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A family trip to Disney World isn’t cheap. Rising hotel rates, hefty food prices, overpriced souvenirs and now talk of rising theme park ticket prices can easily turn the happiest place on earth into a grumpy money trap. Luckily, with some smart planning and flexibility, a Disney World vacation could be within reach — TPG Contributor Julie Loffredi gives us five ways to save. (Please note that some of the Disney World links below can be slow to open.)

Your friends at the Magic Kingdom would love to see you — and with some careful planning, you can afford to visit them. Photo by Shutterstock.
Your friends at the Magic Kingdom would love to see you — and with some careful planning, you can afford to visit them. Photo by Shutterstock.

1. Track promotions.

Let’s start with hotels. Disney World breaks down its resorts by category: Deluxe ($$$), Moderate ($$) and Value ($). Staying at a Deluxe property like the Polynesian Village Resort could run (gulp) $900 a night.

Online quote for a one-night stay at Disney's Polynesian Resort without theme park tickets.
Online quote for a one-night stay at Disney’s Polynesian Resort without theme park tickets.

The Value Resorts category claims rates starting at $85 a night, but during a quick online search I was only able to find rooms that cost more than $100 (see screenshot below). This price doesn’t include the cost of theme park tickets, either. So, when staying at a Disney resort, be prepared for sticker shock.

Example of room rates at Disney's Pop Century Resort.
Example of room rates at Disney’s Pop Century Resort.

Promotions do reduce costs, if you can snag one. For instance, Disney deal site MouseSavers.com tries to keep track of park-promotion history to spot trends, but it’s no crystal ball. That’s why so many visitors take advantage of credit card perks and promotions to make a Disney trip possible.

Disney World Premier Visa may not deliver a wonderland of savings.

2. Maximize purchases with credit cards.

Disney Premier Visa Card: This card appears to be an ideal choice with some fun exclusives (e.g., meet-and-greet events in the park), but it doesn’t actually deliver all the magic one would hope for. It raised sign-up bonuses from a $100 to a $200 statement credit for purchases of $500 in the first three months, but it only gives a 1% return on most purchases and a meager 2% return for purchases at gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants and most Disney locations. Rewards are offered in the form of Disney Dollars (credit for purchases from Disney) or airline statement credits.

Here are more potentially lucrative cards to consider for Disney trip purchases:

Chase Sapphire Preferred: New cardholders can earn 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards points after charging $4,000 in purchases within the first three months. Earn an additional 5,000 bonus points after you add an authorized user and make a purchase within the first three months. Earn 2x Ultimate Rewards points on travel expenses, including flights and hotels, plus dining at restaurants. You can transfer points to partners to book your Disney flights and hotels.There is a $95 annual fee for this card that is waived the first year.

Citi ThankYou Premier Card: You can earn 40,000 bonus ThankYou Points after spending $3,000 in purchases within three months of account opening — redeemable for $400 in gift cards, $500 for airfare or other rewards. Earn 3x ThankYou Points on travel including gas, 2x ThankYou Points on dining out and entertainment and 1x ThankYou Points on other purchases. ThankYou Premier cardholders can also transfer points to travel partners. There is a $95 annual fee for this card.

Citi ThankYou Preferred Card: Earn 15,000 ThankYou bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months. Earn 2 ThankYou Points per dollar spent on dining out and entertainment and 1 ThankYou Point per dollar spent on other purchases. Citi ThankYou Rewards cards can transfer points to travel partners. There is no annual fee for this card.

Chef MickeyÕs at DisneyÕs Contemporary Resort serves up a magical experience for Walt Disney World Resort guests. As the monorail whizzes past, Chef Mickey joins other Disney characters as they greet guests, sign autographs and periodically lead diners in song and dance. The lively, all-you-care-to-eat buffet is offered for breakfast and dinner daily. Disney's Contemporary Resort is located at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Matt Stroshane, photographer)
Chef Mickey’s at Disney’s Contemporary Resort offers an all-you-care-to-eat buffet for breakfast and dinner daily. Disney’s Contemporary Resort is located at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Matt Stroshane.)

3. Get a Disney dining plan — or get some groceries.

The Disney dining plans are included in some Magic Your Way Vacation Packages, which also include a Resort hotel stay and theme park tickets. A Disney dining plan works by enabling families to pre-pay for dining credits to use at participating Disney restaurants and food establishments. To see how each plan works, check out the detailed guides that Disney World provides.

Example of a dining plan. Source: wdwprepschool.com
Example of a Disney dining plan. Chart courtesy of wdwprepschool.com.

The Disney blog WDW Prep School gives a good example of this plan in action. For example, the Deluxe Dining Plan includes three restaurant meals, a refillable drink mug and two snacks for about $110 per day. The Quick Service Dining Plan is more than half that price, but is only good for two Quick Service meals, refillable drink mug and one snack.

Garden Grocer
Tip: In lieu of a dining plan, save money by ordering groceries from a food delivery service like Green Grocer.

Another option is to use a food delivery service and get groceries dropped off at your hotel room or other lodgings. Try local sites like Garden Grocer (which has an iOS app) or Orlando Grocery Express, both of which will deliver food, beverages, toiletries and more straight to you. Note that Orlando Grocery Express can also deliver pharmacy items such as sunblock, band-aids, allergy medications and pain relievers.

4. If you stay within Disney World, ditch the car. 

While maximizing credit card incentives is always a smart move, guests can also consider other cost-saving measures. For example, if you’re staying at a Disney Resort, don’t bother to rent a car. Disney’s Magical Express bus service provides free rides from the Orlando International Airport to Disney Resort hotels.

“By taking advantage of Disney’s Magical Express bus service to get to and from the airport, we really only needed a ride to Universal for a day. Our Uber cost only $21 to go to the park and $14 to return, saving us the cost of the Universal parking fee and the much larger rental car fee,” says travel blogger Lyn Mettler.

Reunion Resort offers short-term vacation home rentals for larger families.
Reunion Resort offers short-term vacation home rentals for larger families.

5. Consider staying outside Disney World.

While you would need to arrange transportation to theme parks, the added privacy, space and value of a vacation home rental can make a lot of sense — especially for larger families.

According to HomeAway, the average cost of a vacation rental in Orlando is $214 per night for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house — not a bad deal. Also keep in mind that Airbnb is a Membership Rewards partner, allowing you to redeem points for Airbnb gift cards in denominations of $100 or $250. Check out Maximizing Points and Miles with Airbnb and VRBO and Hotel Alternatives: Booking Rental Homes For Travel.

Magical Vacation Homes is another vacation rental booking site that caters to Disney families looking for luxury vacation homes in the Orlando area. There are also gated resort communities (such as Reunion Resort) which cater to groups and offer spacious villa and private home rentals.

Families can also check out hotels that are set off Disney property that provide free transportation to area theme parks — be sure to see Maximizing Purchases and Redeeming Awards at Disney Resorts, which includes tips on maximizing points at hotels near Disney.

See these other related posts:

Maximizing Purchases and Redeeming Awards at Disney Resorts
What is the Best Credit Card to Use to Book a Disney Cruise?
6 Must-See Theme Parks Around the World
Destination of the Week: Disneyland

Have you visited Disney World in Orlando? How did you strategize saving money on the trip?

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
16.49% - 23.49% Variable
Annual Fee
Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95
Balance Transfer Fee
5.00%
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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