Is it still possible to visit Disney World for cheap?

February 14, 2018, 11:25 AM · With Disney's latest annual price increase — including a nearly 18 percent jump in some annual pass prices at Disneyland — visitors might be wondering if it's even possible to plan a vacation to a Disney theme park without spending a fortune.

Believe it or not, but it is possible to buy a ticket to Walt Disney World's four theme parks — a legit ticket, from Disney itself — for just $10 a day. What's the catch? You have to buy five days' of Disney tickets, at much higher prices, to get that $10-a-day ticket on additional days at the resort.

That's because Disney has structured its entire ticketing system to encourage visitors to spend as much time as they can at Disney's theme parks. Annual passes at Disney's theme parks range from $439 to $1,579 for non-locals, but if you visit often enough, they can get you into the parks for less than what the infrequent tourists are paying to park their car there each day. And with monthly payments available for annual passes, you can get even Disney's most expensive passes for less than the cost of a one-day ticket each month.

So the first key to visiting Disney for cheap is to plan to go a lot. Remember, Disney sees itself as a lifestyle brand now, so it wants you to adopt Disney as part of your lifestyle. That means going to its parks whenever you have a free moment (after watching Disney's movies and TV shows, of course). Disney's theme parks are ridiculously expensive places to visit for just a day or two. But what if you don't live in Southern California or Central Florida, and don't have the means to travel there every month or so? How can you do Disney for cheap?

Don't expect to find any amazing deals on tickets. Disney offers some seasonal discounts for locals, but tourists are paying list price when you buy from Disney. Authorized discounters can save you a few bucks, but we're talking the price of a cup of coffee here. They are not going to make a Disney vacation affordable by themselves.

Per-day ticket prices are lower at Disneyland than at Walt Disney World, so that might be something to consider. But your best opportunity to save money when visiting Disney is by spending less to get and to stay there, balancing those costs with the per-day discounts you get for spending more days at the parks. Check Google Flights for the lowest airfares and weigh that against the cost of driving. You might not need to rent a car if you fly to Disney World, or even at Disneyland if you stay close enough and aren't planning on visiting anything else in the area. (Use Uber or Lyft from and to the airport if flying to Disneyland without a car.) Walt Disney World provides free airport and on-site transportation for people staying at its hotels, but if you choose to stay off site, you will need a car to get around.

Disney World is expected to start charging more later this year for multi-day tickets during busy vacation periods, so consider that when pricing hotels and transportation costs, too. Weeks with the lowest airfares and hotel prices in Orlando likely will see lower Disney ticket prices, too. It's all about timing when to go.

Of course, the big reason why some seasons are so expensive at Disney World is because those are the popular school vacation times when families find it most convenient to visit. If you have kids, look for any time when your schools on break that most others are not. Late August has become a great time to visit Walt Disney World, for example, as most schools now start in early to mid-August. But avoid Disneyland then, because that's when local annual passholders come off their summer blockouts and return to crowd the parks.

Food is the most variable expense for people visit Disney's theme parks. You can hit up a local grocery or arrange an Amazon Fresh delivery to your hotel then pack a backpack picnic, if you'd like. (No glass bottles or outside alcohol are allowed in the parks, but no one cares about other food.) Or you can split meals and try to avoid waste when eating at park restaurants and food stands. You can find full menus and prices on Disney World's and Disneyland's websites. Note that you will need to make reservations exactly 180 days in advance for popular Disney World table-service restaurants. You can consider the one-price-upfront Disney Dining Plan if you are staying at a Disney World hotel, too, but most visitors do not find that plan provides much of a discount anymore. Check out our Disney theme park pages and follow the links for each park to find out which of its restaurants other visitors have rated highest for quality and value.

You also can shave costs on a Disney vacation by using Disney's gift cards to pay for it, if you have a way to buy those gift cards that afford you some cash back or discount on the purchase, such as using Target's REDcard. Remember, though, if you are using a credit card to pay for your vacation and you do not pay it all off by the end of the billing period, you've just added a bunch of interest charges to the price of your Disney trip.

Got any other cost-saving tip? Share 'em in the comments.

Replies (18)

February 14, 2018 at 12:10 PM · My wife and I have found that the best way to save money is by not staying at an on-site hotel. On our last trip we stayed at Tuscana Resort for 9 nights and the cost was $1350 Canadian, paid thru the travel agent here before we left. Yes I know that people will start the "You'll miss out on extra magic hours" by not staying at a Disney hotel. Not staying on site allowed us extra days not hours.
February 14, 2018 at 12:12 PM · Travel hacking via credit card rewards points is my go to method.
February 14, 2018 at 12:36 PM · Admission tickets are as much as airplane tickets. This makes hotels the cheaper expense and food negligible. Forget about splitting a trip between Disney and Universal. Pick one.

