Five Ways To Save Money At Disney When Traveling With Kids

Written by Jessica Ma'ilo. Posted in Disney, Disney Parks, Park Wise

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Published on September 05, 2013 at 3:00 am with 31 Comments

We all know that a Disney vacation can be a hefty financial commitment, but here are a few ways to cut costs when traveling with little ones.

1. Pack Enough Essential Supplies

Pack a week’s worth (or however long you’re staying) of pull-ups, wipes, Benadryl (my niece turns into a sneezing machine in Florida), whatever or have it delivered.  You can get all of these essentials at the parks and resorts, but you’ll pay a pretty penny for them.  If you’ll have a car, consider a quick trip to an off-site store to grab anything you don’t feel like packing.

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Get Park Wise: This one is from a client of mine who just finished her first trip to Walt Disney World on the mommy side.  If using the dining plan, use your refillable mug for your beverage when quick service dining at your resort.  You can then use your beverage credit to snag a bottled/packaged (i.e., savable) beverage.  Her family was able to get a few days worth of milk for their toddler this way without spending any extra cash.

2. Pack Your Own Costumes

If your pirates and princesses will want to don their rascally and royal garb at the parks (or even if you think they might), toss a costume or two in the suitcase.  I have no doubt that princess dresses at the parks will eventually hit a triple digit price tag (I’ve already seen some special editions that top $100), so packing a couple could easily save a chunk of change.  Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and the Pirates League offer costumes with their packages, but guests are more than welcome to supply their own outfits for the makeover experiences.

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We also saved money by getting pixie dusted and pirate treasured at the Harmony Barber Shop!

3. Curb Souvenir Spending

Set a limit with older kiddos beforehand on what they can spend per day.  Can they purchase two souvenirs?  Or can they spend $50 however they choose?  This can often quell the gimmes when you get dumped into a gift shop after your favorite ride.  For little ones, set a limit for yourself.  I’ve been there.  I know how tempting it is to buy your wide-eyed two year old everything in sight, especially on that first trip, but try to give yourself a budget so you can start saving for the next one!

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Get Park Wise: Consider purchasing gift cards for older children.  Give them one for the entire trip or one per day.  When they’re empty, they’re empty.  This puts the responsibility on the child, and I’ve seen big spenders become a lot more choosy when they know there’s an end to the cash.

4. Reduce Your Tickets

Although the longer you stay, the less you pay per day for park tickets, schedule at least a day to enjoy the complimentary offerings at your resort.  A favorite for my mouseketeers is always the resort pool.  They spent an entire afternoon climbing and sliding down the monorail slides at the Disneyland Hotel and have enjoyed hours upon hours at Stormalong Bay.  Complimentary arts and crafts are occasionally offered, as well as a pool party and other activities.  Check your recreation guide for more information about your specific resort.  Bonus: If the kids are busy at the pool, they’re not asking for souvenirs! 

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5. Bring Light-Up Toys

Yes, this is kind of cheating because it may technically go with tip #3, but this has saved me hundreds of dollars over the years, so I think it deserves its own paragraph.  You know the scene.  You’ve staked out your spot for the nighttime spectacular at your favorite Disney Park.  All of the sudden, here they come.  Those carts filled to the brim with flashing lights, spinning characters and anything that would stand still long enough to attach lights or glow paint to it.  And those suckers are kid magnets.  We’ve given in once or twice, but we now throw a generous supply of glow sticks and light-up toys into our park bag.  We break them out before the carts make their seizure-inducing debut for the night, and not a “May I buy…” is heard for the duration.

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How do you save money when taking your little ones to Disneyland or Walt Disney World?

About Jessica Ma'ilo

Jessica is a special education teacher by day and blogger and Fairy Godmother Travel agent by evening. When not supervising play dates or sleepovers, she can be found creating, sewing or singing. She loves hitting the Disney Parks, and she and her family escape to the World and Land as often as they can. She can be contacted at [email protected], and you can also check out her family blog, Magic, Memories, Mayhem.

