Let's Talk Disney: On a Budget

Walt Disney World

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Over the weekend, I asked my lovely readers if there was anything Disney related that they were curious about.  I was very surprised and happy with the questions they came up with, because it gave me a great idea for a new series on the blog: Let’s Talk Disney.  I decided to start a section where you can ask me anything you’d like to know about Disney and I will write an entire post about it.  And, I do mean you can ask me anything.

So, let’s get started!  This first question comes from Diana, Amanda, and Daniela.  Thanks for the idea ladies!

Let's Talk Disney! (On a Budget)  A new series from Crafty Wife

If you’ve ever visited the parks, you know that your senses are completely overwhelmed the moment you step through the gates.  The sites, the smells, the music…everything is just so incredible and wonderful that you want to take it all in.  And everywhere you look there are food stands, shops with hundreds of objects you are dying to take home with you, cast members holding balloons and snacks and trinkets that your children want the second they lay eyes on them.

Main Street during the day
Main Street during the day

If you’re on a tight budget, all of that can be completely overwhelming and a bit stressful. How do you have a magical vacation while still leaving with money to live off of when you get back home?  I have a few tried and true tips that have never failed us when visiting the happiest place on Earth along with some great tips I’ve gotten from other Disney addicts like myself.  All of these tips are reasons we’re able to enjoy Disney as much as we do throughout the year.

where-to-stay

Usually, Chris and I stay on-property when visiting Disney.  We have found that it’s easier for us and makes a very stress-free vacation because Disney does everything they can to make your stay magical.

If you’re looking at all the different resorts you can book a room at and feel overwhelmed by the prices, so let me put your mind at ease a bit.

Disney's Pop Century Resort is a great option for those on a budget!
Disney’s Pop Century (Value) Resort is a great option for those on a budget!

Disney has four different types of resorts: Value, Moderate, Deluxe, and Deluxe Villas.  Chris and I have stayed in at least two resorts of each category (except the Deluxe Villas) and have nothing negative to say about any of them .  Unless it’s a special occasion, Chris and I only stay at the Value Resorts.  The way we see it, you really don’t spend that much time in the hotel anyway, so it makes more sense for us to pay $85-120 a night rather than pay $160-300+ for a Moderate or Deluxe Resort stay.  The Value Resort rooms are nice and they give you exactly what you need: a shower and comfy bed to sleep on in-between long days at the parks.

Since Chris and I are annual pass holders (have been since we got married at Disney in 2012), we get a nice discount on rooms.  However, before we were pass holders we had to look out for deals to get the best prices possible.  Booking your vacation two or more months in advance will get you a great deal, usually 20-25% off the room rate.  Also, by arriving on a Sunday and leaving on a Friday, you can avoid staying the most expensive days of the week.

Staying off property is another great option to consider.  Depending on what hotel you decide to stay at, you may have free transportation to and from the Disney Parks, which means you will not have to pay each day for parking (definitely something you should look for).  You may also receive a Continental Breakfast which is another great money saving option.  The only downside I can see from staying off property is that these hotels do not have the “Disney” atmosphere.  But, depending on the time of year you go you could end up saving a good amount of money by staying a few miles off property.

I’ve also heard really great things about renting DVC (Disney Vacation Club) points from a member.  Chris and I have never done it ourselves (I’d really like to test it out someday though!) so I cannot give you an in-depth answer about how to go about doing it.  You can, however, visit Disney Tourist Blog and find everything you could ever want to know about it there!  They say that you can save up to thousands of dollars depending on what type of room you get.  The great thing about DVC rooms are that they come with a kitchenette and it is very easy for you to be able to do laundry.  The only downside is that it is not like a regular hotel room so you will not get Mouseskeeping every day.   In fact, I think you only get it one time during your stay.  But, if that doesn’t bother you then research away!

put-your-wallet-away

Snacks and Drinks: One thing that can add up very quickly at Disney are all the extra snacks and drinks you can buy while at the parks.  Do not give in to the temptation!  We usually limit our snacks to one a day and we never spend money on drinks unless we’re eating lunch or dinner at the parks.  If you eat at any of the quick service places inside the parks, you can get a free cup of ice water (which is always refillable) and cut down on costs that way.  You can get the free waters any time of day or night, which I always take advantage of.

