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.
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.
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.
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.