’t beat $1.90 for a box of 10. If you want a soda or water at Disney, $3. That’s so expensive and when you’ve got 6 people that will add up to a fortune in drinks for one day.
So that’s probably my biggest savings. DON’T WASTE YOUR MONEY ON DRINKS AT DISNEY! Bring them in a cooler and you will easily save $50+ a day!
7. Eat before you get the park. We usually stop at Golden Corral at about 11:00am and just bulk up. It’s an all you can eat buffet and they have everything, including an incredible salad bar. They have ice cream and a chocolate fountain and the kids can eat and have their ice cream and they can go to the park full. And they’re not going to ask for the expensive Disney ice cream because they just had ice cream and treats. We have tried some quick service dining at the park and I’ll do a separate post about that. There are some good affordable places I’d like to share.
8. Drive or Fly – this really depends on where you live. We’ve done both. Living in upstate NY we drove the first time and it was 19 hours straight so we had to do it in two days. It was a looooonnng drive. We flew twice after that but it’s expensive and you have to factor in a rental car. This year we are driving because we live in Texas now so the drive is 13 hours and we can do that in a day without having to stop over. And we can save money not having to rent a car. I have rented a mini-van for $250 for 5 days and last year for $400 for 8 days. Shop expedia.com for the best prices. Make a reservation and then keep checking. I reserved at $500 and then found somewhere cheaper a couple days before our trip for $380. It seems to be cheaper the closer you get. If you drive, bring lots of electronics and your sense of humor because you’ll need it! lol
9. Buying – Now I won’t lie, we do buy stuff there. I love to get a new ornament at the ornament shop in Magic Kingdom. And I love finding cute kitchen things like a Mickey spatula. But little things like Disney princess stickers, coloring books, a disney swimsuit or shirts, I buy those beforehand and pack them as little gifts during the trip. Disney stickers and activity books I buy at the dollar store. Those are great surprises when you’re on the car ride or plane ride. Swimsuits or shirts on sale at Disneystore.com or at Target. You also can create some great Disney shirts with those $4 decals I mentioned earlier. I’ve also done Disney flip flops and sunglasses for the girls. Lots of cute little pre-Disney gift buying you can do to save a fortune so your little ones are not wanting everything they see since they already have that special gift you had packed. Last year I bought Anna and Elsa dolls for $10 and packed them and gave them right before we went to the park. They carried them around all day and didn’t ask me to buy them the same doll that was selling for $25. So think ahead and buy ahead. It will save you at least 50%.
10. Disney Pin Collecting – my two oldest have done this a couple of times. It hasn’t been something they’ve wanted to do every time but here’s a great trick if your child wants to do it. Go on amazon and buy Disney pins. You can get 12 pins for like $6. They have listings for 30 pins for $15. So depending on how many kids you have wanting to do this it can save a ton of money. They are authenticate Disney pins! Otherwise you’re paying $4-8 for ONE pin at Disney World. Amazon doesn’t have them listed specifically so you don’t know what you’re getting other than authenticate Disney pins. But who cares which ones you’re getting because they’re just trading them for better pins anyway! So save money and buy them beforehand and then have them trade them at Disney for the ones they really want! The pins on my son’s lanyard was from amazon.
11. Plan Ahead! Plan Ahead! Plan Ahead! – I think I’ve probably said this a million times but if you plan ahead for things then you’re not hemorrhaging money. We have had one trip where it rained A LOT and it was miserable. Pack umbrellas and buy ponchos at the dollar store. Trust me. You don’t want to be stuck in one of those horrible rains Florida can have out of nowhere and have to either wait it out or buy the $12 crappy Disney poncho. It was definitely a lesson learned and I plan ahead in case of this now. So on one trip, me and my older two went alone late one night when the little girls were too tired to stay any longer and I had our umbrellas and ponchos in a backpack and thank god for that because we came out of an indoor ride to torrential rain. People were huddled under awnings just waiting. I covered us in our ponchos and umbrellas and we walked to the next ride. You could tell what people were thinking seeing us “Why didn’t I think of that?!”
Let me also add that I have stayed on property with my daughter a couple of years ago when she went for cheer. We stayed on property and didn’t have a car so we had to buy EVERYTHING at Disney. I hemorrhaged so much money just between the two of us and was shocked. It also confirmed how affordable you can make this trip with what I’ve learned, especially with a large family.
I’ll elaborate through other posts on dining, the bootique, the special events, Halloween, Christmas, and hotels. 🙂 Hope this helped you plan your Disney vacay! It really is the happiest place on earth!