10 Disney Vacation Tips and Lessons Learned

disney2005 115 by mrkathika on FlickrThis past February, the Frugal family loaded up our SUV and headed south to Disney World in Orlando, FL. Even though our kids are a little older than most first-time visitors, we looked forward to their reaction. Fortunately, we located a few good Disney vacation tips ahead of time, and while there, we learned a few lessons of our own. Now we are fully educated on things like the Disney Park Hopper passes, fast passes, the dining plan and a few other Disney secrets.

10 Disney Vacation Tips (and a Few Lessons Learned for Next Time)

1. Fast passes rock, if you can get them. We didn’t really get into the Fast Pass system until the second day, but wished we had figured it out sooner. Basically, with Fast Pass you can get a ticket for each member of your party at a particular ride and return during the time window on your ticket to be ushered past the people in line and right up to your ride. We didn’t spend more than 10 minutes waiting on rides for which we had a Fast Pass.

Couple important notes. All members of your party must be inside the park for your park tickets to dispense a Fast Pass. I learned this the hard way when I got up early to get Fast Passes for the ride Soarin’.  After waiting for the park to open, and nearly sprinting with hundreds of others to the Soarin’ ride, I found out Fast Passes cannot be redeemed unless the owner of the park ticket has entered the park that day. Bummer.

Fast passes go quickly for the most popular rides. Pick one or two rides you really want to get to in each park and try to get a Fast Pass, else you’ll be waiting an average of 90 minutes in line to ride.

2. Rides dump you out at gift shops, hold on to your wallet! Walt Disney World has marketing down to a science. It was no surprise that most major rides dump you out in a gift shop. While we did spring for a magnet or two, and even a family picture on one of the roller coasters, most times we tried to make our way out as fast as possible!

They should give the following post-ride instructions to frugal folks, “When exiting the ride and entering the gift shop, hold on to your wallets, keep your heads down, hands in your pockets and run!”

3. Be ready to walk, and walk, and walk. I forgot to pack my pedometer for the trip, and refused to buy another, but I’m guessing we easily walked five miles a day looping around the parks, walking to and from shuttle pickups, hotels, etc.

One excellent tip a friend shared from their Disney vacation was to catch a few sit-down shows in the various theaters, even if you don’t think you’d be interested. The theaters are air conditioned, have comfortable seating, and offer a 15-20 minute break from standing and walking. We particularly enjoyed “It’s Tough to Be a Bug” in Animal Kingdom and the Monsters Inc “Laugh Floor” in Magic Kingdom.

4. Bring something to occupy kids while in lines. This counts as a lesson learned, because it isn’t something we prepared for ahead of time. Disney involves a lot of waiting. Waiting for rides, waiting for food, etc. Consider letting kids take along a portable game system (Nintendo DS, for example), music player, book, etc. Boredom is highly contagious while waiting 70 minutes for a ride.

5. Consider purchasing the Disney dining plan. I did not keep meticulous receipts from our meals (after all, we were on vacation), but I am convinced our decision to purchase the Disney Dining plan was a good one. With my mother-in-law included, our family of five would have had to pay around $65 for quick service meals, and close to $200 for buffets and restaurant meals.

6. Make reservations at sit-down restaurants, unless you enjoy burgers, chicken fingers, and mini carrot cake desserts every meal. Speaking of restaurants, we quickly grew tired of the quick-serve menus. Sure, burgers and fries, or chicken fingers, make for a decent lunch on the run, but after a while they get hard to stomach.

We only made reservations for three or four meals, and I wished we had done more. We enjoyed the Beirgarten in Epcot’s Germany section, Ragland Road Irish Pub in Downtown Disney, and Tutto Italia, also in Epcot (now this was authentic Italian food – delicious!).

The Rainforest Cafe, just outside of Animal Kingdom, offered the most unique dining experience (this wasn’t on the Disney plan, but served as our “splurge meal”). While it didn’t require reservations, Pizza Planet was a big hit for lunch with the kids in Hollywood Studios (Toy Story fans will recognize this one).

7. Staying inside the park may not be worth the premium price. When I visited Disney as a child, my mom and I stayed outside the park. However, when planning for our family’s first trip, many people told us how nice it is to stay inside the park. Sure, logistically it was nice to be close to the park entrances (we stayed at the Beach Club, a five minute walk from Epcot), but it came at a premium.

The inside-the-park resorts are very expensive, and we found that our family of four plus my mother-in-law were too wiped out to enjoy any “Magic Hours” when Disney resort guests could stay past regular closing hours. If we go back to Disney, we’ll look for somewhere to stay outside the park with a more frugal price tag.

8. Watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks show at least once. The fireworks show over the castle was one of the highlights of our trip. If you want to get close to the castle, arrive early. However, there is an advantage to viewing from afar – as soon as they are over, you’ll be closer to the exit when thousands of visitors make their way for the gates.

We made the mistake of camping out right next to the castle, which was nice for the show, but it took forever to work our way through the crowds to the exit. And it got very claustrophobic for my son (6) who doesn’t like being “squished” as he calls it.

9. Bring along disposable ponchos and a hat. Even though we left in February, there were a couple days where the temperatures climbed well into the 70s. I wished I had thought to bring along a hat, but fortunately we did pick up a few disposable ponchos before we left for those afternoon Orlando thundershowers.

10. Consider visiting in early spring or early fall. Both times of the year are cooler than summer months, and early fall was often cited as the best time to visit – right after older kids go back to school in September.

