4 Surprising Ways to Cut Costs at Walt Disney World

These tips could help you save thousands

how to save money at disney world universal
Rachel Bowie

I love to joke with my husband that the real reason he had a kid was to, one day, be able to take that kid to Walt Disney World. And this year, just in time for my son’s sixth birthday, that moment was finally upon us. Given the levels of anticipation and the fact that this was a first-time experience for our family of three—we decided to go all out. We stayed at a Disney World resort (the Polynesian), invested in the Magic Bands (they’re now rechargeable) and paid for Genie+, which enabled us to skip lines for pre-selected rides. Sound expensive? It was! Luckily, along the way, we discovered a number of sly cost-saving hacks.

1. Buy the Magic Bands on Sale

Let me preface this by saying that the Magic Bands—which allow you to sync all the details of your Disney stay from hotel key to park passes—were quite possibly my son’s favorite part of the trip. We hemmed and hawed about the investment (prices range from $35 to $45 per person), but after chatting with a number of Disney frequenters, decided they were worth it, especially since we were going to do Genie+. Still, given the already steep price of our trip, I wasn’t exactly keen to spend another $150 on bands for three travelers.

The work-around: Shop the sales. If you know about your trip in advance and you’re not hellbent on a specific band design, this is the best approach. For example, our trip was in March. Disney released a bunch of limited-edition holiday designs that were obsolete just a few weeks later…so we bought them in January for $25-ish apiece. Did our wrists scream Christmas in March? Absolutely. Did we save 50 percent? Yep.

Total Amount Saved: $60

2. Buy Merch Ahead of Time

This was a pro tip I picked up from an influencer: Try to anticipate the gift shop items your kids are going to want, from Minnie Mouse ears to bubble wands to vintage looking sweatshirts. Then remember that in-the-park prices are astronomical. Those aforementioned ears cost $35 to $50 on-site. Wands cost $30. Balloons are $15. You get the idea.

The work-around: Amazon. The reality is that almost all of those iconic items are available from non-Disney brands—but at a fraction of the price—online. I scooped up a two-pack of Minnie Mouse ears for $9, bought Disney T-shirts from Etsy for roughly $10 a pop and, while I didn’t get the bubble wands, I found a comparable two-pack of those, too, for just $20. Then I crammed it all in my suitcase to present to my son as we walked in the gates.

Total Amount Saved: $225

3. Don’t Sleep on David’s Vacation Club Rentals

I’ll admit, the cost of Disney World resort accommodations was a tough pill to swallow. We booked a year out and a standard room at the Polynesian Hotel still cost about $1,000 a night (taxes and fees included). But as it turns out, it doesn’t have to be that way.

The work-around: David’s Vacation Club Rentals. True story: While walking around Disney, we overheard not one, not two, but three different conversations amongst park-goers about the sweeping benefits of using DVCR to save on deluxe hotel accommodations for their Disney stay. Here’s how it works: Think of DVCR as a timeshare program that links Disney Vacation Club point owners with prospective renters. DVCR helps Vacation Club points owners who can’t use their points “sell” them at a discounted rate. All of which means you (as a non-Disney Vacation club member) can stay at a Disney property for sometimes half the cost.

Total Amount We *Would* Have Saved: $2500

4. Eat Off the Premises (and Peep Your Credit Card Perks)

It’s kind of an unspoken reality: Disney World food isn’t all that great. At the very least, it can start to feel tiresome—and still quite expensive—after multiple days at the same resort. (We ate out for dinner one night and spent nearly $100 on a kids’ meal, a poke bowl and pasta…and zero alcohol. We’d call that steep.)

The work-around: DoorDash, minus the fees. Like we said, credit cards often have perks you’re not aware of until a situation arises when they come in handy. That’s why it’s worth refreshing your options before hitting the road. In our case, our Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card happened to be running a partnership with DoorDash’s DashPass program that’s good through the end of 2024. This meant that delivery fees were $0, service fees were reduced, and we were eligible for additional discounts and perks (like faster delivery) for up to 12 months once activated. The upshot? On the nights we didn’t feel like breaking the bank on a sit-down meal at our resort, we used our DashPass and accepted our food in the hotel’s lobby. Al fresco pizza party by the pool? Yes, please!

Total Amount Saved: $250

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Royal family expert, a cappella alum, mom

Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...