For many families visiting Disney World in Florida is the dream. Making magical memories with the children, meeting Mickey Mouse, riding all the roller coasters. However, like many things in life, these dreams come with quite a hefty price tag. Flights alone can run into thousands and that’s before accommodation, food, and park tickets. It’s easy to see why many families consider Disney World a once in a lifetime trip. That said, there are many ways you can save on a holiday at Disney World too.
This post will be focusing on ways you can save when staying at Disney World in one of their onsite hotels. While you may automatically assume staying on-site is more expensive, there are a lot of ways it can save you money.
Disney Free Dining
The biggest advantage we found for staying on-site was the free dining plan, which was included with our booking. Most people book Disney holidays a year or two in advance so it’s worth waiting for this offer to come out before you book. The offer usually runs from April until the end of June. During this time, there are often other free incentives such as free Disney gift cards and a free Memory Maker. The free dining offer usually runs for a little while after this time but the other incentives aren’t included.
There are also different tiers to the Disney Dining Plan – the ones usually offered for free are th Quick Service Dining Plan and the Table Service Dining Plan. You may also get a refillable mug – these can be used at any Disney resort hotels and both water parks and get you unlimited refills from a Coca-Cola freestyle machine. They can also be bought for around $17.99 and include refills for the length of your stay.
Quick Service Includes
- Two Quick Service Meals Per Day (Main and Drink)
- Two Snacks Per Day
Table Service includes
- One Quick Service Meal Per day (Main and Drink)
- One Table Service Meal Per day (Main, Pudding and Drink)
- Two Snacks per day
We absolutely loved being on the dining plan. We upgraded to a table service plan for around £200, but depending on which resort you stay at this may be included in the price of your stay anyway. It was nice not having to worry about the cost of food, we could choose whatever we wanted on most menus and got to do loads of character dining too. It is worth factoring in the cost of tips too though if you go for the table service option – 20% is expected unless the service was terrible.
If you don’t use all of your QS credits at the end of your trip you can exchange them for snacks. One QS credit is worth 3 snacks, but you must have used up all snack credits first.
Free $200 Gift Card & Memory Maker
As well aS the free dining plan Disney often offers other incentives to stay on site. During our stay this included a free memory maker worth $169 – this meant being able to get our photos taken by official Disney photographers at the parks and getting them downloaded straight onto the My Disney Experience app.
Photographers will either scan your magic band or give you a card with a code on to get your photos. This has lots of advantages such as meaning the whole family always get to be in the pictures. One of my favourite pictures from our holiday is all of us standing outside of Cinderella’s Castle.
The $200 gift is also a great benefit of staying onsite. It means you can buy extra treats for the kids and not have to worry about the cost, or even use it to pay off your room bill at the end of your stay.
Low Deposit and Cashback
One of the great things about booking direct with Disney is the low deposit of just £150. If you need to save but want to book ahead this is ideal allowing you to pay off in bite sized chunks or save up for the final bill.
It’s also worth remembering to go through a cashback site if you book online. We got over £100 back doing this as the cashback is based on the total of your booking and the deposit you pay!
Magical Express Transfers
When staying onsite at Disney they offer FREE transportation from Orlando International Airport to all Disney hotels. You’ll need to ring Disney beforehand just to let them know you intend to use the service and give an approximate time of arrival. Then just follow the bus with Mickey Ears through the airport until you find the coach bays.
Free Disney Transport
As well as the Free Magic express service Disney also offers FREE Bus, Boat and Monorail transfers between resorts and Disney Parks. Even if you do decide to hire a car and drive to the parks hotel guests actually get free parking at all parks too so this another saving to be made and cost that you won’t need factor in (unless you plan to visit any non Disney parks)
Getting the best value for money
While it’s great getting all these freebies thrown in, you’ll also want to make sure you’re getting the best value for money each time you use them.
There are literally hundreds of things you can use snack credits on at Disney but the value of these items can vary greatly. For example, bottled drinks cost around $3 and these count as a snack. However, you are much better off spending that snack credit on a Churro that costs $5 or a dessert that costs $6.
It’s the same with quick service meals too. In some fast food places, the meals are worth around $10. However, some nicer restaurants do accept the quick service dining plan. The holy grail of Quick Service dining is going to Be Our Guest, the Beauty and the Beast-themed restaurant for lunch. While there are no characters at lunchtime the restaurant is stunning and most of the meals cost around $16 plus a drink is included making it one of the best uses of a Quick Service credit in the parks. Also, there is no need to tip when dining at Quick Service.
Another favourite of ours for Quick Service was the Polite Pig at Disney springs. Most of the meals are $18 plus you get a drink included. The bill for the three of us would have been over $80 if we were not on the dining plan!
Before You Go
Planning ahead can also save you loads of money and there are quite a few things we wish we’d bought here in the U.K before we left to take with us. Check out this post for more details, but the main things included
- Robinson’s Mini Squash bottles – all the parks offer free water so these saved us a fortune on buying drinks and saved us having to lug big bottles of water about.
- Autograph Books, kids costumes and lanyards – all much cheaper on eBay – buy before you go!
- Grownups can’t wear costumes but they can wear Disney themed clothing – the majority of mine came from Primark.
Early Access to Dining & Fast Passes
Another advantage of staying at a Disney Resort is getting early access to book restaurants and fast passes. Some restaurants at Disney are so popular you will need to book them 180 days in advance. This may seem like an insane amount of forward planning, but it is necessary if you want to guarantee a reservation. Most popular are character dining restaurants that are in the parks such as Cinderella’s royal table, Be our Guest, Aukerhaus and Crystal Palace. If staying on-site you can book 10 days of restaurant reservations from the 180-day mark and then daily if your break is longer. These can be changed and cancelled up to 24 hours before your reservation so there’s no need to worry if your plans change.
You will also be able to book fast passes 60 days ahead instead of 30 days. Again it does mean planning hard, but worth it to avoid massive queues. In particular, I would advise booking a fast-pass for the new Avatar ride ‘Flight Of Passage’ in Animal Kingdom. Queues can be up to 230 minutes but it is the best ride I have ever been on. With a fast pass we waited about 15 minutes. For more tips on fast passes and avoiding queues at Disney World check out this post.