by: guide4wdw – Collin
What Many Guests Don’t Realize About Disney World Planning On a Budget
It’s no big secret that planning a Disney vacation that is even remotely budget friendly is getting more and more difficult day after day. While there is no doubt in my mind that the prices will keep increasing, time will tell as to how this changes the Walt Disney World experience over time. As always, I certainly eagerly anticipate what the future holds and the incredible memories Walt Disney World will help me and my family develop in the future, but there’s no doubt that it can be a vastly expensive endeavor.
As a result, many guests, including myself, look for ways to cut costs in any and all ways we possibly can. Now, I’m never going to be the person that will tell you to stay at the Super 8 on International drive to cut costs, but I am no stranger to cutting back and making Disney vacations genuinely as budget friendly as you possibly can.
I know so many of you look at this site and look at how often we tour the parks and likely have the same question I’ve been asked time and time again in person. It’s a simple question and one that you all certainly should ask and it’s simply, “How do you you go to WDW so often?” Personally, I absolutely love answering that question because it’s one of the many things that I feel is vastly important in the Disney vacation planning process.
The secret to our frequent trips isn’t being a “trust-fund baby” or anything of the sort. It’s quite the opposite in all honesty. Much of our planning revolves around cutting costs any and every way we can. We look at many different dates before settling on a travel timeframe and more often that not really focus on making smart flight decisions (which will vary) and really utilize budget friendly flights from whatever airline we find. Truthfully, despite some of the press about less that stellar air travel experiences, there’s not a huge difference in the “in flight” experience from different airlines. Setting that aside, it’s also important to note that this is “what I do” and it’s one of those things that has become a priority in my life. For other people, many things may be ahead of WDW as a priority in your life. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! Ultimately though, our biggest cost saving is traveling with family and splitting up costs when need be to make it happen any and every opportunity we have to travel. With that style comes a fairly decent level of flexibility and over the years you really do “figure it out” and learn to make the most of your trips.
In the big picture, I’ve done many different cost savings articles here on the site and those tips have absolutely helped us along the way. However, today’s article is a little bit different and in it I hope to really dig in and share the realities that many guests may not realize about booking a budget friendly WDW vacation. Sure, you will have to make some sacrifices to save money when booking your trip, but the sacrifices may not be near as severe as you expect and the realities of the booking and planning equation may surprise you!
Booking Early Isn’t Always Better
This is, in my opinion, one of the more commonly accepted falsities of booking a WDW trip, Part of that may be a general travel agency push to get bookings on the record as early as possible, but the more likely explanation is that so many people tend to think sooner is always better from a cost savings perspective.
In all reality, you have to be very careful about this one. Sure, booking early can save you money, *but* if you do book early be aware that if you’re booking up to 6 months out or longer from your travel dates, you need to keep checking back for new discount rates that may be released. It’s easy to book early and then put the trip on the back burner in your mind. Then, a new discount rate rolls out and you don’t even learn about it until the allotted rooms for the rate have been filled. Discount rates are capped to a certain number of bookings, so always be on the lookout for discounts that may pop up. You can always rebook on the discouted rate or transfer your booked room to the discount rate structure (there are some exceptions but they tend to be rare).
In my opinion, the booking “sweet spot” for good rates has been about 4 months from your arrival date if you’re not overly picky about what resort you’re looking to stay at. It’s not a fool proof plan by any means but booking way early isn’t always the best plan either.
Not Staying Deluxe… You Can Still Experience Deluxe
So many prospective WDW guests get hung up on the idea of “I’m going to stay deluxe or I’m not going.” In all honesty, this is probably not the best idea in my opinion. After saying that, it’s important to note that I’m always a proponent of going to Walt Disney World as frequently as you can. Sure, if you’re booking a one time trip to Disney World, maybe wait until you can stay deluxe, but staying in moderate, or even value tier resorts is in no way, shape, or form a vacation ruiner.
There’s no doubt in my mind that I prefer staying at deluxe tier resorts but it’s not what makes or breaks my vacation. Even if you’re not staying at a given resort, you can always book a meal there, lounge around the lobby, explore the grounds, and hang out for hours on end. You wont get to enjoy the pool and obviously you wont get access to a resort room, but so much of the resort experience is more that open to any guests that walk through the door.
