Walt DisneyWorld on a Budget


What family with young children doesn’t want to go to Disney World?  Doing Disney on a budget can be challenging, but NOT impossible.  (I’ve learned a few things on our trips there. )   Now, there’s really NO WAY to do Disney ‘cheap’, but it CAN be done for less than some people think…and for less than most people do it.

First Things First:  For the most thorough and updated information on what’s going on at the parks, refer to the Disney World website. It’s VERY detailed!  There’s no need to re-write that information here.  This will be personal insights on things not on their website…

Some OTHER GGGGRRRREAT websites for discounts and the planning process:

  • MouseMisers:  GREAT sit for discounts on all things Disney (Disney World, Disney Land AND Disney Cruises.)
  • Allears: ditto above  AND contains menus AND PRICES to all the restaurants on Disney properties
  • Disney has created an excellent Planning Guide
  • My Disney Experience app:  This has helpful information on park activities, special events and wait times on more popular attractions.

No, I’m not advertising for or compensated by these sites….just fyi.  🙂

Buying Your Tickets Tickets are less per day the more days you purchase.  On our trip in 2009, we had originally planned to buy a 4 day ticket until I realized that we could add an extra day for only $3pp. The cost of an added day is more now, but then, for$12 plus the cost of 1 more hotel night and food, we had an extra day in the parks. If your schedule allows for this, it’s great!

AAA Members can get discount tickets to Disney parks, but they MUST be purchased from a AAA office. They are NOT available at the park.

Tickets can be purchased at all the parks, Disney Hotels, online at   http://disneyworld.disney.go.com  or by calling 1-407-W-Disney.   Note:  There is $5  S/H charge added for tickets mailed to your home.  There is no charge for the ‘Will Call’ option.

Food and Snacks:  Keeping tummies full can be a major expense in Disney World.  As would be expected, prices are “theme park” prices (i.e. grossly over-priced).  Now, that being said, the quality of food in Disney parks is EXTREMELY GOOD!  It is possible to eat with special or restricted diets or eat healthy fare if you wish.  You will find an abundance of grilled meats, vegetarian selections and WONDERFUL ethnic fare, as opposed to burgers, fries and ice cream as in most theme parks.  Perhaps that will make you feel a little better about paying more for the meals.

But….Is there a way to save money?

YES!!!  First, Snacks….  Disney now allows outside snacks to be brought into the park. (that’s a change)  I always bring high protein snacks (nuts, dried fruits, peanut butter)  to fill up little tummies so they aren’t begging for everything in sight.  We eat a BIG high protein breakfast then postpone lunch until early afternoon.  Then, dinner can either be a lighter meal or postponed to later in the evening (7 pm) — or we leave the park and run through a drive through for a more reasonably priced meal.  Though that’s less healthy, it’s also less expensive than a meal in the park.

In budgeting, plan to spend approx. $11+/adult per counter service meal in the park…..more for the upscale restaurants.  We found that our 2 children could split an adult meal and have the same amount of food for less than the cost of 2 children’s meals. If you’re able to switch things up a bit like that, it will save significant money over the course of your trip.

Probably the single BEST money saving tip concerning meals is to consider portion sizes in various venues.  Many of the full service restarants have meals that can easily feed 2 adults (provided they’re not huge eaters…)  It’s cheaper to buy 1 meal even if that meal is a little pricier if you can feed TWO people with it.  For counter service, some of the sandwiches served are HUGE.  They can easily be split between 2 people, certainly an adult and child (or 2 children if your kiddos are picky or small eaters.)  Along these same lines, adults can order from the children’s menu… They offer some appetizing options, not just hotdogs or grilled cheese…and portions are plenty for most adults (unless you’re just a HUGE eater).

Eating at Downtown Disney is less expensive than eating in one of the theme parks.  It’s a 15 min. bus ride.  If you have time, that’s a good place to go at supper time.

If you simply MUST do a Character meals, they are less expensive at breakfast or lunch than in the evenings.  The menu will be slightly different, but they characters are the same..and it’s the characters you were going for anyway, wasn’t it?  I promise…your  kids won’t even CARE about the menu!!!  🙂 🙂

I can’t leave this section on meals without mentioning the Disney Meal Plans.  We don’t buy these as they are only offered to guests staying on Disney property, (we always stay off property) but here’s the information:

Disney Meal Plans:  

These meal plans are only offered to guests of the Disney resorts.  As you would expect, Disney advertises these as the “greatest deal since sliced bread”, and they MAY be a good idea for you, but before making that decision/purchase, consider a few things.

The only way to really get your money’s worth with these plans is to eat ALL your meals on Disney property. If you eat off property, you won’t break even. Word of Caution (and the reason we don’t buy these plans) is that they can quickly begin to ‘rule’ your vacation if you want them to be a ‘bargain’….  Of course, if they’re not a bargain, then you’re paying more for meals that necessary…hmmm….

To Note:

  • Each day’s meal credits expire at the end of the day.  No carry-over
  • Because table service or character meals take such a chunk of time from your day, it may necessitate the addition of 1-2 days to your vacation plan in order to do those AND see and do everything you want to see and do.
  • Character meals require advance reservations (made up to 180 days in advance) at the more popular venues/times.

Quick Service Plan     ($37-40 per person/day at the time of this writing)

  • Includes 2 counter service meals (entree or combo meal) and 2 snacks per day per person
  • Does not include special/character meals.

Basic or Plus Dining plans

  • Includes 1 table service meal  (entree, dessert and beverage),  1 counter service meal (combo meal/beverage)  and 2 snacks.  
  • It takes planning to make this a good value

Deluxe Dining plan

  • Requires VERY diligent planning  (and some ‘hoop jumping’) to make this work to your advantage and not lose money
  • Includes 3 meal credits per person (one meal = appetizer, entrée, dessert, beverage OR a buffet OR Counter Service combo/beverage) and 2 snack credits.
  • Because of the amount of special meals, this plan would almost REQUIRE an extra 1-2 days in the parks.  (imho)

For our family, we did not consider these to be a good bargain.  Instead, we stay off property (nice places, but less expensive) either in a hotel with breakfast included or a condo where we cook our own breakfasts. Then we can make our own dining decisions rather than having our days ruled by an eating plan.  🙂

A Word About Eating at Epcot :  Epcot dining is a truly wonderful experience.  The World Showcase offers a variety of ethnic foods…my favorite is the Quiche  (and pastries) in France  🙂   The chocolate in Germany makes wonderful gifts but be sure to get a few bars just for yourself while there.  🙂

….and Drinks:  Bring empty water bottles to fill at water fountains. (Though they allow you to bring in full water bottles, they’re heavy to carry!)  🙂

Timeshare Presentations are a Dime a Dozen in Orlando:   Orlando is FULL of timeshare companies. Though I would NEVER suggest purchasing a time share, (MANY reasons which I’ve detailed in Timeshares)  the presentations can work to your advantage if you have the time.  They offer many incentives (WDW tickets, free meals, local tourist activities)  if you give them 2 hours of your time for their sales pitch.  (Don’t fall for the ’90 min. promise…. It NEVER works that way)  Especially in Orlando, they will have a room for childcare with caretakers, toys and/or movies.  Parents may not enjoy the experience, but the kids will have a blast!!!!  🙂  We’ve attended our share of these and they ARE REAL and LEGITIMATE!  You WILL receive what you are promised….  but it will cost you in “time”.   It’s a decision you have to make – but don’t worry that they are scams.  They aren’t.

Next Post:  More Walt Disney World Tips


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