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Ask the Readers: Is it possible to go to Disney without spending a fortune?

Today’s question is from Peg:

I’d like to take my two youngest (8 & 14) to Disney this fall without spending a fortune. I was thinking two parks in two days would be enough. If you’ve recently been to Disney, I’d love to know what parks your kids enjoyed most and how to get the best bang for our buck. -Peg

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119 Comments

  • I think that is doable. My kids still love Magic Kingdom at 14 & 17, but they are Disney fanatics. Great comments here! We stay at an offsite hotel that we can get for about $150, but it has 2 bedrooms and a kitchen. You do save in parking and transportation by staying onsite.

  • My family and I live in Orlando and we have Annual Passes to Walt Disney World (and have had them for 6 years).
    You most certainly DO NOT have to spend a fortune on a Disney vacation. There are lots of things that you can do to save money.
    But one area I would not skimp on is staying at a Disney Hotel. You can stay at a Value Resort (one of the All-Star Hotels or Pop Century). By staying at a Disney Hotel you will get free parking at the parks (which is a 15 dollar savings right there) you will also be able to take advantage of Magic Hours (where the parks open or close later for hotel guests than they do regular guests- and when your trying to squeeze everything the parks have to offer in a day you are going to need and want those magic hours). Besides Disney does everything first class and that includes their hotels! Micah will call and wake your kids up! The hotel pools are amazing! Everything is decorated and magical! We have stayed on Broadway (at All-Star Music) our hotel room was on a street (Broadway) with a little Central Park at the end, streetlights, billboards for Disney musicals (of course). We have stayed in Baseball (at All-Star Sports) the stair wells for the hotel were giant coke cups and the pool has Goofy throwing “water” balls at you while you swim! And the rooms are always clean and well maintained! Plus you can park your car and take Disney transportation everywhere in the World! Another savings!
    As far as the parks, I would recommend (if you are only going for 2 days) Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios or Magic Kingdom and EPCOT. Depending on your families interests. But seriously any park will be amazing and you will have a wonderful time. Get the free planning DVD (from the Disney website) so that your kids can better see what each park has to offer.
    A few other things, you can bring food into the parks. You just cannot bring rolling coolers into the parks. So you can pack a soft-sided cooler and bring snacks and food. Also, you can get free cups of water at any restaurant or stand that serves fountain drinks.
    Also if you have the time you can go to Downtown Disney! It’s free to get in and free to park! There is an amazing Lego Store there with wonderful scenes from Disney movies make out of Legos. There are tons of stores to walk around and look at! Also the Ghirardelli chocolate store they give out free samples of the Ghiradelli chocolates.
    There are tons more ways to save money and way more things to do. But I don’t want to take up the entire page. So hopefully, I have gotten your started on your vacation!
    ENJOY!

  • Erin R. says:

    We LOVE WDW! We are also former DVC owners (we sold our points once my parents moved down there). Without a doubt, the cheapest way to stay on property is to rent DVC points from a member. You can stay at a Deluxe resort cheaper than a Value resort. You may even be able to add the free dining that has been available. Do your homework and check references, but renting points is completely common (even a side business for some). I’ve used the same DVC member for years now and have only communicated with her through email/mail. In fact, I just rented points on Sunday for our December trip. We prefer the Boardwalk because of the location, although we will be staying at Bay Lake Tower in December. Best part, the studios have a fridge, microwave, toaster, etc. It allows you to save on food costs and handle any leftovers. Just Google “DVC points chart” to figure out how many points you’d need. Here’s an example: Oct & most of Nov. would cost you 10 pts./night at the Boardwalk in a standard view Studio (Sun-Thurs). Points rent from $10-$13/pt depending on the member. That is $100-$130/night at a deluxe resort and there are no taxes in addition to the rental fee. You pay the DVC member up front (which is why you should check references), they provide you the confirmation and the rest is just like you booked it yourself. We wouldn’t do it any other way.

  • Jane says:

    There is a blog at http://www.couponingtodisney.com that offers many tips and money saving ideas. Its author takes her family to Disney World annually and know the ins and outs.

