It’s every child’s dream to go to Disney World, just like it’s every cash-strapped parent’s nightmare.
Since the Happiest Place on Earth is so incredibly popular, Disney is aware that they can charge just about anything and make gobs of cash doing so.
After all, what are parents supposed to do?
Tell their children “no, we’re not going to Disney World because we don’t want to pay close to $100 a ticket plus hundreds more in hotel fees, plane tickets, and a million silly souvenirs you’ll probably lose in the airport on the way back home”?
Give that line a try and see what happens.
Luckily, there’s a better solution — go to Disney World and enjoy yourselves, but don’t destroy your wallet while doing so.
Since going to the House of Mouse isn’t exactly a spur-of-the-moment decision — if you have kids, you’ll probably end up there eventually — there are plenty of ways to cut corners from the moment you leave your house to the time you and Mickey wave goodbye.
1. Start a separate Disney World savings account, and don’t withdraw anything until it’s Mouse Time.
2. Buy US Savings bonds, as they generate massive interest for their bearers. You need to plan at least five years in advance though, as you will incur a penalty if you cash them in before then.
3. Store all your loose change in a jar, and don’t spend any of it. You’ll be amazed how quickly it adds up.
4. All tax refunds, lottery winnings, Christmas bonuses, birthday card money, and other “found funds” should go directly to your Disney account, before somebody gets tempted to spend it.
5. Cut back on small things (such as morning coffee from your local doughnut shop) and put the savings toward Mickey.
If you buy a $1.50 coffee every morning, cutting that out will generate over $550 to your vacation fund annually!
Couponing to Disney has an extensive database of coupons for everything. Print out and clip as many as you need, and put all savings into the Disney account.
From Theme Park Insiders:
6. Driving to Orlando instead of flying will save you a bunch of money, though the lack of complimentary peanuts might be a deal-breaker for some.
7. Buy your tickets ahead of time, and not from Disney’s web site. If you can get tickets through your local library, or websites such as Undercover Tourist, you will save bunches.
8. You can bring your own food and drinks into the park, so do that, instead of paying park prices.
9. Don’t buy pictures or useless souvenirs. Cast members will take free pictures with your camera if you ask, and fun in the moment is way better than any silly trinket.
From Mini Time:
10. Don’t go in the early summertime; that’s the most popular, and therefore expensive, time of year. Go during the late summertime or even wintertime, when tickets are suddenly much cheaper.
11. Instead of an expensive hotel, buy a tent and spend nights at the Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. Tons of fun (including back-to-back Disney movies every night, for as low as $43 a day.
12. Buy a $15 souvenir mug once, and refill it for free the rest of your trip. No need to buy a $4 bottle of water every time you’re thirsty.
13. Get a AAA membership and save 15-20% on many aspects of your trip, including lodging and tickets.
14. Disney Tourist Blog recommends the Disney Dining Plan, which allows for a set number of meals and snacks per day, regardless of the price on the menu.
Dine wisely, and you can eat the finest food for not very much at all!
15. If you’re not on a plan, Wide Prep School highly recommends quick service (fast-food over a counter) over sit-down dining.
The food is usually quite good, and far cheaper than if you were to sit down and dine with Cinderella and Pooh Bear.
16. However, if you really want to hit up a sit-down restaurant, especially those with characters walking around and greeting guests, do so at lunchtime instead of dinnertime, as lunch is almost always cheaper.
From Chip and Company:
17. Disney’s Boardwalk is a completely free area to walk, bike, and take in scenery away from the hustle and bustle of the main park.
18. Free fishing is offered in several areas of the park, though it’s all catch-and-release, so don’t expect to bring home dinner this way.
19. Chip and Dale’s Campfire Sing-Along, offered every night at the Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, is an inexpensive s’more roast/sing-along with Chip and Dale as your adorable hosts.
From Disney Top 10:
20. Take in the sights at the resorts, as they’re free to simply enter and look around.
21. Ride around in the Magic Kingdom Monorail. It’ll rest your bones and offer a great view of the entire park.
22. The Magic Kingdom offers a parade and fireworks every night, and is completely free of admission.
23. The Electrical Water Pageant, held near the Seven Seas Lagoon Resort, does roughly the same thing as the Magic Kingdom parade, but in a much cozier location.
From The Disney Moms:
24. Epcot Kidcot Funstops offer up free arts and crafts, featuring wooden masks that the kids can decorate and take home.
25. There are free playgrounds all around the park, though all your excited child will hear is “playgrounds.”
26. Finally, as Mouse Planet points out, if it rains, STAY THERE. Many people will run away and basically waste their money.
For you and your frugal family, this means fewer lines, less crowded chaos, more choice seats on rides (except for outdoor electrical ones, which will probably be closed) and overall more fun for your dollar.
Unless you’re married to the guy in the Goofy suit, you’re probably not going to experience Disney World for free.
But planning ahead of time and budgeting wisely every step of the way can help keep your overall cost as low as humanly possible.
Because while seeing your child’s face light up when they meet their favorite character for the first time is the best part of Disney World, knowing you saved a fortune during your trip is a close second.
Mary Hiers is a personal finance writer who helps people earn more and spend less.