We are just coming off the high of another awesome trip to Disney World. Just a few years ago, Disney was something that we never dreamed we could afford, or frankly, even enjoy. We have four little kids, and the idea of spending a million dollars just to stand in long lines for rides that are too big for the kids, spending hundreds of dollars on character meals just for our kids to not like anything, or even just to be jumping on the bandwagon and wearing matching shirts and ears like everyone else honestly didn't sound like fun.
But as time went on, we listened to so many family's successful Disney trips and heard about all the cool things Disney had to offer (more on that in another post soon!) So I decided to dig in and really see if there was ANY way possible we could actually afford to go. My husband coach's high school football and teaches, and I stay home with our littles running this biz. AKA People say money doesn't grow on trees and we shout "TESTIFY!"
What I learned was, there are actually a TON of ways to save money and STILL get to do the things you really want to do! Below, I'll mention what we have found works for US, and even share ideas of what we plan to look into for next time! (Yes, next time, because we drank the Disney Kool Aid and now we're *Captain* hooked!) See what I did there?!
1) Tickets cost what they cost. Period. Of course, there are some seasons where prices go down or up some due to the demand, but as a whole, you will have to pay a pretty penny for your park ticket. Now, we are on a school schedule thanks to my husband's job, so we are only really free to visit during peak times. This last year when we went, park tickets were $109 a day. Per person. It's pricey. BUT the more days you go, the cheaper your ticket is per day. We went five days this last trip, so our tickets were about $73 a day. We recommend going multiple days, especially with little ones, as you never know if they are going to get sick (this has happened to us every trip), or if they are going to just get overwhelmed and exhausted. You don't want to have to leave early one day, and have that be the end of your trip. It's always nice to know you have a couple more days to visit before you head home.
2) Kids two and under are FREE. There are six of us, but our two little ones are both under two, so we actually only had to pay for four of us. There are a lot of opinions as far as whether or not it's worth it taking babies to Disney. But we found it to be more than worth it. Sure, it's a lot of work, but most rides at the Disney parks don't have height requirements. So we were able to hold the babies (and our backpack full of diapers!) on almost every ride. For the rides that have height requirements, a lot of them offer Rider Switch...which meant that I was able to stay with the babies while my husband took the big kids on a ride, then when they were done, the big kids and I were able to get right back on so I had a chance to ride, too! Plus, the sites and sounds and characters and shows at Disney are so mesmerizing...our babies really enjoyed them! They may not remember any of the trip, but I'll never forget the looks on their faces when the music began and bubbles appeared and when they saw Mickey and Minnie for the first time.
3) You can bring your own food to the parks. WHAT!? This was a game changer. Water bottles and snacks came with us every where we went, and it's not frowned upon in the slightest. It was perfect for when we were standing in line and the kids needed to get recharged (or just occupied). Every quick service restaurant also offers free cups of ice water, so you don't have to pay $4 for a bottle. Now, Disney has incredible food, and we didn't want to miss out on it, so what we did was pack lunches for the kids (peanut butter and jellys, pretzels, mandarin oranges, etc), then Coach and I would order food for ourselves. At each place then, we would get something fun for the kids to try (the homemade pop tarts at Woody's Lunch Box, Dole Whip, Mickey Waffle, you name it). That way the kids still got to participate in the fun, and we got to save money on their meals. Some of the kids meals run about $9 each, so that would have cost us nearly $30 every meal. Totally worth taking a few moments in the morning to pack some food for them!
4) Speaking of food, you can spend as much or as little on it as you please. Our typical day at the parks meant getting there around rope drop (that's "super early" for anyone who's not well versed in Disney lingo) then we left around 1, then came back around 5. This gave our kids a break from the sun and allowed them to rest long enough to last the rest of the evening. So we chose to eat breakfast at our place, we brought snacks to the park, we ate our lunch as mentioned above, then came home for the afternoon. We usually ate enough while we were home that we weren't too hungry for a real dinner, so we either just ordered one thing and shared it, or brought more food of our own to eat there later. This allowed us all to still get to experience the magic of Disney food, while not spending a ton of money each meal.
