Disney has always been a big part of my family’s life – it even led me to an editor role for WDW Magazine for the past two years.
I’ve taken many solo adult trips to the parks in the name of research, and learned a thing or two about saving money while traveling — yes, it’s possible to do Disney on a budget.
Here are the best ways to stretch my dollar and get the most out of every trip to Disney World.
I plan all my trips with crowd calendars
A successful Disney trip begins long before you arrive in Orlando.
You need hotel reservations, ground transportation, park and ticket reservations, and those coveted advance restaurant reservations, also known as ADR.
But the very first (and most important) decision you will make is when to go.
I use the Disney World Crowd Calendars, which tell you when the parks are typically least crowded.
This means you’ll be able to ride more attractions and (perhaps) have an easier time getting reservations. Also, ticket prices are usually lower outside of high season.
I always take advantage of the early theme park entry
While extended evening hours are reserved for guests at luxury (i.e., expensive) Disney resorts, each resort guest can enter the parks 30 minutes early in the morning.
This is the perfect time to take a brisk walk to your main attraction.
I ridden Rise of the Resistance twice in one morning without any expectations thanks to early entry. At any other time of the day, you’ll usually have to pay up to $15 per person for individual access to Lightning Lane to avoid long lines for the popular “Star Wars” attraction.
I fight at Fort Wilderness campsites to save on lodging
As beautiful as it is, you usually won’t find me at the expensive Grand Floridian Resort. Instead, I like to go camping in Fort Wilderness.
At around $80 to $100 a night, slot machines are still expensive when it comes to camping. But next up on Disney’s hotel tiers are resorts, which tend to be about double that cost.
My grandparents spent five months living in Disney’s Fort Wilderness campsites, I think I can pitch a tent for a week-long trip.
Pro tip: If you’re ready to explore accommodations outside of the Disney bubble, staying off-property is one of the best ways to save on your trip. It’s a little less practical and a little less magical, but a lot cheaper.
I design a rope fall strategy to start each day at the park
For the uninitiated, rope dropping means getting to parks before they open, queuing, and rushing to your favorite attraction when park employees “drop the rope” as they open the gates.
If you’re short on time at Disney World — because extra park days are expensive — jumping rope is the best way to squeeze in at popular attractions before the lines get longer.
I like to get up early, drink coffee, skip breakfast, and line up for transportation as early as possible.
Once you’re in the parks, it’s best to know exactly where you’re going. Study the maps and look for the rides that usually have the longest lines, like Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom.
I get in extra rides during the fireworks
Unpopular opinion, but fireworks are not my thing.
Disney’s nighttime shows are objectively great, but given the choice, I’d rather be spooked on Haunted Mansion or take a final spin on Test Track. Fireworks are a great time to do this.
Lines start to thin as the sun sets because people go for the best vantage points.
I use mobile ordering and skip sit-down meals
Restaurant reservations are hard to come by at Disney World, and while the food is delicious, it’s also expensive.
I usually skip sit-down dining and opt for mobile ordering through the My Disney Experience app.
Go to the quick service restaurant of your choice and take out your meal. It’s even more effective if you eat it while waiting in line for your next attraction.
The only exception is for character meals. If character interaction is important to your little ones, combine two experiences by booking a special character meal.
They can be expensive, but you’ll spend less time waiting for meet-and-greets later.
It’s a waste of time to claim seats for parades and shows in advance
If I’m at Disney, it’s usually for the drinks and the rides. But even I admit it’s worth taking a break with a show or cavalcade once or twice a day.
Some families will claim a spot in front of Cinderella’s Castle a few hours before the nightly fireworks and half an hour before the parades. You’ll get the best vantage point, but you’ll also be giving up valuable time in the park just to stand.
I like to sneak into another ride, grab a drink, then grab a seat in the back – it also makes it easier to plan a quick exit.
Investing in Genie+ is actually worth the extra cost
To skip the lines at most attractions, you need to pay for Genie+, which costs $15 per person per day.
Do I like spending more money at Disney World? Of course not. But if your trip is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you’ll appreciate the ability to tackle more attractions in a single day.
Just do your research before you go. Genie+ can be confusing for beginners.
But I don’t care to buy Memory Maker
My mom may treasure all the photos she took, but I’m not one to look back in old albums.
Memory Maker is a nice perk that gives you access to all of your PhotoPass photos that park employees have taken of you on your trip. But it’s expensive.
If photos aren’t a big deal for you – or if you’re fine with smartphone selfies – skipping Memory Maker is a great way to save some cash.
On every trip, I plan a rest day to relax
If you’re staying at a Disney World hotel, you may want to spend as much time in the park as possible to justify the overnight rate. But if you can afford a resort day in the middle of your trip, it’s usually worth it.
Spend the day by the pool or take Disney transportation for a drink at a resort you haven’t explored (monorail pub crawls are totally a thing).
One of my favorite hobbies is people watching all afternoon in Disney Springs, cocktail in hand.
Resting and recharging also ensures you’ll be ready for a marathon of rope drops and open-to-closed park the next day.
I prepare my own snacks for lunch
The food at Disney World is reason enough to book a flight, and Epcot almost always throws a festival with delicious snacks and cocktails inspired by countries around the world.
But if your eyes are bigger than your wallet, you can easily spend hundreds of dollars on food in a single day – I know that because I did.
That’s why I usually pack snacks like protein bars, an apple, or a bag of pretzels to munch on throughout the day. And you don’t even have to sneak them in because outside food is allowed.
Having a picnic on Tom Sawyer Island in Magic Kingdom is my favorite way to escape the crowds for a bit.
But remember, it’s the holidays. A few Mickey ice cream bars here and there won’t break the bank.
I don’t usually do park hops which saves on ticket prices
Park Hopper tickets are wonderful, especially if you have an annual pass that lets you do it “for free” with your annual membership fee.
But that’s on top of your overall ticket price, and jumping to another park is a time commitment (at least 30 minutes).
That’s time you could spend eating more Dole Whip or jumping on rides.
Take advantage of single-passenger lines at select popular attractions
If you can only afford a few days at Disney World, using single-passenger lines is the cheapest way to get across the lines faster.
I even use them when I visit family and friends. As long as you’re ok with not riding together, single-passenger lines are the way to go.
Only four Disney World attractions currently have single-passenger lines: Test Track, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, Expedition Everest, and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.