Disney is a popular vacation spot, and our family loves to travel to Disney anytime we can. While it makes a great vacation it’s also an expense most of us need to save up for. This is true of any vacation of course, but with a Disney vacation a lot of planning can make your trip easier and much more enjoyable.
If you’re not into Disney, best to skip this post. While some of the ideas apply it’s focused on specifics surrounding Disney vacations that won’t translate.
Our Disney Experience
While I wasn’t convinced that we’d ever go to Walt Disney World because of the cost involved I knew we wouldn’t take them until they were old enough to remember. We ended up going to WDW when the kids were ages 4 and up for a robotic competition my oldest was participating in. We had a good time, but we didn’t know enough to know we were going at both one of the busiest times of year AND that we were hitting the park at peak hours. We were rookies.
Our next Disney trip was a parents only trip! My husband and I were planning an anniversary trip and we looked and looked, but in the end we wanted to go somewhere and not have to do any ‘work’ and we needed to stay in the US (it was our first time away from the kids for that long, so we wanted to be able to get back if we needed to). Our trip was meant to be fun. We just wanted to show up and have fun. So, when a friend hooked us up with a Disney travel agent we were thrilled to plan a trip that was all about fun and food. We stayed at the Boardwalk Inn which is nestled between two of the parks and is a deluxe level resort. She planned special tours, booked our dining reservations, and even got us upgraded to a great view and the concierge level (which includes snacks, drinks, breakfast, and hands on service whenever you needed it). It was amazing. We had a blast and got to celebrate our anniversary in an amazing way.
With what we learn on that trip we were able to put it to good use on our next trip. When we returned for the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration two years later we took full advantage of the offerings at the celebration (a work trip for me) and added on time after for vacation. We had a fantastic time and again got some extra help from our travel agent. We were hooked. The vacation was amazing. We had literally the time of our lives and got to bring along my parents for some extra hands on deck.
We have now been many more times-the last time in January to escape the cold, brutal winter weather for a family vacation. Read more about that here.
So, now you know we have some experience. From high-end vacation to budget-friendly trips or from adults only to an extended family vacation we’ve done it all.
To start let’s talk a bit about what your expenses will be for a Disney vacation. Specifically I’m discussing Disneyland and Walt Disney World vacations. With Disney cruises or Adventures by Disney you’ll be paying an all-inclusive fee for your trip. You’ll still need to pay airfare or incidentals, but your food, hotel, etc. are all covered under that one time cost.
Hotel Or Home Rental:
Disney Beach Club room
We have stayed on and off the Disney property at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, but I don’t recommend staying at a home rental or off-site hotel. Here’s why: you get early or late access to the parks, you get free or discounted parking, you won’t spend your time traveling to and from parks, you will receive Magic Bands (which are awesome), you’ll get early access to the FastPass+ system, and you will get a more immersive experience.
There are a variety of resorts and accommodations, so you need to know you’ll spend more the closer you get to the parks and the quality of the accommodations go up. For larger families there are suites at Disneyland and villas of varying sizes at WDW. But don’t worry there are all kinds of tips for saving on hotels.
Disney hotel savings tips:
- look for special savings on hotels at Disney (see their promotions page)
- talk to a Disney travel agent who can keep an eye on promotions
- know your budget
- consider a stay at value resorts for big savings
- play around with dates if your schedule is flexible
Airfare Or Cost of Driving:
Depending on where you live and which park you’re visiting your costs will vary greatly. I recommend keeping an eye on airline prices via one of the many airfare monitoring services available online. If you’re not sure if you should drive or fly use this awesome calculator. Be sure to factor in the cost of food and a hotel stay (if needed) on the road. We have driven and flown and I prefer to fly. I can keep an eye on airline tickets and get deals or even use points as needed for our vacations.
Resort guests have their tickets on Magic Bands
Park tickets are another major cost. The good thing about Disney is that their costs are upfront. Purchase your park tickets so you can plan your trip. Prices start $97 for a 1 day ticket to one park at WDW or $99 at DL for a 1 day, 1 park ticket. Tickets can climb as you add-on days and options like being able to visit multiple parks, waterparks & more, or both options. The benefit though? Each day you add-on makes your per day cost less. At WDW you could literally spend 7 days at all 4 parks and still have more to see and do, so don’t underestimate how much you’ll want to be in the park.
