Friends, guess what? I’m so excited because I may be FINALLY visiting Walt Disney World for the FIRST TIME next year! My husband’s family wants to plan a big trip & celebration for my father-in-law’s birthday. We may be doing a combo WDW/Disney Cruise next April or May since that’s around the time of his birthday. We are still trying to get the details together but I can’t help but start feeling really excited (and maybe even start doing a wee bit of planning)! I reached out to my friend Anita who has been to Walt Disney World several times and asked her for some advice. She told me she has been asked for Walt Disney World advice so many times, that she actually had an email template she sends out to her friends – ha! After reading it over, I felt like there’s so much good advice here and asked her if I could share it here on Inspired By Dis. And she said, sure! She even sent over a few pictures to spotlight with it (Anita is also a really talented photographer, if you’re looking for one in Salt Lake City)! I hope Anita’s advice helps other first-time Walt Disney World travelers, like me. Thanks, Anita! (And be sure to show Anita some blog love – Anita Boeira and Sew Anita.)
For starters, I saved about $800 by getting our plane tickets to Orlando with credit card points/miles. I signed up to the United credit card about eight months before the trip, because it was the cheapest credit card to sign up for, and since Mike and I had just moved in together we had some big expenses and we put on that card. So we quickly got the 50,000 miles (I think that’s how much) we needed for both our tickets. If miles are not an option, I use Bing travel to track price on flights and buy them at their cheapest (they say two months before a trip is the cheapest you’ll find the tickets). Orlando in general is an expensive destination to fly to. Last year I saved $100 flying to Florida by landing in Miami and then hitching a ride with a friend that lives in Miami that was driving to Orlando the next day. If you rent a car, it’s not a lot of savings, but if you’re flexible and also want to visit Miami, that’s an option to consider. But in general, expect tickets to be about $350-$400 at their cheapest to fly to Florida. Bottom line: use credit card miles if you can, just remember to pay your credit card off every month so you don’t incur interest.
Second thing that helped me save: visiting in end of January/early February. It’s the off season, so besides smaller crowds and cooler temperatures (not cold, just long sleeve weather), you also get the hotels at their lowest prices, generally. We stayed on property, at one of their “value” hotels, Pop Century Resort. It was an average of $70 per night for the room (Monday-Thursday is cheaper than Friday-Sunday), so for 9 nights, we spent about $700. The All Star Resorts might be a little cheaper, but Pop Century has a better location so it may be worth the extra cost.
If you go on any other time of the year, I think the prices will be higher per night. The first week of November is also a good time to go, the Food and Wine festival is happening at EPCOT (and the food is so good!) and the crowds are smaller because Halloween is over, and you get the Christmas decor already up. February is still THE best time to go, though. And avoid summer at ALL costs. It’s too hot, too crowded, and generally full of tour groups.
We didn’t rent a car, because Disney offers a free bus from airport to hotel (and back) called Magical Express.
I did the math and figured that not renting a car and paying a slightly higher price for the hotel would be to our advantage, because parking at the theme parks is $15+ per day plus the price of the car would end up being more expensive than staying in property. All Disney hotels have buses that frequently take the guests to the parks and Downtown Disney. And if you need to go to a different hotel, say for a dinner reservation, you can take a bus to a park, and then from the park take a bus to the hotel you have reservations for. With the added benefit that you don’t have to worry about parking a car. I hate searching for parking. That was a big thing for me.
And if you want to go to Universal (because the Harry Potter park is worth it), there’s a bus service you can call and they’ll come pick you up at Disney then pick you up from Universal and take you back. I used a service called Mears, they were VERY late picking us up, and apparently that’s normal when I talked to a Pop Century employee. So, take that into consideration when you book. I don’t remember the price exactly, but it wasn’t very cheap. I think it was $40 or $50 per person. But, a cab would have been more. If you have the time and you’re a big Harry Potter fan (or you’ve never been to a Universal theme park), the extra expense is probably worth it.
Sign up for the Mouse Savers newsletters (they send every 15th of the month). It doesn’t really have super interesting deals unless you are traveling as a family, BUT a bonus of the newsletter is knowing which attractions are closed for refurbishment when you visit, so you don’t get all excited to watch Fantasmic! then get there to find out it’s closed (speaking from personal experience).
