As I mentioned in my shake up post the other day, I’m going to try and only blog about things that I genuinely want to share and spend time promoting. This morning I woke up and wanted to write a post on doing an Disney World holiday on a budget. I think one of my reasons for feeling so lost after coming back off holiday was not having a trip to plan. Our trip in September is a whole lot less structured (at least until we get to 30 days out) so doesn’t require the planning my first trip did. Because of that I have nothing to focus my holiday planning energy into! So instead, I’m going to write a series of posts to help other people plan a Florida holiday. I know there are a load of things like this on Pinterest (I even have a board for those sort of pins), and although I read them all before going away, I’ve decided I want to give my two pence worth.
Firstly, it needs to be known that a holiday to Orlando, especially Disney World is not a cheap holiday, no matter how many corners you cut. When I was 19 I did Rhodes for a week with a boyfriend for less than £400 each including spending money.. You cannot do that with this sort of trip, your park passes to Disney alone cost more than £200 per adult AND child (more than £300 per adult come 2016) but there are some “hacks” that mean you spend the money where in my opinion, it’s most important.
This is also going to be a post targeted mainly at crazy Disney people who want ALL THE MAGIC and families with children. I know young adults or retired couples probably view the parks and what they get out of them differently to what I wanted out of them but on the whole, hopefully it should be beneficial for all.
Thomas Cook & Thomsons release their flights about 18 months in advance. They’re a couple of the very few travel companies that do this. If you buy your flights this far in advance you can usually get them for £500 per person direct from the UK to Orlando, which if I’m honest, is probably as good as you’re going to get these days! HOWEVER these flights sell out VERY fast and usually increase by at least £50 as the cheap seats sell out. When I booked our flights for our trip in April, it was June 2014 and direct was now £800/£900 per person. However, we were also looking to go in school holidays, in particular, going over Easter. If you have children of school age this will obviously be your preferred time to go, and be warned, not only is it incredibly busy (45 minutes for the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in 90 degree heat? No thanks) but the flights out of the UK are so much more expensive. If you can, try to book during off peak times, in regards to the UK, this is term time between September and May.
HOWEVER, there is a way to get cheaper flights.. even during term time; go the non-direct route. It’s not preferable, especially with children but it can often knock off over £200. At the end of the day, flights are simply a means to an end, it’s not the important part of your holiday. LM and I went via Frankfurt (not that my parents knew this) and although it added about 5 hours on our journey, it didn’t actually affect us in any way. LM slept in the airport and I got to feel like I had visited Germany. LM is a very good flier so to knock off a few hundred from our flights it was worth it.
This is the all time BIG Walt Disney World question, do you stay on-site or off? If you are happy to book a package deal, go for on-site. Disney accommodation is amazing, but it is very expensive for what it is. My value resort for seven days came to the same price per night as a five star hotel in Washington DC… Ouch. HOWEVER for me, staying on site was a big important factor, because I don’t drive. We were doing 9 out of our 10 days in Disney World so it made sense to be on-site. There is also complimentary bus service to all the parks, water parks and Disney Springs. And a shuttle back to the airport. It was over £600 for 7 nights. This was simply for a value resort. Not pretty, right?
HOWEVER, for the first three nights of our trip, we stayed off site in Kissimmee. I’m overly familiar with the place having stayed there as a child and I still retain way too much knowledge of the area. It’s so close to Walt Disney World, great restaurants, Old Town for a bit of non-Disney nighttime entertainment but most importantly, the bus links were good. For a $4 day ticket on Lynx, you can get anywhere within the route, that includes if you need to transfer. Disney was less than 10 minutes away and Universal just under an hour away including a transfer at Florida Mall. Not only that, but for 3 nights out hotel was $120 including tax which comes in at an amazing £77.. We stayed at the Rodeway Inn Maingate, and yes it was no more special than staying in an Ibis over here, but it was central, near a Publix, CVS, 24 Hour Starbucks, iHop, Waffle House, Golden Coral, Walgreens.. all within walking distance. The bus stop was right outside our hotel too. If sticking to a budget as far as accommodation was concerned had been a thing for is 10 nights in Kissimmee for both LM and I would have only been just over £250.. imagine that divided by 2, you’re talking £128 for 10 nights in Florida a stones throw away from Disney World, because guys, you pay by room not per person, and each room has two double beds! If you book through booking.com a lot of places also offer pay on arrival, meaning you can save up like with any travel agent holiday.
