Planning a Disney Vacation on a Budget

Planning a Disney Vacation on a Budget

 So how much does it cost to go to Walt Disney World? If you’re hoping to get a Disney Vacation on a budget it may not be as unattainable as you think. In fact we find it’s cheaper than most travel. But only you can decide how much it’s gonna cost you. Here’s our breakdown for each part of your Disney Vacation and all the costs to consider. Grab some paper and a pen, we’re going to show you how we make Disney possible on a tight budget.

disney on a budget

Everything You Need to Decide to Build Your Disney Budget

Visiting Walt Disney World can very easily become overwhelmingly expensive. IF you don’t have a vacation budget in place and don’t take everything into consideration. But it’s also not worth knowing all the tricks if you don’t know how much you need to put aside. So lets start there. With the goal of putting aside the right amount of money for a Disney Vacation. For the purposes of this post we’re going to break this down into several Budget Areas. After you drill down to see what works for you in each of these areas, we’ll share some ways to save money in each area. Add it all up and you’ll have a pretty accurate Disney Vacation Budget.

Disney Vacation on a Budget | Fly or Drive

Whether you Fly or Drive to Disney depends on a few factors. Depending on your travel party size, choosing to book flights or rent a car should be a pretty easy decision. Since we are ALWAYS planning a Disney Vacation on a budget, here are the variables that we run these decisions through.

Time: How much time can you commit to this vacation?

If you’re up against a tight work schedule that only allows 5 or 7 days, taking 2 of those to drive to and from your home will cost you more than flying, because you’ll be losing precious vacation days sitting in your car. The exception here is if you live within 6 hours driving distance of Disney then driving won’t interfere too much with your vacation.

  • Short Vacation time period 4-6 days? Fly.
  • Longer Vacation 6-12 days? Driving can be considered.

Location: What’s the difference in flight time and drive time?

Research your local airport flights to Orlando. We always suggest Southwest first, simply because of the perks and because checking your luggage is free. For us, a flight is about 2 hours from Cleveland to Orlando. Driving there would take 15 hours. We’ve driven down a couple times before, but with flights around 80-120 bucks a person on Spirit and Southwest, we find a better value in just taking the flight.

  • Live within 8 hours driving distance of Disney? Driving can be considered.
  • Live farther than 8 hours drive time? Fly.

Number of People: How many people are in your travel party?

Flights can eat up almost your entire travel budget if you’re travelling with more than 6 people. Planning a Disney Vacation on a Budget means being mindful about flying and getting the best rate. We mostly use Southwest for the perk of luggage without fees. But we often also fly Spirit for cheap flights. 

  • Up to 6 people? Flying can be considered
  • More than 6 people? Driving should be considered.

Luggage: How Much Luggage are You Bringing to Walt Disney World?

This may seem a mundane concern but if you’re bringing more than the bare minimum, booking a flight where you are charged for luggage, or packing food to offset dining costs, this will affect your costs.

  • One bag per person? Flying can be considered.
  • More than one bag? Driving can be considered

Driving to Disney

 To sum up the above, renting a car will be cheaper IF you:

  1. Have a longer vacation of 6-12 days
  2. Live within 8 hours driving distance
  3. Have more than 6 people,
  4. Are bringing extra luggage.

There are other perks to Driving to Disney for you to consider, and if considering a Disney Vacation on a Budget. 

Hidden Costs for Renting a Car: 

Don’t let the average 40 dollar a day cost fool you.

  • Insurance: Check with your own car insurance company, chances are you have some coverage for rental cars, call and make sure you have enough. It will be cheaper than the extra 35 dollars a day they will tack on automatically at the rental car counter
  • Gas: Calculate your gas cost here.
  • Time: We alluded to this at the beginning. It may not be a bad idea to calculate the cost of your time before choosing to drive.

Flying to Disney

 In contrast flying will be cheaper IF you

  1. Have a shorter vacation of 4-6 days
  2. Live farther than 8 hours away
  3. Have 6 people or less in your travel party
  4. Are bringing one bag per person.

Hidden Costs for Flying

It won’t matter if you got the cheapest ticket if you have extra costs to include per person. As a level set we rarely pay more than 150 a seat on any airline flight. This isn’t because of fancy perks. We simply always choose the cheapest rate, book at the 45 day mark before our vacation and take advantage of sales. 

  • Checked Bags: The number of mickey ears we bring usually warrants checked bags. On Southwest you get two bags per person included with your ticket cost. Other airlines will charge between 50-75 dollars per checked bag. So add that in.
  • Airline Seats: Most airlines charge for which seat you pick. Even the cheapest airlines. Depending on where you sit it could be between 12- 60 dollars for a seat per person in addition to your airplane ticket, and luggage cost. Southwest doesn’t charge for seats.
  • Transportation To and From the Airport: If you are not staying on site at the Disney Resorts you will not get access to the Magical Express ( Disney’s free transportation to and from the airport). You can plan to Uber which will be about 30 dollars each way, but definitely check with your offsite hotel to see if they have a free shuttle service. Other transportation services we’ve seen are about 30-40 dollars per person just to get to and from the airport, so Uber would be the more budget-friendly disney transportation option there.

grand floridian resort at walt disney world

Disney Vacation on a Budget | Disney Resort or Hotel

We’ve written about the pros and cons of staying on and off site before. And this may be a choice you have some emotional attachment too, so let us clear up the options for you.

