How To Afford A Trip To Disney World

Disney World is the “Happiest Place on Earth”, but with it’s ever increasing costs most people wonder how can they afford a trip to Disney World?  With two years of planning and direct savings my family of 6 is ready to head out on a trip to Disney World this summer.  Despite earning an above median income and having a high savings rate, saving for a trip to Disney World has been a challenge.  There are many other places to spend money, such as vehicles, retirement savings, paying off the house etc.

The average Disney trip for a family of 4 costs over $6,000.  We are a family of 6 and our total cost will be under $3,500 for 6 days at Disney and 1 day at Kennedy Space Center. Subtract out the cost of the Kennedy Space Center trip and our Disney trip will be $3,200; almost half the average. Here’s how we are going to afford a trip to Disney World:

Hotel Costs:

Staying on site at a Disney Hotel works for people who are flying to Disney, but the costs are out of this world, like a room for $300 per night is a “good deal”, and the average price per night seems to be around $500.  Right outside of Disney there are many hotel options for under $100 per night. Disney hotels do have some extra advantages over off site hotels including:

  • Extra Magic Hours:  Being able to enter the park an hour early on select days, or stay late on select days.  This is a MAJOR benefit, since no one else can get in that early and it is during the part of the day that isn’t insanely hot.  To me this isn’t worth a $200 premium per night, but for you it may be.
  • No Car Needed: Disney hotels provide free transportation to the parks, so for those travelling by air, there is no need to rent a car.  This may be enough of a savings to offset the higher hotel costs.
  • Free Magic Bands: Magic bands are wristbands with RFID chips that are used for your room keys, park admission, and fast pass tickets.  These cost $12.95 at the Disney store if you are not a Disney hotel guest. Having magic bands prevents you from having to pull out your admission cards for admission and fast pass rides.
  • 60 Day Fastpass reservation: You can make Fastpass reservations 60 days in advance instead of 30 days in advance.
  • Free Parking: This is a $22 per day benefit.  Hotel guests receive free standard parking at all Disney parks.

Originally we had planned to use the Skymiles I had saved up to rent a house in Orlando.  Two years ago when we started planning this trip the redemption rate was much more favorable and I could rent a 4 bedroom house with a private pool for around 14,000 Skymiles per night.  Now these houses are over 30,000 Skymiles. I’m not sure what caused these changes, but using Skymiles for hotel stays is MUCH less economical than it used to be.  We are renting a 2 bedroom hotel suite for 27,000 miles per night for 6 nights, just to get some use out of our miles, plus 1 night using 20,000 Choice points. Then we will spend 2 days on space coast renting a 2 bedroom choice hotel suite for only 12,000 points.

Hotel 1: Royal Parc Suites: The Quality Inn Royal Parc Suites is one of the few Choice hotels that will rent out its multi-bedroom large family suites for point redemptions.  Unlike other programs all Choice hotel rooms cost the same amount of points at the same hotel.  This means if the hotel rate is 10,000 points, then if a suite is available that suite is only 10,000 points, that is, if they choose to list it.  Often you will see the multiple room suite under the “best price” option, but they will disappear when you switch to points.  In the middle of summer this hotel is 20,000 points.  I have seen it as low as 10,000 points.  Royal Parc Suites is only a few minutes down the road from Disney, just 8 minutes to Hollywood Studios the closest park. This hotel has a pool, a breakfast buffet, and free shuttle service to the parks.  There is a $12 per day resort fee, which is required with cash or Skymiles redemptions, but not with Choice point redemptions.

Hotel 2: Clarion Inn Ormond Beach: I am a little wary of this one.  This one is 1 hour north of Kennedy Space Center, by Daytona Beach, and will give us a head start heading home on our last day.  This was the only hotel I could find in the area offering a large family suite, and at 12,000 points is an unbelievable deal. We reserved a 2 Bedroom suite very similar to the one at Royal Parc suites mentioned above.  Here’s the problem:  There are NO reviews and NO pictures of the hotel to speak of.  On the website it shows “Available starting July 11”.  I’m not sure if this is a new construction hotel or they are purchasing an existing hotel.  When you map it on Google Maps it shows the location in the middle of a parking lot.  This will be an interesting one.

We are certainly “living it up” with these massive hotel suites. We could do our trip to Disney in a smaller hotel room, and if we were a family of 4 I’m sure we would go with a single room suite with 2 beds and a sofabed instead.  For our family with the points we had at the time, these hotels made sense.  Perhaps in the future we will stay in more modest accommodations.

I highly recommend saving up Choice hotel points for a trip to Disney.  Choice has many hotel rooms for larger families.  For 8,000 points in the middle of the busy summer season you get a suite with 2 Queen beds and 1 Queen Sofa bed near Disney.  For a 5 night stay this works out to 40,000 points.  The VISA Choice credit card gives you 32,000 points for signing up and you earn 2 points per dollar spent, plus you get an 8,000 point bonus for spending 10K in 1 year.  All you really have to do to hit 40,000 Choice points is get the VISA card and spend a total of $4,000 on it, giving you 8,000 earned points.