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31 Comments

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  1. Leave the kids at home! LOL.

    • That would totally work if we weren’t talking about how to save money when traveling with kids.
      And, to be honest, I ended up buying my little guy more stuff than he probably would’ve asked for if he were with me on the rare occasion I’m at Disney without him.

  2. Carry a backpack. Visit Subway early in the morning before you arrive at the park. Fill the backpack with really good sandwiches that everyone in the family likes. Make sure to bring refillable water bottles. Bring those little flavor adder deals if the kids want something more exotic than water.

    Stay off property at a room with a kitchenette (you can priceline one on the cheap). Make sure to eat as many meals as possible “at home.” Make liberal use of the free in/out privileges of Disney parking.

    Great tips… just having a little foresight helps A LOT. We did Disney crazy cheap this summer and really only felt the pinch with admission prices (nothing you can do about that, though).

    • Definitely doable tips if you have easy off-site access. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Stay at a hotel that has a continental breakfast. This way you can have a good FREE meal to start off your day before you head into the parks.

    • That’s a money-saver for anyone traveling, not just when traveling with kids. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Couple of things —

    If you’re visiting the Anaheim resort, know that the resort area adds an additional resort fee to all rooms, which ends up being around $20 per day for the room on top of whatever the hotel charges. Hotels in the nearby Knott’s Berry Farm area or further down Harbor Boulevard offer free shuttle service and will save you this charge.

    If you are planning on visiting more than once in a 365 day period of time, upgrading your pass to an Annual Pass is an amazing option to save money. Take a September or later trip one year, and then plan a June or July trip the next year.

    Finally, if you are wanting to do shopping for actual Disney souvenirs, you might want to check out the Character Depot, where Disney Parks merchandise is sent for clearance. They’re located north of the Resort on Harbor and Orangethorpe in Fullerton, 227 E Orangefair Mall. Depending on the day, you can find some great deals there, most of it marked at least 50% off.

    • Character Depot is going out of business, DDote77, so that tip will be dead very soon!

    • Also some thoughtful general tips, not just applicable to those with children. Thanks for chiming in this week!

  5. Echoing one of the earlier comments, bring a backpack and stuff it full of food and water. I have been going to Disneyland with my two daughters for years. We often buy lunch at the parks, but for all other snacks we bring our own food. While I usually bring some light junk food (e.g. Lollipops or popcorn from Trader Joe’s) I bring apples, some hot dogs with an cold pack etc. to keep them going and happy through the day. Saves so much money, is healthier, and helps avoid the ‘crash and burn’ issue with junk food.

    • I don’t know that I’d put hot dogs and lollipops in the healthy food category, but the idea of packing snacks for the kiddos is great! $4.00 Mickey Bars sure add up quick. ;)

  6. Take advantage of free admission when they are 2 years old, even when they are 3 or 4.

    Use the stroller to your advantage. Bring lots of food. Also, the stroller hides the kid’s actual height to get in for free.

    Kids get free stuff. Get lots of free stickers and other freebies. Kids love their freebies more than paid stuff. Just don’t tell them they are free.

    Teach kids to share. They can’t finish a full meal, full drinks, or popcorn or dessert.

    Save by not going to Disney. Tell them SeaWorld or Legoland is the third Disney park.

    • Kids sure do get showered with freebies! Half of our stuff ends up covered in stickers! Cast members have also given me as a grown-up almost entire rolls of stickers when they find out what I do for a living. :)

  7. If you stop at a store once arriving in Orlando to get supplies, do NOT go to Goodings at the Crossroads. They are MOST EXPENSIVE grocery store in the area. They mark up everything because they’re right across from Disney property. Instead to go the Super Walmart on Turkey Lake Road (or the Dollar Tree across the parking lot if you want bottled water, reusable water bottles, candy or snacks).

    • Great specific tips!! Thanks for sharing!

