12 Clever Ways To Beat Disney at Their Own Game to Save Big and Experience More

Walt Disney said he considered himself an “idea man”—his innovative thinking revolutionized animation and gave us the concept of the iconic Disney family theme parks. Ideas and innovation still drive the Disney company, and the minds behind the scenes at the parks use a host of tactics to appeal to guests and encourage them to spend their time and money in the ways that benefit Disney most.

Here's What to Know to Improve Your Disney Trip

Photo Credit: Mickey Visit.

Disney wants you to spend money on food, souvenirs, accommodations, and upgrades, and from the tantalizing scents they pump onto Main Street to the Magic Bands that make it easy to drop hundreds of dollars without realizing it, they accomplish this by strategic design.

As frequent visitors to Disney World and Disneyland, we've discovered some ways to beat Disney at their own game, and we're going to teach you how to work the system, too! These are important things to recognize to improve your trip.

Budget Spending with Disney Gift Cards

Photo Credit: Mickey Visit.

Once you enter Disney property, it can be difficult to keep up with your spending, especially if you're using Magic Bands for your dining expenses and purchases. We like to create a budget ahead of time and purchase discounted Disney gift cards before our trip for the budgeted amount. This way, whenever we make a purchase in the parks, we have a rough idea of how much money we have left, and we don't go overboard.

Recognize Inflated Wait Times

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Generally, official wait times at Disney parks are a better reflection of desired guest behavior, and since Disney wants guests to disperse themselves evenly throughout the parks, those posted on the My Disney Experience app tend to slightly inflate the amount of time guests will spend standing in line.

Of course, the opposite can happen as well, and you're always taking a bit of a gamble by committing to any ride queue. However, morning wait times in particular are typically quite inflated, so if Remy's Ratatouille Adventure is posting a 60 minute wait, but Cast Members haven't actually started to let guests into the indoor queue area yet, you can probably expect to wait closer to 40 minutes (or even less) for that attraction.

Avoid Paying More for Genie+

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Prices for Disney Genie+ frequently fluctuate and can surge depending on the day and season, but by planning ahead, you can save money on this line-skipping add-on. Although there's no way to know the exact cost of Genie+ for any given day of your visit until that day arrives, it helps to be aware that peak pricing definitely occurs during historically busy seasons like holiday weekends, the week of Thanksgiving, and the week between Christmas and New Year's Day.

Any time prices for Disney tickets and resorts are higher, Genie+ costs are going to be higher as well. Avoid booking those dates if you want to save on your trip, and plan to visit the parks during the middle of the week (Tuesdays and Thursdays are often ideal) instead of Saturdays and Sundays when Genie+ pricing is always higher. You can also use strategies like taking advantage of Early Entry or riding popular attractions in the morning to optimize a day in the parks without Genie+.

Make Room Requests

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If you do your research during the planning phase of your trip, you could end up with a premium view from your resort hotel room without paying for an upgrade.

The shot above shows a view of Magic Kingdom taken from a lake-view room at Bay Lake Tower. From the balcony of the room, Bay Lake is visible in one direction, and Space Mountain and Cinderella Castle are visible in the other. I was able to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks from my balcony without paying for a theme park view.

My family has also stayed in a standard view room at Animal Kingdom Lodge with a balcony overlooking part of the savanna. We were able to secure these wild card rooms by studying the map of our resort layout and making room requests. Disney allows you to request a particular resort area through their online check-in service, but we suggest calling the front desk about a week before your trip to make a specific room request. Let the concierge know you would prefer to have your room request honored over an earlier check-in. You may not get the exact room you want, but you may get one with a similar view.

Share Meals

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No one wants to walk all day on an uncomfortably full stomach, but when we dine at Disney Parks and resorts, we want to get our money's worth. Meals at Disneyland (see best Disneyland restaurants here) and Disney World usually happen on the go, and there isn't often a way to store leftovers unless you're heading right back to your resort room after a dining experience. We recommend sharing entrees with other members of your party to save money and avoid overeating. That way, you can enjoy the full benefits of our next tip on this list!

