We know that going to Walt Disney World is expensive. There really is no other way around it. Park tickets alone are pricy, not to mention airfare and hotels. We know that the majority of us cannot simply go to Disney without planning ahead for it to fit in our budget. Today, let’s talk about planning a trip to Disney World on a budget!
Keep in mind, Dave (dad!) started bringing us to Disney World when he was on a teacher’s salary. Our mom was a stay at home mom. We know what it is like to go to Disney on a budget. We went to Disney on a budget and we still go to Disney on a budget. Our budgets have changed over the years but we still use one.
In fact, having a budget is part of what has caused us to become experts on Disney. Figuring out how to save money at Disney requires research but it is definitely something you can do. Here are 15 tips to help you do Disney on a budget.
15 Tips For Planning a Trip to Disney World on a Budget
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1. Go off-season.
Going to Walt Disney World during peak touring times is more expensive than off-season times. You will not only save money at Disney World itself, but the airline prices will probably be much cheaper as well.
Try to avoid the middle to the end of December (Christmas, New years), April 1 – 15 (Easter, Spring Break), May 20 – 25 (Memorial Weekend), pretty much all of summer but especially July 1 – 5 (4th of July weekend) and November 21 – 29 (Thanksgiving week) as these dates are peak times!
Try to go to Walt Disney World in mid-January through February, May up to Memorial Weekend, late August through the middle of October and the first two weeks of December as these dates are cheaper.
A good rule of thumb is the lighter the crowds, the lower the cost! If you take a quick look at our Disney World crowd calendar you can start to see pockets of good times to go because the crowds AND the prices will be lower.
2. Special rates and Promotions.
Search online for discounts at Walt Disney World. There are food and hotel promotions running periodically but you need to go after them. For example, Disney will periodically run free dining plan deals! This is definitely something you need to look into. Or better yet…
3. Go with a Travel Agent
There is a misconception that you have to pay for a travel agent. A good travel agent not only won’t cost you anything (Disney pays for them, not you) but they are worth their weight in gold! They can help you with everything from airfare to room selection to dining reservations. A Disney specific travel agent will save you time and most important…money! We always use a travel agent to help us with our trips to Walt Disney World. Ask around and get some recommendations for Disney World travel agents and keep looking until you find one that will work with you to make your vacation as magical as possible.
photo credit Alexis Lariscy
4. Stay off-site.
If you are on a budget you should seriously consider staying at a hotel off the Disney property. You will miss out on some Disney perks and themes but in the long run you will still have a wonderful Disney World experience while keeping within your budget.
As you consider staying off-site, find a hotel with free shuttle service to the parks and with a kitchenette to be able to cook your own food. If your hotel does not have shuttle service you will spend $25 per day parking, so this is very important. This post has more perks to staying off site that you may not have thought of!
5. Go to the Disney Parks more days.
WHAT, I thought this was Disney on a budget?! Disney has it set up that the more days you are in the parks, the cheaper the tickets are. If you are vacillating between 4 and 5 days at Disney, check into how much each costs and you might be surprised on the savings.
6. Bring you own food into the parks.
Did you know you can bring your own food into the Disney World parks? Pack up sandwiches, fruit and granola bars and store them in a locker for seven bucks until you are ready to eat. You can also have a pack of granola bars and fruit in a backpack for the hungry crew to eat at any time. We have a list of our favorite backpacks to bring into Walt Disney World here – two of them are cooler backpacks to keep drinks and fruit cold!
7. Don’t buy bottled water.
You are going to be walking many miles in the hot Florida sun and you need to stay hydrated. Bring a water bottle to fill! Sneaky tip: Quick-service restaurants provide water and ice to guests free of charge, even if you aren’t buying food. Definitely take advantage of this!
8. Don’t get an all-inclusive meal plan.
If you are staying on site, don’t buy the all-inclusive meal plan unless it’s a free promotional one. You can find out more about the meal plans here. You will rarely come out ahead financially doing the meal plan.
We recommend bringing your own food into the parks and eating primarily off site. If you do choose to purchase some food in the park, stick to the less expensive snacks. Have a plan of what you want to purchase before you enter the park so you aren’t enticed by all the options. We have a list of the most popular snacks in each of the parks here to help you plan ahead and stick to your budget.
