A trip to Disney World really should be on everyone’s travel bucket list. It’s a great time of fun for the entire family. But let’s be honest, it can be really expensive. I say it can be expensive, but it doesn’t need to be. To help bring potential costs under control easily, all you need are some great tips for Walt Disney World on a budget.
If you want to have a little fun and experience some of the symptoms of a heart attack without an ambulance ride or hospital stay, head on over to the Disney World website and check out how much you could expect to pay for a complete Disney World vacation package for a family of four (two adults and two children over the age of 10).
For a 6-night stay in a standard room at a moderate resort with 5-day park hopper tickets and the Disney dining plan, you’re looking at a bill of somewhere in the neighborhood of $6,000. Ouch. And that doesn’t include the cost of getting four people to Disney World in the first place. $1,000 per day is a lot of money to spend on one trip. But what if I told you it doesn’t have to cost you nearly that much? You can have a great experience at Disney World without shelling out that much money.
In this post I’ve laid out the money-saving tips for Disney World that we’ve developed over multiple recent Disney trips. These are not austerity measures. I’m not going to suggest you only eat the food you bring and cook for yourself or that you don’t buy any souvenirs at all. But they are practical tips to help you do Disney on a budget, to take you from “It’s going to cost us WHAT?!?” to “Hey, we can afford this!”
Keep reading for some great tips for experiencing Walt Disney World on a budget.
Tips for Walt Disney World on a budget
Go at a time when the park tickets cost less
Disney World introduced seasonal ticket pricing in the fall of 2018, which means that park tickets during the busiest times of the year (e.g., Christmas, New Year’s, etc.) cost more than during other times. And depending on where you stay during your trip, park tickets could be the single most expensive part of your vacation.
The difference in price between a four-day ticket (not including the Park Hopper option) during peak travel time and the lowest season is about $135 if buying directly through Disney. That’s quite a price difference. If you have the flexibility to travel to Disney World during a non-peak time, then please do it. Your wallet with thank you.
Buy your tickets at a discount through a trusted third-party ticket vendor
Add this tip to the one above (going during a cheaper ticket time), and you can save some serious money. For example, for two people to buy 4-day park tickets directly through Disney World for travel during a peak travel time (like the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day) would be about $1175 (as of November 2019) including tax. The same tickets purchased through a good third-party ticket vendor like Undercover Tourist for low season would cost about $815 (as of November 2019). This is a savings of well over $300 per couple.
Pass on the Park Hopper option
Standard Disney World tickets allow unlimited entry to into one park per day. Once you scan your ticket at the entrance you can come and go all you please, but only at that park for the day.
The Park Hopper add-on option allows you to bounce around from park to park as often as you like for as long as your ticket is valid. The price you pay for the Park Hopper is based on the type of ticket and how many days your ticket is for. (Park Hopper cannot be added to the Four-Park Magic Ticket.)
We have purchased the Park Hopper option in the past when we could afford it, but honestly, we’ve really only used it because we had it and didn’t want to feel like we wasted our money. And on our last trip we didn’t use it at all. There is MORE than enough to do in each park to make a great day there.
Spend more days in the parks
This one seems a little counter intuitive, but bear with me here. A single day standard theme park ticket starts at $109. A standard four-day ticket (not Four Park Magic) will cost you well over $100 per day on average including tax. After that, additional park days might be only an additional $18-25 per person per day, bringing your ticket cost per day down considerably. Of course, you still have to consider the cost of accommodations and food, but work with me here.
Our last Disney vacation rental cost my husband and I less than $40 per night each, add to that breakfast and dinner at the house (with food brought from home or purchased from the local Walmart) and a quick service lunch, and you’re looking at an additional day at a park plus a night’s stay in a private home with a private pool for a very reasonable price per person. It’s a GREAT deal. It’s more bang for your buck. More clichés on top of more clichés.
Travel with friends or family to share costs
We love to take multi-family trips to Disney World. My husband and I don’t have any children of our own, but there are tons of great things for adults to do at Disney World. And we’ve loved seeing Disney World through the eyes of our nieces and nephews as they’ve grown up over the course of several years of trips there. When you travel with friends or extended family there are a variety of ways you share the load of Disney vacation expenses, such as…
Stay at a vacation rental and split the cost with the rest of your group
Rather than shell out the $200 per night or more to stay in a decent-sized room at a Disney Resort, our family prefers to book a vacation rental home in Kissimmee with a full kitchen, private pool and a ton of bedrooms and bathrooms. Spend some time poking around Vrbo and you’re sure to find a good deal, especially if you can book well in advance.
