Rose | Edited by Steve N
Updated November 2017
Don't go Goofy over Florida's theme park prices. Whether you're heading to Disney, Universal, SeaWorld or Busch Gardens, visits can cost £100s.
We've 38 tips - including eight brand-new ones - to help, such as discount sites to nab cheap Disney tickets, what to watch out for when booking and how to find hidden freebies.
WARNING! Before buying ANY tickets, read the booking tips below and for extra safety, pay on a credit card.
39 Disney and Florida theme park tips, including...
We've just given this guide a major overhaul. We've added lots of new points with help from our resident Disney expert MSE Nick T, who's been to Disney a whopping SIX times (and counting). Please give us feedback and share your tips in the Disney World Orlando Tickets forum discussion.
Plan your theme parks
With flights, theme park tickets, accommodation and extras, let's face it — a big trip to Disney World Florida is never going to be MoneySaving. But if you are planning to go, there's plenty you can do to make it more affordable.
Finding cheap tickets depends on how long you're going for, which parks you hit, and the ticket type. Florida's big four are Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Studios, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens (part of the SeaWorld group). The first three each have several parks and there are an endless combination of ticket types and add-ons, so...
- Pick your must-sees - and ditch the rest. Work out exactly what you want to see and how long you want there, as this determines which tickets you'll need. Unless you're a seasoned theme park-goer, it's ambitious to do more than one park a day. Plus the more kids in tow, the slower it usually is.
- Consider add-ons. Often when you buy tickets for a main park (eg, Disney), ticket add-ons can get you cheaper entry to a subsidiary park (eg, water parks). Factor this in when deciding where to go, and plan which parks you want to spend the most time in.
Avoid the 'perfect trip' trap
Don't forget, as well as being a wonderful place to celebrate, theme parks are also a celebration of commerciality. They're environments honed to make you spend more and more, using emotive language like 'precious moments' and 'magical memories'.
Too many plan a dream Disney holiday, then only afterwards consider how they'll pay for it – a recipe to end up disappointed or broke. Instead, ask "what can I afford to spend on this holiday?" then work out how to have the best trip possible within that budget. A holiday lasts a week or so – don’t ruin the rest of the year for it.
Disney tickets: the need-to-knows
The big daddy of Florida's theme parks, Walt Disney World Resort features four theme parks – Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom – and two water parks – Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon.
Read full info
You can buy tickets in advance via Disney's UK website, which offers seven, 14 or 21-day ‘Ultimate' tickets, though in practice the seven and 14 day tickets are usually the same price so you may as well get the longer one. Seven and 14 days tickets are £369 direct from Disney's UK site* sells (or £349 for three to nine year-olds), though this price is often beaten by specialist ticket agents.
Unfortunately you can't buy a no-frills, single-day 'base' ticket from Disney's UK site - these can only be purchased in advance from Disney's US site, on the gate, or from selected resellers. Currently Disney's US site can't be accessed from the UK, so if you're going for a shorter period, you may have to buy when you get there. (It's the same price as booking via the US site, though you may have to queue.)
What is an 'Ultimate' ticket?
'Ultimate' tickets allow you to visit all the parks on any day and go to more than one park on a single day, plus they include access to Disney's water parks. Prices, in sterling, include taxes and charges.
All tickets now also include FastPass+, which allows you to book certain activities and skip the queues up to 30 days in advance. Plus book tickets for 7 days or more and you'll be able to hop between parks and access Disney's two water parks (both these options cost extra if bought on the US Disney site).
You'll also get a free 'Memory Maker' with each ticket. This gives you access to all photos taken by Disney photographers while you're at the park. The photos will be saved for you to download and print later.
What is a 'base' ticket?
These offer no-frills entry to one park a day for up to 10 days. These are cheaper if you just want basic entry for a few days, and tickets get cheaper per extra day added.
Prices fluctuate, but at the time of writing a one-day adult Disney ticket's about £100 including taxes during peak season, or about £85 including taxes on off-peak days.
Universal Studios tickets: the need-to-knows
Florida's Universal Orlando Resort has two main parks — Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure — as well as the Volcano Bay water park and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Read full info
Universal has separate Universal UK and Universal US sites, which each sell different types of tickets. If you're going for up to four days, Universal's US site offers no-frills 'base' tickets for one or both main parks (prices don't include taxes and charges).
