Planning a Walt Disney World trip? On a budget?
I hear you! 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 $1,000, before transportation, lodging, or food expenses.
Is it possible to have a magical Disney World trip on a budget? Yes!
I have taken my family of seven to Walt Disney World on a very limited budget. I have researched and then tested these tips. Here are my tips for doing Disney on a budget.
Enjoy Disney all week – Each extra day you visit the Disney parks, your savings get better. I really wanted to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort, but it cost us a lot less 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 one park for the day and staying there. You won't regret it.
Skip the upsells – If this is your first trip to Disney World, 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 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 done without purchasing extra activities or passes.
Book with Get Away Today – I buy discount Walt Disney World tickets through Get Away Today. They are a family-owned travel agency that has specialized in Disney vacations for 25+ years. Get Away Today can also help you book a hotel, flights and anything else you need for this trip.
Buy tickets in advance – Time is valuable at Walt Disney World. Don't spend a single minute buying tickets at the park. You can save a few dollars and time in line when you buy your tickets before your trip from Get Away Today or another authorized seller.
Buy early – The price of Walt Disney World tickets goes up every year, and you can buy tickets a year or more in advance to beat price increases. February is the most common month for increases in recent years. Christmas is a great time to surprise the family with next year's Disney World trip for last year's price.
Take young children – It may never be cheaper or more magical to visit Walt Disney World than when your kids are little. Children under age 3 get in free, and can ride more than you might expect. Kids over age 10 pay adult ticket prices, so you'll save if you can go sooner rather than later.
Beware of scams – If you see a Disney ticket deal from eBay, Craigslist, friend of a friend… beware. Legitimate discounts on Walt Disney World tickets are small, and only offered by reputable sellers. Partially used tickets are not transferable, and Disney uses biometrics like fingerprints and photos to make sure of it. Buy only from authorized sellers like Get Away Today.
Related: 3 Safe Places to Buy Discount Walt Disney World Tickets
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, and enjoyed extra Magic Hours and other perks.
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.
Go at off-peak times – This is a great tip for crowd control in general. Check out a Disney World crowd calendar like undercovertourist.com and choose an off-peak time for your trip. You can usually save 25-30% on hotels.
Consider camping – 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.
Consider a rental home – On most vacations, we prefer to rent vacation homes or condos because we get more space and a full kitchen for a competitive price. You might pay more for parking and transportation if you choose this option, but if you find the right place for the right price, it can save you money. This may be especially effective if you are traveling with a large group of extended family or friends.
Related: Tips for Choosing a Great Vacation Home
Pass on the meal plan – If you plan to purchase 3 meals a day on Disney property, then a Disney meal plan may a good choice for you. However, I found that by eating breakfast in our 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.
Character Meals – For all my thriftiness, I still booked 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 off-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. As an added bonus, no one needed lunch that day.
Schedule Character Dining for an off-park day – Many (but not all) of Walt Disney World's character meals are located outside the parks, so you do not need a park ticket to enjoy them. If you use your park ticket in the morning, then leave the park for a character meal, you are arguably paying twice for the same period of time.
Sleep in, enjoy a leisurely breakfast buffet with your favorite Disney characters and then spend the rest of the day in Disney Springs or at your hotel pool. Whether in the middle or at the end of your trip, you'll probably be glad for a “day off.”
Get free ice water – You can ask for a free cup of ice water at any counter-service restaurant in Walt Disney World, with or without a meal.
Pack your own food into the parks – Disneyland allows you to bring snacks, sandwiches and drinks into the park in a day pack or stroller. Disneyland dining is fun, but not cheap, so this is an easy way to save money. Grocery stores and grocery delivery are available near Walt Disney World.
Share snacks – I'm not squeamish about sharing food and drinks with my husband and kids. I've found that when we share, we can sample more of Walt Disney World's fun treats throughout the day without getting too full or buying multiples of everything.
Eat family style – Portions can be large at some Disney eateries, and you won't want to carry a doggie bag with you afterward. Order fewer full-size meals than members of your family and eat family style. Your server should be happy to give you extra plates.
Order a kids' meal – Guests of any age can order kids' meals at Walt Disney World's counter service restaurants. Kids meals are smaller and less expensive, and generally include fresh fruit and vegetable options.
