by: guide4wdw – Collin

Disney World Budget Tips – How to Plan a Budget Friendly Disney Vacation 

To be completely honest, before we really get into anything I plan on sharing today, it’s incredibly tough to plan a truly “budget friendly” vacation to Walt Disney World. Budget travel and Walt Disney World don’t entirely go together anymore and there’s a few different reasons for that on Disney’s end of the business. However, as many of you who have read these posts over the last few years may know, I don’t like to be negative when it comes to Walt Disney World. I like to be completely open and honest, but at the same time being negative and discouraging towards a company we all know and appreciate in some way or another isn’t going to get anyone anywhere and it isn’t going change anything.

Unfortunately, the days of $100 resort rooms at the moderates have faded away and have been gone for quite some time and off-peak seasons have become so unpredictable that trying to plan around the crowds is essentially a lost cause. In essence, I don’t say that to discourage anyone from booking, but rather to share a true reality of Disney’s situation. A lot of times their pricing strategies come off as aggressive but at the same time they’re making great strides along the way that we may or may not see in the vacation experience at this time. Obviously this is just one opinion of many, but I don’t see why you can’t book a budget friendly Disney vacation still today if you go into it with some expectations.

If you’re looking for our top itineraries, be sure to check out these posts as well for that information:

Budget friendly is relatively. For years, a budget friendly trip to Disney meant a park hopper, a moderate or value tier resort, and driving to the parks from our home in Kentucky. Today, our strategy has changed just a bit and we tend to find more creative ways to embark into the deluxe tier of resorts by creatively booking larger villas with a greater number of guests in our party. It’s not a solution for everyone, but it can occasionally minimize some costs for larger groups by spreading out the costs among guests. Honestly, our definition of a Budget Friendly Disney trip is a bit skewed in the grand scheme of things. We like to eat table service meals, and utilize the park hopper option, but while stating all of that, we haven’t always had those opportunities. We rarely make truly budget friendly Disney trips anymore and that’s largely because we’ve been spoiled by the Disney experience and will tend to save and pay more for certain add ons to our vacation. The kicker to all of this is that you don’t have to do anything and everything that many returning guests will tell you are “must-dos.”

Truth be told, a vast majority of guests will be more that happy with a value tier resort, single day tickets, and driving to Walt Disney World from their homes in order to save money. That’s the kind of guest we’re trying share some tips with today. For many of us who travel the “expensive” way, this type of write up tends to be an eye opener for a few ways that we can cut corners and potentially save a few dollars during our trips. So, without further rambling, we’ll get right into it!

Pick Your Resort Carefully 

As touched on briefly above, your resort hotel accommodations are going to be one of the most costly aspects of your Disney vacation. Typically, I’d recommend saving about half your budget for lodging. It can be done for less and likely can be done for more but for a budget friendly trip try to keep it at or near half your overall budget (whatever that may be). To make that a reality, consider staying at a value tier resort.

Value tier resorts are poorly named or perhaps expertly named if you really think about it. In one way, value sounds “cheap,” but there’s nothing cheap about these resorts. In my opinion, these resort rooms will hold their own when compared to just about any Hilton Garden, Hyatt, or Hampton style property anywhere in the nation. As with anything, there will be a few exceptions, but these resorts are really quite nice considering the price tag associated with them. So, in essence these really are value resorts when considering you get a great value for the price paid for the accommodations received, but they tend to get a bad reputation in the Disney community that they do not necessarily deserve.

If I had to pick a value resort my top choice would be Art of Animation followed closely by Pop Century. The reasoning is fairly simple. The bus situation is better that other value resorts, you avoid the sports teams that are ever-present at the all-stars, and both feature more appealing theming from my point of view.

Avoiding Off-Property Resorts

If you know me, you know this is kind of a soapbox topic for me for a few reasons. I’m a firm believer in the “Disney bubble” and how it can heavily influence the joy of a Disney vacation for many guests. Being on property and fully immersed in the Disney Magic is something that has a transformative nature to it. It makes you feel like you’ve left the worries of the world behind and for a brief second were somewhere else without a care in the world. Second, I’ve tried it myself a few times and staying off property is rarely cheaper that staying on property if you plan on staying at an equivalent property. You CAN save a few dollars if you’re very careful about where you stay, but from my experience staying a few different places, it is rarely worth the tradeoffs. When you stay off property you tend to face the following issues:

  • Resort Fees – Typically on top of parking fees
  • Transportation Costs – Uber, Rental Car, Poor Off-site bus services (sometimes free to guests)
  • No extra magic hours accept at a select few properties
  • Parking costs at the parks (unless you’re an annual passholder) 
  • Airport transportation costs

Honestly, there are many others but the biggest issue for me is the time lost during your vacation and the convenience factor that is lost. Very little beats the casual nature of Disney busses. Sure, they screw up a route from time to time, but for the vast majority of the time, you walk to a bus stop, jump on the bus, and within 15 minutes you’re back at your resort or your desired location without raising a finger. You don’t have to have a car, and you don’t have to fight the crowds of the parking lots unless you want to and it just makes life simpler and often times more cost effective in the end result. 

For another topic regarding this recommendation, be sure to check out: 

Talk to Someone Who Has Been to Disney World 

This one can be a double edged sword. It can be incredible to talk to someone who has been there before and can walk you through ways they have saved money in the past. The free water example below is one of the better tips I’ve ever received from a past guest, but other little hidden gems like that can make a huge difference in the end result. If all else fails, ignore their suggestions and you haven’t lost anything but a few minutes of your time! 