Never, under any circumstances, think that just because you’re not staying at a resort, you can’t enjoy that resort to an incredible extent. You’re a guest wherever you are on property and Disney is going to treat you that way no matter if you’re staying at that given resort for the night or a resort somewhere else on property.
You Can Book What You Can Afford and Possibly Upgrade Later
This is probably my favorite tip on this list. It is undoubtedly a strange one, but let me explain a little bit. So often, prospective Disney guests pull out their spreadsheets, plug in a series of dates, and then jump straight to ticket costs. Please don’t do this. There is no hard and fast rule that you have to buy a ticket for every night of your resort stay when you book your resort and ticket package and often times people don’t quite get that.
I’ve spent numerous trips to WDW enjoying the parks every single day, but oftentimes the trips I remember the most are the ones where we have intentionally scheduled a few days away from the parks entirely enjoying the resort, wandering around Disney Springs, and even simply doing a little resort hopping.
I know, to so many of you, it seems paramount to spend every possible moment you can of your vacation in the parks, but trust me when I say that if you take a break and enjoy your resort for a day, you will not regret skipping a park day 99% of the time. If you schedule a day at the resort, and somehow the money pops up to lengthen your ticket before your trip, or even during your trip, you can always add another park day and upgrade your ticket.
Don’t stretch your budget too thin but also realize that if you cut out park days, sometimes it will quite literally afford you the chance to book a longer resort stay and reallocate that money into your length of stay rather that simply another day in the parks.
This is certainly something you start to see the value in after you buy an annual pass. At face value that seems like an odd statement, but when you no longer have that feeling of “oh I only have two ticketed days left, I better make the most of them” and instead look at it from the perspective of “I know I’ll be back” it really starts to play with your mind and allows you to step back and smell the roses. Enjoying those hours away from the parks gets easier when you get out of your own mental block of thinking, “I have to be in the parks.” I know this sounds like stretch but try it and thatk me later!
You Don’t Have to Skip Table Service To Save Money
The concept behind this one is a bit of a soap box topic for me, so stick with me if I get long winded. Everyone tends to associate a high price tag with table service dining at WDW for some reason or another. Don’t get me wrong, it can be very expensive, *but* it does not have to be in any way shape or form. I’m not going to lie to you and say that there’s some magical way to dine at Victoria and Alberts at a budget friendly rate, but there are some really excellent meals to be had in the table service realm that aren’t expensive. For example, look at Whispering Canyon over at Wilderness Lodge. You can pick up a pulled pork sandwich on their menu for $14 during the lunch meal time. You can’t eat a good meal off property for that! Even on property, you could easily spend an equal amount at Casey’s for a hot dog and fries at a quick service location.
Don’t write off table service because it’s “too pricey.” All you have to do is be careful about what you order, look at the menus before you book your reservation, and drink water to keep your costs down. I’m not telling you to work the system, but rather to take advantage of the time you can have sitting down for a good hot meal in the air conditioning during your trip knowing that it doesn’t have to break the bank. Do your research ahead of time and you wont go broke with table service dining. Over time, you start to uncover some incredibly budget friendly options and even after the tip the difference in price between some quick service dining and table service dining can be quite negligible.
Skipping Some Park Days Can Save You Money AND Lengthen Your Stay
As I touched on briefly before, it’s all about how you plan your trip out that really effects what you’re going to spend on your trip. If you can skip days in the parks, you may be shocked at how much money you can save. You do have to look at the cost of an additional ticketed park day from an objective standpoint because the cost of adding each additional day shrinks as your trip gets longer, but you may be shocked at how much cheaper it can be to add an additional night to your resort stay compared to another day in the park.
This realization is vastly beneficial to guests booking vacations that are fluctuating between 5-7 days and are debating adding another day. If you’re traveling with a family of four and you can cut out a ticketed park day, that very well could save you enough money to lengthen your trip by another night and more that cover the costs associated with the extra night at the resort. Spend that day enjoying the resort pool, touring other resorts, playing miniature golf, exploring Disney Springs, or even simply relaxing mid week to gear up for the rest of your days in the parks.
