10 Disney Hacks for Visitors on a Budget

No Disney trip is complete without seeing Cinderella’s Castle and enjoying a Dole Whip. Photos by Meg Williams.

I’m a Disney fanatic. The house of mouse was ingrained in me from day one. My grandma worked at the parks, and my dad vacationed there when he was young. For my family, Disney World was a cheap vacation because we could go to the parks for free and use my grandparent’s timeshare. I felt like the luckiest kid in the whole world to vacation in Florida every year for my birthday and go to Disney.

One of my first trips to Magic Kingdom. Photo by Disney.

When we lost those perks, my family didn’t visit the parks for a long time. It was too expensive for us, like most people, to go every year and stay at their resorts. We got used to our week-long stay at the Old Key West, unlimited amount of park days and discounts on merchandise. Luckily for me, I got to visit Disney a few times in high school without my parents. We finally all went back together three times throughout my being in college. Within those three visits, we’ve developed some pretty sneaky hacks we’re quite proud of. They are budget-friendly and perfect for families who can only afford a couple of park days.

Disney World Tips & Tricks

1. Book one night at a Disney hotel

Disney’s Boardwalk Resort may be out of your budget, but it doesn’t mean you can’t visit. Photo by Meg Williams.

The perks that come from booking a Disney hotel are essential for packing four parks into two days. For starters, you can book two days of Fastpasses for your family. This year my family booked a late flight into Orlando, stayed at a cheap hotel near Disney and used our first day at the parks before even checking into the Disney hotel. You can also book them 60 days in advance, instead of 30 days, giving you the chance to get on all the best rides. The other major plus of your booking is two days of access to extra magic hours. These are vital for being able to get on rides you might not have a FastPass+ for.

2. Plan according to Extra Magic Hours

Extra Magic Hours can make or break your Disney experience. If the Magic Kingdom opens at 7 a.m. for hotel guests, and you show up at 8 a.m., chances are all of the rides you wanted to get on will already have long lines. If you’re planning on two park days, you’ll want to pair the parks that have extra morning hours and late hours on the same day. This way, you’ll get to all four parks and have the ability to go early and stay late for the best rides.

3. Get to the park for rope drop

The best way to visit the newest attractions is early in the morning. Photo by Meg Williams.

Arriving at the park 30 minutes before it opens means you will be there for rope drop. If you can corral your family early enough, this is your time to get on as many rides as you can. Know which ride you want to hit first and the quickest route to it. Rope drop is a Disney sport. To be a varsity player, you need to perfect your fast walk, and don’t let any parents with strollers block your path. My family has walked right on to every coveted ride because of rope drop.

4. Get the most our of your FastPass+

With the newer Disney World FastPass+ system, you can only book three at a time for your family. After you use them all up, you can book two more. Once you use those, you can book two more and so on. The best way to approach this is by booking your passes early. The earlier you book them, the quicker you can get new ones. This works great for a park hop day because you can book three for one park in the morning and then the others at night. Also, be sure to get online exactly 60 days ahead of your trip (30 without a hotel) at 7 a.m. to have the best pick of passes.

5. Strategize the best way to park hop

Strategic planning can help you bypass lengthy lines for new rides. Photo by Meg Williams.

Park hopping is an art. Lots of factors are in play for deciding which park is best for the first half of the day and which is best for the second. If you’re looking to explore a recently opened land and its attractions, you need to rope drop. The lines for Star Wars and Avatar still haven’t let up from their opening. If you don’t care about the newer things, it may be better for you to save that park for later because people won’t be crowding the older attractions. Also, think about if you’ll be having dinner at one of the parks. If you have a reservation to dine at Epcot, you’ll want to be there at night.

6. Park at other Disney Hotels for better transportation access

This is one of our sneakier hacks, but it does work. You get free park parking with your hotel stay, but sometimes it can be far away or take forever to leave at night. To get around the crowds, you can park at the Boardwalk or Polynesian Resorts. Tell the guard at the gate you are getting “breakfast” (or lunch or dinner). They will ask to see your license then wave you through. Parking at Boardwalk puts you within walking distance of Hollywood Studios and gives you access to the back entrance of Epcot.

7. Bring your own snacks and drinks

Ride the Tower of Terror and go on a safari all in one day with the park hopper ticket. Photos by Meg Williams.

Instead of buying waters and food, bring your own! It will save you lots of money throughout the day. You can pack as much as you want too, so feel free to bring in lunch or dinner. If you run out of water, you can fill up your bottle at any of the fountains, or ask the cast members at quick-service restaurants.

8. Reserve your meal exactly 180 days in advance

If your heart’s set on dining at Be Our Guest or Le Cellier, be prepared 180 days in advance. That is when Disney dining reservations open up. For beloved restaurants, these slots go quick, so be aware of the day and plan ahead. It can also help to join the Facebook group, Disney Foodies. Many of the members are dining experts and love helping fellow Disney lovers find the best restaurant for their family.

9. Use the phone app

The Slinky Dog Dash is a highly coveted FastPass+. Photo by Meg Williams.

The two questions everyone wants answered when they are at Disney are: how long is the wait? and how do we get there? The Disney World app answers both these questions for you in real-time. The interactive map offers walking directions, wait times, nearest bathrooms, restaurant menus, character spots and more. Download it ahead of time to get the hang of how to use it.

10. Ask photographers to use your phone instead

While it can be fun to view your Disney PhotoPass pictures online, the prices may shock you. Instead of deciding to buy just one family photo, kindly ask the park photographers if they’ll take a few shots on your phone. Usually, they are more than happy to, especially at character meet and greets.

Bonus Disney Fun: Explore all of the resorts and amenities

The Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom is one of my favorite park sights. Photo by Meg Williams.

Two days at Disney goes by fast, but just because your park days are over, doesn’t mean your Disney experience has to be. Use that “I’m having lunch” trick to check out the best Disney resorts. Grab a Dole Whip at the Polynesian, stroll along the lake at the Boardwalk or people-watch in the Grand Floridian lobby. The options are endless, and sometimes the resorts can be just as magical as the parks.

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