  • First of all, late September/October is the best time to go if possible, for 3 reasons.
    1. It’s off season, so hotels in general are cheaper.
    2. The weather is nicer. It is very hot and humid in the summer.
    3. It is less crowded, which is very important if you want to cram as much as possible into your stay. The parks are not open as late (except Epcot which always closes at 9p) but the lines are generally shorter.
    As for which parks to go to, it really depends on your taste. I would say Hollywood Studios for sure, for those ages. Awesome rides (Rockin Roller coaster and Tower of Terror if you like thrills) great shows (Indiana Jones and Lights Motors Action) plus fun behind-the-scenes stuff if you’re into that.
    Epcot is more of an educational experience, but very enjoyable, IMO. Most of the rides are in the front half of the park, but I couldn’t go to Epcot and not tour the countries! Test Track and Mission Space are some of my faves, but I also like the Living with the Land boat ride and Soarin. If you go to Epcot. Don’t forget to find Klub Kool. They have samples of sodas from different countries. Some are good, others not so much. But hey, free soda!
    Animal Kindgom has a couple of good rides (expedition Everest, Dinosaur and the rapids ride) but the rest of the park is somewhat mediocre. Busch Gardens in Tampa is much better.
    Magic Kingdom has a lot of the classics and I love MK. Pirates of the Carribean, Slash Mountain and Thunder Mountain are all fun. Space mountain was really rickety last time I went and DH felt ill afterward. MK has also opened a whole new section of Fantasyland which I have not been to yet. But it looks awesome!
    Food wise, take a cooler with picnic supplies for at least one meal. You can rent a locker–still cheaper than meals for 4 people. A few years ago, DH and and I went to Hollywood studios (MGM them) and actually kept our cooler in the car and came out of the park to eat lunch. You will not be able to do this easily at Magic Kingdom. Depending how early you get to park, you may not have too bad a walk between your car and park. I recommend a backpack to carry around the park with snacks and water bottles. Most rides have pockets or cubbys in them for your stuff. If your hotel has complimentary breakfast you can snag a couple items (like apples and bananas) to take with you.
    If you’re staying in a Disney resort, there are extra park hours just for resort guests. They are different parks on different days. One park will open an hour early, another will close an hour late. You will need to check the calendar on their site to see which parks will have extra hours on which days.
    And that is all I can think of for now. 🙂

  • juanita says:

    We went last august (super hot=extra tiring)
    We stayed offsite and were planning to use the shuttle to save money for parking but they had terrible shuttle times.
    We were planning to eat the free breakfast onsite but only did once cuz they have an early cut off time and their food was mostly cereal by the time the line went down.
    The first day we got there semi early (10am? ) and would stay all day until close but the next day we were so tired that we wouldn’t get inside the park until almost noon. That continued for the week we were there. But we would always stay until close.
    Things to buy offsite (target!) A fan spraying bottle, ponchos, autograph books, etc etc
    Don’t do the autographs. They are a huge waste of time. Pick one favorite character each and do that.
    We did it 2 families with a total of 5 kids – ages 4- 10. It was fun. We want to go again in 4 yrs (or less!)

  • Rachel says:

    If you’ve never been to Disney World before, consider buying a PassPorter guide. They come out every year and run about $20 on Amazon. The PassPorter is a guidebook, vacation planner, and souvenir all in one. Each hotel, restaurant, park, ride, etc is reviewed by parents and kids. There are lots of maps, stickers, and 14 days worth of pocket pages to store tickets, receipts, and other things in.

    Also, every time we go I make a plan. Yes, I really do have a list for Disney! We pick which day we are doing each park based on Extra Magic Hours and we plan to get to the park when it opens. My plan usually has attractions listed together for the morning, then our lunch plans, more attractions and shows in the afternoon, then dinner plans, then more attractions and evening shows. You really will get the most for your dollar if you have a plan. We took our boys to Legoland in FL last week(first time) and we spent a lot of time wondering around and backtracking because we had no plan. Fortunately, it was pretty empty that day and we did get to see and do a lot, but it’s NEVER empty at Disney.

