disney on a shoestring

Many families want to visit Disney but are not sure it’s possible on their budget. We’ve talked about some ways to save the money for a Disney vacation, but how do you spend as little as possible and still have a ton of fun? Here are some tried and true ideas to get you to the Disney vacation of your dreams, without spending all the money!

Getting There

First, decide how you’re getting there. If you live within driving distance, you will definitely save money by skipping the airport. Here are some things to consider if you’re going to drive:

  • Can you do the drive in one day? 
    • Spending nights in a hotel on your way will cost you money and time. Be sure to figure in all costs: hotel, food while traveling, extra time taken off work, etc. when deciding if driving makes sense for your family.
  • Is your car reliable and well-maintained?
    • Unplanned car maintenance is never cheap and when you’re unfamiliar with the area, it’s an even bigger drag.

If driving doesn’t make sense for you, make sure you’re getting the best airfare deal you can. If you have miles on an airline, check to see if they will pay for at least some of the airfare. With some airlines, you can use a combination of miles and money to pay for your flights. If you don’t have miles, maybe someone you know has some that they would be willing to sell or gift you.

If airline miles aren’t a factor, be sure you compare costs across airlines using a travel site (ie Travelocity or CheapoAir.) And, be sure you’re factoring in all costs – some airlines charge for carry-on bags, some charge to pick a specific seat, etc. A cheap fare is tempting, but figure out the final cost before pulling the trigger.

Accomodations

Staying on Disney property is always fun, but is it the best financial decision? Well, it depends. If you stay at a resort, you will get free transportation to the parks and to Disney Springs. However, some off-site properties also include shuttle services. If you’re traveling during certain times of the year, staying on property may net you a free dining package. That could net you huge savings, depending on the eating habits of your group. If you’re on the fence about staying on property, I recommend getting a quote from a Disney travel specialist.

If you decide to stay off-property, you have endless choices. Orlando is packed with hotels, motels, and resorts. You will find one that fits your lodging budget. If you plan on spending most of your time at the parks and being in the room for nothing more than sleeping, then you don’t need anything other than a clean, safe room. If you want to spend some time relaxing and hanging out at your room, I would look into some of the many condos in the area. There are many timeshare owners who are looking to rent their unused weeks. Not only will you get a really nice place to stay, you could have a full kitchen, which will save you even more money as long as you’re willing to do a little shopping and cooking.

Park Tickets

If you’re staying on property, your tickets will be included in your package. If you’re staying off-property, you will need to buy your tickets and they are not cheap. It is important that you not buy your tickets from just anyone. Tickets are non-transferable and use a fingerprint to allow entry to the parks. Buy from a shady character and you’ll find yourself stuck outside the gates. When we stay off-property, I always purchase through Undercover Tourist. They sell tickets to more than just Disney attractions, always offer a discount, and often include extra days depending on what you’re buying. Best of all, you never have to worry about whether or not you’re getting legit tickets. Plus, their crowd calendar is great for choosing the best time to go.

Eating

Eating while on vacation can be a drain on the budget, but with a little planning you can keep this under control!

Disney Dining Packages

If you’re staying on-property, a dining package might be tempting, but you should definitely do some research. We found that, for us, the dining package was great when we were two adults and two children, but as soon as our oldest became an “adult” (that’s 10 years old, in Disney terms) it wasn’t going to be a money saver. The dining package also doesn’t include everything you might want to eat or drink. They’ve added an option for alcoholic or souvenir drinks to some packages, but since my son wasn’t drinking and my husband drinks a very limited amount, we would not have gotten our money’s worth.

On our latest trip we opted to skip the dining package. The package would’ve cost us about $1200 plus gratuities and “extras” that weren’t covered by the parameters of the package. Which means if we ate both an app and a dessert we would’ve paid for one of them. Eating our way through the holiday stands at Epcot definitely would’ve cost us something extra. I kept track of our food purchases on our trip and we paid about $1500 for everything. Every gratuity, every cocktail, every overpriced bottle of Coke Zero from the resort gift shop. Plus, we ate at two restaurants (Be Our Guest and Tiffin’s) that would’ve cost us two entitlements per person if we were on the dining package. Dining is expensive at Disney, there’s no way around that and we went into this trip knowing that food would be one of our highest vacation expenses. At worst, we broke even, but I believe we actually saved money over a dining plan plus extra expenses. Overall, I’m perfectly satisfied with our no-Dining Package experience.

Other Dining

Now this post is about doing Disney as cheaply as you need to, and neither the dining package (which isn’t even an option if you’re staying offsite) or spending $1500 on food may be feasible for your group and circumstances. Disney allows you to bring in food (check the rules to be sure there’s no restrictions that impact you) so bring your snacks. Bring refillable water bottles. Look at the menus ahead of time and pick the restaurants that you are most excited about visiting. Then you can budget for them accordingly. Eat breakfast at your hotel/condo. If you take breaks from the parks during the day, time them around meals and eat outside the theme park bubble. Limit the alcoholic drinks and skip the souvenir glasses. Many “snacks” are large enough and hearty enough to make perfect meals.

Get On Your Way

No matter your budget, a Disney vacation may be within reach. With a little creativity and careful planning you can meet the Mouse very soon!

Have some other tips to share? Let us know in the comments or head on over to Facebook!