Bonus Tip: Disney World allows visitors to bring along a backpack. All bags are searched upon entry for security. We packed bottled water and a few snacks, ponchos, hand sanitizer, baby wipes, a small first aid kit (pain medicine, band-aids, etc.), a copy of The Unofficial Guide to Disney World 2010 (this was by far the best book we read on all things Disney). This pack served as our bug out bag while at Disney.

Additional Resources:

For those of you who have visited before, what favorite Disney vacation tips can you share with fellow readers?


  1. The last couple of time we went, it was in September after school started. Works great when you kids aren’t in school. The only rides we had a hard time getting fast passes for were Soarin and Toy Story Mania.

    You are right about the sit down restaurants, although one thing I learned was they only allow a certain number of ODD person tables. We tried to get a table for 3 and were told they were none available but the nice girl told us if we happened to have 4 people and someone, cough cough, got sick and didn’t show up she could get us a table for 4.

    • Nice move. In regards to odd person tables I’m sure they ran some numbers showing that the majority of families that go to Disneyland have four kids (nice way to maximize profit on each sit down). But given how people are now holding on closer to their wallets, I would be shocked if they didn’t work with their current client base even if it requires three people at a table.

  2. Good tips! Just remember though if you stay outside the park , you can’t purchase the Disney dining plan.

    • @Val: I had not considered that – good point. I just assumed the dining option was available to all visitors with a park ticket. Well, you could obviously be ultra frugal and pack lunches and snacks, and then eat outside the park before/after visiting. Since we kind of “lived it up” this trip, our next one will be the complete opposite – a challenge to see just how much we can save!

      • I think staying inside the park is more important when your kids are very young. Last year, we had 2 kids under 4. We only made it til about noon, then left for lunch, a nap and cooling off in the pool. We’d go back mid afternoon.

        We didn’t use the magic hours either.

  3. My husband and I travel to Disney about 1-2 times a year without kids. His brother lives in Orlando and we go for the day. First off if you are thinking of going to Disney a bunch consider the 10 day park hopper ticket and add the no expiration option. We bought one in the fall for about 450 each, and now we can go to the park for $45 a day rather than the one day price of about $95. We figured we could upfront the cost and then save big time in the back in as Disney prices go up and up and we will still be using the pass in 5-8 years. Also if you buy one for a child at age 8, they can still use the child ticket and price even if they are 38. They just have to be under 10 at the time of purchase.

    Our tips from a childless couple. 1) Bring your own food, we normally have snacks in the bag or in the car that we can eat. We can both eat for under 20 dollars a day from the park. Also if you are really hungry and you drive to the park as we do, you can stop off at a fast food place outside the park as you drive to the second park 2) Your parking pass is good for the whole day, so drive from park to park 3) My sister-in-law on their big trip to Disney, very frugal as well, gives her kids a gift a day at the begining of the day wrapped and Disney themed that she brought from home most likely on sale and very cheap. Like Mickey mittens, plates, cups, pjs…something the kids will use again, and gives the kids it before the head to the park each day. That way the kids “get” something from Disney but not at Disney prices. At the end of the trip they get to buy one item from the parks. She says this works great, as she is constantly not having to say no, because the kids already got a gift.

    Hope this helps…our two funnies, is that for the happiest place on earth there is sure a lot of crying and you will never see so many strollers in one square mile again in your life…

  4. I may have been at Disney with you this past February Frugal Dad! Even though my kids are getting older, they still enjoy Disney a lot.

    Regarding lodging, we never stay at the Disney resorts. You are 100 percent correct in that you may even be too tired to take advantage of the Magic Hours that you can stay for if you are staying on a Disney property. Ironically, I also mentioned Disney lodging in my post today. We always stay in a condo complex called World Quest when we stay in Disney. It is just like a hotel/resort, but is condos. Wayyyy cheaper than staying on-site and so much more room, and quieter too. Love having a full kitchen and separate rooms for the kiddos.

    The disposable poncho is a requirement if you are staying in chilly weather. We love Splash Mountain but knew it would be too cold to go on if unprepared. The cold weather kept the lines small, and the poncho kept us dry so it was perfect. (This was January of 2009). Also, you can get absolutely drenched on the Atlantis water ride at Sea World and the water ride at Animal Kingdom, can’t remember the name. That can be uncomfortable even in warm weather.

    You also make a good point about taking breaks. Even though it costs a little money, we let the kids ‘relax’ a little at the Pizza Planet arcade and also at the arcade by Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom. The arcades are air conditioned and everyone can get a second wind. When I need a break, the kids goof around at a play area at Hollywood Studios while I sit and have a bottle of water. (Brought in my portable cooler)

    Fast passes are an absolute requirement. We have a plan every time we go. Magic Kingdom, we run to Space Mountain to get a fast pass then base our next stop on when we can get our next fast pass. At Epcot, we run to get the Soarin fast pass then get the Test Track pass as soon as is allowed. Hollywood studios we actually race back to the Toy Story ride and then get the Fast Pass for Rockin Roller Coaster when able.

    Finally, as another commenter mentioned, it is totally worth it to get the 10 day pass that does not expire if you know you will be going back. That saved us a ton of money. And, I have said numerous times ‘I don’t think this is the happiest place on earth for those younger than 5’. The crying is everywhere, especially as you get later on in the day…

    Great post Frugal Dad!

    • We missed Test Track and Rockin Roller Coaster because of lines (and my Fast Pass SNAFU at Epcot). I’ve heard both are a lot of fun. Surprisingly, I got both kids to ride Everest, and my wife rode The Tower of Terror–which yielded the funniest photograph in our family’s history with my wife floating out of her seat, clutching my arm in sheer terror. I laugh just thinking about it!

