Mary Waring had just quit her marketing job in San Diego in 2001, so saving money on her upcoming trip to Disney World in Orlando, FL, was a high priority. She found lots of resources online and posted links to coupons on a website. Her brother, a Microsoft employee, told his colleagues about her savings tips—and within six weeks, her little online scratch pad had amassed 23,000 page views. That’s when Waring realized the country’s insatiable appetite for Disney savings gossip.
“I often say Americans think it’s their God-given right to take the kids to Disney World,” she says. “For a lot of people it’s part of childhood.”
Waring’s site has evolved into MouseSavers.com, a clearinghouse for scrimping Mouseheads, and it’s her full-time job. Without assistance from Disney, she finds and posts more than 300 pages' worth of coupon codes and money-saving ideas, and her site typically attracts at least 100,000 page views a day.
The attention shouldn’t be a surprise. Over 17 million people visited Disney’s flagship Florida property, the Magic Kingdom, in 2011, and even in the depths of this recession, Disney Parks has unfailingly turned a tidy profit. Whereas Disneyland, in southern California, is often visited casually by people who live within driving distance, Walt Disney World in Orlando—40 square miles containing four theme parks, two waterslide parks, and over two dozen company-owned hotels—is a destination unto itself. Trips can require planning akin to military invasions.
And with one-day adult ticket prices at $89, lots of money.
Until the economic downturn, Disney rarely publicized discounts. Disney phone operators will rarely share savings secrets unless vacationers are savvy enough to ask directly, and all too often, the temptation to give in to the seductive “Disney magic”—booking a $600 room to be beside the parks, or staying a week instead of three days—drags parents deeper into debt than they had originally planned. “It’s wildly expensive,” says Waring. “It can cost you as much to go to Disney World for a week as it does to go to France. People have no choice but to find deals.”
People are indeed looking harder for those deals, and with a little digging, deals can be found. For instance, the longer you stay, the less a theme park ticket costs per day; while that $89 charge covers a single day, a seven-day pass averages out to $41.14 a day. Another way to save is by avoiding the peak season. Disney’s “Value” rooms start at $85 a night in low season, which is typically late August, September, and January.
Saving money in a world designed to make you spend it can seem like a fantasy in its own right. But these tips are a solid start to turning a Disney rite of passage into a positive family memory.