Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Disney World on a Budget

When people around you are plunking down $3 for a bottle of water and $8.50 for rain ponchos and between $10-$40 for umbrellas, not to even get started on food - how is a family to even really consider the option of Disney World on a budget?

Our experience this time was very similar in cost even though the way we did it was a little different. You may remember me mentioning when we took Emily that birthday guests were free on their actual birthday - well, that promotion is long over. So, we knew things were going to be a bit different this time.

Right up front, I will say that we live fairly close to Disney World which takes one of the huge expenses out of going: travel. With about a six hour drive and a gifted condo - wow, those were the biggest expenses taken care of.

Our condo had a full kitchen and I scoped out the nearest grocery store and was armed with a list when we arrived so that we did not eat out at all while there. And, our condo included a shuttle to the Magic Kingdom - so that saved us at least $14 in parking alone.

Next, we have a unique situation in that two sets of David's aunts and uncles live about an hour from Orlando and one set agreed to come and stay with us and watch Emily and Samuel for Rachel's big day.

We were offered the opportunity at our condo to listen to their little spiel on time shares and their point system. And, they rewarded us with a $100 gift card and a return two night stay. Hard to turn down!

So, with our cash saved (from garage sales and overtime) in hand and camera ready to capture memories - we headed to the Magic Kingdom.

We used our earned gift card for Rachel's ticket and a little towards ours and once again just paid for the two of us to get in. Our first stop is always to rent a locker to keep our food in. We bring an insulated bag with frozen water bottles, lunch and snacks and rent a locker for $12. At the end of the day when you return your key - you get $5 back. So, it is a $7 cost not to have to buy your food there.

Rachel had birthday money to pick out a gift for herself and we had pre-purchased gifts (or had things on hand already) for Emily and Samuel in other places that she could give them. We spent about $7 total on their gifts which included a Sleeping Beauty doll, princess t-shirt, Lightning McQueen coloring pages and cars from Cars.

I did buy a few postcards to send as her birthday thank you's - but that was absolutely all we spent for an entire day there. Yes, this is an extravagant and bigger than usual gift for us - but with some careful planning and knowing we cannot get drawn into the urge to spend - it becomes almost a game to see how inexpensively we can go.

We came home with cash just like we did last time and that will begin our fund for taking Samuel when he turns five.

One last thought - we spent SO much less time (about 3 hours saved) waiting in line this time - if you are planning a trip, please do check out the Fast Pass system available! It was fantastic!

Do you have any suggestions for doing Disney World (or Land) on a budget?!


Riverswamp said...

We might have been there at the same time! :-)
We just returned from a spur of the moment trip to Disney and Sea World. Our children are 19,16 and 14. We are entering the stage where they will not be with us for much longer, and my husband called from work 2 weeks before and said he wanted to do one last big family vacation before everyone got scattered too much. With multiple job schedules ( Husband, 19 and 16 yo) it was a challenge to organize.
It was so out of the ordinary for us to do something so spontaneous, I think that was the most magical part of the trip!
We bought a package through Sea World that included our 2 bedroom condo w/ full kitchen and washer dryer. That washer/dryer was my most favorite thing there! It was nice to wash our clothes each night and not return home with any dirty clothes. We also received the eating plan in Sea World for each person in our package for free.That was a huge savings. We would not have purchased that plan, but adding up the cost of a traditional hotel room and tickets for sea world VS buying the package, the package was cheaper,even if we would've not bought the plan. plus, we had the luxury of a much nicer room than we would've gotten in a hotel.
We visited both places ( Disney and Sea World) about 11 years ago for about $ 500 total for our family of 5. We had free tickets then for Disney and very reduced tickets for Sea World ( do you know military is free there, I was told, but have not checked into that) and only had to pay for one night in a hotel, we got one night free since there was a problem with our room. We ate the free breakfast at the hotel.The kids were small enough then for free kids meals at different places, so we left the park about 3 pm , went and ate, and the kids laid down for an hour and we went back to the park for the fireworks. Wonderful memories you will treasure!
It is a 5 1/2 hour trip for us , we are in SC, too.

Julie said...

Thanks for these cost-saving tips. We hope to take my son, who is now 5, in a year or two, and have just begun researching possibilities. We do not live within reasonable driving distance, so airfare is another cost for us.
Just last week we able to visit a large amusement park in our area. Regular admission there is $54. Thanks to some grocery store promotions, I was able to earn two free tickets. We researched food and beverage options, and ended up spending only $54 for the three of us for admission, meals, and beverages. Made the trip even nicer!

Caroline said...