  8. I tried to be cost-conscious when I went to the D23 Expo this year, and even packed snacks and supplies so I wouldn’t keep buying stuff from he food vendors.

    Also have been rather choosy when it comes to merchandise to buy, like in Cars Land: was sorely tempted to get postcards, and at least 8 different magnets, but kept reminding myself that I wanted money left over. I guess with age, comes the pick-and-choose of merchandising.

    I also have the thought that if I can get it outside of the parks, I really don’t need it there.

    • I hear you on your last thought. I try to make sure the things we buy can only be purchased at a Disney park or resort. I’m not buying Mickey pencils I can grab at a discount store for less than half the price.

  9. We drove to DL this year, so we packed the espresso machine since we stayed at a condo with a kitchen. No wandering, no waiting, and no charge for the best mochas ever. Kinda fun waking up my wife with the ShhhsShhhSSshSSSsssssSSsSSsSSSs sound of steaming the milk, too.

    • You gave your kids espresso!? That’s a money-saving tip I haven’t heard yet. ;)

  10. Thanks for writing this, Jessica

  11. Character Warehouse outlets (there are 2) in Orlando and are staffed with Disney employees. Great place to stop by and score some discounted souvenirs. Can always hit up a sale at the Disney Store too to snag a toy or something and bring with.

    Bring your own bottles of water and refill throughout the day.

    While waiting for the parade to start, my friend played a silly game with his young girls every time the vendors came by with light up toys etc. It was some invented game where they covered their eyes, fully missing as the vendor went by. I thought it was hilarious. It actually worked too!

    • Too funny about the “game.” :)

      We LOVE the Character Warehouse outlets! We try to hit both of them each trip because they usually have some different merch (and we’ve also found different prices). This is a great stop for the kids, too. Always lots of deals on plush toys that they can’t get enough of.

  12. Instead of bringing water bottles that will just get warm, ask for free iced water from any restaurant or snack outlet. Disney offers free water at their parks upon request. And in the Disneyland parks, you can even skip the lines and head straight to the registers to ask for iced water. They should have plenty of cups ready for you.

    • Kids of all ages can definitely take advantage of the free ice cold water at the quick service restaurants!

  13. It would seem to me that driving vs flying would make a HUGE difference in how one would handle kids, what with weight restrictions and all.

    Also, I was taught that “bringing things in” wasn’t “kosher.” I totally understand about buying Dollar Tree glo bracelets rather than Disney Parks expensive bracelets, but I wonder about the ethics of it. Do exorbitant admission prices justify “bringing things in?”

    The ice water tip is tremendous. Not having a stroller to carry around a Matterhorn-sized load of family needs, a bottle is something I hate carrying around. I will be carrying around the 12.5 lb. Service Dog in a body pack next visit; he loves ice water.

    Planning outfits for kids that are color-coded for ease in supervising one’s pack would make impulse buying of t-shirts less practical.

    • Definitely a big cost I didn’t touch on in this article. Driving can definitely save some cash once the kids are no longer “infant in lap” age. Parents will have to weigh the sanity vs savings when making this choice, though, depending on how long the drive would be. ;)

      It is very much allowed to bring in items (except, of course, for those items prohibited by the parks), so there’s no ethical issues involved on this one.

      We do (or did…the kids are coming close to rebelling) coordinating outfits for the kids, but I can say it’s never curbed the desire to buy a couple destination tees. They like to wear WDW items at home, so it doesn’t really matter what they’re wearing in the parks/resorts when they purchase them.

  14. I think a vacation doesn’t stop you from educating your kid and give them resistance to the temptations theme parks are offering. Instead of giving them stuff (bought there or off property) doesn’t give them the lessons they need to survive in life. When they are old enough explain stuff costs money and people have to work for it. During the year prior to your theme park vacation tell them if they want souvenirs and stuff they can do chores to earn money for the trip. Make sure they divide their spending money over the amount of days. Sure they will buy the wrong stuff and tears will flow but they learn quick and will be proud about the well thought out purchases they have done. Kids are much smarter then adults give them credit for.
    When going to a theme park isn’t enough anymore and loads of sweet and souvenirs are demanded you know you did a bad job.

