When you pack up all your belongings, put them in a storage unit, and move your entire family to Disney World for the sheer reason to go as often as you want…it’s craziness.
…or is it?
For us, it wasn’t craziness at all. It was an utter joy.
We lived there for 2 years and played at Disney like it was our backyard. Because we had annual passes and the parks were closer to us than Target (We watched the Magic Kingdom fireworks from our window every night!), we went, at least, several times a week.
Hollywood Studios while the kids were at school, the Magic Kingdom on date night, a quick visit to Epcot after school, the Animal Kingdom for family night…Disney was our playground and we soaked in every single minute.
Since we’ve moved away our entire experience of living there has not been lost on me. I treasure our memories of being totally immersed in a world that is full of dreams, wishes, and hope.
So now I want EVERYONE to have the experience of seeing what Disney World is all about. I understand that most people will never be able to live next door like we did (although, I am going to write a post about how it actually IS possible for you too.) But even if you never live there, everyone deserves to take a Disney vacation. Everyone.
Disney is not just for kids. The magic of Disney is felt by young and old alike. You’re never too old and it’s never too late to go.
However, I understand that one of the main reasons people don’t go or feel they can’t go is because of money. …it’s expensive! I get it. BUT, it’s not impossible. There are ways to make it work, cut down the costs, and STILL be able to have the dream vacation of a lifetime.
I want EVERYONE to have this opportunity so that is why when my friend asked me for any insight into how they can do Disney on a budget, I JUMPED at the opportunity to figure it out and share all my insider knowledge so that I can, in turn, share it with you…
Here are their family’s parameters:
2 kids (ages 4 & 6)
They will be driving from Texas.
They want to do 4 days at Disney.
First and foremost, we have to start off with Disney Tickets…because, well, if there are no Disney ticket’s, there is no Disney vacation. J There’s not a lot of wiggle room when it comes to buying tickets but I do know of 2 ways to save:
1- Don’t get park hopper tickets (I’ll explain why you don’t need it.)
2- Buy your tickets in advance through Undercover Tourist or another discount ticket site.
Let’s look at the hard numbers…
If you went through the Disney website and bought 2 adult and 2 child, 4-day, park hopper tickets you would spend $1,768.00
However…if you went through a site like Undercover Tourist and bought 2 adult and 2 child, 4-day, NON park hopper tickets you would spend $1,390.00.
That’s almost a $400 savings right there.
Now let me share why you don’t need the park hopper option…First, if you don’t know what park hopper is let me explain… Adding park hopper to your ticket allows you to visit more than one park a day. So that means you don’t have to stay in the same park all day, you can “hop” around from park to park throughout the day.
Here’s why you won’t need it…because you only have one day in each park (maybe 2 for the Magic Kingdom, see below), you will need that entire day to cover the park. You really will not have time to hop to another park. Plus, it takes a pretty big chunk of time to travel from park to park…you either have to walk all the way back to your car and drive to another park, or take Disney Transportation…both can be quite time-consuming. Time you want to spend in the parks… not traveling between parks.
I do want to discuss one thing that doesn’t save money initially but overall is a great deal, which is to… stay more days. Seems counterproductive but I’ll show you how that saves…
if you went through a site like Undercover Tourist and bought 2 adult and 2 child, 5-day, NON park hopper tickets you would spend $1,458.00.
So that’s only $68 more for one more day for the entire family! For me, it’s a no-brainer to get the extra day…and here’s why…
Experiencing Disney World is amazing, wonderful, and exciting BUT…it’s exhausting. When you have 4 parks to cover in 4 days…it’s grueling. I’m not saying it’s not doable nor am I saying you won’t have a tremendous time, but it’s physically draining.
However…if you can give yourself one more day in order to take a little pressure off and spread it out…do it. You will be so happy you did.