Eat Lunch – Lunch menus are often more affordable than dinner. 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. 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.
Set your snack budget in advance – Give each member of the family a snack/souvenir budget at the beginning of your trip and let them decide how to use it. That way, when Mom wants a Dole Whip, you don't have to buy for everyone. Putting it on a Disney gift card is an easy way to keep track, but we like cash better because you don't have to spend it all before the end of the trip.
Use Amazon Prime – If you have an Amazon Prime membership, you can order all kinds of pantry items delivered to your hotel. Stock up on Ziploc bags and plenty of snacks, juice boxes, etc.
Related: Disney World Dining on a Budget
Drive instead of fly – You can often find discount airfare to Orlando, but even at a discount, it is hard for a family 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. When you drive, you also have transportation to get to grocery stores as needed.
Don't rent a car – If you just need a ride to and from the parks each day, don't rent a car. If you stay in a Disney hotel, you can use Disney shuttles to get to and from the parks. If you stay off property, it may cost less to use Lyft or Uber twice a day than to rent and park a car.
Related: Tips for Using Lyft and Uber With Kids
Buy Disney gear outside the park – Walt Disney World has a fantastic selection of high quality souvenirs that you won't find anywhere else, but you can buy a lot of Disney gear outside the park for less. 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.
Here are a few fun items you may want to buy in advance from Amazon, Walmart, Target, the dollar store… even the Disney Store may sell it cheaper.
- Disney t-shirts
- Princess dresses
- Star Wars costumes
- Lanyards (to keep park tix and FASTPASSES handy)
- Autograph books and pens
- Pins for trading
- Glow-in-the dark toys for parades and fireworks
Let children pay for their own souvenirs – Set a souvenir budget at the beginning of the trip, or better yet, give kids an chance to earn their souvenir money before you leave home. Kids are better at evaluating their options when their own money is on the line. Once we made our purchases, we quit visiting souvenir shops. When kids understand the limits up front, you won't deal with disappointment all week long when you won't shell out another $25.
More Money-Saving Ideas
Pack rain ponchos – Bring rain ponchos from home and STAY at the park when it rains. We paid plenty for Disney rain ponchos on our first trip, but we got smart on our next trip and brought our own $2 rain ponchos. We waited out a rain storm and then enjoyed hours of fun in a nearly empty park.
Bring your own stroller – It's not a bad idea to bring a stroller for kids up to age 5 or 6 at Walt Disney World, plus you'll have the storage space. Walt Disney World currently charges $15 per day for a single stroller. It can even be cheaper to buy a new stroller in Orlando and leave it there than to rent a stroller.
Apply for a Chase Disney Visa Card – Allison's family received an introductory $250 credit with their Disney Premier Visa Card. They also saved 10% on food and shopping inside the parks. This card has an annual fee, so cancel it within your first year unless you love the rewards. Pay the balance in full every month to avoid interest. See current offers at chase.com/disney.
Buy discounted Disney gift cards – You can buy Disney gift cards that can be used like cash at Walt Disney World for a little less than face value at Sam's Club.
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. 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.
Bring Grandma was the best thing for our budget Disney trip! God bless Grandmas who like to indulge the grandkids! Bring a rain poncho is another great tip. Thanks for all the great ideas!
Bethaney - Flashpacker Family
Great tips! We did our first Disney park in October and I was shocked at how pricey it was. $450 just for the tickets for our family for one day!! I resolved not to spend any more money in the park after that. I think we bought two bottles of water when we ran out but other than than… nothing! We packed all our own snacks and went home for lunch & a rest in the middle of the day and came back after dinner for the night parade an fireworks.
kata - globetotting
These are such great tips, thanks! We went to Disney as kids and we’ve since been once with our own children, but we were lucky that the grandparents were treating us! I would be tempted to return knowing that you can do it on a budget. Interesting to read that you found Disney park accommodation better value given that you save on parking etc.. Thanks!
This is a fantastic list and pretty much to a T how we do it, too. I like saving our spending for a few good meals, as our family ritual is the Crystal Palace for lunch on our day in Magic Kingdom. I have my stash of theme park ponchos ready to go at a moment’s notice!