    If you can, go in January or February. Cool and not too busy.

    I could go on forever but the most important point of vacationing at Disney for me is to just enjoy what you CAN do and not worry about what you MISSED. This goes for rides, meals, souvenirs, shows, or anything else. Your joy will come from what you actually experience, not rushing from one thing to the next.

    And, hey, if you don’t ‘do it all’ this trip, you’ll need to plan another one in the future 🙂

  • Lts says:

    We recently rented a house near Disney. Traffic was awful getting into park and the areas surrounding Disney have a lot more crime than you would think. Although the house and neighborhood looked good from pictures, the neighborhood was sketchy at best. We would have been much better off to get a hotel with much less elbow room.

  • Anitajoye says:

    Yes! We did the give a day volunteer program and were able to go to disney land almost for free. We had to ay for one adult and one child who were not eligible… But it saved us a small fortune! We also didnt buy food on disney except for one turkey leg, which goes a long way! This was for a one day ticket to disney world.

  • Ashley says:

    Make the most of the day by using FastPass. It allows you to skip long lines. Each ride will give you a ticket with a set time. When it’s time, head to the ride and get in the short line with your ticket. It’s free.

    • Rachel says:

      Yes! Fastpass is GREAT!

    • Christine says:

      Get the Unofficial Guide to WDW and then sign up online for TouringPlans.com (you get a discount if you bought the book). But even w/o the book, it’s $12 for the year and worth every penny. Before your trip you enter in your “must see” rides, age of your walkers, day/time you’ll be there, etc and they give you an itemized list of the order or rides you should go on based on historical crowd capacity. You can also get the phone app that links your plan and constantly updates where the shortest lines in the park are. We went on a moderately crowded day–which was extremely crowded–and we had done all of our “must do” rides by lunch (at least 10) and hadn’t waited more than 15 minutes in any line, and many of them we walked right on. My SIL didn’t want to go w/ us and follow a plan and they waited up to an hour for rides that we sailed through.

      I agree w/ the other posters that food is a good place to skimp but not necessarily lodging. We stayed at the Wilderness Cabins, which was $$$ but worth it to me because we could go right to the boat to the monorail to the park, so easy and fun for my boys, we got extended magic hours (less lines) and we got a full kitchen so I could cook most of our meals. We had a character b’fast and I’m glad we did–again, if characters are a big deal to you or your kids (they were to me, not to my 5 and 8 y/o boys, go figure) it’s totally worth it. I don’t know if I’d spend the money again, but I’m glad I did it once. The food was great and it was a nice way to end our trip. You have to book way in advance to get decent times so book early.

      We did like the other posters, brought a cooler and put it in a locker, brought water, etc., but definitely budget for a Dole Whip in Adventure Land. They’re delish!!

      MK is my fave park but I don’t think you can go wrong w/ any of them.

  • Rachel says:

    Hi Peg! I think with your kids being older, they would really enjoy Hollywood Studios. You can do Magic Kingdom and Epcot in the same day and hit up Hollywood Studios the next day in the morning. If you have extra time after visiting that park, you may be able to park hop back to Epcot or MK if you wanted too. I would def. do a park hopper with just 2 days. Check the crowd calendar the mornings you go before you decide which day and which park so you get the most out of your time. Also, I would not go to Animal Kingdom with your timeframe, they would have more fun at the other parks.

  • Candice says:

    The single money-saving, time-maximizing tip I can give you is to get The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and their updated lines app. The book costs around $12 and I think the Touring Plans membership/app was around $7. The people who wrote this guide are amusement park junkies and statisticians. They have done TONS of research to create Touring Plans which will give park goers advice on which parks will be least busy on certain days and dates and even give you suggested orders for rides that will result in the least amount of line waiting time. Their app shows up to date wait times for each ride. My husband and I used this book and their app two years ago when we went to Disney and it made our experience so much better. I think we only waited in line over 30 minutes once or twice.

    The book is also chock full of money saving tips, considerations for choosing hotels, and even has a break down of cost of food options in each park.

