Disney World On A Small Budget
I am so excited to be planning our next Disney Trip in March 2018. We have totally become Disney World addicts and this will be the fourth time we go. In the past years we have stayed on Disney property as well as outside property such as chain resorts and even less desirable but super cheap hotels. We have gone and only done one park during a single trip, and we have gone and done almost all of the parks in one trip. So, over the years I've become a little more savvier in how it's best to spend my time at Disney while not spending a fortune. So I wanted to share some of the money-saving tips I have picked up through out the years.
I personally am not a fan of long road trips and prefer flying. However, driving is a lot cheaper than flying down. If you're not a big fan of sitting in a car for 20 plus hours, my suggestion is to take a few extra days of your vacation so you're able to make stops at night. I plan my trip and look into towns we can stop at with cheap hotel rates and book them in advance. For this coming trip we will be doing this and I found decent hotels in Virginia and Georgia (which is where we plan on stopping) for about $40-$60 for two queen beds. If you're driving down with multiple family (like we are) you can share rooms and the price can be divided in half for extra savings. Driving down will also save you money as you are not needing to rent a car while there or pay the crazy taxi/uber fees.
Stay Off Property
The first time we went to Disney World I found a hotel that looked great for only $35 for the night. When we got there we realized we absolutely were getting what we paid for as the hotel was less than desirable. Still we stayed for the night as we were only in Orlando for that one night to visit Magic Kingdom.
The following year we stayed in one of Disney's moderate hotels. It was beautiful and had a ton to do at the Resort with that extra Disney magic we were looking for. We swore we could never do Disney again if not on Disney property. However, the cost of a moderate room per night is not something we could do every year or for an entire trip. I suggest if you're wanting to experience Disney all together but don't want to spend too much, maybe stay on property for two days and spend the remainder of your stay off property.
Get a Condo/ Villa Instead of a Regular Hotel Room
This past year we finally found our happy medium. We now stay at a Resort near the parks where I became an owner last year as we fell in love with it. The hotel is Holiday Inn Club Vacations at Orange Lake Resort. You can stay in a room as small as a studio with a kitchenette up to a full size Villa with three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a fully stocked (minus food) size kitchen, full size dining room and living room that includes a pull out sofa bed with an attached balcony. The Villa is so big and spacious that you can split it with family and friends and still pay way less than you would at a Disney hotel.
The good thing about the hotel is that it offers so much to do that you really don't need to leave the property except for going to visit the parks. From multiple pools, lazy river, water features, fun attractions, mini golf, jet ski, golf, etc. it really is a little paradise of it's own. Some of these features requires an extra fee, however, a lot of it is included in the price and so you really are not spending much if any additional money while still allowing for fun filled days. We were there for a few days and still only got to see maybe 1/4 of the resort.
The kitchen is also a huge bonus as last year we went to the grocery store and stopped at the dollar tree for things such as seasonings, ketchup etc. and all located right outside of the resort. We purchased all of our food, snacks and drinks and cooked our meals while at the resort with the exception of a day when we went to have breakfast with Mickey and a night when we had dinner at Downtown Disney (now called Disney Springs). We divided the cost of the groceries between all of us and preparing our own meals and having our kitchen stack with snack, desserts, popsicle and drinks saved us literally hundreds.
You don't even need to stay on this particular property as I am sure there are many that offer the same amenities as this one. I suggest you shop around and do some research to find the best deals.
Don't try to do all the parks in one Year
In prior years we have only done one park per trip plus a day at Disney Springs, but last year we did three parks plus Disney Springs. As much fun as it was to see multiple parks in one trip, it honestly was exhausting as you are there for a good 10-12 hours per day. I have learned to not do more than two parks (plus of course Disney Springs which is free) per trip. I also have learned to space those days out to give us time to recover and never ever make your last day there a park day as you will be exhausted on travel day back home.
