Everyone’s heard how Disney vacations are expensive! But once you have your Park tickets and are inside the gates, you have a choice how much you’d like to pinch pennies or break the bank. You can truly do Disney on a budget. What if I told you that you could have an entirely cost-free day inside the Parks? Essentially a day at Walt Disney World or Disneyland for free? These are tried and true insider tips from someone who’s gone to the Parks many times on a dime!
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Read on for my helpful tips about doing Disney on a budget!
1. Getting into the Park – Money Saving Tips & Discounted Tickets
You’ll still need to buy your tickets but there are some easy ways to get them at a discount! And sorry, you can’t get into Disneyland for free on your birthday anymore (that promotion ended many many years ago). There is one person who can get into Disney for free – children who have not yet turned three have free admission to Disney parks!
I recommend purchasing tickets upfront to save time at the gate. Follow these rules to buying tickets and still save a few dollars.
- Do not be tempted to purchase from Ebay, on Craigslist or from a seller on the side of the street! Sellers might offer you the extra days left on their multi-day passes but this is a risky move that might cause a loss of your money so don’t do that!
- Park tickets should only be purchased from the Disney Parks website, Costco, trusted travel agent or through CityPass. I like Get Away Today because you can save several dollars on the cost of each ticket as well as knowing you are buying from a reliable seller. You can also use their layaway program, letting you save for a vacation.
SAVE MONEY ON A DISNEY VACATION!
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Use the Promo Code REWRITTEN and receive an extra $10 off any 2-night or longer Southern California package. (Hotel and 2 ticket minimum purchase to qualify for the discount).
More Money Saving Ideas
- Note that the multi-day passes save overall as the price per day is lower. If you plan on a longer visit or will be visiting more often than once a year, consider an Annual Pass. Annual Passes also have the option of pay-per-month installments.
- Keep in mind that if your child is 2 or under, they don’t require a Park ticket so their entry is free!
- When my family asks me, “What do you want for your birthday?” or “What do the kids want for Christmas?”, request Disney gift cards! They can be used at Walt Disney World or Disneyland towards Park tickets, dining and souvenirs. You can even buy personalized cards online with the recipient’s photo on it.
- Did you know that you can use your Target Red Card to save an additional 5% off the price of your Disney gift cards?!
- Get a Disney Visa credit card. We have one that we use for all expenses from household bills to groceries and pay it off in full each month (important if you’re trying to save money to NOT be paying interest fees!) We are rewarded with points that are placed onto a Disney Rewards Redemption card that can be used towards tickets, hotel, food and souvenirs in the Parks. On a recent trip we used our rewards points and that paid for all of our meals and a few souvenirs for the kids. There are also additional perks with using the card in the Parks, including meal and shopping discounts and a free photo.
Now that you’re in the Park, the rest of the Day can be FREE!
2. Pack in a Picnic
Obviously unless you plan on starving all day, you’ll need a bit of advanced planning when it comes to eating in the park all day. Here are the things that should be planned ahead of time!
You can bring in your own food to the Parks but there are a few rules.
- Meals and snacks should be packed in a soft-sided cooler or backpack with a chill pack inside (no hard-sided coolers or wagons allowed).
- No glass allowed in the Park.
- Bring bottled water or juice boxes. You can also request ice water for free from any walk-up dining location.
- Keep in mind that you’ll need a chill pack to keep items cold.
- Avoid bringing in a bunch of plastic tubs that will add weight. Pack in zip-close disposable bags and bring disposable flatware. Or you can grab flatware from any quick service location.
Good Foods to Pack –
- Sandwiches (with ingredients that won’t spoil without refrigeration)
- Green salads in zip-close disposable bags (put the dressing in a snack bag) You’ll need to bring your own fork or grab one from a quick service location.
- Cold pizza
- Whole fruit (like apples, oranges or bananas) or cut-up pieces of fruit (like melons & berries) in plastic bags
- Crunchy granola bars (none with chocolate)
- Cheese sticks
- Trail mix (without the chocolate bits)
- Pre-cut veggies (like carrots, celery or cherry tomatoes)
- Sturdy chips or crackers (we like Wheat Thins, Triscuits or Goldfish crackers).
- Juice boxes, sports drinks in plastic bottles, water bottles or refillable water bottles with drop-in flavored powders.
Bad Foods to Pack –
- Anything with mayonnaise because of the chance it will spoil.
