Disney World on a budget? How to plan a trip that doesn’t empty your account

Posted October 27, 2017


LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – There’s no experience quite the same as a Walt Disney World vacation – it’s called “the happiest place on Earth” for a reason. But taking such a trip with family and friends can be worrisome if you have a tight budget and don’t want to break the bank. Don’t stress. Disney can be an affordable vacation if you do it right.

When to Go

When planning a trip to Disney World, timing is key. Prices fluctuate with demand, meaning the best time to visit is during slow season when ticket and hotel prices are at their lowest. When’s slow season? Check the kids’ school calendar. Any long period of time kids are in school with no break is considered “slow season.” Therefore, January to mid-February and September to October are optimum choices, and June to August (summer break), November to early January (the holidays and winter break) and March (spring break) are NOT.

“The best time, and my favorite time, to come is early December,” says Karina Rojas, Walt Disney World sales employee. “It’s not so crowded, and you get to experience all the holiday decorations and activities!”

Optimize your savings even more by visiting during the week rather than the weekend and utilizing the Florida Resident deals if applicable. So, what’s the difference between visiting the most magical place on Earth on a Wednesday in September and a Saturday in December? A few hundred dollars – at least.

Where to Stay

 The best options for a cost-effective accommodation at Disney are the five Value Resort Hotels: The Pop Century, Art of Animation, All-Star Music, All-Star Movies and All-Star Sports. The Value Resort Hotels are the least expensive category of places to stay, and cost approximately $90 a night depending on the time of year and day of the week. The only cheaper option than booking a room at these resorts is the Campgrounds at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort costing $55 a night, more or less. When staying there for your Disney visit, you’ll be sleeping in a tent or your own RV in the woods.

Of course, booking a room at a hotel outside of Disney can be a low-cost option. But for the sake of time management and getting the most bang for your buck, staying at a Disney resort is your best bet.

How to Manage Your Time

Now that you’ve purchased your tickets and checked in to your hotel, it’s time to take advantage and get your money’s worth. First, wake up early. Magic Kingdom typically opens at 8 a.m., and Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios open at 9 a.m. The time they close depend on the day, so you have a limited amount of time to visit all the attractions the parks have to offer. But because you chose to stay at a Disney hotel, you can utilize Extra Magic Hours. Every day, one of the four theme parks opens one hour early or stays open two hours later than its normal closing time, giving guests more time in the park with fewer crowds.

“Utilize the Extra Magic Hours!” said Disney’s Rojas. “Attraction lines will be significantly shorter, and you’ll have extra time to revisit your favorite rides.”

When deciding your schedule of what parks to visit during your stay, check the Walt Disney World website to see which parks offer Extra Magic Hours so you can coordinate.

Food & Drink

There’s just something about Disney’s theme park food that has everyone emptying out their wallets for a few delicious bites. Even if you choose to avoid eating at a park restaurant and opt for food stands and dining halls, the expensive pricing will still take a toll on your pocket.

Luckily, Disney recently adjusted their rules to allow guests to bring their own snacks and drinks to the parks. Take advantage of this and bring something to munch on throughout the day that doesn’t require heating or a cooler including a sandwich, chips, a bar, etc. so you don’t have to purchase food every time you’re hungry.

“We typically like eating at the different food places in Disney,” says Hilda Bacardi, mother of two and Disney Annual Pass holder. “But we always pack a few bars or some chips so we don’t over-do it on the spending.”

To drink, bring a bottled beverage (water, coke, juice) and you’ll be able to refill the container at the water fountain and avoid buying an overpriced water bottle. Unfortunately, bringing in your own alcohol is still a no-go.

Disney meal plans and dining packages are also available, but only consider this option if you plan on indulging at the park and having more than three meals a day.

Extra Tips and Tricks

Use Disney transportation: All guests have free access to monorails, buses and boats to travel to all theme parks, resorts and hotels, and Disney Springs.

Buy necessities before your trip: Do this to avoid purchasing basic items such as sunscreen and toothpaste at inflated prices.


If You Go

For tickets, hotel rooms, park hours, events, dining, shopping and other activities, visit Disneyworld.disney.go.com.