  5. Sounds like a round of the Grizwolds headin’ to Wally World.

    Getting up at the crack of dawn and racing to get Fast Passes, standing in line for hours, paying $95 a day to get in (plus food and souvenirs), high-priced lodging, elbowing your way past screaming kids and 1000s of stroller…hmmm…sounds neither frugal nor very relaxing. I’m sure the fireworks are nice and the rides are thrilling, but this type of vacation would have me longing to get back to work so I could rest.

    To each his own I suppose. I’ve never been to Disney World, and after reading this post, I’m pretty sure I have no desire to ever go.

    • @Sid: Trust me, you need a vacation from a Disney “vacation.” I haven’t been that worn out since two-a-day football practices in high school! I don’t mean to sound negative. It was a lot of fun, and something we’ll remember forever.

      • I agree with Frugal Dad. I live in Michigan, so it is a long trip to Florida, but it is totally worth it. However, we don’t do 7 straight days at the park or anything. We break it up and do other things too. You can actually make the day somewhat relaxing if you don’t pressure yourself to rush around. When we go in February, it isn’t that ridiculously busy. We just plan our meals and such accordingly so we feel refreshed. No, it isn’t frugal financially, but this last trip down to Disney was probably our best vacation ever, and we have been there a few times. As you said, to each his own.

        As a side note, I cannot stand Cedar Point. That is my idea of hell.

  6. My wife and I went to WDW for our honeymoon last September. This is Disney’s “value” season due to kids returning to school and the possibility of inclement weather. We were able to stay at one of the deluxe resorts for slightly more than the value resort would have been. Disney also upgraded us to a room with a better view at no cost. They gave us pins that said we were celebrating our honeymoon and whenever the cast members (Disney employees) saw the pin we would get little perks here and there. For instance we went to the Lion King show at Animal Kingdom and they gave us front row “reserved” seats.

    Dining Plan – I did the math for meals ahead of time for dining and we opted to purchase the dining plan. The standard dining plan for two adults in 2009 was $63.98 per day. This included one sit down meal, one quick meal and one snack. After reviewing some of the menus on Disney’s web site, I realized that a sit down meal would be roughly $30/person or more. This included a non-alcoholic drink and desert since those were included with the standard dining plan. We also purchased a refillable mug for ~$15 at our resort which granted us unlimited refills at any resort. When we left our daily sit down meal we would ask for refills and then pour them into the mug to keep going for the rest of the day. I never did add up all of the meals but I am certain that the dining plan was well worth it. The best part of the dining plan was thanks to Disney’s deep discounts during their value season, we got the dining plan at no cost. I was planning on buying the plan anyway, so I was figuring the dining plan and park tickets into the nightly cost of the room.

    Transportation – The other thing that you should remember about staying on property is the bus system that runs roughly every 20 minutes. When I was looking at off property hotels, a lot of them only had busses every couple hours. When we wanted to run back to the hotel to rest for a bit, only having to wait 20 minutes at most was a huge bonus.

    Fastpass – We didn’t really use these that often since ride queues were really not an issue for us. I think the longest we waited for a ride was 15-20 minutes. We did grab a fast pass here and there but I do not think that they were necessities in September. We basically walked onto Tower of Terror and Rock’n’Roller Coaster, two rides that we were warned that would have extremely long waits. One thing that most people do not realize is while the fast passes give you a return time (complete with start and end times), you can return any time afterwards as long as it is the same day. I had one that said that I could return from 9-10AM and I redeemed it at 6PM with no questions asked. You can also grab another fast pass for any ride five minutes after your return time even if you have not redeemed it yet.

  7. I was an annual passholder when I lived in Florida, so we did Disney alot. We always stay outside the park, a nearby Super 8 served all basic purposes for us. Route 192 has tons of options and is 5 minutes away. Right in front of it was a $6 breakfast buffet, so we loaded up there and ate very little at the park until dinner. Taking a few snacks and drinks in is a must. Epcot’s “cheap” international restaurants are quite tasty and diverse with out the glamour and price of the sit-downs. The biggest problem with staying outside the park now, is the parking fee ($12-14 a day). On a 4-5 day trip, it really adds up. Find a hotel with free shuttle, or, if you park at the Disney Boardwalk (still free?), you can use the back entrance to Epcot to enter the parks. I think Downtown Disney is on the internal bus routes, so if you don’t mind the wait, you may do better parking there and shuttling in. Or perhaps park at one of the hotels- and use the internal buses. They have security at each parking lot, so you can tell them you’re going to check out the hotel (and do so- Animal Kindgom Lodge is REALLY cool with an animal viewing walkway out back- we saw a month old giraffe that wasn’t released for public viewing yet) or that you’re meeting friends for breakfast at the hotel restaurant. This year you can get a free day if you volunteer- we spent two hours helping at an agency’s group volunteer night. My mom read to children at a shelter for abused women. Decide what you WANT to spend money on- there are ways to do the rest of it cheaply. Some people prefer the nice hotel and are content to bring food in. Others want the good food, but don’t buy many souveniers. Remember- photos are virtually free mementos if you take them yourself.

  8. Richard and I went to Disney World last year and had a blast. We stayed at Swan–I redeemed a free night I had.

    We had unusual weather…it actually snowed while we were there! It was perfect, though. We had just one day at Disney World, so we chose Epcot. Due to the freezing weather, most people weren’t in the park. We got to do *every* attraction they had in the park, and ate at two fantastic restuarants (the aquarium restaurant was simply amazing and was frankly one of the best places I’ve ever eaten–and I’ve eaten at many of the nicest restaurants in the country!)