9. Be prepared before you go to the parks.
Think ahead of what you will need in the parks so you don’t need to buy it there. Make a list and check it twice. Buying anything in the parks will be incredibly expensive! This may seem like an obvious tip, but if you do not plan ahead and need to purchase Tylenol or bandaids at the park or your Disney Resort or hotel you will end up spending quite a bit of unnecessary money.
Put on your packing list things such as snacks, water bottles, sunscreen, and sunglasses. These are no brainers. But also consider bringing lightweight ponchos (it rains a lot), wet wipes (if you are a major clean freak like us), and lip balm. These things could be bought at home for a fraction of the cost. In fact, you can buy many of these items at the dollar store or the Dollar Spot at Target for even more savings. We have a run down of the top 14 essential items you need to consider buying before you head out on vacation.
10. Be prepared for the Disney Bling.
Your kids are going to want all the Disney goodies. The mouse ears, the goofy shirt, the cotton candy, the balloons, and millions of other things. Remember, you are on a budget. Buy things you think your kids will want ahead of time and pack them in your suitcases. Unveil the items to your kids when you are at Disney World. Buy those souvenirs online, ahead of time, to find the best prices.
Be sure to look at Amazon, Etsy, the Disney store sale section, and even Target or Costco for Disney themed items. For example, Jen purchased a 20 pack of Mickey + Minnie ears from Amazon on our last trip and gave them to everyone at the airport. We then had them to wear all week long!
Katie purchased two Disney themed t-shirts at Target for each of her kids prior to our trip. She snuck them into their suitcases and the kids were surprised when they opened their bags! We have an entire section devoted to Disney clothes you should consider purchasing before your trip. These items are all from places like Target or Amazon so we guarantee they are budget friendly.
When packing snacks for the day, pack some that are fun and different that your kids don’t get every day at home. The kids felt like they got special “Disney snacks” while on vacation – but we paid Target prices, not Disney prices. Everyone wins!
11. If you are staying on the Walt Disney Properties, stay at a Disney Value hotel.
These Disney hotels have all the conveniences of other Disney properties but don’t have some of the frills the more upscale hotels have. All in all, a great way to stay on site at a Disney Resort if you can swing it into your budget.
12. Just say No.
As you are planning your trip you will find many add ons available for your vacation. Do not be seduced by these. For example, many people buy a service called PhotoPass.
For a couple hundred dollars, professional photographers will take your pictures in front of many places throughout the Disney Parks and at the end of your trip they are yours. It’s great to have these pictures but not a necessity if you are on a budget. (We didn’t do this for YEARS until our last family vacation!)
Remember – you already have a camera on your phone to take your pictures! Here is a sneaky tip: the professional Disney photographers will take your photos for free with your phone if you ask them! You will find them everywhere, so don’t hesitate to ask.
Speaking of just saying no to add ons…
13. Don’t upgrade to the Park Hopper
Let Tigger hop.…you should not. A park hopper pass allows you to go to different parks on one day. This costs quite a bit more than a standard park pass so do not purchase it. Stay in one park for each day! There is plenty to see and do in that one park.
14. Savings Plan
If you know you are going to Disney World in a year or two or three, start a savings plan to ease the financial burden. We can’t tell you how much to save but if you started putting $20 each week aside for your vacation, it will add up quick!
We keep a money jar for any extra change we get and that is a fun way to watch your Disney savings grow. The grandkids also have Disney jars where they add change to contribute to the trip! We start saving for our next Disney World vacation the week after we get back from our present Disney Vacation.
15. Find the Free and Included
Finally, there are many free things to do both in the park and around Walt Disney World you can take advantage of. You may enjoy taking a day off the parks and exploring Disney’s Boardwalk or Disney Springs or simply lounge by the pool. Keep in mind that you have already paid for a park pass which includes enough Disney magic to make your vacation special! You do not need to pay for extras – you are already in the most magical place on Earth.
With these tips, tricks, and ideas you should be able shave significant costs off your Disney Vacation. Keep your eye on the prize, set a reasonable budget, and a Disney Vacation is in your reach! We have even more money saving tips here, so be sure to check them out!
Be sure to check out our full post on pros and cons of staying off site vs on site at Disney World!