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My family tried 5 hacks to save time and money at Disney World. Most of them failed, but we learned tips for next time.

Chris Thomas   

My family tried 5 hacks to save time and money at Disney World. Most of them failed, but we learned tips for next time.
  • My family of five tried money-saving and time-saving hacks during a trip to Disney World.
  • Ordering groceries to our room backfired, and we wish we had just paid for PhotoPass in advance.

If you've been to Disney World, you know those memories come with a high price tag.

Planning a trip is anything but easy, and going isn't cheap, so after reading countless articles on both time- and money-saving hacks for the parks, my family thought we'd give some a go.

Here's why they generally weren't worth the effort (and what we found worked instead).

Ordering groceries to our hotel sounded like a good idea, but it backfired

Trick: Order groceries and snacks to your hotel to save money on food and drinks at the parks.

Ordering groceries to be delivered where you're staying sounded like a good way to save money instead of buying pricey food at the parks, but it didn't work for us.

Unfortunately, the order we placed with a nearby supermarket got lost. By the time the store located it, we were back home.

On our next trip, instead of risking our groceries not getting delivered, we took advantage of free checked bags on Southwest and packed a suitcase filled with snacks. This saved us money throughout the day when our kids got hungry.

We also brought along reusable water bottles and filled them up at breakfast and for free throughout Disney at filling stations or quick-service restaurants. This saved us money on drinks and kept us hydrated in the hot Florida sun.

We skipped the PhotoPass to save money but regretted it and spent more to buy it later

Trick: Save money by taking your own pictures instead of paying $170 or more for PhotoPass, Disney's professional photography service offered throughout the parks.

Skipping Disney's PhotoPass seemed like a no-brainer way to save money since we could just take photos on our phones.

As it turns out, professionals take way better photos than we ever could. More importantly, the PhotoPass photographers can take photos in places where visitors can't, like on rides. The pros also made it way easier for my whole family to get photos together without asking strangers to take them for us.

Once we realized how awesome PhotoPass pictures were, we bought the package. It cost us $200 in the parks, which was $30 more than if we'd just bought it in advance.

We also missed out on a lot of photo opportunities. Had we been on board right away, we would've stopped and taken more pictures. Essentially, we paid more money for fewer photos, and it was our own fault.

We flew in early to have more time at the parks on our first day, but it kind of backfired

Trick: Get an early flight on the first day of your vacation to maximize your time at Disney World parks.

We got a 5 a.m. flight to Orlando, stopped by our resort to drop off our bags, and got to the parks before noon. I really thought we'd won this one ... but it all fell apart shortly before dinner.

The kids got cranky. They were exhausted, not only from walking around the park all day in the sun, but also from being awoken from their slumber at 3:30 a.m. to go to the airport.

We ended up going back to the resort much earlier than anticipated, missing all of the nighttime fun, including the fireworks. This trick might be better suited for teens or adults.

Planning the trip on my own didn't save me money, and it definitely didn't save me any time

Trick: Skip the travel planner and book a trip on your own so it's personalized and as affordable as possible.

I have always been a do-it-myself type of travel planner. And not to brag, but I nailed it on our first trip to Disney. Everything went great, and my family had a fabulous time. But looking back, I'm not sure I did.

I made great memories, but it wasn't a vacation — it was a quest to get the best deals, the right reservations, the perfect meals, and more.

But at least it was cheaper than hiring a travel planner, right? Nope.

For our next trip, I enlisted a Disney trip planner who did all of the work of making reservations and got us a lot of the best rates available.

This isn't the case for all travel planners, but the Disney trip planner cost us nothing. Since we stayed on Disney property for three nights, she earned a commission from Disney — not us.

For free, she booked our trip and answered questions throughout the entire vacation. I was way less stressed and more present with my kids because I didn't have to spend time buried in my phone figuring out the next plan.

Using Disney gift cards for souvenirs worked for most of our kids

Trick: Give your kids Disney gift cards with a set amount so they can buy souvenirs while sticking to a set budget.

Some travel blogs suggest buying your kids Disney gift cards before the trip so they can use a set amount of money to purchase souvenirs. The gift cards can be purchased in advance at stores like Target and Walmart.

By giving your kids gift cards, they know exactly how much money they have to spend during the trip, and you easily set a budget. For a minute, I thought this one would pay off.

Two of our kids took those gift cards down to almost nothing, but our third just isn't a big shopper, and he left a bunch of money on the card.

The cards don't expire, so technically, we aren't out anything, but now we have to figure out what to do with this gift card back home. If this was cash, we could spend it where we wanted, but since it's on a card, we're forced to figure out how to spend it on the Disney website.

Overall, after experiencing the ups and (mostly) downs of these travel hacks on our first adventure, we decided to just embrace the expense on our next visit to Disney World.


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