How to Make the Most of Your Disney World Vacation
If you’ve ever been to Disney World, you know what a wonderful experience it can be for the entire family. But a Disney vacation can also be expensive, and exhausting if you don’t plan ahead.
Thankfully, there are many ways to save money and make the best use of your time on your trip to Orlando. In this article, I’ll show you a number of ways that you can do both, to ensure you get the most out of your family’s Disney World vacation.
When Is The Best Time of Year to Visit Disney World?
This is a question many first timers to Disney want to know. In short, if you’re going to Disney World, it’s best to expect a crowd. It’s not often when the parks aren’t packed with visitors. That said, there are periods during the year that tend to be a bit quieter. Planning your vacation during these times may not just make for a more relaxing Disney World experience, but it may also save you some money.
Typically, the park sees fewer visitors immediately following the Labour Day weekend in early September (back to school), while late January and into February are also considered off-peak periods.
Where to Stay at Disney World
The choice to stay on or off the resort will depend on the type of Disney experience you’re after. If the decision is purely economical, you will save money by staying off the resort, either in an affordable hotel or better yet, by renting a vacation home. But if your family is looking for a full onsite experience, a Disney Resort will give you just that. Not all resorts were created equal, however, and when it comes to saving money, Disney Value Resorts are your best bet.
Disney Value Resorts
If you’re looking to save money, but don’t want the inconvenience of being off of the resort, a Disney Value Resort may be right for you. There are three levels of Disney Resorts, from the top end Deluxe Resorts, to the Moderate, and finally the Value Resorts.
Just because it’s the most affordable onsite Disney lodging doesn’t mean a Value Resort isn’t nice. On the contrary, they’re very clean, with many amenities like restaurants, large pool areas, and themed rooms.
What you do give up is some proximity, as they are further from the centre of the park. And because they’re the most kid-friendly of the resorts, they tend to be a bit noisier in public areas. Rooms at Value Resorts are less spacious, but if that doesn’t bother you, it’s worth the money you’ll save.
Just like the higher end hotels, transportation from a Disney Value Resort is free throughout the park, and the abundance of Disney themes throughout will be sure to keep your kids entertained. On our most recent visit, my family and I stayed at the Disney All-Star Music resort and had a wonderful time.
Rent a Vacation Home
You can avoid the premium of staying at a Disney resort by renting a vacation home. Not only can you find great deals through sites like Airbnb, or HomeAway, but it will give you more space for your family to spread out.
Many vacation homes have pools and hot tubs, and having access to a full kitchen makes meal prep cheaper and easier.
Take Advantage of Disney FastPass+
To get the most out of the time you spend at Disney World, you definitely want to consider making use of Fastpass+. This is the system that allows you to reserve space on rides in advance of your visit, saving you hours of waiting in line for the most popular rides.
As long as you’ve purchased your park ticket, you can book your first 3 Fastpass+ rides up to 30 days in advance of your visit. Better yet, if you’re staying at a Disney World Resort, you can book up to 60 days early.
While many theme parks charge an additional fee for this added perk, Disney World Resorts has made Fastpass+ complimentary to any valid ticket holder. The ones who will benefit are those who take the time to plan ahead, by reserving their Fastpass+ rides in advance.
Fastpass+ reservations can be made via the Disney mobile app, or by visiting several kiosks within the park. You can assign Fastpass+ to 3 rides per day in advance, after which the system opens up to allow you to book more.
Here’s a tip. Book your Fastpasses on the most popular rides early in the day. Once you’ve got your 3 rides out of the way, reserve additional Fastpasses for use in the evening at the same park, or a different one. I highly recommend Fastpass+, it’s been a big time saver for our family anytime we’re at Disney.
Download and Use the Disney App
Make sure you download the official Disney App. Not only will it allow you to make the best use of Fastpass+, but it serves a number of other purposes. For example, the app will keep you informed of current wait times, making it easier to navigate your way through the park in an efficient manner.
You can also take advantage of mobile food ordering with the Disney App. Simply order your meal from the app, then grab your food from a number of designated takeout windows around the park. This will save you from waiting in long lines for food.
The app allows you to make dinner reservations, scroll through restaurant menus, and notifies you when there is a Disney character is making an appearance nearby.
Disney Magic Bands
Disney Magic Bands are your ticket to a seamless Disney Experience. These customizable bands are made to fit anyone in the family, from Mom and Dad to the youngest child. With Disney adding more functionality to these connected devices every year, there’s seemingly no end to what they can do.
Magic Bands are free for any guests staying at a Disney World Resort, and they are included with the purchase of an annual pass. If you’re staying off the resort, you can purchase a band for under $20. It’s best to order them well in advance of your trip. Disney will actually send them to you in the mail before you leave home.
