main image of how to afford Disney World: Epcot ball surrounded by large red bushes

How to Afford Disney World: 21 Ways to Save Money on the Magic

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How does anyone afford Disney World?

Everything is so expensive right now, and Disney is no exception. The average price of a Disney vacation for a family of four ranges between $5,000 and $8,000.

However, if you have small children and want to make this trip happen, then this ultimate guide on how to afford Disney World is the best place for you to start.

Knowing how to budget your trip, planning for it in advance, and learning what not to do can save you so much extra money.

This guide covers what to do to plan ahead, ways to save on travel and hotels, and ways to save on parks and food.

So, let’s dive in so you can plan the most magical vacation for your whole family!

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Pinocchio in Magic Kingdom parade

How do people afford Disney on a budget?

The way to afford Disney World is by planning ahead. Knowing what there is to do and what you want to do as a family will allow you to determine your length of stay, where you want to stay and which parks to visit.

Planning ahead also gives you time to start saving and book a trip during a less busy (and less expensive) time of year.

Check out all the ways below to make Disney more affordable and find free things to do all over Disney property.

Epcot ball with lamppost
Epcot ball

How to Afford Disney World: Start Before You Go

1. Sign up for a Disney Visa card

This simple trick saves me hundreds of dollars when I visit Walt Disney World.

Sign up for a Disney Visa Rewards Card and use it on all your purchases leading up to your trip. I use mine to pay for my Disney trip, so I even earn points on the trip itself.

You then request your points be turned into a Disney Rewards redemption card and use it just like you would a gift card. I’ve paid for a whole vacation’s worth of food by using these points. You can also use it on merchandise. And the credit cards come with special perks around the parks, like discounts and character meet and greets.

Disney pro tip: Don’t get rid of the redemption card if you’ve spent all the credit card points, as you can request new points to be added to that same card.

2. Purchase Disney gift cards

As I said, I use the Disney reward points to pay for my in-park purchases, but a lot of people save money by buying Disney cards to pay for their trip and make their purchases.

This works especially well if you haven’t had enough time to accumulate reward points or if you’re not approved for the Visa card.

Buying gift cards from Sam’s Club or Target is going to get you about a 5% discount. So, if you spend $500 on Disney gift cards, you’ll be saving $25. If you’re not a member of Sam’s or Target, you can buy your gift cards at Giant Eagle to earn extra fuel perks.

You can use these gift cards to pay for food or merchandise in the parks. But you can also use them to pay off your balance on your entire trip.

You can also combine multiple Disney gift cards into just one card, up to $1,000. Just don’t forget to take them with you when you travel.

3. Start a side hustle

One way to afford Disney World is to find a way to make some money on the side.

Whether that means picking up extra hours at your current job, looking for something you can do part-time, or starting a side hustle.

It’s also the perfect time to go through old clothes or toys to see if you can sell anything for extra cash.

4. Plan early and start saving

One of the best tips in this how to afford Disney World guide is to start planning your trip early and save as you go.

It’s easy to get sticker shock when you see that $5,000 vacation bill, but knowing what you must do while you’re there, having a rough idea of what things cost and having a plan in place on how you’re going to make it work is going to put you ahead of the game.

And this next tip is going to help with that!

5. Use a payment plan

One of the greatest things about booking your Disney vacation is that you don’t have to pay for it all at once.

You must put down a $200 deposit when you book your vacation and then you can make payments in the months leading up to your trip, with the final payment due 30 days prior to your arrival.

So, if you’re someone who has a hard time saving money, make a monthly payment to cover the cost of your trip. Or use the gift card trick above so that the money is already saved and accounted for.

6. Use a travel agent for free

I never knew this, but you can book your Disney trip with a travel agent for free.

If you’re looking for the best ways on how to afford Disney World, they will be the ones to find the best deals on your Disney World vacation packages.

They can book everything from your hotel to your park tickets to your dining reservations. Some can even book your flight and rental car.

7. Purchase souvenirs outside of the park

While it’s always fun to make your Disney purchases at Disney World, the better option is to buy Disney merchandise before you get there.

Obviously, there are certain items you can only purchase on Disney property. But some things can be found off property at a much more reasonable price:

  • Ponchos – Always buy ponchos before you go! Not only will you save money, but you’ll also save time in the parks because you won’t be waiting in line with everyone else who didn’t think ahead.
  • Attire – Whether it’s t-shirts, princess dresses, or Halloween costumes, these items always cost a lot of money in the parks when you could be saving that money for something else.
  • Balloons – There are giant Mickey balloons as you pass through the gates of each Disney park (except Animal Kingdom). Bypass that cost (of $15) and bring your own balloon. This is also a great option to decorate your stroller to find it later in the park. Disney pro tip: Get a free balloon at the front desk your Disney resort. Be aware that you cannot take balloons into Animal Kingdom or Animal Kingdom Lodge. Find out what other free things you can do on your Disney trip.
  • Bubble wands – Just ahead of the 3 o’clock parade in Magic Kingdom, the bubble wand sellers make their way down Main Street. Buy one before you go, so your little ones don’t miss out on the fun and you’re not shelling out even more money.
  • Anything that lights up – Just like the midday parade, more carts selling light-up toys and ears make their way down Main Street just before the fireworks begin. Packing some glowsticks is a great way to avoid the last purchase of the day.
gondola in Italy in Epcot
gondola at Italian pavilion at Epcot

How to Afford Disney World: Cheaper Ways to Travel

8. Compare cost of flights to driving

This is going to be personal to your situation, but you’ll want to compare the price of a flight for your family versus driving your own car (or a rental car).

