20 Tips for doing Disney on a Budget

Posted By Katie on Jan 8, 2016


This post may contain affiliate and sponsored links. We donate 10% of our sales commissions to charity.

Hello!

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.

Tips for visiting Walt Disney World on a budget | tipsforfamilytrips.com | Orlando, Florida | Disney tips and tricks | cheap Disney | summer vacation | spring break | family vacation | Disney World deals and packages

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 off-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 an off-peak time. You can usually save 25-30% on hotels.

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.

20 Tips for Disney on a Budget | tipsforfamilytrips.com

Photo credit: Matt Stroshane/Disney Parks

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 The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando, 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 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.

Character Meals

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.

20 Tips for Disney on a Budget | tipsforfamilytrips.comConsider 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.

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

The do-it-yourself approach is often the least expensive, but travel agencies can often match or beat the best prices you can find on your own. We recommend Get Away Today Vacations. They sell discounted Walt Disney World tickets and their Orlando experts can help you plan and book the rest of your trip for a good price too.

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.

Discuss drinks

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 explained to my kids that 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. This saved us over $100 on drinks. I did splurge on some Mickey Mouse-shaped ice cream treats during the week, and felt better about that knowing I had saved money on drinks.

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.

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, but we got smart on our next trip and brought our own $2 rain ponchos 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.

Eating in the parks

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.

fastpass

Start saving today

  1. Start a travel savings jar.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. 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.

One more way to save

We recommend Get Away Today Vacations to help you plan your Walt Disney World trip. Disney experts can help you choose the best hotel, buy discount tickets, book air travel and more. They stay on top of Disney’s current promotions and discounts to help you get the best price for your trip.

You can buy individual tickets too. Get Away Today sells Walt Disney World tickets for less than Disney’s official site!

Learn more about our partnership with Get Away Today HERE.

Katie is a busy mom living in Northern Virginia with her husband and five children ranging in age from toddlers to teens. When she isn't traveling, she is planning her next trip. Katie loves all types of travel, but she especially loves beach vacations. The Outer Banks of North Carolina is a favorite family destination.

34 Comments

  1. 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!

    Post a Reply
  2. 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.

    Post a Reply
  3. 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!

    Post a Reply
  4. 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!

    Post a Reply
  5. 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!

    Post a Reply
  6. Great Tips! Involving the kids in saving money and buying the souvenirs is wonderful suggestion.

    Post a Reply
  7. 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.

    Post a Reply
  8. 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!

    Post a Reply
  9. We took our expensive ponchos back the second time as well! Fun memories. 🙂

    Post a Reply
  10. 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”

    Post a Reply
    • Thanks for the tips, Krystel! We’ll have to check out your book for more money saving ideas for WDW.

      Post a Reply
  11. A lot of great tips here! I totally agree with how bringing your own food will save you lots!

    Post a Reply
  12. 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!

    Post a Reply
    • 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.

      Post a Reply
  13. These are awesome Disney tips, we are passholders and still love learning ways to save during our visits!

    Post a Reply
    • Thank you! Since you are Disney regulars, are there any tips you would add to this list?? 🙂

      Post a Reply
  14. 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?

    Post a Reply
    • 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!

      Post a Reply
      • 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!

    • 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.

      Post a Reply
  15. 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.

    Post a Reply
  16. 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!

    Post a Reply
    • 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!!

      Post a Reply
  17. 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!!

    Shelly Elieson
    Southlake, TX

    Post a Reply
    • Thank you for your kind comment, Shelly! I hope that you and your kids have a wonderful time!!

      Post a Reply
  18. Hi!! I have Amazon Prime, how do you go about getting things delivered to a hotel room in Disney?!

    Post a Reply
    • 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!

      Post a Reply
  19. Great tips!

    Especially the savings jar…Never heard of it and will definitely look into it.

    Post a Reply
  20. How does taking grandma on Disney trip helps? They pay some of the trip?

    Post a Reply
    • 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.

      Post a Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Loads of Disney Tips - Mom With A Map - […] Tips For Disney on a Budget […]
  2. 5 Best East Coast Summer Family Getaways - Confessions of a Mommyaholic - […] fun you can get for your money. Although Disney may not be the cheapest vacation, you can vacation in Disney…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.