On the resort, a Magic Band serves many functions. It acts as your hotel room key, it’s your access to the Resort pool, and it serves as your Fastpass+ ticket. With your Fastpass+ reservations loaded onto the wristband, simply flash it upon arrival, and you’re on your way.
If you’ve purchased a Disney meal plan, restaurant reservations can be linked to the Magic Band. There’s even an option to upload your credit card info, enabling you to tap the band for purchases in Disney stores.
Just imagine how much smoother your next visit will be, with a Disney Magic Band, especially if you have kids in tow.
Dining With Disney World Characters
A great way to save time during your Disney vacation is by taking in a character dining experience. The wait time to see a Disney character in different areas of the park can be up to 60 minutes. Instead, by reserving a meal in one of the many character dining locations, your kids can meet a number of Disney characters at the same time, while filling up on breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It’s a great time saver.
If you’re staying at a Disney Resort, you can save even more time by dining in one of the restaurants located right inside your hotel.
A character dining experience will cost you some money however, as prices are higher than in a regular sit down, or fast food style restaurant.
You could save money on the character dining experience if it’s included in a dining plan if that’s how you decide to look after your meals while at Disney World. That said, opinions vary about whether a Disney dining plan is worth the price. It is the most convenient option if you are staying at the resort. If not, you’re probably better off reserving your character dining experience separately.
Bring Your Own Food and Drinks
Guests can bring their own coolers or bags with food and drinks into the park. Of course, Disney staff will check for prohibited items when you arrive at the gate, so leave any alcohol or glass bottles behind. Free ice water is readily available wherever fountain drinks are sold in the park. It’s a great way to stay hydrated as well!
Shop for Discounted Park Tickets
The regular price for park tickets is high, especially if you’re buying for an entire family. A basic one day pass starts around $100 USD. That’s really steep for Canadians, once you factor in the foreign exchange. You can save money if you plan ahead, however.
Disney does have a special offers page on their website, where they sell discounted tickets at various points throughout the year. It’s not uncommon to find savings of 10-20% if you’re willing to wait for the right deal.
Another way to save on Disney tickets is to buy a multi-day pass. For example, a 4-day pass drops to $87.50 USD, while a 10-day park pass is a mere $44.
Consider Getting an Annual Pass
If you think that you’ll spend more than 11 days at Disney World parks in a 366 period, then buying an annual pass will likely save you money. Annual passes are good for 366 days, and they also come with a number of discounts on hotels, entertainment, not to mention free parking.
Buy Your Disney Souvenirs Outside the Park
It can be tempting to pick up souvenirs onsite, but not surprisingly, you’ll pay a premium. Wherever you can, it’s a good idea to buy your Disney memorabilia from other stores, prior to arriving at the park. If you prefer to purchase merchandise inside the park, decide on a spending limit before you arrive, and stick to it.
Get to the Park Early
I recommend getting to the park up to an hour before the gates open. This will put you ahead of the lineups for the first couple of morning hours. Also, by arriving early, you could always head back the hotel to relax during the peak hours of the afternoon and then return to the park in the evening, as the temperatures cool off.
Use Your Credit Card Travel Rewards
I’ve left one of the best money saving tips for last. If you’re planning a trip to Disney World, and you don’t have a premium travel credit card, you’re missing out on some potentially huge savings. There are several great options available, but I’ll highlight just a couple of travel cards that I use, to give you an example of the kind of money you can save.
The RBC Westjet World Elite Mastercard comes with a signup bonus of $250 Westjet dollars, which more than covers the annual fee of $119 for the first year. But the real value to this card lies in its annual companion voucher, and the free checked bags.
The companion voucher allows you to purchase a $99 ticket for a guest travelling with you, once a year, to any Westjet destination in Canada or the continental US. And when you travel, checked bags are free for the primary cardholder, and up to 8 guests travelling on the same reservation. My wife and I carry the card for these two benefits alone.
Another great travel card is the BMO World Elite Mastercard. They also offer a signup bonus, and the reward points you earn can be redeemed for travel on any airline. This card also comes with travel emergency medical insurance, and trip interruption/cancellation coverage. I like the fact that the card gets you 4 airport lounge passes per year, through Mastercard Airport Experiences. It’s a nice perk.
Just imagine the savings you could realize by booking your trip to Orlando with either one of these cards. For a full list of travel reward credit cards, check out my review of the best travel credit cards in Canada.
Saving Money and Time at Disney World
By using the tips I’ve shared above, you’re well on your way to saving money and time during your next Disney World vacation. The key is to plan your visit well in advance. Thankfully, Disney makes it easy by offering discounted tickets, as well as features like Fastpass+, the Disney mobile app, and Disney Magic Bands, all of which can be set up ahead of time.
Lastly, if you don’t already have a travel rewards credit card, be sure to check out my detailed guide, and sign up today for the one that best suits your needs. That way, you’ll be ready to book your flight to Orlando as soon as a great deal comes along.