A Disney World vacation is notoriously expensive, but it’s so worth it. If you’ve been dreaming about it, don’t assume you can’t afford to go. There are easy ways to save money when planning a Disney World vacation. It just takes knowing how much you have to spend and determining what is most important to you.
The top three expenses to your Disney World vacation are:
- Hotel accommodations
- Disney World tickets
- Disney World transportation
We’re going to cover how to save a the most money for each of those aspects of your Disney World vacation.
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Booking a Disney World Vacation Hotel On a Budget
Your Disney World vacation accommodations don’t have to be at a Disney hotel, or even on Disney property. There are benefits to staying within Disney World's borders, but if the cost of staying at a Disney-owned hotel is holding you back, staying off property is probably going to be your key source of saving money.
If you do stay at a hotel within Disney World, the most budget-friendly option is the value hotel category. These accommodations are farther from the parks and less luxurious than the more premium hotels, but the accumulated savings over the course of the vacation are hefty.
If you stay on property, a reservation of four nights and three days is a good amount to experience most of the parks while not spending a fortune on your hotel room.
Buying Your Disney World Tickets on a Budget
First things first: If you want to buy your Disney World park tickets at a discount online be careful. Undercover Tourist is one of the few Disney-authorized retailers where you can buy discounted Disney World tickets.
I’ve personally bought discounted Disney World tickets for my family on several occasions, all from Undercover Tourist. Every time I’ve received the tickets within days of my order and the tickets worked flawlessly.
I chose to use Undercover Tourist because of their fantastic return/refund policy, their consumer protections and customer satisfaction guarantee. I’ve never had to utilize any of these, but all of those factors give me a great peace of mind!
When you are booking your Disney World hotel on Disney's website, you will have the option of a room rate or a package rate. The package includes park passes, which default to five days. To save money and get the best value, you should select one less than the number of nights stay. Example: if you are staying for four nights, get the three day ticket and upgrade to Park Hoppers.
There reason you want to upgrade to Park Hoppers is to maximize your park exposure and get a taste of all four theme parks. It is better than buying a four day standard ticket, because you will not be squeezing a park visit in on a travel day and it actually costs less. The cost of three day Park Hoppers for two adults and two children under 10 is $1,444. By comparison, a four day ticket without Park Hoppers is $1480.
If you buy your tickets with the hotel as a package it will often cost you a couple hundred more dollars. The bundle price for the room and the tickets is usually more than they are separately.
If you stay at an outside hotel, the ticket bundling isn’t an issue. You can find budget friendly hotel options within walking distance of Disney Springs. From there, you can hop on a Disney World bus to take you to the park of your choice. You can also save even more money on those tickets when you buy them from an authorized Disney World ticket retailer like Undercover Tourist.
Your hotel will likely provide a shuttle service to and from the parks as well. See more details below in the section about Disney World vacation transportation.
Disney World Vacation Meals on a Budget
I’m not exaggerating, you can spend as much or as little as you want on food at Disney. If you’re aiming for the lower end of the spending spectrum, Eating at Disney World is not as expensive as people think.
There are pricier options, but with that there tends to be a greater value as well. Sit-down restaurants at Disney World often offer higher quality foods at higher prices. Consider sharing plates and drinking water instead of beverages to take advantage of those restaurants. You can also book a Disney World character “breakfast” for 10am. While it’s still not cheap, it costs less than lunch or dinner. You’ll also eat more than enough to fill up for lunch that day!
If you limit yourself to quick service meals throughout the day you can expect a family of four to cost in the neighborhood of $120-$150 per day for breakfast lunch and dinner.
If you book your Disney World tickets with a Disney-owned hotel, you’ll notice the option for the Disney Dining Plan. This is a way to prepay for two full meals and two snacks per day per person.
Our family opted for the Disney Dining Plan on one vacation and decided it wasn’t for us. We found that we got far too much food at meal time, and we ended up throwing out a significant amount of food each day. In the same vein, we were frustrated over the fact that we had excessive food for those meals while we were only allowed two meals a day.
You may find ways to manage the Disney Dining Plan to make it fit into your budget, but at a cost of $76 per adult and $28 per child, it almost always costs way less to pay cash for your meals.
You can also cut down on Disney World vacation costs by bringing your own beverages and snacks into the parks. This is absolutely allowed. You can even bring in a soft cooler if you’re packing cold beverages and non-perishables.
Don’t get me wrong, the food at Disney World shouldn’t be missed. But, in my opinion, snacks fit into two categories: those that take the edge off hunger and those that are treats to savor and enjoy.