    Their restaurants are so supportive and conscious of diets (I’m gluten free) and the rides were fun. The only one we really had to wait for was Soarin’. I’d definitely go back in the winter. (We knew the weather was going to be cold, so we were well-prepared with heavy clothes and hats…most people weren’t!)


  9. This is a very timely post for me as I just booked a Disney vacation last week! We are going in December as a reward for my 3 1/2 year old twins potty training. They were not motivated at all to get out of pull ups and a trip to Cindrella’s castle seemed to do the trick (yes, we bribed them!). We are going to stay at the Polynesian and bought the dining plan. We are getting a hopper pass and wanted to stay on the monorail so we can easily go back to the hotel if need be. We actually went through a travel agent and I am so thankful because there are so many things to do – I had no clue! We know that this is not a frugal vacation by any means but our girls are so obsessed with Disney Princesses that we figured this is the perfect vacation for them. We won’t be going on any of the big rides so we have no worries about Fast Passes – unless we need them for Dumbo! Another thing to consider if you want to do dining with the Princesses etc. is that things book up in advance so to try to plan ahead. We originally wanted to go in the Sept/Oct time frame but the meal at the Cinderella castle was already booked. So we chose December instead – but they have a whole Christmas theme during this time so its going to work out fine since the girls will see Santa at Disney!

    • @Lynn: I think the girls will love it! And I have heard great things about the Polynesian as well. We did lunchtime dining in the castle, and it was by far the highlight of our trip. We booked the lunch with my daughter in mind, but turns out my son didn’t mind watching those princesses either!

  10. I found out Fast Passes cannot be redeemed unless the owner of the park ticket has entered the park that day.
    I didn’t know this! Thanks for the tip, for our next trip down there I was planning on doing just that!!! Your tip will save me some frustration!

    Laugh Floor
    Laugh Floor was awesome! I had my then 5 year old daughter on my lap, and they put the spotlight on us and identified us as a 2 head monster. They they interacted with use by a barrage of question (which I let me daughter answer). Great memory, something I’ll never forget! A lot of the shows have audience participation, which is great!

    Bring something to occupy kids while in lines. My son played his DS for the Photo with Fairies that we waited for. It was a great idea, to bad my daughter didn’t have a DS too at that time (she got one for her 6th birthday) 🙁

    Magic Hours
    We took advantage of this, the lines are shorter by a little, but not as much as I had hoped

    We went down the first week of November 2009, it’s a bit of a gamble, but we got lucky and the weather was good all week (I don’t even think we experience any rain). It was much less crowded, and we got to experience both halloween decorations, and then on Nov. 3nd the Christmas decorations. It was a great time!

    I personally didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I did! And the kicker was that I had the flu while I was down there…

  11. When we went we got a great deal at a hotel that had a ton of amenities like an awesome pool so we didn’t have to consider going to the Disney water parks. We got a good deal on a mini-van too which made staying off the property a lot easier (with two kids at the time and a stroller and such). This also allowed us to eat meals where we wanted. There is plenty of dining outside of Disney which can be cheaper then the meal plans.

    If you have kids and need strollers and such, using Disney transportation can be a bit of a pain, with all of the folding and unfolding. Having a mini-van is a great advantage. You still need to use their travel at times but it cuts things out a bit.

    Take advantage of the local Walmart and such for bottled water and snacks. You can even buy a cheap umbrella stroller rather than bring your own or rent one.

    The park-hopper was awesome! It allowed us to go to a park in the morning, rest up in the afternoon, and hit a park at night!! If you want to see the electric parade in the Magic Kingdom try to see the last show. It was after 11 I think but we were sitting right on the parade line and there weren’t a lot of people around. The kids loved it!

    There are a lot of resources and sites out there that have awesome info on the rides and hotels. Do your research and it can save you both money and time!

  12. You answered my tip with the backpack. When we went to Disneyland, we ate the free breakfast at the hotel, snacked all day with food from our backpack (also include sunscreen in that pack) and then splurged on dinners.

    As for staying at the park – this works great for older kids. My brother and I could run around the park (when we were in high school) at night without our parents, which was fun.

  13. A friend works at Disneyland – he says that Tuesday is the least busy day of the week. Our experience there in March proves that to be true. (Not sure if it is true for DisneyWorld…)

  14. Best way to save money: Don’t go.

    Your kids want to go so much? Let them save for it and go when they’re old enough to have saved money for the trip (in other words, as teenagers or adults). We’ll see how much they really want to go.

    Sound harsh? Well, personally, we have always felt places like Disney Land and Disney World were the ultimate in family rip-offs.

    We have seen friends and neighbors spend bloody fortunes on these places, regardless of how careful they were. Grandparents in particular seem willing to go into hock for this fake “paradise” of hype and promotion.

    Just because kids have been sold a bill of goods on it via constant promotion doesn’t make it great.

    And frankly, I’ve yet to hear any family or its members list a trip to Disney World or Disney Land as a real family bonding/memory experience. If anything, all the parents remember is how long it took to pay off the trip or save up for it.

    There are better ways to vacation, make family memories, learn about the U.S. and really travel.

    Sadly, these two places remain the ultimate vacation trip for many families. Sad comment on their interest in our own country.

    • My family went to Disney in 1983 when I was 9 and it is definitely one of the most memorable trips for my family. My dad walked around with a huge video camera and we were able to preserve such great memories. We are going on this trip knowing full well that our girls may not remember anything. However, seeing our girls reactions to everything is going to be priceless!

  15. I think its marketing genius actually. Annoying yes, but brilliant. Why are they crooks? Because they want to make money? We will definitely be leaving our money at the hotel when we go to to the parks.

