Celebrating a Third Birthday at Disney World for Free

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My mind is one that has to plan way ahead in order to function at its best. It’s a blessing and a curse, but it means that now that the calendar has rolled into 2018, there are some things I like to at least have outlined in terms of planning outside of just travel. In large part because I do not take celebrating another year together for granted, we pretty much always throw relatively big birthday parties for my daughters. Even though we just wrapped up an 8th birthday party in December, now that we are into a new year, my mind wants to have an idea of what to expect when my youngest turns 3 in July and the oldest turns 9 at the end of the year. I’m okay not really addressing the December birthday quite yet, but for the summer birthday, I’d like having a plan by this point, so I got to thinking about what a 3rd birthday should look like.

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Kid birthdays at my house are kind of a big deal.

For my oldest’s 3rd birthday party we rented a bus that was converted into a little gym and had all her preschool friends over, but since she ended up having a bad nap that day, she hid in the pantry closet eating cupcakes by herself for most of the event. In other words, after learning from the closeted cupcake experience, I think three is young enough to skip doing a big friend party, but I still want to celebrate our littlest in a special way.

Celebrate a third birthday at Disney World for free

At Disney World and Disneyland, the magic age at which you go from getting in totally free to paying the $100-ish per day child’s ticket cost is three years old. After our awesome trip last summer (despite the July heat), I had some hopes of getting in one more short visit before our littlest turns three years old and life at Disney gets even more expensive. Not only will by youngest soon require a child’s ticket, but my oldest is darn close to needing an even more expensive adult ticket since that “magical” adult age is 10 years old.

I started to wonder, what if we ditched spending money on invitations, balloons, decorations, a venue or bouncy house rental, food, cake, etc. for just a year and instead spend that money celebrating her third birthday at Disney? She would get in free for the duration of the trip as long as the Disney aspect of the trip starts while she is still two years old since “no one ages at Disney”. The cost of the rest of our Disney tickets for a short trip isn’t that painful if we aren’t spending cash on a party at home. Obviously, a Disney trip costs more than any third 3rd birthday party we would throw at home, but if miles and points play a strong supporting role in transportation and lodging, the additional cost for tickets isn’t that terrible.

Let’s shift these expenses to a magical Disney Day…

Our youngest loves princesses, castles, Mickey, Minnie, and wouldn’t love to celebrate their special day in a very magical way? Any character meals and similar would also still cost $0 for her if she just snacked off our plates as she will be considered a two-year-old for the duration of this trip.

Dance into 3 at Disney for free.

Turn two trips into one

That got things rolling in my mind, but then it got better. Right now my eight-year-old is all about Harry Potter. Her Christmas this year was essentially one big delivery from Hogwarts. In fact, we’ve had to pause her at the third book for now as she was hauling through them much faster than I anticipated and was going to end up reading some darker and more mature storylines than we were ready for in the later books.

While her birthday isn’t until December, I wondered if she would trade a big friend party this year for a special day of her own at Wizarding World of Harry Potter while we are in either Orlando or California this summer doing a Disney Day for Little S. She could still do a little birthday celebration when the time comes with the neighborhood girls and family, but if she was willing to skip a big shindig this year, we could then shift those expenses into visiting Universal Studios while we are already in the area this summer. After seeing a few photos of the amazingly well done Wizarding World of Harry Potter, she was ready to sign on the dotted line.

Having a special day designed to celebrate each girl in a spot that they will love sounds like the perfect arrangement for us this year instead of ordering invitations, coming up with party themes, and spending a good chunk of money hosting the same sort of parties we have done for many years. Doing these trips just before our youngest turns three will mean she is free at both Disney and Universal Studios which save hundreds of dollars over the cost of the same trip once she blows out her three candles.

This idea isn’t set in stone yet, but enjoying Disney for free as you turn three sounds pretty perfect to me. Has your family ever done something similar to celebrate your little ones?

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  1. My daughter is now 7 and we’ve done a big friend/family party about every other year. We have done some kind of “experience” on the other years, such as an amusement park, local festival, etc. Experiences as a family are priceless and it makes her value the bigger parties much more when they are not a given every year! It has worked for us….so we’ll see how it goes in the future as she develops closer friendships. Maybe small close friend parties later on?

  2. Sounds like a good year for the companion pass.

    Agree with you that this is a good strategy for shifting leisure expenses. Another strategy is shifting some of the holiday gift expenses to a Disney trip expense.

  3. If you are considering the Harry Potter I know Amex has an offer for $500 spent on packages gets either $100 off or 10,000 MR points. We just did a 3 day hotel stay + tickets for right around $1500. Their booking site allows more than one credit card to be used to pay ( either 3 or 5 max) and as I had this offer on 3 of my cards, we netted 30,000 Amex points.

    You would have to look at the cancellation policy since it’s not set in stone, but I value 30k MR points between $500-$600 which is a pretty awesome discount.

