With more than 60 million visitors pouring through the turnstiles of its four theme parks and two water parks each year, Walt Disney World is, by far, the most popular theme park resort in the world. It is also one of the most popular tourist destinations of any kind on the planet. Chances are, a trip to the Mickey’s Florida home could be on your radar.
Chances are also good that the cost of funding a Disney World getaway has given you pause. With one-day passes to the theme parks now costing as much as $159 per person, it’s no wonder you may have experienced sticker shock. Toss in accommodations, airfare, meals, and souvenirs, and you’ll be longing for access to Scrooge McDuck’s money bin.
There’s no getting around it: A Disney World vacation is going to cost you. But it doesn't have to break the bank. There are strategies to lower your out-of-pocket expenses and make your hard-earned discretionary income go farther. There are also ways to get more value out of your Disney World budget. Let’s explore the ways to make the sticker shock a little less shocking.
One of the best ways to save on any vacation is to zag when everybody else is zigging. That is, plan your visit during less busy times. That’s especially true for Disney World.
For many years, Disney World tickets cost the same regardless of the time of year. More recently, the resort began experimenting with seasonal pricing for its tickets. Starting in 2018, it adopted a variable pricing strategy for all of its park passes. So yes, a one day ticket would run you $159 if you visited during the week between Christmas and New Year‘s and other busy times. But it would drop to as low as $109, or more than 30% less, if you visited just a few weeks later in January.
In addition, hotel rates fluctuate according to demand. Along with lower ticket prices, you’d pay a lot less for a Disney World hotel during slower periods. As a bonus, you’d encounter smaller crowds and be able to enjoy more attractions because you’d be spending less time in standby lines.
It may seem counterintuitive, but you can get more value out of your vacation if you stay longer. For one thing, Disney World is a big place—about twice the size of Manhattan—so it's impossible to see more than a sliver of it in a couple of days. Second, consider ticket prices.
Even at their lowest, one-day park tickets still cost more than $100. But the per-day price for tickets drop with multi-day passes. The biggest savings kick in after the fourth day. A five-day pass starts at $83 per day. Granted, an eight-day pass may be overkill, but the per-day cost drops to as low as $56 per day. Staying longer would also allow you to slow down and enjoy the parks at a more leisurely pace.
The park-hopper option lets you visit more than one Disney park on the same day. It also costs at least $60 more per ticket. Instead of ponying up $240 for the add-on, a family of four might be wiser to stick to one park per day and plan their time efficiently. If you stayed at least four days, you could focus on one park each day.
Disney also offers a Park Hopper Plus option. That allows visitors to hop among the Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon water parks, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, and some of the resort’s golf courses as well as the theme parks. For guests staying seven days or more, it might make sense to spring for Park Hopper Plus. It would allow greater flexibility and could offer value.
Choose one of Disney World’s Value Resorts, such as Disney's Art of Animation, and your rate would be less—in some cases, significantly less—than many of the pricier hotel options. However, you'll get the same resort benefits such as extra, exclusive time at the parks.
You could save even more money if you stayed off property. Generally, comparable hotel accommodations away from the resort would cost less. But, you should weigh all of the perks that you’d lose by staying at a non-Disney hotel. You might find that although it would cost more, you’d actually get more value by remaining at the Disney resort.
Yet another reason to stay at a Disney resort is that you get complimentary transportation between your hotel and the airport aboard the Magical Express bus service. Factoring in the cost of renting a car or purchasing ground transportation for everyone in your group could negate any savings you’d get by staying off property.
Disney frequently has special offers available, many of which combine park passes and hotel accommodations into a package. As with our first suggestion about visiting during slower times of the year, the offers are likely to be more generous when the crowds are lower such as the fall and January to mid-February.
Do you have a Target Red Card? (It's free if you don't.) The card gets you a 5 percent discount on every item purchased, including gift cards. Buy Disney gift cards in advance of your trip, use them inside WDW, and you'll reap automatic savings on dining, souvenirs, and more.
Getting value at Disney World means spending less time in line and more time having fun. For guests staying at Disney resorts, that means taking advantage of Extra Magic Hours.
Every day, at least one park opens earlier or stays open later exclusively for on-property guests. Even the most popular attractions often have short standby lines. This could be your chance to ride Slinky Dog Dash without waiting too long, so go for it.
Make Time for Free Fun
Consider not purchasing theme park tickets for your arrival and departure days. Instead, take advantage of free fun around the Disney World resorts. Likewise, consider cutting back on theme park days in favor of a day filled with more low-key fun. There are many ways to have fun at Disney World that don't require a theme park ticket, such as:
- Visiting Disney Springs or Disney’s Boardwalk
- Swimming at your hotel pool
- Exploring other Disney World hotels
- Checking out the animals at the Animal Kingdom Lodge
If you or your spouse are members or veterans of the military, Walt Disney World has a number of very special offers for you, your family, and your friends. In some cases, you could save lots of money. We break down what's available and how to take advantage of the offers.
One of the best ways to get the most value out of your Disney World visit is to understand how the resort’s My Disney Experience program works and make advance Fastpass+ reservations for rides and shows. It’s free, but for the most popular attractions, you are going to want to make reservations as far in advance as possible. In addition to defining the terms of the program, such as MagicBands and Mobile Order, we’ve pulled together some My Disney Experience power user tips.