Walt Disney World on a Budget: Where to Splurge & What to Skip

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. 

It is no secret that a Walt Disney World vacation doesn’t come cheap. Between airfare, hotel stays, tickets, dining, souvenirs, and much more, nailing down a budget and sticking to it is no easy task. Then on top of regular travel-related expenses, a Disney trip forces you to factor in considerations like: Should you stay at a Disney resort or somewhere off property? Dining plan or no dining plan? Is a Park Hopper ticket really worth it? Let’s find out!

SPLURGE on a stay at a Disney resort

A quick search on TripAdvisor or Priceline will show you how easy it is to find an inexpensive place to stay in the Orlando area. (Priceline even has rates using their Express Deals options for as low as $32/night!) But consider what you’re getting into before booking one of these cheaper stays. Some budget hotels fall into the budget categories for more reasons than price alone. Always check online reviews before booking a resort in any destination– Even if you see your hotel room as a place to sleep and shower, you want to make sure you have a clean place to do so.

Aside from the gamble of cleanliness (and guest service), non-Disney hotels are often further away from the theme parks, and do not come with many of the perks that staying on property entails, such as Extra Magic Hours (which gives resort guests EXTRA time in the theme parks), complimentary transportation (both between the resort and the theme parks AND between the resort and the airport), and things like package pickup, Disney concierge on-site, and more. Though it is more expensive than that $32 surprise room, staying at a Disney value resort can really save you the stress of figuring out your own transportation from the airport, and it can give you a greater value for your park ticket if you take advantage of Extra Magic Hours.

If you’re still looking to stay off-site, whether it be for proximity to other Orlando attractions, or to get “more for your money,” check out Disney’s Good Neighbor Hotels, or consider a more middle to high end resort experience in Orlando, as though more expensive than a Disney value resort, you may find some rooms to be a deal compared to other travel destinations.

SKIP Park Hopper tickets

Now don’t get me wrong, I PREFER having the Park Hopper option added to my ticket. I love having the flexibility of being able to hop on the bus and switch parks whenever I feel like it, and even more than that, I love feeling like I can make my dinner reservations months in advance without a care in the world for which park I’ll end up in on that day. Having Park Hopper tickets however is a convenience, and unfortunately for those low-budget trips we sometimes take, conveniences are the first things to go.

Especially depending on how many people you’re paying for, skipping the Park Hopper option has the potential to save you hundreds of dollars. And while it is convenient to have the option to switch parks available, you can easily (with some extra planning) work your day around staying in the same park. Still worried about skipping out on the Park Hoppers? Don’t be! If you find yourself desperately wishing you could switch parks a day or two into your trip, head to Guest Relations or a vacation planning booth outside the park and pay the difference to upgrade your tickets.

SPLURGE on a good bag

This tip goes for traveling anywhere, not just to Walt Disney World! One of the worst things about traveling is dealing with a messy, difficult, or all around uncomfortable bag. Whether it be the purse or backpack you plan on taking into the parks everyday or the luggage you’re using to fly down, spend the extra money on a good quality product that you’ll feel comfortable using. Sometimes the right bag doesn’t even need to be pricey. Check out this snazzy cross body bag, with just the right amount of pockets to help you stay organized during a trip to the parks without feeling bogged down by stuff. If a backpack is more your style, we suggest a small to mid-sized light or neutral color with only a couple of pockets (like this one) that will make going in and our of it throughout the day super easy!

SKIP the water bottles

Your mind is in the right place if you’re worried about staying hydrated in the harsh Florida heat, but you don’t need to spend lots of money on water to do so. Since water bottles in the parks cost upwards of $3/bottle, you could actually blow through some serious cash by the end of a week-long vacation. Instead of stocking up on bottles, ask for a cup of water in any nearby quick service location. These cups of water are complimentary, and they won’t even have the funky Florida tap water taste since the water is run through the filters in the soda machines.

You may still prefer to have a water bottle on your person– and that’s okay too! But don’t get stuck repeatedly buying them in the park. Whether you’d simply rather have the ability to pull a bottle out of your bag while you wait in line for an attraction or you want to conserve paper and plastic (complimentary cups are not refillable for sanitary reasons), using a filtered water bottle can be an easy fix. There are tons of options out there for refillable water bottles, but we prefer the standard Brita filtered bottles. These bottles are extremely reasonably priced, and are the same high quality you can expect from other Brita products. They won’t leave your water tasting like plastic from the bottle and they’ll filter out the everything you don’t want to drink from the tap.

SPLURGE on experiences, not souvenirs

Regardless of how tight your budget is, you’re still going on vacation! And as such you probably want to splurge on something. My suggestion for the big splurge of the week is to spend the extra money on an experience rather than merchandise. Whether it be a signature dining experience, a day at the spa, a backstage tour, or anything else you may be looking forward to, put your extra money towards something you can do rather than something you can have. If the thought of me telling you to skip out on shopping has you panicked, don’t worry! You can download the Shop Disney Parks app (for ios and Android) and you’ll be able to order many of the items you see in the parks long after your trip– so if money is tight, you won’t feel the pressure to spend it while you’re there!

SKIP the dining plan (probably)

You read correctly, you should (probably) skip the dining plan. As advertised, the Disney Dining Plan can save you up to 35% off the cost of dining during your Disney vacation. It’s true, there is a 35% savings in it for you… if you eat at the right restaurants, order the right entrees, and actually eat most or all of the food. In most cases, the dining plan does not offer a substantial savings (in fact, the benefit many of our readers see is more in the fact that it makes planning easier with meals paid for ahead of time, regardless of what they cost).

While most guests are not getting the best deal with the dining plan, there is a chance it could still save you some money. Before booking the plan, read up on some of the menus where you think you’ll be dining. Do some math, and figure out if what you order would be cheaper as part of the plan or if you paid out of pocket– keeping in mind the possibility that you may not be inclined to order certain things in the first place if not for the sole reason of getting a good deal on the plan. You may come out ahead on the plan, so definitely do some math and give it a try, but know that on the whole, you’ll find a greater savings paying out of pocket and/or bringing at least some snacks into the parks with you. (Free dining discounts also void any possible room discounts, making it extra important to see where the greater savings lies!)

Do you have any splurges you simply can’t pass up? Know exactly what you can skip? Let us know in the comments!

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