Careful planning will not only ensure a fabulous trip but will save you hundreds of dollars as well maybe even thousands. Travel to Disney the first week December or the first week of January is considered the low season and rates tend to be less.
Set a Budget
When planning a trip to Walt Disney World, there are two separate budgets you need to make.
The first is for your actual trip package, including your airfare, hotel and park passes.
The second budget is how much your family will actually spend on food and souvenirs at the resort.
Here is a calculator you can use to determine your costs.
Consider A Disney Package
Orlando is a tourist hot spot, which means there are a myriad of bargain packages for airfare and hotel accommodations on and off Disney property. However, you choose to plan your trip, start early and you will get the best savings possible. This is truly a magical vacation and one that does not have to put you in debt.
Book Through Disney
Walt Disney World offers many packages that will work for your budget. Purchasing a package with hotel and theme park passes included is a wise choice.
If you choose to stay on Disney property, benefits include free bus transportation to and from the parks, Magic Express tickets which transport you and your luggage to and from the airport, discounted meal plan options, and Extra Magic hours for at least one park every day (either one hour earlier or three hours later).
Disney has its own website: www.disneyworld.com/affordable, which explains the different vacation packages.
Regardless of how you book your trip, staying on the property, using the shuttles and buses will also be convenient and add time to your trip.
Use a Travel Agent
As with any vacation, do your research. Booking your trip with a travel agent is a good way to find great deals. Many local travel agencies hold open house meetings to showcase the different Disney travel packages.
Use a Booking Site
Other online travel services, such as Priceline.com or Travelocity.com also have combined air and hotel packages; however, the number of choices for staying on Disney properties may be limited.
Factor in Hidden Benefits
If you stay off property keep in mind that you will have to pay for your own transportation to and from the Disney parks and parking. When you stay on property you can execute the entire trip without paying for a car rental, Uber, or parking.
Stay Off Property
If your budget is tight, staying in an off-site hotel will still allow you that magical vacation. There are some screaming deals at hotels near Disney World. Some offer transportation to the theme parks, and have great pools for you to cool down in after a long, hot day at the park! Here are the 5 Best Value Hotels Near Disney World.
Keep in mind that like any amusement park, the food at Walt Disney World can be pricey. Disney World has a number of meal plans available to their guests who are staying on Disney properties. For our family, the Disney Dining Plan was not a good fit. Instead, we found lots of ways to eat Cheap at Disney World!
If you are staying in a hotel that has a kitchen, make the most of it. Make an agreement with your family that you will only eat out for one meal a day, and that you will bring your own drinks and snacks into the park. In our experience, lunch was usually the best time to have our meal out, since we were already at the parks.
Some Disney properties have a grocery list you can order from and will stock your kitchen for you, but the prices are about double to triple average grocery prices. Your best bet is to order from them only the items that are liquid, refrigerated, or frozen. Amazon Fresh will deliver groceries to most places in Orlando. I recommend ordering milk, orange juice, bread, jelly, chicken nuggets, and frozen pizzas to have in your hotel room.
Other dry, lightweight groceries that are perfect to pack in a suitcase include boxes of macaroni and cheese, a jar of peanut butter, powdered Gatorade or other drink mixes, cereals, crackers, cookies, sandwich bags, and whatever favorite foods your kids can’t live without. With these groceries, you can make sandwiches and bottles of Gatorade to bring into the parks, and the room they take in your suitcase on the way to Disney World will come in handy for souvenirs on the way home.
Make sure to budget that each person gets at least one special treat per day. That $2/per ice cream treat or frozen lemonade will be the best money you’ve spent when tired, hot kids are at a point of near meltdown, and it will keep your family from a revolt against the budget. If your kids beg for extra treats that were not previously agreed upon, explain that they can have it, but they will be spending their own souvenir money. This gives kids a sense of freedom. You’re not saying no to them, but they understand that food costs money too. Is it more important to them to have the Mickey Mouse ice cream treat or that Goofy hat they had their eyes on?
Eat breakfast in your room
There are lots of local grocery stores near the park and you will be able to pick up a few necessary items, such as milk, cereal, Pop-tarts, and breakfast bars. Eating breakfast in your room will be a lot cheaper than eating the restaurants. All hotel rooms on Disney property have a mini-fridge.
Most resorts offer a refillable mug in the gift shop. The cost is approximately $8.00 – $15.00, but you can refill it in the food courts throughout your stay. Although you are not allowed to take food into the theme parks, you can discreetly pack snacks in your backpack for the day out.
Refill Water Bottles
Bring a reusable water bottle or buy only one bottle of water and keep refilling it at the water fountains throughout the park. Keep in mind that the water in the Magic Kingdom isn’t great. Bring some water flavor packets to cover up the taste.
Eat a light lunch
While at the park, you can snack on the fresh fruit stands in the park. This will help keep you hydrated and the cost is reasonable. If you are hoping for a meal with the characters, choose lunch instead of dinner. Because of the heat, eating a heavy meal may make you or the children nauseous. You can also order a kid’s meal in the parks and no one will question it. The kid’s meals are a good size and cost less than an adult meal.
You can find an all-you-can eat or a buffet restaurant. These tend to be family friendly places and can are easily found off-site in Lake Buena Vista. If having a meal at the park or hotel, split it among the children, just ask for an extra plate.
Before your trip, encourage kids to save their allowance. If your family doesn’t have allowances, but you still want them to have a souvenir, consider giving each child a flat amount to spend. When they have an impulse to buy a giant illuminated magician’s hat for $30, you might gently remind them of the limited amusement potential for that souvenir, saying something like, “Yes, that hat is funny, but would you rather have a hat that you can’t wear to school or this $15 Mickey Mouse baseball set that you can play with?” Making them think about the differences in cost and whether they actually see themselves playing with it when they get home helps them to see the value of their own spending money. If your child makes a decision you disagree with, and they have enough money for it, don’t fight them on it. Simply remind them that it’s their money and if that’s what they want to spend it on, that will be it for the rest of the trip.
Don’t forget the basics such as sunscreen, batteries, pain reliever and a rain poncho. These basic items are much cheaper to buy at home. Also, pack medical items such as aspirin, band-aids and other products that are needed by your family. Anticipating these necessities ahead of time will not only relieve the stress once you are there, but save money. I have an entire post dedicated to what to pack in a backpack to carry into the parks with you.
Stick to one carry on for each person to avoid checked baggage fees. Bring your stroller to skip having to pay for a stroller rental. Airlines allow you to check a stroller for free.
Outside of the parks you may be surprised to find out that there are lots of free things to do.
- Free Activities at and around Disney World
- Free New Year’s Eve activities on New Year’s eve at Disney World
A trip to Disney World can be expensive, but with the right amount of planning, your family can still have a great trip within your budget. You may be worried that your children won’t have as good a time if you have to worry about your spending. In our experience the opposite was true. Setting limits ahead of time meant that our children knew exactly what to expect. Communicate your budget plan to the whole family with the explanation that this budget is what makes the trip a possibility in the first place. This is one of the most important lessons you can teach them about managing money.
Consider these ideas and use them to match your family’s needs. You can also get creative with ways to pay for things. 8 Ways to Pay Less for Disney Gift Cards to Save Money at Disney.
For even more budget ideas, check out our post on 22 ways to save money in Orlando!
The experience to Walt Disney World will be one your family will remember for years to come. Careful planning and saving money prior to this trip will relieve any stress and anxiety. Prepare ahead of time and it will not have to deplete the college fund!
Get ready for a thrilling, exciting and magical vacation!