If like me, staying in the heart of magic is on your to do list, you can wait until Disney offer their Dining Plan deal (which is currently on now until the beginning of July, and why we’ve booked for 2016). Although I’m going to get to food a little bit later, it is expensive, and by choosing to stay on site, with the free dining plan, in the long run it works out good value for money. By staying in a moderate resort you get free quick service dining, which is all good if you’re not fussed about character dining. However, as this is a big thing for everyone in our party, especially LM, we booked a deluxe moderate so we could have the regular dining plan which includes table service so we know our character dining meals will be covered. To me this is a great value for money, because character dining is not cheap..
Touching on the trip I have booked for 2016, another way to save money is by sharing a room with more adults. Some Disney resorts offer suites, studios and villas which can accommodate more than one family/couple. Again the price is per room, rather than per person so you can split the cost. Back in April I had to foot the bill for the whole room (there is not such thing as single parent rates sadly) but next year I’m sharing with two other adults and LM. Since LM isn’t classed as the adult in the room, she stays free and we split the cost between three. The room and free dining plan at a deluxe moderate comes to the same amount as the room only at a value making it all much more do able.
Prioritizing What Is Important
As far as spreading the cost goes, this is vital because park tickets are not cheap. For LM and I, Disney will forever be number 1. In fact this September I’m only going to be holding a Disney park pass where as in April I also had one for Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure because I was so desperate to visit the Harry Potter areas of both parks. When booking the trip I had no idea I would be back so often, both my Grandfather’s were still alive and I hadn’t experienced true Disney magic so I was looking at the holiday as a one off for the next 10 years. So visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was a must. In hindsight, it was a waste of money. There is very little to do for a toddler in either Universal Parks, so if you’re pushed for time and money, and not particularly a huge Harry Potter fan, save your money.
Anyway, I digress. If you do want to do Universal and Disney, it’s probably worth in investing in a combined ticket. Places such as Florida Tix and American Attractions both offer this and it includes more than one set of parks. It’s much better value for money but it’s still very expensive. If you do want to really stick to a budget, I suggest choosing the other Orlando parks or Disney. Realistically you can’t do EVERYTHING Orlando has to offer, I’ve only mentioned Disney or Universal but there is also all the Sea World parks, Legoland, Wet & Wild.. then Busch Gardens in Tampa or in the other direction Kennedy Space Center. There is enough in the area to keep you busy that isn’t Disney. If you’re more into thrills it may be worth looking into the 5 Park Orlando Combo Ticket which includes 14 days unlimited access to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Sea World, Aquatica and Busch Gardens and then purchase a shorter visit ticket to Disney. However if you want to do ONLY Disney there is often the offer for 14 days for the price of 7 on the park passes (it’s currently on at the moment) which is the best value for money as far as Disney is concerned.
Food and Eating Out
If you are staying in Disney and you don’t have a dining plan, or at least one that offers table service meals, it’s best to work out realistically whether or not Disney character dining is for you, and if so, how many can you afford. Character dining is without a doubt one of the most expensive ways to eat in the parks, not only that, but it’s not exactly great food. For me, character dining was a high priority on the last trip, but low for September. In April we had 8 character dining experiences (although one was Be Our Guest where you simply had a photo opportunity with the Beast after dinner) where as in September, we currently only have two. This is because I had such an eye opener price wise. I won’t lie, character dining especially with a small child, is magical. When I booked them I imagined that LM would suck at waiting to see characters but she ended up proving me wrong. The lure of the character at the end of the line was enough to make her wait patiently. Get a travel guide and read which characters are where, a lot of them offer the same line up at more than one place, and some are definitely cheaper than others.. Not only that, but have a look on All Ears for a description of what sort of food each place serves. If you have a picky child, one place could be better than another.. because after all, if you’re paying this kind of money, you want your kid to eat! On the whole, all the characters that are available at dinner can be found around the parks, so if you are happy to wait, why pay extra to meet someone you can do for free at the parks? At the end of the day, you’re really not paying for the food!
