We spent a day volunteering at a local food bank, and thanks to the Disney Give a Day, Get a Day program, we received two complementary passes to Disney World in Orlando. We were very excited and couldn’t wait for the opportunity to hop down to Orlando for a day of fun in the sun.

Then we realized our dilemma: how are we going to pay for this? Yes, our admission tickets were free, but everything else was not. Should we drive or fly? Either way this will cost us. And what about a hotel room? A cursory glance at various Disney resorts told us that we might be spending $200 per night at a hotel. Meals can also add up, especially once you’re in the park and they know you have to buy their food or starve yourself.

Now, this wouldn’t be the BudgetYourTrip.com Blog if we cashed out our 401(k) for this trip, would it? Naturally we tried to do everything as cheaply as possible. Here’s how it broke down.

We Drove
Luckily for us, we live within driving distance of Orlando. It’s a long drive, granted, but doable for us. We realize not everyone is geographically close, but driving may be a lot cheaper than flying. Depending on the size of your family and your willingness to spend the night at a cheap hotel along the way, you could save hundreds if not over a thousand dollars by driving. Cheap hotel rooms can be found all along the interstate, and the price of gas for a few days is probably cheaper than a plane ticket.

A Very Cheap Hotel Room
While we found that the Disney resort hotels were charging around $200 a night, we checked in to a nearby HoJo’s for about $35 after taxes! Now, we don’t necessarily recommend one cheap hotel over another, and HoJo’s is not paying us to mention their Hotel chain. We’ve often stayed in (and can vouch for) Super 8, Motel 6, and Days Inn, as well as others. The point is that by lowering your standards of luxury, you can afford to stretch your dollar and your vacation. Check out online booking sites or grab a hotel room coupon book at the official information center when you drive across the Florida border. We saved a good chunk of money by finding a coupon for our HoJo’s. Lots of other hotels were mentioned, and the maps are helpful, too. (Note that some hotel prices do go up between May and September.)

The Shuttle Bus
Depending on which park you visit, expect to pay around $15 per car for the day if you choose to drive to it. However, most of the hotels outside of the park offer free shuttle services. The catch is that you have to stick to their schedule. Most leave fairly early and return late at night. You might miss the evening fireworks, or arrive later in the morning, but the free options are available if you’re looking to save a little cash.

Packing Lunch
Once you’re in the park, food is expensive. Get around this by bringing in a cooler full of lunch. If you don’t want to, then choose your meal options wisely. We chose to visit Epcot, and found that most of the meals at the sit down restaurants were nearly twice as expensive as similar meals at restaurants outside of the park. Dinner is even more expensive than lunch, with buffet and sit-down prices rising by 50%. Cheap and fast options are available, but are still overpriced for the quality and quantity of food you receive.

Free or Cheap Tickets
As mentioned above, we received our tickets for free. Not everyone may be able to do this, but deals can be found, so look around. Multi-day deals seem to be the most popular and economical way to visit the parks, but are not as cheap as one might be led to believe. The normal admission price for one day at a Disney park is $79 per person, but the Universal parks are a bit cheaper. Despite this, we saw various advertisements for multi-day tickets lower than the standard price. We also saw ads for hotel and admission ticket combination deals. The moral of the story: don’t pay full price.

Souvenirs?
Do you really need that life size stuffed Donald Duck toy? Show a little self control and your wallet (and your arms) will thank you.

See also Planning Your Family Trip to Disney World.

Author: Bryan

Bryan has visited exactly one more country than his wife, and she won't let him forget it! Also an avid photographer, he enjoys entrenching himself within the local culture in order to learn more about the people of a place. He is the co-founder of Budget Your Trip and loves a good adventure, an exotic meal, or a passionate conversation about global events.

3 thoughts on “Disney World, Cheap”

  1. Yes, you can find cheaper hotels than the Disney Hotels, but Disney does have some affordable hotels where you can often find great deals. Disney’s Value Resorts (the All Star Resorts and the Pop Century) have over 8,000 rooms that average around $100.00 per night and are available for as low as $79.00 per night.

    These are nice hotels that are very comfortable and have complimentary transportation to all of the Disney Parks. You won’t need a car, or have to pay for parking ($16.00 per day). Disney will even pick you up at the airport and take you back to the airport for free. (Can’t beat that price.)

    If you stay in one of the Disney Hotels, you get the full dose of Disney Magic. There is nothing better than getting a wake-up call from Mickey himself.

  2. I’m taking the kids to Orlando by myself over Memorial Day weekend. All we really need to do is hang out by the pool, but I was thinking about doing an attraction one day. Any recommendations? Right now I was thinking about driving over to Busch Gardens as I think the kids would like a ride/zoo combination.

    1. The Disney parks are the most expensive, while some of the others like Universal, Sea World, and Busch Gardens are much cheaper. The others are often more modern and up to date, and cater to older children. It’s been awhile since I’ve been to the Busch Gardens in Orlando, but it was fun!

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