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How to visit Walt Disney World on a budget

by Attractions Magazine Staff

These days, it’s impossible to go too long without hearing about prices rising at Walt Disney World. Everything from lightsabers to Lightning Lanes are getting more expensive. After seeing costs increase across the board, one can’t help but wonder if it’s still even possible to take a trip to the parks without spending a small fortune. Let’s look at some ways that guests can still experience all the magic without completely draining their bank account.

magic kingdom

By Jacqueline Dole

Let’s take a look at how much a family of four with two adults and two children under 10 can expect to pay for a trip to the parks during the least expensive time to visit, and how much they can spend (or save) by exploring different options on where to stay and how to get there. 

Flights

By utilizing Google Flights, you are able to view calendars to identify the most affordable time of year to fly, the most cost-effective airlines, and the cheapest routes to fly. Rather than searching by each individual airline, the data from all companies is pooled into one easy place to search for the best deal. Additionally, consider purchasing a ticket with flexibility so that if the price goes down in the future, you may be able to rebook and save some money.

Walt Disney World Theme Park Tickets

star wars galaxy's edge
Photo by Joshua Sudock/Disney Parks

When trying to figure out how to plan a trip to Walt Disney World for the lowest price, consider taking a look at the park ticket calendar to see what times of the year are priced the lowest.

Pricing for Walt Disney World theme park tickets vary, depending on the time of year, and currently start at $109 for adults for a single day ticket and can reach up to $140 during peak travel times, such as Christmas week and school vacation weeks. Currently, the lowest priced time to visit during 2023 is the first week in September, so our hypothetical family of four vacation will be during these lowest-priced dates (Sept. 5- 9, 2023).

Park Hopper vs Single Day Tickets

Single day tickets generally cost less than park hoppers, so unless you find some extra money in the budget for the upgrade, plan to visit one park per day. For example, our family of four will save $362 by opting for a four-day single-park ticket rather than a four-day hopper ticket during their September trip. 

$1,813.32 (four-day single park, two adults + two kids)

$2,175.42 (four-day hopper ticket, two adults + two kids)

Lodging: on-site vs off-site

Home rental (Airbnb, VRBO, Homeaway)

disney's art of animation resort
Disney’s Art of Animation Resort
Photo by Kent Phillips

There are many different options when it comes to choosing your accommodations for a Walt Disney World vacation. Recently, home rental services like AirBnB and VRBO have gained popularity. These rentals are often a great option when traveling with a large group who may not want to rent multiple hotel rooms to accommodate all guests.

Rental properties can start at $200 dollars per night and up, and can offer amenities like a private pool, game rooms, and more. Perhaps most important in terms of a visitor’s budget, these homes give guests an opportunity to cook more meals themselves and save on dining costs. 

However, rental properties can also be far from perfect. Many guests report issues with owners canceling their reservations last minute, leaving them scrambling to find a replacement, as many districts in the Orlando area do not allow short term rentals and listings may be pulled unexpectedly. Some properties are not nearly as nice as they look in their photos, and when guests arrive, the homes are dirty and amenities may not be as advertised, with pools reported to be empty upon arrival. There is also the added cost of parking at the parks when staying at an off-site option with no shuttle, or the cost of rideshare services to and from your destinations each day. 

For this example, we looked at a highly rated three-bedroom property in Davenport, Fla. listed on AirBnB. For our sample dates, the rental alone is $879.00, and paired with four four-day single-park tickets for each member of the family the total comes to $2,692.32 

Off Property

Booking a hotel located outside of the Disney bubble can be an easy way to save some money. While there are many hotels in the Orlando area with prices as low as $100 per night, there are a number of third-party options that offer the same early theme park entry to the parks that on-property resorts do, sometimes for a lower price tag. These hotels can even offer shuttles to the parks that are either included with a nightly rate or offered for an additional fee. Many hotels include a resort fee on top of their nightly rate, which can be a surprise for many guests, so always read the small print when booking! 

