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There's nothing quite like a family vacation to "The Most Magical Place on Earth." Perhaps your kids have been waiting years to sneak a hug from some of Disney's most beloved characters such as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Cinderella, Tinkerbell, and the list goes on. Or perhaps you and your partner want to relive childhood memories of your favorite Disney movies.
But a Disney trip to this magical kingdom doesn't come cheap. That is unless you know some tips and tricks for getting discounts on travel, park tickets, food, and more. Here's our guide on how to plan a trip to Disney World on a budget.
Budgeting Family Travel How to Plan a Vacation to Disney World on a Budget
There are creative ways to visit Disney World on a budget. Here are some of our favorite tips on minimizing the cost of your magical Disney vacation.
Buy Tickets in Advance
Ticket prices increase each year, so it's best to buy them as soon as you have your dates set.
Visit During Off-Peak Times
Plan your Disney World trip during off-season times. Mid-January to early March or late August to the end of September are usually the cheapest times to go. Weekdays are typically cheaper than weekends, too.
Don't Pay for Water
Bring an empty water bottle to fill up, or get free cups of water to hydrate at Disney's quick-service restaurants. Buying water bottles at Disney adds up.
Spend a Day Doing Free or Inexpensive Activities
There are several Disney-related activities to participate in without having to buy a park ticket, like the Animal Kingdom Lodge, miniature golf, the fireworks display, and more listed below.
Skip the Park Hopper Pass
Each park is pretty big, so one park per day is definitely enough. Unless you're only there for a day and want to see everything possible, we don't think the Park Hopper Pass is worth it.
Explore Your Resort or Hotel
If you are staying at a hotel with a pool or waterpark, enjoy the day at your private pool! You don't need the enter the park every single day of your vacation there.
Use a Money-Saving Website to Find Deals
It is rare to find discounts, but some websites such as Undercover Tourist and Mouse Savers provide discounts on park entry, car rentals, restaurants and hotels.
Look For Disney Plus Subscriber Discounts
In the past, Disney + subscribers could earn 25% off on select Disney resorts hotel rooms most nights from July 8, 2022 to September 30, 2022.
Earn Credit Card Travel Perks
Score discounts on any part of your trip with airline miles & hotels reward points earned with a travel rewards credit card.
Shop for Cheap Flights
Usually flights are cheaper when you buy them sooner. But, you can also set a Google Flight Alert or use apps like Hopper to track the ever-changing prices of flights.
Look for Military Deals
In the past, Disney has offered 20% - 30% for military members. The most recent one we know about ended in 2022. Check if there are any current deals.
Save on Car Rental
Look for car rental deals, book your rental car ahead of time, and look for car rentals outside of the airport to find more savings.
Find cheaper ways to eat
If you can, prepare some of your own meals. You can also pack a lunch to bring with you. Also, find places to eat outside of Disney on some days.
How much does a Disney World vacation cost?
Before we jump into the ways you can save money on a Disney World Vacation, let's break down what you can probably expect when planning your Disney trip, including everything from flights and hotels to everyday costs like food.
Of course, the price of airfare varies greatly depending on where you're flying in from. If you're flying cross-country from Seattle to Orlando in August, for example, you'll spend a minimum of $500 per ticket. If you're only traveling a few states south, from Nashville to Orlando, you could fly for as little as $140 per ticket.
If you're staying outside of Disney World and want to dine outside of the park, chances are you'll want to rent a car or at least plan for ridesharing costs if you choose not to rent one.
A car rental for the week would cost a minimum of $200 depending on the size of car you need and the rental company you're booking through. This doesn't include the cost of gasoline and insurance if you opt to add that to your rental agreement. If you're lucky and have a credit card that can be redeemed for free car rentals, you can save considerably on this cost
Hotel or Airbnb rental prices can also vary widely depending on how luxurious you want your room to be, its location in proximity to Disney World and whether it is a Disney-owned hotel.
You may be able to find an off-property hotel room for as little as $65 per night, but the most popular family-friendly hotels, apartments, or homes near the parks range from $100 to several thousand dollars per night.
There are four theme parks included in what is considered Walt Disney World in Florida.
- Disney's Animal Kingdom
- Magic Kingdom Park
- Hollywood Studios
A one-day ticket costs $109 per person 10 years of age and older.
This ticket option is the most expensive daily rate and only allows you access to one of the four parks. Tickets for children ages 3-9 cost a few dollars cheaper per day. Any child younger than three enters the parks free of charge.
Also, the more days you stay and add to your ticket, the less you pay per day and the more parks you can visit.
For example, if you stay four days, visiting a different park each day, your ticket costs $106 per person, per day. If you stay as many as 10 days, that price drops to $55 per person, per day.
Other Ticket Options
You can add a park hopper, park hopper plus, or water park and sports option to your tickets for an added cost.
- Park Hopper — This option allows you to visit more than one park per day. This add-on can range from $65 or more per ticket, per day.
