It may surprise you, but Disney World is still possible on a budget.
Many people assume that the price is set in stone, when there is a lot of wiggle room with how a Disney Vacation looks. With so much news in our everyday lives about economic stress, it can be easy to think that fun and vacation are out totally of the budget.
And while many people may not be able to afford a Disney Vacation because they can’t afford basic human necessities (a very real problem, yet not the right post to talk about this issue). There are a lot of folks who CAN go to Disney World with the right expectations and money plan in place.
I’m not here to tell you that Disney World is the same as it was in 2018. We’re about five price hikes and lots of inflation away from that dream. But I am here to tell you that Disney World is still an options for many, especially if you are up to a modified version of the most magical place on earth!
Let’s talk about money mistakes you might be making if you are trying to stay within a Disney Budget (and if you aren’t sure what a budget for looks like, see how much Disney World really costs)
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10 Money Mistakes that can sabotage your Disney Budget
Skipping over gift cards
If you are skipping over gift cards, you are missing an easy way to safe on your trip!
For one, you can purchase Disney World gift cards at Target with the RedCard. These will be 5% off.
Costco, Sam’s Club, BJ’s and other wholesale accounts often offer discounts on bulk purchases of gift cards. These cards can be used to pay for everything from your hotel, to your tickets, to your food.
Gift cards are also a great gift to ask from friends and family. 25 dollars here and there, especially over a year or two of planning, adds up! Ask for gift cards instead of cash or toys that will quickly be forgotten.
Forgetting about a no-park day
There’s this weird assumption that people have, and it’s that they can come from a place not in Florida, acclimate to the weather and crowds, and power through a solid 5 days in the Theme Parks.
These are also the folks on their 3rd of 5 days, complaining about back pain as their dehydrated, sleeping on the park benches, and leaving early
And if your complaining and only staying in the park for half a day, was it worth paying for a ticket for that day? No.
Scheduling an Off Day or a No Parks day or a Pool Day (whatever you call it) is not only smart financially, but it’s a hidden investment into your ability to fully enjoy your the days you do pay to be in the parks.
- For Adults in good health, I recommend 1 off day to every 3 park days.
- For Children, especially those not in a stroller, I recommend 1 off day to every 2 park days.
- For any folks with mobility needs, mental health needs, and disabilities, I recommend 1 off day for every 1 day in the parks. I’d also recommend taking off hottest parts of the day by going back to your room, or resort hopping, so you can get the most out of your ticket.
Scheduling an off day (or several) helps you get the most bang for your buck! It’s a great way to stretch out your trip and enjoy ALL of what Disney World (the size of Manhattan) has to offer.
Purchasing Your Tickets When you Arrive (instead of pre purchasing)
I understand that last minute ticket purchases are always going to happen… but I cannot emphasize enough how it is often more budget friendly to purchase your tickets before you get there.
Because lots of people will be suprised by the ticket cost, will not realize there was discounts available ahead of time, and won’t know how to use a strategy and touring plan to make their trip less expensive.
If you aren’t sure what to expect for pricing, head to the ‘How much does a Disney World Vacation really cost’
You will save yourself time, stress, and confusion by purchasing tickets ahead of time.
It is *much* easier to get a ticket before hand and then upgrade (by adding on a day, or adding park hopper) than it is to wait in line for 30 minutes on the first day of your vacation and waste valuable time in the parks.
If you are going to purchase your tickets when you arrive, consider going to the Ticket Center in Disney Springs for lower lines and lots of Air Conditioning. Then the tickets can start the next day without loosing any time.
Paying too much for your hotel
Disney hotels, and hotels around the world, have increased prices to make up for the closures in 2020 (you’d think it would be the other way around, but hotel prices at Disney are the highest they’ve ever been!)
Keep in mind, most Disney visitors stay OFF property. Only 20-40% of guests actually stay on Disney World Property.
Here are some things you should think about when planning your hotel stay.
-Consider a Split Stay
A Split Stay is my favorite kind of budget saving hack. In a split stay, you literally split your stay between two or more hotels.
Disney has three tiers of resorts. Value, Moderate and Deluxe. These are all priced accordingly, and fluctuate based on demand and weekends/weekdays.
For Example, you can stay at a Value for 4 nights and then a Moderate for 3 nights. Staying at the Value resort, especially over the weekend, saves significantly over a Moderate or Deluxe on a weekend.
Or you can stay at an outside Hotel for several days, maybe enjoying one or two days in the parks and Disney Springs, then staying at a Deluxe for three nights so you can enjoy the Monorail to and from Magic Kingdom.
-Consider renting DVC points
DVC stands for the Disney Vacation Club, which is very similar to a timeshare. The advantage of renting DVC points for your stay, is that you can get many of these points and rooms for less than you would pay cash price.
-Consider staying at a Good Neighbor Hotel
There are ‘Good Neighbor Hotels’ that are on or very close to Disney Property, that are not owned by Disney. The advantage here is that they give the same benefits as staying on property. So you still get the early entry and other perks of staying on property.
-Consider a different package with a better hotel and parking
Sometimes, it just might be better to go somewhere else. Cruises can be very comparable to Disney World AND less stressful.
Other theme parks, like LEGOLAND Florida and Universal Orlando have great hotel/ticket/food package deals (something Disney still hasnt brought back!) You do not have to be locked into a Disney World Vacation if your housing budget goes farther at a comparable option.