Another way to cut down on costs from snacks and drinks is to bring your own.  This is especially easy if you are able to drive down (which we do).  We always bring a 32 pack of coke for Chris and a 40 pack of water for me (from Sam’s Club), along with snacks and breakfast foods.  Disney provides small refrigerators in each room so you can keep your food and drinks cold, but keep in mind that there are no microwaves so it’s not wise to bring anything that has to be heated.  If you fly down and decide to rent a car while at Disney, you can go buy these items at the Walgreens that is right off property or a Walmart or Target close by.

If renting a car is not an option, you can pack a small suitcase filled with snacks to bring on the plane.  At this point, I would suggest that buying the Rapid Fill Mugs when staying on property is a must.  You can purchase them at the food court in your resort and use them to get drinks during your stay.  You can read more about that here.

If you are able to bring your own snacks and drinks on your Disney vacation, something I always like to do is bring a bottle of water with me into the park (you can also bring snacks if you so choose).  This way I have something to sip or snack on while waiting in long wait lines for rides or character meet and greets.

Trinkets and Souvenirs: If Chris and I are going to buy anything at the parks, we usually pick one thing and wait until the end of our trip to purchase it.  Sometimes, we end up buying way more than we intended if we buy as we browse  (or if it’s during a special occasion like Star Wars Weekends in May) so we have learned to wait until the end and if we still want something we can buy it then.  It has worked out pretty well for us in the past. Sometimes we leave without buying anything, and then if we can’t stop thinking about a particular souvenir that will be something we buy on our next trip.

Our Christmas ears were the only thing we bought on our Thanksgiving trip to Disney.  They were an expense we had talked about beforehand, so there were no impulse buys for us!
Our Christmas ears were the only thing we bought on our Thanksgiving trip to Disney. They were an expense we had talked about beforehand, so there were no impulse buys for us!

Another thing I’ve seen parents do (which I think is genius) is go to the Dollar Tree or other stores before heading to Disney and buying a few small “souvenirs”.  Once they get to Disney they will give their children one of the gifts, which can be anything from a coloring book to a small stuffed Disney animal.  They tell the kids Tinkerbell left it for them overnight as a gift for visiting.  That cuts down on the kids wanting anything and everything they see in the shops while at the parks because they’ve already gotten a special gift from everyone’s favorite fairy!

Probably one of my favorite tips (and one we’ve never done) is to buy Disney gift cards before you head out on your vacation.  That can be your spending money for souvenirs, snacks, or whatever else you want to use it for while you’re at the parks.  That way you have a set amount that you can spend and you won’t go over it.  This is probably a great opportunity to teach an older child about the value of a dollar as well.

Let's Talk Disney! (On a Budget)  A new series from Crafty Wife

One thing you absolutely must budget for is a Character Dinning Experience, especially if you’re traveling with children.  Being able to eat and visit with your favorite characters is one memory you’ll never want to forget.  Chris and I have never done this together, but when I would visit the parks as a child I was able to do this with my family.  Character dinning is a little expensive so that will be something you should save up for in advance, not something you decide to do on a whim.  And you must also book a reservation months in advance because spots fill up quickly.  Here are some of the best places for Character Dining at Walt Disney World:

  • Hollywood and Vine (located inside Hollywood Studios) is great for younger kids, because all the Characters you’ll meet there are from Disney Junior!
  • Cinderella’s Royal Table (located inside the Magic Kingdom) is a magical dinning experience located inside Cinderella’s Castle  that you’ll never forget.  Not only do you get a photo keepsake with Cinderella herself, but you’ll also be visited by other Princesses while eating your meal.
  • The Crystal Palace (located inside the Magic Kingdom) is a dining experience with Pooh and friends.  It’s fun for the whole family!
  • 1900 Park Fare (located inside Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa) is a beautiful place where you can eat and meet Cinderella and her friends.
  • Akershus Restaurant (located in the Norway Pavilion at Epcot) is an medival styled castle where you can meet Aurora, Belle, Ariel, and Snow White.  The Princesses rotate so if you’re little one must see a specific Princess be sure to call in advance to confirm when she will be there signing autographs and taking pictures!
  • Ohana (located inside Disney’s Polynesian Resort) is a Hawaiian themed restaurant. During dinner you can meet Stitch and Friends, which includes everyone’s favorite mouse!

