Doing Disney on the Cheap!

*This post is focused mainly on Disney WORLD with little tid-bits about DisneyLAND! Read on to learn ways to Save Money on your next Disney Vacation!

One thing you should know about me: I am a True Disney Princess at heart. But in my childhood, we traveled to visit family. We went up North to WI and MN. We drove to 6 Flags Atlanta and to see the Braves play. We took amazing family vacations together, but we never quite made it to Walt Disney World.

So when it came time to plan my honeymoon, that’s where I wanted to go. At that time, a sweet co-worker of mine knew I had never been to the most magical place on earth. Out of her generous heart, she gifted my new hubby and me the funds to pay for 2 days at Disney World. For our honeymoon, Dylan and I took a 5 day cruise out of Jacksonville, FL, and then we drove 2 hours South to Orlando to spend two days at Disney World.

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From our Cruise! #justmarried
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Minnie with the Newlyweds, our first Disney trip together!

That trip only solidified something I always knew to be true: Disney is my all-time-favorite vacation!

As the next couple years unfolded, we took Any opportunity we could afford to travel the 6 hours from Charleston, SC to Disney World! It got to the point where I would ask my husband, “When are your next couple days off?” He’d say, “Krystal, we’re not just gonna go to Disney tomorrow!” It became a running joke between us!

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Left: On the Tea Cups with Silas, on his first trip Right: Tea Cups with Belle on her first trip
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Left: Dylan with Silas Right: We’ve multiplied! Belle dresses as Anna!

Well in the time since my first adult-trip to Disney, I have been blessed to go so many times! Eventually, I decided to take my knowledge and apply to sell those magical trips through a travel agency. (Are you a WDW genius? Why not consider doing that? The commission isn’t too bad! To me, it’s a fun way to offset the cost of future trips!) I have learned some amazing, seriously helpful ways to save money and soak up the important magical experiences too.

Before I give you my favorite tips… have you thought about hiring a Disney Travel Agent? Did you know that you don’t have to pay Anything additional to have someone work on your behalf to organize your entire trip for you? Travel Agents are paid through the resorts they are booking! If you are a person who likes to save $$ time (and you don’t like to plan or dig around for deals), take the guess work out of your plans. Have a Disney Travel professional handle the heavy lifting for ya!

First things first- Plan Ahead! Make a budget for yourself and with a little research, you can stay right on target. The biggest hurdles in your trip will be tickets, housing, travel and food.

1.) TICKETS: One of the most expensive aspects of a Disney trip is the cost per ticket, per person. At this moment, to go to WDW for one day, during the slower times of the year, a 1-day base ticket is $102. (Kids under 3 are free B-T-dubs)

I tell friends, family and clients the same thing- go ahead and assume that each person in your party (over the age of 3) will cost about $100 per park, per day. (the more park days you have, the more the cost of tickets go down)

People always ask how you can save money on the price of park tickets. If you are a Florida resident, if you are a member of the Disney Vacation club, or if you have an annual park pass, then you should already know: those things entitle you to some tickets price savings.

But what about the Rest of us?

Well, where do you work? Does your job offer any perks or discounts? When I worked for a State hospital, we were provided with a link that featured vacation info, including discounts on Disney vacations (and universal too)! The only warning I give is this- in order to snatch up those lower rates, you’ll need to book more days; you’ll likely need to stay at a resort. Lot’s of big businesses have affiliate links like those!

If you or an immediate family member is in the U.S. Military, that’s alternative way to save! You’ll need to buy those tickets in advance. *This past July, I was in Anaheim for the annual LuLaRoe convention. I had all of Sunday free and of course I wanted to spend it at Disneyland! I made friends with another retailer and her husband and we decided to spend the whole day at the the park together (I was traveling solo)! They used his military id, weeks before, to purchase a 4 day pass to both parks. At the park gate that morning, he showed his id to try to help Me receive his discount as well. They wouldn’t honor it. The military discounts, the attendant explained, are given on packages and advance ticket purchases. Lesson learned. I paid $120 for my Disneyland ticket and had an absolutely incredible day with my new friends.

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Me & Christa at Disneyland: Head to toe in LuLaRoe, just after convention!

Costco! Have a Costco or Sam’s Club membership? Booking your disney trip through a perk/membership club like those can also help you score some great deals! They even have travel professionals who can take care of all the details and book your trip for you.

