Planning a Trip to Disney World on a Budget

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Disney world on a budget is possible. If you’ve ever looked into the cost of going to Walt Disney World in Florida, you’ve quickly realized that the happiest place on earth is also one of the most expensive places to visit. Park tickets cost more than US $100 a person, food can add up, and you need to worry about transportation. When you add it all up, Disney World can often be a once in a lifetime trip.

With such high costs, many people want to know how to save money at Disney World. There are a variety of tricks you can do to cut back on how much you spend, but what if you’re looking to spend as little as possible? 

The first thing to understand is that Disney World vacations will be expensive. Don’t try to do things as cheap as possible as it’ll ruin the experience. There are also four Disney theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. That means you’ll need to dedicate multiple days to your Disney World trip.

Planning a trip to Disney World on a budget can be easy if you follow these tips.

Planning a Trip to Disney World on a Budget transportation

Disney on a budget – Transportation

Getting to Orlando from within North America shouldn’t be too expensive, but flights will cost you more if you’re coming from further away. Once you’re on the ground, you have various transportation options. You just need to decide which makes the most sense for you.

Public bus

Orlando’s public transportation uses buses called Lynx. You should have no problem catching a bus from your hotel to get you to Disney World or any Orlando attractions, including Universal Studios. The cost is US $2 per ride. You can also purchase an all-day pass for $4.50 or a 7-day pass for $16 if you want to keep your costs down. Passes can be bought directly from the driver. 

Note that the Disney Magical Express no longer runs, but Mears transportation offers something similar that you can book on your own.

Free shuttle buses

Many people planning a trip to Disney World on a budget will come across the free shuttle buses. Disney offers these shuttles for free between their parks, hotels, and Disney Springs. Many hotels also provide free shuttle buses to the theme parks. By taking advantage of this service, you won’t need to worry about the cost of renting a car, gas, or parking.

Monorail / Skyliner

The Disney monorail connects Epcot to Magic Kingdom and a few on-site hotels. There’s also the Disney Skyliner, which is a gondola that will take you between Epcot and Hollywood Studios.

Car rental

A car rental in Orlando is reasonable. You can get a compact car for as low as US $25 a day. Mid-size vehicles are closer to $40 a day. Choosing a car that’s good on gas can save you a bit of money. While car rentals are incredibly convenient, especially if you’re a family, you also need to factor in the cost of parking which is typically US $25 at each park.

Minnie Van

Disney has a deal with Lyft where you can order a car on demand, which is painted like Minnie Mouse. While this is an expensive option if you’re using it regularly, it can be convenient if you need to get to another part of Disney fast. Minnie Van service is also available for airport pickups. **Note that Minnie Van service has been temporarily stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Planning a Trip to Disney World on a Budget accommodations

Disney on a budget – Accommodations

First off, if you’re flexible with your dates, you can save a bit of money. After new year’s in January and after the first week of September, there’s typically a low period, so prices can drop a little on lodging.

There are plenty of cheap Disney hotels, but they may not be convenient. If you’re looking to save as much money as possible, then realistically speaking, you’re going to have to stay further away. That said, there are a few on-site options that can be reasonably priced. Here are some options.

Hotels with a shuttle

As mentioned, there are a lot of hotels near Disney with a shuttle. The cost per night can vary, so you would need to research your dates to determine your cheapest options. It’s worth noting that most hotels also charge for parking, so picking a hotel with a free shuttle can save you quite a bit. Here are some recommendations:

Hotels near International Drive

International Drive is where you’ll find many cheaper hotels. This area isn’t bad since there are many restaurants and entertainment complexes around to keep you busy when you’re not at the parks. If you have a rental car, it’s worth staying in this area for convenience and costs. Some properties to consider include:

On-site properties

I’m not a massive fan of on-site properties owned by Disney as they can be expensive, but since you get free transportation and extended magic hours, the time saved can be worth it. If you really want to save, just book their cheapest properties who are as follows:

  • Disney All Star Movies resort
  • Disney’s All Star Music Resort
  • Disney’s Pop Century Resort

Disney Swan/Dolphin

Disney Swan/Dolphin is located on-site, and it can be pricey, but it has one major advantage. It’s owned by Marriott. That means you can use your Marriott Bonvoy points to redeem a free night. How many points it’ll cost you depends on the season, but it can be a great value considering you get the 5th night free when booking 4-nights on points.