Toss some trail mix, snack bars and applesauce pouches in your bag every morning and you’ll save a significant amount of money on snacks that are needed to make it through the day. Then, when it’s time for a treat, get a soft pretzel, a churro, a Dole Whip or another unique bite that you can only get at Disney World.
If you are staying off property you have other options, but you will most likely be eating out for all of your meals. Look for hotels that offer a complimentary breakfast. It’s a great way to save money – you’re shaving a daily meal for your whole family off your budget!
Another perk that come’s with a hotel’s complimentary breakfast? Snacks! I’ve stayed at plenty of hotels that offer a free bagged breakfast “to go” in addition to their hot breakfast. You can take advantage of both. That bag usually has portable snacks like granola bars, muffins, apples, bananas and bottled beverages. You can eat your hot breakfast and ask for a take out breakfast, too.
If your hotel offers free breakfast without the bagged option, there are still snacks you can take with you from the buffet. Look for apples, bananas and snack bars. You can put dry cereal in coffee cups with lids and, of course, take your second cup of coffee to go.
Finally, fill up your water bottle from the hotel’s filtered water dispenser. Tap water in Florida is known to be sulfuric. It’s safe to drink, but filtered water will be far more pleasant.
Disney World Vacation Transportation on a Budget
Did you know that, if you stay on Disney World property you don’t have to pay for transportation from and to the airport? You’ll receive complimentary coach bus service to your hotel on Disney World’s airport transfer line, Disney's Magical Express.
The downside to this is that you may have longer waiting times than if you handled the transportation yourself. If you look on the bright side, all Disney World vacations involve lines and waiting. Waiting for your complimentary bus is just a way of kicking off the trip!
If you choose to rent a car and drive to Disney World each day you’ll also need to budget for parking. Standard parking starts at $25 per day.
Hotel Transportation to and from Disney World
You will not need a rental car if you stay at a Disney hotel and you plan to spend your trip at various areas within Disney World.
A big perk to staying on a Disney-owned resort is transportation. A few of the luxury hotels have monorail stops built into them, others have water taxi service and ferry service to take you to parks via boat!
The budget-friendly Value category of Disney hotels don’t offer such novel transport options, but there’s nothing to complain about! Disney World buses run very frequently directly from each resort to each Disney park and water park. They also run to every other hotel, Disney Springs and just about every Disney-owned property.
Many, many Orlando-area hotels advertise free shuttle transportation to and from Disney World when you stay at their hotel. It’s important to do your research before assuming that option will work for you. Budget hotels generally only offer bus service to and from the Magic Kingdom or one single Disney park twice a day. Once to the park in the morning and once from the park in the evening. If the shuttle isn’t going to the Disney Park of your choice that day, you’ll need to utilize Disney World’s complimentary transportation system to get there from where you’re dropped off.
Make sure that restrictive schedule works for your family before counting on that shuttle. If it doesn’t you’ll likely end up spending more on a Lyft or Uber to meet your family’s needs.
My best tip for a Disney World Vacation on a Budget
I mentioned earlier that a good length for a budget-friendly Disney World vacation is four nights and three days. This is an acceptable amount of time to hit the most popular parts of the parks, but it’s not enough time to do it all. That’s ok, at least in my book. I know I’d rather leave somewhere wishing I had more time, rather than not having enough to do in the time allotted.
With that in mind, you should realistically plan for how much time you’re going to spend outside of the parks for your entire vacation and evaluate your needs from there. Three to four days at Disney World would generally mean getting to the parks early and staying late.
With that in mind, will you really need:
- A rental car? Will you realistically need to go to other places besides your hotel and the parks?
- An expensive hotel? You may only be there to sleep.
- Water parks?
Put some thought into your plans and how you’ll actually use each expense before committing to your purchases. This awareness will definitely help you save money on your Disney World vacation!
Total Disney World Vacation Cost
At most, you will spend about $2,900 plus airfare and ground transportation to and from the airport. That amount includes some modest Disney World souvenirs.
You can get a much cheaper room nearby at a non-Disney hotel and pay for the shuttle to take you from and to the airport. If you do so, the same vacation would be closer to $2700. In any case, you should still give yourself a few hundred dollars for breathing room. Then you can decide to pay for faster transportation or splurge on a nice dinner.
I’ve done Disney World vacations on a strict budget many times. I’ve also spent more on other Disney World trips by staying at a hotel on Disney property and opting into the dining plan.
There were pros and cons to each method, and I can absolutely recommend both types of vacations. Every time, the goal was simply to have fun at Disney World, and we definitely did!