Personal Finance

How to Save When You Want to Experience the Magic of Disney

How to Save When You Want to Experience the Magic of Disney

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Several months ago when I learned that a cool conference I attend every year would be taking place in Orlando I quickly thought – what a great opportunity to mix business with pleasure!

My wife and I had both been to Disney World as children, but we quickly learned that things can be pretty fun (if slightly less “magical”) as an adult!

I particularly enjoyed the Animal Kingdom which wasn’t there when I visited as a child. (Sadly, it is not even considered a relatively “new” attraction – which is a great reminder of getting old!) Seeing such a cool mix of animals combined with Disney’s impeccable attention to detail really does transport you to another world for the day. The Tree of Life at the centre of the park alone is almost worth the price of admission.

How Much Does It Cost?

So… about that price of admission…

I’m an “80/20” guy when it comes to most things in life. In other words, I subscribe to the theory that 80% of the benefits can usually be accumulated with the first 20% of effort.

My travel guru friend Barry Choi on the other hand is a 100 = 100 guy when it comes to maximizing his travel budget. When I talked to Barry before planning my Orlando adventure, he quickly pointed out that with something as in demand as Disney theme parks, there was no real “cheap” way to visit – only ways to get the most value for your unique experience.

Consequently, I think Barry’s estimate of $5,700 for a week at Disney (including flights and accommodations) is probably a floor for most people.

7 Quick Disney Money Wins

Here are some tips that allowed Barry to get to that figure (and that I got 80% of the benefit of):

1) Find cheap flights via a flight comparison app/website. A site like Kayak should suffice to let you see what your options are. Most places recommend checking 4-6 months out for international flights – and 2-3 months out for domestic flights (if you’re the drive-and-fly type).

2) Use a hotel comparison app/website such as or to get the most bang for your accommodation buck. I also recommend taking the additional step of simply calling the hotel after you see your best deal. Many places will offer to beat the best-listed deal in order to skip out on paying the commission.

You’ll have to determine how much close proximity to Disney is worth to you when planning your hotel destination. Staying in the parks is going to cost $100+ more per night than options that take you a 10-30 min drive away from the parks.

3) Barry recommends renting a car vs using Uber. I love the convenience and ease of ride-sharing, so I’m willing to sacrifice there.

4) Disney tickets: There are very rarely deals on coupon codes when it comes to theme park tickets. Now, Disney does offer some discounts if you book for multiple days. If you’re travelling with an all-adult group you can probably “conquer” some of the theme parks in a single day, but if you’re travelling with young children, I think planning a couple of days for most of the parks is a more realistic practice anyway. With discounts for Canadian travellers and multi-day passes, you can cut down your per-day cost slightly, but it’s still going to be $80+.

I personally don’t recommend the “park hopper” option as I think trying to travel between Disney parks on the same day is an overrated option. There is just SO MUCH packed into these places that it’s not worth the time and energy to travel between them in my opinion.

Also, keep in mind that places like Sea World and Universal Studios while cool in their own right – are not part of the Disney family, so you’ll have to buy those tickets separately.

5) Use a no foreign transaction fee credit card to save 2-3% on all transactions. There aren’t a ton of these out there to choose from, but when you consider what 2-3% of $5,000+ of spending is – it’s worth your time!

6) Personally, at this point in my life, I prioritize getting a chance to try fun new food options when I get the chance. My rural lifestyle doesn’t exactly lend itself to exploring exciting culinary options. (One of the few drawbacks.)

Consequently, I spend more than Barry in this area. Disney has price points ranging from medium to high priced. There are often “grab meals” for families on the go for $8-20, but the Italian food we had at their Epcot Pavilion cost nearly triple that – and was worth every penny.

Getting a hotel with a free continental breakfast is a great way to save a few bucks and max out your time at the park.

Perhaps the best tip that I read pre-travel was that contrary to what many people believe, water and food ARE allowed into Walt Disney World! Bringing your own big water bottles and a sandwich can quickly save $100 or more.

7) Be prepared for additional costs – especially if you have children. Disney is great at making fun souvenirs and kid-friendly toys. Just keep this in mind and have a budget in place if these types of items often end up in your home! Travelling with an all-adult group these add-ons weren’t a big deal for us.

However… the outlet malls definitely caught our attention. You could be forgiven for thinking that my wife is now personally sponsored by Spade, Kate!

Disney is an awesome adventure for all ages. We had a ton of fun seeing new sites and enjoying nostalgic memories. If you’re a young family that wants to experience this adventure, just remember to budget it out and have a plan ahead of time. This will take some of the financial stress away and allow you to fully enjoy the experience. While few would call a Disney Vacation a “cheap” travel opportunity, there are many costs that can be strategically chipped away at in order to allow you to enjoy Mickey & Co. without breaking the bank!


Kyle is a high school humanities teacher by day, and freelance personal finance author by night. He has been published in academic journals, and has also co-authored the book "More Money for Beer and Textbooks". In his free time Kyle likes to limp up and down a basketball court and pretend to be a tough guy in a boxing ring.

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