Many parents dream of taking their kids to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, at least once. But a trip to the happiest place on earth can easily break the bank if you aren't careful. Luckily, there are several ways to get the most out of your magical vacation without depleting your child's college fund.
There's no reason not to book with a Disney-approved travel agent. They know all the best deals, from the resorts to the parks, and they can help to make sure you're getting the most bang for your buck. The best part? It doesn't cost you a dime to use a travel agent, so why wouldn't you?
Dining at Cinderella's Castle sounds like a dream come true and Chef Mickey's is a sure hit for the kids. But eating with your favorite characters will cost at least double what you'd pay to eat elsewhere in the park. If you're hoping to save a few bucks, opt for the meet-and-greets instead. You can avoid the lines by using fast passes or waiting until the park traffic dies down toward the end of the night. And the meet-and-greets have professional photographers and cute scenery, something the character meals are lacking.
One of the cheapest souvenir options—a pressed penny—requires just 51 cents. For two quarters and a penny, your kids can walk away with a prized coin that forever reminds them of your trip. Or you could go really crazy and show up to Disney with a mini M&M canister packed full with quarters and pennies—allowing your kids to collect coins at multiple locations. It's a souvenir with the added fun of having to hunt down the pressed penny machines—that alone ups the value in most kids' eyes.
When it comes to Disney souvenirs, you know you'll be tempted to buy them all—especially when your kids spy other vacationers flaunting autograph books or Disney pins. Pro tip: You can buy that stuff for much cheaper on Amazon ahead of time. Show up with your autograph books, pressed penny books, trading pins and lanyards, and you could save yourself about $50 per kid.
Disney touts their meal plans as a way to save, but unless you have a huge appetite and are willing to research how to get the most out of your meal plan money, you're probably better off just spending as you go. Most people struggle to use all of their meal plan snack credits and unless you're choosing the most expensive meals at the places you dine, it's hard to balance out the cost.
Now, if your resort stay includes a meal plan, that's a different story—and it's a deal you could very well save money with!
Don't make every day a park day. Not only will you wear yourself and your kids out, you'll also blow through your Disney budget in record time. Instead, plan a day or two of nothing. Lounge by the hotel pool, take advantage of the free resort activities (like movies on the lawn) and relax both your body and your wallet.
If you've got kids under 6, you're going to want a stroller. Even if your child hasn't needed a stroller in years, you'll want one at Disney. (With all that walking? Trust us.) Save yourself money by reserving one ahead of time at any of the companies that deliver directly to Disney resorts. Kingdom Strollers is one option—and they'll even bring you bottled water with your stroller drop-off. These companies are cheaper than renting a stroller inside the parks and the convenience can't be beat.
Speaking of water: Don't wait until you're walking through the parks to realize you're dehydrated. Bottled water there will cost you about $3 a pop. It's not worth it. Disney allows you to walk into the parks with a backpack or small cooler, so take advantage of that and pack lots of water to keep you hydrated throughout the day at a fraction of the cost.
When you're packing those water bottles, don't forget to throw a few granola bars and bananas in your backpack, too. With all that walking, you and your kids will inevitably get hungry throughout the day. While a splurge or two on Disney snacks is probably worth it, the cost can add up. You'll be happier if you have a few easier, healthier options on hand.
Sure, this might seem a little counterintuitive, but the longer your trip, the cheaper the per-day cost. In 2018, a peak park day will cost you $122 a ticket. But a six-day ticket, for instance, runs about $67 dollars a day. So, technically, the more you play, the less you pay!
There are a lot of sneaky ways to get a little more for your money with gift cards. Various locations sell discounted Disney gift cards throughout the year. Search for deals and you could wind up with a 10 percent discount on your entire trip before you've even stepped through the gates. Bonus: Paying with gift cards can force you to stick to a budget if you decide that spending is done once the cards are empty.
Again, it can seem counterintuitive to spend money in order to save money, but you're going to want the Memory Maker. This is your ticket to every single professional photo taken of your family throughout your trip—which can add up to hundreds. At $169, the price may seem steep—but when you consider individual downloads of those photos would otherwise cost you about $15 a piece, the savings Memory Maker provides quickly becomes clear.
Kids at Disney World dress up. It's a thing—and the cast members there make a big deal about it, which makes the kids even more excited about dressing up. Save yourself the headache of having to hunt down expensive costumes while there and buy cheaper versions online ahead of time.
Park-hopper tickets are more expensive and, honestly, you won't use them—especially with young kids. One park per day is more than enough for most people and the simple hassle of trying to get from one park to another should be enough reason to avoid this added expense.
You really can't walk into Disney World with kids and not spend money. The key is to establish how much you're willing to spend each day. Give the kids a guideline you're willing to live with. Maybe that's $20 each per day. How they spend it is then up to them. (Mickey ears? Ice cream? Their call.) But when it's gone, it's gone.
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