Does the thought of taking a family vacation to Walt Disney World seem impossible for your budget? I used to think the same thing. Having just taken our first family trip to Disney, I’m now happy to say that it really is possible to take a family vacation to Disney World for under $3000! Our trip was truly magical! Here are a few ways we made the most out of our Disney vacation while spending the least.
I feel like we’ve been talking about going to Disney forever.
Without ever truly looking into the price we shrugged it off each year assuming we couldn’t afford it. I mean a vacation to the greatest place on Earth over a thousand miles away surely would cost more than our annual vacation in Ocean City, NJ only three short hours away.
Well, who would have thought that getting pregnant with our third child would lead to our first family trip to Disney World? Well in our case, that’s exactly what happened!
I began thinking about just how much our life was going to change once our new little family member arrived. Then it came to me…how great would it be if we could take one last special trip as a family of four. Somewhere that the kids could only dream of going (and at the time thought we could only dream of affording). So I looked at the Disney website just to get a ballpark figure about how much a trip would cost.
I was delighted by what I found.
We took a 7-Day family vacation to Disney World for under $3000! Here’s how…
Book your Disney vacation during a promotion
To get started I looked at the Disney website just to get a ballpark figure about how much a trip would be. Without including any promotions, I found the cost to be surprisingly affordable if we didn’t include all the bells and whistles. That meant once I did find a promotion it would only be that much better!
And that’s where your savings start…The first and most important thing to do when booking your Walt Disney World vacation is to take a look at the current promotions that are available. At the time we booked our vacation there were several promotions available including up to 25% off rooms at select resorts or free dining plans. While the immediate discount of 25% off was pretty tempting the value of free dining was far greater.
Get ready >> The free dining promotion will be announced in the spring if it is going to be available and fills up super fast. Contact a Disney travel agent now so you don’t miss it!
Here are the Walt Disney World Free Dining dates that were available for 2015 – 2016 for historical reference…
2016 Free Dining Dates:
- August 23* through October 1
- November 15 through 21
- November 26 through 28
- December 10 through 21
*Disney Visa Cardholders and Canadians could book for arrival dates beginning August 14.
2015 Free Dining Dates:
- August 28 through October 2
- October 25 through October 31
- November 8 through November 19
- December 15 through December 21
We saved a ton! Not only did we save over $1,000 right off the bat since the dining plan was free, but we also hardly spent a penny on food during our stay since we were eating quality meals that satisfied us. The true value of the free dining promotion was reinforced as we were able to enjoy character meals throughout our stay which would have cost between $100 and $200 each along with counter-service meals that also ended up costing a pretty penny for a family of four. We enjoyed table service meals at Chef Mickey’s, Cinderella’s Royal Table, Be Our Guest, T-Rex, and Tusker House along with many delicious quick service meals too.
Here was our cost break down…
Our Magic Your Way Package included:
~ 7 days/6 night All-Star Sports Resort Preferred Room
~ 6-day Water Park Fun & More tickets (we actually could have gone with 5-day passes since we had 1 day left)
~ Table Service Disney Dining Plan (upgraded from Quick-Service Dining Plan which is free with Value Resorts)
We splurged on these extras…
So, if you are looking for a great promotion to book your Disney vacation, I suggest going when free dining is available. This is usually available in the fall and is announced some time in the spring of that year. If you are a Disney planning newbie like I was before our trip, there are plenty of Disney travel agents available to help you. (I highly recommend Melissa from Mickey Adventures who we booked our Disney vacation with – just tell her Kara from Saving by Design sent you 😉 ) Contact them for help and let them know you are interested in the free dining promotion if and when it becomes available. Best of all their services are free to you!
It’s also important to note that you’ll only need a $200 deposit to book your Disney vacation with the balance being due 45 days before you travel. This was huge for us, as we didn’t have a large amount of money saved at the time Free Dining was announced, but we had plenty of time to save since the majority of the payment wasn’t due until much later.