    Also, one more thing to consider is the timing of your trip. October and November (before Thanksgiving) are slower months for the park, and in my opinion, the best time of year to go. The weather is beautiful and since there are less people at the parks you will spend MUCH less time waiting in line and more time riding rides. Have fun!

  • Susan says:

    At Disneyworld, we stayed off-property and while the price was right, we spent WAY more time than I would have liked waiting for shuttles and transferring to, from, and between parks. The place is huge, and it’s not practical to go back to the hotel mid-day for a swim or nap (DD was 3 then). If we ever go to DW again — which is doubtful given how many other places on this earth we’d love to visit — I’d stay at a Disney hotel just for the convenience.

    Disneyland was a different experience. There are lots of hotels within walking distance. Somewhat long walk depending on where you stay, but doable. Shuttles are cheap and convenient. We had breakfast in the room and then came back to the hotel for a swim and late lunch / early dinner at the hotel restaurant during happy hour when appetizers are very cheap. Nachos or pizza that was more than enough for the two of us for like $6. Then we went back to the park for evening activities.

    Food in the parks is expensive, yes, but keep in mind whatever you bring in you have to haul around all day, which I detest. I’d rather plan for a meal in the park and not hassle with hauling food around. It’s not so bad if you have litte ones and will have a stroller, but with 8- and 14-yo’s you’ll be carrying it around, and you’ll need to find a place to put it (cubbies or whatever) when you’re on rides.

    Lockers are available but they can be a long ways away from where you are, and when we were there, there were no lockers available. My friend left her belongings at a ride entrance, as many people do, and returned to discover that someone had gone through her things. She hadnt left any valuables with her bag, having taken her wallet and camera with her on the ride, but someone stole the packaged snacks she had in her bag. Her daughter’s jacket had been tossed a few feet away.

    With an 8-yo and a 14-yo, I’d travel light and not bother with a cooler. A small wallet that fits in your pocket, phone, camera. Maybe a lightweight backpack small enough that you can take on rides with you, but that is all. Water is free and readily available so you don’t need to lug it around.

    Oh, and if you do take a back pack, take a couple small plastic bags and put your backpack in it to keep it dry on the rides where you get wet.

  • jessica says:

    I went last September (2012) with 3 kids, 4 adults. I highly suggest finding a condo outside of Disney. we found an awesome deal on vbro.com (vacation rentals by owner) for $59 a night. the house was 3 br, with a hot tub, and in a gated community with many amenities (pool,game room,playground). we went to the super target and bought food/souveniers. cooked in all but one evening. we were about 10 min from the resorts but we rented a car on thrifty.com, where I found a coupon for 20% off. we did fly I just watched flights every other day or so and as soon as they got low I booked.

  • Amy says:

    Just another thought. We went several years back. When we went, they were running a special for free dining plan for a family of 4 when you booked a room with at a Disney Resort. This covered lunch and dinner for us. We used the snack given to us to buy milk for breakfast and then ate breakfast in our room. Staying at the resort, they picked us up at the airport and took us to the parks saving us on gas or from renting a car. We also took a backpack into the parks packed with water and snacks.

  • Shana says:

    We just went in May 2013 and my kids were 8 and 13. It was our first trip so we felt like we HAD to go to Magic Kingdom. We did all four parks while we were there. When it was all over, my kids liked Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios the best. They rides and shows at these two parks were most appropriate for their age group. While they enjoyed Magic Kingdom and Epcot, their comments were that MK rides and shows were more for smaller children and MK was more crowded so we waited in line longer and they felt Epcot did not have as many rides and was more “culture” then they were interested in, lol. But check out the ticket prices, we didn’t pay that much more for a four day pass vs the two day. We saved a ton by staying off-site. We stayed in a condo in the Celebration area. We had a 1 bedroom, living room, full kitchen and bath so we had tons more space for a much smaller price. I actually used hotwire and we paid about $33 per night and parking was FREE. The condo was a 2.5 star so it was nice, clean, but nothing fancy. It had several pools, game room, basketball courts, ect. This also helped us save money on food. We ate a big breakfast in our room every morning. I packed a soft sided cooler with snacks/sandwiches to munch on throughout the day and we ate 1 meal in the park each day. Each of the kids carried their own small backpack w/some snacks and a water bottle. Get everyone a wide mouth water resusable water bottle BEFORE you go. Any of the counter service restaurants will give you cups of free ice water. We dumped the water into our bottles and mixed with crystal light packets. We did some research online and checked out the menus at the different restaurants. The restaurants in the parks are expensive, but by checking ahead we were able to accurately budget the cost into our planning and make sure there was something everyone could eat. We made a trip to the WalMart in Orlando and did souvenir shopping there. Much less expensive and we didn’t have to lug our purchases around the park all day. I did buy the unofficial guide book for Disney World and felt it was worth the money and helpful. I think the biggest thing is to plan ahead of time and let everyone know the plan!

