Inside: Planning a trip to Disney World? Check out these easy tips for Disney on a budget. See how to save money on a Disney vacation.
A couple of months ago I read in a magazine that a family of four will spend around $6,500 to go to Disney for 4 nights. I thought this was crazy high! I can't imagine spending $6,500 for a vacation, let alone one that only lasts 4 nights. We have been going to Disney for years and have never spent anywhere close to that. We recently went to Disney over fall break and while everything was still fresh in my head from the vacation I thought I would share some of my favorite easy tips for Disney on a budget.
Over the last 14 years, we have been to Disney/Disneyland around 10 times and stayed everywhere from the Contemporary hotel to a condo off-site. We have eaten everywhere from Cinderella's Royal Table to simple counter service. We've driven and flown. I have figured out what works and what doesn't, at least for our family. If you are thinking of going to Disney check out how we do Disney on a budget.
Stay Off Site
If I had to suggest one thing to save money it would be to stay off site. I think both Disney World and Disneyland hotels are WAY overpriced! Even if you get a value resort hotel you miss out on the free breakfast that you get at an off-site hotel. We stayed at an Embassy Suites this last trip for cheaper than the cost of the value resorts. If you haven't stayed at an Embassy Suites before they have an AMAZING breakfast. We were able to stuff ourselves with omelets & waffles before heading off to the parks.
Another great way to save money is to get a condo near Disney. We stayed in an awesome condo within walking distance of Disneyland and loved it. We just stopped by a Target and picked up groceries for breakfast and dinners. We saved way more money than if we would have eaten at a hotel or park. A condo off site can be a great way to save some extra money especially if you don't mind fixing breakfast and dinners. You can save by just eating lunch at the park.
Get Free Water
One of my favorite ways to do Disney on a budget is to get free water. It's so easy! Don't pay for soft drinks while you are at the park. You can get free glasses of water from just about any of the restaurants or counter service places. If we grab a pretzel or popcorn we just ask for a glass of water with it. Since their soft drinks or bottled waters are around $4 this can save you a ton! It's usually hot and you need lots of water too so skip the sugary drinks and get water instead. Getting water instead of drinks seems like such a small thing, but a family of 4 could easily save around $30 a day by getting water instead of drinks.
Go Counter Service
I have really yet to be impressed with the sit-down restaurants in Disney. When my son was younger we would do Chef Mickey or Cinderella's Royal Table, but now we just do the counter service. Not all the counter services are hot dogs and hamburgers so look around if you want something different. We love the Columbia Harbor House in the Magic Kingdom. Their clam chowder soup is fantastic and only $6! In Epcot, I recommend eating at the Land food court. They have a great variety of foods that are reasonably priced.
We also love doing the Epcot wine and food festival in the fall. Instead of sitting down for lunch we just share the foods that you can try from the different countries. They are amazing and the prices for most of the foods is around $5-6. Keep in mind that they are smaller sizes. It's nice because we can buy around 4-5 different foods to try and be at about the same cost as a counter service meal.
Split A Meal
I have noticed most of the meals at Disney are very generous portions. I prefer to split a meal with my husband. It's not fun to walk around the park (or ride a coaster) when you are stuffed. By splitting a meal you can save some money and some room for a snack later in the day. The cream cheese pretzels at Disney are the best! Encourage your kids to split meals too! The kid's meals are decent sized and they can always get a treat like popcorn or ice cream later if they are hungry.
Have A Car
Having a car in Disney is priceless in my opinion. You can stay at any hotel without worrying about shuttle service. You can also go to a grocery store and pick up lots of different snacks and drinks for the week. If we don't have free breakfast at where we are staying we will pick up frozen breakfast sandwiches and pop tarts. We often pick up chips and dip for at night when we get back to the hotel. If you really want to save money you can bring in all your food and drinks to the park. Pack a small cooler and leave your lunch in the car. When you get hungry you can go back out to the car and get your food.
We usually do breakfast at the hotel and lunch in the park and dinner at the hotel or at a restaurant away from the park. When it starts getting really busy at the park around 2 or 3 pm we leave and go back to the hotel for a break. Then, we grab some dinner someplace outside of Disney (like a pizza or subs at subway) around 5 or 6 pm and head back to the park after dinner. The crowds really die down later and we can make the most of our passes by riding more rides later at night when the park is less crowded. Plus we only have to pay for one meal in the park. I feel like having a car makes it easier to go from the parks to the hotel, plus make stops along the way for food.
Pay For The Park Hoppers
If you have older kids it may be worth the money to pay for park hoppers. When my kiddo was smaller it would take us a day to cover each park. Now that he is older we can easily cover 2 parks in a day. We have to pay more money for the park hoppers but we can buy fewer days helping us do Disney on a budget. If you have younger kids this may not work as well for you and you may want to skip the park hoppers.
Do Disney Springs
I love Disney Springs, or what used to be called Downtown Disney. It is a fun place with all kinds of Disney shops and restaurants. They have an amazing Lego store if you are into Lego's. We also love eating at the Rainforest Cafe. Disney Springs is free to get into and park there. Disneyland also has a Downtown Disney area that you can get into for free. Both Disney Springs and Downtown Disneyland are worth going to for a fun and cheap afternoon.
Skip The Souvenirs
You can spend a fortune at Disney on souvenirs. T-shirts, Mickey ears, and toys look like fun while you are at the parks. However, they all add up and drive up the price of your trip. Realistically your kiddo probably isn't going to wear the Mickey ears once you get home. Skip the souvenirs to save some extra money.
Do Fewer Days In The Park
As I mentioned with Disney Springs there is so much to do in Disney and Orlando that isn't Disney. To save money you could do a day at the hotel pool, Disney Springs, Disney Boardwalk, Sea World, Gator World, or so much more! We usually do 5 nights in Disney but only spend 3 of the days at the parks. I like to spend time relaxing at the pool and go to Disney Springs and the Boardwalk. If you are in Disneyland the beach is just a short drive away. Pack up and go hit the beach for a frugal day.
It may be expensive, but Disney on a budget is possible. To get some ideas on how to start saving you can see how I do my spending freezes to help save for Disney. Have you been to Disney before? What are your favorite tips for Disney on a budget?