Chic on a Shoestring Decorating: How to do Disney World on a Budget, 15 Money Saving Tips

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How to do Disney World on a Budget, 15 Money Saving Tips

You guys, I have a big secret to tell you...

I am NOT a Disney person.

Please don't hate me.

It's just not my thing.

I don't even think Disneyworld is the most magical place on Earth.


I know, right?!

I mean, sure, it is a fun place for kids and I wanted my kids to experience it but, it is not my first choice for vacation. Or second, or third...

To me fun doesn't sound like dropping big money on a trip that would most likely be stressful and tiring.  I don't like big crowds, waiting in line, and being hot- especially all at the same time.  Disney is someplace I go and when I get home I am EX-HAUS-TED.

Ever heard someone say "I need a vacation from my vacation."? Yeah, that's me after Disneyworld.

(Talk about first world problems.)

With that in mind, I did NOT want to blow all of our vacay money for the year on one trip. I knew I'd have fun and we'd make great memories but I knew I would not come home feeling relaxed and I wanted to make sure we could squeeze in a relaxing vacation that year as well.  So before we went I researched like crazy to find savings anywhere I could.

Anyway, now that I got that awkwardness out of the way I will tell you that even though I don't love Disney I really wanted to take my kids there.


Well, I think a fun part of childhood is going to the Magic Kingdom before you get too old to to miss out on the magic of it all.

Thankfully, my hubs, Mr. Chic, feels exactly the same way (we were meant to be together!)  So, despite our mutual feelings about the "happiest" place on earth being stressful and expensive, we decided we would take our boys when they were young.  And, dang it! We were going to have fun!!

So we did.

One thing that took some of the stress out of it for me was planning our vacation budget ahead.  I wanted to have fun and not stress about overspending.  (Wasting money stresses me out!)

If you've been reading my blog for a while you'll know my favorite place to shop is TJ Maxx.  Mr. Chic (my hubby) likes to say "there is no TJ Maxx of Disney".  Meaning, there is no discount Disney vacation.  And, he is pretty much right.  You are going to pay a boat load to get your family of four into the park.  More than four of you??  Then start saving five years before you have your first baby.

Ok, that might be exaggerating a bit, but kind of not.  ;)

At the writing of this post, to get a family of 2 adults and 2 kids (under 10) into the Magic Kingdom for one day is over $500 after taxes during peak season.

Say wha?!?

That is a hefty entry fee for most young families and it includes nothing more than the park entry.

 So what can you do?

1. Check for Discounted Tickets

Deeply discounted Disney tickets are hard to find but there are a few options.  The Undercover Tourist is an official Disney ticket seller and runs deals like this and more(click for more info)...

Disney will give you a discount for buying multi-day passes at once as well.  Their "Magic Ticket" is a 4 park pass with a pretty significant discount for each day.  Make sure you check the Disney website before buying anywhere.

Here's a list of discount ticket possibilities.  I will warn you that if you get a discount from one it may not be the best deal and it may have blackout dates so do your research and homework before buying any tickets
  • AAA and CAA Ticket Discounts
  • Military and Civil Service Discounts
  • Florida Resident Ticket Discounts
  • Corporate, Government & Other Membership Discounts
  • Advance Purchase Discount
  • Disney World Area Wal-Marts
  • Y.E.S. (Youth Education Series) Program
  • Youth Group Discounts
  • Online and Regular Travel Agencies

2. Go During an Off-Peak Season

Peak season (when everything is the most expensive) is usually the most convenient time for you to take your family.  Always times where your kids are typically out of school.  Summer break, spring break, Christmas break, Easter break, Memorial day... yep.

Of course it is.

If you don't want to take your kids out of school then expect to pay peak season prices.  If not, the cheapest times to go with the best Disney prices are January, September and the first two weeks of December.  Nothing like pulling your kids out of school the first week of school or right after Christmas break. (insert eye roll here).

Oh well, in my experience the younger they are the easier it is to pull them out, once they get older they miss a lot more work and learning.  If you are a home-schooler then you are good to go, take advantage of the cheap off-peak season!  If not, decide what is right for your family and budget and plan accordingly.

3. Sign up for Disney Emails

Disney runs several sales throughout the year like free dining plans, hotel discounts and more.  Sign up for emails from the Disney parks you plan to visit and have the deals sent right to your inbox.  You may find a better deal elsewhere but you may not! It's worth checking them out before you buy.

