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13 Ways To Save Money At Disney World In 2013

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It is a brand new year. Many folks all over the world are counting down the days until their 2013 vacation to Disney World. Some are even visiting for the very first time! Whether you’re a novice, or a veteran, the planning experience can be incredibly stressful at times. The number one thing that people tend to have anxiety about is what it is going to cost their family to make the pilgrimage to the Disney parks.

Last week, Erin Foster wrote an awesome article for the blog about how to determine if certain vacation options are worth the added cost or not. She touched on the fact that we all have different needs and different wants. It is important to consider that with a little pre-planning and compromise, everyone can save money at Disney World in some way. Why keep the blinders on and spend more money than necessary?

Most pieces of advice that I want to offer up to you all are as old as time, while some are suggestions you might not have ever considered before. I am the queen of penny pinching, so I feel that it is my duty to pass on my little words of wisdom. Hopefully, first time planners will be able to use at least one thing I mention.

1. Say ‘No’ To Disney Vacation Packages
Vacation packages are Disney’s way of offering you convenience while hiding the discounts that are available. Unless there is some sort of major discount offered to the general public for a package, do not even consider it. For most times of the year, Disney provides discounts on “room-only” reservations for their hotels on property. By purchasing your park tickets and lodging separate, you are able to take advantage of discounts as they emerge. Even if, at the time of your booking, no discount is available for the resort of your choice, you can always add it later, should one be offered.

2. Buy Discounted Park Tickets
Believe it or not, this exists, and is legit. While there are many sketchy faux ticket brokers online and near Disney property, there are a handful that are totally and completely trustworthy. I absolutely love Undercover Tourist and have used them before myself. Buying from places like that can really save large families a ton of dough. Combine that deal with the discounted room I suggested above, and you are good to go with extra money in your pocket.

3. Consider an Annual Pass
Planning to visit the Disney parks more than once in 2013? Do you often space your Disney trips out almost exactly one year apart? Think about crunching numbers to see if an Annual Pass can save you money on park tickets. I wish I would have done this back when I only visited the parks once a year. Say your family likes to visit in the fall during Food and Wine Festival. If you all purchase an Annual Pass for your trip in November of 2013, you can use them again for another week long trip in October of 2014, before the passes expire.  This also gives you a reason to sneak in an extra “couples only” or “solo” trip somewhere in between.

4. Consider One Park Per Day
Eliminating park hopping is one of the easiest ways to save a huge chunk of change, especially if you have a family. I crunched some numbers to give you an example. A family of four, 2 adults and 2 children, will save $242.84 by not adding the Park Hopper Option to their base tickets in 2013. A while ago, I wrote a comparison article on park hopping that might be worth checking out. Think about all the things your family could do with an extra $242.84 to spend. You could take a behind the scenes Disney Parks tour, enjoy a nice dinner, or maybe spend the day enjoying water sport activities and miniature golf.

5. Vacation Homes
I know many folks that dream of inviting their extended family to Disney World with them. However, staying on Disney property with over ten people can be tricky to plan, as well as being very expensive. Luckily, there are really nice vacation homes that are very close to the Disney parks and can sleep a large number of people. Even with renting a few mini vans, you can save money.

6. Avoid the Disney Dining Plan
I hate saying this. I really do. I used to be an advocate of the plan. However, the prices have increased so much that unless your needs and wants fall under a certain umbrella, it is a waste of money. Take a look at an article I wrote last year where I outline the major disadvantages of the Disney Dining Plan. In lieu of the pre-paid plan, I suggest you budget your meals ahead of time and load up a Disney Gift Card.

7. Airline Sales
Periodically throughout the year, airlines offer up big deals on flights. A lot of the time, the deals take place right after a major holiday. Constantly looking at flights from multiple airlines out of multiple airports can help you find the best price. Southwest Airlines had a 40% off sale for only 24 hours last fall. I was able to save a couple of hundred bucks on flights for my husband and I by taking advantage of this. Checking websites frequently is time consuming, but once you nab a deal, you will see that it is all worth it.