    • The bad thing is your room key/park ticket doubles as a credit line that you settle up at the end of your stay. Though it wasn’t a problem for us. We spent very little on stuff from gift shops. I think we got a Christmas ornament.

      • Thanks for the heads up about the key/ticket being the way you pay for things. I think we’ll conveniently forget to tell our girls that! : )

        • Disney will even take your purchases back to your room for you so that you don’t have to be bothered with carrying around the stuff that you buy! I imagine that makes it hard for kids to realize that the stuff costs actual money. Parents just use their room key and then it magically shows up in the hotel. 🙂

  16. Lynn writes:
    We are going on this trip knowing full well that our girls may not remember anything. However, seeing our girls reactions to everything is going to be priceless!

    Memories, but at what cost, is still my question.

    Sorry, we’re just not fans of these types of places. There’s plenty of natural wonders in this country to explore and also many places out of the country to have the kids learn about and marvel at.

    To each his own.

  17. I get where sarahA is coming from. After some more recent jaunts to Disneyland–seeing all the crass commercialism from the branded rides (FedEx Indiana Jones ride…WTF?!!!) to the overpriced gift store @#$% was enough to make me question this very contrived and hyped up “entertainment.” But I remember going as a kid (I believe I was in 2nd grade the first time and in Jr. High or High School the second time) and it was a lot of fun.

  18. i really cant believe i’m going to be the first to question you on this, frugal dad, but how does staying at a disney deluxe resort qualify as frugal? yes, staying outside of the mouse’s property can be much more frugal, but you stayed at one of disney’s more expensive resorts. staying at a value, or even a moderate resort would have chopped hundreds off of your stay. we’re only in our room to sleep, shower, and use the pool, for the most part.

    my family tends to go during the fall value-priced season, when disney has typically offered a free dining plan. we can then use that money to buy our air tickets, or to upgrade our stay to a moderate resort. we dont typically use the early hours, disliking the feeding-frenzy that tends to happen then, but we like to make use of the late hours at the parks. i do research what counter service restaurants offer menus other than hot dogs and burgers. we then plan where to be (roughly) at lunchtime, so we can get bbq, mexican, chinese, etc for lunch instead. and we always book our table service meals the moment our timeframe comes available, since they fill up fast.

    • @Ann P: There was very little frugal about our trip. We saved up cash and decided to live it up just this once. It was our family’s first trip, and the last time we’ll travel to Disney in this manner. I’ll definitely be checking out the value resorts next time.

      • fair enough, FD! my husband and i did the “live it up” trip when we went for the first time as grown-ups-sans-children, on our anniversary. it was a good experience, but not an every time thing, thats for sure!

  19. My parents decided a few years ago my sister and I should relive our childhood and go to Disney as adults. I renamed my Mom the vacation Nazi. We were at the parks from Dawn to dust and didn’t go with the meal plan because sitting down for a meal would take too long.

    Of course my Mom’s favorite memory during the trip was the night I arranged for us to go to the Circ De Sole show and eat at a sit down place in Downtown Disney.

    My parents just got back from a trip with My Aunt and Uncle where my Aunt was the trip Nazi (not at Disney) I got an apology I guess I can go on vacation with them again.

  20. The first frugal vacationing tip would be to research your destination better than you did. It’s well worth the time and money to get the most out of your vacation dollar. I learned this the hard way myself [not at disney – I’m a pro at disney LOL! but for some reason didn’t use the same level of research on another trip and it was challenging at best and not worth the money we spent] and I think it should be at the top of any vacation tip list. It’s like knowing what something should cost on sale before you buy a ‘sale’ price at the store, or comparing insurance rates. . . .let the buyer be wary!

  21. Our favorite family game while standing in line is the alphabet game. Our family loves music so we go through the alphabet coming up with names of Artists or song titles. Sometimes you get stuck and you have to ask someone else in line. It works with any subject and any age group.
    We also have chosen to pack snacks, including jerky and adding it to the boys cargo pants and leave the park for dinner. We don’t carry a backpack or anything, as we run from ride to ride.
    The other thing to know is if you get a fast pass that is to be used between 1-2, you can get another fast pass at that time even before you have used the other one. Now you are holding 2.
    We have never done Disney World, but we have done Disneyland a few times, although we prefer roller coaster parks.

  22. Check out Ridemax.com! A wonderful nerd has created a software program that literally saves HOURS of time in lines by using algorithms to create an itinerary for your day in the park. We went to Disneyland a few weeks ago, and it worked like a charm (we got way ahead of schedule and fit in a few extra rides before we had to “get back on schedule”). Amazing! When you shell out that much for park tickets and hotel, etc., it’s more than worth the $15 that Ridemax costs to get the most out of your trip. (Plus there’s a money-back guarantee if you don’t like it)

  23. The whole thing sounds like a nightmare to me. Queueing, running, waiting, fast food and shelling out a lot of money. And all this to see characters and scenes from animation films for children. But I have to add, in Europe we aren´t so much into Disney´s films. So I don´t really know what I speak about, maybe if I went there, I would like it, too.

    • can’t agree with you there. I lived in Germany for 7 years and went to Disneyland Paris 3 times. And while much smaller than Disney World it was busy every time.

  24. My wife and I also went to Disney for our Honeymoon. We got the pins and we each wore special Mickey “Ears”. I wore a top hat with ears and my wife wore the female version of the wedding ears. We did get “special” treatment as well. I received numerous fast passes from cast members and even got free glasses of champagne at Le Cellier in Epcot!

    We have gone numerous times and stayed off and on property. Staying on property definitely has its perks; being close to the parks, free transportation, overall Disney experience. But one note about off property transportation. If you stay off property, all you have to do is drive to a resort like Animal Kingdom lodge, Pop Century, or any other resort and tell them you are stopping in for lunch. They give you a parking pass and let you in! Then just park and hop on the busses for free transportation! We do this all the time!

