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Saving at Disney: The Frugal Folks Guide To Visiting Disney World

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A vacation to Walt Disney World is not cheap. Everything from hotel rooms to park tickets will cost you a pretty penny, and many people avoid a trip to the happiest place on earth for their entire lives because of the costs involved.

However, while there is no way to take a truly inexpensive trip to Disney, there are definitely ways to save a buck or two. Most involve a bit of time and planning, but this all becomes well worth it when you are seeing Cinderella’s castle for the first time.

If you are hoping to take a trip to the magical world of Disney at some point in the future, it’s time to begin planning.

Follow the tips below, and you’ll be well on your way to a wonderful vacation filled with memories to last a lifetime.

Plan Your Trip For Free With Disney Vacation Planning Videos

Disney offers a free vacation planning video package. All you have to do is enter in your name, email and address, and within a week you’re sent instructions on the most affordable way to plan your next Disney trip.

You’re given a personal tour of all of their 20+ resorts, and you also get up-front access to their special events. The only thing you have to decide between is whether you want to go to DisneyLand or DisneyWorld.

Transportation

Transportation is expensive. To save on this part of your trip, you have to get pretty creative. The cheapest way to get anywhere is almost always to drive there. However, for people who live very far away, this may not be feasible due to time constraints or other factors.

If you need to fly into Orlando, there are a few things you can do to save some money. Begin by using a site such as Kayak to compare flights. Set your browser private when doing this, otherwise, the site will remember you and raise prices each time you visit in order to make you feel like you need to purchase before the price goes up even more.

When comparing flights, try putting in different airports within a reasonable driving distance from your home. Leaving from a city just two or three hours from home will save you hundreds in airfare. In addition to checking out other airports near home, you’ll also want to see about landing at an airport other than MCO (Orlando International Airport; yeah, it’s a confusing acronym). The Sanford Airport for instance, is often a cheaper place to fly into, and is only about an hour away from Disney World.

If you plan on staying at a Disney Resort when you fly into Orlando, be sure to take advantage of Disney’s Magical Express.

For those staying at a Disney Resort, but you will be landing in Sanford or another airport or staying at a hotel that offers a free shuttle to and from Disney, skip the car rental and use Uber or other similar service to get to your hotel.

Lodging

When it comes to lodging in and around Disney World, there are hundreds of options available. From camping to five-star hotels and everything in between, you won’t have trouble finding exactly what you need to feel comfortable and stay within your budget.

If you are on an extremely tight budget, you will likely want to look for somewhere to stay offsite. When looking at offsite hotels, be sure to consider the cost of parking at Disney and factor that into your total.

Disney World charges $20 a day for parking (unless you’re an Annual Passholder), and that can add up pretty quickly if you are going to visit for more than a day. For this reason, it is important to add this cost into your total or look for a hotel offering free shuttle service to the parks.

Another thing to consider when looking at offsite hotels is resort fees. These are not always obviously stated, and can sometimes be pricey.

If staying onsite is important to you, or if you find you won’t be saving anything by staying offsite after adding parking fees to your budget, you might want to consider camping in Fort Wilderness. Fort Wilderness is Disney’s campground, and is truly the cleanest and most well-put-together campground I’ve ever seen. The park boasts campgrounds, swimming pools, restaurants, and plenty of activities to keep everyone plenty busy.

Lodging Options

Tent camping at Fort Wilderness is almost always the cheapest way to stay on property. Unfortunately, the weather in Florida is not always the best camping weather, so you do have to go in knowing it may be hot and/or wet. (During certain parts of the year, it rains practically every afternoon.) RV spots are available at Fort Wilderness, and are affordable, but not always cheaper than the next option on this list.

The final lodging option we will explore in this article involves staying onsite in one of the many resorts. If you truly need to be frugal, go for one of Disney’s “Value” resorts:

 These hotels are clean and offer plenty of amenities and activities to keep your family happy. There really isn’t any reason you should have to pay for anything more than a Value resort. When booking your onsite hotel room, you’ll want to shop around and do plenty of price comparison.

