There’s something undeniably magical about Walt Disney World. The unmistakable smell of vanilla in the air, the feeling that a grand adventure might soon find you, the possibility that nothing will ever be impossible for you… It’s no wonder Disney World is the most visited vacation resort in the world. But with an annual attendance of over 52 million people, there are bound the be some roadblocks on your journey to a happily ever after time.
Strollers and line-cutters and family reunions galore! We’ve almost come to the unspoken conclusion that our ultimate Disney vacation will end up being a huge money sucker that zaps you of energy AND all patience. But it doesn’t have to be! After all, if you’re going to fork over the money to go to Disney World in the first place, then you might as well make sure it’s enjoyable, right?
I’ve by no means perfected the Disney trip and everything I do know I’ve learned from my husband, whose quite possibly a bigger Disney fan than me… NAH! But growing up in Florida has it’s perks and he’s taken all his childhood knowledge and applied it to all of our trips (which are averaging around 3 a year!)
Now I want to share some of those tips and tricks that we’ve used for our Disney trips to help you with yours. Whether you’re saving up to take the family one of these days, or you’re a full grown adult who needs their Disney fix, these tips will help you save both time and money, two of the most difficult things to hang onto. Apply these tips and you’ll start to find the magic in your trips.
10 Tips to Save Time and Money at Disney World
1. Check Crowd Calendars
Before we plan our tip, Jeff will check multiple crowd calendars online (which you can find with an easy google search) to estimate when the heavy, moderate and light traffic days are. Now, these are just estimates based on previous years, but they have served us well in planning our trips around the more moderate to light days. This will mean less people on the streets, in the restaurants and in line. It only takes a few minutes but it will save you A LOT of time at the park.
For example, summers are insanely busy. We NEVER go in the summer. Too hot and too crowded. But, we will go in early May, after spring breaks are over and before school lets out. Or we’ll go at the end of September when the weather is cooler but before the Halloween crowd shows up. There are always less busy days around your favorite holiday, so you don’t need to sacrifice those for a good trip!
2. Chase Disney Cards
We love Chase and one of the awesome features they have is their Disney credit and debit cards. Jeff and I both have their Disney debit cards and when you use it at the parks, some places will give you a discount equal to an annual pass holder.
One place I know of is Joffrey’s Coffee, which I’ll talk about soon, who gives you 10% off for using you Chase Disney debit or credit card. Some restaurants, shops and stands will also offer discounts. It doesn’t cost anything to get them. You just need to have an account with Chase Bank. Easy peasy!
3. Hotels Outside the Parks
Now I know it seems magical to stay at an official Disney Resort and if that is your dream then I say go for it! Or start saving now for the future. But remember that when you go to Disney, you tend to spend very little time at your hotel. Instead of blowing all your money on a resort that will make your towels look like Mickey (which I get… it’s cute!) stay at a hotel or resort and use your rental car to get around.
This is what Jeff and I do every single time and it’s worked out AMAZING! Some of our favorite places to stay are the Polynesian Isles Resort, the Hilton Garden Inn at Sea World, and The Berkley Orlando (which also has no resort fees!) They are all nice, clean and only a few miles away from the parks.
Do some research and stay at a nice place where you can relax, get some sleep and come and go from the parks as you please. Now that’s a vacation!
4. The Resort Tram
This tip we happened to stumble upon one hot Florida day when the line for the tram taking us from the ticketing center to Magic Kingdom was crazy long. We glanced over at the tram next to it, which had no line, and a fella who was walking up said, “Hey, you know these trams go to the same place, right? They just stop at the resorts along the way.” What!
We had no idea. So we hopped aboard instantly and waved goodbye to all of the sweaty people standing in the heat as we headed off to the Magic Kingdom.
This tram does stop at the resorts along it’s route, but it only spends about 5-8mins at each stop. There are two resorts on the way to the Magic Kingdom and one resort on your way back to the ticketing center. Besides, when you’re trying to stay out of the heat as much as possible, it’s so nice to relax on a tram with air conditioning… sipping on your Joffrey’s Coffee ;)
If the line for the normal tram is giving you a stomach ache, then hop the resort tram and breath a bit. There’s really no rush!
5. Disney Diversions
Multiple times a day, Disney puts on a large parade or street show, where people (especially those with children) will line the streets to catch of glimpse of their favorite Disney Princess or surround a street show in hopes of being a part of the act. But this is when we hit the rides!
These shows and parades are what Disney calls “crowd control” and they can be your cue that a lot of people will be distracted for the next 20min or so and won’t be going on rides. This is a great time to high tail it over to a ride you maybe don’t have a FastPass for and enjoy a little less people in your life.
6. Soda Fountain Free Refills
One thing about Disney is you pay for everything and you rarely get things for free… like refills. Most of the soda fountains are located behind the counter and what you get is all you get. But there are a couple of places that Jeff and I have found that have soda fountains out for the people to use. That means, you could buy a soda once and come back and get refills all day!
Two of these places we know of are the Electric Umbrella in Epcot and Backlot Express in Hollywood Studios. These also make great lunch places if you’re looking for something that’s not too big or expensive. Besides, who doesn’t love their iced cold diet coke to last all day!
7. Joffrey’s Coffee
I love coffee. It’s just the way I am. It’s also the way Jeff is and you better know that we need our coffee fixes while on vacation… especially while on vacation!