Its US online prices are generally the same as gate prices (about £80 for a day at a single park), but it's worth checking for reductions if you're going for multiple days. For example, its website currently gives $20 off gate price for multi-day tickets, making it cheaper to buy online than at the gate.
If you want access to the theme parks for longer, Universal's UK site offers tickets valid for admission for 14 consecutive days. These cost £249 for an adult three-park Explorer ticket and taxes are included, though watch out for the unavoidable £5 delivery fee.
Once you factor in the taxes you'll pay on the gate, buying an Explorer ticket in advance will typically work out cheaper if you're going for three days or more, though always check as prices fluctuate constantly.
SeaWorld and Busch Gardens tickets: the need-to-knows
SeaWorld Orlando, as the name suggests, is a marine-life-themed attraction in Orlando featuring dolphin, orca and sea-lion shows, as well as water rides. But the SeaWorld group runs three other parks as well - the Aquatica water park and Discovery Cove in Orlando, plus Busch Gardens, an African safari-themed attraction in Tampa Bay.
Read full info
Single day vs multi-park tickets
If you're after a no-frills day ticket to one park for a single day, these are available via its US site (don't forget to factor in taxes and charges). For a weekday ticket, you can save $20 on the anytime one-day single park ticket – it's $80 (around £58 at the current rates) as opposed to $100 (around £72).
However, if going for two days or more, it's generally cheaper to buy a 14-day ticket from its UK site. This sells two-park and three-park tickets (which generally cost the same) valid for 14 consecutive days, for £107 for a three-park (£103 for three to nine-year olds).
Check specialist agents for cheapest tickets - incl MSE code to get £8 per person off Disney World
A number of specialist ticket agencies bulk-buy from the parks and then re-sell, sometimes at a discount to customers (not always, check first). By contrast, many travel agents add their own costs.
So use the theme parks' own ticket prices as a benchmark, then see if the top discount re-sellers below beat 'em. To do this, check a park's official site for the latest price for your ticket, including taxes and charges. This gives you a firm figure to try to beat.
However, discount ticket agents' margins are small, so price variations generally aren't huge, and remember to check whether ticket delivery and card payment add extra. All the below include taxes in prices.
And if you use a US site and pay in dollars, don't forget to ensure you've specialist overseas plastic to pay with.
WARNING! Before buying ANY tickets, read the booking tips below and for extra safety, pay on a credit card.
MSE code gives extra £8 per person off Disney World tickets via official Disney seller American Attractions
American Attractions - UK-based and an official Disney ticket seller - says it guarantees it will offer the best prices, and when we've checked it tends to be among the cheapest resellers. Until 31 March we've blagged an extra £8 off per Disney World Florida ticket if you go via our special American Attractions link* and use the code MSE8 on the checkout page.
The code works on seven, 14 or 21-day Disney World Florida 'Ultimate' tickets (giving access to Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon water parks).
You can use the code on multiple orders, and the discount will be shown when you scroll to the bottom of the page. Standard delivery is free and takes up to 14 days, or you can pay £6.95 for next-day delivery - whichever delivery option you choose you'll have to sign for your tickets.
American Attractions also sells a wide range of tickets for other Florida theme parks and combo tickets, though our code won't work on these.
£5/ticket off Disney with Orlando Attraction Tickets - not an official Disney seller (though reviews are good)
UK seller OrlandoAttractionTickets.co.uk* has some strong prices and offers free Royal Mail Signed For delivery in 7-10 working days. Plus you can get an extra £5 off Disney World tickets, including Ultimate tickets and ticket bundles which combine Disney passes with tickets to Universal or SeaWorld, with our code MSE5. The discount applies per ticket and can be used on multiple orders.
It's worth noting Orlando Attraction Tickets ISN'T an official Disney seller – we have no way of checking what it actually delivers, other than online feedback (which is very good on TrustPilot). It also sells a wide range of tickets for other Florida theme parks, though our code won't work on these.
