How We Saved Money On Our Disney World Vacation (and Had a Great Time As Well)

Some years back we needed to figure out where we wanted to go on vacation.

It was my wife, our 7-year-old daughter, our 7-month-old son, and myself.  Since our son was so young we wanted to keep the flights short.  (Back then there were four of us, now there’s six if you’re trying to keep track.)

We decided now would be a great time to go to Disney world!

Read on and you’ll find out why Disney World was a great destination at the time and how I went about researching the best prices and activities.  This is valuable stuff you’ll want to bookmark if you think you’ll ever go to Disney World.

Tips to Save Money At Disney World

how we saved going to Disney World

Why Go To Disney World With Kids Those Ages?

Our daughter grew up on everything Disney.  It was almost disgusting (but in a good way, if that’s possible?).

There was a point when she was young when there would always be some Disney princess on the TV.  We knew she would have a great time and she was old enough to truly appreciate Disney World.  We were afraid that if we took her when she was younger she just wouldn’t appreciate and remember everything.  Sure it would have blown her delicate little mind to go there younger but we thought 7 was a better age to get around and to take it all in.

With our son we figured he was old enough to take on vacation but young enough still that he would spend most of his time in the stroller and not want to run around on his own.  Maybe that sounds strange but toddlers have varying moods of staying quietly in a stroller and being fiercely independent.  No, he wouldn’t really remember the trip but we didn’t think he’d appreciate it until he was older anyway.  The Summer of ’07 was our best window of opportunity to go to Disney World (at least until the little guy was older).  And besides, at that age most things were free for him anyway.  We weren’t spending money on something he was likely going to forget.  (OK, he was basically just coming along for the ride.)

Research, Research, and Some More Research

We knew Disney World could be expensive so we needed to do some research. 

OK, a LOT of research.  I spent many hours checking flipping through sites for info on where was good to stay and what was the best deal.

We started off with a recommendation from a friend: The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids.

I checked it out on Amazon as well as at the local bookstore.  The book gives a nice detailed review of each park and their rides in DW and provides itineraries that you can use based on your children’s age.  It also gives suggestions on what rides to go on, when to see attractions, and general tips for having a good time in Orlando.

What I also liked was the reviews of all the local hotels, Disney and otherwise.  (There are a lot of hotels in the area to choose from!  You don’t have to stay at a Disney resort)  We compared the guide to similar books and liked this one the best (they also have The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World that doesn’t focus on kids).

We bought the book and I went into devouring all of the information. 

There is a LOT to see and do in Disney and the surrounding areas.  Having a guide book helped tremendously.

A big decision to make for a Disney World trip is whether to stay in a Disney resort or stay off site.  I had an idea of a couple of places where I wanted to stay.  Now to find rates!

I have to jump in for a second and tell you about a great resource site I found: Mousesavers.com

This site really gave us great info for Disney.  They tell you all about the different parks, hotels, vacation packages, various discount codes, freebies, specials, ride closings, etc…

If you plan on going on a Disney trip you should check out the site and sign up for their newsletter which has exclusive discounts.  The site really helped me get my head around all of the choices in a Disney World vacation.

Really, I can’t say enough good things about them.  They are a must-read if you plan to go to Disney World.

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We used three main sources for our flight and hotel.

First we went to Liberty Travel agency to see what deals they have.  I like starting with them since some of their sales people are real knowledgeable on different vacations and occasionally they get really good packages.  Yes, travel agencies still have real value.  Sometimes.

Unfortunately the person we dealt with didn’t know a lot about Disney and couldn’t really tell us much.  Too bad for them.  (And travel agents wonder why their services are dying.)

Next was to look online.

We flipped back and forth between Expedia, the official Walt Disney World site, and Jet Blue.

Would the official Disney site be more expensive?

Not always.  And at least you can get an idea of what they are charging versus what other travel sites charge.

Originally we planned on Expedia for the hotel and Jet Blue for the flight (we heard so many good things about them, we wanted to try them).  I actually found a good deal for one of the Disney resort hotels on Expedia.  We were trying to book it but there was a computer glitch that wouldn’t let the reservation book.  Disappointed I poked around the Jet Blue site looking at flights.

I noticed that Jet Blue also had vacation packages!

I never knew that before (we never even flew them previously).

I started looking up the hotel I found on Expedia.  They had a similar deal but I actually found one that was better!  I found a great deal for the Hyatt Regency Grand Cyprus.  This is a four star hotel with a ridiculous amount of things to do including a giant pool with two waterslides (this will be important later on).

We jumped on the package which was 6 nights at the hotel and flights for the four of us on Jet Blue.  (When I checked into the hotel the clerk was actually surprised at the price we got the room for).

The hotel was in the Lake Buena Vista area.  They had some transportation to Disney parks but our best bet would be to rent a car.

Believe it or not the four main Disney parks aren’t all connected and next to each other.  Go figure!

A car would help us get around as well as give us more choices for eating.  The area we stayed had a number of other hotels and lots of food choices not Disney.  For example we actually went to Dunkin Donuts a few times to cut down on breakfast costs.  A car would also give us the opportunity to go to Target or Wal-Mart a few times to buy water and snacks (rather than buy them at the parks for much, much more).

So where to get a car?

