There are a lot of festive places to celebrate the holiday season, but Walt Disney World is in a league of its own. In November and December, this family-friendly resort becomes even more magical with special events, wintery decorations and more than a few appearances from a certain jolly man in a bright red suit. And while the magic of Disney is higher during the holidays, the prices are higher, too. Is it even possible to go to Walt Disney World on a budget during the holidays? It is. And we have just the tips for you.
Like any other vacation, when you book your Disney trip early, you're going to save more money. As resort rooms fill up around Walt Disney World, the prices are going to increase. And savvy travelers will tell you the best time to book is as soon as you can. The moment you've decided to go to Disney for the holidays, grab that room and your airfare.
Travel Early in the Season
Don't just book your trip early in the year, travel during the early days of the holiday season. Did you know that Christmas Day and New Year's Eve are two of the busiest days of the year at Walt Disney World? It's true! Magic Kingdom will often be filled to capacity on Christmas and crowds flock to the parks once schools break for the holidays. Disney World starts celebrating Christmas nearly the moment Halloween is over; the first Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party this year is on November 8 and all of the resorts are completely decorated for the holidays shortly after Thanksgiving. For all of the holiday festivities and none of the crowds, travel in mid-November (but not Thanksgiving week) or early December. Not only will this help you budget, but it's also a way to stress less during the holiday travel season.
Stay at a Budget Resort
Sure, you can save a ton of money by staying off-site in a nearby resort in Orlando, but staying on Disney property offers a ton of benefits, including free transportation to and from the airport, convenient buses to the parks and an earlier window for your Fastpasses. So we recommend staying at one of the All-Star Resorts or Pop Century. These motel-style resorts are big, budget-friendly and family-friendly. What they lack in theming and elaborate pools, they make up for in spirit. Guests here decorate their room windows for the holidays and seeing the different ways people get creative is truly fun.
The Walt Disney Company
Buy Disney Gift Cards
If you have a Target RedCard, you save 5 percent on all purchases made at the store - and that includes Disney gift cards, which are good for park tickets, resort stays, food, and souvenirs. That means you can get $100 worth of Disney vacation for $95. By purchasing Disney gift cards, you're also able to spread out when you spend your money, helping you to budget in the long-term.
Buy Some Souvenirs Before You Go
You don't have to go all the way to Walt Disney World to find Disney-themed holiday merchandise. Honestly, Mickeys in Santa hats are everywhere in the final quarter of the year. If you buy festive T-shirts, Disney-themed ornaments and décor and other trinkets before you go to the parks, you can save a ton of money on impulse purchases.
But of course, you can't find authentic Walt Disney World or Disney theme park merchandise outside of the parks. Or can you? Head to the Orlando International Premium Outlets or the Vineland Premium Outlets for Disney's Character Warehouse. At this shop, you'll find discounted official Disney Parks merchandise. While a lot of it will be from past events and promotions, you're likely to find something spectacular, special and affordable to help you remember your magical Disney vacation.
Forget Park Hoppers
Park hoppers, which give you the ability to go to more than one park per day on a single ticket, can really increase the cost of admission. Skip these and buy admission to just one park per day. If you plan your days wisely, you won't need to park hop, and this can amount to huge savings.
Ditch Memory Maker and PhotoPass
Of course you want to remember your vacation. And it's tempting to buy Disney's Memory Maker in order to get high-quality photos from Walt Disney World. But those photos come at a steep price... $169, in fact. You can still use the official Disney photographers to get that iconic shot in front of Cinderella Castle or with Mickey Mouse in his holiday outfit - just hand them your cellphone or camera.
If you're a tidy person who doesn't use an abundance of towels every day, consider opting out of housekeeping in exchange for a Disney gift card. At some resorts (such as Pop Century, Coronado Springs and Art of Animation), guests are able to forego housekeeping in exchange for a $10-a-night gift card. That gift card can then be used anywhere on Disney property for food, souvenirs or other room charges. You can still call down for fresh towels and toiletries as needed.
Picnic in the Parks
Walt Disney World has some amazing dining options, but did you know you can actually bring food into the parks? It's true! As long as your food doesn't need to be heated up, you're good to go. So pack a picnic full of festively decorated foods, such as red and green sandwiches and Christmas cookies. With basics like hot dogs and cheeseburgers costing over $10, the savings on food are substantial when you bring your own.
Snack Your Way Around the World
If packing your own food doesn't sound like it's quite your speed but you still want to save money, consider forgoing table service restaurants and even quick service spots and snack your way around the parks instead. There are a lot of Disney park snacks every fan should try, and this only gets better during the holidays. At Epcot, you have the International Festival of the Holidays with booths full of regional holiday specialties like potato knish, New Year celebration soba and slow-roasted turkey with stuffing. All of the theme parks will also have seasonal specialties decorated with the perfect holiday flair. They're Instagrammable, delicious and a budget-friendly way to fill your belly.
Take Advantage of Free Activities
You may not think there are any free activities at Walt Disney World beyond going to the pool, but that all changes at Christmastime. Head to Disney Springs at night and stroll through the Christmas tree trail. Dozens of beautiful trees are decorated with Disney themes. And there are plenty of other free activities you can do, including movies under the stars at your resort, see the holiday decorations that people put up at Fort Wilderness and watch the Electrical Water Pageant at 9 p.m. every night. And these are just a few things you can do at Disney without a park ticket.
See the Holiday Decorations at the Deluxe Resorts
But our favorite (free!) thing to do at Disney outside of the parks is to resort hop along the monorail loop and see the stunning holiday decorations. The deluxe resorts (such as the Grand Floridian, the Beach Club, Contemporary Resort and the Boardwalk Resort) have elaborate Christmas trees, gingerbread houses and other holiday decorations. Hop on the monorail or a bus and take in the sights.
Skip the Park on Party Days, but Go to the Party
One must-do activity at Walt Disney World during the holidays is to go to the holiday party, Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. This event is a separate admission and is not cheap - tickets start at $90. But you really should experience this party for the cookies, costumed characters and parade! Fortunately, guests with tickets to this late-night event can enter the Magic Kingdom starting at 4 p.m., three hours before it begins. So, take one day off your ticket package and spend the morning doing some other activity. Then, go to the party at night and enjoy.
Get Free Souvenirs
You can spend endless amounts of money on Disney souvenirs, of you can get free souvenirs. Walt Disney World always has free celebration buttons (for birthdays, anniversaries, first visits and more) and Mickey stickers from cast members. But if you go to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas party, be sure to pick up a keepsake Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom card from the Fire Station on Main Street. If you meet a character, they'll also hand you an "autograph" on a festive background. Free souvenirs and the rest of these tips are only a handful of all the ways you can save money on a Disney vacation.
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