Disney On The Cheap ~ How to Afford a Disney Vacation GUEST POST

Thanks to Disney on the Cheap for today’s guest post.

Hiya’ fellow thrifties! I am so happy to be here with you today.

My family loves Disney! I was so excited when I became a mom to start taking my little guy to Disneyland. However, if you are cheap thrifty like me, you might know that after heading to Disney’s site, I about had a heart attack at the price of the cheapest packages. We are a single income family, and both my husband and I are in school, so those prices were completely out of our budget. I thought I would never be able to take my son to Disneyland. And then, it struck me, if I can spend a little extra time on my groceries with couponing and deal hunting and save 85%, maybe I could apply the same time and strategies to my Disney Trip Planning and have a similar result.

While this will focus mostly on Disneyland, these tips can be used for any vacation.

The key to doing Disney for cheap is putting in the work. I don’t want to overwhelm you, so I will give you the simplified version. If you want to know more, head over to Love Our Disney to check out a more detailed series of Disney on the Cheap.

There are 7 things I like to share with everyone to help them do Disney on the cheap.

1) Dates- pick a date that is in the off season. Off season tends to be January 5 – March 5, April 15 – May 20, and after Labor Day – Thanksgiving. The first 2 weeks in December are less busy than later in the month. Picking to go in the off season will lower prices on hotels, lower the crowds so you can do everything in fewer days, and more. If you are able to travel at the beginning of the year, Disney usually offers discounted tickets.

2)Throw out the notion that packages are a good deal. Just like couponing, you will save a lot of money if you do a little work yourself. Book your hotel using Hotwire Hot Deals or Name Your Own Price. I prefer Hotwire, as they list some of the amenities you will be getting, and there is no bidding involved. If the idea of not knowing your hotel before you buy scares you, you can use betterbidding.com to help you narrow down what hotel it could be. Using Hotwire, I often score 3-4 star hotels at 1-2 star prices. We stay at places like the Radisson for cheaper than a Super 8.

3)Choose your transportation to your destination carefully. I live in Boise, ID. I have found, that the majority of the time, it is much cheaper to drive down to Disneyland then to fly. I know, with kids, it can be a hassle to drive, but it can save you a ton of money to do so. We usually leave in the evening and drive overnight. We rotate driving and sleeping. Then the kid(s) are only awake the last 4-5 hours of the drive. We have found driving often saves us close to $750 a trip.

4) Tickets- Understand that there is no magical way to get cheap tickets. This will most likely be your big ticket item. Some ways to save on tickets are to go at the beginning of the year, check clubs like Costco for discounts or deals, and if you are going a lot of days, check with Entertainment Book. With entertainment, be careful, they have what looks like a great deal, but then add taxes and fees, so you need to be going 4-5 days before you see any real savings. We saved $60 on tickets buying 4 day tickets for 4 people. Finally, if you are military, check with your base. Disney often offers Military Discounts of 50% for 3 day parkhopper tickets to Disneyland. You must buy them at your base though. Lastly- DO NOT BUY USED TICKETS! Disney tickets are non-transferable. Disneyland prints your name on your tickets and may ask for ID, Disney World requires a thumb print with your ticket. Don’t waste your money and then find out you can’t get in.

5) Food- Food and Hotel are the 2 biggest ways to save on your Disneyland vacation. Disneyland’s food is spendy, not very filling, and in my opinion, not very good. A hot dog, chips and medium soda runs close to $8. If you have 2 people, that is $16 for a meal that leaves you still hungry. What we do is spend $12 (less than that meal) and rent a locker in the Disneyland picnic area. We put a cooler in it and go to the picnic area and make our lunch and dinner. We get a much healthier meal for a fraction of the cost. Plus, it is a good break from the park. The picnic area is pretty enclosed and quite empty, so it gives the kids a chance to be a little more free as well. You can learn more about using the picnic area HERE. Also, you can take some snacks into the park. I have talked about our how we do our snacks HERE.

6) The final savings tip that I have for your today is about Souvenirs. Disney has been brilliant with the layout of their parks. Almost every ride, you exit into or right next to a gift shop. Those little souvenirs add up quickly and can become quite costly. The best way to save on souvenirs, don’t buy any! At least not IN the park. Scout out stores like Target, JC Penny, and more for clothing on clearance prior to your trip. Watch for deals online at the Disney Store to purchase actual park items at a fraction of the cost. We do allow each child (we often bring our niece and nephew along with us as well as our toddler) to pick out one item with a limit of $10. We also always buy them their first set of Mouse Ears. Other than that, we only buy things for special occasions. In October, our son hit his first height requirement and was able to ride Autopia! So we spent the $5 to buy him the hard/laminated Driver’s License as a souvenir. Something special to remember that event by.

7) Photos- This goes along with the previous tip. Photos are the cheapest souvenirs, and sometimes the best. The parks offer photopasses so that you can get photos taken by cast members and then buy them. My cheap thrifty self finds that I can’t stand the idea of paying so much, especially when cast members will often agree to use your camera to take a picture. BUT- there is no obligation to buy the photos, and you get a free online preview. So I say, use the service, preview the photos, and if you do want to buy them, purchase the CD with copyright release rather than the individual prints (much cheaper). At the same time, be sure to use your own camera a lot so that you are not relying on buying those photos. If you are worried about how your photos will turn out, check out THESE photography tips for your vacation.

I hope these tips help you in planning a Disney vacation the thrifty way! I have done several comparisons, and found I often save 25-40% off of Disney’s Good Neighbor Hotel package prices. In fact, we save so much, we are often able to go twice a year! So don’t let the price tag on Disney’s site scare you away. Just remember, investing a few hours of work can save you a ton!

Thanks for letting me share these tips with you! Have a Magical Day! Feel free to follow us on Facebook too.