I have looked forward to taking my kids to the Magic Kingdom and Walt Disney World ever since they were born, but because it is such an expensive trip I didn’t get around to it until my oldest child was 9. One of my oldest friends was getting married in Orlando, so since I was going to be in the area anyway, I took that as my opportunity to take my wife, 2 kids, and mother to Disney World.
To start with we talked about all the things we wanted to do. We had seven days to fill with fun and these were the things we picked out:
1. Visit all 4 of the main theme parks at Disney World
2. Visit Universal Studio’s theme park.
3. Visit Sea World and swim with the dolphins.
4. Spend a day at the beach.
When I looked at all the ticket prices, I noticed something interesting. Disney World tickets are sold in packages by the number of days you want to spend there. A one day ticket is expensive at more than $100 for an adult. What is interesting though is the incremental price for each additional day is much lower. That is to say that the price per day goes down significantly for each extra day you are there.
That meant that going to Disney for 6 days was much cheaper than going to Disney for 4, Universal Studios for 1 and Sea World for 1. We decided to go to Disney for six days, plus go to the beach for a day. We missed out on the other parks this way, but we will be back some day, and will see the other parks then.
Now that I knew what we were going to do, I wanted to see if I could save a bit more by finding a way to save on those 6 day Disney World tickets. I searched the web for days, and the lowest price I could find was from www.mousesavers.com . They made it a real hassle to buy the tickets. First, you had to sign up for their newsletter, then you had to wait until they emailed the newsletter to you next month. Once you go the newsletter, it contained a link where you could find their discount tickets. The savings were pretty small, so I came up with another option.
I have a Target Red Card, which gives me a 5% discount at all Target stores. Target sells Disney gift cards in their stores, so you can buy $1457 worth of Disney gift cards for $1,384, a savings of $73. Because this $73 discount was more than I could save buying my tickets through mousesavers, I used the gift card trick.
Another option was to buy Disney tickets through the AAA auto club. This wasn’t much of a discount, but if you bought tickets through them you got access to “diamond parking”. As it turns out, it didn’t appear to me that “diamond parking” was any better than normal parking, so I wouldn’t bother buying through AAA unless you can find a significant discount there.
I mentioned earlier that our original plan was to stay at a hotel right on the Disney World, property, but that turned out to be very expensive. The cheapest option was to stay at a campsite for about $80 per night, but that wasn’t for us. We wanted accommodations that were a little more comfortable since we were going to be staying for a full week. The least expensive hotel option on Disney World property was about $100/ night. Oddly, Disney doesn’t make it very easy for families of five to visit. Almost all of their hotel rooms only fit families of 4, and all of those were much more expensive than $100/ night. That meant we would have to spend $200/ night on hotels, which would be $1400 for seven nights. Ouch! It was time to look for another option.
My favorite website for finding a place to stay is Airbnb.com . Instead of looking for normal hotels, it is a website for bed and breakfasts, vacation homes for rent, and even sometimes people who just rent out single bedrooms in their homes for a little extra cash. On Airbnb.com, I was able to find a 3 bedroom vacation home with a pool that was only about 10 minutes away from Walt Disney World for about $70/ night. That saved me $130/ night for a total of $910 for the week.
Besides the money, renting a house turned out to be a great idea for other reasons. It allowed us to save money on food (more on that later), having a 3 bedroom was much more comfortable than having 5 people in 2 hotel rooms as I am sure you can understand, and the kids loved having a private swimming pool. I will suggest that when looking for a place to stay, you be as close to Disney World as you possibly can if you have young children. My kids needed an afternoon nap every day since they were playing so hard and staying up so late, so leaving the park, driving a long way to your hotel, then driving a long way back after nap time is over would eat up a lot of time each day. (more on nap time later)
Meals at theme parks are not a great deal. Because they have a captive audience, they can charge high prices. The average cost of a basic meal was around $10, and even somebody who is fluent in the Art of Being Cheap will have a hard time finding meals for less than $5/ person. For people who stay at Walt Disney World hotels, a dining plan is available that is a much better deal than buying all your food individually, but we have discussed before how staying at a Walt Disney World hotel wasn’t for me. So $5/ meal X 3 meals per day X 6 days X 5 people = $450.
This is where it was nice to have a full kitchen back at the rental house. We would get up early, have some breakfast and get to the park before it opened. The parks were the least busy early in the morning and we were able to ride the most popular rides before long lines had a chance to form. We would have some lunch at the park, but by about 2-3 pm, we were all pretty tired. Besides being tired, Central Florida gets pretty hot in the middle of the afternoon, and this is the time of the day when the parks are the most crowded. Tired, hot, and standing in long lines is not my idea of a good time so we would go back to our vacation home for a few hours every afternoon. We would grab a quick nap then fix dinner and eat at home before heading back to the park completely refreshed for an evening full of fun. When we first got to Orlando we went to the grocery store and got enough food for 2 meals a day for 7 days, which came out to about $100. $100 in groceries + 1 meal per day at the park at $5/ meal X 6 days X 5 people comes out to $250, a savings of $200 with the added benefit of a nap thrown in. In addition, I used a Disney gift card from Target on the meals I bought at Walt Disney World (not the groceries) and $50 worth of souvenirs I bought at the park. That 5% discount on $300 was another $15 in savings.
Bonus Tips- Skip the lines at Disney World
This won’t save you money, but if you believe that time is money then I cannot recommend strongly enough that you use touringplans.com . A 1 year subscription costs $12, but it is the best $12 you will spend on your trip to Disney World.
When I think of when my parents took me to Disney World when I was a kid I remember how much fun I had, but I also remember waiting in long lines for hours and hours. My kids won’t remember those long waits, because they never had to wait more than 20 minutes for even the most popular rides. When you sign up for touringplans.com , they make a schedule for you by having you select all the rides you want to go on at a park. The site then uses a fancy computer algorithm to calculate what rides you should go on in what order based on estimates of how busy all the rides will be at all times of the day. It also schedules when you should get fast passes to come back later and when you should wait in line. I would also recommend getting the free touringplans.com app for your smart phone, which uses actual current wait time information to adjust your schedule throughout the day.
The downside of a touring plan is that young children don’t really understand how complex computer algorithms work, so my kids would complain when I wouldn’t let them stop at every fun activity they came across and just explained that they could come back to it that evening. After a while, I got tired of the complaining, so I let them see what it was like to wait in a long line in the Florida heat for a ride. That convinced them that Daddy’s schedule wasn’t so bad after all.
If you have questions, comments, or hints about taking a trip to Walt Disney World I would love to hear from you below.