As for which tickets to buy… Disney offers two options that you might be familiar with from Disneyland in California: the Park Hopper (multiple parks per day) or the Magic Your Way base tickets (one park per day). I think the Magic Your Way is the best way to save money. If you only have 2-3 days in Orlando, then two park hoppers for Disney and one park hopper for Universal should cover everything, because you can visit two parks per day and see it all (but you’ll be super tired on your plane ride back). Since Mike and I had 10 days in Orlando, I chose the Magic Your Way tickets, and we took our time. I got a 7-day MYW for each of us, and 1 park-per-day at Universal because we only wanted to go see the Harry Potter (the park hopper though is a better option if you’ve never been to Universal Orlando, and you can easily do both parks in one day, but start with Harry Potter, always. It gets super crowded after 11am). If you only have four days for Disney, the MYW is still the best choice… It takes so long to go from one park to the other because Walt Disney is so huge. Michael and I would go when the park opened then come back to the hotel when we got tired and then go out for dinner somewhere nice. Or on nights I wanted to watch fireworks or something, we’d leave after lunch. It was nice to take our time. A MYW for 4 days (5th day free) is just $10 cheaper than the 7 days, though. Generally, the more days you purchase, the cheaper it is per day, and the better the deal is.
And finally, we saved a couple hundred dollars by going to a supermarket off property the day we arrived and buying fruits and cookies and pretzels and bagels … The hotel rooms don’t have fridges so we bought stuff that wouldn’t go bad. I have a friend that lives in Orlando and the day I arrived it was her day off, so she came to see us and took us to Publix and then to dinner. It was great, and we got all our breakfasts covered that way. And for Mike’s morning coffee, we just bought ONE of those cups you can refill (I don’t drink much of anything but water, so we only got one for Mike, but honestly, once or twice I went back after he finished his coffee and refilled it with hot chocolate for me) for $15. Mike wakes up reaaaaaally early, so he’d go to the food court to get his coffee at 5 am, then come back to the room, eat a bagel we bought and read a book and relax, then he’d wake me up later, and I’d wash the cup and go get myself something to drink too. It helped that our building was somewhat close to the dining area. so if you have a choice, pick the 70s or 50s building to stay in (at Pop Century); I think those are the closest. So, if you think about it, a hotel breakfast is $8-$15 per person depending on how much you eat, we saved probably $200-$300 with that. And I also brought a bunch of ziplock bags from home and we’d fill one each day with pretzels and take it with a couple of apples to the park, so we could eat that as snacks and not spend all our saved money on treats. I know this is pinching pennies territory, but it all adds up to a lot of money at Disney, especially if you are there for 10 days like we were.
As vegetarians, I also read all the menus for all the restaurants before traveling so I could find the best ones for price/vegetarian options, and made a list on a notebook for each park. Granted, we do eat like birds so we don’t spend too much money on food anyway, but finding vegetarian stuff we liked and was cheap was important, too. When I went back this past November (the first week of November is also a good time to go, but it’s not off season so you’ll see less discounts) I ate at the new Be Our Guest for lunch (if you want for dinner, reserve eaaaaaaaaaaaaarly.) and really liked it. For lunchtime Be Our Guest is “quick service,” so prices are $12-$15 per entree. It was the fanciest I ever ate at Disney World, lol. The line, though … is scary. I went for an early lunch at 11, and still sweated in line for 20 minutes. I did think it was worth it though. I didn’t think I’d enjoy the food and restaurant, but you basically have a meal inside the Beast’s ballroom, and that was really cool.
Anyway, the site I used to search menus ahead of time and compile a list of restaurants I was willing to eat at/afford is the All Ears website.
I think this covers it! Mike and I traveled with two carry ons for our 10 days (I hate checking bags, and hey, another $25 saved!)), and we managed fairly well with such limited amount of space. On the bright side, we couldn’t buy a lot of things. Since we went in late January, I had given Mike a $25 gift card for Christmas, so he wanted to buy some mugs. We fitted his 4 new mugs in a carry on, and a Mr. Potato Head for me (I know, I buy the silly things!) on another, and a couple of small gifts, and that’s it. We probably didn’t spend over $100 on merchandise to bring back, and all we bought was tiny to fit on our bags. With no space to carry stuff home, you can’t spend much.
Adding it all up it was about $1400 of stuff I paid up front (hotel and tickets), and I paid the hotel a few months before going, and the tickets a month before going, so the big expenses were spread out and easier to manage. Then at Walt Disney World we spent about $300 on food and other small things. So yeah, if you plan it right, with about 2k for two people you can have a great time at Walt Disney World for over a week!
All images credited to Anita.
What budget tips for traveling to Walt Disney World would you add to this post? If you have a great tip, let me know in the comments!