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Vacationing with Disney is magical—but it can be pricey. Believe it or not, though, there is something to fit just about anyone’s budget. From a day at Disneyland to a week-long cruise through Mexico, when choosing to hang with Mickey and friends, planning ahead can help you make the most of your time and money. Whether you’re penny-pinching or living large, here are some ways to get your money’s worth.

ALSO: 3 perfect days in Guadalajara, Mexico


Image courtesy of Disney Aulani

Aulani Resort: Hawaii

Budget: There are plenty of options for those looking to save some money while visiting the Aulani Resort in Hawaii. First off, try shopping at the nearby Island Country Market for food and drinks, since those are typically the biggest expense. Also, buy a reusable souvenir cup for free (non-alcoholic) beverage refills during the length of your stay.

Planning to snorkel during your visit? Bring your own gear to save on rental costs. Guests at the resort do get complimentary boogie boards, sand toys, life jackets, beach chairs and umbrellas.

If traveling with kids ages 3 to 12, be sure to take advantage of free child care and activities at Aunty’s Beach House. This “kids’ club” includes visits from Disney characters (including Moana), Hawaiian cultural experiences such as lei making and hula lessons, video games, a playground and more. There is also the Pau Hana Room (Community Hall), a fun place for families to get together and play board games, craft or watch a movie. Kids will love the Menehune Adventure Trail, a high-tech interactive excursion that brings the property to life. Also, look out for the Menehune statues around the resort. See how many you can find during your stay. Activities for tweens and teens are also available.

Luxury: For the most extravagant Aulani experience, take advantage of some of the premium amenities, such as staying in the three-bedroom 2,174-square-foot Grand Villa with full kitchen and washer and dryer.

If you’re planning on attending the Ka’wa’a luau, it is well worth upgrading to the VIP tickets that include seating closest to the stage, early check-in granting access to the activities before the crowds arrive, unlimited complimentary beverages (including alcohol), first in line at the buffet, and a much more beautiful keepsake shell lei (rather than the traditional orchid lei).

For a fun on-property activity, the Rainbow Reef snorkeling adventure is hard to beat. It is large lagoon-type aquarium filled with thousands of fish that are mostly indigenous to the area. If you purchase the length-of-stay access, you can go anytime while you’re staying at the resort. For a more in-depth  experience, go for the guided Supplied-Air Snorkeling (similar to scuba diving) tour.

For some rest and relaxation, a visit to the Laniwai Spa is a must. With a hydrotherapy garden (various types of outdoor spa showers) and a full service spa menu, you’ll be pampered like never before. Indulge in a signature treatment such as the lomilomi massage, hana pohaku (heated stones), or kapa’i massage using herbal poultices. Teen treatments are available at Laniwai with an accompanying adult or there is also the Painted Sky Teen Spa for kids ages 13 to 17 to get treatments on their own.


Image courtesy of Disneyland

Disneyland: Anaheim, CA

Budget: If you’re planning a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth, there are easy ways to cut back on expenditures. The first is to purchase advance tickets online. The more days you go, the cheaper the tickets are per day. Buying tickets the day-of at the park will cost more. If you live in Southern California, you get an even bigger discount on tickets (you must show valid ID with SoCal address). If you’re also planning on going to Legoland and SeaWorld, a SoCal CityPASS will get you 30% off your tickets and includes a three-day Disneyland Resort Park Hopper ticket that is good at Disneyland and California Adventure.

Food within the resort can add up. Save some cash by bringing in your own snacks. Disneyland allows guests to bring a six-pack sized cooler into the resort.

If you’re planning on staying overnight in the area, take advantage of the hotel packages to save on accommodation. Stay at one of the three Disneyland Resort hotels or one of the 14 Good Neighbor Hotels and receive a one-park per-day ticket to Disneyland or California Adventures with early admission to the park, 10% off dining and merchandise, 5×7 photo, and a collective pin, lanyard and luggage tag.

Luxury: To make the most of your time at Disneyland or California Adventure, book a private, guided VIP tour that will allow you to cut to the front of the line for rides and character greetings, up-front seating for parades and shows, unlimited day-of downloads from the Disney PhotoPass, and dining reservations. Custom tours are available depending on your unique interests.

Upgrade your park ticket with a MaxPass to book your FASTPASS tickets from your phone, which means no more running around the park to get a FASTPASS.

Rather than waiting in line to meet your favorite characters, splurge on a Character Dining experience, where Disney’s characters show up and interact with guests while dining.