  • Denise says:

    Lots of great advice here. This Florida resident and former passholder has only one thing to add:

    Best day of the year to go to Disney: Super Bowl Sunday. Perfect comfortable weather, and not a soul in sight.

  • Kathleen says:

    Yes. I have 3 boys age 3, 5, 7. I always pack up food and drinks for them.
    I usually pack snacks as well. We as a family like Disneyland park more as there are more rides that all of us can enjoy together.
    The Pizza Port is a good place to eat as well. Bigger portions so you can share.
    We had annual passes so we went at least once a month or every 2months. That’s what we would do. Maybe once in awhile we’d splurgeand get 1 meal in the park. Taking your own food and or snacks really helps keep the cost down.

  • Jen says:

    It is possible. Others have said to stay off site but with parking and the loss time I would say go off season to a value resort on site. call Disney up and have them work up a bundle for you and ask for any discounts (free dining or hotel discount)

    Driving will depend on where you live. for us we had to do a two day drive with food on the road and hotel stay. Then add in gas and well we flew. We did 8 days (6 days int he park with park hoppers) free dining (table service and one quick service and snack a day), airfare, at a moderate resort for 3200 for a family of 3. We used our Disney rewards (Disney visa) for activities and park stuff we wanted to buy.

    for Disney for that long and flying it was a good deal

  • Jennifer Diliberto says:

    Hi-I’m a Florida a resident and have frequented Disney/Orlando area quite a few times and my first comment is–it all depends on your kids and what they are into. When I was a kid my parents dragged my sister and I around all day just to get “their money’s worth” out of it, but my cousins came from NJ one year and didn’t make it more than 2 hours–yes all that money for 4 tickets and left after 2 hours because it was too hot and they were too tired!…and they were definitely not made of money… So again, if you and your kids are willing to go in for the long haul, then Disney or Universal are well worth it. Note…if you think your kids will be too scared to go on rides like roller coasters (or like other readers have said not tall enough 54″) don’t go to Universal or Islands of Adventure-because they will either be so scared to go on anything or so mad that they aren’t tall enough-or worse, the younger child is not tall enough and then you have to figure out how to take one and watch the other….stressful..

    Definitely recommend the off season-so anytime Oct-Dec. During Christmas time- Magic Kingdom has Mickey’s Merry Christmas Party. It starts around 8pm and goes till late in the night and the tickets are around $60 instead of the $100 price tag these days. Bonus, there’s a lot less people in the park overall so less wait times, and there’s still a great parade, show and fireworks. That’s how we were able to take my 2 neices to Disney-otherwise there was no way we were able to afford the 4 tickets we would have needed. Plus, we ate before we got to the park so didn’t have to spend for major meals AND they give out FREE cookies and hot chocolate! It was our neices first time so we stopped at Guest Services and got them “first time” buttons which have been known to score freebies like ice cream and cookies at the cart vendors. I had a birthday button on once and I scored free ice cream as a “birthday gift from Mickey” :)…and I was grown at the time lol

    Wherever or whenever you decide to go–to maximize your time–always get there as early as possible and always get your fastpass for the most popular ride you want to go on first (because you can only get 1 fastpass per hour or something like that) then go to the back of the park and do those rides/activities first-because everyone else is still pandering around the front of the park. Then wander back out ot the front of the park-mid to late afternoon since that is when all of those people have made it to the back. The first time I went to Disney with my now husband and stepdaughter-we made it to 3 parks in 1 day 🙂 and totally maxed out our Disney experience.

