Disney Dollars & Sense

When I said I was going to Disney the first time at lot of people had something to say. Many comments were positive, but there’s plenty of negative. When I said I couldn’t wait to go back some understood, others thought I was crazy. Now in the midst of planning a third trip in as many years the reactions continue to be mixed and the first thing I hear is commenting about the cost of the trip.

Disney is expensive! Yep, it is…. and no it’s not at the same time.

I very clearly remember casually looking a Disney as a vacation choice when my son was just under 2. I priced out a $10,000+ vacation! At my son’s age he would have been FREE, yet this was still what the numbers added up to. This is more than my honeymoon to Italy cost. All I could think is how right my parents were when I was younger and we drove by the Walt Disney World signs and they told me we couldn’t afford it. I was sad then. I was devastated as an adult because I had determined that I would give my kid something I had not had the chance to experience.

I chatted with a friend that goes regularly and said that it just wasn’t going to be something we could manage. When I told her the price I had come up with she laughed at me. Then told me “You’re doing it all wrong.”

How could this be? I pride myself on finding deals. I know how to find great vacation deals. I’ve been doing it for years. Well, clearly I was wrong. I got my first crash course in Disney. When to go was important. Knowing the levels of hotels and their offerings makes a difference. Park tickets are actually cheaper the more days you buy. There’s discounts available directly from Disney.

Hmmm… back to the research. And guess what, even after we decided to upgrade our room to a suite because of a good tax return, our first trip cost significantly less than half of what I originally calculated.

Our second trip was even less. We stayed a different resort with a less expensive room and one less day. For the purpose of full disclosure I have a Cast Member friend that very generously offered us use of a friends & family discount.

Some may be surprised by this screen capture from Disney’s website. Yep, that’s right, Disney hotels under $200. Finding a good, clean hotel in a safe neighborhood in major tourist areas can be difficult. Of course the rates vary by day and season just like anywhere else.

screen capture from Disney’s website

And an a adult 4-day (single park per day) is currently $404.70, but you can go for an 8-day (single park per day) for just $452.63. For me, it’s a no-brainer to go for the longer trip.

I have compared other vacations and by the time everything is added together– hotel, car rental (assuming you have traveled by air), then add in activities and food. It’s surprising how close the pricing can be.

Even “all-inclusive” tropical options options are hard to compare. Since all-inclusive doesn’t usually include transportation, select on-site activities (usually motorized sports), and any off-site excursions or activities. And airfare to these locations, at least for us, is significantly more. If you opt for one of the Disney Dining Plans which will include snacks and at least two meals per day then you have paid for your lodging, entertainment (park tickets), and food. Transportation to and from the airport and also to and from hotels to parks is free when staying at Disney. Sure there are a plethora of add-ons available. But if getting to Disney the goal all the extras aren’t necessary. There is more than enough to do without “needing” to pay for more.

Saving & Paying

I paid for our trips mainly with gift cards. There so many reasons gift cards are one of the best ways to pay. I learned a ton of tips by paying attention in Facebook groups and other forums. I already knew that if I bought gift cards at Giant Eagle (our local grocery store) that I would get fuel perks to take money off my next tank of gas. Sometimes they even often double fuel perks. Ultimately it doesn’t save on Disney, but you do earn a lot of free gas.

What I did not know about gift cards is that there are many ways/places to get discounts on them. I admit I am not the biggest guru in this but I have tried some of the methods. If you have a Target RedCard then you get 5% of your purchase including gift cards. Wholesale sale clubs like Sam’s and BJ’s offer discounted cards. And the website Raise.com allows individuals to list gift cards for sale. The discount varies based on seller discretion. All of these little discounts add up if you are spending a few thousand on your vacation.

I also LOVE Ebates.com!! If you are shopping online and not using this website you are LOSING money. Which is just plain crazy. In my early years signed up I admit I forgot to use it. Now, there is a an extensions for most browsers to show you how much you can earn back for your purchase. There is literally no strings with this! You don’t put in a credit card number. You don’t pay for a thing. You just earn money. I’m approaching the $1000 mark!

The last option is one to be careful with… credit cards. If you are financially responsible consider a car like Discovery, Chase Disney Visa or maybe one for your airline of choice. I’m a huge fan of Discover. Besides excellent customer service the 5% cashback reward is a lot of money! Many regular bills like insurance and utilities often accept a credit card payment at no charge. If you are paying your balance off at the end of the month this can be a way to earn hundreds of dollars towards the Disney vacation or many other things. NOTE: Do not go this route if you are have credit issues and can not pay of your balances.  

When to Go

So I must have been planning a vacation for the week of Christmas at a Delxue Resort with a Theme Park View and Concierge level service to get my initial Disney price quote that sank my heart.

When to go really matters. I prefer to look at YourFirstVisit.net for their annual ranking of the best week’s to visit. It’s ranking sheet includes their prediction of crowd but also considers the prices of each level of resort. If you have flexibility this is a nice tool to help search a variety of dates. Going on holidays is generally a lot more crowded and more expensive. Just as the old warning says “prices may vary.” Oh and they will. Choose wisely.

Never stop checking for savings

Last, by not least, don’t stop looking for a better deal. Disney offers discounts of their own regularly. Discounts can come in the form a percent of rates, bonus day park tickets, and the highly coveted free dining! You’re not locked into once price if you book as soon as rates are available or even 180 days to make your length of stay dining reservations. We changed our discount a couple times on the first trip to make sure we had the best rate. It was a simple phone call and a quick fix by the Cast Member on the other end.



  1. I’ve frequently priced Disney compared to other vacation locations (Myrtle Beach, Outer Banks, etc), and I can always get Disney to work out to be more cost effective 🙂


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