The best deals are almost always through Orbitz or Cheaptickets, where you can use a cash-back site such as Ebates to receive cash back in addition to the discount codes often found on these sites.

Be sure to also compare dates, as even a week can make an enormous difference in price depending on what is going on at Disney at the time. If you are patient enough to search for the best dates and use a cash-back site in addition to a discount code, you should be able to find a room on Disney property for as little as $65 a night.

Food

Food budgets are almost always the best place to cut back on spending. Here are a few ways to save money on food on your Disney vacation.

If you have a car, eat offsite. Food in Disney World is overpriced, and while eating a themed meal in a park is a fun way to splurge, eating in the parks for a week can get incredibly pricey.

Even if you don’t have a car, if you are staying offsite you will most likely be within walking distance of some eating establishment. Take advantage of this. Many Orlando-area restaurants offer “kids eat free” nights, and the Kids Eat Free Card (which is worth researching, as it’s accepted by many Orlando restaurants) can also be used to cut costs in many cases.
No matter where you stay or what your transportation situation is like, you can save money by eating breakfast in your hotel room. When booking an offsite hotel, try to find one that offers a good free breakfast. If you are staying onsite, or if a free breakfast just isn’t an option, bring breakfast items with you.
Check The Hotel Rooms
All Disney resort rooms have a refrigerator, and a microwave is available in the food court (if not in the room), so making oatmeal and microwaved eggs and bacon is a possibility. Other options include fruit, pastries, and cereal with milk.To expand on the in-room breakfast idea, you may also want to consider bringing lunch items. Sandwiches and chips are quick and easy to bring along, and there is no rule against taking food and drinks into the parks, so you can even bring your lunch along for the day. If you will be in your room at all during mealtimes, you could also make microwaveable foods such as macaroni & cheese, hotdogs, and ramen noodles.

If you are flying in and won’t have a way to get to a grocery store on your way to your hotel, consider using Garden Grocers to order items and have them delivered directly to your hotel.

For those who want to eat in the parks, consider these tips and tricks:

Skip the Dining Plan

The Disney Dining Plan rarely saves money and often encourages users to eat more than they need.

Share Meals

Many meals in the Disney parks are large enough to be split between two people. Use this to your advantage.

Order Kid’s Meals

Counter-service places in Disney will allow anyone to order a kid’s meal. The kid’s meals are often large enough for an adult, especially someone who is a light eater. This can definitely be used to save some money.

Use Starbucks

All four parks now have a full-service Starbucks. Starbucks Rewards and gift cards can be used here, and breakfast sandwiches can be bought at a reasonable price. Watch Groupon for discounted Starbucks gift cards that are released on occasion, or buy discounted gift cards online. You can also check out our 25 hacks for saving money at Starbucks.

Rainforest Cafe, Yak and Yeti, and T-Rex

These three restaurants are found on Disney property and all are owned by Landry’s. All three also accept Landry’s gift cards. Discount Landry’s gift cards can be found on sites like Raise and Cardpool. The Landry’s Select Club is also a good deal if you visit near your birthday, as you will receive birthday rewards for joining.

Les Halles Boulangerie & Patisserie

This yummy bakery in the France pavilion in Epcot offers sandwiches and quiche for around $5 each. Bring in some chips or fruit for a cheap meal in the park.

Columbia Harbor House

If you’re looking for a tasty, affordable meal in the Magic Kingdom, Columbia Harbor House will sell you a bowl of clam chowder or vegetarian chili for about $5.

Yak and Yeti Food Cafes

This tasty quick-service version of Yak and Yeti is located in Animal Kingdom and serves up some pretty good chicken fried rice for only $4. The serving is enough to fill you up and it’s affordable enough to purchase one for each member of our family.

