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Coupon Abbreviations
  • SC = Store Coupon
  • MC = Manufacturer Coupon
  • SS = Smart Source
  • RP = Red Plum
  • PG = Proctor and Gamble
Coupon Terms
  • WYB = When You Buy
  • B1G1 = Buy One Get One Free
  • .75/1 = 75 cents off one item
  • .75/3 = 75 cents off three items
  • EXP = Expiration Date

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Saving on a disney vacation series getting started

I’ve gotten quite a few emails over the last couple years asking how to vacation at Disney World on a budget.  So I asked a friend who loves Disney to give us all his best tips. Look for a series of 12 posts dedicated to nothing but how to Save at Disney!

Vacations are not inherently “cheap.”  You can, however, have an enjoyable vacation for a good price.  It’s about building value.  Finding time to rest and have fun is very important, but so is making your penny stretch.  Just like with couponing, planning is very important to the success of your vacation.  Make a budget, set aside money each month, and then pursue your vacation idea.  Below are some ways to maximize your budget and experience at Disney World!

There is a ton of information about Disney World and lots of decisions to make.  All I’d like to do is present a few facts about Disney World and share advice from past experiences.  We are going to break this up into a daily series over the next two weeks to try to cover everything!

Basic Planning Guide

What Walt Disney World has to offer:

4 Parks
2 Water Parks
20+ On Site Resorts
Downtown Disney
DisneyQuest Arcade
Sporting Activities

Disney World has some great tools that will help you in your decision making process.  They offer a free planning DVD with some great tips if you want to check it out. There are lots of great books to read if you’d like to know more about Disney World as well.  Birnbaum’s is my favorite, but I’ve heard that The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World is helpful too.

Booking Your Vacation

First, you’ll need to decide when to go.  Let’s think about all the attributes that affect our decision of WHEN to go:

(1) Price (big one here)
(2) Availability (Yours and the Resorts’)
(3) Crowd Levels
(4) Weather
(5) Holidays

Price being the major attribute we care about, we need to pay attention to the pricing changes at WDW (Walt Disney World).  WDW has six pricing seasons.  In order from least expensive (and least crowded) to most expensive (and most crowded) are as follows: Value season, Regular season, Summer season, Fall season, Peak season and Holiday season.  Here is more specific information on Disney’s rate seasons.

As I mentioned, Value season tends to be the least populated time to go.  The only downside is that WDW takes this opportunity to do maintenance on some rides and the park.  However, a friend who always goes during value season said he has never had a problem.  Early to mid December is an awesome time to go because it is in value season (or a lower price season; their pricing seasons have changed recently), has lower attendance, great weather, and beautiful Christmas decorations.  Below is a picture of Hollywood Studios at Christmas.

When you come to a decision on when to go, you can check prices and options online at the WDW website.  However, make sure you book over the phone.  It may be easier to book online, but they will give you special deals over the phone not mentioned on the website.  They will frequently have deals for free or reduced price on the Disney Dining Plan.  Often I’ll begin the process online and then call to check for deals.  You can continue to call, checking for deals, until you arrive and they will often retroactively apply the deals to your package.

If you are brave and don’t mind missing out on an opportunity to go, you can try to wait until the last minute to book your vacation in order to get deals on lodging.  Sometimes Disney will offer around 30% off resort stays if you book a stay that falls within the dates they offer.  Recently Disney offered 30% off for stays in mid-January and February, but I got the email at the beginning of January.  I do not recommend doing this, but it is an option.

If you have any suggestions or questions feel free to leave a comment below.

    • Kelly D

      Thanks for the info Jenny! One site that I love to use is touringplans.com. It does require a subscription but it isn’t too much. We went to WDW last year and I used the touring plans and crowd calendar to figure out what parks to go to on what days and even what rides to ride in what order to get the most bang for your buck. We saved a lot of time standing in line by hitting the popular rides early. I looked like a rock star to my family while we were able to zip in and out of rides that we thought would take forever, but all I did was follow the plan. Did I mention we went in June after all the schools were out?

    • Laura

      As a Florida resident who has a season pass, I can tell you that the two absolute best times to visit Disney is late October and early December. In October Disney is decked out for Halloween and the summer humidity and summer tourists have left so the weather is beautiful and it’s not too crowded. In early December Disney is decked out for Christmas and if you go early in the month, the crowds are still light.

      • christy

        I have been twice in Oct. they did have tons of Halloween stuff out. It was still in the 80’s and I had a great time, very few lines.

    • 1bigsaver

      There is a GREAT site called mousesavers dot com that has all kinds of info on Disney vacations with discounted rooms and ticket ideas. Don’t forget also to get certificates from restaurants dot com whenever they go on sale for $2. I utilized all of this when we went this past summer and saved a massive amount of money!

