Going to Disney on a budget is one of the more popular topics in the Disney blogosphere. With the daunting ticket and booking prices of a Disney vacation, many people are wondering how to save a few bucks along the way. There are many ways to do that and frankly some of those ways are very easy while in the planning stage. (Look for hotel discounts, be flexible with your travel dates, etc.) While I plan to write a post on that in the future, I wanted to write about a few more specific ways to save today.
Once your vacation is booked and you’ve bought your Disney Park tickets, it seems as if the spending should be over. Unfortunately, that isn’t true. There is food, souvenirs, drinks, and add-on options to buy once in the parks. While you could decide to be ridiculously frugal and choose not to buy anything but you’ll get extremely hungry while walking past the Little Red Wagon and their wonderful corn dogs. Also, eating McDonald’s cheeseburgers every day gets extremely dangerous once the second day hits. (Okay, more like on the first day.) Not spending any money in the parks is not my idea of a fun vacation, still we try to save where we can when we are on a Disney trip. Here are five tips we use to save money once inside those Disney gates.
Budget for food and souvenirs
The first step to saving once inside a Disney Park is knowing exactly how much money you and your family has to spend. This is part of the planning process of going to Disney for Melissa and I. A few days or weeks before the trip we sit down and figure out how much money we have to spend in the parks for that trip. Once we have a total, we’ll divide it up into souvenir and food budgets depending on our priorities. I’m a bigger fan of food so most of my budget tends to go to that while someone might rather buy a few more souvenirs and not spend as much money on food. Typically, we’ll have a budget for souvenirs spanning the whole trip and then a daily food budget. We’ll add in the meals that we know will cost a little bit more and adjust the budget accordingly.
If you follow your budget then there are no surprises and you’re able to spend the money you want to. This also might be interesting for kids to do with you, assuming they are old enough.
Be familiar with menus
When park guests are tired, hot, and hungry they often go to the first place dining place they see. Obviously, this isn’t the best idea as they won’t know what’s on the menu or how much it costs. That’s why I encourage people to look at menus ahead of time on your trip and have some idea of either the restaurants you want to eat at or the food that you’ll be buying. Spending $10 for bad pizza is not fun. Spending $10 for a meal that you enjoy is more in line with the value you’ll get in the real world. While you didn’t technically save money there (since they’re both $10) you had a better experience. Being familiar with menus at different dining locations ahead of time will make following your budget easier. It will also make you the ‘cool Disney expert’ in your group when everyone else is trying to figure out what food that restaurant serves. Or they’ll just make fun of you for what they perceive as ‘useless information’. At least that’s what I’ve heard happens…
Buy Disney Gift Cards Ahead of Time
We often buy Disney gift cards about once a month in the time leading up to our next trip. This helps us save in a couple of ways, it spreads out some of that money that we use for our budget that I mentioned above. Doing this also helps you save outside of the Disney Parks, at least a little bit. If you have a Target credit card, then you get a 5% in store discount. That makes buying gift cards cheaper than what you’re actually spending. Other stores often offer rewards when buying gift cards like saving money on gas or upcoming visits. While this isn’t a huge money saver, it does help a little bit and will make planning your budget easier.
Don’t buy water
But, what if I’m thirsty? Well, then go up to any counter-service restaurant and ask for a glass of ice water. They’ll give it to you for free and then you move on with your day. I understand that some people are not fans of tap-water. While I don’t have much problem with the water at Disney Parks, if you must have bottled water do not buy it in the parks. It is way more expensive than bringing your own into the park (which you can do if the seal isn’t broken.)
While this doesn’t appear to be a big money-saver. If you’re buying a couple of bottles of water a day at the parks over 3 or 4 days then that’s $30-$40 down the drain that could have gone elsewhere.
Check online (and at other stores) before buying souvenirs
We typically buy our souvenirs on the last day in the parks. You know, to help ease the pain? We do shop a little before that last day though and are pretty sure of what souvenirs we plan to buy. Before buying them, we will check online to see if they are significantly cheaper elsewhere. While I know that this somewhat ruins the point of souvenirs, it does save some money along the way. I could have just retitled this post ‘Make Sure You Don’t Get Ripped Off’ because that’s what many of these steps are referring to. This is the one tip out of these five that I’m least likely to follow but if you travel to Disney Parks fairly often then getting the same souvenir online for $10 less shouldn’t be a big deal. Also, most of the items in the park stores (or World of Disney) are found on the Disney website so if you want to get home and compare costs before buying something then you should still be able to find that souvenir online. Make sure you check that it is online before heading home from your vacation though.
There are certainly more tips to be had! For instance, if Disney food doesn’t excite you (it should) or you are on a strict budget then pack a lunch or dinner to bring into the parks. There aren’t very many restrictions on food. If you have any great tips for saving money once inside a Disney theme park, let me know in the comments! Thank you for reading!