I get asked lots of questions about Disney. One thing everyone asks about is how to make Disney affordable. People are always shocked when I tell them that a Disney vacation can be affordable – it just takes a little planning. Having a budget for your Disney vacation is the first step. Whether it’s your first trip or fiftieth, there are still things to spend money on when you go to Disney. Here are some things you’ll need to include in your budget:
A Couple of Things to Remember as You Budget for Your Disney Vacation:
First off, I try to budget higher than what things will actually cost so I’m not caught off guard if something winds up slightly higher than I’d planned or there’s something unplanned that comes up.
Secondly, you’ll have to prioritize what you’ll spend the most on. This is your budget for your trip so make it yours. When you’re spending a nice relaxing trip at the resort, you might spend more on the resort and look for a more inexpensive way to travel. If you’re set on travel via a specific means (you can only fly or drive), then you may spend less on a resort.
Lastly, I budget for the “worst case” scenario. Again, I’d rather have extra money at the end of the trip then be scraping up to make something work.
Also keep in mind you can budget a couple of different ways – either by having a total number in mind (our trip needs to be under x number of dollars) or starting to look at different things for the trip and develop your budget based on those things.
One last note on budgets. I’d go to Disney every day if I could. Sadly I can’t. My kids need me and I need to go to work so we can keep going to Disney. You shouldn’t make drastic decisions for a trip to Disney (please don’t max out credit cards or sell some family heirloom for a vacation). With enough planning and saving, you’ll be able to make your trip magical. Knowing you can’t afford the trip will only make it more stressful and something you may wind up regretting which isn’t special at all.
As you go through the planning stages, you’ll start to decide on what things are important to your family, what you want to buy in the parks instead of bringing from home and what things you’ll make for the trip. Make this budget fit your family’s needs and wants.
Tracking Your Budget for Your Disney Vacation
How you set up and track your budget is another personal preference. Some people prefer setting up a spreadsheet while some prefer just using plain old paper and pen. Another thing to decide is if you’ll keep track of the money you’re saving up or just what’s needed for the trip.
One easy way to keep track of things is using a Google spreadsheet. That way you can share it with anyone you’re traveling with. You’ll also have access to it on your phone while you’re traveling and on your computer at home.
Getting to Disney
You’ve got lots of options to get to a Disney park. Getting there is the most important part. It doesn’t matter how you get there so you could look at the costs of flying and driving to see which works better within your vacation budget. Since flying and driving are the two most popular options, I’m going to break those down for you:
- Plane tickets
- Airport parking (or transportation to the airport)
- Baggage fees
- Getting to the parks (if you’re not staying at a Disney resort using Magical Express)
- Vehicle maintenance (it’s always a good idea to have your vehicle checked out before you go on a road trip)
- Stops along the way (food, lodging if you’re staying overnight, ect)
- Parking fees (at your resort, at the theme parks, ect)
Guests staying at a Walt Disney World Resort and flying into Orlando International Airport (MCO) can use Disney’s Magical Express which is including in your vacation package for no additional cost. When staying off site or flying into another airport, you’ll need to consider the cost of transportation as well as getting from your home to the airport you’ll be leaving from. If flying isn’t your family’s method of getting to Disney, be sure to factor in the costs of your method of travel including slight increases if you’re planning in advance for your upcoming vacation.
Disney offers a couple of different options when purchasing tickets – regular theme park tickets or park hopper tickets. Regular tickets offer you the opportunity to visit one theme park per day. A park hopper ticket lets you “hop” to multiple parks during the day. The price difference isn’t huge and it might be more affordable to purchase a ticket for fewer days with the hopper option, giving you time to relax at your resort or explore Disney Springs. On the other hand, if you’re only planning to visit one park each day, skipping the park hopper and adding extra days to your ticket could be the better option for your visit.
Tickets become cheaper the more days you purchase so longer trips can be more inexpensive as far as tickets are concerned. Not every day needs to be spent in a park so tickets aren’t necessary every day to have a magical time while you’re on vacation. (You can get more ideas of things to do in this post of free things to do at Disney without a park ticket.)
Purchasing additional tickets to special events or water parks will also add to your budget. It can also be a more affordable way for your family to see the parks. Things like Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party can be cheaper than the cost of a park ticket, especially when you look at the extra things included.
If you’re still not sure what park tickets you’ll need for your visit, check out this post where I share more in depth information.