For this example, we looked at the lowest-priced option in the Disney Springs resort area during our dates. The Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista: Disney Springs Resort Area is $980 and paired with four four-day single-park tickets the total is $2,793.32

On Property

disney's fort wilderness resort
Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and campground

Disney offers value accommodation ranging in price from less than $100 for a tent site at Fort Wilderness to Value Resorts starting at around $150 nightly and up, such as Disney’s All-Star Music, Movies, and Sports. Other resorts in the Value category, such as Disney’s Art of Animation and Disney’s Pop Century, can be slightly more expensive, as they offer more amenities such as proximity to The Skyliner with transportation to Epcot and Hollywood Studios via a gondola. While parking is an additional fee per night, guests do have the benefit of complimentary parking at the parks for the duration of their stay. 

These resorts offer guests perks such as a comprehensive bus transportation system to the theme parks and Disney Springs, early entry to theme parks, and the ability to charge purchases to their room with their Magic Band. Offering more than just one specific advantage, these properties allow guests to feel like they’re experiencing a truely comprehensive and immersive Disney Vacation within the park bubble. Additionally, when a Disney hotel room is booked as a package along with park tickets, guests are given an upgrade for “Magical Extras” which include admission to the ESPN Wide World of Sports, four rounds of miniature golf, and coupons to businesses in the Disney Springs complex. 

For this example, we chose the lowest priced Value resort option during our dates. For the dates we selected, a room at Disney’s All Star Sports Resort with four four-day single-park tickets will run you $2,457.92 

Other Costs

While an off-site home share service or third-party hotel may be the most cost-effective option per night, there are other factors to take into consideration when figuring out the bottom-line cost of a Walt Disney World trip. Costs such as parking at the theme parks, which is $25 per day, or $100 for four park days; rideshare, which can vary depending on how close you’re staying to the parks; and car rental fees, which can be hundreds of dollars.

Airport Transportation

sunshine flyer
Sunshine Flyer

With the demise of Disney’s Magical Express bus service, unfortunately even guests staying at Disney resorts are now responsible for their own transportation to hotels. If you don’t anticipate needing a car rental, you have the option to book a rideshare service, which can range from $35-$70 and even higher during peak times. Alternatively, guests can opt to utilize a bus service such as Mears Connect ($16 one way for adults) or The Sunshine Flyer ($16 one way for adults) which picks passengers up at Orlando International Airport and transports them to their Disney resort destination. If visitors don’t require a car seat for children and are traveling with more than a couple members of their family, it can be more cost effective to take a ride share service rather than utilizing a bus service that is priced per-person.

Food

There are many ways to cut costs on food when visiting the parks: grocery delivery services so you can eat at the hotel rather than in the parks, ordering alcohol via a delivery service rather than visiting hotel bars, opting for more quick service options rather than table service, and even ordering kids meals if smaller portions aren’t an issue.

Need some water? Don’t buy a bottle while you’re in the park! Most quick serve food locations will have complimentary cups of ice water available. You can even bring your own food into the park if you’re looking to save money during the day. For families who will primarily be utilizing quick service food and snacks, estimate roughly $200-250 per day for food. However, that number can be even less if families utilize a grocery delivery service for water, snacks, and breakfast items for the room, things that can quickly add hundreds of dollars to the total bill. 

Souvenirs

disney rainbow plush

Rather than dishing out top dollar for a new plush on Main Street U.S.A. or the latest shirt from the Vault collection, try making time to visit one of the two Disney Character Warehouses in Orlando. These outlets sell overstock merchandise from the theme parks at a discount so that you can still take home brand name Disney souvenirs without blowing all your budget.

You can also find brand-name Disney products at local Walgreens, CVS’, Targets, Walmarts, and some stand-alone souvenir shops.

Card Discounts

There are a couple of additional ways to save money on your trip via discounts from credit and gift cards. Disney Visa cardholders can benefit from occasional discounts on hotel rooms, currently up to 25% for select dates and resorts. These discounts are limited, so if you see a promotion you qualify for, be sure to book fast!

Card holders can also take advantage of select discounts on dining and gift store purchases, as well. Disney Gift Cards are also a way to save money, Target offers its Red Card members 5% off on purchases – including gift cards! 

Other retailers also offer deals on their cards during sales throughout the year, such as Black Friday. 

Conclusion 

For a family of four to visit all four parks for four days and five nights, the lowest-priced option for our sample is to stay at the All Star Sports Resort, costing a total of $2,457.92 for tickets and lodging. Other added costs include travel to the parks, the cost of food and any souvenirs. While these costs can all range dramatically based on individual family needs and wants, it’s possible to still have a Disney resort stay without breaking the bank! 

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