My family just returned from a magical week at Disney World! It was fun, memorable, and exhausting. We definitely spent a pretty penny for all that magic. But, we did NOT break the bank. How? Here are my 4 tips for doing Disney on a budget:
- Don’t Stay on Disney Property. I know. I just lost a LOT of serious Disney-philes. And if you are determined to stay on Disney property, go for it! BUT- if you really want to save money, my number one piece of advice is to stay somewhere close, not ON, Disney property. For starters, it’s WAAAAAY cheaper. So much cheaper. Example: for my family of 5, the least expensive accommodations at Disney we could get for the first week in March were around $250/night. And that’s for a standard hotel room with 2 full-size beds, a fold out cot, and a mini fridge. Even a campsite at Disney would run us $100/night! Compare that to the condo we stayed in which had 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a full kitchen- for $89/night. Seriously! The accommodations outside of Disney are ridiculously cheap. Even if you want to upgrade and stay at a resort with a fancy themed pool, you can get a room for around $150/night. That’s still significantly less (and likely much nicer) than a Disney room. My favorite sites for booking a place are Home Away, VRBO, and Vacatia. (Yes, if you stay off-property, you will have to pay for parking. But at $20/day, you will more than make-up for it with what you save on your room.)
- Eat Your Own Food. Theme park food is notoriously expensive. Disney is no exception. Since you will walk an average of 5 miles a day touring the parks, you will definitely work up an appetite. If you follow tip #1, you can cook yourself a hearty breakfast before you leave for the parks each day. Also, unlike many other theme parks, Disney actually lets you bring food & drink into the parks! Each day we brought a soft-sided cooler packed with water bottles, snacks, even sandwiches. We still ate at least one meal in the park each day, but we saved untold amounts of cash by having drinks and snacks at the ready (and staved off more than a few meltdowns in the process). We did one nice dinner at a “table service” restaurant, but because we ate so many meals & snacks on the cheap, it didn’t hurt *quite* as much.
- Give Your Kids a Souvenir Budget. And Stick To It. Yes, almost every amazing ride at Disney ends in an amazing gift shop. Naturally, your kids (and maybe even you) are going to be struck with a case of “I need ALL of this!” multiple times during your trip. Both times we have gone to Disney, we have given our kiddos a souvenir budget before leaving. They got some money from mom & dad, some from grandparents, and some from their piggy banks. We discussed what kinds of things they might be interested in buying. Once there, they got to choose how and when to spend their money, but once it was gone, it was gone. If you have an indecisive shopper (I have one), the Disney Parks Shopping app will show you exactly where that treasure they *think* they want is located in every park. This means they can wait until later in your visit to decide if they REALLY want it.
- Have a Plan for the Parks. Okay, so this isn’t really a tip about money, but if you follow tips #1-3 to save money, going to Disney isn’t going to be cheap. This means you want to make the most of your time. There is TONS of information about planning your days online-maybe too much! Some of my favorite sites are Undercover Tourist (for crowd calendar and slightly cheaper tickets), WDW Prep School (great touring plans and tips) and Disney Tourist Blog (more great touring plans and dining info). Across the board, one thing ALL the sites will tell you is to get to the parks early and I couldn’t agree more. You will get more for your money out of those first 2 hours than you will believe!
So, there you have it. Disney on a budget IS possible. And, I promise, it’s still magical!