Disney tickets are extremely expensive as well so only doing one, maybe two parks a trip, makes it a lot more affordable. What we do is that we switch the parks up every year to allow us the opportunity to see them all. Plus you feel like you are not seeing the same things every year as Disney is constantly adding new features. Use your other days to have fun at the resort and enjoy the amenities. It will still be a very enjoyable time while allowing time to relax and save money. This is why I always look for resorts that offer more than just an Olympian size pool.
Bring a Cooler and Food to the Park
Many people don't know this but you can bring drinks and food into Disney World parks. What we did was that we brought a cooling bag with us, which we placed on the bottom of our carriage, and we froze water and juices which then melted throughout the day as well as some unfrozen drinks for the beggining of the day. Water alone at Disney is very expensive and you get thirsty often as it is hot and you're constantly moving, so trust me when I say this alone will save you a ton. We also purchased zip lock bags from the dollar store and pre made sandwiches which the kids ate through out the day while waiting in lines. This not only saves us a lot of money but there is so much to see that you really don't want to waste time sitting down in a restaurant or cafeteria to eat. They would usually eat during longer lines and so this also helped the lines feel faster as the kids were preoccupied with their food.
We also packed portion sized snacks such as fishies, pretzels, crackers, fruit snacks, individual chip bags etc as the kids are constantly snaking. When one of them complained they were hungry we would hand them a bag of snacks to eat while still keeping moving. I found that while at the park the adrenaline is too high so for the most part all you really are doing is snacking and drinking fluids so this was perfect. This last trip, we only really stopped at one of the parks for a quick lunch once and the portions were so big that the kids all shared meals which once again allowed for saving money. Finally, we woke up a little earlier and made breakfast for the kids and ensured they ate well before heading to the parks.
Buy/make Souvenirs at Home
Buying souvenirs or knick knacks at the parks can get very expensive, especially with multiple children. Instead what we did was that we purchased glow in the dark items at the dollar store for night parades and fireworks and handed them to the kids. This avoided them from asking for the glow in the dark Disney merchandise and they loved it.
You can also check out pinterest to see how you can make your own autograph books which look super cute and a lot less cheaper than buying the ones at Disney. We also purchased all of our head pieces, such as ears, ahead of time. I know Once Upon a Child sells the plain ears for super cheap or you can shop around for best prices. You can even make your own designs with fabric and bows or purchase custom made or used hats/ ears on websites such as Mercari and Ebay. Trust me, you will still save a ton.
Pay for the Trip Little by Little
I usually plan our trips about a year in advance. What I do is that I create a budget and then start booking things and paying them little by little throughout the year. For example, I know last year when we booked our villa we only had to put a percentage down to book it and then this allows for you to make your own payment budget if you'd like and call and make payments through out the year. You can also purchase park tickets little by little online and have them delivered to you (just don't forget them at home). You can even pay for things such as some character dining ahead of time as well
If you have a Target debit card you can also save 5% on Disney World gift cards. These gift cards can be used for any thing in the park (Disney Springs as well), including meals and tickets. 5% may not sound like a lot but it can easily add up. It is also a good way to save money little by little throughout the year. We would just budget how much we would spend on Disney property and only purchased that amount. For birthdays, we asked our close family to gift the children Disney gift cards instead of toys (that they really don't need) and we used these gift cards on the days we went. Again these gift cards paid for tickets, souvenirs that they really wanted, character dining and dinner at Disney Springs. You can look up on the Disney World website to find out ahead of time the cost of tickets and character dining's.
To apply for a Target debit card (does not pull your credit and money is taken right out of your regular bank account the same way a check would), or credit card, click here. You can save 5% on your entire purchase with either card every time you use it, plus receive free shipping on all purchases made online.
I also bought items such as Disney gear and t-shirts whenever I saw them on sale or clearance and would put them away for when the trip came. Saving and paying for things through out the year is a lot better than to have to come up with all of the money all at once while still having many other expenses for the trip.
So these are all of the tips I have for Disney World on a small budget. I hope you find these tips helpful and feel free to message me with any questions you may have. I LOVE talking Disney!!
For more Disney World tips check out my other blog post, 5 Things I Wish I Would Have Known on My First Trip to Disney.