There’s nothing wrong with Value Resorts
I’m always looking to get the most for my money. To do that I start from the least expensive option and work my way up if necessary. When choosing the resort we would be staying at I’m happy to say there honestly was no reason to pay more for a Moderate or Deluxe resort, especially with young children. You can request your free Disney vacation planning DVD to see for yourself what each category of resort offers 😉
The Value Resorts offer larger than life characters throughout the property…something that I was looking for, especially on our first trip to The World. While there aren’t as many activities on property, it didn’t matter since we barely even had time to swim in the pool! Most of our days (and nights) were spent in the parks so we didn’t mind the more basic room either.
Overall, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the Disney Value Resorts. They don’t offer as many perks as the pricier Moderate and Deluxe options, but we loved staying at the Disney All-Star Sports Resort. In fact, we’ll be staying there again next time around…our kids begged us to go back there!
Take a road trip
It was never a question for our family whether we would drive or fly…we love a good road trip! As a huge bonus, driving was a lot less expensive than flying. We ended up paying less than $300 round trip for our gas and that was in a 2005 SUV traveling over 2,000 miles, from Pennsylvania to Florida.
To minimize the extra days needed off of work for driving we booked our vacation to check in on Sunday and check out on Saturday. That way we had the weekends to drive with no extra time off of work needed.
I just love the freedom that driving gave us. We found a few great restaurants that were featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives to eat at and we stopped at each welcome center as we entered a new state on our travels.
We couldn’t drive by Daytona Beach without checking out the ocean, so we even stopped there for a few hours!
To keep the kids entertained on the road I made them fun activity binders full of Disney coloring pages and games and bought the Disney Eye Found It Card Game (we LOVE the Disney Eye Found It Board Game!!), a bunch of Disney-themed activity books, crayons, and more at Dollar Tree.
Plan, plan, plan!
After a few days of enjoying ourselves at the parks, my hubby said to me, “I can totally understand how people have a terrible time here. If you didn’t have things planned, I would be so overwhelmed and probably get on like two rides!” I had so much fun planning everything from the moment we decided we were going, that I never thought about what it would have been like if I didn’t have a plan for us.
That’s why probably the most important tip I can give is for you to PLAN your Disney vacation! Taking a trip to Disney and not making the most of your time there would definitely be a huge waste of your money. So plan which days you’ll be at what park. Plan (and get reservations) for your dinners. Plan which shows, parades, etc you would like to see. Plan which rides are a must and get your fast passes set up. I know it sounds like a lot of work, but it’s fun work that will get you excited for your vacation and will totally be worth it once you arrive.
Nothing gets me in the mood for some serious planning like a fun, fabulous binder! Planning a Disney family vacation is no joke, so it’s a good idea to have somewhere to put all the information you’ll be needing to plan your perfect trip.
You can be as simple or fancy as you would like with your binder – you can buy an inexpensive plain binder or going all out like I did and spend a few bucks to create a custom one. No matter what you choose you can find everything you need (including free Disney planning printables) in my post, How to Make a Disney Family Vacation Planner.
Buy Disney merchandise BEFORE your trip
Once you get your vacation booked, it’s time to add some Disney magic. We kept the trip a secret from our kids until the evening before we were leaving. To say they were excited is definitely an understatement!
To announce our big plans we filled a box with balloons and a sign that said, “Surprise! We are going to Disney World tomorrow!”
In the box I put our Magic Bands, mouse ears, autograph books, lanyards and Disney Trading Pins to get them started on their pin trading adventures (did you even know this was a thing?), an inexpensive new Disney-themed toy, and some fun travel t-shirts that I made using printable iron-on transfer paper.
Shopping Tip >> Mouse ears and autograph books were actually cheapest at the Disney Store website, especially with a promotion! 😉
All of these goodies were purchased before our trip inexpensively, mostly from Amazon, or were DIY projects which saved a TON from what we would have paid in the parks.
And there you have it!
As always, with a little planning, even a large investment like a vacation to Walt Disney World can fit your budget. Just like anything else, if you really put your mind and effort into it, you can get to Disney without spending all your savings 🙂
Here are some other Disney Posts to help you get ready for your dream vacation…
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