Like-for-like price match guarantee from UK-based Florida Tix
UK-based attraction ticket broker Florida Tix* specialises in tickets for attractions around Florida (it's the sister site of Attraction Tix, offering tickets for global attractions), including Disney, SeaWorld and Universal Studios. It offers free delivery in 7 working days.
You can secure tickets with a deposit (min £10) but you must ensure you pay the full balance at least five weeks before you travel. Prices are competitive and it's an official Disney ticket seller.
US-based site Orlando Attractions sells a wide range of Disney tickets - not only 'Ultimate' tickets for a week or more, but also 'base' tickets which cover just a few days (see the Disney ticket need-to-knows for more info).
It offers free Royal Mail Special Delivery in 14 working days on all UK ticket orders. Alternatively you can collect from its Orlando office (10 mins' drive from Disney) for free by appointment Mon-Fri.
You can secure tickets with a £10 deposit, but you must ensure you pay the full balance at least eight weeks before you travel.
Payment can be made in pounds or dollars – handy if you want to avoid overseas transaction fees.
Taking the kids? Families still need to book individual tickets
Although in the UK you can often save at theme parks by buying a family pass rather than several separate tickets, this isn't an option at the main parks in Florida. Instead, you'll have to buy adults and most kids their own individual ticket.
For the Disney World and Universal parks, you can buy discounted child tickets for 3-9 year-olds - but any children over 10 will need to pay full adult price. For SeaWorld and Busch Gardens, there's a flat rate for all guests over the age of 3.
Under-3s go free at all the main parks (with proof of age), and don't need a ticket.
Be careful when booking
Looking for tickets for attractions in another country in advance is always going to have its complications, so here are some crucial points to consider. You're unlikely to be protected, so spending less on tickets means you've less to lose if the worst happens, but only buy from a company you're happy with.
If the price difference is only a few pounds, it may be better to go with a more established name than one you've never heard of. Some other tips to help:
Pay by credit card for extra protection. Do this and if each individual ticket costs over £100, the law says the card company's jointly liable with the retailer if things go wrong, even when you buy things abroad — a great comfort. Of course, always pay the card off in full so there's no interest (see the Section 75 guide).
If your individual tickets each cost less than £100 - even if you bought several together and spent more than £100 in total - Section 75 is unlikely to apply. You may still be able to claim under chargeback though (see below).
Hidden protection if paying by debit card (or credit card if it's less than £100). You also have some protection when using a debit card (or a credit card if the individual ticket is less than £100) under the 'chargeback' rules. Think of this more as a customer service promise - it isn't written in law like Section 75 - though we have seen signficant reclaim successes. See the Visa/Mastercard Chargeback guide for full details.
UK sellers may offer some extra protection. There's a chance that buying from a UK rather than US seller might offer a little more protection, even if they're NOT registered with ABTA (the Association of British Travel Agents). That's because if they went bust, there's a chance ABTA could step in to ensure tickets are replaced, though this isn't guaranteed. Plus Orlando Attractions above has extra ABTA cover for tickets – read more).
Some travel insurance policies will cover tickets. Most travel insurance policies don't cover lost theme park tickets, but some will cover any unused tickets if your holiday's cancelled or cut short. Double-check your policy before you go, and see Cheap Travel Insurance for the latest best-buys.
The Consumer Contracts Regulations don't protect you. Sadly, the Consumer Contracts Regulations - which often protect online purchases - won't help here, as items that have to be used within a specific period such as tickets aren't covered. This means you wouldn't be able to use the regulations to get money back if you had to cancel.
Pay the right way. Buying tickets in US dollars from a website counts as an overseas transaction. This means most credit and debit cards will automatically add a hidden 3% fee to the exchange rate. But there are a few specialist cards which don't do this, making it much cheaper. See the Travel Credit Cards guide for more.
Should I convert prices to pounds? If a US site offers to convert prices to pounds for you itself, beware as you may get a poor exchange rate (though things are closer than they used to be). Check it using the TravelMoneyMax currency converter, which uses typical bureaux de change rates. If the site doesn't beat those, avoid it.
Wait for a better exchange rate? Unpredictable exchange rate changes mean UK ticket prices fluctuate. Yet there's no way to know whether waiting will make them cheaper or pricier, known as currency speculation. Find current rates using the TravelMoneyMax tool.