Best to get a package deal. Do a shorter trip to Disney. Spending $100 at just one park might be a viable solution instead of spending $400 for four parks in 4 days. Awful choices all around. Then there's SeaWorld.

February 14, 2018 at 2:23 PM · A basic Google search shows American Express says the average cost of a vacation is $1145 to $4580. Another top result says 2% of household income which means $1466 based on 2014 us census bureau data. So a cheap vacation could be described as in the low to mid 1000, maybe closer to 2000 if you're stretching. Disney World tix for 4 days, no park hopping, family of 4 even from a discount retailer pretty much eat that whole budget so to answer the original question- nope.
February 14, 2018 at 2:35 PM · Approximately five years ago, I bought three 10-day Park Hopper + Water Park Fun + No Expiration tickets for $675 each. As I don't believe the No Expiration option is even available anymore, it may have been the best investment I'll ever make.

My only child is 2.5 so we're waiting a couple more years before taking him down there (from Michigan). At least now, park tickets isn't something I'll have to worry about.

I realize this doesn't add much by way of advice but I'm just blown away by the rate at which the tickets have continued to increase.

February 14, 2018 at 2:47 PM · "Do a shorter trip to Disney."

That's the Catch-22. Value significantly decreases for shorter trips, and as Robert notes, if you spend more than 5 days in the parks, the cost of admission per day significantly declines. Shorter trips would mean a shorter trip overall, or perhaps a split of a typical week-long vacation between Disney and other attractions (be it other theme parks like Universal and Sea World, or Gatorland, Kennedy Space Center, Silver Springs, Daytona, beaches, etc...). I think if you're shortening a trip to Disney, then it's very likely that most people are going to fill the remainder of the time with Universal.

I think everyone's situation is different, but it's no secret that Disney is not the value it once was, which explains why visitors have to be so obsessive about planning out their trips in attempt to validate the extreme expense.

I know this is going to sound counter-intuitive, but I think park hoppers can be extremely valuable, especially for those that have already been to WDW multiple times. Yes, hoppers cost more, but you can experience in 3 or 4 days with park hoppers what it might take 5 or 6 days without (especially during non-peak times of the year when shows do not run multiple times every day).

I also cannot recommend enough for those that have the ability to drive to WDW. Flying and renting a car can be a huge expense compared to driving. Yes, driving can be tough on some, and may require an extra day's worth of travel, but it easily pays for itself in money saved that can be put towards other luxuries.

I think another way to save money is to share meals. So many theme park meals have huge portions (especially counter service meals), so you can cut some meal costs in half by sharing an entree with your partner or other members of your party. Why spend $10.99 for a single cheeseburger when you can get a double bacon cheeseburger for $14.99 that two can share? Meals may seem incidental, but a lot of people have a tendency to simply open up their wallet for these expenses because "we're on vacation" without thinking how much money could be saved over the course of a week-long vacation. You could save hundreds of dollars through strategically planning food costs.

February 14, 2018 at 3:21 PM · Totally agree that a shorter trip to Disney is a less economically efficient trip. Plus spending one day at one Disney park as part of a larger trip isn't really a Disney vacation, just a day at the world's most expensive park.
Driving can be worthwhile, but when you're coming from a distance that requires a night's stay at a motel there and back or adding an unpaid vacation day, not as appealing.
Also have to totally second Russell's meal advice. Many WDW qsr meals are enough for my wife and I to share.
February 14, 2018 at 4:56 PM · I don't think anything is cheap when you go on vacation or just a day trip. I guess you have to ask yourself "how much are you really enjoying your visit if you have to spend most, if not all of your time, keeping track of the pennies you think you are saving".
February 14, 2018 at 7:09 PM · Alot of the good tricks for obtaining discounts on Disney gift cards have gone by the wayside within the last year or so (There was a great one where you could buy gift cards to Target via office supply stores(5 pts. per dollar on Chase Small Business Ink) and use the gift cards on Target's web site with the Red Card loophole (as long as red card was the default payment method you'd get 5% off). So, in essence, 10% off. If I find anything like that again soon, I'll post in the discussion boards.

Russell had a good point. Share meals if you can. I particularly used to think the portions at Sunshine seasons were shareable. For IOA, Thunder Falls Rotisserie Chicken with Corn and Potatoes was super shareable and delicious.