If you don’t want to spend the extra $68, another option to give you a little more space and rest during your vacation is to purchase the 4-day ticket but plan to give yourself a whole day off in the middle of your trip. So that means you stay one extra day in Florida but instead of doing Disney that day you hang out at your hotel, swim, and relax. So it would look something like this:
Day 1: Hollywood Studios
Day 2: Epcot
Day 3: Rest
Day 4: Animal Kingdom
Day 5: Magic Kingdom
BUT… my recommendation is to pay the extra $68 and go 5 days to Disney… you don’t have to go hard all 5 days, you can slow it down it a little bit. PLUS (and here’s the biggie) …you will want 2 days at the Magic Kingdom. You just will. It’s a HUGE park, by far the biggest of the 4. So having 2 days to cover it will give you a greater opportunity to really see it and experience it. It also gives you 2 days of Fast passes to get on all the rides you want without waiting in long lines. (I’ll talk about fast passes in another post.)
So your 5-day trip would look something like this:
Day 1: Magic Kingdom
Day 2: Hollywood Studios
Day 3: Epcot
Day 4: Animal Kingdom
Day 5: Magic Kingdom
(I have do have a recommendation for which parks to visit on what days (Yes, it really does matter!). I’ll show you how to figure that out in another post.)
Okay, back to our budget…
-$1,458 (4) 5-Day Park Tickets
As you can see the Disney Tickets are a pretty big chunk out of your budget. HOWEVER, …not to fear…staying somewhere for 6 nights and eating are both still doable.
Unfortunately, with a budget of $2000 for a family of 4, staying on Disney property is out of the question. The least expensive hotel room is around $130/night during the value season. So that means 6 nights would be $780. Obviously out of the budget.
So that means you need to find accommodations off property. Which isn’t a big deal. Orlando is PACKED with hotels and resorts! Which means you can always find a pretty sweet deal. You also have to remember that you will be spending a minuscule amount of time actually at your hotel. So if it’s clean, safe, and smells good, that’s all you really need!
On a budget as tight as this I actually found a lot of possibilities through the Undercover Tourist site. For example, the Park Inn by Radisson Resort is only $44/night! (I checked dates for September.) Plus, if you can believe it, there are even more hotels you can find that is even less expensive. BUT read the reviews, look at the pictures (not just the pictures the hotels’ post but pictures submitted by guests.) because you could potentially get into a pretty crappy hotel.
…which has happened to us.
When we first moved to Orlando, we stayed in hotels for 8 weeks until we finally figured out where we wanted to live and moved into our place. During those 8 weeks, we stayed in amazing hotels… and dumpy hotels…thanks to not so updated pictures on their websites.
We realized that you really have to check it out thoroughly online before you book. With that said, we actually HAVE stayed at the Park Inn by Radisson Resort and it was great. It wasn’t a 5-star hotel but it was updated, clean, and had a nice pool. SO there you go…there’s one good review you can trust.
Back to our budget…6 nights at $44/night is $264. You also need to know that parking at Disney is going to be $20/day, if you drive your car. However, many hotels offer free transportation to and from the Disney parks. Be sure to check with the hotel before you book so you can save $100 there.
Let’s look at the rundown so far:
-$1,458 (4) 5-Day Park Tickets
-$264 6-night Hotel stay
Okay, I know what you’re thinking…how in the world can we make $278 stretch to cover food for an entire week. This is a little tricky but it’s doable! Let me show you how…
I want to mention that because you’re staying on Disney Property the Disney Dining Plan is out. Which isn’t a big deal. The Dining Plan is nice but it’s actually not that much of a savings.
The way to make your food budget work is to first, find a hotel that serves free breakfast. The majority of hotels in Orlando usually offer this perk. While we were staying in hotels for those 8 weeks we saw our fair share of free breakfasts. And I have to say, most them were legit…good hardy breakfasts that definitely filled us up and were delicious to boot. …Make your own Belgium waffles, eggs, yogurt, fruit, sausage, cereal, milk, pastries….a lot of food.
Breakfast is covered at your hotel. Now for lunch…
Disney allows you to bring in your own food. They don’t allow large coolers but really anything else you can/want to carry is welcome! Pushing a stroller is awesome when it comes to packing in your own food. Just stash it underneath the stroller and you’re good to go. If you won’t be pushing a stroller, bring a backpack. You can even bring those small, flexible coolers if you want.
When you enter each park a cast member searches each and every bag. But don’t you worry a bit about the food you’re bringing in. They will never say a word. I have brought everything…sandwiches, fruit, veggies, snacks…lots of food and drinks and they never said a word to me. Except for on several occasions when they would say, “Oh, that looks delicious!” haha. Here is your official permission slip from their site.
