We took our first ever family vacation to Walt Disney World in 2016. Full disclosure: it had been four years since the hubs and I took a vacation.
We were too busy (and too poor) to afford it early on in our marriage. And our kids were tiny.
But at the end of 2016, we were finally financially ready to take a vacation. With a three-year-old, a two-year-old, and a Disney-obsessed grandma, we chose Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida as our destination.
I booked the trip in mid-September.
It was the middle of the night. I had been stalking Disney’s vacations for a while. And empowered by a couple glasses of wine, I hit “select” on Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, a deluxe resort in the Magic Kingdom.
For 4 nights, 5 days, with park hoppers and flights for 2 adults and 1 child (kids under 3 don’t need Disney tickets and kids under 2 don’t need to purchase a flight ticket), our total came to $3,451.
I felt like it was a steal!
And it really was.
However, there were a few things I wasn’t prepared for…like the insanity that is Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs).
We were less than 180 days out from our vacation, so we weren’t able to book many restaurants we would have liked. And I wasn’t hip to the FastPass tiers. But overall, we had a truly magical vacation.
Seeing our children express such joy and delight at the sight of their favorite characters made it fantastic.
After our all-too-short vacation, we immediately began to plan trip #2. Why? Well, we knew that if we wanted to have an even better experience, we needed to start early.
So, on March 5, 2017, we booked our room at the Polynesian for December 2017.
It takes approximately the same amount of time to make a human being as it does to book and plan a Disney trip.
Why did we book so early?
Well, for starters, Disney raises its rates as the year goes on. The closer you get to your travel date, the more expensive the rooms become.
They also fill up quickly. So if you know where you’d like to stay, then you need to book early. And we planned to stay on somewhere on the monorail line.
We narrowed it down to the Contemporary or the Polynesian. Ultimately, my mom talked us out of the Contemporary because monorail accessibility is a little weird there. Though one thing I learned is you can walk from the Contemporary to the Magic Kingdom, which is pretty cool.
Anyway, we chose the Polynesian.
Now, at the time of booking, the average nightly cost for a standard room at the Polynesian was $597.38. But we never planned to pay that much. In the end, we saved over 38% off the cost of our stay.
So, how did we do it?
1. Book Early
We’ve already mentioned that’s a necessity to getting the room you want, but it’s also key to locking in lower rates.
Once you put down a deposit on a room only reservation, you are guaranteed the rate at time of booking. If the rate goes down, you can always just call up and have your rate reduced to the new rate.
2. Get an Annual Pass
We live out of state, over 1,000 miles away. We only visit WDW once per year. So why would we get an annual pass (AP)?
For the discounts!
If just one person in your family gets a Disney Platinum Pass, it pays off big for the whole family. In our family, we designated my husband as the AP holder for this year.
This allowed us to qualify for the Passholder Room Discount, and gives additional discount opportunities throughout the park – like the opportunity to add Tables in Wonderland.
We got the Passholder Room Discount, and it gave us 20% off of our stay. That immediately brought the nightly rate down from $597.38/night to $477.90/night. That’s approximately $836 in savings for the week.
3. Get a Disney Chase Visa
And use it throughout the year. We’ve earned hundreds of Disney rewards dollars to date, just by using our credit card for routine purchases and automatic bill pay.
We use this balance to pay for our stay.
By December, it will grow even more, and we’ll apply those rewards to our vacation.
Just be sure to pay it off each month to avoid interest (because that makes the discount less significant)!
We used our Disney Chase Visa to rack up as much points as possible, applying approximately $600 rewards dollars to our stay.
4. Buy Disney Gift Cards from BJ’s Online
You don’t need to be a BJ’s member to purchase discounted Disney gift cards online.
You can buy a $100 Disney gift card for $94.99. That’s a 5.01% savings, and you can use the gift cards to pay for your Disney vacation, from your hotel to your annual pass to your daily food expenses.
This saved us an additional $167 off our stay. We saved more on our tickets and expenses while at Disney this way, too.
How much did you save?
On our stay at the Polynesian, we used the above strategies to save almost $1,600 off our stay. With this savings, we didn’t need to choose between a deluxe and moderate. The savings made our Polynesian Disney vacation affordable and enjoyable.
We also saved additional money with my husband’s annual pass. We got between 10-20% off all of our dining with the annual passholder discount.
2018 Disney savings plan
With that said, we’re hunting for new strategies in 2018. What is your favorite way to save money when visiting the happiest place on earth? Let us know in the comments!