- Anything that will melt, like chocolate.
- No glass; you’ll be asked to trash it when passing through security.
For a little money –
You can store your food inside a pay-for-the-day locker if you don’t want to tote it around but we just keep ours in the lower basket of the stroller or in my husband’s backpack.
3. Bring It With You
Resist the temptation to buy in the Park…bring these things with you
- Stroller for your young one. I even recommend strollers for kids up to about 5 years old (all that walking around makes even bigger kids grumpy and tired). Park strollers are notoriously uncomfortable. Consider renting one: I recommend Amusement Park Rentals & have used their services several times at Walt Disney World.
- Plenty of baby supplies (food, diapers, wipes, disposable bibs). You can purchase these things inside the Baby Care Center but prices are at a premium. You can however use the services at the Baby Care Center for free, including microwaves to warm baby food, highchairs, changing tables and tiny potties. Read about what I pack in my Disney diaper bag.
- Accessories like hats and sunglasses
- Sunscreen and Chapstick
- Jacket and/or rain poncho, depending upon the weather
CLICK THE IMAGE TO RECEIVE A FREE DISNEY VACATION PLANNING VIDEO
4. Pre-Buy Souvenirs
You’ll have some mighty cranky kiddos at the end of the day when you pass by the souvenir cart as you exit the Park and they’re empty-handed! We very rarely purchase souvenirs in the Park because we plan ahead and buy something for the kids beforehand. It’s nice to have a little something to hand them as you pass through the exit to soften the end of the day.
- A t-shirt or hat from the Disney Store to wear for the day.
- A battery-powered personal misting fan if you’re coming during hot weather
- Plush characters are much cheaper brought from home than at the Parks
- I love 99 cent store glow-sticks to wear during evening parades and fireworks (makes it a lot easier to keep track of your kids after dark too!)
- For those trinkets that you present to the kids just before leaving, think tiny, since you’ll be toting these treats around all day: Tsum-tsum, costume jewelry, die-cast car or Vinylmation.
- Pajamas in a Disney theme! This might seem strange but we have our little kids change into their PJs before leaving the Park at the end of the night, especially if we have a long drive ahead of us.
- A toddler will be happy with a cheap bottle of bubbles to blow from their stroller as you swiftly exit the Park (I am the Queen of Distraction!) Just bring them a pair of clothes or pajamas to change into afterwards because you know bubbles always spill (but it’s better than a temper tantrum, in my book).
Read THIS POST for a few other DISNEY SOUVENIRS TO BUY BEFORE YOUR TRIP.
5. Other FREE Things in the Parks
- Celebration buttons – Pretty much whatever you’re celebrating (birthday, anniversary, first trip), Disney has a free button for that! Request one at Guest Services when you enter the Park and be showered through out the day with well-wishes.
- Hand your camera over to a Disney PhotoPass photographer – Yes, they not only take pictures with their camera (which you can purchase online) but they’ll also take complimentary photos with your own camera as well! (more details about getting the best family photos).
- Sweet and savory bites – At Disney California Adventure, swing back into the Pacific Wharf area. The Boudin Bakery will give you a free sourdough bread sample and the Ghiradelli shop hands out a square of chocolate to each Guest. At Club Cool in Epcot at Walt Disney World, you can have your tastes of soda flavors from around the world.
- Bring something from home to collect autographs from the Characters. I’ve heard of people using a fabric marker and a pillowcase or t-shirt. How about this idea of a photo frame mat for Characters to sign around. Then include a photo of yourself with one of them inside the picture frame, clever! I met this woman at Walt Disney World who was collecting her autographs in a book that featured all the characters! (It’s called Disney Junior Encyclopedia of Animated Characters). So clever and you’ll have all your autographs in one place.
- Do you have a Disney Visa credit card? – You can get a private meet n’ greet with a surprise character. Just check the website beforehand to find out the location and more details.
The great thing about Disney is that once you have your ticket in hand you are completely free to explore the entire Park without any additional costs if you wish. If you are planning a trip to Disney like this budget guide that includes packing in your own meals and not shopping for souvenirs inside the Park, be sure to let your family know ahead of time what to expect. This will eliminate any unhappy surprises once you’re on your trip. I’ve found that as long as everyone knows what’s happening ahead of time this really helps make the day at the Happiest Place on Earth, well…happy!