February 14, 2018 at 8:03 PM · Who has 5 days to devote to just Disney? The value proposition depends on what you expect to get out of visiting each park. It’s much less than you think.
February 15, 2018 at 6:05 AM · So for any UK vistors, try waiting till a few months in advance to book. This will limit your options around dining etc... but, here in the UK you can really grab some bargain last minute deals. My wife and I booked two months in advance last year and got two weeks at all star sports and flights for £640 each, which I believe translates to less than $1000 each...for two weeks!
February 15, 2018 at 6:14 AM · Our family has used the Chase Disney Visa card for years and yes, it's taken 6 years to earn the points, but our trip in October is totally paid for (6 day tickets, dining and resort.) We only need to provide transportation costs (which will in turn earn us MORE Disney points!)
February 15, 2018 at 10:08 AM · Great ideas Robert. I’m glad my kids are older since prices are through the roof. I remember before we went to WDW and I had to woke up at 5 am exactly 180 days before to make reservations for tea with Alice, brunch with Cinderella, etc — I had a spreadsheet. (By the way you had to put a hefty deposit down which you would lose if you didn’t cancel in time way ahead of time). it was easier to get a reservation at the number 1 restaurant in Paris than it was to have tea with each Princess — Paris dining may even have been cheaper! Am I glad we did it? Absolutely. Would I do it again? No way. We did splurge on those special dining occasions but the rest of the time we were really disciplined — we carried our water, sandwiches, snacks, in a cooler bag which we kept in a locker. We saved tons of money on water alone — for a family of 5 with 2-3 bottles of water a day each would have been over $50. Thank you for the wonderful suggestions and options.
February 15, 2018 at 11:27 AM · Skip the Goodings grocery store close to Downtown Disney and find the Publix just on the other side of the Freeway.

Goodings is a once-great Olrando chain that has shrunk just to one store to milk the Disney tourist market. Whole Foods up at Sand Lake and I-4 might actually be cheaper.

February 15, 2018 at 2:24 PM · I found the following to work really well...

Step 1: Find a friend who lives in the Orlando area.
Step 2: Get invited to stay at your friend's house during the trip.
Step 3: Savings!

In all honesty, the best way to save money on a Disney World trip without compromising the value is to cut everything that isn't important. If you don't feel that staying on site will significantly enhance your experience, stay elsewhere for a fraction of the price. If you're not into nice meals, don't bother with full service dining. If you only care about three of the parks, save a day on tickets and omit the fourth. Obviously going during value season and looking for discounts help as well, but the only option that is always available is finding the cheapest alternative. Excluding airfare, it's not unreasonable for a family of four to do a long weekend (4 day) WDW trip for around $2,000 if they compromise on non-essentials. Disney will never be cheaper than other alternatives, but that doesn't mean the trip is automatically not affordable.

February 15, 2018 at 5:07 PM · The answer is an emphatic NO! And Disney doesn't want you to. Yes, you can compromise a little here and a little there and make it a little cheaper but it still won't make it cheap.

With the constant price increases of tickets, parking, hotels, dining and shopping there comes a point where repeat visitors have to seriously ask "are we getting value for money?" Right now, I don't think I am as neither Studios or Epcot are worth the admission owing to a paucity of attractions. Yes, both are being significantly improved, but right now, as a UK visitor, our 14 day ticket is not value for money so I will not be buying one for this years' return in November.....although Mrs Plum insists on MVMCP so we will do MK for one night.

February 15, 2018 at 9:07 PM · Another thing to consider is getting the plus feature, and taking a days off from the parks and doing a water park or other plus. Maybe sleep in, do mini golf and poke around Disney Springs. It stretches the Disney Experience with less cost. I also believe that it enhances the park experience since pounding the pavement and fighting the crowds all day in the parks can be really tiring! We have found breaking up park days with a day playing in the water at one of the water parks followed by a cheap off site dinner and early bed mean we enjoy the parks more because we are rested and fresh.
February 17, 2018 at 5:01 PM · All of the answers given involve doing less, eating less, going in 'off season'(which 90% of all families can't do or getting savings from other sources, ie; CC rewards points, airlines miles, etc).

The short HONEST answer is.......NO you can't do a Disney vacation cheaply anymore! Say it and believe's a fact.

I have data from all the Orlando & Disney (including Disneyland) vacations me and my family have taken over the past 30+ years and the prices of EVERYTHING have far exceeded inflation and wage increases over that same time period. And we never really splurged or stayed at Disney properties even (Kissimmee, International Drive or Harbor Blvd for us and usually our own car or a rental car as we lived in florida).

No, you can't do a Disney vacation cheap anymore. Save up, do less and you won't go TOO far in debt.....but you'll spend a small fortune in any case.

Walt would be embarrassed and disgusted.

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