Great tips – especially Bring Grandma! We also skip the meal plan at Disney because we’re light eaters who would never eat three full restaurant meals a day so it doesn’t make sense for us financially. We had to buy ponchos during a rainstorm at Disney several years ago, brought them home and have taken them back with us every trip since – no way I was going to make that mistake more than once!
Agree with skipping the park hoppers. Always a waste!
Great Tips! Involving the kids in saving money and buying the souvenirs is wonderful suggestion.
I love all of these tips! People are always asking me where they can find Disney discounts. Next time, I’ll point them to this post. Disney discounts can be hard to find, but these money-saving tips can help theme park goers, no matter their budget.
© Keryn Means/ walking on travels
I’ve only been to Disney World once, and the one big thing I do remember is to go off-peak. We went the week after New Years and could run onto any ride we wanted!
Some great tips here!
We took our expensive ponchos back the second time as well! Fun memories. 🙂
This is awesome! Taking ponchos are a MUST. You can get them at any store/amazon for less than $2, they come compact and can be thrown out afterwards. Pack drink and snacks is also a must. I did not do the once and spent A LOT of money. I wrote an entire eBook on this “Disney World On A Budget”
Thanks for the tips, Krystel! We’ll have to check out your book for more money saving ideas for WDW.
Agness of Tuktuk
A lot of great tips here! I totally agree with how bringing your own food will save you lots!
This may not be readable for everyone but Disney employees get 3 free park tickets a day and 50% off hotel and gift shops. so if your friends with someone pay for their flight and it’ll repay itself randomly. Make friend with one of the kids at the Disney store I bet they’d love a trip!
It’s true that this tip won’t work for everyone, but it’s a great example of thinking outside the box! It makes sense that employees would get a discount and I never considered the Disney Store. You don’t have to live near a Disney park to be or know a Disney employee.
These are awesome Disney tips, we are passholders and still love learning ways to save during our visits!
Thank you! Since you are Disney regulars, are there any tips you would add to this list?? 🙂
I am a family of 7, too. We are planning a trip to Disneyland and are trying to make our budget. How much, realistically, would you plan on for a family with 5 kids when staying at a good-neighbor hotel?
Hi Hannah. I asked my friends at Get Away Today about this. It’s hard to pin down a hotel rate, because they vary greatly between different hotels and dates, but here’s a ballpark answer for a family of 7. “If they’re OK staying in two standard rooms, many times they’ll be able to find hotels that are offering a 3rd or 4th night free. With two rooms, they can sometimes find them around $220/night for both rooms – or around $110 for a standard room. If they’re looking at a 2-bedroom suite with a kitchen, then I’d plan around $250/night.” These prices include tax and all are fairly close to Disneyland. Hope that helps!
I’m working on planning for a family of 7 as well, and am seriously considering airbnb or vrbo to rent a house! I have found several for around $100 a night.
Renting a home can be a great, money-saving alternative. Happy hunting!
Our family of 6 stayed at the Best Western Park Place Inn for our Disneyland stay. Our room had 2 beds, and a fold out bed, as well as a microwave and mini fridge. Free breakfast was included at Captain Kidd’s next door. What’s great too is that the entrance to Disneyland and California Adventure was right across the street, a five minute walk. I believe we paid $160 a night.
Thank you for the recommendation! That’s a great location, with good amenities at a reasonable price.
Hi, out of my 17 trips I have rented a house or condo 15 times. I use VRBO to rent. Off season I spend about $100 to $120 a night for a 3 bed house or condo. This will sleep 7 to 8 a night. They do rent homes up to 5 bedrooms.
If you want to use a pool while there I suggest a condo because you will not have to pay extra for pool heating which is typically $25 per night.
Finally, it saves huge on food costs. I always made breakfast in the morning and we ate light through the day at the park. Kids always want popcorn so I would buy one in the Disney souvenir container for each child and then fill it up daily to take back each day.
We ate our dinner outside of the park on our way ‘home’ and we would bring refillable cups with lids and water flavor enhancers like the powdered grape, orange or strawberry crush flavored drink enhancers and then just ask for water at the quick service restaurants to save from buying soda/pop depending on the region of country you’re from.
We would do one good counter service meal in park daily and 1 special snack daily to still experience eating in the park and we were never hungry.