    • soriso

      We have been in January (low crowds, great (though unpredictable) weather) and September (lower crowds, hotter). We preferred September. Lines were lower than January and you go in and out of Disney’s AC so frequently that the heat is okay. I would love to try October or December.

    • Michelle

      The best way to plan a Disney vacation is to use a Certified Disney Travel planner. Most offer their services free of charge and offer discount watching services to make sure you get the best rates possible. I use Instant Impressions at http://www.distrips.net

    • Matt

      I’ll second the mousesavers.com site as a great resource. And if you have school age kids, be sure to check out the Home School and/or Individual Enrollment options of Disney’s Youth Education Series. This program offers the student(s) an educational experience in one of the parks as well as deeply discounted park tickets for the student(s) AND immediate family members. These programs are only offered certain times of the year, so a program like this can influence when to plan your trip.

    • Heather

      Love Disney!!!! We have Florida resident annual weekday passes. We have the flexibility to go on a whim’s notice due to our home business, and with that flexibility, we have found amazing prices for 7 night resort stays on ebay. We have stayed at 3 different ones and only paid between $250-$310 for a 7 night stay in a 2 bedroom/ 2 bath resort with all the amenities, within 1-2 miles of Disney. They are time share resorts without the timeshare because it is members selling their personal stay.
      Even if you don’t have that flexibility, I highly recommend scouring ebay for great resort stays because there are many you can get in advance too. We get the best deals by getting them last minute but I have seen other great deals for future weeks (even next summer!).
      We love Disney best from October through mid-December. And early morning and late evening are the best times to ride rides without long lines unless you get a Fastpass.

    • I have gone to Disney once as a parent – and will probably never go again. It was SO expensive, and not having done the proper research we were herded like cattle through each park because it was so busy!! My son loved the vacation, but he also loves going to places like Gatlinburg TN… and now we’ve added twins to our family, making us five! It was $5000 for a four day stay for three of us (staying in Kissimmee and driving, no airline tickets involved), I can’t imagine what the cost would be for us now!!!

      • Guest

        Not as much as you might think if you go at the right time. I just booked a 6 night/5 day trip in January for 5 (only one considered a child) with meals/on site hotel/tickets included for right at $3000.

    • David

      What makes the Unofficial Guide so great is it lets you access touringplans.com at a reduced price. It showed us the absolute best route through each of the parks even though we went on the busiest week of the year. The android app was really helpful as well.

    • Whitney Sparks

      Thanks for the tips! I want to start planning now. We’re hoping to go sometime in 2014 before my child turns 9 (since I think this is the age that Disney considers them an adult).

    • Leyhay

      We booked our reservation with AAA and they quoted us a price that was about $350 less than the quote from Disney directly,

    • 31priceless

      We did “Disney on the Cheap” this past March. We were able to stay in the Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort, which was amazing! They have free shuttles to all the parks, and because all units have a full kitchen, we were able to pack all our lunches, snacks, make our breakfast, and even cook our dinner if we wanted to! What a super way to save hundreds of dollars! We also subscribed to Mousesavers, and that provided us with the cheapest entry tickets out there that I could find. We stayed for five days, six nights and had a WONDERFUL time!!!

    • momof3

      One thing that you neglected to mention was that the best deal is always, always to purchase your tickets through AAA in ORLANDO–They are cheaper there even than a AAA other places. Also, keep in mind that if you buy the non expiring park hopper passes, you can use them a myriad of times. My family purchased the 10 day passes 5 years ago and we’re still using them…The initial outlay was high, but the cost is only about $100/day for our entire family at a disney park! Having lived the Disney life, those are a few of the easy, easy tips….We typically spend very little while there, but go frequently!

      • Goofy (guest post writer)

        That’s interesting. I’ve got a post coming up on ticket packages, but the best deals I’ve found have only been about $10 off the Disney price. Now the gate price is more expensive, but the online price is about the same as some of the third party sellers. Admittedly, I’ve never used AAA.

    • I lived in Orlando for a few years, the best money saving advise I can give is to stay at a hotel outside of disney. International drive is a great area for tourist hotels. Most hotels offer tickets at the frount desk for the parks (skip the lines), free shuttle services (parking $$ is crazy) and free breakfrest (grab a banana for snack later that day!). Bring lunch into the park and eat dinner at a restruant around the hotel or at Downtown Disney (better food, less $$) . Also dont forget wet n wild on international drive, it’s an awesome water park that offers get value. You can pay the one day admission price and get in free the rest of the week! Great for when there is down time and your out of $$. Sea World, and Universal offer 3 day value packs as well. Some people rent houses with full kitchens and pools! If you do this then when you vist Disney park at Downtown Disney(free!) and catch and bus to the park you want to go to!!!

