Recently my daughter decided she wanted to go to Disney World and Universal Studios for her high school graduation celebration trip. So, I started putting a plan together and finding ways we could splurge while still finding how I could save money at Disney World to still pay for college!
This list of ideas below has actual numbers and shows where we saved money, where I wished we had saved money and shows how we still enjoyed an amazing trip and stayed at a Deluxe Disney World Resort! This post contains affiliate links and I might earn a commission if you purchase from my link.
Renting Points from DVC Rentals
$2037 vs $3555 = $1518 savings
Our largest savings came from our “splurge” expense. We chose to stay on-site at one of the Disney World hotels and I chose to rent DVC points for a great deal on a deluxe resort.
Disney World offers a lot of hotel options and they are mostly categorized into four tiers: Value, Moderate, Deluxe, and Deluxe Villas. Villas are vacation club property rooms that are available for owners of the Disney Vacation Club (timeshare program) as well as being available for bookings directly like a hotel room.
I rented points through David’s Vacation Club Rentals. They’ve been around for a long time and I have friends who have used them, so I knew they were trustworthy. I used their cost calculator to check how much it would be and decided it was a good way to splurge while still saving money.
When you decide to book with DVCrequest, you pay a $150 deposit which goes towards any booking you make. If they’re not able to find your requested resort(s) or dates, then you are refunded that deposit.
One of the things I loved best about booking with them is you pick what you want but they help find you anything available. I requested a room at one of three resorts, Disney’s Riviera Resort is my favorite, but unfortunately, nothing was available where I specified.
But with the news of no availability, an agent with David’s Vacation Club Rentals also sent me a list of seven alternative options that did have availability, including the Bay Lake Tower.
I chose the Grand Floridian option and we had a fabulous stay. When I priced out what the cost would be to stay at the Grand Floridian as a resort guest, not using vacation club points, it was going to be $889 a night ($3555 total) after taxes. I paid $509 per night.
I will note that the DVC Villa properties do not get daily housekeeping like a hotel room client would get, but most of the villas also have a mini-fridge and microwave which can help with food cost savings.
There are a lot of off-site resorts as well that will offer you savings, however, watch for daily resort fees and be aware that shuttle service can be limiting for your plans, and driving to the parks and parking can be a headache as well as an added expense.
Many of the Value level Disney resorts are actually a better deal than off-site hotels when you compare the ease and convenience of getting to the parks, but some hotels with free breakfasts might offer enough savings to make staying off-site worth the extra transportation costs.
There is one on-site non-Disney hotel — the Swan and Dolphin Resort which does offer boat transportation and is within walking distance to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. This is a Marriott property, so if you have a lot of Marriott points, you might be able to book this hotel with points to save cash.
Getting Discounted Disney World Tickets
$1830 vs $1892.91 = $62.97 savings ($20.99 per ticket)
I’ve been partnering and booking Disney trips with Get Away Today for years now, and I know they offer discounted Disney tickets. So, when I needed to buy my tickets, I booked with them and saved $62.97 over what the Disney World site cost was.
Get Away Today is normally the cheapest place to buy discounted Disney World tickets, and they’ll price match any other reputable sites if you do find someplace lower!
You’ll be emailed your ticket ID numbers after booking within 24 hours. You then add those ticket numbers to your My Disney Experience account and can make your park reservations after they’re added to your account.
HEADS UP: Initially it will look like the WDW site has the best price per ticket, but the Get Away Today pricing includes tax and WDW adds the tax on the end, so GAT does end up being cheaper. Note that prices at WDW are based on the season so you’ll need to select dates when you buy your tickets and the price and savings will vary based on your travel dates.
Breakfast and Water Stock Up
$40 vs $130 = $90 savings
We visited WDW in the summer, and it was hot and humid. We knew staying hydrated was a priority, but we also didn’t bring refillable water bottles from home that were easy to carry. So, we bought water every day and that added up to about $30. We also got bakery items and bananas each morning at Starbucks which averaged $25 a day (drinks included)
I wish I would have taken an uber to a nearby Target, Walmart, or grocery store from the airport on our way to the hotel. We could have purchased water bottles, bananas, and muffins for about $30 at Target. The extra Uber stop would have added a bit of a cost since it would be two Uber rides from the airport to the hotel instead of one, but I think it surely would only add about $10.
With more people, we were a party of three, the savings for this could be even larger than what we would have saved.
Also note, you can order from Amazon to be shipped to your resort, but Disney has very specific rules about how to address the packages and they charge a $6 handling fee. This might be a better option than the added Uber stop.
Those with a rental car will be able to make the stop themselves before checking in to the hotel, so there is no added cost to getting water and breakfast items on your way to the hotel.
$36 vs $90 = $54 savings
Buying souvenirs can be a fun part of taking a Disney vacation. Saving on souvenirs is a little tricky as some items are only available at the Disney parks, like the popular spirit jersey tops.
However, there are some go-to places where you can buy some Disney swag in advance for a savings. For Disney tees to wear to the parks, check out the options at Target, Walmart, Kohl’s, Box Lunch, and Hot Topic.
shopDisney also often runs sales and is a great place to buy Disney gear before your trip including bubble wands, spirit jerseys, and pajamas. Check the main page and the top banner for any coupon code deals (i.e. SHIPMAGIC typically works for free shipping on $75+ purchases).