- Water Park and Sports — This option allows you to visit one theme park per day plus check out a water park or sports activity. Options include Disney's Typhoon Lagoon Water Park, Disney's Oak Trail Golf Course, Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course – FootGolf, Disney's Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf Course, or Disney's Winter Summerland Miniature Golf Course. This add-on costs $90-$100 extra per ticket, per day.
- Park Hopper Plus — If you really want to make the most of each day, the Park Hopper Plus package allows you to visit more than one theme park per day plus explore a water park or sports activity. This ticket option costs an additional $85 or more than the standard ticket price.
It's no surprise that if you choose to eat within the park every day, you'll likely spend more than if you were to cook your own dinners at your hotel/house rental or dine at restaurants outside the parks.
If your family of four eats solely in the park all day, you can expect to pay on average $200-$300 per day for food. Of course, the price varies depending on if you opt for quick service food or table service. Either way, the bill will add up quickly if you're not smart about it. Dining on off-property restaurants is one way you can save a little on the trip, if you don't mind the commute that is.
What is the average cost for a family of four to go to Disney World?
Taking into consideration the average airfare, car rental, housing, park tickets, and food, an average family of four can expect to pay $5,000-$7,000 or more for a week-long trip to Disney World.
How to Plan a Vacation to Disney World on a Budget
1. Buy Tickets in Advance
Rather than planning your vacation day-by-day, which may cause you to pay single-day park entrance fees for several days in a row, why not buy all the tickets you need right away? The more full days you plan to visit the Disney parks, the cheaper the tickets become. For example, a one-day pass is $109 for the day, but if you're planning to be in the parks for eight days, that cost goes down to as low as $64 per day.
Also, if you know for a fact that you're going to be in Disney World next year on certain dates, buy your tickets now. Ticket prices increase each year, so it's best to buy them as soon as you have your dates set.
2. Visit During Off-Peak Times
Holidays are a big deal at Disney World, so they tend to be the most expensive time of year to visit the park. Avoid visiting the park on Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve, and even spring break. The summer months are also an incredibly busy time of year to visit since kids are on summer break from school.
If you can manage it, plan your Disney World trip during off-season times. Think mid-January to early March or late August to the end of September. It's also cheaper on weekdays rather than weekends, so plan to visit the parks Monday through Thursday if you can.
3. Bring an Empty Water Bottle
This is as easy as it comes. Rather than spending over $4 for a bottle of water in the park each time you need to hydrate, bring an empty, reusable water bottle to continuously refill at water stations around the park.
Forgot a water bottle? Disney's quick-service restaurants offer free cups of water to park guests even if they don't order anything. You'll be doing a lot of walking and it will likely be hot and sunny. Staying hydrated is key to keeping your cool at the busy park.
4. Spend a Day Doing Free or Inexpensive Activities
Free activities, you say? That's right! There are several Disney-related activities to participate in without having to buy a park ticket. These activities include:
- Animal Kingdom Lodge — Even if you're not staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge, it can be a fun place to explore since they have animals roaming the grounds such as a zebra, giraffe, gazelle, and flamingoes.
- Fort Wilderness — Fort Wilderness hosts nightly campfire sing-a-longs and an outdoor movie free of charge.
- Disney Springs — Disney Springs is a little downtown complete with shopping, restaurants, and shows. It's free to walk around and a boat can take guests from one side of the boardwalk to the other at no charge. While you're in Disney Springs, stop by The Lego Store to enjoy hands-on play at the lego building tables and check out the giant lego models of your favorite Disney characters.
- Miniature golf — While not free, miniature golf at Disney World only costs $14 for adults and $12 for children ages 3-9. Choose between Disney's Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf Course or Disney's Winter Summerland Miniature Golf Course.
- Walk the Boardwalk — Disney's Boardwalk is lined with restaurants, shops, and street performers. Stop in to spend a little money or just window shop and enjoy the weather.
- Free outdoor movies — If you're staying at a Disney Resort, there are free outdoor movies nearly every night.
- Disney's fireworks display — You don't have to be in the park to view Disney's fireworks display. Find a cozy spot outside the theme park to view the show for free!
- Disney Wilderness Preserve — If you're up for a little drive, The Disney Wilderness Preserve is located 20 miles south of Orlando. Hike the 2.5-mile trail to view native plants and animals at no cost. (Donations are appreciated)
- Ride the Skyliner — Take a free ride on the Skyliner to get aerial views of Disney World and explore other resorts.
- Take a boat ride — Take one of three free boat rides: one around Crescent Lake, one that visits Magic Kingdom and a few resorts, or along the Sassagoula River.
- Rent a bike — Rent a bike and explore one of the many trails located around each of the Disney Resorts. We recommend biking along the Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness trails for the best views.
5. Skip the Park Hopper Pass
It may be tempting to splurge for the Park Hopper Pass in order to see more than one park per day. Unless you're only there for a couple of days, single-park tickets are cheaper while giving you plenty of time to see everything there is in one park per day. Save yourself some money and buy four or more days' worth of standard park tickets. Trust us, one park per day is plenty!