    The dining plan is the way to go! We have tried both methods and found we saved more money by using the dining plan. Plus, most of the time we couldn’t eat all the food, we would just grab snacks and ended up taking them home with us. Those rice krispy treats are DELICIOUS!!!!

    We have yet to go with our daughter, she turns 1 on June 14th. I just think she is too young to understand what’s going on. We are going to wait until she is older (3 or 4) until we take her.

  25. I totally second the meal plan! The savings are enormous. One restaurant included in the meal plan is the Kona Cafe in the Polynesian Resort. They serve the best Hawaiian rolls with macadamia butter, and everything on their menu is included in the meal plan, even the filet mignon!

    Another great eat at Disney that I absolutely look forward to is Earl of Sandwich, in Downtown Disney. It counts as a quick service meal, and is incredibly tasty. They offer subs (hot ones, too) and salads. Last time I was at Disney, we went to see the Earl every day! It really is that good.

  26. We took our kids to Disney last year. I believe in being frugal, but I also thinks that kids should have this experience at least once. It was amazing! My children (4, 6 & 8) walked around the park for 12 hours straight and never once complained or cried. We only spent one day there, but it was enough. Here are my tips:

    1) Go to your dollar store before you leave town and buy Disney trinkets for the kids. Don’t give them to the kids until you are in the park. You can also get cheap ponchos and glow sticks for the evening. We got enough glow sticks to pass them out to other people in line while waiting for the rides. It made it far more fun.
    2) Join your local museums that have reciprocal agreements (info usually found on the websites) with the Orlando museums. Thus, you have a year’s membership at home and can see Orlando’s museums for free. We live in Tennessee and drove down. I mapped out stops along the way at museums with reciprocal agreements so we could have breaks during the drive. The Orlando Science Museum was amazing, and my kids still want to go back there. They got to pet alligators and spent hours in their science area doing experiments. It’s not crowded and is air-conditioned (big plus).
    3) Definitely stay in a condo. You can cook your own food, it’s bigger, and the condos usually have activities in the evening. One night, we watched the Hulk on big screen while floating in the pool and then made s’mores. The kids loved it.
    4) Check out Restaurants.com for food gift certificates. They are frequently on sale. I got $25 certificates for $2 to numerous Orlando restaurants (including TGI Fridays). Minimum spending limits for each “gift certificate” and other restrictions often apply so read carefully. For example, say you purchase a $25 gift certificate for $2. You are required to spend at least $35 at the restaurant as part of the deal. Thus, you spend $2 + $10 + gratuity out of pocket (saving $23). They don’t expire for a year after purchasing, so you’ll definitely have plenty of time to make use of them. You can print them from your computer. I have used these many times and never had a problem.

  27. My boss goes to Disney frequently. Their daughter is 9 and their son is 4. He says to stay up for the “magic hours” and sleep in the next day, because it is the most enjoyable time with much smaller crowds. Obviously older kids will be thrilled to stay up late and sleep in the next day. For their 4-year-old, they just take the stroller and he falls asleep while they enjoy shorter lines. Yes, they have to take turns riding with their 9-year-old so someone can stay with the stroller, but when you only wait a few minutes per ride, who cares?

  28. Here’s the lowdown on Fast Passes. This works at Disneyland, and I imagine that Disney World is similar.

    If you’ve got a big group, send one person with everyone’s tickets to get the passes. If you’re missing some people, talk to a cast member from the ride or guest services and say that some of your party didn’t get the fast passes. They might give you the extras you need. This always worked during their year of a million dreams promo, because cast members were constantly handing out free Fast Passes.

    Also, the Fast Pass can be used anytime that day, even if the time stamp on the pass has expired. So once you’re eligible to get another Fast Pass, send another person to grab another set of passes. Rinse and repeat.

    Another thing to remember is that anyone with a ticket can get a Fast Pass. If you’ve got a kid who’s too short to go on a ride or doesn’t want to go, get a Fast Pass anyway, because then someone else can use it later in the day.

    Here’s another tip we’ve learned after years of visiting Disneyland: when you first get in to the park, find a designated “lost” or “home” spot. That way, if someone gets lost or you’ve got people who want to sit for awhile (or save spots for the parade/fireworks), you know exactly where to go and where to find someone. For example, my aunt and uncle always sit at the benches in the circle in front of the castle at Disneyland, so I always know where I can find family throughout the day.

  29. We stayed in a moderate priced resort – mostly because we needed at least a room with a roll-away – since we are a family of 5, and we didn’t want to pay for two rooms. Most of their rooms are for 4. We are happy we stayed in the park, made coming back to dip in the pool and rejuvenate to head back out again so easy. I don’t think we ever waited more than 10 minutes for a bus. We also did the dining plan and park hopper – and would do it the same way again. We had a blast and want to go again in a couple years – and plan to stay a couple days longer.

    As for the gift shops, we surprised the kids that we were going a few months before, and gave them each a jar with a homemade disney label and a list of chores, responsibilities that they could earn tickets for to get money to use at the parks. Each week we would mark off on their chart how many tickets they earned, and then would give them the tickets to put in their jar. Their was no actual dollar amount tied to the tickets, seeing as we didn’t know how many they could rack up, so we calculated the $ per ticket at the end, based on what we had budgeted.

    • I think a moderate or value-priced resort inside the park is a good compromise, and probably what we would look in to if we visit again. I still like the idea of being inside the park for convenience, but I’ll definitely be looking for a cheaper place to stay on future visits!