Reading Outdated Advice
This includes checking out Disney budget books that haven’t been updated 👀
There are a LOT of outdated blogs and books out there about budget travel. Even worse are the outdated travel hacking books and *some* websites who haven’t updated credit card travel offers (nothing like signing up for something on a site to realize the deal is expired!) And I get it, travel bloggers have been wrecked by the 2020 closures…
Make sure you check any advice or ‘budget saving hack’ on at least two sites, and then go with your gut feeling. There are a lot of good hacks- don’t let me discourage you from trying them. But Disney World is very different from 2020 and 2021… and your advice should be too!
For Instance, I made this post, 10 souvenirs under 10 dollars, in the spring, and 2 items are above 10 dollars (not by much… but still, the title is wrong). That’s how quickly things change at Disney World, make sure you information is up to date!
Assuming a travel agent is either too expensive or that they will save you a ton of money
Assuming a travel agent is either too expensive or that they will save you a ton of money because neither are true!
Do I think a good Travel Agent is worth their weight in gold? Yes. And it’s a reason I’m not one! They have to do a LOT of work behind the scenes and put in a lot of travel to be a good agent.
But that doesn’t mean they will automatically save you money in a straightforward way. They mostly specialize in saving you time, and time is money (especially if you work for someone else!) When they save you time on vacation planning, you are free to do other things and that’s a solid offer.
It’s also the reason you shouldn’t automatically assume they are too expensive. If they are charging you 200 dollars to plan a vacation, but it saves you 30 hours of research, planning, reserving, studying and comes with a vacation guarantee… you’ve paid that travel agent less than 7 dollars an hour. If you do it yourself, are you only worth 7 an hour?
Likewise their are travel agents who claim they can save you a ton of money on Disney World. Either they are exaggerating, or giving you a bare bones vacation. My recommendation is to postpone your trip till you can afford the one you’ve been thinking of, or combine Disney World with a beach trip or only for a long weekend.
Skipping on packing and paying later
Should you pack too much? No. Especially when you are coming by plane.
But if you don’t plan for some packing needs, you will end up paying a lot more in the parks for certain items.
For starters, pack at least two pairs of shoes. Theme Parks do a number on your feet, and they will hurt after a day or two. Having a second pair of shoes helps with foot pain, but also if your shoes get wet, damaged or lost. Shoes cost an average of 50 dollars at Disney World. If you have room, I’d go as far as packing 4 pairs of shoes.
While I love Crocs, they can cause blisters. Shoes you are most comfortable in, or barefoot shoes, or sneakers are recommended.
Consider bringing a water bottle (Shop on Amazon, Shop on Target). Just no glass, stick with plastic or stainless steel bottles, and bottles you won’t mind getting damaged or stolen (so *no* custom cups that don’t have your name on them!) While Disney gives out water in cups, you can also purchase bottled water. Depending on the brand, you will pay between 3.50-6 dollars on a bottled water.
Getting bottle water for a family of four twice in one day (so 8 bottles, but the rest of the time you grabbed the small cups from the stands) will cost you at least 30 dollars. Multiply that by 4 days in the parks and that’s over a 100 dollars minimum. Not a reusable water family? Get cases of water and other drinks at one of the nearby grocery stores (and many of them deliver!)
Pre-buy your fuel rod chargers. At Disney World you’ll find charging swap stations, where you swap out an old charger with no juice, for a charger that is ready to power up your electronics. These sell for $30 for 1 in the Disney Parks, or you can get them online for significantly cheaper! It’s really a smart decision to grab them now, as the Disney App is a major battery drainer. Or bring your personal charging bank, or get one you can use wherever you go.
If you think Genie+ will save you lots of time and money, think again
Genie+ is the new paid option at Disney World. It is used to get premium access to rides without having to wait in line.
The problem is that it doesn’t always work as planned (as in, it’s not very user friendly, and requires a lot of refreshing).
Now it does have it’s advantages, and I’m not recommending you don’t do it.
But if you think it’s going to be a major time saver and you can do less days in the parks because you are skipping the line? No. It’s not quite like that. It tends to cap out around 4-6 rides, and the only people I see taking advantage of it successfully at more than one park are seasoned Genie+ pros.
Go in with clear expectations that Genie+ requires some learning, testing and research to make it effective for most users.
Overlooking Budget items around the Resort and Greater Orlando
While there is enough to do a Disney World for a solid two weeks… you do not have to do only Disney World.
You can easily add lots of Budget Friendly Items to a Disney Vacation, OR add Disney to a Budget Friendly Orlando Vacation!
For example, there are four theme parks within an hour of each other. Seaworld, Universal Orlando, Legoland Florida, and Disney World. I can get to Universal Orlando from Disney World in 20-30 minutes. LEGOLAND is only 45 minutes out.
It’s easy to consider these or other attractions like the Crayola Factory, Orlando Science Museum, Wonderworks, K1 Speed Racing, Escape Rooms etc. If you have a car and would like to make a day trip from Disney World, consider these 9 options.
Buying Disney Merch that you don’t need and won’t use later
Do I love a good mickey balloon or bubble maker? YES! And I recommend these a lot!
What I don’t recommend are magic bands (as you can do everything a magic band can on your phone, smart watch or with a ticket/card), Disney Fans/Misters (they break… a lot), the latest Mickey Ears (one or two brands will do, unless you plan to use them again!)
Disney is fantastic at marketing, and they want to ‘help’ you with items you think you need! Pre-Decide now what you want to bring for the weather, what category you want for your souvenir (clothing, toys, kitchen, household, a christmas ornament), and then remind yourself when you get there… you are being marketed to!
Doing Disney World on a budget is still possible, but it requires some research, realistic expectations, and legwork to get the trip of your dreams!