It’s no secret that a Disney World trip can be expensive. However, enjoying Disney World on a budget is absolutely doable!
Making a few tweaks to your Disney World trip plans can save you hundreds and even thousands of dollars.
In this blog post, I’ll share how you can always avoid paying full price for Disney World resort hotel rooms, what time of year ticket and hotel prices are cheapest, how to save money on Disney food, and more.
Here are 12 ways we have a delightfully magical vacation at Disney World on a budget.
1. Visit During the Off-Season
Park admission ticket prices differ slightly throughout the year while Disney resort hotel rates fluctuate wildly. Visiting during the off-season is key to enjoying Disney World on a budget and can save your family hundreds and even thousands of dollars. If you don’t want to sacrifice any aspect of your trip budget, merely visiting during a different time of the year can result in substantial savings!
Disney World ticket and resort hotel prices are typically highest when American kids are out of school. So, think Spring Break from March through early April, Thanksgiving, Christmas through New Year’s, and all 3-day holiday weekends throughout the year.
Instead, visit during Disney World’s off-seasons (excluding all 3-day holiday weekends):
- Winter: January after New Year’s through mid-February
- Summer: late August through September
- Fall: late October through early December excluding Thanksgiving weekend
Want to enjoy all the not-so-scary Disney fall festivities? You’ll actually find cheaper rates closer to Halloween at the end of October after the school fall breaks.
If you want to enjoy holiday festivities, the last two weeks in December through New Year’s are the most expensive weeks of the year to visit Disney World. Instead, enjoy the holiday events and decor in late November through early December to easily save over $100 per night on your hotel room.
Resort hotel rates often vary week to week, so even if you can’t visit during one of these value off-seasons, tweak your reservation dates by a week or two to see if there are better rates just before or after your ideal trip dates.
Here are a few specific examples of how Disney resort hotel rates differ throughout the year…
Staying in a deluxe Disney resort? In 2021, a standard view room in the Contemporary Resort’s garden wing will cost $460/night in late January, over $600 in late March, and $700 on New Year’s weekend.
A cabin at Disney’s Fort Wilderness is $368 in late January, but $546 in late March during Spring Break.
Pop Century standard rooms are $144 on weekdays in late January, increase to $268 in late March, and settle in a standard $200-$234 range in July.
2. Skip the Park Hoppers
Adding the Park Hopper option to your tickets gives you the ability to visit more than one park per day. It’s a tempting choice that allows you to keep your schedule more flexible, but consider whether you’ll actually want to visit more than one park per day before committing to the additional cost.
Park Hoppers will cost you $65 more per ticket for 1-day tickets, $75 for 2- and 3-day tickets, and $85 for 4- to 10-day tickets. These prices apply to 2021 tickets only as park hopping is not supported for the rest of 2020.
For most visiting Disney World on a budget, there is more than enough to do in one park each day. Transportation between parks and going through another park entrance with security procedures can be more time-consuming and tiring than you may think. Unless you have less than four days to visit the four parks, skipping the Park Hopper option is an easy way to save money.
3. Pick the Cheapest Resort
Disney World offers hotel rooms at all price points. While the deluxe resorts are beautiful and full of amenities and perks including prime location, on-site dining, the largest rooms, and the best pools, consider how much time you expect to spend at your resort and if the added cost of choosing deluxe or even moderate will be worth the higher price.
How much do you expect to swim in that amazing pool?
Will you even be at the hotel during mealtimes or will you be eating most meals in the parks?
Do you plan on spending opening to closing time in the parks and just using the hotel as a bed to sleep in every night?
Be sure to think about how much the resort hotel will be part of your Disney World vacation experience and if a cheaper hotel will fulfill your needs.
These are the total costs of 6-night hotel stays in the three Disney resort hotel categories from August 8-14, 2021 that show how varied your resort budget may be:
- $3,420 – Yacht Club Resort standard view room (deluxe)
- $1,876 – Caribbean Beach Resort standard view room (moderate)
- $1,298 – Pop Century Resort standard room (value)
You may be able to save even more money by staying off-site. My family prefers the perks of staying at a Disney resort and remaining ensconced inside the “Disney Bubble,” but off-site hotels can provide a substantial savings as well.
4. Reserve Standard Rooms
With few exceptions, you’ll have the choice of numerous room types and views at each Disney resort hotel, each at different rates which can sometimes differ by over $100 per night.
In most cases, the only reason for these different room rates is the room’s location within the resort while the room interiors are the same.
“Preferred rooms” are closer to the resort’s main lobby, dining, and feature pool. Consider how much you’ll be using these amenities and whether cutting five minutes out of your morning walk is worth the extra cost. If you’re driving, the non-preferred rooms are usually closest to the guest parking lots.
You’ll also pay more for rooms with an upgraded view while a standard view looking out over rooftops or a parking lot will be cheapest.
Before considering paying more for a better view, determine if the view outside your hotel room window really matters. You may decide a better view is worth the higher price at a deluxe room because you’ll want to enjoy a cup of coffee every morning on your private balcony. However, if you’re staying at a moderate resort where rooms do not have private outdoor space and your room window merely opens to the common outdoor walkway, you’ll probably want to keep your curtains closed anyway so no one can peek into your room!
Also, some of the priciest room categories have pool views and can be among the noisiest places on property while standard rooms can be the quietest.
At Disney’s Pop Century Resort, 2021 room rates start at $164 per night for “Standard Room” while the priciest “Preferred Pool View” rooms start at $189. A preferred room will only be closer to the main lobby while a pool view, as previously mentioned, may not actually be desirable.
At Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, a “Standard View” room starts at $230 while “Preferred Room” is $305. The Preferred Room will be closest to the main pool and restaurants, while Standard rooms may actually be closer to the SkyLiner station. Is a shorter walk to the pool and dining worth $70 per day for your family?
A “Standard View” at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, a deluxe resort with private balconies and patios, often runs over $100 less per night than a “Water View” overlooking Crescent Lake.
5. Don’t Pay Full Price for Hotels!
Closer to your trip dates, Disney will often release batches of hotel discounts for three months at a time. These discounts can range from 10% to over 30% and can be applied to existing reservations.
Discounts on deluxe resort rooms sometimes bring the rates down near moderate range while moderate resort discounts can occasionally reach value resort prices.
Discounts are used to entice guests to stay in rooms with the most remaining availability, so they are not available at all resorts or even every room category at a resort. Be flexible to changing your room type or even switching resorts entirely to search out the best deal.
Applying a discount will require modifying your reservation, which can be done right from the My Disney Experience website.
6. Drive Instead of Fly
Driving to Disney World can cost less than flying, especially for larger families.
In addition to potentially saving money, you’ll enjoy the flexibility of choosing to use Disney transportation to travel to the parks each day or just drive yourself. We prefer to use Disney transportation, but if you find that wait times for Disney buses are excessive, you’ll be able to switch to driving instead.
Driving your own car also means you can bring more snacks and food. We’ll get to that a little later…
I detailed many of the costs involved in driving versus flying to Disney World in 6 Reasons to Drive to Disney World With Kids, and just a little math can determine if the savings will be substantial for you!
7. Skip the Car Rental
Maybe flying is still more economical for your family or you simply prefer the convenience and time savings. If so, think twice about renting a car once you’re in Orlando.
If you’re staying at a resort hotel on Disney property, there’s no need to rent a car. The complimentary Disney’s Magical Express will shuttle you to and from the Orlando International Airport in comfort. Complimentary Disney transportation via bus, monorail, water taxi, and SkyLiner is available once your on Walt Disney World Resort property.
Unless you plan to venture outside of the Walt Disney World Resort property or simply prefer the flexibility of driving yourself, skip the car rental cost!
8. Eat Quick Service Meals
Like hotels, food costs vary drastically throughout the restaurants in Disney World parks and resorts.
While table service restaurants require reservations and generally have higher quality food, they can often cost twice the price of a quick service meal.
Quick service entrees average $10-$15 each with table service meals starting at $15 up to $35. You’ll easily spend over $50 for a meal at a signature/fine dining restaurant.
You don’t need an Advanced Dining Reservation at a table service restaurant to have a meal with great food indoors with a break from the heat. Many quick service restaurants offer indoor seating (check my free guides!) and excellent food.
Consider what your food priorities are and whether you need to enjoy a premium meal every time or even every day. Quick service meals are great, cost-effective alternatives.
9. Water is Free!
Any beverage other than water will dip into your food budget. Drink more water instead of soda and other beverages to trim your trip food costs when visiting Disney World on a budget.
Tap water is free throughout the Disney World parks and resorts. Bring flavoring packets if you’re not a fan of tap water, but you’ll save lots over buying bottled water or drinks.
I’m also probably not the first to tell you that Florida is hot and muggy most of the year. You’ll want to stay hydrated anyway by drinking lots of water!
10. Pack Snacks
Enjoying Disney food is a big part of the Walt Disney World vacation experience, but that doesn’t mean you have to purchase all your food in the parks.
Curb your appetite between meals by packing a few snacks in your park bag.
We plan certain snack breaks for favorite treats like Dole Whips at Magic Kingdom’s Aloha Isle and school bread at the Kringla Bakeri OG Kafe in Epcot, but always have a few different kinds of wrapped bars in our bag so we don’t need to spend money on other snacks when we just need a little something to hold us over until the next meal.
11. Pack Breakfast Food
This “buy some food, but not all Disney food” rule can be applied to meals as well.
Disney World guests are allowed to bring small coolers packed with full meals into the parks which can be eaten in a quick service restaurant dining room. Always review the official Walt Disney World Resort Property Rules including the allowed bag dimensions before your trip.
While we personally don’t go this far to save money on our Disney trips because I also want to be taking a vacation from food preparation, we do eat breakfast most mornings in our room and enjoy food brought from home.
Trading one restaurant meal per day for inexpensive groceries can be a huge money saver.
Start your day with cereal, fruit, pastries, or bring a hot pot and make oatmeal. You’ll arrive at the parks in the morning ready for rides and entertainment without feeling the need to rush to find food right away. Nearly all Disney hotel rooms have mini fridges and coffee makers, making simple meal preparation quick and easy.
If you’re not driving and don’t have enough room for extra food in your suitcase, use a grocery delivery service to deliver food straight to your resort.
12. Use Discounted Disney Gift Cards
Purchase discounted Disney gift cards and use them to pay for your trip. Disney gift cards can be used to pay for your hotel reservation, tickets, food, and souvenirs in the parks.
My favorite way to purchase discounted gift cards is using my Target RedCard. Like all RedCard purchases, gift cards purchased with a RedCard are discounted by 5%.
A family of four can save around $100 by purchasing 5-day park tickets using discounted Disney gift cards!
This method potentially requires purchasing numerous individual gift cards, so use disneygiftcard.com to combine the balances of multiple cards onto one.
Authorized ticket sellers offer small discounts on theme park tickets as well, but I find that a gift card discount is the better savings and purchasing tickets directly from Disney will give you a better cancellation and refund policy. Still, if you choose to purchase park admission tickets from a third party, make the company is an authorized reseller and never purchase tickets through Craig’s List or eBay to ensure you’re purchasing valid tickets.
What’s your best tip for enjoying Disney World on a budget?