8. Order A La Carte
Food is the one thing that most people cannot save money on upfront. I sort of love the challenge of finding ways to “cheat the system” in terms of dining. It was not until the last year that I learned that you are not locked into combo meals at Quick-Service restaurants. For some reason, it never clicked with me before. How many times do you not finish the mountain of fries with your burger? A lot, right? The savvy way to get around the combo meal is to only order what you really want. It sounds easy enough but so many people do not realize that this in an option. Over the course of a week, you might be surprised to find how much money you saved on meals.

9. Free Water
Back when I first started taking trips to Disney World, I had no idea that I did not have to keep refilling water bottles at drinking fountains every time I got thirsty. Any Quick-Service restaurant will give you a large cup of water free of charge if you ask for one. If you are one of the many folks that love carrying water bottles, but hate Disney drinking fountain water, you can always get a cup of free water and refill it in a restroom.

10. Restaurant Coupons
If you are renting a car, consider driving off property for a couple of dinners. The steepest discounts are often found at restaurant coupon sites like Restaurant.com. Grab these discounts when they run sales and you could feed your whole family for far less than if you ate on property. Just make sure that you look up these restaurants ahead of time to ensure that they have good reviews. No discount is worth inedible swill.

11. Self-Made Autograph Books
On my very first trip to Disney World, my sister-in-law surprised me on the plane ride with a blank hardcover book and a load of Disney stickers. I spent the rest of the ride decorating what would become my character autograph book. To this day, I still have that book and look at it every once in a while with a big smile on my face. I have always thought that when I have kids, I will do the same thing for them because it brings back such great memories for me. On top of the happy-memory benefit, it is a little bit of a money saver as well, especially if you have a lot of kids. Those cookie cutter autograph books that are sold in the parks are pushing $10 just for the basic ones. Head to your local dollar store instead, and grab some small plain books that will work all the same. Stickers and other fun decals are not costly at all and give kids something fun to do when they get antsy in the car or on a plane.

12. Pre-Purchased Kid’s Souvenirs
You know the ridiculous sticker shock that you get when you see that it can cost $20 for a Mickey Mouse shirt that your kid just HAS to have? Yeah, you can avoid that buying Disney clothes ahead of time before your trip. Try hitting up sales in stores or online at The Disney Store or Target. Let your kids pick out their own outfits for your upcoming trip. By the time your trip rolls around, the kids will probably forget about what you bought and will get really excited about their new clothes.

13. Save Time, Save Money
Time is money, people! The longer you wait in line for anything, the more money you are wasting. That being said, I seriously suggest using the tested Touring Plans right here on this website. Long before I ever started writing about Disney, I used them when touring the parks to save time. I figure if I spend nearly $100 for a single day in the parks, I need to be getting my monies worth. It makes sense why some people get frustrated after their first trip and moan, “The lines were so long all of the time that we only rode three things and then left.” With that experience, you will truly feel like you got jipped out of your hard earned money.

That is my list, folks! I really want to hear some of your ideas. Drop me a line in the comment section!

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Stacey Lantz

Born and raised in Southwest Michigan, Stacey believes she lives far too many miles away from Walt Disney World. In her spare time she enjoys singing/dancing, spending time with her nieces, and of course, talking about Walt Disney World to anyone that is willing to listen. She's been blogging about all things Disney since 2008. Follow her on Twitter @Stacey87.

46 thoughts on “13 Ways To Save Money At Disney World In 2013

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  • I am looking for a condo (need two bedrooms/baths for two teenage girls that are staying with us) close to the parks so the girls can easily and SAFELY take local shuttles to the parks to meet up with other friends. I’d really rather not have to rent a car if possible.

    Where do you recommend ? Safety and convenience are more important than price.

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  • A Florida Resident’s tip: To bounce off the annual pass tip, consider a Weekday Select Pass. Looking at the regular price for one individual (not including special offers such as Discover Disney), a 4-Day FR Ticket with Park Hopper costs $234, which expires after 6 months or mid-December 2013, whichever comes first. By comparison, a Weekday Select Pass is $211.