When it comes to drinks, we are big water drinkers. HOWEVER, it pains me to pay $3 for a bottle of water in Disney World. (It’s the cheapskate side of me coming out. 😉 ) So when we first moved there I would also bring in our own water bottles and fill them up at the drinking fountains throughout the parks.
UNTIL…one day I discovered that a cup of water with ice in all the 4 parks is completely free! Yay! So that’s what we would always do…we stopped bringing in our own and got the free ones there.
Most hotel rooms have refrigerators in them so you can go to the store and buy groceries for lunches and snacks when you get there. There’s a Super Target not too far from the Park Inn by Radisson Resort. There is also a Wal-Mart not too far away. I will say though…this is your warning…this Wal-Mart is the SECOND busiest Wal-Mart IN THE WORLD. I’m not just making that up. We happened to come across it when we were first there (staying in hotels! —what an adventure.). It was about 11:30 at night and we needed to run in a grab a few things. We knew something was up when we couldn’t find a parking spot. And then our interest was really piqued when it looked like it was black Friday in there. All the lines were stretched way back, and there were SO MANY PEOPLE. Everywhere.
We were so confused as to what was going on so we asked one of the clerks what was happening. That’s when he told us…we were standing in the second busiest Wal-Mart in the world! It’s the closest one to the Disney Parks so it’s super busy most of the time but INCREDIBLY busy as soon as the parks close. They get a mad rush of people who head to Wal-Mart to pick up supplies after they spend the day at Disney. (The first busiest one is in Hawaii. I asked. J )
With that tight of a budget, you may not be able to buy dinner every night at the parks….Although, with some smart planning, you might. Here is a list of every single restaurant and menu on Disney Property along with the prices…so you can get an idea of how much things are.
My suggestion is to load up on breakfast at the hotel, bring in your own lunch and snacks, and then grab dinner at McDonalds/Taco Bell/(insert favorite fast food restaurant) off Disney property when you get back to your hotel.
Most of the hotels you are going to find will most likely be on Hwy 192 in Kissimmee, FL. Which is directly South of Disney property. Hwy 192 has tons of restaurants and tacky kitschy shops where you can find cheap Disney souvenirs. You will definitely not be lacking in places to eat.
Tip: Do not go to the McDonalds that is located ON Disney Property. (It’s off the World Drive, the main drive through Disney World, on the way to the Animal Kingdom) Their prices are much higher than a normal McDonald’s and it’s also kind of dirty.
To save even more moolah you can even pick up a “Kids Eat Free Orlando Card”. We used this when we were first in Orlando and it ended up saving us quite a bit of money! It’s a discount card you can use at over 125 restaurants in the Orlando area. Each card is valid for one free child’s meal with the purchase of an adult entrée. We bought 2 cards so that both of our older kid’s received a free meal with adult meal.
We got our cards at a random kiosk in Orlando and I think we paid about $20/each. But I found them at Undercover Tourist for only $15.51/each. Here’s the link.
So there you go…now you see how you CAN actually have a dream Disney Vacation on a shoestring budget. It may take a little bit of creativity but it’s completely realistic and doable.
Once you’re there you will definitely want these 10 Disney World secrets that only locals know so you can really knock your vacation out of the park!
Last but not least…Be sure to check out my other posts so help you continue planning your Disney Dream Vacation on a Budget like a champ…
A Beginners Bible to the In’s and Out’s of Disney World Fast Passes (Coming Soon!)
Or The Beginners Guide to Disney Fast Passes aka How to Save Hours of Waiting Line (Coming Soon!)
How to Steer Clear of Crowds by Knowing What Day to Attend Which Disney World Parks (Coming Soon!)
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Welcome to Being Katie Brave! I’m so happy to have you here. If you’re looking to take better pictures (stress-free!), get the inside scoop on all things Disney World, or be inspired to live YOUR best life (even if especially if it scares you to death) …you’re in the right place. I ’ve written 3 photography books, our family lived at Disney World for 2 years, and wear my heart on my sleeve…all of which would never have come to pass if I didn’t push past my fears and step in the darkness. Join me as I share my adventure of life, one post at a time.