We weren't planning on visiting Disney World this year. Then, around New Year's, I was working on our 2013 photo books and I had one of these moments: "The girls are growing up so fast. They are at such a special age. They think everything is so magical". Moments later, while searching for a totally different flight on Expedia, an ad popped up on the side for a sale on Disney Resorts. I started to think how exciting it would be to surprise Maggie and Alex with a trip to Disney World. The trip wasn't in the plans for the year and most definitely not in the budget. I knew it would be a tough sell for my husband. He had never been to Disney World before, and I think he pictured crowds and dollar signs. I promised I wouldn't spend much and he'd only miss 2 days of work. To my surprise, he said "let's go".
Below are 10 ways we enjoyed a trip to Disney World on a very small budget. A lot of the tips are relevant to those traveling with very young children, but hopefully this helps your trip planning and your wallet!
10 Tips for Planning A Budget Friendly Disney Vacation
1. Plan a shorter trip
Every day you spend in Disney World is a lot of money, especially the hotel and park tickets. We did 3 nights, 4 days. Only 2 days were spent in the park. For our first trip and for 2 very young children, this was plenty of time. If we stayed a week, we would have doubled the cost of our trip.
2. Search For Park Resort Sales
Look for weeks that Disney has sale prices on their resorts. When we booked, it was "book by January 5th and travel by March 5th" for 30% off. This saved us a ton! We stayed at the Caribbean Beach Resort, for 4 days, for a total of $520.
3. Use Points
We transfered American Express points to JetBlue and the whole family flew to Orlando for free.
JetBlue has awesome "low point" options if you're flexible on when you fly.
4. Kids Under 3 Are Free!
When I first mentioned to Tom that I wanted to do a Disney trip this year, he suggested waiting until early fall. I agreed (this was before we knew I would be 9 months pregnant in the fall), until I found out kids under 3 are free. That was a great selling point for us. Alex enjoyed entrance to the parks AND ate free at all of the character meals. Going while she was 2.5 vs after 3 saved us a few hundred dollars. Many people told me my kids were "too young" for a trip to Disney, but why not take them while they can enjoy the whole park and meals for free!
5. Send Your Snacks and Drinks
Diapers.com (and their family of sites) ships free over $49. I always send my diapers, wipes and pullups ahead of time if we are flying. This time, I also sent a bunch of fruit pouches, snacks, cereal bars, waters, etc to our resort. The box shipped free and we had plenty to bring to the park and eat poolside. This saved a lot of money.
6. Bring A Water Bottle With You
You can see how I made cute, personalized Disney water bottles in yesterday's post.
It's hot, you walk around a ton and everyone in the family is going to be very thirsty. If a family of 4 bought a drink in the park every time they were thirsty, you could end up spending a couple hundred dollars just on drinks. Bring a water bottle and keep re-filling it for free!
7. Pack Smart
Kids are going to want to be decked out in Disney gear, buying every Disney toy they see. Be prepared. I shared a few tips/ ways around spending a lot, in Monday's post.
Before you jump on the dinning plan, be sure to price it out. For how much our family eats and for the short length of our trip, we would not have gotten our moneys worth. Personally I think the meals are really big at the quick service restaurants. For example, one night we grabbed dinner from our hotel's (awesome) quick service food court and ate outside by the water. Tom & I split an adult meal and the kids split a children's meal. We all had plenty to eat, for under $20. We all had plenty to eat the whole trip, and honestly spent far less than I thought we would have on food.
9. Planning Tickets
If you're on a budget, plan out your days ahead of time and don't buy Park Hopper passes if you don't really need them. For example, the day you go to Magic Kingdom, you probably don't need a Park Hopper ticket. There is plenty to do there for a day and to even go back at night for more! If you get a single park ticket vs a Park Hopper, you save $60 per ticket, per day, per person (that's a lot of money)!
10. Limit What You Do
This might sound obvious, but don't "over plan". I knew going into the trip that no matter how much or how little we did, the trip was going to be magical for Maggie and Alex. If we went all the way there and they went on 1 ride, saw 1 princess and met Minnie, they would have left happy. While planning, I tried to keep this in mind. That's why we only did 2 days in the park. We only did 1 character lunch and 1 character dinner: this was plenty for them. Someday, we'll go back for more days, more rides, more character meals, etc. For our first trip, we spent less than expected and left with more wonderful memories than we could have ever expected!