Staying On Disney Property Perks

  • Access to the Magical Express ( Transportation to and from the airport for “free”)
  • Luggage check service at the resort (The resort will send your bags along to the airport so you can enjoy your last day of Disney without worrying about the luggage)
  • Access to Laundry Room
  • Access to Dining
  • Rooms that fit up to 6 people
  • Magic Bands, Advanced Dining Reservation Access, and Fast Pass Access
  • Bus transportation to and from the Parks and Disney Springs

Staying Off-Site Property Perks

  • Might be cheaper
  • May have a shuttle to the parks
  • And access to an airport shuttle
  • You can use your hotel loyalty points
  • Away from the Disney Craziness

Is it Cheaper to Stay On Disney Property or to Stay Off-Site at Walt Disney World?

If you’re leaning towards a Disney Resort choosing a Value Resort at Walt Disney World will be your cheapest bet. While these can get pretty crowded, they do add a very Disney-esque feeling to your vacation. You can usually score the All-Stars resorts for about 80-125 dollars a night. Value Resorts are All-Stars Sports, Movies or Music. If you move up to the next tier you get the Art of Animation and Pop Century, both Value Plus Resorts and then run between 125- 270 a night. Moderate resorts like Caribbean Beach and Coronado Springs go even higher while the Grand Floridian and The Polynesian, as Deluxe Resorts can be more than 1000 a night.

If you’re leaning towards an Orlando hotel off site, we highly recommend aiming for one near Disney Springs. This will give you access to the Disney buses and the boat to Port Orleans Resort. While the buses do go to the resorts from Disney Springs you can easily transfer from a resort to the parks if your hotel doesn’t have a shuttle. Holiday Inn Express is usually our go-to choice because you get a free continental breakfast, wi-fi and parking. Depending on the season you can expect anything from 60-150 dollars a night off-site for the value hotel chains, depending on location. Or you can rent an RV from RVshare and stay at Fort Wilderness. It’s like staying for the price of an off-site hotel but in an on-site location! 

Disney Vacation on a Budget | Tickets or Package

Make Your Way Package

Disney takes great pride in selling the Magic Your Way (MYW) resort plus tickets package. If you’re more concerned with convenience than budget, then a MYW package is the way to go. If budget is still a top concern then try combining the resort and tickets options on the Disney site to see if a manageable amount can be reached. The tickets for the parks go down the more days/people you have, so when the numbers are right, this would actually become cheaper than buying tickets outright.

Park Tickets 

If you decide to book a Disney resort, the website will automatically ask you how many tickets it should attach to the reservation. Play with this tool a bit. You may not actually venture into the parks your first day or last day there. Perhaps you’ll fit in a resort day, or rent a car to go the Wizarding World of Harry Potter one day. By tweaking the amount of tickets in that last screen you can see a true cost as opposed to the one with all the tickets you may not use.

If booking an off-site hotel, be sure to check if the hotel has a deal on park ticket. Sometimes its only a 3 or 4 day ticket deal, but sometimes that’s enough depending on your plans. If your hotel doesn’t offer a deal, plan to spend about 100 dollars per person per day. The park hopper is another 50-65 dollars depending on the time of year, so we strongly recommend against adding that option if you’re on a budget. Just plan one park per day. Disney has four parks, so if you go to each of them one time you’re looking at 400 dollars per person in park tickets alone.

Be our guest at Magic Kingdom Walt Disney World Restaurants

Disney Vacation on a Budget | Disney Dining Costs

How much Money should you put aside for Dining at Disney? Disney has several tiers of dining options.We’ll also look at special dining and festival dining options here as well so you can get an accurate budget.

Food Carts and Kitchens – Under $10

Disney Snacks and Light Breakfasts. This is where you can get you your basic fare like the Disney turkey leg, a mickey pretzel, fruit, etc. These items tend to run less than 10 dollars each, but aren’t really adequate sustenance for a meal.

Quick Service- $15-$25

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. Quick Serve Dining at Walt Disney World is your typical walk-up counter and order meal dining experience. In addition to being found all over the parks, this is also the type of dining that happens at the resort cafeterias on property. Plan on 10-15 dollars a person for a meal. We definitely have our favorites in each park, and all of these restaurants are themed so you’ll still be getting a great Disney dining experience even if you don’t go more expensive than this. You don’t need a reservation for quick service.

Table Service- $35- $100

Character Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. These restaurants will require a reservation. These will be the restaurants that offer the buffets, character dining, fine dining or immersion experiences. Table service ranges per person from 15-35 dollars on the low end. The second tier of table service is 35-65 dollars per person and then 65-85 per person is the higher end. Keep in mind that you’ll have to add an 18% tip to your budget per table service meal. ( But as tips go, truthfully, you can leave as much as is comfortable) If your party is more than 6 people this tip will be applied automatically to your bill.

