Planning a trip to Disney World will look a little different to everyone — depending on where you’re traveling from, how many are in your travel group, and how long you plan to stay, there are some factors you can’t control — but there are some that you can! We hit the books and did the research for you to find the BEST ways to do Disney on a budget in 2022 and 2023!
We’re breaking it all down for you into some basic categories:
- Park Tickets
- Other Costs
We’ll review some strategies in each topic to help you narrow down what will work best for your family and your vacation goals. So, let’s go save you some moolah!
Before we get to the fun stuff, we have to talk about how we’re getting to Disney World. Travel prices can vary quite a bit, and there are a lot of factors to consider when looking at transportation to (and from) Disney.
If you’re traveling within the US, you most likely have two options: flying or driving.
Depending on where you live, it can be cheaper to drive to Disney World than it would cost to fly – especially if you have a larger family.
That being said, gas prices and nights spent in a hotel along the way may end up canceling out the savings compared to flying, not to mention the $15 to $25 per night parking fees at the Disney resorts, or the $25 to $50 parking costs at Disney’s parks if you don’t stay at a Disney World hotel. It might also help to think about how long it will take you to drive to and from Disney World. If you end up spending more time in the car than in the parks, then that may not be the best use of your vacation time.
If you decide to fly, we have some tips to help you snag the cheapest flight possible for your family:
- Plan Ahead: Star looking into those flight costs as early as possible.
- Last Minute Deals: If you couldn’t book your flights months in advance, look for last-minute deals, though this may mean your family doesn’t get to sit together on the plane.
- Stay Vigilant: Once you book your flights, keep an eye on airfare. If it goes down, you can usually call the airline or rebook online to apply for that new deal.
- Use Your Toolbox: Find an online airline search tool that will do that hard work for you. There are many out there that can help you track flight prices and notify you when prices are low, or give you predictions on when flight costs could go down.
- Review the Point System: If you’re a frequent flyer or have a major credit card, check to see if you have any points you can redeem for free flights. Every little bit helps!
- Minimize Your Baggage: Those fees can add up! For example, some airlines allow each passenger to bring one free personal item and one free carry-on bag, so if you can fit everything in the carry-on and personal item, you won’t have to pay extra for luggage!
We’re constantly looking at how much it will cost you to fly to Disney World each month, so be sure to check back with us for our latest posts with that info!
If you fly to Orlando, you’ll have to think about how you’ll get from the airport to your hotel and travel from your hotel to the parks.
Getting to the hotel
In terms of getting to the hotel, Disney is no longer offering its free bus transportation to and from the airport (Disney’s Magical Express), so you’ll have to pay for transportation to your resort. You’ve got a number of options here.
The cheapest option for you might be a rideshare service like Uber or Lyft. UberXL (which generally fits around 5 people) can have an average cost of about $50 from Orlando International Airport to Disney’s Contemporary Resort, but keep in mind that prices can vary depending on the day and time. And if you’re traveling with a large party or members that would need car seats or who have lots of luggage, that can all factor into your decision-making.
Other options to get you from the airport to your hotel include rental cars (which can be EXPENSIVE), private car services (which again can be pricey), using a regular taxi, and more. Two options lots of people might be looking into are Mears Connect and The Sunshine Flyer. These are, in essence, meant to serve as replacement services for Disney’s Magical Express.
Mears Connect has standard and express options. The service costs $32 for adults round trip and $27 for kids round trip. The express option is $250 for up to 4 passengers and $55 for each additional passenger.
The Sunshine Flyer is $34 for adults round trip and $25 for kids round trip. Each service has its own pros and cons, and their prices are pretty comparable. Still, a rideshare might be your cheapest option depending on how many people you’re traveling with. But beware of those fluctuating prices, and keep in mind that lots of folks are flying into Orlando, so you might end up waiting a hot minute for your ride.
Ultimately, you’ll want to weigh the pros and cons of each option, price out the options, and decide what’s most important to you.