We actually found some great discount codes on the Mousesavers site.  The one we ended up using was a flat fee for a mini-van at Dollar car rental for American Express card holders.  We paid less for a mini-van than we would have for many smaller cars.  Now we wouldn’t have to worry about installing our car seat (no climbing into a compact to figure it out) and we knew we would have enough room for our luggage and stroller.

This was really the best deal for us out there.

If you ever use Dollar I would suggest signing up for their Dollar Express program.  It can save you time at the rental counter as you get your own line (very important with two kids in tow)!

Let’s recap: Hotel – check; Flights – check; Car – check…what’s missing? 

Disney tickets!

Disney World is made up of four major theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom), two water parks, and a lot of other stuff!  We wanted to see the four main parks and we were considering the water parks.  Since our hotel had such a great pool with water slides we decided we could do without the water parks (wise decision since we would have seen less of the main parks if we went to the water parks).

So we needed tickets for the main parks.

There’s a lot of ticket options that I won’t go through here.  The option we did pick was the Park Hopper option which allowed us to go to more than one park a day (definite plus for us).  Again Mousesavers was a great help for ticket advice and discounts.  Through their newsletter you can get a code for a discount on the site Undercover Tourist which sells tickets to many different attractions.  We saved a lot through Undercover Tourist.  Their great price included taxes and were shipped free.

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Did we have fun at Disney World?

Growing up I was never a Disney person.  Back then is was all classic Disney.  They didn’t have Star Wars or Marvel yet.

I always preferred Bugs Bunny to Mickey Mouse.  I figured we were going to Disney World mostly for our little princess.

But you know what?  It was a blast!  We went on roller coasters, rides, attractions, ate, swam…we really had a great time!

With two more kids in the family now we definitely want to go back.  We know they’ll have a great time.

The next time though, I would cut out Epcot (was kind of boring; the international food was interesting but not enough to carry the park) and Animal Kingdom (if you have a good zoo in your area, like we have with the Bronx Zoo, then you aren’t going to see too much new).

We would have spent more time at Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios (maybe my favorite – Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Muppets, stunt show).  We would have also spent more time at the hotel.  We didn’t even get a chance to take advantage of all of the activities in our hotel.

Was it the most frugal vacation we could have gone on?

No.  But it was well worth the money for the experiences we had (like my daughter saying “I lived!” after coming off of Space Mountain) and we found ways to save along the way.

Things to consider/to do if you’re planning a Disney World trip:

  • Check hotel/flight/car prices in a number of different places for the best price/package.
  • Check out Mousesavers.com – They really helped save money and they have great advice.
  • Check out TripAdvisor for intel on hotels.
  • Check prices for tickets on Undercover Tourist.
  • Get yourself a guide for the parks – There’s so much to do you really want to make sure you spend your time in the right places.  These days there are apps that can help you plan and keep track of the parks.
  • Consider renting a car and staying off the Disney resorts – You can get some great hotel deals and having a car gives you a lot of flexibility on food and supplies.  You can even add in attractions like Universal if you have a car.
  • But don’t think Disney Resorts are not worth it.  You can find great deals there from time to time and their meal packages are pretty decent.
  • If your child still uses a stroller bring along one that folds and rolls easily (we borrowed one from a neighbor).  Even with a car you’re still going to have to use Disney transportation to get from the parking lot to the park.  If your child is old enough for an umbrella stroller consider buying one in Orlando at Target or Wal-Mart.  You can rent a stroller in the Disney parks but I think it’s better to have your own.
  • Buy water and snacks at Target or Wal-Mart and bring it with you to the parks.  It gets hot and humid fast in Orlando and you need to keep hydrated.
  • Plan your day ahead/build an itinerary – Know where you want to go and what rides you want to go on for each day.  Some shows only play at certain times and some parks have later hours on different days.
  • With a Park Hopper pass you can split your day up and see one park in the morning, go back to your hotel and rest a bit, then see another park in the evening.  One night, after a nice afternoon siesta, we stayed until closing and got to see the last park parade of the day.  It was so much emptier than the earlier parades and we got to sit right up on the parade route.  Ursula, Little Mermaid for those not in the know, made my daughter jump about ten feet back when she talked right to us.

Finally

Disney World was loads of fun and the place is super efficient.  Really, I found the people working there to be some of the nicest I’ve seen (though the visitors aren’t always as nice).  Disney can be expensive but there are plenty of ways to save if you do your homework.

And the memories will last a lifetime!

Do you have any Disney World tips?

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Published or updated June 22, 2014.

Comments

  1. Would you ever consider driving to save money? We went to Disney World last year and airfare for a family of five was pretty expensive so we loaded up our 3 kids and hit the road. It was actually a pretty fun ride and we saved enough to pay for all our meals and souvenirs.

    • Glen Craig says:

      We would consider it. It’s a bit of a trip for us but you’re right, it could save us a lot in airfare. We’d probably make it something of a bigger trip and make stops along the way down the East coast.

  2. Mom and I are going next week. Of course I think we have the best strategy ever. We know people who work there and they get us in for FREE! :-) We typically pack fruit and snack items and just eat one meal at the park. Great article!

    • Glen Craig says:

      Yeah, that is a good way to save a bit. I think you get a discount if you live in Florida too (though not on top of free).

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