Many families dream of planning a Disney vacation, but sometimes it can feel cost prohibitive. Multi-day theme park tickets for a family of four can quickly cost over $1000, without transportation, lodging, or food included. Is it possible to have a magical Disney trip on a budget? Yes!
I have done Walt Disney World on a very limited budget. I have researched and then tested these tips with my family of seven. Here are my tips for doing Disney on a budget.
Disney on a Budget Trip Planning Tips
Drive instead of fly
You can often find discount airfare to Orlando or Los Angeles, but even at a discount, it is hard to beat the cost savings of driving. For my family of 7, it was worth 13 hours of driving from Washington D.C. to Orlando to save the cost of 7 plane tickets and a rental car. When you drive, you also have transportation to get to grocery stores as needed.
Go at non-peak times
This is a great tip for crowd control in general. Check out one of the many great Disney crowd charts online and choose a non-peak time. You can usually save 25-30% on hotels at non-peak times.
Pass on the meal plan
Many travel agents selling Disney packages will tout the cost-savings of Disney meal plans. If you plan to purchase 3 meals a day on Disney property, then a Disney meal plan is a good choice for you. But my best tip for Disney on a budget is to skip the meal plan. I found that by eating breakfast in my hotel room and packing a lunch for the park, we could eat out just one meal a day and it was a huge cost savings. See our Disney dining tips to see what works well for hotel room breakfasts and packed lunches in the park.
Stay on Disney property
This is a debate for its own blog post, but if you want to save money at Disney World, I found that staying in the Disney budget hotels was the best bang for the buck for us. We used Disney transportation, didn’t have to worry about parking fees ($20 per day at all Disney World parks), and enjoyed extra Magic Hours. We’ve tried the All-Star Movies resort and the Pop Century resort and were very happy at both. While these hotels are budget, they are clean and well-maintained and were perfect for our active family. We enjoyed our time at the hotels, swam in the pools, and really saved money on our lodging and parking.
Enjoy Disney all week
Each extra day you visit the Disney parks, your savings get better and better. Last time we were there, I really wanted to visit Universal Studios and go to Harry Potter World, but since we were in a budget, it was much more cost effective to spend six days at Walt Disney World instead of a few days at Disney and a few days at Universal. Right now, for my family of 7, 3-day tickets would cost $1989 and 6-day cost $2359. I can enjoy 3 extra days in the Disney parks for $609, which is 1/3 of what my first 3 days cost.
Skip the Park Hopper Pass
Hopping between parks at Walt Disney World is time-consuming and expensive. Save money by picking your park for the day and staying there. You won’t regret it.
Skip the upsells
If this is your first trip to Disney, you will be tempted to buy everything they offer to make sure the trip is magical. Let me reassure you that Disney at its cheapest is also very magical. You do not need to buy the Memory Maker photo pass, or pay extra for the water park pass, unless your GOAL is to visit the Disney water parks. Even after six days at Walt Disney World, there was plenty more we could have seen without purchasing extra activities or passes.
For all my thriftiness, I planned to enjoy a character breakfast, and I am so glad we did. We choose Chef Mickey’s and enjoyed a delightful brunch at 11:00 a.m. after catching rides during the least-crowded early morning hours at the Magic Kingdom. If you do a character meal, lunches are often less expensive than breakfasts. For the best bang for your buck, book a meal at non-peak dining times and the characters will visit your table more frequently. By the time we cleared out of Chef Mickeys, we were one of the few families left and we had a dance party with five characters who were playing with just our family at the end. As an added bonus, no one needed lunch that day.
Want the cheapest lodging at Walt Disney World? Camp at Fort Wilderness. I did this with my family as a kid and we LOVED the campfires, swimming pool, and running around the campground when we weren’t at the park.
Use Amazon Prime
If you have an Amazon Prime membership, you can order all kinds of pantry items delivered to your hotel on the day you arrive. Stock up on ziplock bags and plenty of snacks, juice boxes, etc. to eat if you do not want to go grocery shopping while you are there.
Check out the cost of bundling your vacation
Sometimes a do-it-yourself approach is a cost savings, but often travel agencies can match or beat the best prices you can find. We recommend working with Get Away Today, who are experts in Disney vacations and promise to beat the competition by at least $10 on your vacation package. Get Away Today runs frequent Disney promotions such as adults at kids prices, 5th day free, etc. so it is always worth checking to see if the promotions offered will be a cost savings for you.
Bonus Tip: Invite Grandparents
I polled a few friends to see how they saved money on their Disney trips, and my friend Brooklin had the best advice: Invite grandma. No seriously. 🙂
Ways to Save at Disney Parks
Purchase Disney trinkets at the Dollar Store before you arrive
I waited in line late one night with a kind woman who shared some cheap Disney light-up toys she had bought at Dollar Tree before she came. Bringing souvenirs from home is a great way to give a child a toy for a reasonable price.
Disney sells a refillable mug for $16.99, but the catch is that this mug can only be used at Disney resorts and not at the 4 theme parks. If you plan to stay and eat at your resort, this is the cheapest method for drinks. I opted to explain to my kids that we were saving money, and one easy place to save money was by skipping sugary drinks. We brought our own water bottles and agreed to drink water with our meals during the week. Since we were eating breakfast in our hotel room and packing lunches, this wasn’t a big deal, and saved us over $100 on drinks. I did splurge on some Mickey Mouse-shaped ice cream treats during the week, but I felt better about that knowing I had saved money on drinks.
Let children pay for their own souvenirs
My older children brought their own spending money for souvenirs. Kids are experts at evaluating their options when their own money is on the line, and the understand that there is a finite amount. Once we made our purchases, we quit visiting souvenir shops. It’s all about setting expectations so you don’t deal with disappointment all week long when you won’t shell out another $25.
Bring rain ponchos
Bring rain ponchos from home and STAY at the park when it rains. The first time we paid plenty for Disney rain ponchos (I can’t remember the exact price but I think it was around $8 or $9 each), but we got smart on our next trip and brought our own $2 rain ponchos from Walmart and put them on when it started raining. We waited out a rain storm and then enjoyed hours of fun in a nearly empty park. I love it when it rains at amusement parks because we get to enjoy so many more rides with minimal lines.
Eating in the parks
For all my plans to budget, there are times and places you should enjoy eating in the parks. It would be a shame to go to EPCOT and not sample some food from the World Showcase. Lunch menus are often more affordable than dinner. When we went we sampled and shared things from many countries: fish and chips from England, gelato from Italy, etc. It was a memorable dinner for us, and I’m so glad we spent some money enjoying EPCOT.
Tips on how to start saving for your dream Disney vacation
- Start a travel savings jar.
- Save “extra money.” Tax refunds, year-end or holiday bonuses, birthday money, etc. can add up quickly if it is all diverted to a Disney vacation fund.
- Cut back on small expenses, such as a daily coffee or your afternoon Diet Coke. Saving just $2 per day for one year will add $730 to your vacation fund.
- Pack a lunch. Most people who eat lunch out spend between $5-10 per day on lunch. You could easily save over $1000 by taking your lunch to work for one year rather than eating out.
This budget approach to Disney may not sound like much of a vacation to some. But when faced with the choice of doing Disney on a budget or not going at all, I was so glad we made a few sacrifices. You can always pick and choose which budget tips make the most sense for you and your family. I hope you can see that once you save enough for lodging and theme park tickets, you can do Disney on a budget and make wonderful memories that will last you a lifetime.
Planning a Disney trip?
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