Note: These prices and point redemptions change over time. Dates in June are less expensive than July and August. Weekends (Fri and Sat) are often 2,000 to 6,000 points more expensive. Keep an eye out for fluctuations and remember now you can book with points up to 100 days in advance.

Bottom Line: It is possible to stay for free using points at hotels close to Disney.  We spent a high value amount on points for larger accommodations because I had the points to spend, thanks to accumulating an insane amount of Skymiles from my job, and having no need for air travel in my personal life.  Most travel hackers value Skymiles at 1 cent a piece to 1.5 cents a piece and the redemption value I received was 0.65 cents a piece.  This may make some point hackers cringe, however the best point redemption deal is one that has value for you and your family, and this hotel stay and vacation did just that.  For people who don’t want to play the credit card game you can still stay off site near Disney in a 6 person suite for as low as $74 per night in the middle of the season. On the flipside of this value we received a redemption value of 2.05 cents for our hotel stay at Ormond Beach, while most points bloggers value Choice points at around .50 cents each.

I also found that there are standard rooms that sleep 4 people for as low as $40 per night.  The Rodeway Inn Maingate has 2 double beds and a pool for $40 per night.  For a 5 night stay that’s only $200. This hotel has 3.5 stars on Choice’s website with over 1,400 reviews. The hotel is in the same area as the Royal Parc Inn, at less than a 10 minute ride to the Disney Parks.

Outside of Choice hotels, the least expensive hotel I could find in June was for the Red Carpet Inn through Hotels.com.  You can get a room with 2 double beds for only $33 per night. The hotel has no pool, but if that is not a big deal you can save $35 on a 5 night stay, dropping the total cost to $165.

When staying at smaller hotels, like the single room suites with 2 beds and a sofa bed, or even a normal hotel room with 2 beds, we always bring 2 kid sized air mattresses with us.  These usually fit perfectly between the wall and the beds and are great for the little kids. This saves a lot of the stress of sharing beds and people kicking each other all night.

 

Tickets:

With Disney World Tickets there is the least amount of wiggle room to save money.  For us we wanted a 6 day vacation because each additional day costs much less than the previous one.  The retail price, including taxes and fees (which is not published on the Disney site until you go to checkout) for single park per day tickets for a family of 6 is $2,550.  We went to the Undercover Tourist site and they were running a sale in which we got our tickets for $2,300.  This is a small savings, but it all adds up.  Disney considers kids 10 and over as adults, so if you have a kid turning 10 before your first day at the parks you want to buy him an adult ticket.  The price difference is 20 dollars per ticket, regardless of how many days you are staying.

Notice on the chart above the cost for each additional day drops to $15 for adding in day 5 and then $10 per day for each day after that.

You also save a decent chunk of change by buying 1 park per day tickets instead of park hopper tickets.  Park hopper tickets allow you to visit multiple parks in a day, that’s nice and all, but if you are travelling with small children, and especially if you haven’t been to Disney before this is unnecessary. Park hopper tickets are $75 more per ticket before taxes. The longer you stay the more value per day Park hopper provides.  For a 2 day trip they cost $37.50 per ticket per day, but for a 10 day ticket cost only $7.50 per ticket per day.

Skip the water parks:  You have to buy special tickets for the water parks.  Buying multi-day tickets only let you  into The Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and The Animal Kingdom.  For our family of 6 adding one day to the water parks is an additional $400 cost.  There is plenty of fun to be had at the other four parks, especially since we have never been to Disney World.

Food Costs:

When we started planning for our Disney trip I knew that in park food was expensive, but I had no idea just HOW expensive, like you can buy a steak for over $100.  We are NOT going to Disney to eat.  We are there for the rides, the characters, the scenery, and the fun.  Eating is a biological requirement that we need to meet, not a part of the destination for us.  When I started planning this trip I had a few people recommend getting the meal plans, which once I looked into them sounded like Economic suicide.

Disney dining plans are INSANELY expensive and I don’t understand how anyone on any type of budget can justify them.  The least expensive dining plan is for 2 quick service meals, 1 refillable mug, and 1 snack. For adults the cost is $52.50 per day, for kids the cost is $17.74 per day.  For our family of 6 this would add up to $210 per day.  This is insanity, oh and “adults” are anyone 10 years of age and older.   For us this would be $1,260 for 6 days at the park,  That’s over half the cost of our tickets, and twice what we spend on groceries in a month.

  1. Eat a big breakfast at the hotel.  Many hotels provide free breakfast, or have some pop tarts and cereal in the room.

2. Pack a lunch: You can bring in any food that doesn’t need to be heated into Disney parks.  You can also get a storage locker for $10 at all Disney parks if you don’t want to haul your lunch with you.