4. Go to the "Free Disney"

Heard of Disney Springs?  It used to be Downtown Disney.  If your kids are young enough they will totally think they are at another cool Disney park.

And guess what, it's free!!

Kind of.

There is no ticket to get in Disney Springs. It's basically an outdoor mall with extra cool restaurants and stores.  My boys LOVE going here and my hubby and I like it too.  They have some great restaurants for adults and kids.

First, they have a Starbucks so that is always a good thing.  Mama needs her coffee even on vacation, and apparently, so does Mickey Mouse!

Am I right??

The hubs and I love Raglan Roads Irish Pub and the House of Blues restaurant (both kid friendly of course).  Here we are at Raglan Road Pub...

They also have a gourmet chocolate shop called The Ganachery, it's SO good!

The boys love the cool dinosaur themed T-Rex restaurant as well as Erin McKenna's Bakery NYC, an allergy-friendly bakery.  This is the only place my youngest (with multiple food allergies) could pick out anything in the bakery case he wanted. This is HUGE for a kid allergic to milk, eggs, and nuts.  We usually make several trips here.

Disney Springs also has a nice Lego store which my boys would stay in all day.  They have some Lego stations outside the store where kids can build Lego cars to race down little race tracks. They think it's great fun.

Disney Springs has a huge movie theater, bowling alley, arcade, Cirque De Soliel show, comedy club, bars/nightclubs, boat rides and more!

Tip: Most Disney Springs Restaurants take reservations so make them in advance to avoid long lines!

5. Stay at a Disney Property (if you want)

Just because you are on a budget doesn't mean you have to stay at a flea bag motel.  Don't assume that you can't afford a Disney property because you are on a tight budget. Disney has all different levels of hotels with prices across the board. From low to high, Value Resorts, Moderate Resorts, Deluxe Resorts, Deluxe Villa Resorts. They also have the Disney Springs Resort Area Hotels. The Disney Value Resorts are usually about the same price as off-site value hotel/motels but with some Disney perks listed below.

Also, The Undercover Tourist is always running specials on Disney properties so make sure you check them for discounts while shopping hotels (click the square below).

Besides the fun Disney themed stuff everywhere, there are advantages to staying on a Disney Property. Most Disney properties offer a free shuttle to and from the parks and you can catch the monorail at some of the hotels.  Also, if you stay at certain Disney properties you will get Extra Magic Hours, extended time in the parks before and after the regular opening and closing time, a great benefit!

6. Drive to Disney if You Can

Diving is almost always cheaper than flying.  Gas costs are low right now and even stopping a night or two to stay in a hotel on the way to Disney will likely still be cheaper than buying 4 (or more) round-trip plane tickets.

Although the anticipation of a long drive with kids in tow can cause mom-anxiety to hit the roof there are things that can make it better, almost fun??

Make it an adventurous road trip!  Plan your route around some places you'd love to see. Bring portable dvd players, tablets, books, activity books and snacks and they will be fine! :)

If you really want to fly cash in your airline miles or have flexible travel dates to save money on flights.  There are usually many credit cards offering flight deals, if you are comfortable opening a new credit card you may be able to save substantially on your flight.

7.  Bring your own food and drinks in the park. (don't forget a water bottle!)

Amazingly, Disney still lets you bring food and drinks into the park.  Take a backpack and pack your meals and snacks to save tons of money.  Make sure you bring refillable water bottles!  It gets hot and you'll want to keep you and your family well hydrated. You can refill your water bottles at drinking fountains and restaraunts and save money.

You are even allowed to bring a cooler into the park!  It must be smaller than 24" long, 15" wide and 18" tall.  It wouldn't be fun to drag a cooler around all day but the park has lockers you can store your stuff in all day for a fee.  Check the Disney site here for all of the restricted personal items and to make sure none of the rules have changed.

8.  Get your Free Disney Souvenirs!

Disney even offers a few free souvenirs!  Are you a first-timer or celebrating something on your trip to Disney? Then you can get a free button! There are usually buttons for almost any celebratory occasion - birthdays, engagement, just married, anniversary, even family reunion.  They also have a "I'm celebrating ____" where you can fill in the blank.

These buttons will sometimes get you some perks in the park such as skipping to the front of the line or getting your very own car on a ride.  Cast members will make a special point to wish you a happy birthday or congratulations.