HOMESCHOOL DAYS!!! We have been several times when we lived in Georgia. They are twice a year, usually September and January. Tickets are a fraction of the cost (used to be about 1/2!) Also, the reason they do the days when they do is that is their low season so hotels are cheaper and there are great deals. The lines are small and the crowds light! We usually end up eating at ChickFilA in Celebration a lot- using our calendar coupons. By the way, you can get your homeschool tickets, but you are not obligated to do any of the activities- unless you wan to, of course!

Davonne said...

This is not the cheapest way to visit, but may be the simplest. Go to to view their current vacation packages. Many of these include hotel, park tickets, and food, so knowing in advance the exact amount needed could be a huge plus.

Also, there is a ton of stuff to do in Downtown Disney that's completely free.

I love your Disney posts - we are going on our first ever family vacation (our daughters are 6&2) next month and are in the exciting planning stages right now :) We are going to Disney World for our trip!

I've never been to Disney, but my sister-in-law works there and is able to score some excellent deals for us. (Most of the deals I know about are things she's told me.)

Also, for those flying, consider flying out of a smaller airport. We are flying out of a tiny airport and round trip airfare is $500 total, including taxes and fees, for all four of us. Of course, we will all have our carry-on suitcase and an extra smaller bag as well so we don't have to check luggage (thankfully car seats and strollers are free). I've heard that plane tickets are about $200-$300 per person right now, so our flights are an awesome deal and actually cheaper than driving would be, which actually brings me to my next point...

Check with your bank to see if you can receive points for using your debit card. We swipe our debit card as a credit card (it comes out of our checking account, but swiping it as a credit allows us to receive points for money spent). We rarely cash in our money and discovered that we can get a rental car for a full week for FREE with our points! The rental car place is located at the airport we're flying into. AND, there are often gas cards available with our points, so we're going to see if we can use the extra points for gas cards to use during our trip.

My daughters have been saving for this trip for months, so any souvenirs they want will be purchased by them and will not be added to our overall cost of the trip.

That was longer than I'd intended but I am just excited about our upcoming trip :)

Again, love these posts!

Oh! And go during the value season if possible - cheaper hotels, better weather, shorter lines...

Amy said...

Thanks for sharing! We're going in October. We're staying with our in-laws in their time-share and buying reduced tickets through my husband's business. We've been saving for about a year and the kids have been doing extra chores for spending money. We're planning to take our own food in - we didn't know about the lockers, though, great tip! - and I'm prepping lots of snacks and breakfasts to go with us. We'll eat the dinner my MIL makes back at the condo.

Looking ahead, it looks as if gas and our tickets will be our biggest expenses - but we'll see if it really works out that way!

Anonymous said...

LOL! We have a great system. We told our son he'd have to be grown with his own children before he could ever go. I guess my parents felt sorry for him, so they took us all in January. We also live within driving distance and it was an 8-hour drive. My parents paid for the condo and our tickets and gave us some spending money, but we had saved some money of our own for gas because we drove two separate cars.

We went to the Magic Kingdom two days and ate lunch at two counter service restaurants. That was about $35 each day. Our only other expenses were a Mickey Mouse ice cream bar for $2---that's all my son asked for---and I bought him a $25 snowglobe for his collection.

I carried an athletic bag on my back with a bottle of water for all of us and snacks like granola bars, fig newtons, and slim jims.

We spent three nights in Florida. Our first night we had sandwiches from a cooler I had packed. And the next two nights we had CiCi's Pizza and Cracker Barrel.

Glad y'all enjoyed using the Fast Passes. Probably the best thing we spent money on was well before the trip---- "The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World" (can't remember the authors). We followed their directions to a t and did not have to wait in line for any of the rides!

Elaine said...

Enjoyed reading your helpful hints. I think we are going in April with our granddaughter who will be turning 5

Anonymous said...

I dont have $ saving tips, but we went twice before kids and got the meal plan both times (we are not in driving distance & did not have a car to go to the grocery store there & we stayed on Disney property & used their transportation). We were glad for the meal plan & I did pack some xtra snacks like granola bars that I could put in my purse/backpack. We would also split some of our counter serv meals or share a snack if we werent super hungry. My husband worked off-duty & we paid cash for the whole trip & came home with money left over. Who wants debt from a vacation?-that would ruin the trip if you had a credit card bill!

Anonymous said...

We live about an hour from Disney World, and when our kids were little, we would go over for the day. The kids weren't too fond of rides at the time, but the loved all the beauty and celebration that Disney's all about. So, we'd get on the mono-rail and go from resort to resort. We took boat rides from the Wilderness Lodge to the Contemporary. Then we'd finish off the day at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and go see the animals. We did this a lot when they were young, and it was always the best day. When my oldest (now in college) started reading, we spent one cold winter day drinking hot chocolate in front of one of many fireplaces at the Wilderness Lodge. Great memories, and it actually only cost us the cost of the drinks or the occassional lunch.