    So, understanding that the Weekday Select Pass has the same block-out dates as the Florida Seasonal pass (generally Easter, Summer, and Christmas) as well as weekends, for a one-week vacation, I get one extra day to utilize the parks M-F. This allows me to get in a day and a half each at MK and Epcot and one day each at AK and DHS. I also have use of the pass for a whole year, rather than it expiring in December. By far the better bargain, in my opinion.

  • Another great article. We used many of these last trip and there are a couple of new tips I will follow up.

    This balances out the “is it worth it” article as even thought I contemplated not including park-hopper next time, for us coming from overseas it’s worth the extra couple of hundreds bucks to have the option to zip over for a night-parade or similar. Horses for courses.

    One thing I’d like to know is if there are ways to get to shops from Disney resorts without hiring a car? As we are coming from O/S carrying large amounts of food and particularly water isn’t an option. But we’d love to buy some basics. Any ideas?? Thanks.

    • Ben — by shops, do you mean grocery stores? If you are interested in stocking your hotel with water and food items, I have heard many people talk about a service that delivers groceries to your resort. I have never used it, but I know others have with great success. I think one of them is gardengrocer.com. I’m sure you could google it and find out. I imagine you order online. I hope this helps!

      • Last time we went in September 2011 we had groceries delivered. Might have been Gardengrocer.com, but I think it was a different company. It was fabulous. We stayed at the Contemporary with a fridge. We had pbj, cereal (and disposable bowls and spoons), granola bars, milk, juice boxes, crackers, various snack foods and soda. I’m sure it saved money, but the best part was the ease. Every morning we could eat some breakfast, packed a snack for the parks, and had a snack for our mid-day break and evening. The delivery was easy, showed up within a couple of minutes of when we got to our room. It was great! I hate when we travel and we’re all hungry first thing in the morning. I’m a much happier mom when I know when I know when I’m going get to eat and get my diet coke fix. Totally, totally worth it.

      • BagsMom (and Krista), hadn’t thought of the “Home delivery” option but I just checked out GardenGrocer and it looks brilliant. I didn’t think anyone would deliver (or be allowed to deliver) to a Disney resort. They have the kind of stuff we are after (and even beer!) so it looks perfect. They even have Crystal Light which was my favourite drink discovery of the last trip!

        Thanks very much for the tip.

        Ben from Brisbane, Australia.

  • Great tips. We are frequent Disney vacationers and are heading down this month. We have three kids (16, 12, 8). Our youngest has food allergies so we were always able to bring our own snacks in the parks. Four years ago we noticed that the food policy had changed a bit and we brought sandwiches in for all of us. We bought a backpack cooler and now bring in water bottles, healthy snacks, and sandwiches for lunch. It saves a lot of money. Because it is saving so much (over the course of a week) we decided to add in a character meal as a treat for the kids so I guess it’s a wash! However I highly recommend the cooler backpack–works fantastic!

  • The 9.6 Showcase #4 sold for less than a 9.4 Fantastic Four #1 and less than 2/5 my estimated value for the 9.6 Fantastic Four #1. Right or wrong it’s not even in the picture.

  • Another way to save some money on airline fees for bags is to bring carry-on bag only and do laundry while you’re there. You can even bring detergent sheets and softener sheets in your bag so you don’t have to buy it.
    If you hate FL water buy a case a local store and use it instead of buying by the bottle in the park. We also have groceries delivered so we can eat breakfast and snacks in our hotel room.

  • Absolutely agree with all the savings tips above and we especially use #12. My girls are big pin traders and those things can run about $4-$5 each in the park. We have started buying 30-50 authentic pins on eBay for about $1/pin. We have pre-ordered the last 3 times we have gone to Disney and have never had any issues trading with cast members.

    I wish I would have seen number 2 a couple of weeks ago, it would have saved me about $75 for my family of 4. Oh well, next time! Thanks for all the good suggestions.

