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I've been going to Disney World for over 20 years. Here are my 13 best tips for visiting on a budget.

timothy posing in front of cinderella castle at disney world
I've been going to the parks for decades.
Timothy Moore

  • I've been going to Disney World for more than two decades, and I've learned how to budget there. 
  • I get to the parks as early as I can, and I don't typically spend extra for Park Hopper tickets.
  • If I buy food in the parks, I usually mobile-order from quick-service spots, but I also pack snacks.

Disney has always been a big part of my family's life — it even led me to a role editing for WDW Magazine for the past two years.

I've gone on plenty of solo adult trips to the parks in the name of research, and I've learned a thing or two about saving money while traveling — yes, it is possible to do Disney on a budget.

Here are the top ways I stretch my dollar and get the most out of every trip to Disney World.

I plan all my trips with crowd calendars

A successful Disney trip starts well before you touch down in Orlando.

You need hotel reservations, ground transportation, park reservations and tickets, and those coveted advanced dining reservations, also known as ADRs.

But the very first (and most important) decision you'll make is when to go. 

I use Disney World crowd calendars, which show you when the parks are generally the least busy.

This means you'll get to ride more attractions and (maybe) have an easier time getting reservations. Plus, ticket prices are typically lower outside of peak season.

I always take advantage of early theme-park entry

clear central area of animal kingdom early in the morning
It's nice to get in before the big crowds.
Timothy Moore

Although extended evening hours are reserved for guests at Disney's deluxe (aka expensive) resorts, every on-property guest gets to enter the parks 30 minutes early in the morning.

This is the ideal time to speed-walk to your top attraction.

I've ridden Rise of the Resistance twice in one morning without any wait thanks to early entry. Any other time of day, you'd typically have to pay up to $15 a person for individual Lightning Lane access to skip the long lines for the popular "Star Wars" attraction.

I rough it at the Campsites at Fort Wilderness to save on lodging

Beautiful as it is, you won't typically find me at the pricey Grand Floridian Resort. Instead, I like to go camping at Fort Wilderness.

At roughly $80 to $100 a night, slots are still expensive as far as camping goes. But the next step up on Disney's hotel tiers are the value resorts, which tend to be roughly double that cost.

My grandparents once spent five months living at the Campsites at Disney's Fort Wilderness, I figure I can pitch a tent for a weeklong trip.

Pro tip: If you're willing to explore accommodations outside the Disney bubble, staying off-property is one of the best ways to save on your trip. It's a little less convenient and a little less magical, but a lot less expensive.

I devise a rope-drop strategy to start each park day

disney world cast members walking guests in for rope drop at animal kingdom
I try to walk in right behind the park employees opening the gates.
Timothy Moore

For the uninitiated, rope drop refers to getting to the parks before they open, lining up, and rushing to your favorite attraction when the park employees "drop the rope" by opening the gates.

If you have limited time at Disney World — because extra park days are expensive — rope-dropping is the best way to fit in popular attractions before lines get long.

I like to wake up early, chug a coffee, skip breakfast, and queue up for transportation as early as possible.

Once you're in the parks, it's best to know exactly where you're going. Study the maps and research which rides typically have the longest lines, like Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom.

I fit in extra rides during fireworks

Unpopular opinion, but fireworks aren't my thing.

Disney's nighttime spectaculars are objectively awesome, but if given the choice, I'd rather be getting spooked on Haunted Mansion or taking a final lap on Test Track. The fireworks are a great time to do that.

Lines start to thin out as the sun goes down because people go to claim the best viewing spots. 

I use mobile order and skip the sit-down meals

cup of blue milk from starwars galaxy's edge in disney world
I mobile-order my favorite Disney snacks and treats.
Timothy Moore

Dining reservations are hard to get at Disney World, and although the food is delicious, it's also expensive.

I usually skip sit-down meals and opt for mobile ordering through the My Disney Experience app.

Just roll up to the quick-service restaurant of your choice and take your food to go. It's even more efficient if you eat it while lined up for your next attraction.

The one exception is character meals. If interacting with characters is important for your little ones, combine two experiences by reserving a special character meal.

They can get pricey, but you'll spend less time waiting for meet and greets later. 

It's a waste of time to claim spots for parades and shows in advance

If I'm at Disney, it's usually for the drinks and the rides. But even I'll admit it's worth taking a break with a show or cavalcade once or twice a day.

Some families will claim a spot in front of Cinderella Castle hours before nighttime fireworks and half an hour before parades. You'll get the best viewing spot, but you also give up precious park time just to stand around.

I like to squeeze in another ride, grab a drink, and then take a spot in the back — it also makes plotting a quick exit easier.

Investing in Genie+ is actually worth the extra cost

To skip the line on most attractions, you've got to pay for Genie+, which is $15 a person per day.

Do I like spending more money at Disney World? Of course not. But if your trip is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you'll appreciate the ability to tackle more attractions in a single day.

Just do your research before going. Genie+ can be confusing for first-timers.

But I don't worry about buying Memory Maker

timothy and friend posing in front of the purple wall at disney world
We take our own photos at the parks.

My mom may treasure every photo she's ever taken, but I'm not the type to look back through old albums.

Memory Maker is a nice perk that gives you access to all your PhotoPass photos that park employees snapped of you on your trip. But it's expensive.

If photos aren't a big deal to you — or you're fine with smartphone selfies — skipping Memory Maker is a great way to save cash.

On every trip, I plan one rest day to take it easy

If you're staying at a Disney World hotel, you might want to get as much park time in as possible to justify the nightly rate. But if you can afford a resort day in the middle of your trip, it's usually worth it.

Spend the day by the pool or take Disney transportation to grab a drink at a resort you haven't explored (monorail bar crawls are totally a thing).

One of my favorite pastimes is people-watching all afternoon at Disney Springs, cocktail in hand.

Resting and recharging also ensures you'll be ready for a rope-drop and open-to-close park marathon the next day.

I pack my own snacks for lunch

picnic tables on tom sawyer island in disney world
There are a few little-known picnic tables on Tom Sawyer Island perfect for a midday snack.
Timothy Moore

The food at Disney World is reason enough to book a flight, and Epcot almost always has a festival going on with delicious snacks and cocktails inspired by countries around the world.

But if your eyes are bigger than your wallet, you can easily spend hundreds of dollars on food in a single day — I know because I've done it.

That's why I typically pack snacks like protein bars, an apple, or a bag of pretzels to munch on throughout the day. And you don't even have to sneak them in because outside food is allowed. 

Having a picnic on Tom Sawyer Island in Magic Kingdom is my favorite way to escape the crowds for a bit.

But remember, this is vacation. A couple of Mickey ice-cream bars here and there won't break the bank.

I don't generally park hop, which saves on ticket prices

Park Hopper tickets are wonderful, especially if you've got an annual pass that allows you to do it "for free" with your yearly fee.

But it adds to your overall ticket price, and hopping to another park is a time commitment (at least 30 minutes).

That's time you could spend eating more Dole Whip or jumping on rides. 

Take advantage of single-rider lines at some popular attractions

millenium falcon at galaxy's edge in hollywood studios
Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run has a single-rider line.
Timothy Moore

If you can only afford a few days at Disney World, using single-rider lines is the cheapest way to get through lines faster.

I even use these when I'm visiting with family and friends. As long as you're OK not riding together, single-rider lines are the way to go.

Only four attractions at Disney World currently have single-rider lines: Test Track, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, Expedition Everest, and Rock 'n' Roller Coaster.

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