When I picture Disneyland, or Walt Disney World, I think of a magical time – fireworks, yummy food, Disney characters, music, rides and my kids having the time of their lives. Being in the Navy, my husband has been on deployments, trainings and a sea tour, which meant a family vacation was basically out of the question for a long time. When we found out we’d be stationed in Southern California, I knew a trip to Disneyland was in order! So we did some research and discovered there are lots of discounts available for military members and their families; you just need to know where to look. If you’re planning your own family vacation and want to make it even more magical, here are some discounts for you to keep in mind. (Of course, always remember to have that Military ID available – It’s like your own golden ticket to these discounts/rates!)

1. Park Hopper Tickets (Disneyland and Disney World)

Through Disney’s Armed Forces Salute Program, military personnel can get discounted tickets to Disney theme parks. These deals are good for all military members, including active duty, retired military and spouses, National Guard and Reserves. These rates are not available through Disney box offices, and must be purchased through your military installment’s ticket office, which is also referred to as the ITT office. There are restrictions (you can only purchase 6 at a time) and blackout dates, so be sure to check the fine print and plan accordingly. Since 2017 is almost over, I’ll mostly focus on the upcoming year. (However, keep in mind there are also current discounts available through Dec 19, 2017.)

For the 2018 Armed Forces Salute at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, you can choose between a 4-day or a 5-day Disney Military Promotional Ticket. As long as you purchase by December 15, 2018, you can use the 5-day ticket when you visit any time between January 1, 2018 through December 19, 2018, for only $246 plus tax! Or purchase now through December 16, 2018 and receive admission for 4 days for $226 plus tax, during the same period. Add the Park Hopper Plus Option for $40 more plus tax. To put this in perspective, the same ticket at retail would cost up to $445 per person. That’s almost 50% off!

For the 2018 Armed Forces Salute at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, you can choose between a 3-day or a 4-day Park Hopper ticket. Purchase from November 1, 2017 through December 16, 2018, and receive admission for 3 days for just $168, or 4 days for $188 (from January 1 – March 22 and April 9 – December 19, 2018. The blackout dates are March 23 – April 8, and of course these tickets are unable to be used during the Christmas holidays.) Looking at a retail ticket, it would normally be up to $335, so again the Armed Forces Salute option is a really nice discount. At that price, consider taking a grandparent or a babysitter in order to get some alone/adult time at the parks! 🙂

2. Lodging (Disney Resorts)

The last few times my family visited Disneyland we were fortunate enough to find a hotel room close to the park (10-minute walk) for the price we wanted. Both our children were under 3 years of age, so we didn’t need much room and instead simply used the hotel for naps and bedtime. However, as our family is growing and our oldest is now over three, we’re excited to take advantage of the fabulous rates with Disney Resorts!

The Disney Armed Forces Salute program, which provides the great rates for the passes, also provides discounts for Disney Resort hotels, where military members can get select rooms at 30-40% off the normal rates. This includes a variety of deluxe resorts, moderate resorts, and value resorts at Walt Disney World, and also resorts at Disneyland (which includes Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel, Disneyland Hotel, and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa). There are restrictions, such as the number of rooms available at the reduced rate, and in some cases there is a minimum stay requirement that may apply. There are also blackout dates, so be sure to call ahead so you can get all the specifics before planning your trip.

Other than being super-close to all the magical fun, by booking with a Disney Resort you have the option of taking advantage of Extra Magic Hours. This allows you early admission to select attractions, stores, entertainment and restaurants during each day of your hotel stay. That’s one extra hour of fun before the park opens to the general public, which is a great way to enjoy a slower pace and shorter lines. Especially if your children are early birds like mine!

3. Lodging (Shades of Green)

Another option for lodging is Shades of Green. Shades of Green is an Armed Forces Recreation Center (AFRC) in Orlando, Florida. It’s a military-owned resort located within Walt Disney World that offers affordable military room rates and discounted tickets for all Disney World venues. (This is not somewhere I’ve personally tried since we’re on the West Coast, but I know people who have and they’ve been very pleased with the experience.) It also offers complimentary bus transportation to the Disney World Theme Parks, as well as the Extra Magic Hours benefit, which is a huge plus.

4. Photo Packages

Throughout both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, there are photographers at different locations waiting and ready to take your photo and capture a special moment. This could be in front of an iconic spot (princess castle anyone!) or on a ride. They give you a card (or you can use your annual pass or Magic band) and you scan it at each photo opportunity, then purchase the photos you like before you leave or later you can buy them online. The price isn’t cheap (I actually was taken aback a little when I saw it) and so my family didn’t originally go that route. But then a friend told me about a military discount on the photo pass!

For $84 plus tax at Disney World, or $49 plus tax at Disneyland, service members can purchase a Memory Maker. This is a substantial discount! The military discount on the photo package is only available at the Guest Relations Office at the actual theme parks. (I’ve heard that there may be a 3-day delay between the date of purchase and activation, but I haven’t been able to confirm that.) I’m trying it out for myself on our next trip!

Bottom line, there’s a lot that goes into planning a Disney vacation. But by spending a little time researching military discounts, you can organize a relaxing escape, all while saving money on tickets and hotels and even some of those extra magic-making perks. After all, there are so many other things we’d rather spend our money on when vacationing (like souvenirs)!