Not all prices include taxes. In the US companies don't have to include taxes in advertised prices by law, unlike the UK. So check the rate you're seeing includes them before you buy. Generally, most UK-based sites include taxes, and all the specialist ticket agents mentioned above include them.
Compare prices on the same day
Parks can change prices frequently and discounters follow to undercut, creating an ever-changing landscape of competing rates.
To give yourself the best chance of getting a good rate, ensure you compare on the same day.
For up-to-the-minute prices, go to the end of the booking process just before payment, as advertised prices can lag behind the latest changes.
Visiting lots of parks? Consider a FlexiTicket (though it doesn't include Disney)
If you've planned trips to many of Florida's non-Disney theme parks, you may want to consider booking a FlexiTicket.
A FlexiTicket includes access to six parks – Universal Orlando Resort, which includes Universal Studios, Universal's Island of Adventure, Universal CityWalk and Universal's Volcano Bay, plus SeaWorld , Aquatica and Busch Gardens. The Universal Orlando Resort also includes the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
These tickets give you unlimited access to six parks for 14 consecutive days. The theme parks included sell these tickets directly, though they're often cheaper via the specialist ticket agents above, so check those first for the latest prices.
Staying at a Disney resort hotel? Get up to £50 off per room with our code
Staying in one of Disney World Florida's resort hotels definitely isn't MoneySaving. If you're looking to stay in Orlando as cheaply as possible, you're much better off looking offsite - see tips below on finding cheap hotels or self-catered villas.
But for some families, staying in a Disney hotel is a non-negotiable part of the trip. Advantages include extra time in the parks, Disney-themed decor and entertainment such as free art classes and evening performances. Plus the hotel provides a free shuttle from the airport, as well as free transport and parking throughout the resort.
If you do choose to stay in a Disney resort, right now we've blagged a code for official Disney seller Attraction Tickets Direct* that can get you an extra up-to-£50 off per hotel room.
You'll need to use our special link and enter the code MSEDISNEY in order for the discount to be applied - there'll be an option to add the code at the final stage of checkout, just before you enter your credit card details.
The discount depends on what kind of hotel you book:
- £15 extra discount on Value Hotels, such as Disney's All-Star Movies Resort
- £35 extra discount on Moderate Hotels, eg, Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort
- £50 extra discount on Deluxe Hotels, such as Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge
This discount is on top of any other offers Attraction Tickets Direct is running at the time of booking.
When we did a spot check in February 2018 across a range of dates and hotels, we found Attraction Tickets Direct frequently worked out as the cheapest way to stay in a Disney resort, even before our extra money-off code. But as always, check first to make sure you're getting the best deal.
Don't splash out on water - you can get it FREE throughout Disney World
You're allowed to take your own drinks into the park - a wise idea given the often scorching Florida sun. But if you do run out, don't splash out out on pricey bottled water or soft drinks. We've heard of some paying $3 for bottled water or $3.69 for a soft drink.
To quench your thirst, you can simply ask for a cup of iced water at any of Disney World's dozens of Quick Service Dining locations. It's completely free of charge, and you don't have to buy anything.
