I’ve spent a lot of money at the Disney Parks… too much, in fact. One thing the Disney Corporation is very good at is metaphorically lifting you upside down and shaking all the money out of your pockets… and leaving you happy that they did. While I’ve been one of the millions who have happily handed over my hard-earned cash in his way in the past, I have gotten cheaper in my middle age and have developed some techniques that helps me avoid the Disney “shakedown.”
The first and most obvious tip, go when no one else does. The “off-season” is late winter/early spring and late autumn. The rooms are cheaper, the lines are shorter, and you can take advantage of some special offers. In recent years, to shore up attendance and fill empty rooms, Disney offered free dining and deep room discounts during these periods, so you can get some good deals. The challenge with this if you have kids is you have to go when they are supposed to be in school… and the older they get, the bigger the impact those lost days have. So be mindful of that impact.
BYOFAB (Bring your own food and booze)
If you can, bring your own food and (if you are so inclined) booze. You will pay a premium for both in the parks, and you can pack a lunch every day and bring it in with you. You can request a refridgeator from most Disney hotels and can use an ice chest in a pinch. If you flew in, you can have groceries delivered – still cheaper than paying for the $6 hamburgers in the parks.
Don’t buy anything
This is the toughest one, especially if you have young ones screaming for a souvenir or ten. But a little self-discipline will go long way. Here’s a helpful hint: Using your smartphone, look up the item you or your kid want to buy on ebay. Odds are you will find someone is selling the exact same item, and probably a LOT cheaper than what Disney is selling it for. This “sticker shock” will discourage even the most passionate Disneyphile from buying the item.
Don’t stay off-site
This is somewhat counter-intuitive advice, but bear with me: Staying at an off-site hotel may help you save money but you will have to pay for parking, you’ll be unable to take advantage of the free transportation Disney offers to its own hotels, and you will miss out on special hotel activities that Disney provides. You won’t have to pay for parking at the Disney park. You’ll also have a quicker trip back to your room to rest in the afternoons, and this in turn will help keep your willpower up. Finally, most of the best deals are now “package” deals, and when you don’t stay on property you will miss out on these bargains.
Don’t go to other local attractions
If you stay at Disney, you need to maximize your spend… and that means only going to Disney parks. If you go to other local attractions you will spend more money and you will “waste” a day’s ticket to Disney (the packages default to one ticket per person per day and this cost is bundled into the total cost). If you want to go somewhere else, like Universal or Sea World… Plan that as a separate trip.
Allow yourself one indulgence a day
It may be a nice meal, it may be a drink poolside… But allow yourself to go “off budget” once a day. You are on vacation, after all… And you can’t be super-frugal all the time.
Just say no to the Disney Vacation Club
The Disney Vacation Club, or DVC for short, is a giant money-sucking time share. If you have money to burn, then by all means join and lock in to paying Disney money for the next decade or two. Otherwise… pass.
Finally, the easiest way to save money is to not go to a Disney park at all. You can have a Disney “stay-cation” with your family by going to your local Disney store, watching used DVDs of Disney classics, and then visiting a nice local restaraunt.
You may miss the rides, but your wallet will thank you for it… though you may get a disgruntled letter from a Disney shareholder or two for not helping Disney hit their revenue targets.