If you’re reading this blog, we’re willing to bet that one of your favorite vacations is Disney World. The nostalgic atmosphere, characters, roller coasters, dining, and more make Disney World one of the top destinations in the world. But all of that doesn’t come cheap – and if you’ve been following our blog for a while, you know that the prices just keep increasing.
As much as we love to visit Disney World, sometimes that price has us hesitating. So what should you do when you love Disney but your budget is screaming at you to PLEASE choose a different destination? Here are 10 GREAT places to vacation when your budget won’t do Disney.
We searched for highly rated vacation destinations that covered different kinds of things that people enjoy about Disney. Some of these are theme parks with lots of thrill rides, some are more relaxing vacations that still have a Disney touch, and some are locations with strong EPCOT vibes.
We’ll start out with a Disney vacation spot that you might not know about!
Disney Beach Resorts
Just because you’re not going to Disney World doesn’t mean you can’t have a touch of Disney as part of your trip! Disney owns a couple of beachside resorts that you could visit instead. Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort is located on the coast of South Carolina, about 5 hours away from the Disney World parks.
At the Hilton Head Resort, rooms average about $362.33 per night, which isn’t much cheaper than many Disney World hotels. However, because this is a beach vacation, you won’t have to worry about paying for park tickets or paying inflated prices for food and souvenirs in the parks. Instead, you can find free or cheap activities on the beach and at the hotel.
The Hilton Head Resort is modeled after a 1940’s hunting and fishing lodge, with multi-roomed villas and lots of recreational activities. There’s a water tower slide at the heated Big Dipper pool and water-spitting frogs at the Little Dipper Pool.
Disney’s other beachside resort is Disney’s Vero Beach Resort. This hotel has key lime Mickey waffles, and really that’s all we need to know. We’re sold.
The room rates for this hotel are closer to $200 per night, which is at the low end of most Disney World hotels. With no park ticket expense, this is definitely going to be a cheaper option. This hotel has recreational activities like fishing, water sports, tennis, and mini golf.
However, this resort is only 2 hours away from Disney World, so if you wanted to go into the parks for one day or just pay a visit to Disney Springs, that’s still a possibility!
Both of these resorts will have little Disney touches (like those Mickey waffles) and the amazing customer service that Disney is known for. However, they can be significantly cheaper vacations than a full trip to the Disney World parks.
Dollywood may be much smaller than Disney World, but don’t count it out as a great vacation option. It was voted #1 best theme park in the United States by TripAdvisor, and it has over 50 rides, lots of shows and entertainment, award-winning dining, and great customer service.
As someone who has visited Dollywood, I can confirm that — although it’s not quite equal with Disney World in terms of general quality and environment — it’s closer to that vibe than most other theme parks. The food really is incredible here (you won’t find barbecue this good even in Disney World), and you should NOT skip the roller coasters!
One of the main things that sets Dollywood apart from other parks and closer to Disney World is the customer service here. The employees I interacted with were so friendly and kind — they reminded me of Disney Cast Members.
Dollywood also has a water park — Dollywood’s Splash Country — with slides, pools, and splash zones.
In addition, you can find festivals in the parks, just like there are in EPCOT. For the fall season, there’s Dollywood’s Harvest Festival (lasting until October 29th), which brings special treats and decorations to the park. And at night, there’s a Halloween event called Great Pumpkin LumiNights!
Tickets for Dollywood cost $89 for a 1-day ticket and $109 for a 2-day ticket. That means you can visit for 2 days for the same cost as 1 day in Disney World. A 3-day ticket is only $119.
Dollywood also has a couple of resort hotels, which start at $189 a night, and suites don’t go above $329 a night.
In general, Dollywood has a lot of the same charm that Disney World has, and the food and attractions are comparable as well. At half the price, this is a great choice for Disney fans who want to save some cash.
Disney History Tours
If your favorite part of Disney World is the history behind the park, you can find that same history at museums across the United States. The Disney Family Museum in San Francisco tells the life story of Walt Disney and his family. There are exhibits narrated in Walt’s voice along with early drawings, cartoons, films, music, and a model of Disneyland.
Tickets for this museum are $20 for children and $35 for adults.
Head to Marceline, MO, to visit the Walt Disney Hometown Museum.
This museum was established in 2001 to celebrate Walt Disney’s 100th birthday. It’s all about Walt’s childhood, which inspired much of his work later on in his life. The museum is over 10,000 square feet and has more than 4,000 artifacts.
This museum is even cheaper than the one in San Francisco. It costs $10 for adults and $5 for kids, and you can also go to explore the town and see Walt’s family farm.
Walt’s Barn is open every 3rd Sunday of the month from 11AM to 3PM.
At first, New York might not sound like a very Disney kind of vacation. If you’ve been to the Big Apple, you know that it can be loud, dirty, and maybe even a little bit scary (in Times Square, anyways). And seeing the off-brand Disney characters out greeting people can be kind of shocking when you’re used to the real thing in the parks.
But there’s one huge bonus that Disney fans will love about visiting New York — Disney Broadway shows! You can see Aladdin or The Lion King on Broadway right now.
Tickets for Aladdin in New York start at $71, and The Lion King tickets start at $104.
And once you’ve seen the show, you can pop over to a HUGE Disney store to shop for some new souvenirs. The store is located at 1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036, and is open from 9AM to 5PM every day.
Another theme park option that older kids especially will enjoy is Busch Gardens. There are locations in both Tampa Bay, Florida, and Williamsburg, Virginia.