Target giftcards. Do you have the Target Red Card? It acts like a debit card and withdraws from your debit account (though it can take a couple of days for your charges to show up). When you use your target card, you save 5% in target stores and online. At the checkout, they sell Disney Gift Cards and YES, those can be used to purchase Disney Tickets! 5% may not seem like a lot, but it is Something! Also, those disney gift cards can be used to pay for your disney hotel or in the disney store or giftshops! You can also give them to your travel agent- they can be used as a form of payment when you book a package through them!

On our second family Disney trip, we applied for the Disney chase visa. Simply applying got us a $150 Disney giftcard. We used the giftcard during that trip to buy another day in the parks and souvenirs. We had no intention of actually Using that credit card. 2 years later, we paid for our onsite hotel AND our tickets, using Disney rewards dollars we “earned” from the using that credit card. Those transfer to a gift card when you want to redeem them. *I should mention, I do not recommend going in to debt just to save money of Disney tickets. If you Already have the disney visa, consider using any points you have toward ticket prices!

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One other great thing about the chase visa? Exclusive photo perks! You can take a photo with a secret character or 2. You also receive a complimentary 5×8 print!

I also don’t recommend waiting until the last minute (or the day-of) to buy tickets. I remember the drive to Orlando down 95 very well. Once you pass Jacksonville, the road is littered with billboards offering $49 park tickets or even less! Trust me on this: don’t buy into it. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. 

2.) HOTEL: Ok, Disney resort hotels are absolutely incredible. The rooms are clean. The staff is kind. It’s usually closest to the parks. There’s food on site. You receive the fancy magic band and it unlocks the door to your hotel room. You can load your tickets onto the same band! You can pay for on site purchases with that band! The band seems like a Must Have! and yet… Staying at an offsite hotel can save you exponentially! 

The hotels surrounding the WDW property (particularly down Irlo Bronson) are so inexpensive! I highly recommend the Comfort Suites at Maingate East.

Now, I’m not saying all of the hotels down that stretch are brilliant, or even clean or appropriate. But with just a little shopping around, you can find something comfortable with a decent star rating (3 or higher) and tripadvisor review. (Read those reviews!)

Make yourself a list and search hotwire for hotels that match that description. Check out groupon deals! Do you want complimentary shuttle to and from the parks? (Who doesn’t?) It’s not just Disney Resort hotels that offer this. Nearly every hotel in the area offers that perk! You may not be On Disney Property, but you will be super close and saving a ton! {True story: our average cost at a Nice off-site hotel is only $30 per night!}

This is truly my Best savings tip. So if you can make peace with Not staying at Disney, do it and Save! You can still have an unforgettable trip!

If you do stay at a Disney Resort, remember that the time of the year you visit will have an effect on the price of the room And the price of the tickets. (Peak times = higher prices) If you can go during slower seasons, do it!

3.) MAGIC BANDS: I love these things! If you have never been before and you’ll be staying offsite- you are not out of luck. You can purchase one at the disneystore’s online shop ahead of time, or in a number of giftshops when you arrive! Prices for magicbands (actually now they are called Magicband 2) range from $12.99 each up to $48 for the super fancy printed ones.

Remember, if you are actually staying at a disney resort, they send you magicbands for everyone in your party (even those under 3!). But if you are staying off property, you can link your tickets and debit card to a purchased magic band. Seriously I love walking up to the gate, or each ride, and simply swiping my arm- not having to carry around and rummage for a ticket. I also love not having to carry cash! I assign a pin number to my band, so if it gets lost or stolen, no one else can access my info! If you don’t get anything else, get yourself a magic band!

Recycle! If you have a magic band you have used on a previous trip, you can Totally link your new tickets to that band! The batteries in these waterproof wonders last a Long time. As long as the battery is still good, you can still use the band! After purchasing your tickets, just go to mydisneyexperience .com, log in and link them!2015-08-17_21.26.49

4.) FOOD: We are a gluten free family. GF often costs more to begin with so this is a place we are always looking to pinch our pennies. First of all, you Can take food into the parks, within reason!

We always make time for a grocery shopping trip to stock our hotel suite. (if you are buying perishables, be sure to get a room with a small refrigerator!) You can prepare  sandwiches and wrap them up for the next park day. You can bring water bottles to refill too. They search your bag on entry and they allow you to bring small amounts of food and drink in. Toddler snacks, chips, sandwiches, fruits, etc. are allowed. Coolers are NOT allowed.

Bringing lunch and snacks saves our family of 4 an average of $18 per quick-service meal!