    • Common sense and rules definitely shouldn’t take a vacation just because we are, but we do allow wiggle room on our trips (bedtimes, daily reading time, etc.). And having kids earn spending money for their souvenirs is a great idea. A friend of mine’s daughter earned $300 in about a month before we took them on their first trip this March, and she had a ball spending her own money.
      However, I couldn’t disagree more with your last sentence. Disney parks over overstimulating and designed to get you to consume. As an adult, I get sucked in, so I wouldn’t expect my kids not to ask for this or that if it struck their fancy. Absolutely does NOT mean I (or any other parent) “did a bad job.” There are so many more important issues in the crazy maze of parenting that a child asking for souvenirs at the Happiest or Most Magical Place on Earth is not high on the list.

  15. We are planning our trip for Sept 2014 now.
    1. I’ll spend the next few months trolling online sites/stores for deeply discounted Disney souvenirs and clothes that will fit the kids next year. Their parents do a great job of teaching the children restraint. We don’t waste much time shopping. They know that when we return to the resort. I’ll have something great for them. Although, I’ll definitely be splurging on some Glow With The Show Ears. Gotta have those.
    2. Use an Airline Credit Card for all purchases. Shop online with the cards partners and rack up extra points. Partners and deals offered by them are described on the cards rewards website. More so than the children, I could bust from excitement before we get there. From our home it’s a 15 hour drive. The flights for our group are covered by points, free.
    3. Time and plan your trip to take full advantage of Disney’s resort pricing schedule. Check Disney’s website and a few Disney vacation planning websites often prior to your trip. You can add any additional discounts offered during the time of your stay.
    4. Booking A Magic Your Way Package? Use the Disney Visa Card to book and pay for resort packages. The card offers 6 months interest free. Card holders get first crack at booking free dining when it’s offered. I like special experiences and tours, the card offers a 20% discount on many of those offered at DL and DWD.

    I’m saving the most valuable tip for last

    5. Plan Plan Plan. Can’t tress it enough. The most valuable thing you will spend with your children in Disney is your time. Don’t waste any of it. Have a schedule, arrive at the resort with your lists prepared. Park visit list with dinning reservations details and notes about favorite attractions, Daily backpack packing list, kids daily outfit list, souvenir schedule (i purchase these in advance so i try to relate them to what we’ve done that day) Are you going to Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique when you’re in the Magic Kingdom for the day. Have a list of everything the princess will need and check it twice before you leave your room to be sure you have everything. It can take 45 mins. each way to return to a resort and get back to MK. Seriously, our first trip we scheduled an AQUA Tour. Two families arrived without bathing suits. Both, said the same thing. “Our travel agent scheduled this tour. We didn’t know. ” The CM’s were able to help them out but it wasn’t as good an experience for them as it might have been had they known what to expect and what was expected of them. Are there things in Disney you have read about or maybe been told about that you want to experience as a family? RESEARCH and wright down or print out the import details. Availability, not everything is offered everyday in the Disney Parks. Location, in the park, how you get there from the entrance of the park. Timing, traveling around the parks can take time, be strategic. If you’re using the buses get very familiar with how they work. Our group wasted a ton of time trying to get from Typhoon Lagoon to Downtown Disney. We simply did not understand the directions the CM was giving us. Make the most of every dollar and every minute you and your family will invest in your trip. Don’t waste your energy and patience working out the simple things like what to wear, what to bring to the park each day, what time you’ll need to arrive, how long it will take to get there, using the Disney Transportation System. Work it out and write it down ahead of time, before you go. So, all that will be left to do when you get to the world is just have fun!
    …..and Hey, Have a magical day!