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5 Ways to Save at Disneyland and Walt Disney World Theme Parks

Whether you’re headed to Disneyland or Walt Disney World, you’ve already shelled out big bucks for accommodations and park tickets. It might be the happiest place on Earth, but a Disney theme park is also a business designed to separate you from your money. When it comes to drinks, snacks, souvenirs, meals, and even strollers, you could easily end up doubling the cost of your trip.

Still, everyone should get the Disney experience at least once in their lifetime, and it is still possible to have a great vacation without spending a fortune.

How to Save Money at Disney Theme Parks

Most of the items that you can purchase on-site is highly overpriced. Disney knows that you’re in the buying mood when you visit their parks, which is why you’ll happily whip out your wallet to pay $10 for a souvenir you wouldn’t otherwise buy. It’s always a good idea to check yourself before using your credit card or handing over cash at Disney – would you buy the item or snack at that price from the grocery store or mall? If the answer is no, you might want to reevaluate your potential purchase. If your kids start to beg for souvenirs, take a minute to remind everyone that you’re there to have fun – not to spend.

Disney parks become much more affordable when you know how and where to save your money:

1. Plan for the Off-Season

Do you really want to score the deepest discounts at Disney? Plan your trip anytime from September to May; January through March will likely score you the deepest discounts. Nearby hotels and on-site resorts offer discounted rates, and as an added bonus, the parks will be less crowded, meaning more time on rides and less time to get cranky while waiting in the sun.

2. Stay Off-Resort

Sure, Disneyland and Disney World offer a ton of resorts and hotels that are on-site at the parks, but they’re very pricey, and you might not receive the free amenities offered at other hotels. If you check out hotels that are within five miles of the park, you’ll probably find that they’re much cheaper, and also offer perks like in-room refrigerators, continental breakfast, and less crowded pools. By finding a hotel with the amenities you want, you can keep your kids entertained after hours, keep your own snacks and drinks cold, and, most importantly, fill up on a healthy breakfast before you set foot in the park.

Check out travel sites for hotel reviews – you’ll score the best deal on one that’s a few miles away from the park, but offers a free shuttle to Disney to make up for the distance. Riding a couple of minutes both ways can help save major bucks on your bottom line.

You may also want to consider a vacation rental home. You’ll get more space and privacy than a hotel or resort, and you may ultimately pay less than staying at the park. You’ll also experience a slice of local life, especially when you dine off-resort. This list of top central Florida restaurants has some tasty ideas.

Stay Off Resort

3. Pack Drinks and Snacks

Invest in a quality backpack that you can bring into the park. Fill it with a couple frozen bottles of water, and by the time you’ve purchased your ticket and start walking around, they’ll have started to melt and will be icy cold. Buying drinks at Disney could run about $2.50 a bottle, so it pays to bring your own. Disney restaurants always offer a free cup of water. If you’re totally parched, head to one of the eateries and ask for water only.

If your kids are begging for a souvenir, choose the souvenir cup. It costs about $7, but it means you’ll get free juice and soda refills all day long. If you plan to eat on-site, remember that portion sizes at Disney are fairly large. Two kids can easily share one meal and feel full.

4. Buy Souvenirs Elsewhere

Who doesn’t love a pair of Mickey ears? Disney souvenirs, however, are very expensive when purchased from any of the on-site gift shops. If your kids have a case of the “gimmes,” wait until the end of the day and head to a nearby department store. You’ll likely find many of the same souvenirs as you will in the park, but at a much cheaper price.

5. Book for Breakfast or Lunch

Are you dying to eat with Ariel and Goofy? “Character dining” is one of the best ways to interact with your favorite characters, but you must pay a premium for the privilege. Dinner might be the most popular character meal, but breakfast and lunch give you the same interaction with a cheaper menu. Book your character dining experience for breakfast or lunch, and you’ll spend significantly less than you would if paying for dinner. Plus, it’s likely that the meal will be less crowded.

Book Breakfast Lunch

Final Word

Don’t skip the Disney experience entirely because you think you can’t afford the steep travel, lodging, and food prices. Be creative and you can find ways to maximize your vacation for less money. You’ll get the same amazing memories with less damage to your bank account.

Have you been to a Disney theme park recently? How did you beat the expensive prices?

Jacqueline Curtis writes about edtech, finance, marketing, and small business strategy. With over 14 years of copywriting experience, she's created content and scripting for organizations such as GE, Walgreens, Overstock, and MasterCard. She lives in Utah with her husband, three kids, and an overzealous springer spaniel named Penelope.