We know what you're thinking: Between hotels, park passes, meals and souvenirs, a Disney vacation could put a significant dent in your budget.
While some expenses are unavoidable, savvy travelers can find serious savings if they know where to look. ShermansTravel picked the brains of two Disney insiders to come up with the top 10 ways to save money at Disney parks that go beyond tried-and-true tips like taking advantage of hotel shuttles or visiting when kids are in school. If you don't want to return from the parks with an empty wallet, there's no need to wish upon a star - just follow tips 1-5 for Walt Disney World and tips 6-10 for Disneyland!
Theme parks have captive audiences and so their meals tend to be pricey. Here and there, though, Disney World visitors can pick up satisfying yet inexpensive food items for under $15. All four parks sell smoked turkey legs, and one tender Flintstones-sized $8 poultry limb is lunch enough for a mom and two kids. Epcot has a wealth of low-cost noshes, from edamame to seared tuna noodle salad. Quench your thirst with unlimited free samples of Coca-Cola products from around the world at Club Cool. Photo: Walt Disney World
With its world-class collection of exotic creatures, Orlando’s Animal Kingdom can’t be beat for walkable safaris. Yet nearby lodging facilities offer a mighty nice sampling of the sensations that roam the savannah. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge resort guests can step onto a platform called Arusha Rock to view up to 30 types of furry and feathered friends, which might include white-bearded wildebeest, Thompson’s gazelle, giraffes, and okapi. Photo: Walt Disney World
Get a huge Disney infusion without paying a penny. Simply stroll around Downtown Disney, a sprawling shopping, dining, and entertainment complex. It’s loads of fun yet has no entrance or parking fee. Begin at World of Disney, a mega-retail complex. Each room is highly themed, so much so that visitors gawk at the humongous props, especially the princess and pirate novelties inside the girls’ and boys’ sections, respectively. Willing to dole out a couple of bucks? For $2, tots can ride the carousel and the “dollar train,” just the right size for preschoolers. Photo: Walt Disney World
The show doesn’t end when you exit the theme parks. Disney hotels often have entertainment of their own, and there’s no fee to walk right in and watch. For the best free and inexpensive hotel amusement, plan an evening at Disney’s BoardWalk area. From 7pm to 10pm nightly, a trio of entertainers takes turns gathering quiet crowds for alfresco shows. Generally, there’s a juggler, a comedian, and a magician, all enchanting onlookers with wholesome bits Photo: Walt Disney World
Certainly nothing beats standing by Cinderella’s Castle to get a front-row view of the nighttime sky exploding with colors. But you can cheat and see the extraordinary show from spots outside the park. Show up before the sparks fly at the Grand Floridian or Polynesian beaches, the Transportation and Ticket Center, or the Magic Kingdom bus depot. If you’re at the Contemporary, go to the observation deck on the fourth floor. Photo: Walt Disney World
When visiting the Disneyland Resort for the day, the key is to eat a big breakfast, bring lots of snacks, and plan on eating one big meal in the parks. Fill tummies at your favorite fast food drive-thru on the way, and then load bags with snack food and water bottles. (Disneyland does request that guests refrain from bringing in outside food, but it’s not outright forbidden.) When it's time for that big meal, families rave about The Hungry Bear Restaurant where kids’ meals for $5.99 can often feed two hungry tykes. Photo: Flickr/Loren Javier
If you are parking at the Disneyland Resort for the entire day, the easiest and best place to keep your car is at the Mickey and Friends Parking Structure. At $15 a day, it provides plenty of parking for vehicles of all sizes and has great access to the park via the tram. If you are planning on being at the Resort for seven hours or less, the most economical parking can be found at the Downtown Disney parking lot. The first three hours are free and two additional hours are validated by purchasing a meal at participating restaurants in Downtown Disney, or by seeing a movie at the AMC Theater. The hourly rate is $6. Photo: Flickr/Loren Javier
From the moment you walk into Disneyland, your kids will see toys, trinkets, t-shirts, and Mickey ears that they just have to get. Set a limit with them before the day begins so that there is a clear idea of how much will be spent. Look through the stores during the day to see what they are interested in, but don't make any purchases until after dinner. Then they can see all the fun things and choose their favorite and you aren’t left carrying the bag around all day. Photo: Flickr/Loren Javier
Though somewhat smaller than its Florida cousin, Anaheim’s Downtown Disney is the perfect place for an evening of free fun. It offers three hours of free parking, live music, a view of the Disneyland fireworks at 9:30pm (check <a href="http://disneyland.disney.go.com" target="_hplink">disneyland.disney.go.com</a> for specific times), and many unique shopping experiences. The Lego Imagination Center has been outfitted with brand new Lego structures that tower overhead and float along the ceiling. Get your picture taken next to R2-D2 and then let kids play with the Legos on the table. Photo: Flickr/Mulling It Over
When the sun sets on the Disneyland Resort, street vendors pull out light swords, magic wands, glowing Mickey Ears, and other light up toys. Plan ahead and save a bundle of money by purchasing a pack of glow sticks from an online company or the dollar bin at your favorite store. For approximately $1 for a package of 10, you can save a bundle of money and will have a super fun way of enjoying the nighttime at Disneyland. As a bonus, glowing necklaces help keep track of your kids and each other. Photo: Flickr/luckylynda74
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