5) I can't not talk about character meals. For us, we choose not to do them. I know, I know, I can practically hear the gasps of every Disney World lover from the other side of the internet. But hear me out. For one, our kids aren't super into the characters. They think they're cool, but they think rides are so much cooler. So instead of making a reservation for a sit down meal with characters (and spending $$$), we chose to eat quick and then hit up the rides or one of the million cool shows. This saved us a ton of money. That said, I think it's important for each family to decide what's important to them. What are you really hoping to get to do at Disney? What are you willing to spend a little more on? Whatever is at the top of your list, friend, DO IT. You won't regret it. For us, it's just never been a character meal.
6) I can't talk about food any longer or I will ruin my keyboard from salivating all over the keys. So let's talk about where to stay! There are so many benefits to staying on Disney property. I don't know a lot about them because we've never stayed on site. But, the rooms are adorbs, you can have anything you purchase in the parks be delivered to your room, the pools are incredible, transportation is provided, etc. The downside? The cost. There are always deals that spring up out of no where, and if you book your vacation far enough in advance, sometimes you can score a good price for a room. But for us? We're last minute people, and we like staying off site. We have used websites like vrbo.com and airbnb.com to find amazing condos for CHEAP. Y'all, Orlando is CHEAP. We have booked 4 bedroom condos, complete with a pool and a fully equipped kitchen for about $100 a night. It takes about 15-20 minutes to drive to Disney World, and yes, you have to pay $25 for parking each day (if you leave and come back to the park later, you can just show your receipt and you don't have to pay again). But we save a significant amount of money staying off site. The fully equipped kitchen alone gives us so many meal options that save us money, as opposed to most Disney resorts just supplying a mini fridge and a microwave. Again, if staying at a resort is top of your list important to you, STAY. But there ARE other options, and you can save big bucks staying off site.
7) There are lots of blog posts about purchasing Disney Swag before you arrive at Disney World to save money. And there are some great deals out there! But, let me just throw this out there: you don't actually have to buy anything. (!!!!!!!) Pick your jaw up off the floor and hear me out: you are already spending a lot of money to take your kids all the way to Disney World. They are going to get to experience so many awesome things during there time there, and they are gonna love you for it. So, don't give in to this pressure to buy all the stuff. Your kids won't have less of an experience because you didn't spend more money on toys. That said, in typical Disney fashion, the Disney parks sell toys and other things that you cannot find anywhere else. As an entrepreneur, I think "genius!" but as I mom, I curse under my breath because of course I'm going to spend money in the shops. So here's what we tell our kids: you get $20. You can (only afford to) get one thing. Have at it!! And you know what? They don't complain ONE BIT. It helps that we've never been ones to buy our kids something everytime we go somewhere, so they're used to this. But seriously, don't buy the lie that you have to spend $100 a kid in the gift shop in order for them to have truly experienced Disney World. It's CRAP! Save your pennies (or Benjamins) and play up the fact that THEY get $20 and can pick out ANYTHING they want that week for $20. You can even purchase a Disney gift card at Kroger before you go (hello, fuel points!) and they'll get there own Mickey Mouse Card. They'll think it's amazing and you'll save a crap ton of money.
8) We Road Trip it. It's about 16 hours for us to drive (20 because KIDS) so we split it up into two days and save on flights. (That said, people mention getting crazy good deals on flights to Orlando...if that's you, share your secrets with me!!) I grew up driving to Florida for vacation, and honestly, it was (mostly) fun. So I'm blessing my kids with the same experience. We don't prepare special bags full of surprises for the way down, either. We just play a ton of movies, and throw snacks at them once in a while. They've always been such great travelers too. Except for this last trip home, where we had to make a million potty stops and two of our kids got the stomach flu...I'll spare you the details but let's just say, I had to scrub the ceiling of the van when we got home) Regardless, memories were made ;) And we saved money.
Now, those are the biggest things we have done to save money. However, before we plan our next trip, we will be looking into getting a Disney credit card and racking up points each month that can help pay for our trip. (If you use one, comment below and tell me if you love it!) If you're disciplined enough to pay your credit card off each month like we do, this sounds like a no brainer!
Hopefully this gives you some insight and allows you to take your family (or just yourself!) to Disney World soon! Soon, I'll share another post all about what we love about Disney to begin with, but my hope is that this post gives you hope that even you can someday afford to enjoy the Mouse House.
Do you have any other money saving tips (other than just not going haha!)? Comment below and fill me in on all your secrets!!