Family weekend at Disney World on a budget

There comes a point in every family’s timeline where the parents look at each other and say: Do you think we should take the kids to Disney? Then, there’s that moment of trepidation when at least one of you says: ‘I guess so’.

Well, I’m here to tell you, your answer should be: ‘YES!’ No doubt. Now, I won’t lie to you: the truth is, tackling Disney World can be daunting, but it can also be magical. This is a guide on how to take the stress out of your Disney planning while still saving money and creating an unforgettable trip.

  1. Transportation

    The old standby is renting a car, which is still a good option. This way, you’re not limited to only what Disney World has to offer. The good news is that you can find great rates in Orlando; you can snag a rental for about $30 a day. My only suggestion would be to rent a car from the airport; it’ll cut down on the cost of grabbing a cab and it will cut down on time spent. Also, be prepared to shell out park parking rates of $25-$50 per park.

    Your other option would be to stay on Disney property and use their multiple modes of transit. This is by far the best option if you don’t intend on doing anything un-Disney. This way, you cut down on parking fees, transit time, and the stress of navigating through an unknown area. Bonus: They even have ‘Disney’s Magic Express’ which picks you up from the airport.

  2. Where to stay

    Like I was saying, staying on Disney property is super convenient. It’s not just the built-in transportation. There are other perks like extra magic hours where guests staying on property are offered exclusive times for the parks such as early morning hours or late night hours. For families, the best benefit is hopping on a monorail and being able to go back to the hotel room for a mid-day nap. This is pure gold if you have little ones who need an afternoon siesta.

    Staying on Disney property can be a little more expensive, however, you are paying a little extra for the convenience. There are Disney value resorts which can be found for under $100 per night. If you like the outdoors, you can also stay on property and camp at Fort Wilderness- this can be a very inexpensive option for families coming in at just $55 and up per night.

    If staying on Disney property isn’t your cup of tea, you might want to try finding last-minute accommodations through cost-saving websites like Hotwire.com or Trivago. I have done this many times and have scored some really amazing rooms. The trick for using any of the cost-saving sites is to filter out some of the areas where you might be a little too far away from the parks. For example, when I use Hotwire, I filter for the areas of Bonnet Creek, Disney Springs, and Disney Main Gate/Celebration (then, I usually will filter for 4-star hotels and up, because I have been burned by a couple of 3-star selections in the past). Also, if you don’t end up renting a car make sure that your hotel offers transportation to the parks- I don’t love having to use the non-Disney hotel-to-park transportation because it’s so limiting, but it can work in a pinch if you find a great room for a low price.

  3. Eating at Disney

    The number one way to cut-down on cost for your Disney trip is to limit the amount of food you buy in the parks. What works well for our family is to bring quick breakfast foods and snacks with us in our suitcases along with a refillable water cup for each person. Disney allows you to bring food and unopened drinks into the park-so take advantage! Bottled water at the park is expensive- about $4-5 a bottle- but there are water fountains everywhere and if you have your own cups you can stay hydrated for free.

    Usually, we eat a late lunch/early dinner at one of the quick-service restaurants in the parks- it’s about $15 per adult/$10 per child. Throughout the day, we’ll eat the snacks we brought into the park to fill in the gaps. If we didn’t bring our own food, it would be easy to spend hundreds per day. Some people even bring in a cooler of food (sandwiches, etc) and rent a locker for the day to cut down on cost.

    There are also Disney dining plans which come with Disney World trip packages. I have never taken advantage of them because for me, I don’t have to eat three full meals a day, but I have heard that they are convenient and less costly than doing everything ala carte at the parks.

  4. What park do you decide on?

    So now that all of the necessary things have been decided, it’s time to get to the fun! If you’re able to stay a week, definitely get a 3, 4, or 5 day pass and really just enjoy each park while saving money on daily admission. They’re all great in their own way. If you have to pick just one, maybe my suggestions below might help in making your decision.

    • Magic Kingdom

      Ahh, the granddad of all the Disney parks. The Magic Kindgom is the quintessential Disney experience. This is where you can see the Mickey Mouse parade, take pics in front of Cinderella’s Castle, ride all of the classic rides, and it is the most magical. All ages will love this park. However, please be warned: it is a FULL day with lots and lots of must-sees. If you are traveling with little ones (under 6 or 7) , either be prepared to take a midday break or don’t expect to stay all day. I think it becomes sensory-overload for the little ones which means melt-downs and unhappy, stressed out parents. You could easily spend a couple of days here and still have things to come back and see the next time.

    • Epcot

      Epcot is perfect for adults.. You can spend a whole day just noshing and drinking in all of the countries in the World Showcase. Margaritas and enchiladas in Mexico, wine and pastries in France, Sake and Sushi in Japan- all while enjoying Disney-class entertainment and Mickey Magic. For kids, there are a lot of educational opportunities at Epcot and they do have the only ‘Frozen’ ride of all the parks. Yet, I still don’t think this is the best choice for pleasing the kids. A great day with your other half or group of friends can be had at Epcot. Be prepared to walk a lot though, the way the park is set up requires a good bit of walking.

    • Hollywood Studios

      Hollywood Studios is perfect for the toddler and preschool aged children. There are a lot of Disney Junior themed attractions, most of which are shows, and there is a great fireworks program in the evening; although, if your kids are afraid of Disney Villains, this show may not be for them. It’s easy to navigate through this park and you could easily spend a stress-free day here while still getting to see everything. There are also a couple of good adult rides: The Tower of Terror and Aerosmith’s Rockin’ Roller Coaster, but in my opinion it’s not enough to keep an adult entertained all day. This would be great for the under 5 crowd.

    • Animal Kingdom

      With the addition of the new Pandora area in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, this is quickly becoming one of my favorite parks. There is a good mix of rides and shows, you can see most of the park in a full day, and at night the bioluminescence of Pandora is breathtaking. It’s not filled with the classics that you have heard of for years, but this is a unique park that is worth a visit. The best ride I have ridden in a long time is at the Animal Kingdom; Avatar Flight of Passage will make you feel like a kid again! This is a park for animal lovers of all ages who are looking for something just Disney enough to make everyone happy.

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