With so many instantly-recognisable characters roaming Disney World, it can be tempting to simply rack up as many selfies and autographs as possible. But take the time to chat to a character - rather than just nabbing a photo or signature and moving on - and you could be rewarded with free stickers, badges and even vouchers to redeem in Disney stores. MSE Nick T managed to charm his way into a free souvenir:
At the Alice in Wonderland Meet and Greet spot, I got chatting to Alice and the Mad Hatter about tea and ended up re-enacting the Mad Hatters tea party with them. They loved this so much I was given a free voucher to buy a badge pin in one of the various stores around the parks - naturally I picked up an Alice in Wonderland pin! Hiring a pushchair from Walt Disney World Resort starts at $15 per day, which can soon add up over the course of a week or a fortnight pushing your kids around the park. One way to beat this is to buy one instead - you can find them from $20 in Walmart. If you buy one, use it then leave it behind you'll still have saved over the course of the holiday (though if you can take it home with you, so much the better). But if you can, it's usually best to bring your own. Most airlines will let you bring a buggy and a car seat for free as well as your usual baggage (although in some cases, bringing both could mean you forfeit some of your allowance). See 50+ Overseas Travel Tips guide for each airline's policy. Staying in a Disney hotel isn't cheap at the best of the times - and eating all your meals in the resort will leave you with a hefty food bill too. If you've a rental car, your best bet is usually to go offsite and pick up supplies in local supermarkets. Bringing a packed lunch rather than eating in the theme parks can save you a packet - and don't forget to stock up on snacks, as even small eats in the parks can be pricey. Similarly, dining out will be far cheaper if you can drive to a restaurant in Orlando rather than staying close to the parks. If you do end up eating at the resort, stick to Quick Service Restaurants rather than the pricier Table Service options. And weigh up whether or not to invest in a Dining Plan - a Quick-Service Dining Plan, including two self-service meals a day as well as drinks and snacks, starts at £37 a day (£16 for children). And if you want a Character Dining experience, where you eat alongside Cinderella or Winnie the Pooh and pals, opt for a breakfast or lunch sitting, which tend to be cheaper than dinner.
Charm Mickey, Minnie and the other characters for hidden freebies
Don't pay loads to rent a buggy - it's cheaper to buy one or bring your own
Staying in a Disney World resort? Venture out for cheap eats
With so many instantly-recognisable characters roaming Disney World, it can be tempting to simply rack up as many selfies and autographs as possible.
But take the time to chat to a character - rather than just nabbing a photo or signature and moving on - and you could be rewarded with free stickers, badges and even vouchers to redeem in Disney stores.
MSE Nick T managed to charm his way into a free souvenir:
At the Alice in Wonderland Meet and Greet spot, I got chatting to Alice and the Mad Hatter about tea and ended up re-enacting the Mad Hatters tea party with them. They loved this so much I was given a free voucher to buy a badge pin in one of the various stores around the parks - naturally I picked up an Alice in Wonderland pin!
Hiring a pushchair from Walt Disney World Resort starts at $15 per day, which can soon add up over the course of a week or a fortnight pushing your kids around the park.
One way to beat this is to buy one instead - you can find them from $20 in Walmart. If you buy one, use it then leave it behind you'll still have saved over the course of the holiday (though if you can take it home with you, so much the better).
But if you can, it's usually best to bring your own. Most airlines will let you bring a buggy and a car seat for free as well as your usual baggage (although in some cases, bringing both could mean you forfeit some of your allowance). See 50+ Overseas Travel Tips guide for each airline's policy.
Staying in a Disney hotel isn't cheap at the best of the times - and eating all your meals in the resort will leave you with a hefty food bill too.
If you've a rental car, your best bet is usually to go offsite and pick up supplies in local supermarkets. Bringing a packed lunch rather than eating in the theme parks can save you a packet - and don't forget to stock up on snacks, as even small eats in the parks can be pricey.
Similarly, dining out will be far cheaper if you can drive to a restaurant in Orlando rather than staying close to the parks.
If you do end up eating at the resort, stick to Quick Service Restaurants rather than the pricier Table Service options. And weigh up whether or not to invest in a Dining Plan - a Quick-Service Dining Plan, including two self-service meals a day as well as drinks and snacks, starts at £37 a day (£16 for children).
And if you want a Character Dining experience, where you eat alongside Cinderella or Winnie the Pooh and pals, opt for a breakfast or lunch sitting, which tend to be cheaper than dinner.
Stay in touch with a walkie talkie
If you're the type of family who'll split up at a park but still need to keep in touch, this is a way of doing so without worrying about hideous mobile costs when calling overseas (also see Cheap Mobile Roaming).
Don't think kids' toys - in the States, it's easy to find walkie talkies which will allow you to check in over a distance of up to 3km.
Importantly, US and UK walkie talkies use different frequencies, so you can't legally use a walkie talkie built for the UK in the US, and vice versa (see more info). Some villas include them in the rental cost though, or you may be able to find them cheaply while you’re out there. Prices start from about $17 each in Walmart.
Take advantage of cheap public transport
Yes, in America the car is king... but if you're sticking to the beaten track, there are other options.
