My family and I just recently returned from a wonderful week in Florida, where we visited Disney World. It was so nice to leave the cold and dreary winter of Maryland to spend a few days basking in the warm Florida sun while enjoying each other’s company.
The first time we went to Disney World, we considered it to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so we really spared no expense. We flew to Florida, stayed at a Disney Resort, made a gazillion Character Meal reservations, bought the Photo Pass, as well as every Disney souvenir that our hearts desired. But when we got home, we realized that our trip cost way more than we had budgeted for.
This past December, we decided to make plans to go back to Disney World, only this time, using what we had learned on our previous visit, we would spend less than half what we had on the previous trip. Here’s how we did it:
On our first visit to Disney, I thought we HAD to stay on a Disney Resort. I figured that since we were flying, it would be more budget-friendly to stay at a place where we could take a free bus to each of the parks. And while our resort was beautiful and the staff was super friendly, it was a little pricey.
This time around however, we were lucky enough to be able to buy a friend’s week at a timeshare resort in Kissimmee for only $200. Yes, that’s $200 for 7 nights, or roughly $29 per night. Because the resort did not offer transportation to the parks, we decided to drive our car to Florida (saving on the airfare). The resort was only a 10 minute drive from the parks, and it provided us with a small kitchenette where I could prepare quick and easy meals for our family.
If you aren’t fortunate enough to know a friend who is selling a timeshare, you can find great deals on sites like Ebay for hotel/condo stays in the Orlando area. I found one tonight for a 5-night stay for only $189!
Have you seen the prices of food at Disney World? If you are a coupon user like me, paying $50 for a family of 4 to eat a hot dog with fries just kills you. The Disney Dining Plan does help cut costs, but it is still expensive and you can only take advantage of it if you stay at a Disney Resort.
This time around, I planned ahead for some of our meals at Disney World. To save on breakfasts, I made a large batch of muffins at home and brought them with us in a cooler, along with a few different types of fruit, cereal and milk. We also stopped at the Walmart near our timeshare to pick up more milk when we ran out.
We did eat lunches in the parks, but for dinner, we went to local restaurants where the cost of our dinner was 1/3 to 1/2 of what it would have cost at Disney.
If you have your heart set on Character Meals for your kids, do yourself a favor and save the expense! The character meals were outrageously expensive (in my humble opinion). Many of the characters we met at these meals were out in the parks to meet for free!
One thing Disney is really good at is making you want to buy their stuff. It seems like at the end of every ride, you are let out into the middle of a store, which just happens to be stocked with all kinds of stuffed animals, t-shirts, and accessories related to the ride. We found on our first trip that saying no to our kids was hard when they wanted to take home that special stuffed animal that can only be found in that one shop.
I have noticed that you can usually get Disney t-shirts and even the high-quality princess dresses for dress-up at the local Disney store on clearance before you go to Disney World. I always buy off the clearance rack at the Disney Store and have paid only around $15 for my daughter’s dresses and about $3 for their shirts. They even have stuffed toys and dolls on clearance from time to time.
You can also find inexpensive Disney souvenirs at Walmart in Kissimmee, and there are several Disney outlets scattered around the Orlando/Kissimmee area.
On this trip, we decided not to buy any souvenirs. It was just after Christmas and the kids already had too many toys to play with, plus we didn’t need to spend the money. We did allow the kids to spend their own money on one item, and we told them to wait until the end of the week to really make sure that they wanted what they were buying.
At the end of the week, my daughter had a big list of things she wanted to buy, but when she realized that she only had a certain amount to spend, she began to think carefully about what would be the best value for her money….a good lesson in money management 🙂
Oh boy, did I ever fall for the Photo Pass sales line during our first trip to Florida. I paid $100 for a photo CD with all the photos from our trip on it, and guess where it is right now…in a closet.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Photo Pass, it is a service offered at Disney World in which professional photographers take your photos in various places around the parks (in front of Cinderella Castle or while visiting characters, for example). Then at the end of your visit, you can order a CD containing all your photos.
This time I resolved to take all my own pictures, and I’m so glad I did. I only have a point-and-shoot camera, but all our pictures turned out great, especially the ones in the character meeting areas. Since they are already set up with professional lights, my photos look the same as the ones taken by the professional, and I can print them for free or very inexpensively when sites like Shutterfly run special deals.
There you have it…my top money-saving tips for a trip to Disney World! I hope they can help you plan your own trip to the Magic Kingdom one day 🙂
Have you been to Disney World and can share a money-saving tip with us? Please leave a comment and let us know what it is!