Staying off park and driving in you will still incur a daily parking fee when entering the parks. But the savings are well worth it.
Link your debit card to a Target Red card and buy disney gift cards at Target and you will get 5% off your purchases. So a $100 gift card will cost you $95. Use those gift cards to pay for your trip. The savings add up in the long run. You can even use the gift cards when shopping for souvenirs at the gift shops in the parks and resorts.
Thank you for taking time to share these wonderful tips! My family of four will be headed to Disney for the first time ever! Just something we were never able to afford (disabled sps). My daughter has requested Disney as her graduation/off to college gift. She’s done so well I must make this happen! Again you’re so appreciated!
Thank you so much for your comment, and glad we could play a small part in helping your daughter’s Disney dream come true! I hope you have a wonderful trip!!
THANK YOU!!!! I am planning to take our two youngest to DW in July—solo. (Hubby taking our two oldest for some High Adventure & rough camping in Philmont, NM the same week.😉).
These tips are great & I may have to print them all off & keep on the nightstand to absorb all the great info!!
Greatly appreciate the time & effort given in relaying such time/money saving info!!
On behalf of Disney moms everywhere, thanks so much!!
Thank you for your kind comment, Shelly! I hope that you and your kids have a wonderful time!!
Hi!! I have Amazon Prime, how do you go about getting things delivered to a hotel room in Disney?!
Hi Lindsay! I’m sorry to say that I haven’t tried it yet myself, but I’m thinking that you could send it to yourself at the hotel’s address, c/o “Hotel Name.” I would definitely call the front desk and ask them for any advice first. Then they’ll know to expect it. Good luck!
Especially the savings jar…Never heard of it and will definitely look into it.
How does taking grandma on Disney trip helps? They pay some of the trip?
Hi Linda. I didn’t write this post, so honestly, I’ve wondered a little about that tip too. 😉 When multi-generational families share vacation expenses, everyone can save money. For example, my family of four once shared an extra-large hotel room with my parents at Disneyland, which saved us money. It was a road trip, so we also shared fuel costs. AARP and other senior organizations offer discounts to its members, which may help reduce expenses for the whole group. I think that grandparents often enjoy “spoiling” their grandchildren on trips like this, so parents may not be the ones purchasing treats, souvenirs, etc. Obviously, different families have different financial situations and attitudes, so this is a tip that is more practical for some families than others. I also think that it was offered with some humor.
Great Post, thanks for sharing the post.
Allison, this is such an informative post. It always is wise to travel on a budget and we are always looking at tips and tricks on how we can save as much money as we can while not losing the fun and thrill of experiencing a new place. We would love to visit Walt Disney World the soonest possible and reading this post may just make this happen sooner! Thank you!
Hi Katie! My family and I are road tripping it to Disney with our four children starting from Pittsburgh next week. I see that you’re in northern Virginia, and was wondering if you had any recommendations for good spots to visit on our way down with the kids?
Hi Amanda! What a fun road trip! Katie has “retired” from blogging, but I recommend that you search our Virginia and Florida posts for a few ideas from Katie and other contributors. Have a wonderful time!
I have to admit, I was a bit weary of what tips you would give for Disney on a budget, but these are great! I really like the water idea, and the Amazon prime idea. We’re starting to save for a Disney vacation for 2020! Thank you!
Thanks Christina! Your comment made my day. I’m so glad we could help, and hope that your family has a wonderful trip!
Rather than carry water with us, we requested water from quick service restaurants & the various snack stands. It’s free & we brought our own flavor packs to make lemonade, etc. We do use the meal plan, which we will be getting free next trip, so it includes a drink. My kids were also ok with drinking from the water fountains & used snack credits for slushees as a treat. There are lots of ways to save money, such as bringing in snacks, sandwiches, etc. We choose not to because it’s more to carry & we don’t need a stroller, but it’s a great option & really does save a ton.
That’s a great tip! I’ve heard from several sources that you can request free ice water from any counter-service restaurant in Disney parks. It’s a great way to save money and cut down on what you pack into the park. Thank you Amy!!
Let’s just say we weren’t prepared for the heat, and I got a severe sunburn, I didn’t wear the right shoes, I ate a lot in the park to name a few. Everyone can now help others avoid what they are going through!