The I-Ride Trolley bus is a super-cheap way of getting around International Drive, where many of Orlando's theme parks are found. It runs about every 20 mins, 8am to 10.30pm, and a single fare is $2. Day passes are available for $5, while a 14-day pass is $18.
Book early to grab free delivery – or print tickets and save the wait
Many discount sites offer free postage within 14 days or so. If you're booking tickets, order in good time if you can, otherwise you'll end up forking out for express delivery or wasting time queuing to pick them up when you're there.
Plus most sites now give you the option to print tickets which can then be used at the gates and save you queuing. This is especially useful if you're visiting at busy times.
Beware buying tickets on eBay
There are often cut-price Florida theme park tickets on eBay*, but be aware that buying them may mean you're breaching the official terms and conditions – Disney says individuals AREN'T allowed to resell tickets.
Also, some parks (including Disney) use a fingerprinting security system on their tickets preventing others from using them. So unless you're certain a ticket is completely unused, watch out – your cheap ticket may turn out to be a turkey when you get there which could cost you more in the long run.
Don't miss out on lesser-known Disney World freebies
Those in the know can bag a number of freebies once they're in the park - it's just a case of knowing where to go. Here are a few of MSE Nick T's tips:
- Go on a free food tour (including samples) Some restaurants (including Boma and Jiko at the Animal Kingdom Lodge) offer free tours, and often include samples from the menus.
- Cool down with free soft drinks. You can sample sodas from around the world at Club Cool in Epcot.
- Disney characters often have freebies to dish out. Just (politely) ask if they have any available - examples include free stickers or Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom trading cards.
- Find free chocolate. You can usually get free samples at the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop in Disney Springs.
- Grab a free souvenir. Remember that autographs from Disney characters, as well as items like collectible menus and Disney driving licenses, are always free to keep.
Haggle down already-cheap package deals
Finding cheap theme park tickets can really help to make a Florida trip more affordable, but don't waste the saving by paying over the odds for the rest of your getaway. As Florida's a popular destination with Brits, it's well worth checking to see if you can get a package – where the tour operator provides flights, connections and accommodation for one price – for less than the DIY route.
Package holidays generally come with added ATOL or ABTA consumer protection. This means that if the travel company fulfilling your booking goes bust, you'll be refunded if you're yet to travel, or found alternative accommodation and flights home if you're abroad.
Always ask a broker before you book: “Is this holiday ATOL-protected?” and “What happens if my flight is cancelled?” Also, watch out for holidays booked through airline companies – not all are ATOL-protected. With all holidays, if you're covered, you'll get an 'ATOL certificate'.
But when it comes to booking, timing is crucial. The later you book, the cheaper, but this means limited choice. If you can't book late, book as early as possible – savings are possible, if it's early enough.
Don't forget about the powerhouse weapon that everyone has the ability to use – the art of haggling. It is possible to knock £100s off, especially because of the fierce competition between travel agents. See the full step-by-step guide in Cheap Package Holidays.
Use comparison sites to bag cheap Florida flights
If you've decided on the DIY route, it's worth remembering that generally the earlier you book flights, the better. The closer it gets to the departure date, airlines hike prices to take advantage of the business folk they can rely on to pay top dollar at the last minute.
Our top pick sites to compare are Kayak* for range, speed and filtering, Skyscanner* for ease, speed and price and TravelSupermarket* for extra breadth. See Cheap Flights for the full step-by-step cheap flight-finding technique.
Pay less for the same hotel room
Never assume one price fits all for a hotel or room. The same hotels and B&Bs are often available at different prices from different places, meaning it's possible to save £100s if you know where to look.
Start by putting details into a comparison site and sorting hotels by price to instantly see who's offering stays for less. You can also bag a luxury bargain uncovering secret hotels. For a full how-to and more tips, see Cheap Hotels.
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Watch out for hidden driving costs
It's not just the hire car itself that can eat into your spending money.
Factor in parking costs - for example, a day's parking at Walt Disney World Resort is $22.
And don't assume you'll get a sat-nav thrown in with the hire car - requesting a navigation system can add £10 a day to hire prices.
