Your Guide to Planning the Perfect (Cheap) Disney World Vacation with Your Family

by Bethany Braun-Silva

Your Guide to Planning the Perfect (Cheap) Disney World Vacation with Your Family

Planning a trip to Disney World with your family is kind of a big deal. For many families, this is the vacation of a lifetime, so you want to make sure you get it just right. After all, the Most Magical Place on Earth can be complicated, overwhelming and, yes, costly, if you’re not prepared. Lucky for you, we’ve played fairy godmother and put together a handy guide for planning the perfect Disney World vacation on a budget. From booking your trip to saving money once you’re at the Mouse House, we’re breaking it all down so you and your family can have the time of your lives without spending a fortune.


What to Consider When Planning Your Disney World Vacation


If you want to do Disney on the cheap, it pays to plan ahead. Some factors that you’ll want to consider include:


        • How long is your trip?

Disney World is made up of four theme parks: the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom (there are also two water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon). Clearly there’s a lot to see and do, but keep in mind that admission can get expensive: Ticket prices can range from $109 – $380 per person, depending on the number of parks and number of days you visit. If your little ones are really young, it might be worth sticking to just a few days at the Magic Kingdom this time around and holding off on Epcot until they’re older. It’ll save you a little bit of money and a lot of energy (trust us).


        • When are you traveling?

Like any major destination, Disney World has a high season and a low season. The cheapest time to fly is typically from mid-January to mid-February, May through early June and late August to mid-November. As for hotels, you can score the best deals on Disney resort accommodations in the low-season, which is Jan. 2 through Feb. 10 and Aug. 26 through Dec. 28 (not counting Columbus Day, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving).


      • Where are you staying?

While it’s most convenient to stay at the Disney resorts, staying off-property at a nearby hotel or AirBnb can be an affordable alternative. Many hotels offer free shuttle service to the parks, while renting an apartment or home can help cut down on meal costs.


Now that you’ve got some thought-starters to help with your planning, here are some options for booking your trip.


        • Book Your Disney Vacation Package Through Walt Disney World
        • Book Your Disney Vacation Package Through Other Travel Sites
        • Book Your Flight and Accommodations Separately


Book Your Disney Vacation Package Through Walt Disney World


Booking your Disney package directly through Disney World can offer many incentives and perks, including Extra Magic Hours, which allow you to arrive one hour before the park opens and stay one hour after it closes; Early FastPass+ selections, which can be made 60 days prior to your trip; and item delivery to your hotel, so any souvenirs you purchase at the parks can be sent directly to your hotel — no need to worry about carrying packages around all day, which, when you’re already lugging around kids, can be a blessing. Disney World vacation packages are convenient because they include both room accomodations and park tickets, but things can still get a bit pricey, any where from $2,500 to over $5,000, depending on when you travel. That said, you will save money on the following:


        • Complimentary MagicBands

These all-in-one bands act as your park tickets, room key and give you the ability to charge things at the parks and hotels. They typically cost $15-$33 if purchased separately.

        • Free airport transportation

If you stay at one of Disney’s resorts, they’ll provide free transportation to and from the airport on Disney’s Magical Express. Just provide your flight information when booking your package (or after), and you will be given a reservation.


        • Free transportation to the park

Disney provides guests with shuttle buses from hotels to all the parks and back again. The buses run very frequently so there is no need to rent a car when you stay at one of Disney’s own hotels.

        • Disney Dining Plans

Disney has various dining plan options that are only available to guests staying on the property. If you have a large family that likes to eat, these plans can really be a great way to save. Families purchase the meal plan in advance and are given specific amounts of credit to be used as you wish, even at some specialty shops. Depending on the package you choose, some dining plans are included for free. 


Book Your Disney Vacation Package Through Other Travel Outlets


Booking directly through Disney is a great option, as everything you need is together all in one place, but you can also book Walt Disney World vacation packages through airlines and travel sites and save a bit more money on this big trip.


By booking through Southwest Vacations, families can customize their Disney Vacation and get many of the same perks that come with booking directly through Disney World. For instance you can book a Disney hotel through Southwest and still receive Magic Bands and free shuttle access to the parks.


With Orbitz, you’ve got the option to book your entire vacation package in one shot or purchase flights, hotels and park tickets separately.


This travel site always has the latest deals and lowest prices on vacation packages. You can even save your itinerary to book at a later date.


 Compare prices for on-site and off-site properties and airlines to find the vacation package that best suits your family.


 This site has the latest Disney deals, plus discounts on experiences and park admission, as well as hotels and airfare.


Book Your Flight and Accommodations Separately


Another money-saving option is to choose off-site lodging that is close to the park. This is especially great because many of these hotels offer perks like shuttles to the parks, and some even include character breakfasts and Extra Magic Hours. If you opt to stay off site, it makes sense to book your flights and accommodations separately. Our list below can help you find the best deals for your family.  


 You’ll find some of the cheapest deals on flights, and if you become a member, you can also get an additional discount of up to 20% off flights and 55% off hotels.


This hotel is on Disney property but not owned or operated by Disney. But that doesn’t mean it’s free from perks. Guests can enjoy a character breakfast every Sunday, Extra Magic Hours and early access to FastPass. There is parking and valet service available on site. Rates are as low as $164/night in the off season.


You can actually enjoy the nightly fireworks display at Disney World from this 18-story hotel. Kids eat breakfast for free and transportation is provided to the parks. Guests will also receive Extra Magic Hours access and early FastPass access. Rates are as low as $140/night in the off season.


This upscale resort sits directly across from Disney Springs and you can easily walk there. It also features free shuttles to the parks every 30 minutes and an expansive pool with many fun offerings for kids. Rates are as low as $160/night in the off season.


You can find many affordable accommodations near the parks on AirBnB. This is a great choice because  you can save money on dining out by picking up groceries and eating some meals at home. Rates are as low as $48/night at some properties.


Other Ways to Save on Your Disney Family Vacation


        • Shop for Souvenirs Before Your Trip

 The latest, greatest character T-shirts, jewelry and toys, including most merchandise sold at the theme parks, can be purchased on the Shop Disney site, which frequently runs exclusive sales and discounts. So get those tees before your trip, or wait till you’re back to score that stuffed animal on special.


        • Dine with Amazon Prime

 Groceries can be delivered directly to your hotel via Amazon Prime. Most hotels will accept the groceries for you and place perishable items in the refrigerator. Stock up on fruit, snacks and breakfast items to save a little bit of money on meals.


        • Bring Your Own Stroller

It might be tempting to rent a stroller(link to post) at Disney World, but it’s actually not super cost-effective, since strollers are $15 per day for a single, $31 per day for a double stroller (link to post). Avoid paying the extra fees by bringing a lightweight stroller (link to post) of your own.


        • Take Your Own Photos

Disney photographers are stationed around the park to capture pictures of your magic memories, which you can later purchase using Disney’s PhotoPass. Rather than spend $78 for a week’s worth of pics, bring your own camera and just ask one of the photographers to take your photo with it. They are more than happy to oblige. For nearly the same price. you can purchase a waterproof, digital camera that also takes video. Can’t beat that! ($80