Disney has a very generous policy that allows guests to bring outside food and drinks into the parks. That means you don’t need to spend $15 on a counter service lunch if you’d rather bring your own lunch into the park with you. You’re also able to reenter the park with your ticket (if you don’t have the park hopper option, it has to be the same park or you’ll use another day on your ticket) so you can eat lunch at your resort if you’d prefer to do that.
Using a service like Garden Grocer allows you to pre-order groceries and have them delivered to your resort. This can help you save on your food budget by bringing some snacks into the park with you or allowing you to eat breakfast in your room before hitting the parks.
For guests who want to eat in the parks, there are a couple of different options to think about while budgeting. Will you be using the Disney Dining Plan or not? Guests staying at a Walt Disney World resort can opt to add the Dining Plan to their reservations as part of a package (that can also include park tickets). Basically, the Dining Plan allows you to pay a pre-determined set amount per credit and you can use those credits on what you’d like to.
For example, if you want to use your snack credit on a Dole Whip you can do that. You can also use it on a Mickey Ice Cream Bar. Disney doesn’t care. As long as the item qualifies as a snack, you can use your credit for that. The same goes for meals if you choose a dining plan with that option. It doesn’t matter if you order pasta or steak, so long as it’s on the menu and the restaurant accepts the Disney Dining Plan. If you need more help deciding if the Disney Dining Plan is a good fit, check out this post.
To budget for food, determine if you’ll be using the Disney Dining Plan. If you are, it’s a set price and you’ll know the amount. If you’ll be paying out of pocket, for budget sake, use the following average prices to help you plan:
- Snack – $5
- Counter Service Meal – $15
- Table Service Meal – $35
For more information on eating at Disney, you can also check out this post.
Deciding where to stay can play a big part in your budget. Staying on Disney property might be slightly more expensive, but when looking at the benefits of staying on property, it might become worth it. Staying at a resort off Disney property can be less expensive, but might wind up costing you more in both time and money during your visit.
Somewhere to stay is an important part of your vacation budget. Even if you’ve been blessed with accommodations from a friend or family member, consider budgeting for a small gift to thank them. Families with little ones might consider spending a bit more on accommodations if they’ll be spending time at the resort with napping little ones.
Check out this post to help you learn more about how to decide if your family should stay on property or not during your visit. And if you need help picking the best Disney resort for your visit, check out this post.
This is going to vary greatly for every person visiting. Some people want to bring something back to help them remember their magical vacation until they’re able to return again. Others collect something particular from everywhere they visit and going to Disney is no different.
I strongly suggest determining this before you head out on vacation. Letting everyone know their budget upfront (or how they can earn their spending money before the trip) keeps everyone on the same page. Rules about when things can be purchased is also helpful (we wait until the end of our trip to make purchases). Seeing all the pixie dusted merchandise makes you want to take it all home as soon as you see it. Resist the urge!
You can also help save by purchasing things before you leave from your local retailers or places like Zulily or The Disney Store. There are so many things you can make at home (like shirts or ears to wear in the parks) or get on sites like Etsy as well. You should still budget for these items but maybe they double as birthday or holidays gifts too, helping your Disney budget.
While you’re at Disney, there are lots of opportunities to make other purchases or add on additional experiences. For example, one of my favorite ways to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks (especially Hallowishes) is from a fireworks cruise on Bay Lake. This is an additional cost but is such a fun way to spend an evening. Other things like Photopass photography, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, Pirate’s League, pirate cruises, and gifts from Disney Floral and Gifts are other great options to help make your visit more memorable.
Include the cost of any other trips you’ll be adding on to your Disney vacation. There are lots of interesting places to visit in the Orlando area as well as across the country on your drive to Disney. Spend some time looking into the costs of admission, food, accommodations and other expenses associated with your additional plans.
Getting Back Home
When it’s time to head back to reality, there are expenses related to that too. Based on the information on how to got to Disney, budget for getting back home.
While you’re gone, life doesn’t stop. You may need someone to watch your home while you’re gone, board your pets while you’re away or help out in another way. Those costs should be accounted for in your budget as well even if it’s just bringing the coffee loving neighbor who got the mail a new Disney mug. Be sure to also account for anything else that applies to your family.
Having a budget can help make your trip planning easier. Knowing what you want to spend and your spending priorities can help you narrow down when you’ll visit, where you’ll stay and how long your trip will be. I’ve discussed budgeting before but it’s so important that it’s worth talking about again. You can put your savings into a personal savings account.
What other things do you include in your budget for your Disney vacations? Leave a comment below and let us know!