  • One thing we did in 2010 that saved us money was to stay on WDW property, but at the campground. Fort Wilderness Campground and Resort is a Disney Resort with most of the amenities of their other resorts. Riding a boat early in the morning to the Magic Kingdom with my 3yo princess was amazing! Meeting Chip and Dale at the free nightly sing-along was a great start to our Disney vacation. Plus, it is the nicest campground I have ever stayed at.
    If you want to camp but don’t own a trailer, or want the hassle of bringing your own, consider renting a trailer. There are providers who will set it up on your campsite for you and provide the supplies for a great Disney vacation.
    For more information about camping at WDW, check out fortfiends.net. They have tons of info on camping at Disney!

  • Thank you so much everyone! All the info you’ve provided is a huge help!

  • I’d also add, “travel in the off-season.” We saved about 35% on our airfare and hotel room by taking the kids out of school and going to Disney in October, rather than over their winter or spring breaks.

  • How do you get a room only discount? Just for fun, I searched some dates at disneyworld.com. I did the room/ticket separate and together. Both came out to the exact same price.

    • DON’T click on the “find prices” area at the top of the website. Scroll down to the “Special Offers” link. Make sure the dates you are trying fit within the parameters of the offer. If you use the regular link, you will get regular (full-price) rates.

      Also, create an account on the disneyworld.com website and order the free vacation planning DVD. In some cases, these actions seem to get you on a list and you may receive a discount offer in the mail or by email.

      In the past, it seemed that pricing a vacation online, but not booking it, would trigger a special offer. I haven’t had as much luck with that as I used to.

      You may also want to check mousesavers.com. Mary lists all current discounts and promotions.

      Good luck!

      • I agree with Annie. Check out MouseSavers.com. The most current discounts are shown along with a breakdown of who they are for (general public, passholders, etc.)

    • Get a TA! They will check all the discounts for you and get you the best rate. Just get one that specializes in Disney. I love having one now.

      • I am a little biased because I AM a TA and I specialize in Disney vacations. Nevertheless, the reason that I went into this field is BECAUSE I could not agree with you more. If this isn’t your job, it’s so hard to devote the necessary time and energy into finding the best deals and discounts, planning all of your dining reservations, figuring out which parks you’re going to visit on which days. I say, find someone who knows what they are doing and will do it for you.

  • So funny! I JUST finished a three-part blog for my local online news publication about the exact same topic. You covered a lot of great tips I’d add…bring some of your own food. Stop at a grocery store (or have an online service like Garden Grocer deliver your groceries to your hotel) and purchase some basic staples. Bottled water, fresh produce, bread, peanut butter and jelly, milk, juice boxes (if you have little ones), etc. And bring some food (prepackaged snacks, cereal, etc.)with you in a dedicated piece of luggage (which can then be used to transport souvenirs home). With these staples, eat breakfast in your hotel room and pack a lunch for the parks. Then, eat dinner in a restaurant, either onsite (if you want to splurge a little) or offsite (if you have a car).

    • Yes! We pack food (Special K, Total, Cherrios, oatmeal, Ovaltine, Annie’s shells&cheese, etc. – substitute your own family’s favorites) in the checked luggage. Doesn’t add much weight, and way cheaper than in the stores on property. Then buying just milk on property is not expensive enough to make it worth renting a car or grocery delivery.
      Those empty cereal boxes can protect souvenirs on the way home – or get flattened to protect pictures and other flat souvenirs until we reach home.

  • I am confused by this part-

    “If you all purchase 7 Day Park Hoppers for your trip in November of 2013, you can use them again for another week long trip in October of 2014, before the passes expire.”

    You can use 7-day park hoppers TWICE?

    • Sorry! That was a mistake on my part. I meant Annual Passes. It is all fixed now.

  • Great article! A couple of other ideas:

    1. Stay off-site. Off-site doesn’t necessarily have to mean “less magical,” “inconvenient” or any of the other objections someone may raise. For example, Bonnet Creek is very close and can be an excellent value, depending on time of year traveling and any deals they may have going. And for large families, staying in a condo or vacation home close to Disney can be more of a value than getting 2 rooms onsite and provide the elbow room they may need.

    2. Split meals. Wife and I stopped using DDP several years ago after they drained the value out of it. We also find it doesn’t really fit the way we like to dine. We prefer to split an appetizer, split an entree and split a dessert. Doing this can be a more enjoyable dining experience and save money, too.

