We are Walt Disney World cheapskates. I admit it.
My family loves Walt Disney World and tries to go as often as we can. We want to make every trip as magical as possible, but, as a family with two public university employee incomes we don’t come close to making what I call “Deluxe Resort Money.” If we were willing to ration our WDW trips to one or two per decade, we could probably live more lavishly on vacation, but...we aren’t, so we don’t.
Lacking a Fairy Godmother, how do we make our Disney travel as affordable (and thus frequent) as possible?
- We go off-season. It’s no secret that summers and school breaks are the most popular times for Walt Disney World travel. Seasonal demand-based pricing drives up the costs for tickets and resort stays during these times, so we try to avoid them if at all possible. This isn’t realistic for everyone, given work and school schedules, but if you have flexibility in your travel dates it pays to check out pricing for several date ranges. Even two days can make a difference in resort pricing. If you can avoid brutal Florida heat, all the better.
- We stay alert for special resort offers. When WDW predicts low or “soft” attendance numbers, for a time period they may offer discount codes and deals for resorts. Sometimes the deal is better than others, so it’s important to compare the “discounted” deal to the “rack rate” (sticker price) of a room. We frequently stay in Value resorts and have never gone higher-end than a Moderate resort. Because we spend very little time in our resort room, the investment in the Deluxe experience doesn’t seem worth it for us.
- My husband is very proud of his “Charter Member” Disney Visa credit card. When I caught the Disney bug well before we got married, I applied for my own. We use the cards to earn Disney Dollars on purchases throughout the year. Paying with a Disney Visa earns a discount at select restaurants. We even get early access to room discounts!
- We don’t do the dining plan. This inevitably causes someone to ask, “But if we go during free dining, isn’t that a huge savings?” My answer to that is: “Maybe.” We keep pretty good records of what we spend on food during a WDW vacation, and we have yet to come close to what the dining plan would have cost. Plus, free dining promotions generally don’t take place at the same time as discounted room promotions.
- Unless we can find a fantastic flight price, we drive. Yes, we do all 12 hours in one day. It’s not my favorite part of the trip, but it means that…
- ...We can bring a lot of our own food. Even if you fly, it’s smart to get a taxi or Uber to Publix (on Orange Drive) or utilize grocery delivery services to stock your room with basics. Being prepared with snacks in the parks means not having to drop several dollars every time a child (or adult) needs food to avert a grumpy spell. All resort rooms now have refrigerators that you can fill with everything from beer to baby food, so stock up on necessities for quick breakfasts, late-night snacks, and other times you feel a little eleven-o’clock-ish.
- We always bring our own water bottles into the parks to fill with the free ice water offered at every quick service dining location. I’m opposed to the waste of disposable water bottles anyway, and a nice insulated bottle is handier to carry than a disposable cup.
- Speaking of free stuff: If you book your tickets and room as a package you may receive passes for free miniature golf at Fantasia Gardens and Winter/Summerland or free bowling at Splitsville Luxury Lanes in Disney Springs. Resorts often offer movie nights and games by the pool. Disney Springs comes alive at night with free-to-watch performers, dance parties, and enough exciting sights and sounds that our daughter confused it for the Magic Kingdom on her first trip (to be fair, she was only three).
- And speaking of fooling children, this trick only works with very small ones: buy inexpensive Disney toys before your trip, then present them as surprise gifts throughout your trip. Stock up on glow bracelets from the dollar store to wear during nighttime shows. Bring as much inexpensive magic with you as possible.
- Even when we’re on a strict budget, we pick out one or two “splurge” experiences. For us, it’s usually a special meal with all the trimmings, but for you it could be a ride in an AmphiCar at The Boathouse, a special backstage tour, or something else meaningful to your family. Figuring out in advance how these bigger expenses fit into the budget lets us enjoy some of the indulgences that make a Walt Disney World vacation special.
Ultimately, we try to remember that our vacation is special because we are together in a place that we love. Taking a budget-conscious approach means that we can share more family time in Walt Disney World more often.
If you are a Walt Disney World veteran, what advice do you give friends who are concerned about their travel budget? And if you are planning your first trip to WDW, what are your financial concerns?