Boardwalk Pizza Window

While the quick-service options at Hollywood Studios are overpriced and less than fabulous, in just 20 minutes you can walk over to the Boardwalk outside the park for a quick bite to eat. The Boardwalk Pizza Window is your best option, as they serve up a slice of pizza with a side salad or bag of chips for just over $6. If you have a whole crew to feed, go for the whole pizza for just about $21.

P & J’s Southern Takeout

If you are spending the day in Magic Kingdom, take a break from the hustle-and-bustle and hop on a boat headed to Fort Wilderness. The boat ride is only about 15 minutes long, and the serenity found in Fort Wilderness is well worth the ride. While you are there, hit up P & J’s Southern Takeout for a delicious fried chicken dinner. The Giddyap and Go meal includes 10 pieces of chicken, cornbread, and two large sides for just $24. Additionally, this location serves up a large cheese pizza for only $15.

Earl of Sandwich

Located in Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney), Earl of Sandwich offers an excellent sandwich at an incredibly reasonable price. To add to your savings, register each person in your family for their rewards program before you head out to receive a coupon for a free sandwich.

Free Water

Instead of carrying around heavy water bottles or sipping hot fountain water, stop by any counter service restaurant in the parks for a free cup of ice cold water.

Free Refills

The following locations offer free soda refills: Fountain View and Sunshine Seasons in Epcot, Restaurantosaurus in Animal Kingdom, Backlot Express in Hollywood Studios, and Wolfgang Puck Express and Earl of Sandwich in Disney Springs.

Free Soda

While in Epcot, head over to Club Cool to sample free sodas from around the world.

Eat Breakfast

If you plan on eating a character meal, go for breakfast instead of lunch or dinner. Breakfast is the cheapest meal of the day, and since character meals are all-you-can-eat buffets, you can eat a 10:30am breakfast and easily eat enough to last right through lunch time. The least expensive character meals include 1900 Park Fare, ‘Ohana, and Garden Grove.

Sit Down for Lunch

If you’d like to eat a sit-down meal and breakfast isn’t your thing, go for lunch instead of dinner. It’ll give you a chance to get out of the hot sun for a bit, and lunch prices are cheaper than dinner at many of the table service restaurants in Disney World.

Tickets

Finding discounts on Disney World tickets is a difficult task, to say the least. There are a few out there, but they are few and far between. It is important to note that most discounted tickets (especially those sold on eBay or Craigslist) are likely a scam. So where can you find legitimate discounts? We have compiled a list of the best discount options below.

Orbitz

Many times Orbitz will offer small discounts on Disney World tickets. Combining these discounts with a cash-back program such as Ebates can save you a little on your park tickets.

Undercover Tourist

This site has many slightly discounted Disney Park tickets. Undercover Tourist has wonderful customer service and is trusted by many credible businesses.

AAA

Sometimes AAA members are able to get discounted park tickets.

Disney Youth Education Series

Disney offers some incredible classes on various subjects to kid ages 5–18. These classes cover topics such as animation, physics, marine biology, and much more. Every student who attends a class is entitled to a discounted park ticket.

Souvenirs

Many people like to return home from their vacation with some sort of memento. Unfortunately, souvenirs in Disney World are incredibly expensive. Because this is the case, it is a good idea to purchase souvenir items for the kids before the trip and hand them out during your vacation. Another option is to give each member of your party a set amount of spending money so nobody is tempted to overspend.

Want to get Disney souvenirs but don’t mind if you don’t buy them directly at Disney? Use the TopCashBack shopping portal and get 5% in cash back for everything you buy at the Disney Store online. You even get a $10 bonus for registering as a new user and signing-up is completely free. Once you get a minimum of $10 in earned cash back you can withdraw the amount to your PayPal or for gift cards.

Final Thoughts

By using these tips and being financially savvy, you will save hundreds (if not thousands) on your Disney vacation, and make some amazing memories while you’re at it!

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