    • I just had the opportunity to stay at the Bonnet Creek Hilton this past December. I found it a really refreshing change. Also we could see Illuminations and Wishes from our room. I found the matching music on youtube and we didn’t miss a beat!

  • Stacey writes (in section #3):
    “If you all purchase 7 Day Park Hoppers for your trip in November of 2013, you can use them again for another week long trip in October of 2014, before the passes expire.”

    I think you meant to write “annual passes” rather than “7-Day Park Hoppers”, yes?

    Totally agree w/#6. A variation on #8 is for multiple people to share one order of fries. 🙂

    Excellent article, sound no-nonsense advice. 🙂

    • Yes, I meant Annual Pass instead of Park Hopper. Can’t believe that mistake didn’t get caught! Ha! I fixed it so it makes sense now. Thank you.

  • 1 only buy a package if it is the same cost as the discounted room.
    Then you really are getting free tickets and/or free dining.
    2 AAA also has discounted tickets for AAA members. Check if your employer has discounted tickets! (some employers offer as much as 12% off!).
    3 We bought an Annual Pass for the 1st time! Paid for itself on the room discount. Allowed us to buy Tables in Wonderland (which gives 20% discount on food AND beverage at most of the table service locations – paid for itself on the first day we had it).
    4 We save money by NOT park hopping. And we save TIME by not park hopping. You really have to take into account the time and frustration involved in transportation.
    8 Always ask! We save money by not including the drink or side – just the entree for combo meals. Maybe Beaches and Cream was the only place that we couldn’t save money by eliminating the side? We substituted the fruit, and asked for paper cups w/ lids to take the fruit back to the room for next morning breakfast – or snacking!
    (One exception! IF you were going to order everything on the pre-fix menu, then that is usually a bargain. No bargain if you don’t want everything – then it is less expensive to order a la carte.)
    9 We freeze some water in 1 disposable water bottle/person overnight (fill just enough to lay on side while freezing, not touching screw top) and fill rest with cold water before going to the parks for the day. Can refill at fountain if we run out. We don’t buy bottles of water or drinks.
    12 IF you have a car, there are Disney outlets for souvenirs in the area – Orlando Premium Outlets are located on Vineland Avenue and also on International Drive. Great discounts! (But always check, some of the merchandise is current and not discounted at all.)

    • Just found your comment. Thinking about purchasing TIW card also. Already purchased the Weekday Select Pass and made reservations for POFQ through AAA. If you have an AP, wondering how you save money in not park hopping because you don’t have extra PH charges in your case. I guess it’s just not going to another park in the same day that, by definition, you save money.

  • Oh — here’s another idea for any and all. We usually get the Disney itch a couple of years before we can afford to go. During that time, we tell our parents to forget birthday, anniversary and Christmas presents for us adults. We just ask for money to put in the Disney fund! It’s never a lot, but even a couple of hundred dollars total can buy a few meals out.

  • This article was very helpful- thank you. I am researching a disney vacation. We have a family of 6, kids are ages 14,11,9, and 5. We have never been to Disney and are hoping we can pull it off this year. I knew it was going to be an expensive trip, but was shocked when I started researching. My plan was to surprise them at Christmas but since we were unable to afford it, I am now trying to get all the money saving tips I can. Please let me know of any more tips you may have for vacationing in Disney(or Disney cruise)with a big family. Thanks again!

    • Sheila — have you purchased the Unofficial Guide book? It is fantastic! It has lots of tips on saving money. Also AllEars and Mousesavers are great sites. They have had some real deals on lodging! (Not in WDW, though. Usually offsite but nearby.)

      Disney is never really in our budget. I just have these attacks every few years and need to make it happen! But it often involves saving for a couple of years at a time!!!!!

      With a family of your size, I wonder if you could look into renting DVC points through David’s? I found them to be wonderful! There are almost always deals on Saratoga Springs. They have kitchens and such, so you wouldn’t have to eat out all the time.

      I would get the UnOfficial Guide and read it cover to cover. I hope you can make it happen!!!!!!!