  4. Our kids almost always prefer a trip to Disneyland over a party. We also started this year, giving them tickets to places/events they want to go to over stuff/toys/etc for Xmas. My son has long wanted to go to the Hollywood Wax Museum, so we hid tickets in a DVD of the House of Wax. My daughter is still into Minecraft so we hid tickets to a Minecraft convention in some Minecraft balloons and let her pop them until she found the tickets.

    Both kids were born in the same month, so this years big family vacation to London was planned in that month and we will celebrate each birthday during the trip.

  5. For our son’s 13th birthday last year he didn’t have a specific party or gift he wanted. His birthday is also in December which is more difficult to plan due to it being such a busy month, so we wrapped up and gave him a trip! We used southwest points to fly the four of us from Nashville to Detroit over a weekend. We used our Marriott anniversary night at the Marriott at the Renaissance Center. They had a great unpublished military rate (better than what was available online) so we used that for 2 more nights. We got an upgrade to an amazing room with access to the executive lounge for breakfast and snacks! We used our BOA cards for admission to The Henry Ford, which was bigger and better than we expected (it was really a great museum, we still had to purchase two tickets). We went on a free tour of the Ford truck plant. We went to the Michigan Science Center which was free the Saturday we were there. We went to Belle Isle which was also free. For about $7 US dollars, we went to a city pool across the border in Canada which was the equivalent of an indoor water park (it was even less $ for my husband and I who didn’t swim)! The highlight (and most expensive part) was a Red Wings game at the Joe. We used trip advisor to find cheap eats (one in Greek town and one big hit named Green Dot Stables). Although we rented a car, we didn’t use the hotel parking but found a cheaper city garage close by. We also used the People Mover several times. We fit in as much as we could for our 3 night trip!

    We also ended up with a trip for our daughter’s 12th birthday. It was kind of by default as we had a wedding to attend two days after her birthday in Pittsburgh. We used southwest points to fly BNA to Buffalo. We stayed at the Hampton Inn downtown on points. She loves wings so we went to the Anchor Bar for lunch and then a local candy store for ice cream and treats. We rented a car and drove to Niagara Falls and stayed at the Embassy Suites. While we had a free night we could have used there too, I opted to pay for our room because we wanted a specific view (again as part of her birthday rather than a party). She loved it and we had a great time as a family. We went to Niagara on the Lake that night for a view of Toronto across Lake Ontario. The next day we drove to Pittsburgh for the wedding and flew out from that city also using southwest points. It was a good way to celebrate her along with celebrating at the wedding.

  6. In case you want to make it a little extra magical, at the end of the day when everybody is all tired, you can rent a boat (pontoon) that will take you all around the resorts at the Bay Lake and then stop right in front of the Magic Kingdom to watch the fireworks! We did this with my 3 year old because while he loves fireworks, he is scared having it up close. It was perfect, especially because 5 people in our party didnt want to buy tickets. You have to call Disney to book (and in case, it’s under Recreations, under Specialty cruises/Fireworks cruise). This is not the typically advertised Fireworks Dessert party where you go ride a boat with strangers. This one you rent the boat all to yourselves. The ship ‘captain’ is also your tour guide, giving you a history of all the resorts you will pass. The pontoon is $299 for a 10 person boat or $399 for a party of 20. You get picked up at either the Polynesian or the Contemporary (wherever you wish). You do not need to stay in the resorts to avail this. The food (snacks and drinks) , balloon and an awesome happy birthday streamer is included in the price. We did it in December when it was 39F and we were freezing cold but it was worth it! Best $300 I have spent on a birthday party for sure.

  7. We did Disney trips for both of my kids the week before they turned three. Live it up because buying 4 tickets to Disney becomes a lot more expensive!

  8. Small tip for HP, get there the minute it opens to go on the rides and Ollivanders.
    If you do the wand, get it one day(if she likes HP she will spend tons of time looking at all the wands and trying to decide) and go right away the next morning to do the spells. They get crazy crowded and people line up to do spells, but right away there is no one.
    There are also a few hidden spells(find on google) that are really cool to try as they are not advertised.
    Also bring your own post cards and stamps and then get them stamped by owl post at the village. Crazy expensive there, easy at home.

  9. I was wondering how the “no one ages” policy worked as far as park passes. The post you linked to discusses WDW hotel check in, but since one would enter a park each day, presumably the 2-turning-3 year old would not have her own pass… and then would turn 3 and would in theory require her own pass at the child rate for each park day for the rest of the trip.

    It appears in practice that Disney just lets it slide:


    • You would likely purchase a multi-day park ticket for the family as that is cheaper than single tickets and I would presume they are then attached to that whole vacation package with hotel, tickets, etc. But yeah, even the official Disney Moms site that is put out by Disney is clear that as long as the trip starts by 3, you are free for the duration. They know they’ll get ya next time. 😉

  10. Wizarding World is amazing. Your daughter is going to freak out with enjoyment. Be sure to get the 2 park ticket so you can take the Hogwarts Express to/from Hogwarts (and don’t miss seeing your kid walk through the brick wall). Just walking around makes you feel like you’re really at this fictional place. Be sure in the evening to go to the Knight Bus so they can talk to the talking head. Also be sure to be outside Sirius’ house and see Kreacher in the window.

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