Our Insider Tricks for Cutting Costs on Your Next Disney Vacation

Our Insider Tricks for Cutting Costs on Your Next Disney Vacation

Disneyland and Disney World may be the happiest places on earth, but they sure aren’t the cheapest.

The outlay for a four-day, four-night trip to either kingdom for a family of four with two kids under age 10 runs $3,200 to $4,950, depending on the time of year and the type of lodgings selected, according to travel site Hipmunk.

With that kind of price range, you’ll want to drive down costs as far as they can go. So we persuaded Disney vacation experts (yes, they exist!) to share their secrets for experiencing all the magic without spending all your money.

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Before You Go ...

To get the best deals, start your prep work early.

Get Advance Tickets by Going Undercover

Check out Undercover Tourist, that is. This authorized Disney World ticket broker sells cut-rate park passes. “A family of four staying a week could save from $120 to more than $200 on tickets" by buying them through the site, says Undercover Tourist rep Kristi Kingston. Just be wary of other third-party dealers. While Undercover Tourist is reputable, some outfits that claim to offer bargain tickets actually sell fakes.

Book a Disneyland “Good Neighbor” Hotel

The California park has just three hotels, and the limited number drives up the price per night to a minimum of $300 a room, says Phil Gramlich, owner of Ear to There Travel, a travel agency that specializes in Disney destinations. A smart alternative nearby is what Disney calls a “Good Neighbor” hotel. These are recommended by Disney; most have free shuttles to the park, and some are within walking distance. In general, “you can get a room for $120 to $140 a night,” Gramlich says.

Consider Signing Up for the Disney Visa Card

Sure, you'll want to pay off your balances each month, but this plastic can put major savings at your fingertips. It gives you 2% back on all purchases at Disney and 1% back on all other purchases. Park perks include 10% off select Disney souvenir store buys of $50 or more; 10% off select dining; and 15% off some spa services. You’ll even get free private character meet-and-greets, as well as gratis photo downloads.

Make the Most of Military Discounts

On certain dates, active and retired members of the armed forces can receive an enormous price break on Disney World park passes — just $224 plus tax for five days, or $209 plus tax for four.

Plan to Visit During Free Dining Weeks

In recent years, Disney has offered free dining to visitors booking a fall vacation package that includes lodging and park tickets. The savings translates into roughly $50 to $100 off per adult daily, and $20 to $40 off per kid. Announcements about upcoming free dining weeks usually hit Disney websites in March or April, so keep your eyes peeled.

Snag Off-Season Lodging Markdowns

Common sense tells you that you won’t find discounts at peak park times like much of the summer, spring break and the weeks around Christmas. But sweet deals abound if you plan your visit at points on the calendar when school and work are back in full swing: early January, right after spring break and some weeks in autumn. During these low seasons, you can score 10% to 30% off standard Disney hotel rates, saving up to $150 daily on premier properties like the Grand Floridian.

Check out Disney Gift Cards at Target

This hack involves having a Target REDcard, the retailer's own credit card, which offers a 5% discount on all Target purchases, says Megan DuBois, a writer at YoHoDisney, a site dedicated to Disney theme park offerings. You can use your REDcard to buy Disney gift cards, available at many Target stores as well as target.com. For each $100 in cards you buy (they can be used at all Disney parks), you’ll save a cool $5. Buy multiple cards, and the savings really add up, says DuBois.

RELATED: 5 Tricks This Mom Uses to Save Big Money on Kid Essentials

When You’re There ...

Maximize your savings by being strategic about any and all purchases.

Download a Souvenir Savings App

“All souvenirs are the same price across the parks, no matter where you buy them,” says Rob Stuart, an authorized Disney vacation planner and cohost of the Disney Travel Secrets podcast. If your kids are begging for a snow globe or mouse ears, he suggests downloading the Shop Disney Parks app; it shows which keepsakes are in stock at various stores around the park, so you can find your must-haves and stay strong against impulse purchases. The app sometimes sends out coupons too, such as a recent one for 20% off a $75 purchase.

Comparison-Shop Dining Spots

Each park has its restaurants, and part of the fun is hitting up one or two that resonate with your kids. The menus can be super pricey, but sometimes you can find the same fare elsewhere in the park for much less, says Gramlich. Case in point: the meaty Monte Cristo sandwich at Disneyland’s Blue Bayou restaurant is “one of the park’s most famous meals,” he says. Enjoying it in the eatery costs $28; the more laid-back Café Orleans next door sells an identical sandwich for $8 less.

Get Your Own Grub

Of course, you'll save a lot by not chowing down at expensive Disney restaurants and instead brown-bagging it all or some of the time. At Disneyland, non-Disney food shops are close by, so “take an Uber to a local grocery store and stock up on meals and drinks,” says Stuart.

At Disney World, which is much larger and more spread out, it’s harder to leave the property. Stuart recommends a service called GardenGrocer that will deliver groceries to your room on the day you arrive. You can get bagels and cream cheese for breakfast, for example, at regular (and reasonable) prices, he says.

Say No to Store-Bought H2O

Walking around Disneyland or Disney World will make your family crazy thirsty — yet a bottle of water in the parks costs about $3, says DuBois. Here’s a happier data point: You’re allowed to bring your own (plastic) water bottles, and refills are on the house. “All quick-service restaurants and Starbucks at Disney World and Disneyland give you water for no charge,” she says. This tactic can keep $30 or more in your pocket each day.

RELATED: 11 Ways to Save on Budget-Busting Extracurriculars for Kids

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