A few of our favorite foods from Disney
Food is another huge cost on vacation, but it can be managed in a variety of ways at Disney. To note though: Disney has amazing food. While you can still get a relatively inexpensive burger or a chicken finger platter you can also find expensive meals at fancy restaurants overlooking fireworks shows. For a sampling of all the awesome food at Disney check our Disney Food blog.
Personally we love to do a mix of both packing food and buying. Our last trip involved a once a day meal that was sit down to give us fuel and some rest for the rest of our day. Our two other meals were either brought with us from home (bars my husband and I eat or bread I packed for the kids) or shipped from Amazon to our hotel. (drinks, cereal, oatmeal, and more)
- Bring in your own food: You can pack a bag full of lunch, dinner, snacks, and drinks and eat in the park without having to buy anything in the park.
- Choose specific meals to spend money on: You can also choose to spend money on specific meals on vacation-like a special princess breakfast or a dinner at one of their high-end restaurants.
- Split it up: Portion sizes are huge and we found that we could easily split meals.
- Use Disney’s dining plan: It allows you to choose what type of meals you’ll want, plan reservations ahead of time, and choose items and restaurants based on your plan. The cost savings can be huge if you like to plan or have the help of a travel agent. It really depends on how you like to eat on vacation if this will work for you.
- Plan ahead: Restaurant reservations aren’t hard to come by during downtime, but if you’re traveling to Disney during a busy time of year you will want top book dining reservations ahead of time. A credit card is used to create your reservation, but you won’t be charged unless you don’t show (you can cancel dining reservations online or with a quick phone call up to 24 hours in advance so you aren’t charged). As a guest of the sort you can make those reservations earlier than you would without a resort reservation.
- Ship food: Amazon is a great resource for shipping products directly to your hotel. You can use Amazon Prime and their new Prime Pantry to get a variety of products shipped. There are also several grocery stores that offer delivery in the area so you can get items like fresh produce.
Now that we know your expenses you can start estimating costs. Depending on the size of your family or the people you’ll be visiting with you will be able to get some general estimates from Disney’s site.
How To Save For A Disney Vacation
1. Schedule Your Vacation With a Deposit
Often Disney has sales on vacations, so if you see a sale you want to jump on you can plan your trip with a one night deposit for your hotel and pay off the rest of your vacation at your own convenience up to 14 days in advance.
Additionally, you can add park tickets as you get closer to the 60 day mark (when you want to start making FastPass+ reservations).
The main benefit is that you get to book exactly what you want without having to lay down the full amount to start.
2. Save With Disney Vacation Account
The Disney Vacation Account is a brand new way to save from Disney is a great way to set aside money for a Disney vacation with automatic withdrawals, special discounts and deals for users, and more.
Here’s how it works: estimate your cost using their calculator, create a plan, track your progress, and lastly book your vacation. It’s a pretty simple way to ensure that you aren’t overextending yourself and requires forced savings that you can automate and don’t have to think about it while you are planning.
- Get Rewards: You’ll be eligible for a $20 Disney Gift Card for every $1000 you spend on qualified vacation purchases with your Disney Vacation Account prior to December 31, 2017.
- No Fees: There are no fees associated with a Disney Vacation Account.
- Get A Refund: I know what you’re thinking-what if we need that money we’ve saved? No problem-according to Disney you can get a full refund at any time.
- Enforced Savings: forcing yourself to save with automatic withdrawals is a great way to prioritize savings of all kinds. This is no exception-you’ll be saving without even thinking about it!
3. Research Ways To Save
This post is a long guide to my tips for saving, but there are so many more ways you can save big on any vacation and specially on Disney vacations. If you’re invested in going on a vacation you should take time to do research, find savings tips, and plan ahead so you can get the most out of your vacation. Not only will you be making every penny count, you’ll be making every moment special.
What tips do you have for saving on a Disney vacation?
Disclosure: I was recently hosted by Disney for a press event and learned about the Disney Vacation Account at the event.