Vacation homes

There are plenty of vacation homes available in Orlando. These are ideal if you’re looking for more space or if you’re travelling with multiple families. The cost can be quite reasonable when you split it with different people.

Disney on a budget – Tickets

Planning a trip to Disney World on a budget can be tricky since you have limited control over ticket prices. That said, there are a few ways to save if you’re flexible. Hopefully, one of these methods will work for you.

Off-peak pricing

Disney World has dynamic pricing for their tickets. That means the cost changes depending on how busy the parks are. For example, during the food festival in the fall, Epcot prices tend to be higher. As you can imagine, peak times such as spring break, the summer, and Christmas also see higher pricing. Mind you, the price difference from off-peak to peak is only US $10-15, so don’t stress too much about it.

Multi-day tickets

Disney wants you to stay in its parks for as long as possible, and they offer you huge discounts if you do so. For example, 4-day tickets (one park per day) cost $1093 per day. In contrast, a 10-day ticket is $55 per day. That’s pretty much half the price. Not all guests will want to stay that long in the parks, but it’s just one strategy that can help you save some money. Note that park hopper tickets cost more.

Discount tickets

There are only a few ways to get discount tickets. Undercover Tourist and Mouse Savers occasionally offer limited-time deals, but quite often, they’re just showing what Disney has on their site. Those two sites just happen to be unofficial partners of Disney. Canadians can also take advantage of the Canadian exclusive deal that occurs about twice a year. These are huge savings, but if you were planning to go, you might as well take advantage of any sales.

Occasionally, Disney gift cards go on sale, but that’s usually up to specific retailers – such as Sam’s Club – rather than Disney themselves.

Planning a Trip to Disney World on a Budget food

Disney World on a budget – Food

Okay, here’s the thing about Disney World that many people don’t realize. You’re allowed to pack food and drinks to bring in. You can’t bring coolers or anything hard, but you can bring in water bottles, fruit, and sandwiches. Heck, you could bring in fried chicken if you want as long as it’s not in a container that could be used as a projectile.

There are grocery stores all over Orlando, so stopping to pick up groceries is an excellent way to save money on food. Almost all of them also have prepared meals such as sandwiches that are perfect for bringing into parks. A trip to the grocery store should be the first thing you do when planning a trip to Disney World on a budget.

Admittedly, Disney has some great food, so I recommend you have a few meals in the park. Even then, there are a few ways to save. Quite a few quick service meals have self-serve toppings that you can load up. For example, Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe in Magic Kingdom has lettuce, jalapenos, cheese, and pickles. You can load up on whatever you want. 

It’s also worth mentioning that most quick-serve restaurants have some pretty generous portions. If you’re a family of four that includes two kids, ordering three meals will likely be enough. If you’re staying at one of the Disney hotels, you can purchase cups as souvenirs that gives you unlimited refills of fountain drinks, coffee, and tea at select restaurants. Cups of water are free everywhere.

Disney also offers dining plans which basically give you credits for all your meals and snacks. Admittedly, this isn’t always the best value, but they often come included if you’re booking a Disney vacation package. There can also be discounts on Disney dining plans if you’re booking your stay at a Disney property or Disney resort.

Final thoughts

Planning a trip to Disney World on a budget is possible. You just need to realize that there are only so many ways you can save. While wanting to pay less is understandable, this trip may only happen once, so it might be a better idea to spend a little more. For more inspiration, check out my budget guides on JapanBaliDubai, and Italy. Plus, here’s how to avoid travel ripoffs.

About Barry Choi

Barry Choi is a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert who frequently makes media appearances. His blog Money We Have is one of Canada’s most trusted sources when it comes to money and travel. You can find him on Twitter:@barrychoi

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