Travel Tips: The Ultimate Guide To Visiting Walt Disney World Florida On A Budget
Walt Disney World is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. It can also be one of the most expensive. How can you experience the magic of Walt Disney World and still afford to pay your mortgage? I've been to Disney World several times, and we both spent some time in Disneyland Paris recently. We know that the costs can add up quickly. Below are some ways to save a ton of money when planning your Florida Disney vacation.
1. Flights and Hotels
Your most considerable expense on any trip will be getting there and having a place to sleep. Our biggest tip, on any vacation, is using credit card points and miles to defray airline and hotel costs. We use credit card signup bonuses to pay for almost all of our traveling and sleeping expenses. How can you do this for Disney? The Citi American Airlines Platinum card offers a 50,000-mile signup bonus after you spend 3,000 dollars. That bonus is enough to snag two roundtrip tickets from anywhere in the country to Orlando. Most Disney owned hotels aren't bookable with points. However, you can use Hilton points to book three hotels in Disney Springs and Marriot or SPG points to stay at the Swan or Dolphin. You may not get the Disney theming at these hotels, but you will be on Disney property. You'll also have access to Extra Magic Hours and some other Disney benefits. Plus with the right card bonuses, your stay could be completely free. You can read more about how we travel on points here.
If you're not into using points and miles, there are still several ways to save money on travel. The time of year you go will make a big difference to the cost. Vacationing during off-peak times and being flexible with your dates can save you a lot. Using websites like Skyscanner and Google Flights can allow you to track ticket prices and set alerts when the price matches up with your budget. Budget airlines like Allegiant also run special prices for Orlando. You might be surprised how much cheaper a flight can be if you adjust your departure and arrival dates, even by just one day. Flying out and returning mid-week, as opposed to the weekends, can often result in huge savings.
Hotels, whether on Disney property or off, will be cheaper during slower times of the year. Usually, the slower seasons are when kids are in school and right after major holidays. Disney offers different levels of hotels, from budget ones like Pop Century to deluxe resorts like The Animal Kingdom Lodge. There are several benefits to staying on property. One is that Disney will pick you up from the airport with Magical Express. There's also a high level of convenience when staying on property and you can even have fun in the parks longer because of Extra Magic Hours. If those perks are beneficial to you, pick the Disney hotel that best fits your budget. If you want to save as much money as possible, there are several budget motels right outside the property for as cheap as 50 dollars a night.
2. Park Tickets
It's tough to walk 10 feet in Orlando without someone trying to offer you cheap tickets to Disney World. The catch is a high-pressure time-share pitch and lots of wasted time. It's not worth it. While you can save some money with our tips below, Disney tries to keep the price people pay to enter pretty consistent.
Buying tickets from a reputable online reseller can be beneficial. Undercover Tourist is a popular site for discounted tickets. Sams Club, BJ's and Target also regularly run discounts on Disney gift cards that you can use to buy your tickets or purchase anything in the parks. If you use a cash back credit card, your saved up rewards or the signup bonus could reduce the cost of tickets.
When buying tickets directly from Disney, the longer you visit, the per day price drops. One Day in the Magic Kingdom can cost up to 122 dollars before tax. However, the cost of a 10-day admission to all four parks is only 445 dollars. If you can afford the extra food and hotel costs, you save a lot by staying longer. Skip the ticket add-ons, like park hopper, and remember that kids under three enter for free.
If you’re trying to save money on food, your first thought might be to purchase the Disney dining plan. We find that the dining plan forces you to order more food than you usually would or could even eat. It can be convenient for some, but it’s not the most cost-effective. The absolute cheapest way to go is bringing food you packed yourself. Disney has no problem with you carrying in drinks and snacks. You could even pack something more substantial, like a sandwich or wrap. If you have children and don't want to pack a lot, just bringing their juice and other small snacks will save you a substantial bit.
What about saving money on Disney meals? Purchasing discounted Disney gift cards, then using those to buy your food can help lower the total cost and serve as a budgeting tool. All Disney restaurants offer free cups of water. Choose counter service or quick service locations over pricier sit-down options. Some of my favorite food items are actually from the quick service spots. Many meals at quick service locations are so big that you can share. The rib and chicken plate from Flame Tree BBQ is one example of this.
One of the most affordable options on Disney property is a fifteen dollar large cheese pizza from one of the value resort food courts. If you want to plan a character dining meal, breakfasts are usually cheaper. When splurging on a more expensive dinner, read reviews beforehand to make sure it will be worth it for you. Dining in Disney isn't cheap but for the most part, the food is delicious, and the experience is worth the money.
Almost every activity in the parks is free, once you pay for tickets. But what about outside the theme parks? There are plenty of activities that could extend your trip a day or two. The deluxe resorts are fantastically themed and free to tour. You could easily spend a whole day resort hopping. The Animal Kingdom Lodge has wild animals to see. The Wilderness Lodge has a geyser. Take a ride on the monorail, visit the Magic Kingdom resorts and walk along the beach. Disney's Boardwalk has street performers. At Fort Wilderness in the evenings, there is a free campfire singalong with Chip and Dale. The resorts are worth your time and budget friendly.
If you can resist spending all of your money in the shops, Disney Springs is a completely free way to spend an afternoon. Take a ride on the monorail or ferry on the Seven Seas Lagoon. Disney has two mini-golf courses. If you're staying on property, you'll receive free vouchers for a round of golf. Along with the vouchers, you'll also get several coupons that might help out on your trip. It's also possible to watch the Magic Kingdom nightly fireworks without having an admission ticket. You can get a great view of the show from the TTC, which is where you board the monorail. There are benches to sit on and they even pipe in the music through speakers.
5. Other Expenses
Once you arrive in Orlando, the little expenses can quickly add up. Instead of buying water and snacks in your hotel or wasting time at the grocery store, have Amazon ship those things to your hotel. Renting a stroller from Disney is expensive. Outside companies offer a better value and bring them right to your hotel. If you brought a stroller but don't want to use it all day, you can gate check it at guest relations for free. If your kids want to dress up, purchasing Disney costumes after Haloween from Target is a cheaper way to go. You could buy toys and other Disney related gifts and surprise your kids with them on your trip instead of buying them all in the parks.
Walt Disney World can be a lot of fun. Sadly some feel they could never afford to go there. It's not the cheapest place to visit, but you can bring the costs down and make it more enjoyable. Have you ever been to Disney World? What are some of your favorite ways to save money there? Answer below in the comments.