We bought Disney tees from Target for about $12 versus the $30 they cost in the stores, meaning we saved $18 each on our shirts and had them washed and packed for wearing on our trip.
If you are planning on shopping in the parks, there are two ways you can save money on your souvenirs. 1) Have a Disney visa card which gives you 10% off $50+ purchases in the parks, or 2) use Disney gift cards purchased at Target with a 5% discount.
Buying Gift Cards at Target
$500 with 5% discount = $25 savings
This is just a little drop in the savings bucket, but every little bit helps! If you buy Disney Gift Cards at Target with a Target RedCard you get your 5% discount on the purchase. That means that if you buy $500 worth of gift cards, you’ll save $25.
Disney Gift Cards can be used all around the parks for shopping and dining. Plus, they can be added to your Apple Wallet for paying with your phone. My friend Leslie has some more tips and tricks for getting Disney gift cards at a discount.
If you’re mobile ordering food with the Disney app, you can save the gift card ID number in your phone notes app for a quick copy/paste since you can’t save a gift card for payment in the app like you can with credit cards.
Uber vs Mears vs Renting Car
$110 vs $500 = $390 savings
Getting to Disney World from the Orlando Airport used to be so simple if you were staying at a Disney World hotel, you simply took the Magical Express bus service.
However, Disney did away with that service at the beginning of 2022 and so visitors now need to make their own arrangements. Here’s a comparison of the three ways and how each can help you save money on your Disney World vacation.
Let’s look at the cost to rent a car, which I personally avoid. Sure, they offer some freedom and ease along with sometimes saving a lot of time over the on-site bus transportation, but it comes with a steep price tag.
To rent a car for five days at Disney World, you’re looking at spending about $400 for the rental after taxes and fees. Part of this is due to the extreme increase in the cost to rent at Orlando Airport. Some economy cars are going for as much at $82 a day!
Then let’s consider the parking you’ll need to pay to park at hotels and theme parks. If you stay on property at a Disney resort, your parking fee for the resort also gives you complimentary parking for the theme parks. It costs between $15 to $25 per day for overnight parking depending on the resort. For a five-night stay, that’s another $75-$125 for parking.
Disney Vacation Club villa resort guests are waived the parking fee, so if you book a Deluxe Villa room with David’s Vacation Club Rentals as I mentioned above, you’ll get free parking at the resort and the parks.
Now let’s compare those costs to rent a car with the cost of an Uber XL. I recommend XL because you’ll need extra space for luggage if you’re a family of four.
We paid $57 for a one-way Uber XL rental from Orlando Airport to the Grand Floridian (plus a tip). We then paid $39 for an Uber XL from the Grand Floridian to Universal Studios.
And finally, we used Lyft to go from our Universal Studios hotel to the airport for $36. Assuming you only need to get from the airport and back, are a family of four or less, and don’t need car seats, you’ll spend about $110 for Uber XL rides.
If you have kids that need car seats but want to avoid renting a car, you can look at booking Mears Connect. This is the same company that used to operate the Magical Express buses for Disney Resorts. Since it’s a bus, car seats are not required by law like they would be if you were driving.
It costs $32 per adult and $27 per child for a round-trip ticket with Mears Connect. You can also book an express service with Mears which is still shared but is a direct ride to your resort where the standard service can have multiple stops at various resorts. The round-trip express service is $250 for 4 people ($55 for each additional person).
A family of four with two adults and two kids would look at paying $118 for a round trip with Mears Connect. Which is comparable with Uber XL, but of course, Mears will take longer. If you’re a larger family, Mears might be a better deal versus having to order two Uber rides.
Rope Drop vs Genie+
FREE vs $240 = $240 savings
I will preface this by saying that I have older kids who care about getting up early in order to rope drop at the parks each day. We also paid to stay on-site, which meant we got in 30 minutes early to the parks each morning.
I’ve used Genie+ at Disneyland and we enjoy it. However, on this recent trip to WDW, I was not impressed with Genie+ at all and felt it was a waste of money. We actually stopped buying it after the first two days.
Genie+ can help you get on some long wait rides with little to no wait, but with our experience, the available times for the top rides were extremely limited. And if you’re park hopping, there were very few times available once you got over to the next park after 2 pm.
If you’re really looking for savings and are willing to wait in a couple of standby lines, I’d prioritize rope dropping at the parks each morning and go on the most popular rides then. You might have to wait for 45 minutes to an hour or so for a couple of other popular rides, but you’ll be saving $15 per person per day on buying Genie+ which will only really get you maybe three Lightning Lane rides each day.
If you go to the parks for four days, buying Genie+ for a family of four every day will cost $240. If you do want to buy Genie+, it’s typically thought that buying on days when you’ll be at Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios is when it’s most useful. Here’s a post with my friend’s full Genie+ tips.
That’s a full breakdown of how we saved or could have saved $2379.97 on our Disney World vacation. You can use my free printable worksheet to determine how much a Disney World vacation costs, and hopefully some of these tips will help you save and still enjoy your trip!