While there are a couple of Starbucks around the parks, they are crazy expensive! More so than normal it seems. And if you want to get coffee outside the park, it’s usually bad by the time you make it in. Joffrey’s Coffee shop is one of those places that is a God send! Delicious coffee, affordable prices and several locations around each park. It’s hands down our favorite place to grab a cup at Disney.
My favorites right now are the iced vanilla latte and the frozen cappuccino (if you’re in the mood for a sweet treat). They also give discounts to chase Disney card holders, like I mentioned earlier. There’s usually never a long line because I don’t think people are too familiar with them. There also happens to be a location at the transportation and ticketing center on your way to Magic Kingdom. Remember how I said I like to take the resort tram with my Joffrey’s Coffee in hand?
8. My Disney Experience App
This is hands down one of the greatest tools Disney has for making your time in the Parks a breeze. One feature that a lot of people don’t know about is ordering online. A lot of restaurants and food stands have “online order” lines that are usually much shorter! This is for people who have used their My Disney Experience App to order food using the card they put on file. You order, pay, choose a pick-up time and simply walk up to the counter and grab your food. All of the people in the regular lines will watch you with a sweaty jealously :)
The other feature that the app is probably used for the most is scheduling FastPasses. Ever notice those FastPass lines for your favorite rides? Yeah, that’s where you get those. You are allowed up to 3 FastPasses at one time per day, and once you use up all 3, you can start scheduling more one at a time for the remainder of the day. You can generally schedule them up to a week in advance and Disney Annual Pass holders can schedule them up to 30 days in advance.
My biggest advice? Pick the 3 busiest rides you want to go on in that park to schedule FastPasses for and then wait in the smaller lines (perhaps with a Dole Whip float you picked up in the online order line) and enjoy the magic Disney puts into them. Jeff and I are on top of our FastPasses and we rarely ever stand in line for more than 30min…
Some of the rides I would recommend scheduling FastPass for?
Magic Kingdom: Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain
Hollywood Studios: Tower of Terror, Toy Story Mania, Rockin’ Roller Coaster or one of the shows (Rockin’ Roller Coaster has a single rider line which we normally use because you really don’t experience the ride with the person sitting next to you. It’s too fast and too dark)
Epcot: Test Track and Soarin’
Animal Kingdom: Avatar Flight of Passage, Na/vi River Journey, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest and DINOSAUR
Remember you have one hour to use your FastPass (for example from 12pm-1pm) but Disney does give you about a 15min grace period at the end.
9. Check the Wait Time Before Using a FastPass
One quick tip about FastPasses is if you have one scheduled for a busier ride and you notice the normal line waiting time has gone down, then as long as you have plenty of time left to use your FastPass, go ahead and wait in the normal line, then run back and use your FastPass. That way you get to ride twice!
For example, let’s say you have a FastPass for Splash Mountain from 3pm-4pm. It’s currently 3:05pm and you arrive at the ride to find that the normal waiting time is only 25min… very rare for Splash Mountain! Wanting to take advantage of this short wait time, you could go through the normal line, ride the ride and then pop back out with enough time to use your FastPass!
To do this, you’ll need to go and check on your ride at the beginning of your FastPass. That way you would have enough time to get through the ride before your FastPass expires.
10. Disney’s Annual Pass
And now for the grand finale… Disney’s Annual Pass! I know what you’re thinking…. “aren’t those like really expensive?” Well, they certainly are not cheap. But they have been well worth the money for us. I feel you get your money back by your second trip. So by biggest advice for you Disney fans on a budget is to pick a year where your vacations will be to Disney and then invest in the annual pass.
Here are some ways that the Annual Pass has helped Jeff and I save time and money!
You can park hop as many times as you want. No need to purchase any tickets. You can also sleep in and head to the parks whenever you want because you don’t need to be there all day to feel as though you are getting your money’s worth. You already are!
Free parking at all parks. It’s usually around $20-$25 per day per park! That adds up real quick! Just flash your pass and a photo ID and you’re good to go :)
A lot of restaurants, food stands and shopping stores give annual pass discounts from 10, 20 and sometimes even 30% off! You can find a complete list of where this discount is offered and how much it is HERE!
Ever notice those snappy magic bands everyone’s been wearing to the parks lately? Well you get one in a color of your choice for free! No need to hold onto tickets. It’s all loaded on your band. It also connects to your My Disney Experience App to hold all of your FastPasses and reservations!
Since selfie sticks are not allowed in the parks, it’s hard to get a good photo of you, especially with all of the people! But with the annual pass, you get all of the professional photos offered on the streets for free! Remember all the photographers standing around? Yep! Just get your photo taken, let them scan your magic band, and your photos will be waiting for you in your App, where you can download them for free for up to one year. Perfect for couples who want some nice photos :) **Also, if you or your loved one are planning on running in any of the Disney Races, you get all of those professional photos for free too! They are incredible!
There are even special hours that the park has open to Annual Pass holders only. You can find these with a simple google search and you may want to take advantage of these!
Well there you have it. Our most practical tips for saving time and money at Disney World. These by no means are all the ways to save, but if you’re planning a trip in the near future, I highly recommend putting some of these into practice. And you’ll probably start finding your own ways to save.
The point is that going on a Disney vacation is more possible then you may realize. It just take some planning, intentionality and a few insider tips to get you there. Don’t buy into the hype that Disney is miserable. Sure there are plenty of miserable people there but you don’t have to be one of them! Enjoy the magic of the parks and be swept away in a world of possibilities. If you’re anything like Jeff and I, you’ll come back more refreshed, inspired and driven than before.
Here’s to dreaming big!