Let's Talk Disney! (On a Budget)  A new series from Crafty Wife

Memory Maker is something fairly new that is being offered at Disney, and is (in my opinion) an awesome addition!  Instead of buying your photos from Photopass online (which can cost $15 for each individual and unedited photo), you can pay $149 for the Memory Maker (if bought before leaving for your trip) and get all of the photos you have a Cast Member take without any additional charge!  That means you get every photo you have taken of your party, plus any attraction photos (like that quick escape you made from the Yeti!), to keep after your trip is over.  Chris and I have said that we are definitely going to purchase it this year to try it out and have talked about how invaluable it will be once we have kids.  No longer will one parent have to be left out of the picture so they can snap the photo.  Instead, you can have great pictures of the entire family to share with friends and other family members once you get home!

This is a professional Disney photo from Star Wars Weekends 2013.  Probably one of my all-time favorites and a great memory to look back on!
This is a professional Disney photo from Star Wars Weekends 2013. Probably one of my all-time favorites and a great memory to look back on!

Why am I putting this on the budget post?  Well, in reality this can be an awesome money saver.  I always like to have a few photos of Chris and I taken at the parks by a Cast Member, so that way I’m actually in some of the pictures too.  When we get home and I start looking at ones to buy, I always end up spending about $45 or more (depending on how many I purchase) just on the photos.  I know that once we have kids and take them to the parks, I’m going to want to buy a ton of family group shots, character meet and greet photos, attraction photos, and anything else that I think is cute to put in a memory book.  Buying all of those photos can add up fast!  But if you plan ahead and think you’re going to want to take (and keep!) all the professional Disney photos you have taken, the Memory Maker package may be the best money saving option for you.

Whatever you decide or don’t decide to do, have some fun.  Disney is all about making memories with the ones you love, and you don’t have to spend a fortune to do that.

Do you have any money saving tips for a memorable visit to Walt Disney World?  If you do, leave me a comment with your favorite tips and tricks!

16 Comments

  1. Great tips! We are fortunate to have a lot of frequent flier miles, so our flights (for 4) were $25 total. Another band parent offered us time share points, so we are staying right by the park for $60 a night and our place does have a microwave and free shuttle to the park. We do have a rental car, which we prepaid for a decent rate. We will be exploring south Florida after we enjoy WDW.

    1. Thank you! It sounds like you got an amazing deal on everything for your trip! We absolutely love going down towards the Kennedy Space Center, if you have time, and Universal (more specifically Harry Potter World) is a really fun day trip. 🙂

  2. If you stay at Art of Animation, there are many suites available. They have a mini-kitchenette (fridge, counter, cabinets and microwave) so you may find it’s worth it if you’re able to get outside food and cook it in the microwave. It also may be worth looking at Ft. Wilderness cabins – they have full kitchens AND Mousekeeping. Officially, they will fit 6 – it is a squish if one is in a crib/playpen – but might be economical for others.

    If you go often (at least every 3 years), it may be worth actually purchasing into the DVC. Yes, it’s going to cost more than the rock-bottom resorts, but if you break down the points and annual fees, it’s a fantastic deal. You’re getting an on-property condo at moderate rates, but the best part is having a full kitchen (1 and 2 br properties) so you can avoid many of the food expenses of the other resorts to balance it out, plus there are many discounts only available to DVC members.

    1. I have told Chris I really want to stay at the Art of Animation this year! We were able to walk through it during our stay at Pop Century last September and we loved it. It just stinks that you have to book so far in advance to be able to get a room. 🙂

      Thank you for your input on the AoA resort and Ft. Wilderness cabins and DVC! The AoA is definitely a little more expensive ($300 a night for a suite) but if you have a larger family it is definitely worth it.

      I stayed at Ft. Wilderness years ago ( I was probably no older than 5 or 6) and it was great. I definitely recommend it if it’s something a family is interested in.

      We actually looked into purchasing into the DVC a year or so ago, but didn’t have time to go to the seminar (or whatever it’s called) on that trip. It’s something we still talk about though because it would be a great option for those who go a lot. I think members also get a lot of things first (like reservations to Be Our Guest when it first opened) which is another great perk for joining the program.

