Planning A Trip To Walt Disney World

This past summer we took our kids on an 1,100 mile Journey across the country to Universal Studios Orlando.  We had a great time and while we were down there Mrs. C. mentioned to the kids that we could go do Disney World in a couple years.  My face sank, my heart raced, and I felt a sense of panic.  Going to Universal Studios was an expensive trip and the first real vacation we had ever gone on.  A trip to Walt Disney World will cost somewhere between $3,000 to $5,000 and a couple years isn’t a lot of time between these two large trips to save up the money.  I want these kids to be able to experience Walt Disney World and love it, and the clock is ticking, especially with the age range of our kids.  After several discussions with Mrs. C. we are now aiming for a Disney Trip in the Summer of 2018.


The Ages of Our Kids: 

Our kids ages are a crucial factor in planning this trip. My step son is 13 now and we really want to get a trip in before he has a real job that won’t let him leave for a week or two and while he is still young enough to enjoy the magic of Disney.  On the other half of the spectrum our youngest nephew is 3.  We want him to be able to remember the trip and to be physically able to handle the trip.  Universal Studios was a bit challenging for him.  In 2018 the oldest will have just turned 15 and the youngest will have just turned 5.  Most recommendations for the youngest to take kids to Disney is 5, so I think we will be in good shape.

Originally I had wanted to wait until 2020 to take our kids, but by then our oldest will be 17, will most likely have a job, a girlfriend, and will not necessarily have as much fun at Disney.  This is a bigger concern than the youngest because we can take him again in a few years, maybe a 2021 or 2022 trip.  For our 2018 planned trip our kids will be 15, 9 (almost 10), 7, and 5.

Time Of Year:

In June of 2016 we went to Universal Studios right after the kids got out of school. Literally, the next day. Michigan starts it’s school year late to help with area tourism, we actually have a law in place where local schools can not start until after labor day.  The kids got out of school on June 10th and we left for Universal on the 11th.  The problem with visiting the parks in mid June is that EVERYONE else is as well, the only worse time to go is Christmas break and spring break.

Because of these considerations, we have decided to aim for late August of 2018.  The heat is just as unbearable in Orlando in August as it is in June, but there will be fewer people.  According to The Undercover Tourist, Mid June carries crowd levels of 8/10, while Mid to late August carries crowd levels of 3 – 5/10 depending on the day.  Having half the crowd is worth waiting until the end of summer.  I will have to pay close attention to my return to work day, which historically is towards the end of August.

It isn’t uncommon for parents to take their kids out of school for a week for a trip to Walt Disney World. For us, taking the kids out of school during the school year to capitalize on both good weather and low crowd levels is not an option. Our oldest kid struggles too much with school to take him out for a week. The other kids being in 1st and 4th grade would be easier to take out, but a 9th grader? not so much.

The Cost:

Money is the biggest factor in any trip to Walt Disney World. A Disney trip can easily cost over $4,000.  One major advantage that we have on this front is the opportunity cost.  I am typically off work in the summer and Mrs. C. works a very flexible part time job.  There is very little opportunity cost (lost wages) for taking a Disney trip.

Calibray Parc 2One major area of savings we have for the trip is on lodging.  I have done considerable research on lodging at Disney and have decided to rent a vacation home for 8 days (MAYBE 9) for our trip, and it won’t cost me a dime.  For years I have been saving up Delta Skymiles, both with my flights for my employer and with my AMEX Delta Skymiles Card. I currently have over 127,000 miles and by the time of this trip I should have close to 180,000 miles.

Calibray Parc 3  We are looking at renting a house in the Calibray Parc community.  Through Skymiles I can get a 4 BR house with a pool for 18,000 miles per night.  Yes, I know this is not by any means the best way to redeem miles, but since Mrs C. is afraid of air travel, redeeming miles for business class international flights isn’t something I have a demand for, so the hotel stay provides more utility and value for me personally. Anyways, using my skymiles eliminates the cost of a hotel from the cash budget. The houses are an average of $150 per night, so using my points is saving us $1,200 in cash.

Calibray Parc 5Calibray Parc is one of several cookie cutter vacation house communities located just southwest of the Disney Parks.  They have a short drive to Disney, are extremely cheap and have TONS of space. I briefly considered staying on site at the Disney parks, but the cost is too extreme.  For us to stay on site at Disney it would cost more than double, and we wouldn’t be able to use my Skymiles. This is WAY better than a hotel!


Nights on the Road: With an 1,100 mile journey between our house and Orlando we have to stop somewhere.  Hotels are not a good option because of our large family size, so we are planning to stay with family members on our way down.  My parents house is about 7 hours into the trip, it’s no where near halfway, but it’s better than nothing.  This makes for 1 7 hour day and 1 12 hour day in our trip down (not including stops).

Tickets:  Disney tickets are expensive, there is no getting around that, BUT they get much cheaper with each additional day.  For example for us to visit Disney for 4 days costs $1,910. For 7 day tickets it costs $2,180.  We are planning to buy 6 day tickets for this adventure.