On the flip side, be careful when you talk to repeat park guests (including me). Over the years we’ve been spoiled by “unnecessary” experiences that have inevitably become must-do experiences for us that we find ways to do time and time again. Perhaps the best example of this is resort transportation. Before I stayed at the Contemporary resort, I always loved the bus transportation. As a kid, I thought it was the coolest thing ever and enjoyed every minute of it. Today, after falling into the monorail and boat transportation trap, resorts offering such a thing are typically the ones I tend to book. Part of that is my personal motion-sickness issues presenting themselves over time, but at the same time it wont make or break your Disney experience. It’s a “nice to have” not necessarily a “need to have” for most guests. If you’ve not experienced it before, you wont even know what you’re missing so don’t worry about making it a huge priority.       

Do Some Reading 

When it comes to Disney travel, there’s always something to learn. I’d be lying to you if I tried to claim that I knew all that there was to know about Disney planning, and I’ve been touring the Disney parks my entire life. Guests share new things with me literally daily and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Head to social media, or to your favorite yearly guidebook publication, and you may be surprised at what you may uncover. It’s no exaggeration when people say that Walt Disney World changes every day. Truth be told, it likely changes faster that that, and even being immersed in the industry daily, so many things slip past me from time to time. 
In a similar way, you may uncover something you’ll want to try out along the way that you otherwise never would have known about. 

Consider Driving (If It’s Your Cheapest Option)

Unfortunately, this isn’t an option for everyone but if you live within a 15 hour drive from Walt Disney World, you may want to consider attempting to drive to the parks. Depending on when you travel and who you travel with, a good old fashioned road trip may be a great option for your situation and could save you money along the way. Personally, I always recommend looking into the budget airlines just to see what may end up being cheaper in the long run that driving. There’s a few different things to consider when attempting this. First and perhaps most importantly is if you will need to stop for an overnight stay during your drive. Also worth noting is that you should check all bag fees and airline fees before taking advantage of what may seem like a bargain ticket for air travel. From my experience, very few current rates beat Southwest airlines for honest rates and on time service if they fly in your area.     

Avoid Table Service Meals or Be Very Selective 

This point is incredibly difficult for me to make because I genuinely love eating at Disney World Table service locations. It tends to be a highlight of my trips time and time again, but if I really wanted to save money, I’d avoid this completely. Personally, that is incredibly difficult for me to do in practice, but it could save you some money. If you choose to go the strictly quick service route, you’ll be happy with your decision because there really are some excellent quick service options that go well beyond cheeseburgers and chicken tenders you’d typically find at other theme parks. The food is great across the board a vast majority of the time, but if you’re looking to get in a table service meal at a more budget friendly price I highly recommend looking into the following lists: 

Drink Lots of Water 

If you’re thinking, “it’s Florida, I know that!” that’s not entirely the extent of my point on this one. At Disney it is vastly important to drink a lot of water. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the parks and seen the medical staff responding to a guest that has suffered a heat related dehydration issue of some sort. It’s not something you want to happen to you and it’s something that Disney does an excellent job preparing for and dealing with. But… nobody wants to face that concern during their vacation.

However, the budget friendly part of this is that water is free anywhere on Disney property that has a fountain machine for beverages. You walk up to the counter, ask for a cup of ice water and the cast member will hand one to you (no purchase necessary) with no questions asked. I’ve never really heard the reasoning behind this but from a guest perspective I can only assume it is an effort to keep guests from getting dehydrated or an effort by Disney to really cater to their guests in a fairly meaningful way. 

At quick service locations, this can save you around $3 per guest at times and if you’re traveling with a larger family, it can add up quickly. Even with a four guest family, you’re looking at saving $10 per meal. $10 per meal for a week long vacation is a pretty significant 

Shorten Your Number of Park Days

By mentioning this last I am saving the very best savings tip for last. It’s hard to do, but if you can shorten your park days you can save a shocking amount of money. Skipping park days doesn’t necessarily mean you have to avoid Disney. Enjoy your resort free of any additional charges, head to Disney Springs and enjoy a meal or some shopping, or go explore the Boardwalk over near Epcot and you may be surprised at how relaxing yet enjoyable your day can turn out to be without ever stepping into the parks. One of the most memorable trips I’ve ever taken to Disney was a trip that only involved 2 park days. It seems crazy and looking back on it now, I can honestly say it was likely one of my top 4 trips ever taken to Walt Disney World and it’s among some tough competition. The “competition” even includes a club level stay, our first contemporary resort stay, and even our most recent 2 bedroom villa experience at the Boardwalk and it cost less that half as much overall.

This list isn’t an all inclusive foray of options by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a great place to start! 

Your Thoughts

As always, if you have thoughts, concerns, questions, or even some tips of your own to share, don’t hesitate to reach out to us on Facebook or your favorite social media platform. Give us a follow while you’re there, and we’ll keep the conversation going in the future. We’re not the largest Disney community, but we’re one that’s there and one that listens. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day wherever you are!

Ready to Plan?

Let our friends over at Destinations to Travel (FREE – no obligation quote request form below) help you out at no additional cost to you! Here’s a closer look at why I recommend an Authorized Disney Travel Planner!

Last but certainly not least, if you’re starting the planning process, a great place to start are with some of our top planning articles! Looking for dining? Check out Disney World Dining Tips For 2018. Want to start with some more tips? 44 Excellent Disney World Tips for 2018 or Disney World Planning Guide and Tips For 2018 are a great place to begin! Looking to save money on tickets? Check out our friends over at The Official Ticket Center for great deals that even made it into our 2018 Discount Disney World Ticket selections and another great way to help us create more content through your contributions at no additional cost to you! You’ll probably even save money along the way.