Disney On the Cheap: Planning a Disney Vacation for Less than $2,500

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!

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.

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!

Tickets

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.

Transportation

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.

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!

Lodging

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, the total 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.

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!

Food

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.)

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!

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.

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!

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 exact 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).

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!

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 in the summertime!) 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.

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!

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?

Disclosure: Links in this post may be affiliate links. This means that, at no added cost to you, I may make a commission on products purchased through these links. Thank you for supporting this website!

Top image courtesy of Unsplash. All other images courtesy of Hilary Bernstein.

Hilary

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11 Comments

  1. I don’t know if this counts as frugal or not, but since my DH has to be in Orlando for work 7-10 days every winter, we usually do a 2 week Disney vacation the same two weeks every year. After years of buying passes every January, I finally figured out that if he shifts his meetings by 2 weeks (fortunatly they’re flexible) we can move the trips 2 weeks closer together and buy season passes everyother year and use them for both trips! Saves us a fortune.

    But for the standard 1 time trips, a lot of hotels in Orlando, even those that are not on Disney property have shuttles to the parks. That can save the $20 a day parking. Packing water bottles and snacks saves a bunch. Between hotel breakfast and then packing snacks we often get away with only 1 real meal a day in the parks. The counter service meals are a lot cheaper than table service and the food isn’t bad. The parks are super allergy Friendly. Becuse of celiacs vacations can be tricky but Disney makes it soo easy, it’s part of the reason we go back. From donuts, to muffins, cookies, all the battered fried food you can imagine- basically the stuff my celiacs kid can never eat is all available gluten free In either the parks or Disney springs. So we splurge on the meals we eat out but save on snacks and drinks. Also- a lot of the same Disney parks merchandise is also available in the Disney store, so if you hit Disney store sales, you can stock up on t-shirts and such before you go and without paying park prices. You can also visit (and eat at) the Disney resorts even if you aren’t a guest. So while you can not use the pools and such, even on a day you don’t pay park admission, you can go visit the resorts, eat dinner (chef Mickey in the contemporary offers character dining without needing a park pass) or watch the fireworks (the beach at the grand Floridian has a great view of the magic kingdom fireworks and they play the music/sound effects from the show through the speakers);

    1. To be fair… your tips are good. But for a family who really wanted to enjoy the Disney experience it is unrealistic. We like to enjoy the rides, see parades (2 days isn’t enough cod Magic Kingdom). It would be rushed. Also Dining experiences are everything at Disneyland and Disney World. This kind of a budget isn’t going to work for all, respectively.

  2. Any trip to Disney involves international airfare for us; last year our plane tickets were only $750 return (which is the cheapest we’ve ever found them) but times four and we’re already at $3000. But we still came in well under $10,000, for three weeks in Fiji and the west coast including 2 days at Disneyland. We saved money by: Being flexible with our dates – The trip was to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the day we met; but by flying back a couple of days before the actual anniversary, we saved about $2000. Money trumps romance, sorrynotsorry. Not caring about souvenirs – Seriously, we had to twist our kids’ arms to buy them each a Disney t-shirt. I even cheated with the Christmas ornaments; I knew I’d want to get them a Disney ornament but the year before we went, the grocery store had some Disney ornaments marked down to only $1 so I bought a couple of those instead. Packing our own food – For our day at California Adventure, we didn’t buy any food, although we did split a soda; we just ate peanut butter sandwiches and leftovers from our road trip. Food is not expensive at Disneyland, but peanut butter sandwiches are even cheaper. Doing our research – We’d just assumed it’d be cheaper to fly from California to Oregon. Nope! We saved about $1000 by driving, even after the cost of the rental car, fuel, and hotels were added into the equation. Added bonus, the car trip allowed us to see some great stuff that we wouldn’t have seen if we’d flown – visiting Crater Lake and the Redwoods were definitely two of the highlights of the trip.

    My husband and I value travel; we think it’s very important for raising well-balanced kids. We also understand we’re very lucky that we can take trips like this. But we think the value of travel outweighs the cost; the memories we made are more precious than anything else we could’ve spent that money on.

    1. I do love all the scenery and memories made during car trips! Flying may be quicker, but I think I prefer driving.

      How wonderful that your family can make so many memories during your travels!

      1. I prefer flying; but driving has its bonuses, like not having to hurry up and wait in yet another line, and the freedom to leave whenever you want instead of staying up late or waking up early to make a ridiculously-timed flight. One drive I’d love to do would be to travel overland from Melbourne to London. Okay, yeah, you have to take boats to get from Australia to Indonesia, and then to get through Indonesia to the Asian mainland; but then you can drive (depending on the political situation, obviously!) all the way through to Calais and take a ferry across to Dover. How incredible would it be to do that drive!

  3. We did a trip driving from St. Louis 2014….3 nights on the road total 4 at Art of Annimation considered a budget resort at $128 a night. Kids were 5 and 2.5 and i was 28 weeks pregnant. 1 day at Magic Kingdom. Our total came in at $1746 and that include about $100 for my husband to repair our breaks that went out on us somewhere in Georgia.

    My top tips:
    1) Pack a seperate suitcase for the parts of the trip not people. Applicable to any road trip.
    We had a dedicated back pack for each day on Disney Property. The only thing we had to think about was also grabing the swim suit bag which had the tolietires.
    2) Brought snacks, drinks, sandwhich supplies and breakfast supplies. We only ate out 1 time each day.
    3) If staying on property…bring the kids bikes. Mine rode all around Radiator Springs and Pride Rock at our hotel….many other travelers were jealous.
    4) Splurge on Ice Cream only at the Girhadeli Chocolate Shop in Disney Springs….worth every penny of $28 for 2 sundees….remember I did have a bun in the oven:)
    5) If on resort property enjoy the pool movies and activities. FREE

    Headed back this year….with 1 more kid and 2 Grandparents (paying their own way).
    Having them will help because they plan to spoil us alittle this years budget. $1800

    2 days on the road 4 on property 1 day at Hollywood Studios.

    1. I love that you can (and did!) plan a great family vacation at Disney while not spending every day at a park. There is so much fun – and so much to see! – on property, and so much of it really is frugal. (And what a fantastic idea about bringing bikes for the resort!!)

  4. Adults can order kids’ meals on all Disney property! We drove this last time, too, and my husband and I were on a kids’ meal diet lol. We also traded in some travel points for Disney gift cards, and used the gift cards to buy tickets.

  5. Hello. Weare going toOrlando next week and as you we opted for s stayoutside of Disney. I noticed you mentioned a water parade from the polynesian resort. Is the polynesian resort at disney or it the one 10 minutes from the ESPN worldofsports center.

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