save at walt disney world before you go

Going to Walt Disney World in Florida, even as a local resident who carries an annual pass, isn’t cheap. Prices have gone up significantly in the last couple of years for the travel and tourism sectors in general. The Disney corporation has followed this with price hikes and adding fees like to parking at resorts overnight.

Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida

However, there are still a few ways to save money at Disney World before you even step into the park. This is my method of getting some discounts, and knowing when I enter the park, I’m saving what I can.

I wanted to show an example of the types of savings you could expect if you are willing to put in just a few extra steps. The numbers below have been based off of certain numbers pulled from the Walt Disney World website and obviously will vary per person, but I promise the steps below will deliver significant similar savings.

As an example, let’s say we’re going to be buying:

  • One annual pass to Disney World. ($994 as of 2019 and for non Florida residents) (Find out below why you’d want to do this.)
  • Three tickets to Disney World, general admission, for four days. Estimated $1560.
  • Estimated table service meal for 4 people, at $30 per person per day in the park. $480.
  • Estimated counter service for one meal plus two snacks per person per day. (About $15 per person for the counter service meal ($240), estimating snacks at around $5 per person. $160) Estimated $400
  • And just to round off, say $500 for souvenirs for the whole family.

(I’m not including hotel stays for simplicity, but you can use this method to save on Disney-owned hotels, increasing your savings there.)

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Using the total above, which is about $3934. I’m going to round up to $3950 for math going forward, just to keep it simple. Again, these numbers will vary if you’ve added in hotel or if you have a different size family, or the prices of tickets can go up or down depending on a lot of factors. It may not change the strategy below. And for simplicity, this doesn’t include getting the dining plan (a Disney offered savings plan on your meals if you book for certain times of the year) and it doesn’t include other discount program options. This is just working from base prices. But we’ll talk about that after the steps below.

  1. Sign up for Ebates.

    If you’re looking for strategies to save money, you’re probably already signed up for a program like Ebates. If you’re not already, it’s a great way to get money back (usually much higher than you’d get with an average rewards credit card) on the following steps.

    Before you buy anything, just go to Ebates and click through to the following stores.

    Depending on the day, you can get 1%, 5%, sometimes I’ve seen things as high as 10% cash back for purchases depending on where you purchase an item. This can include Disney gift cards, which is our focus here.

  2. Buy Disney gift cards at Target with a Red Card.

    This is where a significant portion of savings can happen for you. If you don’t have a local Target, you should still be able to sign up for a Red Card online and shop at their online store. You don’t need the credit card, Target has a debit card option you can load and you get the same savings as your Target card.

    What happens is, if you go to Ebates, click through on the Target to get 1% cash back or more through the Ebates website. On top of that, Target offers 5% off purchases through their store using your Red Card. This usually includes the gift cards. So you could get 5% off gift cards, plus 1% cash back, you’ve already saved $237 if you use those gift cards to purchase the tickets, food and souvenirs like in the example above.

  3. Check for significant other discounts through other stores, like Amazon or Walmart if they are better than the Ebates/Target option.

    Usually the Ebates/Target option is the best one for me personally, but I’ve seen good discounts and cash back options for Amazon. For example, my Discover card actually offers some high cash back rewards for purchases through Amazon at certain months of the year. Ebates still offers some cash back options at Amazon, and those can be higher at the same time and Disney gift cards can be purchased from there, too.

  4. Using your gift cards, buy your tickets, including one person in your group to get an annual pass.

    Depending on your group and how many days you are actually staying at Disney, you might consider everyone should get an annual pass. An annual pass is a flat fee you pay per year and you get to enter Disney World as many times as you’d like. For some people, if you enter the park more than seven or eight days while on your stay, you might as well get the annual pass. You might save money compared to just buying park tickets, even if you only go that once a year.

    However, even if you aren’t going for that long, one person getting the annual pass might be worthwhile for different things.

    For example, Disney has a parking fee at their parks, but annual passholders often get free parking. Passholders also get discounts for certain restaurants and counter service meals, plus your souvenirs on Disney property. Food is often one of the biggest expenses, especially for larger families.

    Only one person in your party needs to have the annual pass in order to get the savings. Doing this on top of the gift cards will help save another 10% to 25% depending on where you are and what the discount is. But you have to ask when you check out or when you pay for your meal, just show them your annual pass card.