Even for Christmastime we can get rentals for $79-100 per family per night. That’s a lot of house for the price. Compare this to a stay at a Disney Value Resort, which will cost you somewhere in the neighborhood of $150-200 per night for two double size beds in a standard room. Now, that may be what some people prefer, but my sister and brother-in-law wouldn’t event consider trying to fit in one of those rooms with two teenagers and a five-year-old.
Drive to Disney World rather than fly
This is one of my favorite tips, because I much prefer to drive to my destination than fly when it makes sense. I really don’t like all the rigmarole of worrying about how soon before the flight we need to get to the airport, going through security, waiting at the gate, the shuffle to get on board, etc. I’m not afraid to fly, but I do get airport anxiety. It’s rather tiresome.
So, enter driving as an alternative. You can leave whenever you want, pack as much as you can cram into your car and potentially save a lot of money. We routinely drive the approximately eight hours to and from Disney World, plus driving to the parks from our vacation rental every day for about $125 in gas total.
Share the cost of parking for the day with others on your trip
Now, if you do drive to Disney World you are going to have to pay for parking, whether that’s a per night charge added to your Disney Resort room or at the parks each day. But if you take my advice and travel with a group you can easily split the cost of the daily parking charge at the theme parks if you carpool.
Limit table service meals
To get a full Disney experience but still stay on a budget, treat yourself to just one or two table service meals on your trip. The rest of your meals can be eaten at quick service restaurants, at your accommodations (if you’re doing the vacation home rental) or you can even brownbag a few meals. My sister’s family often brings a lunch to the parks with them and then buys dinner there.
If you’re going to do two or more table service meals, I really would recommend that you do a character meal, especially if you’re traveling with children. My family really enjoys doing one (and only one) character meal together per trip. They can definitely be pricey, but we have many great memories of these meals all together.
Choose breakfast character meals over lunch or dinner
Character meal prices vary widely by restaurant. In general, the most expensive meals are the princess character meals. To save a few dollars, do a breakfast character meal rather than lunch or dinner. For example, expect to pay about $15 more per adult at Cinderella’s Royal Table for lunch or dinner rather than breakfast.
Order from the children’s menu
That’s right. You do not need to be a child to order from the children’s menus at Disney World restaurants. So, if you’re one of those people who prefers to eat smaller meals frequently or just don’t have a big appetite, absolutely order a children’s menu item. The only exception to this is buffet restaurants which charge a flat rate per adult or child diner.
Bring your own snacks into the parks
There seems to be a persistent myth to the contrary, but you can indeed bring your own food and drinks into the parks. We do it all the time. This tip is also a good time saver. I enjoy snacking on a granola bar or apple slices while I’m in line for an attraction rather than hunting through a park and waiting in line for a snack that’s going to cost me a lot more anyway.
Don’t get me wrong. There are great snacks in the Disney World theme parks that I seek out for a special treat (hello, croque glace!) But when I simply need food to get me through to the next meal, we save some serious money by bringing our own provisions.
Set a definite souvenir budget for yourself and stick to it
It can be really easy to go crazy with all the Disney merch, but I like to figure out ahead of time what kinds of souvenirs I already know I want and/or how much I’m willing to spend on them. Otherwise (and this may be just me) I’ll find myself wandering through all the shops looking for something to buy just because.
You can also limit your budget by purchasing Disney gift cards ahead of time and using only those to make your souvenir purchases.
Ask the PhotoPass photographer to take a photo of you with your own phone or camera
You do NOT need to being staying on property or have the expensive Memory Maker add-on to get a great photo of you and your family at a top photo spot in Disney World. On our last trip my sister had success with asking the Disney photographer to use her cell phone to take great photos of us at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
Walt Disney World on a budget: the bottom line
There are so many way to save money on your trip to Disney World. From choosing a vacation home rental off of the Disney property to trimming dining costs and buying discount park tickets, you can easily make your trip to Walt Disney World more affordable.