Once, we brought Chick Fil A cups into animal kingdom (they were actually filled with VIA iced coffee!), but they had us throw away our straws. For the safety of the animals, AK only uses biodegradable paper straws, park-wide. So as soon as we came up to the AK starbucks, we grabbed a couple straws and we were ready to go and buzzed for the morning!

If you plan ahead on food, it can save your money. Maybe treat yourself to one park meal a day, or a more expensive park meal every other day. If you download the “My Disney Experience” app, you can view the restaurants in the parks ahead of time. It lists menu items And their prices. If you are planning on eating in the parks at all, I recommend doing this. It will really help you budget how much you plan to spend per meal!,

I don’t recommend a meal plan. At times, if you are buying a specially price package, the meal plans come at a slight discount, but over all, if your goal is to spend as little money as possible, Avoid the meal plans.

The food at the parks and restaurants is expensive, but it is also extremely delicious. If you can, make room in your budget to experience at least one upscale restaurant during your stay. Of all of the choices, my personal favorite is Be Our Guest, a table service restaurant in Fantasyland, Magic Kingdom. (How could it not be? I named my daughter Belle after all!)

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The ceiling in Be Our Guest… straight out of Beauty and the Beast!

5.) TRAVEL: When we still lived in Charleston, Disney was a 5-6 hour drive away. Once we had kids, that trip suddenly started taking 9+ hours! (for this reason, I always factor in a day of rest when we plan our trips!)

Now, we live in Texas and we have to fly to the park of our choice. So what do we do? We fly spirit airlines. I kid you not, Tickets to Orlando we only $49 per person, per trip! To LAX, it was only $36 per person from DFW. Each person gets one personal bag (smaller than a standard carry-on). In my upcoming post on flying with toddlers, I’ll share some of my favorite packing tips with you.20170928_142214.jpg

I love to remind people that flying on a Tuesday is typically cheapest, but Wednesday and Thursday can also be inexpensive options. For some mystical algorithmic reason, flights tend to be cheapest when purchased 3 weeks before your trip, on a Tuesday or Wednesday. I’ve also heard a rumor about time of day. Rates seem to be lowest in mid-afternoon.

If driving isn’t an option, be sure to price your flight accordingly! Sometimes it’s more thrifty to drive (or catch a ride) to a nearby city with lower-priced flights.

6.) Photos: I Love the Disney Photopass. LOVE it! When we go, we always pre-purchase the Memory Maker (I use those terms interchangeably). No matter what park you go to, there are cast members scattered throughout at special locations; perfect-picture spots! If you wait to buy the memory maker (photopass), the price goes up.

Initially, the cost of Memory Maker is $169. If you buy it at least 72 hours before you arrive at the parks and it gives you digital access to Every Single Professional photo taken of you and your crew while you’re there! {This is another brilliant use of the magicband 2- the photographer just scans your band to link your photos to you!}

What happens if you wait and buy the photopass after you get there? The cost goes up to $199. Also, there is a 3 day waiting period. Any photos you take with those photospot pros (within 3 days of buying memory maker) have to be purchased separately. Not so fun.

I highly recommend buying it- but buying it in advance!

Wanna save even More money? You don’t Have to buy a photopass! You can Bring a camera or even a camera phone. All you have to do is ask the photographer to Also take a picture or 2 with your personal camera! They typically don’t mind doing this. Their job is to help make your trip as magical as possible! I love to have both versions (even with photopass). An added perk is this: you can post personal photos immediately!

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A kind person took this for us with my phone. We had been waiting for over 30 min for Mary Poppins to come back. The photographer had not yet arrived. We were the first in line (me in my home-made Mommy Poppins t-shirt! I cut out and ironed on those letters years before I had even heard of a Cricut!)

You do not Have to buy a photopass, but I say all of that to tell you I believe it’s worth adding that cost on!

Let’s RECAP:

Stay off property (even if you only stay a day or two, this can save you Hundreds!).

Buy tickets in advance (if possible, use a disney giftcard you bought with a discount).

Bring your own food and water bottles.

Pre-plan your travel. Pre-plan if you have it in you! If all of this sounds like too much work, remember, there are wonderful people out there who will plan your trip (at a Disney Resort) for you and take all of the stress off!

If your goal is to save money, but still have an incredible vacation, you can Definitely do it! Please let me know what you think of these tips. After writing this, I can’t help but daydream about our next visit to the parks!

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