    So on top of the 6% or so you’ve saved on the tickets already (that savings could possibly paid the difference for the annual pass), you’d also save, let’s even it out and say 15% on top of your food and souvenirs. That’s another $207 saved using the numbers above. If we add in parking for four days (usually about $20 a day) that’s an extra $80 off on top of it.

    Plus, depending on the time of year, annual passholders can get free merchandise, or access to merchandise you wouldn’t normally have access to as a regular ticket holder. For example, Epcot, usually at every special event like the Food and Wine festivals, they’ll usually have a free gift for annual passholders. Sometimes at random at different parks, you’ll get something like a magnet or a button.

  5. Splurge for the unique at Disney World.

    Disney can be a place where we’re paying extra for some things we’d get cheaper somewhere else. In my opinion, I save my splurging for the food or souvenirs I simply can’t get anywhere else.

    For example, at breakfast, unless it’s a character dining meal like at Chef Mickey’s, eggs and bacon are the same everywhere else. Even on Disney property, sometimes counter service meals will be cheaper to buy breakfast items at than the table service places. You could even go off property or have your own cereal and such before you get into the parks, Amazon and other grocery services will deliver to your hotel.

    If you wanted to save some money and have a better experience, try seeing if you can’t get more for your money at a quick service place for meals that might not be too memorable. Spend the money on unique food spots or experiences, like if you happen to have reservations for character dining or something very nice like some of the very wonderful restaurants around Epcot.

    Similarly, some snack options can tempt you and you’d pay more at Disney World than anywhere else. The ice cream bars…they’re just the same as you’d get at home, just Mickey shaped. If it’s a must do for you, do it, but if you’re wondering what the hype is, it’s not that different from anything else. The other ice creams at Disney World are just as good, if not better, and you’d probably get more for your money.

  6. Skip the park hopper passes.

    The rumor that some parks are a half day experience, it really isn’t very true any more. Disney World has built up a lot in the past few years, and they are continuing to grow. Not only that but the crowd sizes have increased. It can take a little longer to get through a park, even if you have fast passes for all the major rides.

    So the park hopper passes could be something to give up, which could save so much money when you’re not going from park to park. If you plan your days carefully, you can get into the parks for a significant amount of time each day and have at least 12 hours or more (from rope drop to fire works), and that’s a lot of hours. You can still re-enter a park if you leave for the day on normal passes, it just has to be the same park. Or if you do finish a park midway through the day and are not sure what to do, take that second part of the day and just check out the resorts. You can go to any of the resorts, even if you aren’t staying at the resort, and check out what’s going on, maybe participate in a few of the activities, etc.

    For some people, they need park hopper passes, and that’s fine. But if you’re not sure, if it’s your first time, just let yourself slow down, enjoy the parks. Don’t try to rush through it because you want to maximize your time and do half days at a park.

  7. Don’t forget to sign up for benefits or rewards for restaurants you plan to visit.

    If you’re a Starbucks fan, you can earn points while you’re in the parks (although as of this post, I don’t think you can collect free items, but you can still get the points).

    Also, other restaurants around Disney World, particularly Disney Springs, also have reward programs with benefits, either by signing up for the newsletter or for downloading the app. Sprinkles, a cupcake shop in Disney Springs, has a rewards program and usually will have unique rewards and savings right when you sign up. So don’t forget to include those if there’s a particular place you’d like to try out.

    You can combine this with the suggestions above. An example below, the Rainforest Cafe, which has restaurants at Disney Springs, Animal Kingdom and other places around the world, they’ve a discount program when you sign up at their website, plus you can use Ebates to pay ahead and purchase a gift card for Rainforest Cafe before you go.

There are many more ways to save at Disney World, including going at ideal times of the year when ticket prices, and room prices tend to be lower (early November, February, May, etc.). You can save some money skipping the parks for a day and doing resort hoping or checking out Disney Springs instead of spending the money on tickets for the day. A water park day is usually cheaper per ticket price and the water parks are very nice.

If nothing else, don’t skip out on those gift cards you can get at discount when possible, and cash back for buying them. You can book anything at Disney World with those gift cards, including hotels! Plus with Ebates, you’d save on your flight as well, getting cash back for your trip.