I didn’t want to go to Disney World. I’d enjoyed it as a child but I didn’t think it would stand up to a visit as an adult. As I don’t like crowds, queues, screaming kids or animation it didn’t seem the place for me. Simon loves the place though, and convinced me to give it a go.
For a week we immersed ourselves in the magical world and visited all four parks and two water parks at Disney World Florida and had an amazing time. There’s a reason that it’s one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world – Disney knows how to do fun, and this it was. Pure, stress-free fun and a blissful escape from the real world.
It helps to do some planning before you visit Disney to make the most of your experience. Using various time saving strategies we managed to not queue for more than 15 minutes the whole week. And although it wasn’t a cheap week we could have spent a lot more.
Here are our money and time saving tips for Walt Disney World.
Money Saving Tips
Stay outside the resort – If you can afford it staying in one of the Disney resort hotels would add to the experience and save you from the tackiness of Orlando, but it’s expensive. If you look on hotel booking sites you can find a cheap hotel for as low as $25 a night in the Kissimmee area. We stayed at Hotel Continental Plaza which has comfortable rooms and a great location near Disney. They have a free shuttle to the parks but we preferred the flexibility of a car.
Work out the best ticket for you – Deciding which Disney ticket to get can be confusing. If you are on a tight budget and just want a taste of Disney then go for the 1 day ticket for $82. Use the day to visit the Magic Kingdom – the most Disney of the parks where you’ll find all the characters, some classic rides and wonderful themeing (we loved Main Street and the Wild West Frontierland).
If you are looking for a more complete Disney experience then you’ll need a four day ticket ($232) to visit all four parks. Each park is very different and they are all worth a full day.
Consider the Water Park Add On – If you are interested in visiting a water park then the “water parks and more” add on to your ticket is an extra $54 with the number of entries depending on how many days you have on your ticket. With a four day ticket you’ll get four entries to the extra attractions which include the water parks Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon (our favourite), plus the giant interactive arcade Disney Quest and some sports related activities.
We went to both water parks and found it a great way to relax after a few days in the parks, and we also had a couple of evening visits to Disney Quest. It’s good value if you want to visit at least two extras.
Sell back extra days – This is a dodgy practice but can really save you money. The tourist desk at our motel advised us to buy a longer ticket – seven days rather than the four we planned, as it only cost $15 extra for three more days. If we didn’t use the days we could then sell the ticket back to them – we got $50 each back. There are plenty of agencies in Orlando offering this service.
Take lunch & snacks – The food inside the parks is expensive so make sure you take a packed lunch and lots of snacks. In the Magic Kingdom Tom Sawyer’s Island is a good picnic spot.
Take a water bottle – There are plenty of water fountains where you can refill your bottle and save money on drinks.
Eat dinner outside the parks – The park hours are so long (Magic Kingdom was open 8am -midnight when we visited) that we couldn’t carry enough food to keep us going all day. Although there are relatively cheap fast food options (from $8) inside the park it’s much better value to eat outside.
We usually took a break for a few hours and took advantage of the many cheap chain restaurants to eat in the area. It’s not gourmet eating but you can’t argue with prices like $5.99 for all you can eat pizza and pasta at Cicis. Check your hotel for restaurant discount vouchers. If you don’t want to leave Disney property then the Earl of Sandwich in Downtown Disney has large gourmet sandwiches for only $6.
Allow some treats – Although we planned not to eat inside the park there are many tempting treats that are hard to resist. Fudge, doughnuts, pretzels, cinnamon buns and frozen lemonade called to us and it added to the fun to allow ourselves the occasional treat.
Park in the resorts – Parking costs $14 a day at the parks and although we didn’t do this you could try parking at one of the Disney resorts (say you are visiting the restaurant) and catch the free bus from there.
Time Saving Tips
Disney is a popular place so expect crowds at any time of the year. There is a lot you can do to minimise wait times though.
Get the Undercover Tourist app – This is a fantastic, free planning tool for Disney. You can use the crowd forecaster to figure out the best day to visit, read about the rides, create your own favourites and schedule, look at the park maps, and read restaurant menus. All of this can be accessed offline except for the ride wait times.
Choose the right time to visit – This website has ranked the best weeks of the year to visit Disney. You can also use the app above to decide which park is least busy on which days.
Plan your essential rides – Before you get to Disney decide which rides are must-dos for you. Make sure you know which ones have the longest queues (use the above app).
Arrive just before park opening – Our biggest tip of all is to arrive early. We visited Magic Kingdom twice the week after Easter and for the first few hours of the day there were no crowds and we walked straight on the big rides without queuing. It’s a wonderful experience. Arrive at least 30 minutes early for Magic Kingdom as you need to take a monorail or ferry from the parking to the entrance.
Avoid Extra Magic Hours Days – Disney gives resort guests early entrance to the park on certain days. Don’t go on these days or you’ll lose your early morning advantage.
Go to the big rides first – From your planning you’ll know which rides have the longest queues (usually the ones with Fast Passes). Go to these first. We rode Thunder, Splash and Space Mountains multiple times in the morning without queuing. In the afternoon the wait times were 60-90 minutes.
Use a Fast Pass – A Fast Pass is a ticket that gives you an allocated time to come back and ride without having to queue. You can only have one at a time. Later in the day when it starts to get busy use your Fast Pass to go on the big rides and while you wait go on the less popular rides or shows which should have short wait times.
Although Magic Kingdom never ran out of Fast Passes (probably as it has more rides with them) they did run out in the late afternoon/evening at Epcot and Hollywood Studios. It’s always a good idea to ride the big rides early and if you can fastpass them again later on it’s a bonus.
Use your Fast Pass after the return time – The Fast Pass gives you a one hour slot to come back and ride. Although you can’t ride before the time you can usually ride after the allocated time. We never had any problems with this -sometimes coming back hours later. This works especially well if you are going back to the hotel for an afternoon break – you can fastpass a ride before you leave and ride when you return.
Stay until the end of the day – The end of the day often sees less queues, although we found this isn’t as reliable as early morning. At Hollywoood Studios there were still long queues (and no fast passes) at the end of the day, and Space Mountain in Magic Kingdom stays busy too. However Thunder and Splash mountains were empty.
If you take advantage of these tips then you should have as good a time at Disney as we did. Enjoy!
Are you planning a trip in 2017? See our Gear and Resources page for our favourite tools to help you plan the perfect trip.
Don't forget to leave a comment and share your Disney tips.
Enter your email to sign up for our monthly newsletter and free ebook South America Highlights.