Food: Disney is much more lenient on bringing in outside food to the park than Universal Studios is.  We plan to buy groceries and eat at most 1 meal in the park per day. We will eat breakfast at the house and pack our lunch and snacks.

Our Projected Budget:

  • Lodging: $0 (Skymiles)
  • 6 Day Disney Tickets: $2,090
  • Gasoline: $300
  • Food: $500
  • 1 Day Kennedy Space Center: $260

Gross Cost: $3,150

There will be incidental expenses and we may spend relatively small sums of money on extras.  To account for this I will increase the expected budget to $3,500. We don’t plan to buy souvenirs from the parks, as these are incredible rip offs.  Most likely we will buy some pre-planned Disney stuff off of Amazon or E-bay before the trip for the kids.  This stuffed Animal Mickey Mouse is $17 on Amazon, I bet at the park the same toy goes for $30.

Saving For A Trip To Disney:

Because we are planning 2 years in advance we can save specifically for this trip through multiple avenues, rather then taking a major cash hit all at once. Here are some of the things we are doing to save for the trip:

1. Travel To And From Jobs:

I travel for one of my employers fairly frequently.  In a busy season I might take 8 flights.  This leaves some room to generate some extra cash for a trip to Disney.

Drive instead of Fly: My employer will pay the federal mileage rate, which for 2016 is 54 cents per mile.  On average plants are 600 miles away from my house and my car gets 30 MPG on the highway.  With gas prices around $2.50 this means I can net about $275 per leg.  I don’t always have the option to drive, but even if I can drive half the time, I’m looking at around $1,100 for 4 trips in 1 full season of travel (I only have 1 of these every 18 months, as I try to stay home as much as possible.)

Take Bumps:  From time to time the airlines oversell flights and offer vouchers for people who take a bump.  We are obviously prohibited from volunteering for bumps on our ways to jobs, but on our way home the bosses don’t care.  I have been offered bumps ranging from a low of $200 to a high of $800.  Generally taking a bump means I will be getting home a day later, however sometimes they can fly me in to a close airport and I can still get home the same day.  Delta recently started experimenting with offering gift cards instead of vouchers in select airports, this would be the best case scenario, because I could turn gift cards into cash pretty easily.  The other option would be to pay for my next flight for work with the voucher and then charge my employer mileage as if I drove (with management approval of course).

2. Bank Account and Credit Card Offers:

In the past I have received a $500 offer from Chase to open up a checking account with them with direct deposit and to maintain a certain balance.  If I get this offer again I will open up the account.  It would be nice to have a checking account at a national bank.

There are also credit card point offers that can be used.  Mrs. C. and I can each get a Barclays card with a $400 travel credit each by hitting certain spending thresholds. These cards come with an annual fee, but we would cancel the cards before the fee kicked in.  The only way to use this travel credit on Disney is to purchase the tickets through The Undercover Tourist, because directly through Disney will not show us as “Travel” in the expense column. Using these 2 cards would save us $800 on the ticket cost. With how busy the next couple years are going to be, we may pass on this and try to do something like this on our next big trip.

3. Donations: It Never Hurts To Ask For Help:

These kids get a lot of presents for Christmas and their Birthdays.  I would not be surprised if in total each kid receives over $500 per year in Christmas presents when our presents, Santa’s presents, and all grandparents, aunts, and uncles are figured in.  As part of our plan I am asking people if they can instead of buying so many presents donate a bit towards their Disney fund.  If we can get $100 of these presents switched per kid to the Disney fund for 2 years (2016 and 2017) we will have $800 in the Disney Fund.

4. Savings:

The least sexy of the options, but it makes sense to set aside a little bit each month to cushion the blow of the full cost of the trip. If I set up a monthly draw of $50 into a bank account I have set up just for Disney savings, in 20 months I will have $1,000, which will cover a good chunk of the ticket costs. Any excess funds left over after applying all of these options would go back into the general fund.

Planning A Trip To Disney World:

Now that we have the When and the How covered, lets look at the What. Disney has 4 main parks, The Magical Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot. Disney offers two types of tickets, single park tickets and park hopper tickets.  Park hopper tickets cost an extra 25% and allow you to visit multiple parks in the same day.  With this being our first visit and our children being slow travelers, park hopper does not have much utility for us.

Magical Kingdom: We will spend a good chunk of time here. The Magical Kingdom is the main Disney park. We will spend at least 2 days at the magical kingdom, and possibly 3 days.  One major advantage that Disney has over Universal Studios is that the vast majority of their rides are accessible for smaller kids.  At Universal there were few rides with height requirements of under 36″.  At The Magical Kingdom only 5 rides have height requirements over 36″ and only 1 ride has a requirement of over 40″.  A major draw at the magical kingdom is the character interactions.  We were able to meet over a dozen characters at Universal without trying very had.  With a bit of planning  we should be able to meet all of the important characters, hopefully without waiting in lines for too terribly long.

