If you’re trying to get to Disney without tapping your retirement account, join the club! Prior to my family’s recent trip to Disneyworld, I did my research so our family of four would save some cash. We always travel on a budget, and this trip wasn’t any different.
Here are my tips for how you and your family can enjoy Disney without breaking the bank.
Stay at a Disney Resort – For $55 a Night
You read that right. Many moms don’t realize that you can camp (tent or RV) at Fort Wilderness for a fraction of the cost of staying at other Disney resorts. We stayed an entire week, with each night only costing $55 (plus tax). The campsite was exceptionally well maintained, had electric and water, and was close to the showerhouse. By the way, the shower house was the most immaculately kept facility we have ever been in while camping.
When camping at Fort Wilderness, you have access to all of the same amenities as other resorts: bus transportation, free parking if you choose to drive to the parks, a pool, restaurants, etc. We were able to travel to Magic Kingdom by ferry, which was a nice touch, and there is a free Chip ‘n’ Dale Campfire Sing-A-Long each night. Bring your own s’mores ingredients to save $10 purchasing a s’mores “kit” on-site.
Although almost all moms probably pack snacks when they take a trip to the local city park, some might not realize that you can do the same at Disney parks. By having a cooler at our campsite, we were able to pack snacks, water, juice, and our lunches each day. When in the park, we only purchased one meal a day.
Decide in Advance How You’ll Dine for Dinner
It can be tempting to add a dining plan to your package, but that just seemed like extra stress. Instead, we decided which day we’d cook at the campsite (one day), which day we’d see a show (one day), which days we’d eat something from a quick-service stand (four days), and which day we’d have a “nice” sit-down meal (one day). This advance planning helped keep our vacation uncomplicated and budget-friendly.
Set Expectations About Souvenirs
Our girls know that on any trip they can get at most two souvenirs. Total. We set that expectation early (and young!), and now avoid overspending money, lugging the souvenirs around, and then trekking home with them after the fact … only to have them at the bottom of a toy bin.
Optimize the Disney Ticketing Discount
When I’ve told other moms that we went to the Disney parks for six days straight, many looked at me stunned. To me, it just made financial sense. The difference in cost for us to do four parks (16 tickets) and 6 parks (24 tickets) was $200 total. My husband and I decided to splurge the extra $200, which put our tickets at $1600 total. We decided if we got tired and wanted to return to the campsite early, we would. In actuality, we stayed at the parks the entire day, each day.
Skip the Extras
We skipped all the extras—the Park Hopper passes, the Disney Princess meals, the photo purchasing options, the After Hours access, etc.—because there was simply so much to do without those options. Especially if it is your (or your child’s first visit), I wouldn’t even consider purchasing the extras. I found the planning process overwhelming with just the Fast Passes (free), and I’m glad we didn’t add anything else.
Disney will likely never be considered a “cheap” vacation, but with advanced planning Mickey doesn’t have to gouge you! What are your best budget tips for planning your family’s Disney vacation? Share in the comments below!
Heidi Scott Giusto, PhD, moved to the Triangle in 2005 with her husband so she could pursue graduate studies at Duke. Since then, they have had two girls and love calling North Carolina home. Always looking for the next family adventure, Heidi and her husband are on a mission to take their daughters to all 50 states and to all North Carolina State Parks—while traveling on a budget. Beyond family activities, Heidi owns and operates Career Path Writing Solutions, a communications consulting firm dedicated to helping individuals and businesses succeed when the stakes are high. Heidi helps people improve their writing and proactively manage their careers. She is a multi-certified resume writer. Rarely a day goes by when Heidi isn’t working with a client on a resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile, interview preparation, website critique, or other writing projects. You can find her on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.