If you're hiring for a long stay and already have a sat-nav, it may be cheaper to buy US map software before you go, and take the console with you. Or download an app to turn your phone into a free worldwide sat-nav.
See our Cheap Car Hire guide for loads more tips to keep costs down.
Get a free button to guarantee VIP treatment if it's your birthday (or other special occasion)
If you're celebrating a birthday at 'The Happiest Place on Earth' (aka Disney World), head over to City Hall in the Magic Kingdom to pick up a free birthday button. (If you're at one of the other Disney parks, you can go to a Guest Services centre.)
This will guarantee you special treatment from Disney characters and lots of birthday greetings. Plus we've heard of some MoneySavers sporting the buttons while eating out in a restaurant being offered free dessert or cake.
Don't wear the button with the expectation of being showered with freebies - but combine it with a winning smile and it can't hurt your chances.
This doesn't just work on your birthday, either. Anniversary and 'Just Married' buttons are also available, as well as generic 'I'm Celebrating' badges for other special occasions.
Free Disney tickets with timeshare pitches
Brits are huge buyers of holidays and property in Florida, so a lucrative market's sprung up there to try to flog us timeshare properties.
A common way to draw people in is to offer pricey park tickets for free. You'll usually need to meet certain criteria (eg, have a credit card, or be aged 23-65).
While this is a legitimate way of getting tickets, be warned, only do this if you can withstand a very hard sell. A timeshare's much more expensive than a ticket for Mickey.
To help give you an idea of what you might be in for, see former MSE Rose's blog How a sales rep claimed timeshares prevent cancer.
Though many have reported finding timeshare ticket offers online and on holiday, there's always the risk you may not manage to find one while you're there. So be prepared to pay for tickets separately if this is the case.
ALWAYS book car hire early
If you've got kids in tow, or you're staying far from the parks, it's likely you'll want to hire a car during your trip. Yet never leave this until you get to Florida, as the earlier you book, the more you'll usually save.
Once you've found the right deal, don't just go with the excess insurance it offers – these are often hugely inflated. Comparison site Moneymaxim* lists and compares lots of insurance excess providers to help you find it for less. For more info plus safety tips, read the full Cheap Car Hire guide.
Loophole gets up to 70% off posh US hotels
Giant US site Priceline* flogs posh hotel rooms at colossal discounts, and it's especially strong for US hotels.
On Martin's own trip to the States, he got a nice hotel for 63% of the comparison sites' cheapest price, though not as good as one MoneySaver, who got the Times Square Sheraton for £55 a night rather than the listed £200.
It's all about Priceline's 'name your own' price function, where you pick a city area and star level, name your price and see if any hotels accept it. Of course the aim's to find the minimum acceptable price, so start low, then keep raising your bid till it's accepted, but you can ONLY bid once a day.
There are techniques to get more bids per day, either by bidding with a partner or adding more areas of a city. See Priceline Hotel Bidding for the full technique.
Escape the theme parks and check out FREE nearby attractions - state parks, galleries, vineyards & more
For a taste of Disney magic without the resort price tag, head to Disney Springs for shops, atmosphere and live entertainment - it's in the Walt Disney World Resort, but you don't need a park ticket. It's also home to the Lego Imagination Center.
Many of Florida's state parks are also free or just a few dollars to get in to, and let you see more of Florida’s natural geography. Parks near Orlando offer hiking trails, fishing and wildlife - if you head to one of the lakes you might even glimpse Florida's second-most famous resident after Mickey... the American alligator.
Don't wait till you get there to plan what you want to see
Work out where you’re going before you get there and you'll make far better use of your entry fee than if you have to spend the first hour squinting at a map.
You won't be able to see and do everything theme parks have to offer, so a little time spent planning is well worth it:
Grab a free Disney guide booklet. Handy for planners, Disney offers a free Walt Disney World Resort guide* you can order online. It includes fold-out mini-maps of the parks and info about what to see and do.
Arrive early to beat the queues. Give yourself the best chance of avoiding the rush-hour park traffic. Get an early night if you can, set your alarm and get in before the busiest tourist footfall arrives.
Work out the real travel time. Distances given from accommodation to parks can be misleading. Use free online maps like Google Maps to work out the real distance before you go.