While you’ll have to consider the cost of gas into driving, also take into consideration the wear and tear a trip of that length will put on your vehicle. If you have a larger family and it’s not feasible to fly, consider renting a car instead.

If you are flying, don’t just compare prices between airlines. Also, check out what day it is cheaper to fly out on (usually a weekday). And see what day it is cheaper to actually purchase your tickets (usually the beginning of the week is cheaper than the weekend).

9. Use Disney transportation

Once you are on Disney property, you will be able to take advantage of free transportation throughout the Walt Disney World Resort (hotels, parks and Disney Springs).

If you are staying on Disney property and brought a vehicle, you can once again park at all hotels and Disney Springs for free, as well as the theme parks.

However, if you flew into Orlando International Airport, you’re going to have to figure out how to get to your resort. Disney used to have a shuttle called the Magical Express that picked up your luggage and took it and you to your resort for free. (And I write this in hopes that one day they will bring it back!)

For now, you’re going to have to find your own way there (and include it in your vacation budget). Here are your options (lowest to highest):

  • Uber or Lyft – cheapest option but not good for a large group
  • Mears Connect drive by Sunshine – bus company that ran Magical Express, now just with a cost, makes multiple stops
  • Rental Cars – higher end option but have your own vehicle on property
  • Private Vehicle – most expensive option
Disney's Port Orleans Riverside Resort
Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort

How to Afford Disney World: Cheaper Ways to Stay

10. Stay offsite or at a value resort

One of my favorite things to do when I go on a Disney vacation is to stay at a Disney hotel. In the Disney bubble, as some people say. All Disney World resorts and hotel rooms are themed in some way, and you start your day in the most magical place.

However, if you’re on a tight budget it may be cheaper to stay at an off-site hotel. Some hotels in the area actually have free shuttles that will take you to parks and also offer a free breakfast.

If you do want to stay in the Disney magic and still have a cheap vacation, try the Disney value resorts. Any of the All-Star Resorts, Pop Century or Art of Animation are going to offer you the best value. These resorts are great for young kids, as they offer larger than life decorations and theming that your child is sure to love.

how to afford Disney World: bridge and building of Disney's Port Orleans Riverside Resort

11. Stay at the campgrounds

If you’re looking for the best way to save a lot of money on hotel rates, check out the campgrounds at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. All you need is a pop-up camper or RV to enjoy the lowest rates at any of the resort hotels.

Epcot ball surrounded by red bushes
Epcot ball surrounded by red bushes

How to Afford Disney World: Cheaper Ways to Play

12. Go in the “off” season

While there is no actual “off” season anymore, there are times during the year when the cost of a trip to Disney is going to be less than others.

Obviously, summer is going to be the most expensive and most busy time of year. Also, any major holidays, three-day weekends, and spring break are going to be peak times and cost more.

The best times to go are going to be early May or September because no one wants to take kids out of school at the end or beginning of the school year. There are less people in the parks, and you can usually get a good deal on your vacation package.

13. Go before your child turns 3 (or 10)

The best way to save money on your Walt Disney World vacation is to go before your child turns 3. A child under the age of 3 gets free entry to all the Disney parks and is not required to pay for meals (although you should include them in your dining reservation).

After 3, you will pay the kids rate for park entry. Until the age of 10.

So, if you’re worried that your not-yet-three-year-old may not remember their first time at Disney World, go before your child turns 10 and they have to pay full price for park passes.

14. Plan for non-park days

Ok, so you’ve decided it’s a good time to go to Disney World and you’ve looked up the best deals, and now I’m telling you to spend less time in the parks. What?!

This is actually practical for two reasons:

  1. You’re going to save money. Ticket prices are expensive, especially the more people in your group. This is one of the easiest ways to afford your Disney World trip.
  2. You’re going to need a break. Disney is a lot of walking and a lot of stimulation for younger kids. Rest your feet, hit the hotel pool, and take a mental break during your trip to spend some time relaxing and enjoying your vacation. And check out some of the free things to do on Disney property.

15. Add more park days for cheaper rates

Although this may go against the previous tip, park tickets actually get cheaper the more days you purchase. So, if this is a first-time trip or a trip for the whole family, you may want to consider adding more park days to your vacation package.

Also, if you were planning to do some other theme parks in the Orlando area, it may be cheaper to skip those and add the extra days at Disney. Check your options for the most affordable plan.