Snack Your Way Through the Day

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There are so many inventive and delicious snacks available at Disney Parks and Disney Resort hotels that we hate to fill up completely at meal times and miss out on these. We like to stick with the one-big-meal-per-day rule, and that meal can happen at any time: breakfast, lunch, or dinner. This way, we can enjoy sharing and sampling sweet and savory snacks throughout the day, especially during festivals featuring unique food offerings (like the Food and Wine Festival at EPCOT, for example). This saves us money on table service meals and allows us to try an exciting array of Disney cuisine.

Stay Value, Play Deluxe

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Not everyone can afford to stay at a Deluxe resort, but at Disney World, there is a wide range of resort options available, including Moderate and Value accommodations and even campsites. Each resort has its own dining locations, recreation options, and amenities, but Deluxe resorts obviously offer more than others. Fortunately, all resort guests are free to visit other resorts, and although parking may be limited at some resorts during peak times, you can always use Disney transportation to get there.

There are plenty of excellent restaurants to try at the Deluxe resorts, and scheduled activities are open to all guests. In the past, my family has made Christmas ornaments out of ostrich eggshells to earn a conservation badge, decorated animal shaped cakes with icing and toppings, painted sun-catchers, and participated in lawn games.

All of the resorts in the Magic Kingdom area have beachfront seating along Bay Lake or Seven Seas Lagoon where you can relax or watch Happily Ever After and the Electrical Water Pageant. You can also visit the animals of the African Savanna at Animal Kingdom Lodge, enjoy the street performances and ambiance along Disney's Boardwalk, or listen to the pianist in the lobby of the Grand Floridian while you complete the “Grand Character Scavenger Hunt.” Opportunities abound, so do your research and come prepared to make the most of your resort stay.

Buy Souvenirs Ahead of Time

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Before every Disney vacation, we pick up a few inexpensive Disney-themed tees and kids pajama sets on sale locally, stock up on glow sticks and other light-up toys from the Target Dollar Spot, and order a huge lot of Disney trading pins on E-bay. This way, we already have Disney spirit-wear and easy-to-carry souvenirs that double as a park activity.

We only purchase clothing items at Disney World or Disneyland if they're really unique and worth the cost, and our kids bring their Disney plushie pals from home. Everything is more expensive in the parks, and you can get one-of-a-kind water bottles, Mickey and Minnie ears, home decor, and more on Etsy for less money. We still do like to shop in the parks sometimes, so when asked for gift ideas during the holidays or for the kids' birthdays, we often wish for Disney Gift Cards.

Be Smart During Parades, Fireworks, and Shows

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Disney strategically uses scheduled entertainment like parades, stage shows, street performances, and nighttime fireworks spectaculars to manage crowd levels, and there are plenty of ways you can improve your experience by being mindful of these showtimes. If parades are a priority for your group, you're probably going to want to line up 45 minutes to an hour in advance to watch from the front row, but if you don't feel the need to be up close and personal with the characters, you might not want to waste valuable park time lining up early.

We can typically find a decent viewing spot on the fly that will also allow us to make a hasty retreat from the parade crowds afterwards. Both Festival of Fantasy at Magic Kingdom and Magic Happens at Disneyland currently offer two showtimes each day, and both are about the same in terms of attendance, so you can hit one and escape the crowds on attractions during the other. If parades aren't your thing, it makes sense to skip them altogether and use the opportunity to explore the paths less traveled during both showtimes.

Castle stage shows like Mickey's Magical Friendship Faire can be a fun way to see classic and contemporary characters dancing in creative costumes and sing along to some favorite Disney songs, especially if you're already heading down to Main Street for a snack break or on your way to the park exit for a mid-day break. Otherwise, we tend to avoid the castle area during castle showtimes. Castle walk-throughs close during stage shows, causing congestion along main thoroughfares in the area, so we recommend staying mindful of the show schedule.

The fireworks at Magic Kingdom and Disneyland are climactic finales to a day in the parks, and the massive congregations on Main Street every night reflect their popularity. Consider watching from alternate locations to avoid the crowds and stay close to ride entrances. That way you can watch the show without rubbing shoulders with strangers and catch an attraction or two with lower wait times before the crowds flood into those other sections of the parks.

