Is it possible to enjoy Disney on a budget? One of the most common questions I hear regarding Disney vacation planning is, “How can I afford it?” After all, it’s no secret that typically speaking, Disney isn’t the cheapest vacation option… especially when traveling with a family. But believe it or not, there are ways to save money when it comes to Disney. While some of these ways include discount park tickets and cheaper hotel options, others are as simple as having a smart planning strategy.
Here are five ways to enjoy Disney on a budget.
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Tip #1: Plan Ahead
This was the ONLY way my family was able to travel to Disney when my kids were younger. I actually planned vacations 2-3 years away. And while my husband made fun of me at the time, we did eventually take these vacations and enjoy them! (He wasn’t making fun of me once we were finally taking a fully-paid for 10-day Walt Disney World vacation!) Planning ahead gives you the option to make small monthly payments toward your vacation.
Here’s how I did it: I would estimate the total cost of the trip I wanted to take. (The Disney website won’t allow you to book out this far in advance, but I was able to get rough estimates by selecting the hotels I wanted at the time of year we were planning to go.) Once I had a rough number in my head, I would round up and add in spending money. I would then take this final number and divide it by how many months we had left before the trip.
Now when you’re planning a trip less than a year away, this payment is much larger than if your trip is 2-3 years away! I was able to put this small “payment” into our savings each month. By the time our trip arrived and needed to be fully paid for, we had the cash to do it.
The bottom line is this… if I hadn’t planned that far ahead, taking a Disney vacation would have always felt out of reach for us. But these payments allowed us to pay for it slowly on our own terms.
**Bonus tip: Be sure to keep track of when you need to book and make deposits! Disney Cruise Line opens their cruises for bookings much earlier than Walt Disney World. And Disneyland doesn’t usually need to be booked as far out as Walt Disney World. (Rooms can book up fast at the Walt Disney World Resort!) I actually marked on the calendar the dates when certain deposits and bookings needed to be made. And by the time this came, I had the cash in hand to easily pay for the bookings.
Tip #2: Go during the “off-season”
Obviously, when planning your Disney vacation, schedules come into play. With school and work, it’s easy to want to simplify things and go when there are natural vacations. The problem with this is that your trip will cost you more. Disney park tickets go up during peak seasons. Cruises cost more. Hotels cost more. Even airfare will cost you more. Now, if this is your ONLY option, that’s one thing. But if you can make an “off-season” visit happen, even better. (My family home schools, so we take advantage of this.)
It’s also smart to think about the weather. Some would rather have the temperatures be a little cooler and go in January or February than take their chances on hurricane weather in the fall… especially when it comes to Disney cruising. Take a look at your family’s schedule, and choose a time that’s good for everyone, but may also be more cost-effective.
Tip #3: Take advantage of “free” miles
This was something my family did early on. Now there is one thing I must say before I go on… I do NOT advocate using credit cards and being in debt! This post is all about finding ways to pay for Disney on a budget with cash… not credit cards! With that in mind, we did apply for an airline Visa that would allow us to earn miles. We put most of our bills and our gas on the card and paid it off each month.
Since we started this, we have earned the airfare for THREE separate vacations! This works especially well when you are planning ahead. We booked our tickets super early for one trip and immediately began earning miles for the next vacation. Living in the Pacific Northwest and wanting to fly to Orlando for our vacations… this was a must for our family. It would have been much harder to take a Disney vacation if we had to purchase airline tickets for that kind of distance for our family of four!
Tip #4: Consider staying at a value resort
When it comes to Disneyland, one of the best ways to save money is to stay at one of their Good Neighbor hotels. For Walt Disney World, however, I recommend looking at one of Disney’s value resorts. The reason for this is that we are well-priced and you still get all of the amenities and perks that come with being on Disney property. (More on this in a bit!) If you’re trying to save on a Disney Cruise Line room, consider an interior room or an oceanview room instead of a room with a verandah.
Where you stay does matter. A bad hotel can ruin the Disney experience. But when push comes to shove, spending too much money on your room can also ruin your vacation. One of the ways, my family saves at Walt Disney World is to stay in a value resort for a few nights, then switch mid-trip to something more expensive. This allows us to be able to afford the nicer resort, but also be on Disney property throughout our entire trip. (And Disney makes it REALLY easy to switch hotels… they even moved our bags for us!)
**Bonus Tip: Remember that your time is just as valuable as your budget. In Disneyland, many of the Good Neighbor hotels are just as close (or closer) than the actual Disney resorts. So staying in one of these hotels doesn’t change much about your vacation. But in Walt Disney World, you are able to take advantage of Disney’s transportation when you stay on Disney property. It’s currently free to and from the airport using Disney’s Magical Express (until the end of 2021) as well as free to and from the parks… and it’s very easy. This is definitely something to consider when choosing a hotel.
Tip #5: Purchase discount tickets and take advantage of deals… but be careful
There are places online to purchase park tickets and transportation at discounts, but be mindful of where these deals are coming from. Some are reputable… others, not so much. (Undercover Tourist is great and offers tickets to Walt Disney World and Disneyland.) The last thing you want to do is purchase discount tickets that don’t work once you get to the park.
Deals and promotions are also wonderful, but keep in mind they might not always pay off. Free Dining for example is a promotion done quite often in Walt Disney World but has never been advantageous for my family as we share a lot of meals and wouldn’t be saving much. In fact, it would be more expensive because we would be paying full price for our hotel to get the deal. So we wait for resort promotions… free nights, discounted rates, etc. This really does help us to save money in the end. (Free dining is a very popular promotion and does save many quite a bit… just not us!)
**Looking to plan your dream Disney vacation? Be sure to visit one of my step-by-step guides to get started! (Walt Disney World – Disneyland – Disney Cruise Line)