How to Do Disney on a Budget

image © William Shewbridge
image © William Shewbridge

A visit to Disney is the ultimate childhood fantasy, but you don’t have to save up for a lifetime to afford a trip for your kids. These money-saving family vacation tips and Disney travel tips and information can help you enjoy a budget Disney vacation with your family and rack up the memories.

Should You Stay in an Onsite Disney Hotel?

Staying in a hotel on Disney property can be expensive, adding hundreds more to your family vacation, but there are some advantages that can counter the extra expense. These are the pros and cons of choosing to stay in an onsite Disney hotel.

    Extra “magic hours” are the main perk touted with onsite Disney lodgings. When you stay at an official onsite Disney hotel, you’ll be able to enter one park early each day, or stay in the park after official closing hours. Those extra hours can offer a lot of value.

    Save money on a rental car. When you stay at a Disney resort, your package will usually include free transportation to and from the airport and around the Disney property. Depending on the length of your stay and the type of vehicle you’d need for your family, you could potentially save a few hundred dollars, even with the extra cost of onsite lodging.

    Enjoy the convenience of charging everything to your room rather than having to carry cash and credit cards with you. Lock up your valuables in the hotel safe and carry your key card to make purchases. It’s much easier to replace a lost key card than stolen or lost cash and credit cards.

    All the Disney hotels feature a fun, friendly, family-oriented environment, and many have additional extracurricular activities that you won’t find anywhere else.

The main disadvantage is the cost – and not just the additional cost of the room but the extra cost of food at the resorts. A stay in a Disney resort can cost hundreds of dollars more per family member than the same length stay at an off-site hotel or motel.

Bottom Line: To save time – and have more fun Disney experiences – stay in an onsite Disney hotel. To save money, stay in a hotel off the property.

Should You Buy the Disney Dining Plan?

The Disney Dining Plan lets you pay for your meals in one flat rate in advance. Is it worth the money? According to Disney experts, it can be an excellent value – if you have older children who eat a lot. The portions are huge, so everyone gets plenty to eat, but if you’re only feeding a couple of preschoolers with picky appetites, it may not be worth the price of the dining plan. Disney experts also recommend that you make dinner reservations well in advance – like before you leave home. A lot of the most popular restaurants fill up fast, so if you have preferences, it’s best to make reservations to make sure you get a table.

What Else Can You Do in the Area with Kids?

Heading for Florida, but only planning a few days at Disney? There are tons of other attractions in the area where you and the kids can have fun. Check the tourism website for the Disney city you’re visiting for details on other attractions, and to find special discounts on lodging, food and admission to numerous museums, water parks and other fun things to do.

When is the Best Time for a Disney Vacation?

Prices are highest – and the parks are the most crowded – during typical school vacation weeks, especially fall break, spring break and during the summer. If you want to save money, enjoy great weather and avoid huge crowds, consider a trip in mid-November. Save money with park hopper tickets, which provide admission to a variety of Disney parks, and opt for the Disney Dining Plan if you’ll be enjoying sit-down dinners.

Some Tips from Experienced Disney Travelers

  • Bring enough sunscreen and sundries. The minute you step through the park gates, prices for “emergency” items skyrocket.
  • Staying offsite can save you money, but make sure you do the math. If you rent a car, you’ll have to add in the cost of the rental, as well as the $11 a day to park in a Disney lot at the park.
  • If you choose an off-site holiday with Park Hopper tickets, consider a vacation rental rather than a hotel room. If you shop around, you can find condos and cottages for about the price of a hotel room, but with a full kitchen and room to spread out, you can cook meals and save money on entertainment and dining.
  • Buy a cheap umbrella stroller at Wal-mart or a local department store. Stroller rental inside the park can be steep. It’s a lot cheaper to drop in at a local discount department store and pick up a cheap umbrella stroller for toddlers and infants.
  • Budget your souvenir money in advance. With older children, make it clear exactly how much money they can spend on souvenirs and snacks – and stick to it, or you could spend more on souvenirs than you do on park admission.

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