Getting to the parks
In terms of getting from your hotel to the parks, if you’re staying at a Disney-owned and operated hotel and you don’t mind relying on Disney’s free transportation, you won’t have to worry about any transportation costs.
If you’ll be staying at another hotel in Orlando, be sure to see if they offer free buses or transportation services to Disney World (a few do!). If you’ll be staying elsewhere off-property, a rideshare service might work out, or a rental car might be a better option depending on how much driving you’ll be doing and how many folks are in your travel party! But that’s a whole other price to plan for, the rental cost, the cost to park at your hotel (if there are parking fees), road tolls (yep, Orlando has toll roads!), and parking fees at the Disney Parks.
If you live within a day’s drive to Disney World, driving is often the cheapest option. Driving gets you to Disney World within one day’s driving time (no overnight hotel), and gets right to your resort and the parks with minimal fees. If you live further than 10 hours away, then you’ll have to start doing the math on the cheapest flights and settle the debate on airport shuttle versus rental car.
If you’re planning on staying in a hotel during your vacation, you can stay on Disney World property or off property.
In many cases, off-property hotels can be less expensive than Disney hotels, but you may need to rent a car or use a rideshare service to get to the parks if you decide to stay outside the “Disney bubble,” unless that hotel has some kind of transportation service to Disney World.
Vacation homes or AirBnBs can also be a good option for larger families or families looking to spend time in Orlando that isn’t at Disney World (gasp — there’s stuff to do in Orlando beyond Disney!?!).
Sure, you’ll likely need your own car (or a rental) to get around, but when these homes come with kitchens and laundry, you can still save quite a bit of money by making some of your own meals and limiting your luggage by doing some laundry during your vacation. Gotta break out that cost-analysis spreadsheet again to see where the breakeven point is on this for your family!
Good Neighbor hotels can be a great compromise because they offer some official Disney perks for less money! Good Neighbor hotels are those that border on — or are sometimes technically located on — Disney property, but are not managed by Disney. They have partnered with Disney in a way that allows their guests some of the same perks that Disney resort guests get.
There are a few great options in the Disney Springs area, and some are within walking distance to Disney Springs.
If you have Marriott Reward Points, you can use them to save some money at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel. These resorts offer a posh experience for much less than a Disney Deluxe Resort, and they’re within walking distance of TWO Disney parks and the Skyliner!
If you’re looking to stay on Disney World property, the Value resorts in Disney World, especially Disney’s All-Star Resorts, are usually the cheapest option for families looking to stay on Disney property.
Also, don’t forget that from time to time, Disney offers hotel deals for Annual Passholders, Florida Residents, and general guests that could help you save even MORE on your hotel stay.
You could also look into renting Disney Vacation Club points to help you stay in some of Disney’s nicer hotel rooms for LESS.
Disney World park tickets can vary in price depending on when you choose to visit Disney World. Each date has a specific ticket price associated with it. So if you’re determined to visit during the cheapest times of the year, you can literally look at the ticket prices and see what days are the least expensive.
Disney frequently runs special deals on vacation packages and sometimes offers special ticket-specific deals, so make sure to check out the current promotions before you buy your tickets.
Once you’ve decided what days to visit, you’ve got to pick what ticket is best for you.
If you’re trying to spend as little as possible, we recommend skipping the Park Hopper ticket option and going for the standard 1 park per day tickets. The Park Hopper option can be a great added convenience, but it will cost you more, so from a pure numbers perspective, it’s best to skip on it to save!
But you will also want to consider how many days you’ll be visiting and how many days you actually need park tickets for. If you’re arriving late in the evening and leaving early the next morning, then no need to buy park tickets for those days. And if you’re planning to stay in the resort for a pool day or hit up Disney Springs, that could be another day’s worth of park tickets you could save on!
Now, let’s talk FOOD! When you’re going for the cheapest possible vacation, you probably won’t want to book a million Table Service meals. You can opt to skip Table Service meals entirely, or you can be strategic about them.
