How To Do Disney on a Budget
A visit to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, is a dream come true for kids and adults alike. It's a rite of passage that many families and singles want to do again and again. The magic, the excitement, the unique architecture, and thrilling rides all add up to one fantastic destination. All the magic, of course, comes at a cost. A Disney vacation for a family of four can easily top off at $10,000 or more. But it doesn't have to! We'll share all the tips and tricks to help you do Disney World on a budget without missing out on the thrills. Check out our guide to saving on park passes, finding deals on hotels, and doing plenty of free stuff, and you'll be saving like a pro. When it comes to saving on your Disney vacation, it's all about planning, flexibility, and knowing the inside secrets to Disney.
Park passes will be one of your most significant expenses. For a family of four on a one-week vacation, passes for each day can add up fast and quickly eat up your budget. With 40 acres of excitement, there is much to see and do at Disney. The temptation is to purchase a park pass for every day of your vacation. Don't do that!!
Park Pass Tip#1: The parks are amazing, but they can be overwhelming and exhausting. Plan at least one or two non-park days. The resorts, especially if you are at a themed resort, are designed to entertain. Enjoy the pool, and take a day or two to explore all that Orlando has to offer. There are tons of attractions in Orlando that are a fraction of the cost of a Disney pass. Enjoy the beautiful sunshine state with some outdoor activities like a picnic at Lake Eola Park or a hike in one of the other parks. Hit International Drive for scores of attractions from Indoor SkyDiving to Go Kart Racing and just about anything else you can think of. Here some ideas and Free or Cheap Things to Do in Orlando. Consider a road trip to one of Florida's gorgeous beaches. Cocoa Beach is lots of fun, home to the epic Ron Jon Surf Shop, and just an hour away. If you want more Disney, head over to Disney Springs for lots of shopping, dining and entertainment, and hospitality. The parking and the magic are free.
Park Pass Tip#2: We all want to do "all the things" at Disney and cram in as much magic as possible. That means that a Park Hopper Pass that allows you to visit more than one park in a day seems appealing. If you are in Orlando for more than one day, stretch your budget by skipping the Park Hopper and just visit one park per day. Every one of the parks has plenty to offer to fill an entire day or more, and wasting time traveling between parks in one day means you are losing park time. A Park Hopper is $169, while a single-park ticket is $109. That is saving you $60 per person per day! Buy single or multi-day tickets instead. If you're only staying a couple of days, consider a Park Hopper for one day and Magic Kingdom for a full day.
Park Pass Tip #3: Look for special offers on your Disney Park Passes. Members of Costco or Sam's Club can purchase Disney gift cards for 5% off. They can be used for your park tickets, Disney hotels, food on-site, and lots more. That's $50 on every $1000, so that can add up! Also, look for discounts from AAA, Visa, AARP, military discounts, and more. Be sure to ask!
Planning is everything. Be at the parks when they open and hit the most popular rides first to limit wait time. You can download the Disney app to track wait times for rides and manage FastPass+ reservations. The maps are super handy, and you'll waste less time wandering around.
Don't miss Disney after dark! The IllumiNations light show at Epcot is thrilling, as are the fireworks at Magic Kingdom. They are included with your Park pass and worth staying up for.
Hotels and Resorts
There are hundreds of hotels and resorts in Orlando and the surrounding area at every price point. If your family has their heart set on staying at a Disney property, don't despair. And before you rule them out at too pricey, there are a few things to consider. They provide complimentary around-the-clock shuttles to all of the Disney parks. That means no parking, rental car, or gas expense for you. They also include Disney's Extra Magic Hours, with certain parks opening earlier or staying open later at night on select days.
Disney Resorts are rated by price as Value, Moderate, or Deluxe. The value resorts are not much different than the moderates, except they are a little farther from the parks, but the transportation is free, so this is an excellent place to save. The value hotels like Pop Century All-Star are not as glitzy as some of the other resorts, but you'll still have the Disney experience and the Disney perks. And for absolute value, try out camping at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort.
Staying at a Disney property may seem a pricier option but remember, you'll have savings on transportation since they provide free roundtrip airport transfers, which can mean no rental cars, parking, or gas. They also include some other perks like Magic Bands, which are bracelets that enable your park access, entrance to some reserved activities, and Disney resorts. If you purchased Magic Bands, they would be $15 per person.
If you are willing to stay off-site, you'll lose some of the transportation and other perks, but the savings can be huge. International Drive is lined with lower price point hotels, and many families stay in nearby Kissimmee, still minutes from the parks, for the best value of all. You'll find a better selection of rooms for larger families and may even score a kitchenette for savings on snacks, coffee, beverages, and light meals.
Be flexible on your days and dates of travel.
Disney is known for doing the holidays in a big way. The decorations and entertainment are fantastic. But you will pay a premium and experience the largest crowds. Try to avoid Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, New Year's Spring Break, and summer if possible. Single Park admission soars to $159 during some peak times while it runs $109 during a Value window.
The hotels have similar peak rates during these times. The best deals are normally available from mid-January to early March and late August through September. A midweek stay is much less expensive than a weekend.
Look for FREE Disney Experiences
There are lots of ways to get your Disney "fix" outside of the parks. Animal Kingdom Lodge is one of the higher-end Disney properties, but non-hotel guests are allowed to walk around the property and try to catch a glimpse of a giraffe, zebra, gazelle, or flamingoes. Every night Fort Wilderness offers a song-along with Chip 'n Dale, s'mores, and an outdoor movie screening. Disney Springs offers excellent entertainment, the largest Disney merchandise store in the world, fun, themed restaurants, and a huge Lego Store with play tables and huge character models. You can catch a free boat ride from one side of the boardwalk to the other. The parking is free and convenient, and there is no entrance fee. Read more about Disney Springs.
Saving on food at Disney
First things first. Pass on the dining plan. It is not a great deal, and you'll find yourself tracking your consumption to be sure you're not exceeding the plan inclusions. Pay for your food as you go along. You'll spend less, and you can take advantage of the many affordable food outlets all over Orlando.
Disney allows visitors to bring food into the parks. This could be huge savings for your family. Pack a picnic lunch with sandwiches, bottled water, or snacks and store it in a Disney locker for $7 per day. Coolers are not allowed, but a good PB&J will satisfy the little ones and save big for you. Oh, and you can request a cup of free ice water at any counter-service restaurant in Walt Disney World.
Plan your meals out in advance. If you are dining in the park, plan ahead and make reservations. Also, make dining reservations as early as possible, even before you travel if you are having dinner at Epcot or in your resort. The prime dining times go quickly. If you eat one meal in your hotel room, pack a lunch for the parks and eat only one meal per day out, you are talking about significant savings.
Disney on a budget is possible! Do your homework, plan ahead, and stick to plan. Get packing and let the magic begin.