  30. love the tips, and i would definitely recommend bringing your own food. the sit down restaurants are overpriced, and the buffet style food (pizza, burgers etc) are not really of high quality. instaed, bring some snacks, and go outside the park at the end of the day to a nice restaurant and still save some money!

  31. We went to Disney World last September. My son was 20 months old and he LOVED it. Yes, it was expensive. But, it really wasn’t that much more than us driving to the beach for a week. Hubby is Navy so he got in free and kids 3 and under are free, too. Family vacation for 3 where we only have to pay for one person?

    We did the extra magic hours in the morning. We were up that early anyways, it was cooler and the crowds were way less. We would get there before it opened and watch the show they have going on to open the park.

    We didn’t plan on having our son remember it. We don’t watch the Disney channel or Disney movies or anything like that. Every time he sees a picture of Mickey, he gets all excited now though.

    I know people are giving you a hard time for not being frugal and going to such an awful place. In my opinion, I am frugal in other places of our life so we can have big experiences like this. It’s all about what you choose to spend your money on.

  32. We have been to Disney World several times with our 3 daughters, at different ages (they are teens and pre-teens now). Our last trip was in December 2008. Here are some things we have learned along the way:

    1)Moderate resorts offer a great value. Value resorts are less expensive, but noisier (in our experience) and you run the risk that some national group will be meeting there (Pop Warner group and cheerleaders are LOUD). Try to go during the value season. My best tip for booking at Disney is use a travel agent that is a Disney specialist! They don’t charge anything, and our agent has saved us hundreds of dollars on each trip. They know when special rates are coming, and automatically get you the discount.
    2)The Dining Plan is definitely worth it. As far as we were concerned, the counter service meals were all HUGE, so we split them. We bought two full breakfasts every day and divided them up along with a couple of fruit bowls (snack credits), shared 3 counter service meals between us for either lunch or dinner, and then had our own restaurant meals. We shared snacks, and always had snack credits left over at the end of our trip which we used to by some treats to take home. My only complaint about the meal plan is that your day can end up revolving around when you can get a reservation at a particular restaurant. The next time we go we are going to go with the counter-service only plan for more flexibility. BTW, if you use a travel agent, they can make all the meal reservations for you, but we have done it ourselves. Our agent got our girls into the princess breakfast when they were little, something we had never been able to do on our own.
    3)Lots of good advice about Fastpasses, but the best advice is go into a park each day with a plan. Also, if your children are old enough, consider using the single-rider option on rides like Test Track and Expedition Everest. 90%+ of the time our kids rode together anyway, but this really cut down on our wait time. One time our 8 year-old got in by herself with another family on Test Track (I was in the car right behind her). They watched her very carefully and she had a blast, but that only happened to us the one time. We talk to each other while we wait in line, or talk with other guests-it’s fun to find out where people come from, what they know, etc. We have picked up some fabulous tips from others waiting with us.
    4)Our kids were given some spending money from us upfront with the rule that they could not ask us the entire time we were there to buy them anything, period. They got to decide how and when to spend their money, and once it was gone, it was gone. They all did well with this, and were VERY thoughtful and careful with how they spent their money. Two of them came home with money. We split their money between Disney gift cards and cash.
    5)Our Disney trips have given us all great memories. We go knowing that Disney is Disney, with no other expectations other than we are going on some great rides, and will get to spend a lot of time together. My husband enjoys not having to drive anywhere. They pick us up at the airport, transport us around the parks, and take us back to the airport. I like that Disney World is clean and kept clean, and that the workers are friendly and helpful. I grew up near Disneyland in CA, and loved it as a kid, and still enjoy it today.

    We’re looking forward to going back in another couple of years!

  33. A friend of mine went to Disnyland last year with her 2 kids. First she purchased Mickey Mouse T-shirts for them at a local discount store and hid them in her luggage. This way, she didn’t have to pay $$ for in the park t-shirt price. Then she went the the Dollar Store and got those neon bracelts and necklaces for her kids to wear when it got dark. They sell them in the park, but not for a dollar.

  34. Definitely loves this article!

    ALSO…along with the fireworks over the castle at night, the magic kingdom has an electrical parade that if I remember happens every night that is absolutely amazing and gorgeous. When I was in high school ( I know I went to Disney with my parents and my best friend and her parents for a vaca) we went to the electrical parade 5 nights out of the 7 nights that we were there. It is amazing and definitely something families should attend more than once!

    Disney is amazing, but I have to agree with you FrugalDad it is a money trap for fun. Everything that you want to do has money involved so dont think that you can go to Disney and be frugal. Get ready to spend on all tourist attractions.

    Also…for any one in the military (retired or present) they have a hotel strictly for military called Shades of Green and its on the property and a very descent price! Also make sure you always ask for military discount when you are there, they honor it in so many places!!

    Have fun and make sure you see the Mouse 😉

  35. I am 19 and have only been to Disney World once (16 first time), but my mom, 21-year-old brother, and twin sister are going back in May. There are ways to make a trip to Disney affordable.

    Stay on property in a Value resort. I know this isn’t some 5 star place with a suite with a water slide, but if you are travelling with children they will love the themed sections and pools. Plus you are not going there to stay in your room, you will be in the parks all day (at least that’s what my family did). All you need is a shower and a bed.

    Take advantage of the E.M.H. you are already paying quite a bit for your park ticket so you might as well use them.

    GET A PARK HOPPER TICKET! You get bored in the same park all day and it makes the trip more enjoyable because you won’t have to worry about picking one park to stay in all day.
    Go for at least a week. We fly out on a Wednesday (it’s cheaper!) and come back the following Wednesday. If you only go for a few days you won’t get to see everything. If you live far away like I do (Michigan) splurge and fly out. Honestly you’ll be exhausted by the end of the trip, the last thing you will want to do is drive all the way home.