    • Hi Sheila!
      When our family of 4 plus 2 grandparents traveled to WDW, we opted to stay offsite in a condo about 2 to 3 miles from WDW. We found it through VRBO.com. I think we paid $89 per night before taxes for a 3 bedroom condo. Many of the condos and homes available for rent have a Disney themed room plus there are places all over Orlando. We found this to be a great money saving option for our family and we had more room that we would have had in 2 hotel rooms. Our condo resort had a huge pool with a water slide, onsite mini-theater, parks, and a workout room (in case you don’t feel like you get enough exercise while walking all of the parks). We were also 2 miles away from the Super Target, which had a large Disney merch section. Happy planning to you! I know I can’t wait until we go again this coming October.

    • Hi Sheila!

      I second Stephanie’s comment about using VRBO.com. I use it all the time! We also are a family of 6. My kids are all about 3 years older than yours. Everyone is much more comfortable in a condo or house with more space, plus you’ll have your own kitchen and washer/dryer. We even had a private pool, in addition to the fabulous resort pool.

      I also recommend getting the Disney Visa from Chase. Use it to pay for all your daily expenses as much as you can-groceries, gas, school fees, medical bills, etc. We use the points earned to pay for the park tickets and/or meals.

    • One way we save money is to use grocery service. We have all of our water, soda, sect delivered along with snacks. We usually spend around $100 and don’t spend much if anything on those items in the parks.

  • Just a note – when we were there last fall some Counter Service places would only give us a small ice water for free. Cast Members said they had been directed not to give large waters out; however, we found they were more than willing to give us multiple small waters. We found this mainly in Epcot, and sometimes in Hollywood Studios.

    • I just discovered this yesterday actually! At Animal Kingdom I was given a small cup of ice water. I suppose a small cup of ice water is better than no water at all.

    • The places that have refillable soda stations do not want to hand out the large cups because there are those that would abuse it by taking that large cup, dumping out the water and filling it with soda.

      • You are probably right and that is the reason the are skimping. Disney should get different color cups for water, but since that will cost them a little more money I am sure it will never happen.

  • The pre-buying items is such a great idea and works really well. We spend months ahead of time buying cheap tee shirts. Each kid gets a new tee shirt every day. Also Tinkerbell visits every night and leaves a gift. Disney bubbles, erasers, $1 store glow sticks. The kids are getting so much they hardly ask for anything!!

  • Stacey — this is great! Your article really compliments Erin’s. One thing I mentioned in response to her “worth it” article is the difference between our first trip in 2009 and our upcoming trip in 2013. Our kids were 6 and 8 and were not interested in any roller coasters or crazy rides. So our touring plans were different. We wanted lots of character meals and such, so we did the deluxe dining. We just went all out and had everything prepaid — it was fabulous! We had three reservations every day and it was no problem to stop touring to make them. It was a hectic trip, but sooooo fun!

    THis time is totally different. We are renting a DVC studio for a week — about $1300. It has a kitchenette and we are planning to eat in our room as often as possible. Our sons are older and much more interested in hitting the headliner rides. We won’t want to stop our touring to sit down and eat. The budget this time is much smaller too. We probably shouldn’t even be going, but we are!!!!!!! Our tickets should cost about 1200.00 from Undercover Tourist. I’m buying lots of things ahead of time. I have 3 big storage totes and I’m putting stuff in them gradually. We’ll have some really healthy homemade breakfast stuff that can be microwaved. (For all meals, you can do a lot with a toaster and a microwave.) We’ll use the frig in the room and will probably have a couple of coolers. Although I’m sure we’ll buy a treat or two in the parks, and may leave the world for dinner once or twice, our food cost should be pretty minimal. Yes, I’ll be spending money on groceries, but I would be spending that money for the week’s groceries at home anyway. This trip should cost about 2700. Our 2009 trip was close to 4K! We won’t park hop, and any souvenirs will have to be purchased with money the kids have saved.

    So — two totally different sort of trips. THe first one was incredible and memorable — I imagine this next one will be too!

    I’m eager to read what tips everyone else has!


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