Travel on a Budget: Disney World Vacation
The costs associated with traveling to Disney World is enough to make any parent shutter. Thinking about the cost for traveling to Disney with a LARGE family seems downright impossible.
Lucky for you, I am the deal hunting, penny pinching Mom/Foster Mom/Vacationing Nut and I have done the legwork for you. I am a firm believer that we need to give our foster children fabulous memories and that could include great vacations. My mission with the launch of my DIRT CHEAP DESTINATIONS is to help share inexpensive vacation ideas for the large family. Disney is no exception.
Below, you will find several lodging options, tips and tricks for giving your children and foster children amazing Disney vacation memories on a tight budget. I highly suggest you join the group Walt Disney World Insiders on Facebook to learn other tips for your planning purposes.
About Disney World
Disney is NOT your average theme park. It is a huge destination with 28 Disney Owned Resorts intermingled with an enormous Downtown scene called Disney Springs, four theme parks and two waterparks all within 25,000 acres. Your mind cannot even begin to comprehend the size until you’ve experienced it.
When visiting Disney, there is free transportation all throughout Disney via shuttles, boats and the monorail.
Option #1: Staying on Disney Property
If you can afford to stay on Disney property, there is always added Disney Magic and a few perks.
Disney breaks their resorts down into 3 categories.
Value Resorts (All Star Music, All Star Sports, All Star Movies and Pop Century)
The Value Resorts are obviously going to be the most affordable rooms starting around $90 per night. These resorts are bright, child friendly and designed to incite the magic of childhood. The drawback is that most of these rooms only sleep 4, making it difficult for the large family. Children under the age of 3 can be added to a room at no charge and the resort will even provide a pack and play for that child, making an occupancy of 5 possible.
All Star Music Resort has family suites that start around $250 per night and sleep 6 (7 with an infant). Clearly, booking two regular rooms at a Value Resort is generally more economical than booking a suite. Also, these rooms are VERY small. They literally are a place to sleep and shower. There is a TV, but don’t expect much more than that. To be honest, if you are traveling to Disney, you won’t be in the room much anyway. The grounds and pools are spectacular at every resort whether you choose a value or deluxe.
For an upgrade to a Moderate Resort, Port Orleans Riverside is the next best option as they have rooms that sleep 5 (6 including an infant) and run about $200 per night. Port Orleans Riverside is themed from the movie The Princess and the Frog and has a lovely, upscale, old New Orleans feel. This resort has great pools, restaurants and has a ferry boat that will transport you to Disney Springs (Downtown Disney area) free.
When you stay on Disney Property, parking is FREE. If you fly, you can take a Disney Bus (Disney Magical Express) to and from your resort for free.
Disney is always running Special Promotions. Be sure to check them out often HERE.
Option #2: Disney Vacation Club (DVC) Rental
This is a very inviting option for the large family. There is a huge learning curve when renting DVC, but I believe it to be worth the time to learn about it.
DVC are condos that you can rent from DVC timeshare owners. There are no timeshare spiels to attend. You are simply renting a timeshare from someone who owns it, but for whatever reason, cannot use it at that time.
David’s Vacation Club Rentals is one of the most trusted DVC rental sites online. His site is reputable and he also offers LAST MINUTE deals. Check David’s Vacation Club Rentals HERE.
Ebay is a trusted site for any condo rental as you can see the reviews by previous renters. Ebay also stands behind customers, so if you find yourself in a scam, Ebay and Paypal will be there to help. See current DVC Rentals available through Ebay HERE.
The huge perk with a DVC rental is you are not renting a room. You are renting a CONDO on Disney property. You will have up to 3 bedrooms, a full kitchen, a washer and dryer, much more room to spread out and you can enjoy all the perks of staying on Disney property. This is great because you can make your own food in your condo and lessen the burden of food cost.
I have seen DVC rentals for as little as $80 per night for a studio condo. The other nice thing about renting DVC is no one is checking up on you to see how many people are squeezing into your condo like they would a resort room.
Option #3: Staying off Disney Property
There are several resorts that are not owned by Disney, but are located just across from Disney Springs (Downtown area). These resorts are still close to all the action. The perks are larger rooms at some resorts, some have full kitchens and some are similar, but cost less. Some even have Disney character interactions.
My favorite site for getting these resorts for bottom prices is actually Ebay HERE.
The further you stay from Disney, the better the rates. i.e. many resorts have free shuttles to Disney Springs where you can then take any Disney transportation to any Disney location at no cost. These resorts are as little as $39 per night and still pack plenty of punch.
You can also choose to rent a vacation home close to all the action and you can find those on Ebay as well HERE.
Theme Park Tickets
Any way you spin it, you will spend about $100 per person for 1 day at a Disney theme park. The more days you buy, the cheaper the cost PER DAY.