Festival Specialty Foods- Under $10

Festival foods are offered during the many Epcot festivals throughout the year. If you have a day where you’ll be at Epcot during one of the festivals you can forego any formal dining altogether on that day and just plan on eating around the world showcase. These mini-meals are usually pretty nice portion sizes and run about 5 or 6 dollars each, so depending on what you combine for each meal, your cost of meals for the day may actually be cheaper across all the guests in your travel party.

How Much Does it Cost To Eat at Disney Per Day? $65- $85 a Day

Our daily Disney dining budget usually includes a breakfast at the less than 15 dollar level ( a yogurt, croissant and coffee). A 10 dollar or less snack. A quick service lunch for 15-20 dollars and a table service dinner around the 40 dollar a person range. Places like Garden Grill, Boma, Whispering Canyon Cafe and Crystal Palace are usually priced around that 40 dollar mark, and are considered the budget friendly table service restaurants. . Be sure to check the Disney site to sort your dining preferences by cost. This plan usually means we budget about 80 dollars per person per day. 100 dollars per person per day if we go for a fancier restaurant.

Tips will need to be added to this cost if you plan on visiting a table service restaurant. If you plan on one each day add another 20-40 dollars to your total food budget each day.

New snacks walt disney world hei hei cone, walt disney world snacks, disney snacks, what to eat at disney, where to find disney snacks

Disney Vacation on a Budget | Hidden Vacation Costs

Souvenirs

While you may think the Disney Vacation memories are souvenir enough, we can guarantee you they’re not. To spare yourself the screaming child or pouting teenager who wants another pair of mickey ears they won’t wear ever again except on this vacation, plan for 40 dollars a person. This may feel like a high number, but the ears alone are 25 dollars which will leave 15 dollars for something small, like a mug. Disney sweatshirts are close to 60 and t-shirts run about 25-35. You can set your own limit here, but we do one souvenir per person, which is actually really lovely, because otherwise you just buy everything.

Emergencies

We suggest you buy all of this stuff BEFORE your vacation and bring it. I can’t tell you the amount of times we end up needing medicine, or band aids or laundry detergent. You may not think this would be significant enough to budget, but believe me, everything is significant enough. While band aids are 2.50 at the Philharmagic gift shop, the Midol or Alieve is closer to 7 dollars. Add in another 9 dollars for the laundry detergent you need and you will be wondering where the money went. Plan to set aside 20 dollars here for little things in this category. And be sure to pack your own poncho, otherwise you’ll have to plan another 12 dollars per person to buy one at Disney when you get stuck in those Florida storms.

Snacks and Treats

We don’t know about you but we can’t say no to Starbucks at Disney and if we’re near Fife and Drum, we’ll be getting an American Dream. Plan 15 dollars per person in this category. For the adults this will cover one coffee and a snack later. To cut costs, you can aim for just 7 dollars per person for one coffee… but that dole whip sure is hard to turn down, so we always allow for 10-15 per person per day.

Extra Transportation

With Disney getting busier during the next few years and in any months leading to openings for Toy Story Land or Star Wars Land the Disney buses will be busy. That said, if you’re toting family, travelling during the rainy season or holidays there will come a time when you’re praying for a taxi, can’t stand to wait 45 minutes for the bus to arrive, or just need to get back to the hotel. Set aside another 20-30 dollars for this category if you think it would give you a little piece of mind.

disney boardwalk from hollywood studios path

Crunching the Numbers for Your Disney Vacation on a Budget

Hopefully this post has given you an idea of all the things that need to be considered to get a good handle on a what a Disney budget looks like. With the goal of getting an actual number to aim for your next tasks will be working through the steps above. 

  • Choose whether you’re Driving or Flying
  • Are you Staying On-Site or Off-Site
  • Decide to Purchase a Package or Tickets separately
  • Decide How Much to Spend on Food
  • Take Stock of ALL Hidden Vacation Costs
This planning is worth the time. Disney will easily be the most magical vacation ever if you are able to just show up and go through the motions your budget has allowed. After you get the budget out of the way you can have fun planning the actual fun parts of your trip!

The stress of trying to make money decisions ( and planning decisions) in the moment will take away from the magic, so do this ahead of time, it will be worth it. 🙂

saving money at disney, disney on a budget, disney world on a budget


Related Posts

6 Ways to Avoid Disney Resort Parking Fees Right Now

6 Ways to Avoid Disney Resort Parking Fees Right Now

Walt Disney World has decided to start charging for Disney Resort Parking, for all guests at Walt Disney World Resorts. If you’re looking for ways to Avoid Disney Resort Parking Fees we have a few options you may not have considered. Here’s the breakdown of […]

New Snacks at Walt Disney World 2020

New Snacks at Walt Disney World 2020

Walt Disney World has welcomed tons of new snacks this year! With new snacks popping up all over every park. We are here to help you see what’s new and where you can find it. Here’s all our favorite New Snacks at Walt Disney World […]