Need to stick to a budget but still want a fun Disney vacation? There are ways to experience Disney on the cheap. In fact, you can plan a Disney vacation for less than $2,500!
A Disney vacation may seem like it would be an astronomically-priced treat – but it doesn’t need to be. In fact, with making a few mindful, budget-conscious choices, you can enjoy a magical Disney vacation for less than $2,500.
Until my family went to Walt Disney World vacation this summer, I had no idea that some families view $10,000 as a bargain Disney vacation.
That’s a bargain!? I’m admittedly a cheapskate, so there’s no way I’ll spend $10,000 on a Disney vacation. And there’s no way that should be considered a bargain.
Instead, with a little attitude adjustment and some homework ahead of time, my family spent a week in Orlando – including two days at the Magic Kingdom – for less than $2,500.
We had a wonderful time, and paid cash for our entire trip. For other families who would love to visit Disney but are intimidated by the potential price, I’d love to share how we saved money and made a Disney vacation work on our budget.
Since I was comfortable in spending no more than $2,500 on our vacation, I started pricing the aspects of our vacation – theme park tickets, transportation, lodging, and food.
My family didn’t want to exhaust ourselves with days upon days of Disney parks – so we knew two days at the Magic Kingdom would be perfect for the four of us. The price tag (with tax) for 2 days was $800 (an average of $100 per person per day).
We could have chosen three days in Disney theme parks for $1,125.
I knew we’d have to budget transportation – but the price of airline tickets for four were much, much more expensive than driving from Ohio to Florida. Even with making the drive (14 hours one way) and spending one night in a hotel, it cost around $500 – at least $1,000 less than airfare. So we made the drive.
If we would have had frequent flyer miles, we might have been able to fly for free (we know families who have done this). Since we didn’t have them, though, the drive was fine.
I priced Disney hotels compared to other hotels in the area, and ended up making reservations for five nights at a hotel a mile away from the Magic Kingdom that offered free breakfast. The free breakfast was a huge selling point because it would save our family at least $100 in meals over our stay. Rooms at the hotel were less than $125 a night (with tax, it was $625), which was more affordable than any Disney hotel I priced.
A month before our trip, though, a friend offered to let my family use a timeshare resort property 5 minutes from Walt Disney World – for only $300 for seven nights. This was an amazing blessing we never could have planned, and it helped us stay in Florida longer – and for much cheaper – than we originally planned.
We did drive to Walt Disney World and pay for parking – which was $20 a day. At a total of $40, it still was much cheaper than staying on property and using the free transportation to the parks.
Once our tickets, transportation, and lodging was planned, we still needed to budget our food. When we planned to stay at the hotel, our breakfasts were complimentary.
But once we switched to the timeshare, our plans changed. Fortunately, the timeshare came with a kitchenette, so we drove to a nearby grocery store and bought ingredients for breakfasts – eggs, yogurt, and cereal. Every day before we left our unit we made breakfast – and breakfasts for the entire week cost a grand total of $15.
Before we left home, we stocked up on snacks for our trip. Walt Disney World allows guests to bring in food and drinks (Yes! What a HUGE help for families!) so I packed trail mix, granola bars and juice boxes in our backpack. If I wanted to really watch our expenses, I could have packed all of our meals. But we wanted to experience Disney restaurants.
During our stay in Orlando, we spent about $50 a day on all of our meals – that included our days at the Magic Kingdom.
We did NOT buy a Disney Dining Plan. Instead, I studied the Disney website ahead of time and looked at all the restaurant menus in the Magic Kingdom. Much of the food at Disney restaurants is very reasonably priced. And it’s delicious. (I’ve shared 8 important tips to dining at Disney on a budget HERE.)
What did we do on our non-Disney days?
Orlando is filled with other attractions besides Walt Disney World. On the days my family wasn’t at the Magic Kingdom, we had plenty of other things to do.
We did visit Legoland one day (the four of us got an amazing deal through the timeshare and paid a total of $75), but aside from that we spent part of a day exploring Disney Springs (totally free and totally fun). We also spent time relaxing at the resort’s swimming pool, exploring Old Town, and visiting the world headquarters of Cru. All were enjoyable.
The frustrating thing was we missed out on so many free activities Disney resorts offer. With free parking:
- We could have gone to a nightly Campfire Sing-Along with Chip and Dale and free outdoor movie at Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground.
- We could have enjoyed Epcot’s nightly fireworks at Disney’s Boardwalk Resort (we enjoyed them from the balcony of our resort, instead).
- We could have watched the nightly Electric Water Pageant from the Polynesian Resort or Grand Floridian Resort.
- We could have visited Disney horses at the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground.
We just didn’t have enough time or energy to do it all.
Saving on souvenirs
One thing about vacation with children – especially a Disney vacation – is planning on souvenirs. To prevent a lot of begging, my husband and I encouraged our children to save up their birthday money, allowance, and vacation money from their grandparents for their own souvenirs. They could spend it on whatever they wanted, but that was all they’d get.
Before the trip, I spent the last year stocking up on Disney souvenirs that were on mega sales – from Mickey and Minnie Beanie Babies to summer clothing on clearance sale at Kohl’s. If it was Disney and it was cheap, I bought it and saved it for a surprise Disney gift bag that my husband and I gave our children once we arrived in Orlando.
They loved their gifts – and it helped satisfy any wants for Disney things. We also made a trip to Orlando International Premium Outlets, just five minutes from the theme parks. Disney Parks merchandise comes to the Disney Character Warehouse and is sold at AMAZINGLY low prices. My son and daughter bought huge Disney stuffed animals for just $10 a piece – the same stuffed animals were sold at the Magic Kingdom for $30 to $40 a piece.
Since they were encouraged to buy anything they wanted at the Disney Character Warehouse, my son and daughter only bought hats at the Magic Kingdom (at $25 a pop).
All in all, my family enjoyed every moment of our time in Orlando. (Well, except for getting completely soaked in afternoon downpours … but hey! That happens in Florida!) To realize we did it all for less than $2,500 – and it never felt like we were skimping on a thing – made the trip seem even more magical.
If you’ve experienced Disney on the cheap, what are some of your suggestions? What are some of the best things you did to stay within your budget?
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Top image courtesy of Unsplash. All other images courtesy of Hilary Bernstein.