At Magic Kingdom, we like watching from the Tangled area of Fantasyland, where you can see fireworks over Beast Castle as well as Cinderella Castle and then hop on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train or Peter Pan's Flight as soon as the music ends. Other unconventional spots include the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse (this location is no longer very secret, so you'll need to stake out a spot early), Frontierland, the entrance to Tomorrowland, or on rides like the PeopleMover and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. There are some excellent alternate viewing locations at Disneyland, too, if you're not intent on experiencing the full effect of projections and fly-overs by the castle.

Don't Buy Regular Park Passes on Party Dates

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Did you know that purchasing entry to a ticketed event, like Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, Oogie Boogie Bash, or Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party allows you to enter the parks three hours before the events officially begin? Make sure to take advantage of these mix-in hours. If you're attending one of these events, we recommend enjoying the first half of the day relaxing at your resort before entry time.

If you're planning your trip during one of these special seasons and are not going to the ticketed event, make sure to check the event calendar to find out which nights of the week will be party nights. Since the parks close early for these events, plan to either tour a different park on party dates or get a Park Hopper ticket for that day.

Don't Pay for Upgrades

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Disney add-ons like Photo Pass, Park Hopper, Disney Dining Plan, Genie+, and other extras can be helpful options that might make your trip more convenient, but most of the time, they're unnecessary. You can still have a great time at Disney without paying hundreds for extras.

Instead of park hopping, spend some time at Disney Springs or Downtown Disney, or head back to your resort for an evening swim or a movie under the stars. You can view the Magic Kingdom fireworks and the Electrical Water Pageant from a number of resorts, including Fort Wilderness, Wilderness Lodge, Polynesian Village, the Contemporary/Bay Lake Tower, and Grand Floridian, and you can watch the Disneyland fireworks from some of our favorite fireworks viewing spots outside the park or the Esplanade between the two California parks.

Forego the Dining Plan at Disney World in favor of snacking and meal-sharing, and you can always bring your own food or have groceries delivered when you arrive at your resort. Cast Members are always willing to take photos for you with your phone, and if there's a particular PhotoPass photo you love, you can purchase it individually for much less money later.

Genie+ is a definitely a useful perk, but the expense for four people can be more than paying a one-day park admission price for an extra person. As I mentioned above, you can still get your fill in the parks without paying for something that was free for decades by touring smart.

Rent DVC Points From Members

Photo Credit: Disney Parks Blog.

Renting points from a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) member makes it possible to score an incredible value on your resort stay. By purchasing unused points from a DVC owner through a reputable rental company, you can save a ton of money and enjoy beautifully designed studio rooms and villas at resorts like Disneyland Hotel, Disney's Grand Californian Hotel, Animal Kingdom Lodge, The Polynesian Village Resort, Disney's Boardwalk Resort, Disney's Wilderness Lodge, and more! If you're thinking of buying into Disney Vacation Club, renting points from members is a great way to test out the experience before committing.

These 15 Disneyland Secrets Have Been Kept Quiet For Years

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There are countless secrets and stories about Disneyland that will change the way you look at the park. Read about the most shocking ones in our list of 15 incredible Disneyland secrets!

We Visit Disney Weekly and We Swear By These Cheap Disney Meals That Are Under All $12 To Help Save Money

Photo credit: Disney Parks Blog.

A trip to Disneyland can add up quickly, and dining can be an expensive part of your trip. We swear by these delicious cheap foods, all under $12, that help us save a great deal of money at the parks.

Disney Employees Immediately Know You're a Rookie When You Make These Mistakes

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It's easy to make some rookie mistakes that can put a damper on the magic during your time at the parks. Learn the top mistakes you need to avoid during your next Disney trip!

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About Jessie Nichols

Jessie is a former educator with years of experience penning prose for various individuals, organizations, and online publications. She's a life-long lover of Disney animation and storytelling and a frequent visitor to Disney Parks with her family. As an East Tennessee girl, Walt Disney World is her home resort, and she enjoys experiencing a different resort hotel to the fullest each time she goes. Simple Disney pleasures are where it's at for her - like watching the Electrical Water Pageant from a resort beach, or enjoying a frozen treat from Sunshine Tree Terrace while soaking up the Adventureland atmosphere. Her favorite attractions include Pirates of the Caribbean, Living With the Land, the PeopleMover, and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, among many others.

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