15 Ways to Save Money (& Your Sanity) When Visiting Disney/Universal Theme Parks
When you hear the words “Disney World”, “Magic Kingdom”, or “Universal” what comes to mind? Well, if you have ever been to any of them, you know it can be a bit overwhelming AND expensive—-albeit a wonderful time and memories that will certainly last forever for you and your family! And if you HAVEN’T been to these impressive theme parks yet but think you might go in the future, this is a post designed for *YOU*. Heck, even you experienced park-goers might learn a tip or two! Read on!
Here are some tips I put together to help save you money and (hopefully) some sanity while visiting the parks:
Before going to the park(s):
- Once you are in the Orlando area, stop at a local FL Target,Walmart, or CVS, etc to buy the following items:
- Small Disney/Universal themed trinkets. You will find cute appropriately themed items that are much cheaper than in-the-park prices! Pack them in the bag/backpack you plan to take with you to the park and hand them out throughout your day! I typically do this while standing in a particularly long line or when my kids are starting to get restless/whiney. It’s an instant pick-me-up and it didn’t cost an arm and a leg! (It's also not a random tribal drum that your kid will never play with again after getting home from your trip.)
- A handheld fan w/ mister. Target usually has them for $7 or $8 ....in the park they are $15 or more. It helps to keep you cool in those hot/stuffy lines where personal space is limited and other peoples' body odor is off the charts. ICKKKK.
- Cheap rain ponchos. You will find these in the camping area of Target/Walmart and the dollar stores carry these, as well. Inside the park, they are $15 or more! Trust me on this. I have experience! We spent an entire day at Animal Kingdom in the pouring rain! It was sunny the first hour of our day and then the rain set in....and stayed. (Dad to the rescue with Disney rain ponchos! I wish I would have hit the $1 store before going to the park!!) Side note: When folks are seeking refuge under a dinosaur belly for an hour or more, that's no fun.
- Glow sticks/bracelets/necklaces for after sunset. They sell glow-items in the park but as with everything else…$$! If you stay for the nighttime parades/fireworks, nearly everyone around you will have glow-items, so save yourself the headache and grab the glow stuff when you are at the store.
- Pack sunscreen, hand sanitizer, chapstick, etc. You know yourself/your family and what necessities you need. Definitely pack hand sanitizer though!! All those railings…..ewwww.
- Pack some snacks/candy (granola bars, beef jerky, hard candy). —Be smart!! Don’t pack chocolate or anything that can melt or get ruined in the heat or if it gets wet. -Aint nobody got time for a mess like that on a hot day in a crowded park!! No.Thank.You.
- You can take your own sport bottles to fill with WATER. Park restaurants will fill them for FREE.
- Research the dining plan option for the park(s) and decide if it's worth it. Park food is expensive, so it likely might be a good idea but depends on you/your families needs and routines. We have used the dining plan and it worked well for us! Link for you to research it:
- Also, at Universal, they sell souvenir drink cups that you can refill all day at stand-alone Coke machines (they offer lemonade, water, too). We did this and it was totally worth the money for our family!
- Definitely pack a hoodie or something to wear in the evening after the sun goes down. Especially if you are wet, you will get cold. Also, the indoor restaurants are freeeeezing cold when you are wet.
- Download an app on your phone to help navigate the park and see wait times for rides, character lines, park maps, restaurant info, etc. Many of them are free (Magic Guide, Undercover Tourist, etc) but just check the details to make sure they include the specific park(s) you are visiting.
- If you have a power brick/power bank (portable self-contained power charger) make sure to charge it and pack it. Using your phone to snap pics and also use the park-related apps all day will run your phone down!
At the park(s):
- Wear comfortable shoes!!! You will do A LOT of walking and standing. Don't wear flip flops. Your feet will thank you.
- Be aware that driving into the park, parking, and taking the shuttle/etc to the front gates will take *at least* 30 mins, so plan accordingly if you want to be at the “actual” park at a certain time. You will also go through a bag check/security point before entering the park.
- If driving to the park, when you park your car, be sure to take a photo on your phone of the section (usually designated by a character and a number/letter) you are parked in. The lots are HUGE and you will NOT want to wander around looking for your car at the end of the night.
- Have a plan of where you want to "start" your day in the park. Typically, you should NOT start at the front of the park because that's what everyone else does as soon as they enter. Lines for rides at the front of the park are longer at the beginning of the day because everyone enters the park and gets right in line. Enter the park, get your pics of the castle, etc, and then head to a different section of the park to start your rides. **Make sure you stop by a FastPass kiosk along your way! More on this in a minute.
- They sell photos taken of your family ON the ride(s) and offer them for sale in the gift shop at the end of that ride. If you think you might buy several of these, they offer a package to cover all the pictures throughout the day. You can purchase the single photo *or* the package deal in the gift shop.
- Take full advantage of the FastPass options whenever you can! Many of the popular rides will have extremely long lines. You can do what is called FastPassing the ride. Find a FastPass kiosk in the park, pick the ride you are interested in, and snag a pass with a specific time to go ride that ride later in the day. This allows you the opportunity to ride other things in the meantime but guarantees you a place in line later. Once your designated time has arrived, proceed to the ride that you FastPassed and look for the “FastPass” entrance. The line will typically be 1) shorter and 2) move quicker than the regular line. Enjoy!
- Link with more info on FastPass: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/plan/my-disney-experience/fastpass-plus/
- Take advantage of Child Swap (also referred to as Rider Switch) lines when necessary. This is helpful when you are a family with one or more small children that might not be able to ride a ride with a taller height requirement. Your whole party gets in line for the ride and alerts a cast-member (park employee) that you want to utilize the child swap option. This allows part of your party to get on the ride while the remaining part of your group stays behind with the small child/children. When the ride returns, the parent/adult that stayed behind initially is then allowed to get on the ride. This allows all adults/larger children to experience the ride without anyone having to miss out while staying behind with the younger child/children.
- Link with more info on Child Swap (Rider Switch): https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/guest-services/rider-switch/
This sounds like a lot (I know!) but I promise these tips are helpful! Your kiddos are going to see *SO*MANY*THINGS* they want to have when you are in the park! By having some snacks and small trinkets on hand to pass out during the day, it will help prevent total meltdowns over a specific snack item or a must-have stuffed animal. However, with that said, in our family, we always let them get SOMETHING from the park…..just not EVERYTHING.
I hope this allows you to save some money while still having a fulfilling experience with your family! Have a great trip! And while you're here, check out my online store! Scroll back up to the top and hit the "Shop" tab to see what's out there! If you use the promo code BLOG15, you'll receive 15% off your entire order! Thanks for stopping by!
~Pickles and Punch
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