Take it easy. Try to cram too much in while you’re there and you’ll end up exhausted and broke. Remember, the point of going is to have fun!
Grab local coupons for extra discounts
Watch out for these when you get to Florida, where you can often find discounts for local restaurants, shops and attractions. Check local free sheets and visitor information centres, or ask at your hotel - and don't forget to check your receipts when you buy anything in Orlando, as they may list codes for further discounts.
Websites International Drive Orlando and Flamingo World also have discount coupons you can print before you go, and it's always worth checking for extra deals on Google if you know you'll be going to a particular place.
Go off-resort to find the same activities for less
Resorts offer a range of sport and leisure activities as well as the usual rides and attractions - including golf, kayaking and bike rentals.
Yet you're usually able to find exactly the same activity for far cheaper offsite, as long as you're able to travel a short distance.
For example, a round of golf at Disney's Lake Buena Vista Golf Course can set you back $110 per player - but a game at the Celebration Golf Club, which is a 10-minute drive away from the Walt Disney World Resort, is usually more like $65 per player.
Prices vary so always compare to make sure you've got the best deal.
Instantly find the best travel cash rate for dollars
NEVER leave buying travel cash till the airport. They know you're a captive customer, so give hideous deals (even pre-ordering and picking up at the airport boosts it).
Instead, use our TravelMoneyMax Holiday Money Comparison tool to instantly find the best rates, plus key warnings and a handy quick currency converter.
The tool lists all the big currencies, and also lets you see who's cheapest for exchanging any unused dollars back to pounds when you get back (if you've any left!).
Swipe five-star villas for two-star hotel prices
If you don’t fancy battling for a sun-lounger each morning, villas offer space for large groups of friends, or families with kids who need to let off steam. The bonus with these is that, as a rule of thumb, the larger the group, the bigger the per-person saving, so they're great if there's a party of you visiting Florida.
Holiday rental website VRBO* is one of the top sites for USA properties. You book directly with an owner though, so there's less protection. Also be careful how you pay. Other MoneySaving favourites include HomeAway.co.uk* and Clickstay*.
For full dos and don'ts, plus how to check it's not a fake villa, see Cheap Holiday Rentals. One MoneySaver reports:
Make sure you haggle and definitely don't take the first price they tell you. Most property owners will knock money off.
We use VRBO and saved $1,000 on a three-week rental in the US. The year before last, we got a much bigger place than we expected just by pushing them.
Warning! Don't forget your ESTA
Everyone from the UK going to the USA by air or sea, even those just passing through, must fill out the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) in advance or they'll be turned back.
It costs $14 per person to apply via the official ESTA site, so ignore other sites that imply there's a larger fee. The website only takes five minutes to fill in, and the visa will last two years or until your passport expires, whichever comes first. Read the step-by-step ESTA Guide for full info.
Nab sub-£50 worldwide family travel cover
When you're caught up in planning a big trip to Disney it's easy to forget about travel insurance, yet it can be invaluable if something unexpected happens while you're out there. One forumite reports:
A medical bill in the US can be huge! A friend was hospitalised twice in four weeks here and her medical bill for the hospital alone was $158,000+. PLEASE – don't be an ignorant traveller – find out prior to travelling and not the "hard way".
It's possible to get a year's worldwide travel insurance for the whole family for under £50, depending on your circumstances. See the Cheap Travel Insurance guide for best buys.
Going more than once a year? Check annual prices
If you'll make more than one trip a year, check annual pass prices. Whether it's worth it for you will depend on the length of your ticket and which theme park you're off to.
For example, a family of four visiting the Universal theme parks twice in one year could save almost £350 by buying Premier Annual Passes for $1,935 (£1,391 at time of writing) rather than two sets of 3 Park Explorer tickets, which we found would cost at least £1,736 if bought from American Attractions*.
Only do this if you're certain you'll return and can afford the outlay though.
Get inspiration from other Disney-goers
The Overseas Holidays and Travel Planning forum board is a great resource for finding tried and tested travel tips, and sharing excitement with others in the run-up to the big trip.
Plus if you've any tips to pass on, share them in the Cheap Florida Theme Parks forum discussion.
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