You Don’t Need a Rental Car
I realize this is a fairly beginner oriented tip, but skip the rental car if you’re staying on Disney property. Transportation is provided and it’s honestly quite excellent most of the time! If you really need to get somewhere, an Uber or Lyft is typically 4 minutes or less away from your location anywhere on property. At this point I’ve dealt with both companies and their drivers many times and have had only a select few bad experiences. They are the exception rather that the rule.
To get just about anywhere on property you’re looking at a cost of around $14 at most and both companies are currently pushing out discount after discount trying to beat each other and lock in more customers.
The Dining Plan Isn’t Designed to Save You Money
The dining plan is something I personally haven’t used in years. I know many people love it from a convenience factor and the fact that you know what you’re going to spend on food before your vacation begins. Trust me, I get it and I plan my budgets well in advance as well sometimes, but in all honesty the dining plan is not marketed as a cost saving option, and it really never has been.
At the very best, if you order every single thing you are entitled to on the dining plan, you will at most break even when comparing it to paying for every single item included with the plan out of pocket. At the same time, that’s why we don’t use it. We would never order everything the dining plan includes if we were paying for the meals, snacks, desserts, etc. out of pocket. When you think of it from that perspective it’s easy to realize that it’s not supposed to be a budget friendly option. It’s ultimately a convenience option and it is incredible for that and I will never fault the dining plan. It’s a near perfect plan for convenience and a user friendly experience. It’s a great plan but something you really should think through before you fully commit to it.
Plan a Budget Friendly Trip and You Could Literally Go Twice!
Part of the reasoning behind why we tend to be as budget friendly as possible when we tour the parks is ultimately because we go so frequently. I know that sounds kind of obnoxious to those that travel once a year or once every two years, but it is the genuine reality. We plan budget trips so that we can go more often and that works for us more often that not.
For many folks booking a trip at the Grand Floridian (a stunning resort), you may not realize it at first but during some rate structures and discounts you could book two trips at a different resort for a similar cost. It’s certainly not going to be a perfect situation and a huge money savor long term when you add in food and other costs of the trip, but you may be shocked what staying at more budget friendly resorts can do to change how often you visit WDW or how it can affect the number of days you can afford to stay on any given trip.
What Really Matters Is the Memories You Create
At the end of the day, this is the message I don’t want to get lost in sharing all of these realties. It does not matter how much you spend on a Disney trip, what resort you stay in, or how many table service meals you book. That’s the cold hard truth to it all. The reality is that we are all touring the same parks, visiting the same places, and enjoying our own version of the same vacation destination. To me, that’s the beauty of Disney. Sure, you can pay up and stay club level (which is incredible!), but it’s not going to change your in park experience. It may change how you get there, what your nights are like, and how much time you spend away from the parks, but once you step through those gates, we’re all enjoying the same Disney experience no matter where you’re from, what you do, or how much money you have.
In the big picture, none of that really matters and any seemingly different level of experience a resort provides and can genuinely provide are vastly overcome by the reality that what you remember years later and recall in your mind time and time again isn’t about a park, it isn’t about an attraction, and it isn’t about your resort 99.9% of the time. Those things are simply catalysts creating the playground to develop the memories that stick with us for generations. Those memories we create sharing a glance with a family member as the fireworks burst high in the sky above, those moments that take your breath away as you sit there at a meal and the chef makes your day with some little touch of “extra magic” for your birthday, or even something as simple as getting caught in a sudden downpour in the middle of the park and having to seek shelter for an hour in a gift shop (yes.. that happens quite frequently), are the things you talk about for generations. Rarely is it because of any attraction or any particular dining location, but rather it’s about the people and sharing a moment and in turn a memory with those you care the most about. THAT is what really matters at the end of the day and no budget (or lack of budget) can change that.
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 here and one that listens. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day wherever you are!
Ready to Plan?
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 2019. Want to start with some more tips? 44 Excellent Disney World Tips for 2019 or Disney World Planning Guide and Tips For 2018 are a great place to begin!