    If you decide to park hop-start at Animal Kingdom first-since the animals usually only come out in the AM when its not so hot. Plus AK closes the earliest (word to the wise-do not leave your car at AK if you are park hopping-drive to the next park then take the monorail-found out the hard way that the monorail back to AK stops running after 6pm..so we had to cab it back…) From AK I’d recommend Epcot or MGM Studios (I personally never spend a full day at either-maybe Epcot, but the highlights at each park could easily be done in an afternoon). Last would be Magic Kingdom as it usually has longer hours. If your not interested in the parade, that is the time to hit some of the more popular rides like splash mountain…you can probably walk right on the ride at that time as everybody else is watching the parade.

  • Melissa W. says:

    A very cheap way to stay on property is camping at Fort Wilderness! We are going at the end of September and staying 5-nights for $270 (not including tickets, of course

  • Sarah says:

    We have annual passes for Disney land and go often. I think your biggest expense is the admission (and other travel expenses if traveling). Bring your own water, snacks and food. Park in the toy story lot and not the main Mackey and friends, it’s way less stressful. If your coming from out of town, you’d get a better deal at an off site hotel. There are plenty around and many offer shuttle service.

    As far as souvenirs, we don’t buy any unless it’s a bday gift or for something special. You can get Disney character items elsewhere for half the cost. Again, their food is very pricey so bring your own. We might splurge on a dessert thought. The church’s are great and only $3.75 and large enough to share. And bring a backpack to avoid the outrageous $13 fee to rent a locker, but be very mindful of what you pack because you don’t want to be too bogged down.
    I
    If you or someone else in your party has special needs, you can get a special guest assistance card that allows you to avoid the line and go in through the exit.

  • Heather says:

    We are a family of 8 so staying onsite was not a frugal option for us..with your family size you might find some great deals. We have found success in rentals on ebay (mouselovers is our favorite seller on ebay for Disney homes…often about $600 for the week for a 3 bedroom/2 bath house with a private pool). We bought tickets from Undercover Tourist and found that the best bang for your buck is simple Magic Your Way tickets…usually the price extra per day is very little after 3 so we end up choosing the 7 day ticket and then you don’t hop between parks, you just plan out which park you will see each day. Tickets are the biggest expense for us! We drive instead of flying (16 hrs each way). We made sandwiches and brought water and snacks into the park and ate one meal outside the park usually in the evening and then return to the park of the day. We go in January and often will request restaurant gift cards instead of Christmas presents that we can use for our one meal a day there. While there we purchase souvenirs at Target and Walmart instead of the parks. We have a wonderful time and are planning our 3rd trip this year. The first week of November is supposed to be one of the best times if you like less crowds..right after Halloween and usually they start to set up Christmas decorations within the week 🙂 Have fun!

  • Kim says:

    When we took my daughter a few years ago, we packed several Disney toys we bought on sale at the Disney store. Each morning Tinkerbell paid a “visit” to our hotel room and left a special treat! This saved us buying the more expensive items in the parks and she looked forward to going to bed each night to see what new treat Tinkerbell would leave.

  • Tee says:

    The value resorts are typcially around $80, but you have to reserve early if its not in the off season as they book pretty fast. Especially the newest resort Art Animation. It’s really nice. I didn’t stay there but we visited twice and had lunch& dinner there. We also purchased souv. at walmart, some are the same as what you see in the parks. I also agree with everyone, go in the parks early and ride the popular rides first. We also got a fast-pass for the popular rides so we could ride more than once. If you stay at the Disney resort, there’s a channel that breaks down the most popular rides. Also the resorts have maps of all the parks. And lastly, if you download the disney park apps, you can pull the estimated wait times for rides.

  • Connie says:

    What about the Disney rewards card? I don’t think any one mentioned that yet. Is it a good way to earn money for a trip?

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