This theme park has lots of rides for little kids, but it also has more roller coasters for adults! There are live shows and entertainment, and you can even go on a safari tour here (so it’s basically Disney’s Animal Kingdom, right?).
A 1-day ticket for Busch Gardens costs $90, but you can get a 2023 Annual Pass for just $177 — that’s just a bit more expensive than a 1-day ticket for Disney World during peak season. In addition, you can buy a ticket that includes all-day dining for just $130 (including both admission and dining). With how expensive it can be to eat in Disney World, you’ll save a LOT by taking advantage of that deal instead of going to the Disney World parks.
If your favorite part about Disney World is walking miles and miles until your feet are covered in blisters, boy have we got the vacation destination for you! Check out America’s national parks to find long hikes without the theme park prices.
Seriously, though, visiting a national park is a great option for a cheap vacation. Most of the parks in the United States sell 1-day passes for $20 to $50 per vehicle, but you can often get an annual pass for around the same cost as the 1-day tickets (under $50 at many parks). If you live close enough to go multiple times per year, you can save a lot of money with that pass.
One national park even has close ties to Disney. The Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park was the inspiration for Disney World’s Wilderness Lodge! If you’re a fan of that hotel, you can check out the original inspiration.
The parks around the country are all very different, so you can see all kinds of beautiful natural views and enjoy a much slower-paced kind of trip than you’ll usually find at Disney.
And we’re back with another theme park! If you’re a big fan of the Halloween party at Disney World, you might enjoy HalloWeekends at Cedar Point. During the day you can find not-so-scary Halloween activities for the whole family, and the nighttime is more like Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights. It’s the best of both worlds.
The event has scary mazes, shows, and scare zones, along with all the normal rides available in this theme park. It takes place on Thursday evenings and Fridays through Sundays from September 15th through October 30th.
You can book your ticket for this event for $50 (including the park ticket and the Halloween party). And if you’re going to visit multiple times in 2023, you can buy all-season dining for just $99. That includes lunch and dinner EVERY DAY. You can even find a great deal if you’ll just be there for a day — all-day dining costs $31.99. That’s cheaper than most sit-down meals in Disney World!
OK, so we know that we said you’re NOT going to Disney this time. But we just want to point out quickly that sometimes a trip to Disneyland can be much cheaper than one to Disney World.
It’s very easy to stay off-site when you visit the California parks (easier than it is in Disney World), and you can go for just a couple of days and still see everything in the parks. Unlike the much larger Disney World, you don’t need a ton of time to do everything.
Although tickets cost about the same (if not more), buying tickets for just 2 days instead of a full week will definitely save you some serious cash. Packing a lot of Disney in a short amount of time is a pretty good compromise if you’re trying to save money!
U.S. Cities with EPCOT Vibes
As people who love Disney food, one of our favorite parts of visiting Disney World is eating around the world in EPCOT. So we found a few cities in the US that mimic the exciting nightlife and fantastic food scene of that Disney park! One of the best cities to visit for real EPCOT vibes is Nashville, Tennessee. It has lots of great food, some fun historic sites (especially if you love country music), and a great nightlife of bars and lounges.
Another good option is Savannah, Georgia. This city also has many historic sites to visit along with great food and a gorgeous downtown area.
Our final option for peak EPCOT vibes on a budget is Asheville, North Carolina. This spot is known for its beautiful architecture, but the downtown nightlife isn’t something you should ignore either.
All of these places have amazing food and ambiance, and you can find Airbnbs available here for cheaper than most Disney World hotel rooms. We saw many options in Asheville for under $150/night and plenty of spots for under $100/night in Nashville.
Savannah was a little more expensive, but there were still a lot of choices downtown for under $200/night.
If you’re a big fan of Disney cruises, you might want to check out some of the non-Disney options out there! Most other cruises are MUCH cheaper than Disney’s. Whereas many Disney cruises to the Bahamas and Caribbean cost $1,000+ per person, you can usually get a Royal Caribbean cruise for under $500 per person.
Both Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises get high rankings from vacation polls, and each has cheaper options than Disney. In fact, you can find some Celebrity cruises for as low as $170!
At Celebrity Cruises, the meals are included with the price, along with basic WiFi, some entertainment, and access to lounges and kids’ clubs.
At Royal Caribbean, a cruise includes accommodations, most meals onboard, some beverages, and most of the onboard entertainment.
So whether you’re just looking to mix things up a bit or searching for a vacation that will be easier on your wallet, now you’ve got a few ideas for non-Disney World vacations. But if you just can’t bring yourself to book a vacation anywhere else, though, we can empathize — we love the parks too! These posts all have money-saving tips that might make a Disney World vacation more possible:
- 5 Ways to Save $1,000 on Your Disney Trip (Really!)
- Our NEW Tips for Saving BIG in Disney World!
- How You Should Spend Your Money in Disney Springs
- A Complete Guide to Booking the Cheapest Flight to Disney World
- 19 Disney Snacks Under $10 that We Like MORE than $50 Meals
Our BEST tip for sticking with your budget at Disney World will forever be to plan ahead – especially for dining! When you buy our DFB Guide to Dining at Walt Disney World, you’ll get immediate access to our downloadable worksheets for planning your trip, as well as sample one-day dining itineraries. And as a DFB reader, you’re entitled to a discount! Use code WDW2022 for 25% off your purchase.
Keep following DFB for more money-saving tips for Disney World trips or updates about other travel destinations!
What’s your favorite non-Disney vacation? Let us know in the comments!