3. Leave: A better option is to leave the parks at lunchtime and eat offsite, then take a nap at your hotel and pack a dinner picnic, then come back to the parks. Disney only charges for parking once per day, so this isn’t a bad option.  If you eat breakfast at the hotel, visit the park for 3 – 4 hours, then eat lunch at Wendy’s, Chik-fil-A, Subway, Pizza Hut, you will spend MAYBE $30 for a family meal, then pack PBJs for dinner at a cost of under $10 and your total food cost dropped to $40 per day instead of $200.  12 – 4 is the hottest part of the day and the crowds are the largest, so just don’t be there!

Ancillary Costs:

Parking: Parking is $22 per day, so $88 for a 4 day stay.  Alternatively many hotels offer a free shuttle service, just make sure you know the details before hand.  You don’t want to get stuck at the park, or miss the shuttle and have to wait an hour for the next one.

Strollers: You can rent a stroller at Disney for $15 per day or a double stroller for $31 per day.  So, for 3/4 of the cost of a budget hotel you can borrow a stroller, no thank you!  plan ahead and buy a folding double stroller on craigslist before your trip.  I think we got our double stroller for around $40.

Gas: This is highly variable based on where you live and what you drive. I have to believe that most people are driving a lesser distance than my family is.  For us it’s a 2,200 mile round trip.  At 25 MPG highway mileage for our minivan this works out to 88 gallons of fuel.  With gas at $3 per gallon this works out to $264. Driving saves a ton of money over flying. I would not consider flying to Disney with 4 kids.

Souvenirs:  Your kids have enough stuff.  I know mine do.  We are taking a bunch of quarters and pennies for the pressed penny machines.  Mrs. C. will end up getting each kid 1 gift under $30 each, probably a small stuffed animal for the little kids.  You don’t need to buy a ton of crap while at Disney, just walk past the shops! We will probably pre-buy a few souvenirs to give to the kids the morning we leave for Disney. We can get a stuffed Mickey for $12 on Amazon.

So….How much money do I need to afford a trip to Disney World for 4 people?

4 people 4 days / 5 nights

Tickets: $1,495 from UnderCover Tourist

Hotel: $200 or Free with points

Food: $200 ($40 per day)

Increasing to a 6 day trip adds $40 to the total ticket cost currently with sales being ran, $40 per night for extra hotel stays and $40 per day for food, for only $200 more you can add 50% more time to your trip….and $80 of that (hotel stays) could in theory be paid with points! Staying an extra 2 days is the most budget conscious thing you can do!

So a 4 day trip with points as low as $1,700 and a 6 day trip with points as low as $1,820. Without points a 4 day trip can be as low as $1,900 and a 6 day trip as low as $2,100.

Okay….So how do I save roughly $2,000?

1. Side jobs:  I COMPLETELY paid for our Disney trip with side jobs.  ALL of the money that we are going to spend has come from earnings from this Website over the past 2 years.  Building a website isn’t the best side hustle you can have because it takes a long time for money to start flowing in.  Mowing lawns, car repairs, cutting hair, shopping with Shipt, cleaning houses, and even babysitting are all great options.

2. Take some OT: If you earn $12 per hour and work an extra shift of overtime, that 8 hours is worth $144.  Work a few extra days and you’ve moved the needle quite a bit.

3. Birthday / Xmas gifts:  Ask every single person in your network to forgo toys for kids birthdays/xmas, or at least tone it down and donate towards the kids Disney fund.

4. Yard Sale: Sell anything you aren’t using.  Old toys, clothes, exercise equipment. A good yard sale should bring in a few hundred bucks and put a healthy dent into your savings goal.  If you let the kids know what the proceeds of the yard sale are going towards they will be more willing to let some of their toys go. Check out eBay as well for anything that wouldn’t be a pain to ship.  You can often sell items at a higher price overall on eBay since you have the entire world as your buying audience.

5. Regular savings: $2,000 is $83 per month for 2 years.

So What’s The Overall Breakdown Of Your Cost?:

  1. 6 day Disney Tickets for 6 people                           $2,300
  2. 1 day Kennedy Space Center tickets for 6 people     $293
  3. Gas to and from Michigan                                           $300
  4. Hotels: 162,000 Skymiles / 36,000 Choice pts:               $0
  5. Food at $60 per day for 7 days                                   $420
  6. Parking                                                                           $132

Total: $3,445.

Have you gone on a trip to Disney World?  What actions did you take to afford a trip to Disney World?

John C. started Action Economics in 2013 as a way to gain more knowledge on personal financial planning and to share that knowledge with others. Action Economics focuses on paying off the house, reducing taxes, and building wealth. John uses the free tool Personal Capital to track his net worth and posts quarterly updates on his finances. Check out the Action Economics archives section for all past posts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *