Last year we took our kids to what some call the most magical place on earth. It also has to be one of the most expensive places. My husband is a Disney fanatic, so he spent lots of time figuring out how to get the most out of the parks. What resulted are some great Disney World tips.
I’m the queen of living on a budget and saving money. Our budget still isn’t exactly extravagant so you might be surprised to hear we went on this trip. Honestly, it took me a while to warm up to it. We probably never would have gone at this time had it not been for a friend offering us 7 nights of free lodging. Since it was my husband’s dream family vacation, we went for it.
Free lodging helped tremendously, we also applied our Christmas budget (the kids okayed going on a trip over getting presents), and put Christmas money we received towards it. We just made up the difference of what was left.
Today, I want to share with you some of the Disney World tips we found most helpful – so you can make the most of your trip and also do it as frugally as possible.
Disney World Tips You Need To Know
My husband highly recommends this service. It’s run by mathematical geniuses who work full time analyzing stats about the crowds, the wait times, and various other planning aspects for a Disney trip. Their website has some free information but if you want to fully take advantage of what Touring Plans offers they also sell a year subscription which includes a mobile app for use in the parks. My husband used it frequently during his plannings and it saved us lots of time in lines and we were able to do more while in the parks. You can buy a membership for the standard price $15.95. He used this link to get 20% off!
One of the free features Touring Plans offers is finding the best ticket prices. You can search at this page. They will check prices from authorized third party dealers to help you get the best price. You will save hundreds of dollars on all the tickets for your family compared to buying tickets from Disney direct or at the gate. Also, scroll down further on that same page for more tips on how to save money on tickets. Our tickets ended up coming from The Official Ticket Center, but depending on how many days and family members you have, it could be cheaper from a different 3rd party vendor.
Important: If you buy tickets through one of the third party sellers, you usually have to exchange for the actual tickets at a park will call booth before you can enter the park. We didn’t want to take time doing this on one of our actual park days so we exchanged for them the day before when we were out riding the Monorail.
When to Go
Touring Plans has a free 2 month predicted crowd calendar, but with the subscription you can see what crowds should be like for an entire year. Take this into account when planning your trip! Also, use it to select which park to go to on which day. Less crowds is always a good thing. Granted, these are just predictions so sometimes they change slightly, but they are usually pretty close and you can even check their historical accuracy on the website. The crowds on our day at Magic Kingdom turned out to be a little bit higher than predicted for some reason, but overall we knew that the week we went was going to be one of the least busy weeks of the year.
Setting Up Fast Passes
If you stay at the Disney resort you can book fast passes for rides 60 days in advance. If you are staying off the Disney resort you can book 30 days in advance. You will be able to schedule 3 fast passes per day via the My Disney Experience app. You’ll be able to enter your fast passes at 7am EST 30 or 60 days before the day you go to the park . Be sure to set your alarm if you want to get fast passes for the most popular rides as they will fill up fast. Some rides such as “Flight of Passage” at Animal Kingdom and “7 Dwarf Mine Train” at Magic Kingdom were already out of fast passes before we could book them. But don’t worry, later on I’ll tell you another way to ride these popular rides quickly without a fast pass.
Once You Are At Disney World Tips
We continue with Disney World tips for once you are actually in Orlando and at the parks. First, you’ll want to have the following two apps handy on your smart phone:
My Disney Experience App
This is the official Disney World parks app. You can view your fast passes, book dining reservations and more. You can also schedule new fast passes in the park. (After your original three have all been used.)
If you purchased a Touring Plans membership, you get access to this app. They give you average wait times which are more accurate than the wait times listed at the actual ride entrances. Sometimes Disney either doesn’t update the correct wait times or changes them on purpose to manage crowd control in the parks. Users can help with inputting data by timing your own wait in line if you desire. There’s a timer right there in the app.
If you have a child or infant that’s too short for a ride, take advantage of using the Rider Switch option. One parent stays with the too short child/infant and the other parent goes on the ride with the rest of the group. Once the first group gets off the ride, the 2nd parent goes right on through the fast pass line with up to 2 other people. If group 1 has a fast pass for the ride, they get to use that, but if not they will have to wait in the stand by line. Rider switches are scanned on your ticket/magic band by a cast member at the ride entrance. Take this into account when scheduling fast passes!
There is a big advantage to being at the park before they open. For one, the crowds going through baggage check and the ticket scans will be way faster but you will also be able to go straight to one of the big rides with little to no line when the cast members drop the rope to first let people in. This is especially helpful for those popular rides you weren’t able to get a Fast Pass to. We did this to ride the new Avatar: Flight of Passage ride at Animal Kingdom. Its also good to do this for the 7 Dwarfs ride at Magic Kingdom and will probably be essential with the opening of the new Star Wars land later this year at Hollywood Studios.
Bring Food and Water
One of the generous things Disney lets you do is bring in your own food. We saved so much money packing food. Sure, it might not have been the most amazing food, but it saved us hundreds of dollars versus buying food in the parks. Even if you want to purchase some Disney food, at least considering bringing your own for a few meals. We packed granola bars, fruit, vegetables, snacks, sandwiches, chips etc. Enough to get us through until we got back to our resort (at 10-11pm) each night. Store in a backpack or bag attached to your stroller. No glass containers.
We also brought bottles of water, however you can get a free cup of ice water at any Disney quick service location in the park or refill your own water bottles at drinking fountains.
You will save so much money buying these off site. Check out a Wal-Mart near Disney World and there will be vast options. Countless t-shirt options, hats, autograph books, mouse ears, bags, magnets, postcards, mugs, and on and on! We were surprised at how much there was. One thing our kids enjoyed buying in the park were those souvenir pennies from the machine.
If you have young kids, bring a stroller. It’s great not only for the kid, but also for hauling your stuff around in. All the food, jackets if it’s cool, umbrella etc. Our youngest was 2 1/2 and used the stroller most of the time. The 7 1/2 and 5 1/2 year old did lots of walking. The only time the 5 1/2 year old used it was getting from the bus back to the car because he fell asleep.
If you drive and park at Disney, it costs $25 a day! Crazy expensive – especially if you go multiple days. Staying at a Disney resort, you have access to their bus system. If you are staying off site, there is one parking hack you can use. It will add a bit of time to your commute, but you will save a lot of money.
Park at Disney Springs in the Strawberry parking lot. You will want to go as far back as you can. These lots are free. Hop on the nature trail sidewalk and walk across the bridge that goes through the golf course, keep following the trail and turn right at the guest drop off area when you first get to Saratoga Springs Resort. You’ll then take a left at the first sidewalk and use the bus stop on the other side of that road. It is called The Springs. Because this is a resort bus stop, that bus will take you directly to any of the parks. Be sure to have your stroller folded before loading the bus.
Why walk to Saratoga Springs instead of taking a bus at Disney Springs? If you take the bus stop at Disney Springs Town Center, it won’t take you directly to a park. It would take you to a resort and then you’d have to get on another bus to go to a park.
Monorail and Downtown Disney
If you have free time on a day before you go to a Disney park, there are a some free “teaser” adventures you can do. One thing is to ride the monorail. There are 3 monorail lines. The Epcot line actually goes in and around the park. You can also stop and get off to walk through the resorts it travels to. Another free area of Disney is the recently renovated Disney Springs shopping area. The Boardwalk is another nice free place to stroll through and shop or eat at.
Space Your Days Out
If you can plan a day off between park days, do it. If not, try and do no more than 2 days in a row. We had all 3 park days back to back (simply because that’s how it worked with our schedule) and I don’t know that any member of my family could have done 4. It was exhausting. We left where we were staying between 6:30 and 8 each morning and didn’t get back to the resort until between 10-11pm. The kids definitely slept soundly. Off days would have helped them recover, though, and we probably would have been able to make more than one rope drop.
I hope these tips help you if you are planning a Disney World vacation. If you have any questions, leave a comment and I’ll try and help (or I’ll have my husband answer 😉 ).
Have you done a Disney World trip before? What are your best Disney World tips?
P.S. If you can’t afford a Disney vacation right now, be encouraged. The first 12 years of our married life, our trips have been to see family/with family and a few mini 1 or 2 day trips we took our kids on. Not going to Disney doesn’t make you a bad parent. Find ways to make memories with your kids without the expensive vacation. Work on getting situated financially and then you can start saving for your dream trip.