If you’re planning on visiting the parks for more than one day, indulge in a room at the luxurious Grand California Hotel & Spa with direct access to California Adventure. The upscale resort includes several pools, a waterslide, fine dining and full service spa.

For those planning to visit the park frequently and are looking for a high-class experience, consider joining the exclusive Club 33 to dine and lounge with the elites (membership runs in the tens of thousands of dollars).

Disney Cruise Line

Image courtesy of Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line

Budget: Cruises are a great way to go if you’re watching your money because you typically pay one price and everything is included while on board (except alcohol). When cruising with Disney Cruise Line, guests who cruise frequently earn perks. After your first voyage, you automatically become a member of the Disney Cruise Line Castaway Club, which means that subsequent trips earn you various perks, such as complimentary fine dining, character greetings, a Welcome Back Aboard gift, onboard reception, priority check-in, special discounts and more. The more you sail, the more you save.

Luxury: Some of the amenities that are not included in the ticket price, but are worth splurging on are spa treatments such as massages and facials (some even offer botox), exquisite fine dining at Palo restaurant, guided port adventures that let you experience the culture of the country in which you’re visiting , and, of course, a Concierge Suite that includes an outdoor ocean-view patio, custom pillow selection, plush robe and slippers, private welcome reception, priority boarding and on-call concierge services.

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Photo courtesy of Polynesian Village Resort

Walt Disney World: Orlando, FL

Budget: When booking a room at the more than 20 Walt Disney World Resort Hotels, save money booking the room with the least attractive view. You’ll still get the same size and amenities as comparable rooms, but at less cost (you’ll really only be using your room for sleeping, anyway). At Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, the garden view room is cheapest . Hotel guests also get free theme park parking, or skip the cost of a rental car and take advantage of the free transportation system throughout Walt Disney World. Complimentary transportation to and from the Orlando airport are also available.

For the least expensive accommodation at Walt Disney World, pitch a tent at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground. The fully equipped campsites include water, electrical outlets, picnic tables and grills to barbecue your own food. If you’re planning on dining out while visiting Walt Disney World, save money by adding a Dining Plan to your vacation package. The plan includes one quick-service meal, one table-service meal and two snackers per day.

Enjoy lower prices on park tickets when you purchase multi-day, four-park tickets online. If you buy seven-day tickets, the daily cost per ticket is usually half price. Children three and under get in free to the theme parks. Some resort hotels include “Extra Magic Hours” access to the parks for free. This allows guests to access a park one hour before opening or stay two hours after closing.

Luxury: Enjoy five-star accommodations by booking a room at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort. The resort includes fine dining, a golf course, tennis courts, waterslides, pools, a lazy river, fitness facilities and a full-service spa. For Disney-themed accommodations, book a Royal Guest Room at Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort. These rooms feature upscale linens and decor, as well as framed images of Disney’s popular princesses.

If you’re celebrating something special, like a birthday or anniversary, surprise your loved one with an “in-room celebration” package at select Disney resorts that includes things like decorations, a sweet treat, themed souvenirs, and more.  Guests staying at Disney’s BoardWalk Resort or Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resorts can get around in style with a private driver through the Minnie Van Service operated by Lyft.

For even more Disney park fun, upgrade your ticket to include Disney After Hours. This ticket option allows guests to stay three hours after the park closes—a great way to enjoy the rides with shorter lines.

For a magical dining experience, don’t miss out on dining at Cinderella’s Royal Table located inside Cinderella’s Castle at Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom Park. This private dining room is fit for a princess with a medieval theme, stained glass windows, a spiral staircase and chocolate “slipper” for dessert. Enhance your experience by including a sparkling tiara.

Another unique dining adventure is the Highway in the Sky Dine Around. Hop aboard the monorail for a five-course meal served at three Disney World Resort hotels that ends with a fireworks show.

If you’re looking for a memorable excursion, check out the Ultimate Nights of Adventure VIP Tour at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park. During this four-hour tour, guests see the Animal Kingdom come to life after dark. The tour includes six attractions, specialty treats and drinks and souvenir lanyard. For an up-close-and-personal experience with the animals, book the Wild Africa Trek. This three-hour guided tour allows guests to see animals living in an environment that is closely similar to their native habitat.

Tagged: California, Cruise, Destinations, Family, Florida, Types of Travel

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Sharael Kolberg
Sharael, founder of Family Travel Channel (, has been writing about travel since 1995. Her work has appeared in Sunset magazine, Outside magazine,,, and many others. Follow her on Twitter @FamTravChannel, FB and Instagram @FamilyTravelChannel. See more of her work at