      Thank you so much for your comment and insight onto other aspects I didn’t cover in the article!

  3. These are great tips! We went to Disney twice last year and stayed on site one time and off site the other time. We were ‘supposed’ to have free transportation to Disney at the off site place, but it was horrible! We landed up spending money on cabs a lot! Then the second time we stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge (I know, it is pricey… but I had always wanted to stay there) and we got the Disney transportation and loved it. So, we’ll always stay on site from now on I think. We also shipped a HUGE flat rate box of snacks and it really helped us save money… we did have the dining plan, but this gave us some extra snacks and drinks (juice boxes). Loved all your tips, gonna pin this!

    1. Thank you, Carrie! I never thought of shipping a flat rate box of snacks but that is a fantastic idea! Definitely something to plan on doing if you fly and are looking to save money on breakfasts and snacks!

      We’ve stayed at Animal Kingdom before and loved it! I wish we had a Safari facing room but the resort is beautiful. I can completely understand why you’d want to stay there!

      I think the biggest concern about staying off property vs. on is the transportation. Staying on property means you get complimentary transportation and you know it’s reliable. Staying off property could mean you’re taking a bit of a risk. I’m sorry to hear that the transportation at the off property site was so bad! Do you mind me asking what hotel it was in case someone else was thinking of staying there and we can warn them of it?

  4. Thanks! We want to try to go every couple years, so I’m excited to use your tips for next trip. Sharing on FB! 🙂

    xo
    Daniela
    Put A Bird On It

  5. We got married at EPCOT in 2009! Such a magical experience! 🙂

    We just recently joined DVC and stayed at the AKL (Kidani Village) Amazing experience! I think it was just as neat as our 3 day stay at Grand Floridian during our wedding weekend. 🙂

    You point out some good tips, the small toy purchased beforehand I shall have to remember when our son is older. 🙂

    I actually, found your site through a search for Sorcerers of the MK. I am trying to figure out what to do with our cards. LOVED playing that game! Free too! (We went back to MK every day on our trip because we liked playing it so much!) I am thinking of a small fabric bag for the cards…I’m just having trouble finding good fabric I like. Any thoughts?

    1. It’s always nice to hear of someone else who got married at Disney! I love Epcot! That was our second choice if we couldn’t get married at the Pavilion. I bet your wedding there was beautiful. Did you get any pictures at the different countries? 🙂

      So jealous that you’re a DVC member! It’s one of my lifetime goals to become one. Maybe I’ll be able to convince my husband to do it after we buy a house. I’d love to stay at the Contemporary if we ever become a member. We stayed for two nights on the Club Level and loved it. It’s our favorite resort. 😉

      I love the idea of a fabric bag for the SOTMK cards. It will be easy to carry around that way and it’s small so it won’t take up a lot of room. We actually use a small binder that I bought at Staples and have all of our cards in those. It’s easy to carry around in our backpack and I’m able to sort the cards the way I want so we can find everything easily. I wrote a post about it a while ago and you can find it here:
      http://www.craftywife.com/smk-binder-organization/05/2013

      Let me know what you decide to use! I’m always curious to hear how other people store their cards. What level are you guys on? We’re having such a hard time figuring out how to beat the game on medium!

    1. Thank you Becca! And thank you for hosting such a great link party. I love reading all of your Disney posts!

  6. This is a great post! We took a trip to Disney World with our one year old daughter and blogged about the hotel we stayed at http://peekabootravel.com/blog/?p=91 and it was a big suite which was great for having a napping kid. But we about died getting in and out of the park since its such a long drive! We for sure will stay on property if we ever go back! Thanks for the tips. By the way I found you on Love our Disney blog hop! I am your newest follower on facebook! Please return the love!

    1. Hi Kara! Thanks for stopping by and following me on Facebook! I’m heading over to look at your blog post now. I love reading about other peoples Disney experiences so I’m excited to read about yours!

  7. Great post! I can only think of one tip you haven’t already mentioned and that’s to do table service at lunch instead of dinner to save money but still experience some of the best places (especially around the World Showcase). It was a treat to discover your blog for the first time today.

    1. Great tip! I did forget to mention that, thank you for reminding me. Thank you so much for stopping by!

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