    Make reservations 6 months in advance. Get a guide for Disney from your library and check out where you will want to eat. Look online at Disney World.com and read reservations! Read a lot of them because you will either have the people who have too high of expectations or people who exaggerate. The last time my family went we only had 4 reservations and that was a mistake. Make a breakfast and dinner one for each day, and you can get a snack in the afternoon. You will get so sick of the fast food. If you cannot afford to make many reservations I recommend the Patissierie (bakery) in Epcot, it has a lot of sandwiches and pastries which are to die for. My sister and I begged to go back every time we went to Epcot. Pick a couple of character meals especially if you are bringing kids, they will love it! I know parents may not love the price tag, but honestly it is a vacation and if you pinch every penny you have you will stress out and not enjoy yourself, a lesson my mom has learned.

    Get a Disney Visa. My grandpa gave my mom $1,000 Disney Dollars for our trip which paid for all but 2 of our meals, because we had to get souvenirs for other family members. For every 100 you spend you get 1 DD. I know that seems unfair, but use it once and you get about 250 for free. My mom was sent a lot of applications for them and she has 3 now. I think if you use the credit card on your trip you get a discount anyway.

    Things to bring: ponchos (dollar store), cloth laundry bags to sort out what is clean and dirty (dollar store), your own soap (there’s is gross), your own shampoo and conditioner, blow dryer, enough clothes so you won’t have to do laundry while your there, sunscreen, GOOD WALKING SHOES! I recommend Sperry’s if you hate regular tennis shoes and they are water proof. Bring at least 2 pairs of good walking shoes because if they get soaked you will want back up.

    Meals to look into: Boma Flavors of Africa. My family is going there on our trip and we have heard great things about it. It has African and American food so if you don’t want to be adventurous you will be fine. Also ask for the Jungle Juice, it is served at all African themed restaurants and I swear it is my mom’s highlight of the whole trip.
    Le Cellier Steakhouse in Canada, Epcot. Go there for lunch because dinner is the same thing except higher prices. The pretzel bread was my favorite. If you like burgers order one of theirs, best burger I ever had. If you want dessert try their chocolate moose or their maple creme brulee.

    If you want to do meals your way and not be stuck to a dining plan do not get it. My family switches things up and we find that there isn’t a specific dining plan we really want. We don’t want to spend money on meals or snacks we won’t eat.

    Last thing is enjoy yourself! Have a positive outlook and stay out of Magic Kingdom around 3 or 4 PM because it turns into melt down hour and it becomes Tragic Kingdom as my sister fondly called it.

  36. This is for people who have special needs kids, but may not realize that they are special needs at Disney. Or maybe they just don’t look like special needs children, in wheelchairs, crutches, etc. We are headed to DW for the first time this year. My kids will be 5, 6, and 7. Yes! I am a gutton for punishment ;0)
    My two oldest children have been diagnosed with CF (Cystic Fibrosis). My son was diagnosed as an infant, and my daughter just last November. The last time I scheduled a specialist visit at my local Childrens Hospital, I casually mentioned we were taking the children to Disney for the first time this fall. They told me to call them back before we left and they would write letters for me so that we could jump to the front of any ride line we wanted. I am thinking that even if you have a child with a “not visible to the naked eye” disability, such as autism or epilepsy, for example, you should ask your pediatrician if they would write a note for you as well.
    It’s our own “Fast Pass” for the moms & dads who sacrifice daily for special needs kids!

  37. Hello! My name’s Brittni and I’m almost positive I’m the only person on here not bringing a child! My husband and I are planning a trip for mid-May for Disney World/Universal/Sea World, and luckily our hotel has a shuttle for all of the parks. Any tips for saving money for those of us without the little ones? Yes, I know I’m on Frugal’s Dad, but it was the first search that popped up. 🙂

  38. Last Disney trip was in 2009 and we were a family of 6 so we took advantage of my dad’s time share and stayed off site. Next year my 8 yo daughter and I are celebrating our birthdays late and going alone on a week trip to Disney. I have booked a moderate resort since I have friends who worked Disney and also stated the value resorts are loud. I’m old need my sleep. 😉 If you plan enough in advance you can make this trip fairly inexpensive. And still enjoy it. My husband laughs at me but I have saved all my loose change since 2009 and as of today I have saved several thousand dollars. Not a dime of my trip save for hotel reservations is going on debit or credit cards. And nothing has come out of any other budget either. And I plan on splurging since we don’t go to Disney all the time.

  39. Sarah A. WDW is a real bonding experience. My cousin, my bff, she and i grew up together. She was Skinny Butt #1 and I was Skinny Butt #2. She and I played video games. She was always player 1 and I was player 2. Anyways, we saved and went to Walt Disney World when we were both seniors in high school for our Senior Spring Break Trip. We bonded, especially because it was awesome!
    We now have kids, we both have a son. Her son is older, and it is only befitting that he accumulates a new title, Thing 1. My son, is a year younger (too funny since I am a year younger than my cousin), and he is dubbed Thing 2!
    They are falling in our footsteps, and we quite like it and can not wait to take them to Walt Disney World for their first real vacations TOGETHER!
    So take your evil words to where the sun don’t shine 😉

  40. That’s messed up, I hope they take this away. I think the only way a child or adult should be ushered to the front of the line is if they are in a wheel chair. It’s like you think you sacrifice more than other parents and you are wrong. It’s this entitled attitude that America needs to shape up or send out.