For a trip with young kids, I would stick with less park days and more down-time at the resort so you’re not dealing with toddler tantrums or meltdowns (theirs or yours).

16. Don’t buy park hopper passes

But first what is park hopping?

Park hopping is when you enter one park in the morning, do the attractions and shows at the top of your list, then heading to another park later in the day.

It sounds like fun and that it would help you get the most out of your time at Disney World.

But for the price and amount of time it takes you to travel between parks, it might just not be worth it.

If you’ve never been to Disney before, you’ll want to take it all in and you may find you have no need to park hop and you end up not even using the feature.

This is where planning your trip early comes in handy. Find out what your family wants to do in each park and which parks they will enjoy most. And plan your time accordingly.

17. Skip the add-ons

Along with park hopping, there are other add-ons you can avoid that will increase the cost of your Disney trip.

  • Water Parks – There are two water parks located at Disney World (Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon) that you can add on to Disney World vacation packages. But that’s an upcharge and the hotel pool is free!
  • Genie+ – Genie+ is a new add-on service that allows you to “skip” the line on certain attractions. You must still wait in a line, but it is shorter, and you can get more done during your vacation. You don’t need it if you go during the “off” season and head to the parks when they open. You can’t purchase Genie+ until you are on-site.
  • Individual Lightning Lanes – Lightning Lanes are one step up from Genie+. It’s the same concept but it’s for the high-demand rides, costs more and is charged on a per ride basis. You also can’t purchase this until you are on-site.
  • Memory Maker – The memory maker is the ultimate photo package, where you pay one price and get all the photos from your trip. Cast members are situated throughout the parks to take your picture in iconic locations (like Cinderella’s castle) and during character meet and greets. Ride photos are also included. You can ask cast members to take a photo with your phone (for free). You can also purchase individual photos, if you see one you just can’t live without. If you do purchase the memory maker, do it before your trip, since it is cheaper.
  • Special Events – Special events happen throughout the year. There either special ticket events or festivals. Special ticket events are things like Mickey’s Halloween Party or Mickey’s Christmas Party. You pay an additional amount to enter these events. Different festivals are held at Epcot and are included in your ticket price. They are lots of fun, but you may end up spending more on food and festivities that aren’t included with your ticket.
Gaston's Tavern in Magic Kingdom
Gaston’s Tavern at Magic Kingdom

How to Afford Disney World: Cheaper Ways to Eat

18. Do a grocery run or set up a delivery

If you are renting a car at the airport or driving yourself, plan to stop at a grocery store before entering Walt Disney World Resort.

Get snacks, breakfast foods, and extra baby supplies where they are cheaper. You can also find cheaper Disney merchandise at retail stores located in the Orlando area.

If you can’t get to a grocery store, set up a grocery delivery to come to your resort hotel. Garden Grocer is the best-known grocery delivery service for Walt Disney World, and since they deliver to bell services, you don’t need to be present to pick up your order. You could also use Amazon Prime or Wal-Mart to deliver your order. Although you must be present if you order alcohol.

Another alternative would be to ship a box of non-perishables to your resort before you leave home. Address the label to your name, c/o Your Resort Hotel’s front desk, your arrival date, and the address. Use a flat-rate box from the post office, so you are not charged by weight.

19. Bring snacks/lunch to the parks

Since you’re getting a grocery order, bring snacks, water and even lunch into the parks.

You can have breakfast in your room rather than ordering at the resort. This is especially important if you have young kids that only eat a small number of things. (I see you, toddler parents!)

Bringing your own food can save you hundreds of dollars over the course of your trip.

20. Bring a reusable water bottle

Rather than paying for bottled water each day you’re baking in the Florida sun, plan to bring reusable water bottles for each of person in your group.

Also, be aware that you can ask for a free cup of ice water at any Quick Service restaurant (or Table Service restaurant, with a reservation). Please stay hydrated while you enjoy your family vacation.

boat of Disney characters at Fantasmic
boat of Disney characters at Fantasmic

How to Afford Disney World: The Cheapest Way to Do It

21. Go at a later date

This might not be the most popular way to save money on a Disney vacation. But you could simply postpone it (or not go at all).

If you’ve talked to a travel agent and priced out your Disney vacation and still feel it’s out of your price range, the best thing to do is wait until you can make it work.

The worst thing you can do is spend all your money on a trip to the most magical place on Earth and be stressed the entire time because you don’t know how you’re going to afford groceries next month.

If you still want to make a Disney trip happen, remember that prices go up every year, so the sooner you can save and go, the cheaper your trip will be.


There you have it: the best ways on how to afford Disney World and not miss any of the fun. By starting to save money before you go, having a plan, finding cheaper ways to travel, stay and eat, a Walt Disney World vacation is possible for you and your family! You’re sure to have a great time and be planning your next trip before you leave.

What creative things have you done to save money on your Disney vacation? Let us know in the comments.

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