It’s not just character dining that is expensive in Disney, regular old table service isn’t cheap, and don’t forget about that 20% gratuity! If you’re on a budget but you still want to have a nice meal every now and then, again check All Ears for the menus and choose a couple you’ll happily spend your money on, just as you probably would on any holiday. The most in demand restaurants do fill up 180 days in advance, so be ready to book from then.
HOWEVER, if you really are looking for a budget holiday, you can stick to counter service (which works out at about $12-$15 per person). It’s not just burgers and fries, if you do your research you can find different counter service cuisine throughout Disney World from Asian, to Italian, to Mexican. To REALLY stretch your budget and you are staying off site, you could even take sandwiches and snacks into the parks. There are plenty of supermarkets scattered throughout Orlando that you can even reach without a car. The mark up for things within the resorts (not just Disney World) is unreal. You’re looking at $3 for a bottle of drink and $5 per snack. My favourite Disney World hack is the fact if you go up to a counter and ask for some iced water, they’ll give it to you free of charge. I took two bottles with me and filled them from the paper cups so LM and I had something to drink around the parks. Before leaving Kissimmee, I also stocked up on crisps, cookies, cereal and other things I cold take into the parks to snack on throughout the day that wouldn’t melt in our bags.
The final option is to leave the parks for a break during the day if you’re staying off site, head to the hotel for a swim then eat in a restaurant near your hotel. There is loads of choice, and buffet’s are great value for money to fill up at a fraction of the price. This is what we did when I visited as a kid and stayed off site. We would go to an all you can eat breakfast buffet, fill up for the day, take snacks with us to the parks, leave mid afternoon, eat out of the parks before returning in the evening. My parents obviously had four mouths to feed so doing this was the ultimate budget hack.
Do Your Shopping Online Before Arriving
Let’s face it, you can’t go to the states and not shop. Even with added tax, everything is cheaper and better and bigger. However merchandise is expensive in the parks. In the end despite saving like crazy we didn’t come away with that much as I chose to spend my money on character dining for LM. However one thing I’m glad I did do before even leaving the UK was ordering to my hotel from websites such as Hot Topic, Walgreens, Sephora, Hallmark and even the Disney Store. Why? Hot Topic has fantastic adult merchandise at half the price of the resorts, plus they ALWAYS have offers on the website. Walgreens do Disney make up, as well as all those state side cosmetics everyone clambers for, same with Sephora.. Finally, the Disney Store. Essentially you can get a lot of stuff you’d find in Walt Disney World but once a month the website runs some sort of promotion! 10% off, 15% off, 20% off.. it really adds up. They even have a Parks Section! This can actually be more exciting for children, you could open the parcels in secret and arrange to give your child something every day if they’re good and don’t ask for anything in the parks (unless they have their own money). You could even say it was from Mickey Mouse/Tinker Bell as an even bigger incentive.
Another option for cheap shopping is to hit up the outlets and discount stores. They offer a lot of past Walt Disney World merchandise at a fraction of the price. I picked up a couple of pins, magnets and keyrings for $3 less than what it would have been sold for in the stores in the parks. It’s official park merchandise but it’s discontinued and there for cheaper.
Despite not having much to spend while over there, I managed to come home with a fair amount of shopping for both LM and I and it even meant I could avoid the stores on Main Street unless I was desperate for some aircon.
Anyway, I really hope this post helps people who are desperate to go on a Walt Disney World holiday but they’re unsure whether or not they can afford it. I will be doing a post all about my booking and planning process, as well as a post on Disney World with a toddler. Lets face it, I just love writing about Disney! If you have any questions on booking a holiday to Walt Disney World, feel free to fire them over to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.