You may think that a family vacation to Walt Disney World is out of reach but it IS possible to visit the world’s most popular theme park without breaking the bank. With a bit of planning, you can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Start your research early, set realistic expectations, and be a good shopper.
1 Plan Ahead
Everything from your flights to your hotel to your tickets will vary in price based on how far in advance you purchase. By starting your planning early, you have time to wait for great deals and to compare prices. The closer you get to your travel dates to book, the more likely you are to overpay or have limited choices. You should start planning your Disney family vacation as much as a year in advance.
2 Travel Off-Peak
Although there is no real “slow” season for Walt Disney World, there are some times of year that may offer better deals. Weather in Orlando is good year-round, so a mid-winter or late spring vacation are equally appealing. Mid January through mid-February, the first 3 weeks of May, and late August through September are a little less busy and you won’t be hit by the extreme heat and almost daily thunderstorms seen in the summer.
3 Getting There
There are several factors to consider when deciding whether to fly or drive to Orlando. If you have more than 2 or 3 people traveling, driving may be more cost effective. But, while gas is cheap right now, you have to take into account the time spent driving. Will 2 or more days spent driving to Florida and home take up too much of your vacation time? It may be worth it to spend a little more upfront to give you more time to relax and enjoy your holiday.
Plan ahead. JetBlue and Southwest offer discounted flights to Orlando but you need to book early. Southwest also allows you to rebook with no fee and gives you a credit toward future flights for the difference in price. While most visitors fly into Orlando International Airport (MCO), be sure to check flights to nearby Sanford Orlando Airport. Some discount airlines, including Allegiant and Spirit, fly into this alternate airport, as do some international flights.
5 Where to Stay
There are benefits to staying at a Walt Disney World hotel, but they will rarely present the most budget-friendly option. Do look at special offers and remember that rates at these hotels will be lowest Sunday through Thursday. Being on property gives you access to shuttles to the parks and free transportation from the airport and back on the Disney Magical Express. If your family enjoys camping, the Disney Wilderness campground is a money-saving option.
If you do stay in Disney hotels, make use of the “Extra Magic Hours.” Each day, one of the Walt Disney parks opens early or closes late for Disney hotel guests. Check the schedule to create your itinerary so you can take advantage of these extra hours when there are fewer people in the parks.
Another choice is to stay a few miles outside Disney. Kissimmee, Florida and the I-Drive area offer a wide range of lodging – everything from budget hotels to resorts. Nightly rates will generally be lower than those of Disney hotels and many hotels offer free shuttle service. Free breakfast adds to the bargain. For a family, a vacation rental or an extended stay hotel might be a cost saving option. You can book an entire home or a family suite instead of multiple hotel rooms and can cook at least part of the time.
If you find a good price, go ahead and book it as long as the reservation is not non-refundable. Check hotel prices regularly up until the time of your trip; if the price goes down, you can re-book, if your existing reservation allows for cancellation.
Don’t wait to research and purchase tickets. If you buy at the gate, you will be paying full price. Be sure to compare deals offered to certain groups. There are discounts available for AAA members, Florida residents, military and civi service, corporate discounts, and more. Be wary of buying partially used tickets or from “wholesale” sellers. These are usually not valid tickets and you will have thrown your hard-earned money away. Walt Disney World offers a range of multi-day tickets. While these save you money on a per day basis, more days don’t necessarily present the best choice. Don’t buy tickets for arrival and departure days because you won’t get full value. Use these days at the beginning and end of your vacation to relax, enjoy the pool, or shop. Don’t get Park Hopper tickets unless you’re sure you will really need them. You’ll find that jumping from park to park takes up a lot of time and makes your visit more stressful. If you are traveling with the whole family, buy at least one annual pass. It will more than pay for itself with discounts on Disney resort hotel rooms and other purchases. It also qualifies you to purchase a discount card for purchases of food and drink at Disney restaurants and properties.
7 Car Rental
If you don’t plan on leaving the attraction area, consider not renting a car. If you’re staying on Disney property, you can use Disney’s Magical Express for free from the airport and back. If you’re staying at an off-property hotels that offers shuttle service, it still saves money, even if you need to take a cab from the airport. Note that if you want to take Uber from Orlando International Airport, you must request through Uber using UberBLACK. UberX is available for dropoff at the airport.
Consider eating your main meals outside the Disney parks. There are plenty of restaurants located near all of the nearby hotel districts. Ask locals for suggestions to avoid tourist traps. Check out Groupon and Restaurant.com for budget-saving discounts at nearby restaurants. Try to eat breakfast before heading to the parks – whether your hotel serves a free breakfast or you grab a bagel or bowl of cereal in your room.
Food and drinks inside the Walt Disney World parks are, as you might expect, pricey. Luckily, you are allowed to bring your own with you in a backpack (no coolers). Security will check your bag but will not confiscate your goodies. So pack some water and healthy snacks to keep you going.
Buy necessities like sunscreen, ponchos, film or memory cards,and batteries before going to the park. Once inside, you will pay premium prices for these items. Consider buying glow in the dark bracelets or wands for the kids ahead of time (these can often be found at dollar stores) so you aren’t pressured to buy the expensive ones inside when the sun goes down.
Set a limit for the souvenirs. Disney items are available at gift shops all over the attraction area, often at a much better price than in the parks. Photos are one of the best ways to remember your trip – and they’re free! The Disney employees who ask to take your photo for later purchase will be happy to snap a picture for you on your own camera as well.
10 Vacation Packages
Some travel packages will save your money on your vacation but many are overpriced, charging you for the “convenience.” If you have done your research, you can do the math and determine if it’s a good deal. Make sure it is clear exactly what is (and isn’t) included and if there are any additional charges that will be tacked on later.
Many of us think of a visit to Walt Disney World as the ultimate family vacation but don’t think it is affordable. With some planning and research, you can make the dream come true while sticking to a practical budget.