6. Explore Your Resort or Hotel
If you booked your stay at a hotel complete with amenities, why not swap a day at the park for a day at your hotel. After all, no one said you had to visit the park every day of your trip. Many of the Disney hotels and resorts on or near Disney's grounds feature pools or water parks of their own.
7. Browse Money-Saving Websites
8. Use Your Disney Plus Subscriber Discount
Do you subscribe to the Disney Plus streaming service? If you're a subscriber, you can earn 25% off on select Disney resorts hotel rooms most nights from July 8, 2022 to September 30, 2022.
9. Earn Credit Card Travel Perks
Many credit cards offer travel perks such as earned airline miles, travel points, or cash back that can be redeemed for deals on flights, hotels, car rentals, and more. This can help you score some sweet discounts on any part of your trip.
10. Shop for Cheap Flights
Find out what day of the week is the cheapest to fly so you can plan your trip accordingly when booking a flight. Most often, the cheapest time to buy is as soon as you know the dates you'll be traveling. Tickets typically get more expensive the closer to the flight you get.
Set a Google Flight Alert or use apps like Hopper to track the ever-changing prices of flights. Hopper will save your flight search and keep an eye on the price, helping you determine the best, cheapest time to buy.
11. Take Advantage of Military Deals
Through Dec. 16, 2022, Disney World is offering military members a four- or five-day park package at a discounted rate. You can save on average 30% off the regular price when using this offer. The savings can add up when you're purchasing tickets for the whole family.
12. Look for Car Rental Deals
There are many ways to save money on a car rental. Some examples include:
- Don't pick up a rental car at the airport. Airports can be the most expensive location to rent a car because of the surcharges. Opt to hire an Uber driver to get you to an off-site car rental location.
- Shop around online for the most affordable car rental companies by comparing prices. Once there, opt for an economy car, often the cheapest option to rent.
- While adding insurance may sound like the safest way to prevent unnecessary charges, you should check your regular car insurance policy. You may already be insured for rental cars through your regular insurance company, making it pointless to add the insurance at the rental company.
- Finally, don't add anything extra to your rental. You don't need GPS because your phone can do that for you. Likewise, if you get stranded on the side of the road, you can easily call for help using your cell phone rather than needing roadside assistance.
13. Opt for Cheaper Ways to Eat
Rather than buy food for everyone in your family for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks while at the park, opt to do one of the following.
- Eat outside Disney. Like most theme parks and tourist attractions, food is more expensive on the property. Even if you still eat out for every meal, it may be more cost-effective to choose a quick-service or sit-down restaurant outside the park grounds to save some money.
- Pack your own food. Did you know that you can bring your own food and non-alcoholic beverages into the park and store it in lockers for $15 or less depending on the size of the locker? This could save you hundreds of dollars over the course of your vacation if you opt to eat this way each day you're in the park. Remember, coolers aren't allowed in the park, so you'll have to pack food that doesn't need to stay cold all day long.
- Prepare your own meals. Rather than eating every meal at the park or other restaurant, you might opt to do a grocery run at the start of your trip and plan to eat breakfast and dinner at your hotel or vacation rental instead. If you have access to a kitchen, cooking your own meals can help you save considerably on food costs.
Is Disney World really worth it?
Disney World can be worth the expense if you have the money to spend on a family trip without breaking the bank. It's strongly recommended that families take the time to plan out a detailed daily itinerary so they don't end up blowing their budget on unnecessary costs.
Do your research and estimate the full cost before agreeing to book the vacation. Plan flights, a car rental, hotel accommodations, park days, meals, a souvenir budget, and extra activities. The more prepared you are for a trip to Disney, the more fun you can have exploring the parks and mingling with your favorite characters.
You don't need to spend an exorbitant amount to have a good time and create lasting memories for your family. After all, Disney World is "where dreams come true."
Frequently Asked Questions
Still have questions about planning your next trip to Disney World? Here are some of the most frequently asked questions.
If you plan to keep your vacation more affordable while visiting Disney World — i.e. visiting during non-peak months, making some of your own meals, limiting days in the parks, downgrading your hotel, etc. — you’ll likely still need to budget about $4,000 on average for a family of four. Of course, you could get this budget even lower if you travel for fewer days and eat only food from outside the park.
The cheapest months to visit Disney World are mid-January to early March or late August to the end of September. Remember, avoid booking over holidays like Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and spring break. Also, if you can visit Monday through Thursday rather than Friday, Saturday or Sunday, you’ll deal with smaller crowds.
Unfortunately, Disney World admission is not free on your birthday, but the park does offer several birthday freebies and perks, such as free dessert or entrees at select restaurants.
Disney gift cards can be used towards Disney theme park tickets, including Disney World, Disneyland, and Disney cruises. If you have been gifted a Disney gift card, use it towards your next Disney vacation so you pay less out of pocket.