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Home > How to... Visit Disney World on a Budget

How to... Visit Disney World on a Budget

April 19th, 2007 at 04:49 pm

A family trip to Walt Disney World has become as common as a day at the beach when I was growing up. Many families, however, struggle to make a Disney trip happen and, in the process, spend far more than is necessary. There are plenty of ways to do Disney on a budget. My family of 3 spends about $2,000 for a 9-day trip. I've seen plenty of people spend 2-3 times as much for a 7-day trip. So here are some of my best tips for keeping the trip affordable.

Drive to Florida. This is a perfectly reasonable option for a large percentage of the population. It is a 17-hour drive for us from New Jersey. Doing so saves us about $1,000. We avoid airfare, airport parking, and a rental car.

Stay offsite. Disney has many wonderful hotels, but the rooms are small and expensive. The surrounding areas of Kissimmee and Lake Buena Vista are filled with endless hotels, timeshares, townhouses and condos where you can get similar rooms or much larger properties for less than Disney charges. We've paid as little as $37/night for a 2-bedroom, 2-bath condo. There are many websites where you can research options including vrbo.com, skyauction.com and disboards.com (a great discussion forum for all things Disney).

Eat breakfast in your room. Since you are driving, you can pack non-perishables like cereal, pop-tarts, granola bars, etc. Then you can visit the supermarket upon arrival and buy milk, juice, yogurt and other perishables. Breakfast can cost $1/person or less. Compare that to a restaurant where $6-8 is typical.

Stick to counter service restaurants. Unlike many amusement parks where the fare is limited to hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken fingers and fries, the Disney parks house many excellent counter service restaurants where you can feast on Asian noodle bowls, sushi, grilled salmon, rotisserie chicken and more. The advantage is the prices are quite reasonable compared to table service restaurants. You also get in and out more quickly leaving more time to enjoy the attractions. A great site that lists every menu for every Disney restaurant (with prices) is allearsnet.com.

Share food. Most restaurants have generous sized portions that can be shared. The 3 of us will often get just 2 entrees and an extra side. Saves money, avoids wasting food and discourages us from overeating. Another secret is that you can order things that aren't exactly on the menu. For example, if there is a burger and fries meal, you can order just the burger and save a couple of dollars. Then just share someone else's fries.

Drink water - tap, not bottled. We're always amazed how many people we see at Disney drinking bottled water, at $2.50/bottle. That, or soda, is a real budget buster. Tap water is free and plentiful.

Since you are staying offsite, it is easy to dine offsite occasionally. Routes 535 and 192 are loaded with every type of restaurant you can think of from national chains to local chains to independent places. If we take a break from the park mid-day, we may grab lunch outside. Or if we have a non-park day or cut out early one evening, we'll do dinner outside.

Visit the Disney outlet stores for souvenirs. Our favorite is the shop at Orlando Premium Outlets, just a few minutes from Disney property. They have overstock and discontinued styles at nice savings. It is all genuine Disney stuff, just cheaper.

As I said, we spend about $2,000 for our trips, and we could easily trim that if we needed to. We collect Disney memorabilia so have a larger than average souvenir budget. For everyone else, though, it would be quite doable on about $1,600 for everything, and that's for 9 days. Seven days would be even less. And a 4th person would only add about a few hundred to that total since transportation and accomodations wouldn't increase. Just park tickets and food.

8 Responses to “How to... Visit Disney World on a Budget”

  1. homebody Says:

    Thanks Steve, my cyber friend at another site is planning a trip for next year, first ever... They live in Missouri so I don't see them driving though. I am going to direct her to your post!

  2. disneysteve Says:

    homebody - We drive 1025 miles door to door. Depending on where in Missouri they are, it would probably be a similar distance for them, so driving certainly is doable. Of course, I realize that driving isn't for everyone, but it can be the most economical way to go and for families that really want to make the trip but have limited funds, it can be a big money saver.

  3. boomeyers Says:

    Steve - great tips! We are heading to Disney and will be there next week. We are flying, but will rent a car and will stop by Walmart for bottled waters and snacks. Each person will have their own backpack with whatever they want for the day. DH is going to a convention there, so we are staying in downtown Disney and will visit some of the resturants there. We will always eat breakfast in the room!
    Homebody - we are from Missouri. We drove the last time and it was fine. We stopped in Georgia overnight and stayed with DH's uncle. That made it easier on the kids. This time we are flying. If they live near St. Louis, they can go out of the Mid America Airport which is just across the bridge in Illinois (by Scott Airforce Base). Allegiant Airlines fly only to Orlando and Las Vegas. They only fly twice a week Thursdas and Sundays. If you can fit that into the schedule - the savings are substansial. Plus they have partnership with Alamo and many hotels. We are flying the whole family round trip for less than $200 apeice. Well worth it!
    PS (Love those outlet malls in Orlando!)

  4. scfr Says:

    Great post, Disneysteve! Someday I'd like to take my niece & nephew to Disney World, and these are great tips. Thanks for sharing your expertise. I have printed it out and filed it away for future reference.

  5. livingalmostlarge Says:

    I was wondering why is cheaper to fly if you live so far? Why not just a cheap ticket? I see driving if you are close but that must be close to a two day drive? So are you in the park only 5 days? Is it because you go often?

    Just trying to brainstorm and save money. I was wondering do you drive most places or is it just disney world?

    Thanks trying to get away for cheap vacation, I think we're going to niagara falls and that's a far drive for us too.

  6. RobertR Says:

    Thanks for the great advice, our kids are too old for Disney again but in the coming year we'll have grandkids old enough to take. I'm wonderin whether driving is really much cheaper though, I live in northern NJ and it's a little over 1000 miles to Orlando, so 2000 roundtrip. Using AAA numbers for the cost of driving just including gas, maintenance, and depreciation it costs at least 40 cents/mile to drive our car (Camry). So that would be $800 to drive to/from Orlando plus say another $100 driving around Orlando so $900 total. Looking at JetBlue fares I can buy roundtrip tickets from Newark to Orlando for $150, so $450 for 3 people. That means I would have to spend more than $450 on rental car expenses but I could get a car for much less than that for 3 or 4 days. So flying would be cheaper. Driving would use up a total of 34 hours while flying would only use up perhaps 10 hours max including getting to/from airport. So you save 24 hours by flying as well, an entire day! But of course under the right circumstances the drive can be just as much fun as any other part of the trip, and it's a great way to spend time with your family and talk.

  7. disneysteve Says:

    livingalmostlarge - Even if we could get plane tickets for, say, $150 each, that's $450 for the 3 of us (or $600 when one of our parents comes with us). Add $70 for airport parking and a few hundred for a rental car when we get there and a few dollars for tips at the airport and you're up to at least $1,000 total. Driving costs about $225-250 for gas and $50 for a hotel room each way or about $350 total. Plus we save money by packing a lot of food for the week rather than buying it at resort prices in Florida.

    When we fly, we leave Saturday morning and arrive that afternoon. When we drive, we leave Friday after school and arrive late Saturday afternoon or early evening, so we don't really lose any time on that end. Going home, we would fly home Saturday afternoon and be home that nite. Driving, we leave Saturday morning and get home mid-day Sunday, so not a big difference there either.

  8. disneysteve Says:

    RobertR - Sorry, but I don't understand, "our kids are too old for Disney." LOL! I've been going to Disney almost every year since I was 12. We didn't start going when we had a child. My wife and I went 5 or 6 times before we had our daughter and we've gone twice without her since she having her. My daughter is 11 and has been 13 or 14 times (we lost count). She shows no sign of not wanting to go. I don't imagine she will lose interest as she gets older either.

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