Hollywood Studios:  Hollywood Studios will probably be a two day park, with a full day dedicated to Star Wars Land, which hopefully will be open in 2018.  Disney is also building Toy Story Land in parallel to Star Wars Land, which will also be a big draw for the kids.

Animal Kingdom: We are planning on spending 1 day at the Animal Kingdom.  This is a massive park and we won’t be able to do everything in it, but we will be able to see a lot of the park, especially if we stay a bit later on this day. If possible I would like to space it out so the rest day is the day after Animal Kingdom, which would allow us to stay late in the park and sleep in the next day.

Epcot: We may spend a day at Epcot, or not.  Epcot is the most likely park to get skipped.  Epcot is a massive park and is geared towards an older audience.  I think this would be a better target for when the kids are quite a bit older. I think it would be better to have a deeper experience at the other parks than to try to squeeze this one in, especially since everything I read about it says you need to spend multiple days at Epcot to really take it all in.

When we visited Universal we learned on our 3rd and final day that arriving early is by far the best strategy.  Sure, kids don’t like to be woke up early, but they really don’t like to wait in long lines under the midday sun either.  Arriving when the park opens gives you smaller wait times and cooler weather to start off the day.  In the middle of the day we will break for an hour or two and find a shady spot to rest.  We were able to do this at Universal without leaving site and that is our plan for Disney as well.

The parks open at 9:00 AM, so to get there 30 minutes early we would need to leave the house by 8:00 AM, meaning we need to wake up by 7:30 AM.  Since we normally wake up during the school year at 6:30 AM this shouldn’t be a problem, especially if we don’t stay out super late each night.

Beyond Walt Disney World:

Kennedy Space Center:

Kennedy Space CenterThe kids and I are really into Space stuff and it would be great to watch a rocket launch while we are on this trip.  By the Summer of 2018 Space X should be conducting weekly launches in Florida, and ideally we would be able to see a Falcon Heavy launch.   If it happens that we can visit on a launch day I will try to get tickets in advance to watch the launch from the viewing sites that are closest to the pad. And this time I will leave for the coast with double the estimated time to arrive. Regardless of whether we get to see a launch or not, we will take a day to visit Kennedy Space Center.

Kennedy Space Center has several amazing attractions that are worth the extra trip.  Kennedy Space Center is open from 9 AM to 7 AM, which gives us 10 hours to experience everything.

Bus Tour Around The Complex: This tour takes guests to the Apollo Center and shows guests around the entire complex, including the launch pads.

The Rocket Garden: The rocket garden is a collection of rockets set upright at Kennedy Space Center.  This is the best way to get a true sense of the massive scale of these things.  To see these rockets alone is worth the side trip to KSC.

Shuttle Launch Experience: This ride has a height requirement of 44″ tall, so our youngest may not be able to ride it, I think he will be just shy of the 44″ mark when we visit.  This isn’t just a ride, this is a simulation that makes it feel like you are an actual astronaut blasting off into space. The kids will absolutely love this.

Apollo/ Saturn V Center: This is an interactive musuem dedicated to the monumentous task of landing a man on the moon.  The Massive Saturn V rocket is there as well as other artifacts from the Apollo program.  Visitors can even touch a moon rock.

Destination Mars/ Journey To Mars: Our youngest keeps telling me that is is going to Mars.  Mrs C. says he isn’t allowed to go to Mars, but if he gets a chance I’m sure he will take it.  These attractions show what it’s like on Mars and the future of NASA’s plans in space travel.

Rest Day:

We did not include a rest day in our visit to Universal Studios because we were crunched for time.  By getting the house for an extra day we can take a break after the first few days of adventures.  Having a day to relax around the house, play in the pool and play board games would be good for both our physical and mental health.

McDonalds on International Dr: I regret that during our last trip we did not make it here, despite driving past it every night.  This McDonalds has what looks like the world’s largest playplace.

Preparing The Kids For A Trip To Walt Disney World:

1. Watching Disney Movies: Disney will be much more special if the kids recognize the scenes and characters from most of the classic movies.  We’ve been doing a good job of working these movies into our family movie nights and by the time we visit they should be fluent with all the Disney characters.

2. Hiking: We absolutely will be bringing our double stroller for the 2 smaller kids, but we all need to be more accustomed to longer walks.  I have built a 1 mile trail on the abandoned railroad bed in our backyard and we have a nature center close by with several miles of trails.  Each year we buy the State of Michigan Recreational Passport for $10 which gives free access to all state parks.  My goal would be to get the kids used to walking 3 miles without complaining.

3. Heat: By going at the end of the summer the kids will be more acclimated to the heat.  When we left Michigan in June we maybe had a few 70 degree days.  Arriving in Florida and experiencing 90+ degree days every day was a big shock.  We will spend more and more time outside during the summer to get the kids acclimated to the heat.

Have you gone to Disney World? Any tips on Planning a trip to Walt Disney World to save money and have an amazing experience?

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 is the author of the book For My Children's Children: A Practical Guide For Building Generational Wealth.

Leave a Reply

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