For example, if you pick a breakfast buffet (typically cheaper than lunch or dinner prices), you could fill up and skip lunch (saving money from that meal) and just snack your way to dinner. You could also have a light breakfast (or bring your own food for this meal or other meals — more on that in a second), and save that money for a fun lunch or dinner Table Service meal.
If you do stick to mostly Counter Service restaurants, don’t fear! Luckily, you can eat a lot more than just burgers and fries at Disney’s Counter Service restaurants these days! While the Counter Service restaurants themselves have a variety of options, you can do more to save a bit more cash, like split larger items, or opt for big snacks that can serve as a meal.
You can even bring your own snacks and meals into the parks to save a little extra money. There are some rules about what you can and can’t bring, but many things are allowed in the parks. If you’re determined to save every penny you can, this could be a good option for at least some meals!
If you’re flying to Disney World, or don’t have space for snacks in your luggage/car, you can use a grocery delivery service or stop by a local supermarket before reaching the hotel. You’ll have to pay those delivery fees for any of the food delivery services, but that will most likely still be cheaper than buying all of those Disney snacks in the parks!
Whatever you do, we’d recommend that you not waste your money on those often overpriced pre-packaged goldfish-type snacks in the parks that you can get for WAY cheaper at the grocery store! If you are going to spend money on food in the parks, try to focus on items that are more unique and ones that you can’t find anywhere else!
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.
We’ve discussed some of the main costs of your trip — transportation to/from Disney World, transportation to/from the parks, hotel, tickets, and food. But there are other costs to consider. For example, you’ll likely be tempted to buy a merchandise item or two during your trip
If you’re going for the CHEAPEST trip, then staying away from Disney merchandise in the parks is probably your best bet. AVERT YOUR EYES! If you still want to buy some items but not go over budget, consider cheap souvenirs like pressed pennies and coins!
If you’ll be traveling with little ones who you know will want a toy or souvenir, consider buying cheaper items online or from your local dollar store, Walmart, etc., and packing those in your bag as a surprise. Then the kiddos can open a surprise gift each day, but you’ll still save some cash. WIN, WIN!
Also, just remember that prices are subject to change. We’ve seen hundreds of food prices increase recently, for example, and those can change again ahead of your trip. If you’re sticking to a tight budget, be sure to keep that in mind as you plan your trip and maybe leave in some “emergency” funds to use in case prices go up or something unexpected happens.
And another cost that often gets forgotten when it comes to budget planning is TIPPING. If you’re staying in a hotel, you’ll need to plan to tip housekeeping. If you’re taking an airport shuttle, you’ll wanna tip your driver per person or per bag! If you’re taking an Uber/Lyft, you’ll be expected to tip your driver. If you’re eating at a Table Service restaurant (even if it’s a buffet), you’ll need to plan to tip your server.
Those extra couple of bucks here and there each day can add up over the course of the week. So plan for it, budget for it, and don’t let it take you off guard!
Use a FREE Travel Agent
Did you know you don’t have to plan your trip on your own? That’s right! You don’t need to deal with all of the stress by yourself. You can use a Travel Agent to help you plan and many travel agents will help you book the trip of your dreams for FREE — that means it doesn’t cost you any more than it would if you booked it on your own!
Our friends at Small World Vacations have TONS of experience planning Disney trips. They can help you find the best discounts and apply them to your trip, and their services are totally FREE. Be sure to let them know that DFB says “hello!”
For more planning tips check out:
- A Definitive Ranking of EVERY Disney World Hotel!
- How Early Can You Make Disney World Dining Reservations
- When to AVOID Planning a Trip to Disney World
- Everything You Need to Know About Parking in Disney World
We hope these tips help you save some money on your next trip to Disney World! Make sure to stay tuned to DFB for more helpful tricks and planning information for your next Disney trip.
Do you have any Disney vacation money-saving tricks? Let us know in the comments!