Disney has four parks:
Magic Kingdom (all things Disney)
Animal Kingdom (focus on animals and the animal Disney movies)
Epcot (exploring the globe and visit lots of countries)
Hollywood Studios (experience Disney movie magic)
Each park has its own attractions, rides, characters to meet and sights to see. In my opinion, if you are on a strict budget and can only choose one park, Magic Kingdom is it. There is so much to see and do at Magic Kingdom. You will never do everything in a day, but you can try! Be sure to plan your trip to the Kingdom on a day when they have Extra Magic Hours, which means the park will open a little earlier or close a little later. This can be found HERE.
Affordable Disney Fun
Traveling with a large family, on a budget, is possible at Disney. Even if you only spend one day at a theme park during your stay, it will be worth it. There is plenty to do at Disney without going to theme parks or breaking the bank.
Resort hopping is one of my favorite things to do at Disney. Take the free Disney Transportation to other resorts to check out the grounds, sights, shops and fun activities.
- Take the ferry from Disney Springs to Port Orleans Riverside to enjoy the serenity and quiet ambiance. While you are there, let the kids play at the parks.
- It’s also worth a stop at Caribbean Bean Resort to enjoy the tropical atmosphere and order a kids meal in a free sand bucket. The meals are plenty big enough for an adult to enjoy also.
- One of my favorite resorts to explore is Fort Wilderness. Take a walk to see the sights and visit the horses at the corral. Stop in to hula hoop or roast marshmallows at dusk with Chip and Dale.
- Animal Kingdom Lodge is a lovely deluxe resort that has animals on the grounds as the rooms overlook the Savanna. I will never be able to afford this resort, but we can still enjoy the beauty and activities at no charge. Sit by the fire at night while the kids use the night vision goggles to spy on the animals. If you have time and funds, stop in for dinner at Boma or Sanaa. The bread service appetizer at Sanaa is pretty great.
- There are so many sights to see at each Disney resort. You could spend all week traveling from resort to resort and still run out of time.
Pin Trading is a HUGE thing at Disney and it’s great, inexpensive fun! For starters, each member of your family will need a lanyard. I recommend the lanyard/coin purse combos HERE. Also, buy starter pins in bulk before you travel HERE. Each person needs to load up their lanyard with the pins they would like to trade. While in Disney, any cast member (staff member) with a lanyard or a cloth pin holder on their belt is eligible for a pin trade. Simply ask if they would like to trade. The attached coin purse on the recommended lanyard is to store the pins you want to keep. Trade-able pins stay on the lanyard. Some resorts even have large pin boards. This is virtually FREE and provides hours of fun. The only cost is the lanyard and the initial set of pins.
While at any character interaction whether it be a character meal or a character meet and greet at the parks, most characters will sign their autograph. Be sure to take along a Sharpie and an autograph book for a little cheap entertainment.
Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is BY FAR my favorite event thus far at Disney. The price is approximately $70 per person. Your ticket to the party allows you park admission at 4 PM on the day of your party. All other visitors exit Magic Kingdom at 7 PM, so the only guests in the park are those with a Halloween party ticket. The party is from 4-Midnight. The party consists of dressing in costumes, trick or treating throughout the park, a special parade filled with great Disney villains and spooky characters and the wait times for rides are VERY short. We walked right on to most rides and the longest wait was 25 minutes for The Haunted Mansion. The fun, excitement and vibe of the Halloween Party is a magical experience all its own. If I was on a very strict budget and could only afford one day at a park, I would choose to attend the Halloween Party rather than a whole day at Magic Kingdom.
Character meals are a huge thing at Disney, but with them comes some pretty hefty price tags ranging from $15-60 per person. If you are traveling on a strict budget and will be visiting Magic Kingdom, I would encourage you to make late night reservations at Be Our Guest, which is the Beast’s castle from Beauty and the Beast. Plan to only order dessert and afterward you can meet the Beast. This is going to be the most affordable character meal interaction at Disney.
Other Disney Insider Tips
- Do not buy souvenirs in the park. Be sure to pack plenty of goodies that you purchase at discounted prices to give to your children while visiting Disney. There are rock bottom priced deals HERE.
- Share meals. Many adult meals can be shared with another adult or child. Many child size meals are the perfect portion for an adult also.
- Pack plenty of snacks and breakfast items to help save on breakfast food costs. Instant oatmeal, granola bars and fruits go a long way to help save money.
- Take meals into the parks. Disney allows outside food to be brought into the parks. Pack sandwiches and snacks to help cut costs.
- Any restaurant or quick service food stand will give you free ice water. Take advantage of this perk. If you hate the taste of Florida water, just ask for a large cup of ice and let it melt. All Disney ice comes from filtered water.
- All resorts offer Movies Under the Stars. Take advantage of a little adult time by the outdoor bar while the kids watch a movie.
- Each resort has free children’s activities.
There is a lot to consider if you are planning a Disney vacation and more importantly, there is a lot to LEARN before your trip. This article is intended to give you a quick, introductory understanding of how to travel to Disney on a budget. Look for more helpful Disney articles in the near future.