Family Finances: 4 Ways to Save Big at Disney

Photo (cc) by Randy Pertiet

The memories of going to Disney World are priceless and unforgettable. And not just for children. For parents, the cost of a family trip to the happiest place on earth could have its own unique set of memories – like giant credit card bills.

Adding up the cost of travel, accommodations, rental car, food, admission, souvenirs, and miscellaneous expenses, a trip for a family of four can easily cost $3,000 for three or four days at Disney World in Florida or Disneyland in California.

“A trip to Disney that is more than a day is really more of an investment,” says Nicole Hockin, who writes about travel at Travel Smart blog.

After talking with Hockin and others about how to best save at Disney’s theme parks, here are the best ways that Money Talks News found to save money on a trip that shouldn’t break the bank but should still leave plenty of great memories…

1. Plan ahead and go off season

Making reservations ahead of time – especially for airfare, rental cars, and hotels – will save a lot of money, especially in the off-season. Pulling the kids out of school for a long weekend or more in low seasons such as early May (after spring break has ended for most people) or in October or November (when students are in school) can save 50 percent on car rentals, hotels, and airfare.

“If you just show up to experience Disney, you’re going to spend a lot more than if you thought it out,” Hockin says.

Along with saving money on lodging and getting around, Disney often sells discounted tickets during low season. The crowds will be less too, making for a much more enjoyable trip.

2. Buy an annual pass

Like Apple Computer and its stable prices that the company sets, Disney doesn’t allow many ticket resellers, so ticket discounts are rare and small when you find them at Costco, AAA, or elsewhere.

An annual pass isn’t worth it if you’re going to a Disney park two or three times a year, which is more than enough for most people. But if you live within driving distance of Disneyland or Disney World, an annual pass can make it a worthwhile expense.

A Florida resident, for example, will pay $669 for a premium adult season pass, and $603 for a child, which pays for itself in about six visits. For $700 for any age, a Disney Premier Passport is good at both parks on all dates. At about $200 for a four-day park-hopper pass, the premier passport pays for itself in a little more than three visits.

For visits to Disneyland only, a premium annual passport is $459, which can pay for itself if you visit at least three times a year.

3. Stay off site

Staying at a Disney hotel on site is every kid’s dream, and it’s quicker to get in and out of the park than staying a few miles away. But it will cost at least $100 more per night on average. A recent night at Disneyland’s Paradise Pier cost $240, compared to $107 at a nearby Embassy Suites.

Taking a shuttle from a hotel to the park and back can eat up a lot of valuable time, but it shouldn’t add much more time than the shuttles guests have to take to the parks from Disney hotels.

4. Eat off site

Instead of buying meals at Disney restaurants or using its all-inclusive dining plan, Disney fan Kara Buntin says that even if her family is staying at a Disney property, they rent a car so they can go grocery shopping. They buy paper plates and a Styrofoam cooler and fill it up with ice at the hotel. They return to the hotel for lunch, then go back to the park and either eat out or go back to their hotel room for dinner.

You can also save $10 to $20 per person if the hotel includes a hot breakfast and the rooms have full kitchens, says Marianne Schwab, a TV travel show producer.

“We always pack healthy snacks and a lunch that won’t spoil so that if we spend a full day at the park, we’re only purchasing maybe one full meal and a snack,” Schwab said. “When it’s typical to spend $10-$15 per person or more on each meal at the park, you can see how packing your own food can save at least $60 or more a day in food alone.”

Coolers and outside food aren’t allowed in the park, but Schwab says she has discreetly packed food in backpacks without getting caught.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area who writes about family finances. He has a 6-year-old daughter who would go to Disneyland every week if he could afford it.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
Small Splurges That Make It Feel Like You’re Living Large
Small Splurges That Make It Feel Like You’re Living Large

Cutting costs is the shortest path to financial freedom. However, there are times when a little spending can produce big returns.

20 Great Part-Time Jobs for Retirees
20 Great Part-Time Jobs for Retirees

Maybe you’re not ready to leave the workplace entirely.

14 Service Providers Most Likely to Lower Your Bill If You Ask
14 Service Providers Most Likely to Lower Your Bill If You Ask

With these companies, it might be easier than you think to negotiate your monthly bill down.

America’s Most Reliable Appliance Brand Is a Surprise
America’s Most Reliable Appliance Brand Is a Surprise

Have you heard of this appliance manufacturer?

Retiree Households Lose $111,000 to This Social Security Misstep
Retiree Households Lose $111,000 to This Social Security Misstep

A study finds 96% of retirees make this mistake when claiming Social Security benefits.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco

This leader in bulk shopping is a great place to find discounts in the fixed-income years.

Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines
Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines

Fall is the time to schedule vaccines that can keep you healthy — and even save your life.

The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020
The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020

Based on dozens of metrics tied to affordability, quality of life and health care, these are not ideal places to spend retirement.

11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous
11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous

When you get the impulse to stockpile these everyday items, pay close attention to their expiration dates.

7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast
7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast

Your financial security might soon depend upon the strength of your credit score.

8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies
8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies

In this age of higher-priced drugs and complex health care systems, a trip to the pharmacy can spark worry. Freebies sure do help.

The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America
The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America

A new model parks atop the list of vehicles that thieves love to pilfer.

These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020
These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020

Medicare Advantage customers themselves rate these plans highest.

This Is the Cheapest Place to Buy a Used Car
This Is the Cheapest Place to Buy a Used Car

Looking for a good deal on a set of wheels? This should be your first stop.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

These jobs pay more than the typical job in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income
26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income

These states won’t tax any of your Social Security income — and in some cases, other types of retirement income.

5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles
5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles

Pushing your car to 200,000 miles — and beyond — can save you piles of cash. Here’s how to get there.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62
10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62

If you can, here are several good reasons to retire earlier than we’re told to.

5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees
5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees

Retirees agree: These are the things that give them purpose and fulfillment in their golden years.

7 Surprising Features That Boost Your Home Value
7 Surprising Features That Boost Your Home Value

You can add value to your home without hiring a contractor to do expensive renovations.

15 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now
15 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.