      • Robyn Bowles

        The busses from Downtown Disney do not actually go to any of the theme parks. At this time, the busses from DTD only run to and from the resort hotels on WDW property, as well as other surrounding hotels.

    • KatieK

      You can bring your own food and drinks into the Disney parks…one of the quickest ways to save money. Throw a picnic together from your stockpile and….free!

      • jessica2140

        You can only bring water…they check your bags at the entrances and don’t allow anything else in! But you can bring a cooler in your vehicle and go out to the parking lot or back to your hotel room for meals and save a fortune!!

        • colca1328

          They do check your bags, but they are checking for weapons etc. You are allowed one small cooler with food. Or bringing food in your bag is fine too. We have annual passes and go all the time bringing our own lunch or dinner. Saves so much money!!

          • julie

            Yes, WDW changed their policy to allow food and drinks in a soft cooler. :)

        • Sandra

          You can absolutely bring your own food. We have always done Disney this way. Saves so much money!!

      • jessica2140

        You can only bring water…they check your bags at the entrances and don’t allow anything else in! But you can bring a cooler in your vehicle and go out to the parking lot or back to your hotel room for meals and save a fortune!!

    • Thank you, thank you!!! I have never been myself but am now planning our first family trip! Trying to do it on a budget but still feel like we are still doing plenty of fun things for our kids is tough!! I can’t wait to see what all there is to learn from these posts!

    • Tara

      We go to Disney every year and also do Universal Studios for a few day’s. One of the best tips I can give to save money is use Restaurants.com and go to Orlando and find certificates for discounted food. Too often people just use this for the city they live in but I have found if you are going to a major location (like Orlando) you can find places that are great for a discount. You can also buy the entertainment book that has all the discounts for Orlando online and they will ship it to you for additional savings. Just be wise about the location of the restaurant you are buying a certificate to because you don’t want to drive all over the place to eat. I find it is easier to plan this for the day we arrive and find a place near our resort. You can also plan it on a day you are leaving the park in enough time to eat out and find a place not to far from the park.

    • chichiwvu

      The timing of this is perfect. We are planning to go in June 2014 (big birthdays for DD1 and myself) and are starting to save in January!

    • jessica2140

      We get a “free” trip to Disney because my little brother (who is a college student at UCF) works there! He can bring 6 people for free admission on a one day park hopper, then he gets half priced hotel rooms and half off at most restaurants and gift shops. SO…not completely free, but this past summer, my family of 4 and my mom all went and we stayed in the Finding Nemo Suites at the new Art of Animation Resort for $179.00, brought a bunch of “snacky food” and bottled water from my stockpile, and ate our meals at places his discount worked. We spent under $300 for the room, the admission (free), food, mouse ears, everything! So best saving tip…impress a family member into employment there if you can. :)

      • Goofy (guest post writer)

        Now that’s the way to do Disney on a budget.

    • julie

      Disney offered deals months in advance too (just not 6+ months)! Free dining offer just ended that was for selected dates in Sept-Dec and is offering up to 30% off right now for those same dates. I am going really soon to WDW on a budget so that is how I know when deals were offered and for how long. :)

    • jenndenn

      Just want to point out that you can get the same price going through your travel agent that you can going through Disney online or by phone! Most likely the person you are talking to on the phone at Disney is simply trying different promo options to find you the best deal, which is the same thing your travel agent does for you. Disney has great working relationships with professional travel agents who sell their product. My Disney rep (yes, I’m a travel consultant) has assured us that they offer the exact same deals that we do. Just felt that I needed to clarify that :)

    • Katharina

      The Unofficial Guide to DW you mentioned is a great source, it became my “bible” for every trip… ;-) I can also recommend an Ebook that I got on http://www.disneyworldforless.com with tons of information about savings in DW. I found it really helpful and it surely saved our familiy a lot! What I really appreciate about this Book is that it´s getting updated all the time, so if Disney changes stuff you´ll find fresh information about it whenever you go.

    • Guest

      Go with a travel agent – they can and will find the best deals for you. Ours is wonderful. And don’t wait for those emails with the discount rates. The codes for January/February (30% off and Stay/play/dine) just came out this week.The available rooms can go quick at some resorts, so having an agent who can book for you can be a lifesaver.

    • Arline

      WDW Prepschool is by far the best planning site. Her podcasts are amazing and her planning steps make so much sense. Even my hubby has realized how much better our trips to The World are after finding Shannon Albert. :) She’s pretty great!