Another little known souvenir is a free map from the Jungle Cruise captian (for kids). And, if you ask the Captain of the Tom Sawyer riverboat to pilot the boat they will give you a certificate.

Nothing too valuable but free nonetheless!

9. Buy your Disney shirts (and souvenirs) in advance!

Save big money buying Disney stuff before you arrive. Like this cute vintage look Mickey Mouse t-shirt for dad. Or really for mom too, it's super cute!

If you want something more girly there's this one...

(when ordering a ladies shirt pay attention to sizing because many of them are Junior sizes)

Bring a Mickey sweatshirt just in case it gets chilly!

Orlando can be chilly at night in fall, winter and spring.  My very hot-blooded husband didn't bring a jacket because he's always hot.  He ended up having to buy the cheapest sweatshirt we could find at Disney Springs.  It was $65 and super dorky looking. Disappointing because we both new he'd never wear it again because he's not a Mickey Mouse shirt wearing kinda guy.  He wore it for woodworking and doing yard work so it didn't go to complete waste but who pays $65 for a shirt they are going to trash?! ;)

This one is much cuter (and cheaper!) than the one he had to buy.

These Minnie Mouse ears are way cheaper on Amazon, because really, when are you going to wear these things again?? ;)  If you want to get the old-school Mickey ears on the beanie had buy it at the park and get your kids name embroidered on the back because that's what you do when you go to Disney.

While you're at it, if your littles are excited to get autographs of all their favorite Disney characters then consider buying a cheap Disney autograph book in advance. Everything is cheaper out of the park!

10.  Buy your Princess and Pirate gear in advance.

Disney princess costumes are super expensive when you buy them at the park so bring it with you!

Pirate Gear found here.

You will save a ton doing this!

11. Bring your own Mist Fan!

This one sounds pretty silly, but believe me, when they are walking around selling these things for big bucks and you and your kids are melting in the Florida sun you are going to be glad you got your mist fans on the cheap!  (I learned this one the hard way.)

12. Ask Disney employees to take your picture.

Disney photographers will take professional pictures of you all over the park. But, you can ask them to take pics with your camera too.  They usually do a great job, better than a random person who might cut off your head or stick their finger in front of the lens.  This allows you to get great pics at Disney without having to pay for the expensive Memory Maker professional pics.

Check out this pic of my family taken by a cast member.  He was not a Disney photographer but he knew what he was doing! He took time to squat down in a position to get us and all of the castle in the pic and to cut out other people, it looks like we have the park to ourselves!  It's my favorite picture from our time at Disney and it was free!

13. Bring Rain Ponchos!

Well, obviously no one wants rain when they are at the happiest place on earth but let's face it, it happens.  Don't get stuck paying for overpriced plastic ponchos, stick some in your back pack and bring them with you!  Click here to buy 5 disposable rain ponchos for less than the cost of one at Disney!  Even if it doesn't rain these are nice to have for the water rides (if you're a wimp!)

Just kidding. ;) You're not a wimp.

A storm popped up out of nowhere one time when we were at Disney Springs. Luckily, we were already leaving but our cheap ponchos saved money because we didn't have to buy the expensive ones and us from getting soaked.  Several people around us had on the expensive plastic ponchos they had just purchased and the chemical-plastic smell coming off of them was terrible!  Would've given me a headache for sure. One more reason to bring your own disposables, they don't stink!

14. Waterproof Cell Phone Case

Along the same line as the poncho, you'll want to make sure to keep your cell phone dry.  The ponchos will keep you pretty dry but I would not trust one to protect my i-phone! These cheap waterproof cell phone cases are the perfect solution.  They seal to keep any drops of water from Splash Mountain off your expensive cell phone.

15. Discounted Disney Gift Cards

Check around for discounted Disney gift cards.  Sam's Club sells discounted gift cards, not a huge savings but around 10% usually, every little bit helps! On the same note if you have a Target Red Card you will save 5%.  You can also find Disney gift cards on Ebay and Amazon that people are unloading. Make sure you are buying one that works in the Disney parks!

How do you do Disney on a budget?  Leave a comment below and let me know!
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  1. Pinning to share with my daughter who is planning to go next year! Thanks for the tips!

  2. Great! Thanks for reading. Hope she has a wonderful trip! :)


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