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Four Disney World Tips for Regular Families on A Regular Budget

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Disney World tips for real families with real budgetsWhile we were in Disney I got a few emails and messages about the logistics of our trip—how we saved money, what tips we’d share, etc. It’s important to note that we’ve only done Disney a few times, so I don’t at all consider myself an expert, and I can’t guarantee that any of these are the best way to do things. But here’s what worked for us, a regular family without a ton of time to coordinate the details ahead of time!


1. Stay offsite

I’ve run the numbers again and again, and staying on Disney property just doesn’t make sense for our family. Even with a free dining plan, we’d need two rooms, and it’s just too spendy. (I’ve stayed onsite for the Disney Social Media Moms conference, and it was an amazing experience, so if it is in your budget, it might be worth it for you!)

Instead, Sean found an offsite house on Home Away for under $1,500 that slept all of us plus my parents for 6 nights. It was more than 3,000 square feet and there was an extra bedroom and a pull out sofa as well, so it would have been even less split three ways instead of two. Plus we had a pool in the backyard and a laundry room.

Sean says to make sure the house you choose has enough reviews to give you a good idea of both the good and the bad about that particular house. We skipped over a gorgeous house because a few of the reviews mentioned ants!

Disney World tips for real families with real budgets

2. Take meals into the park with you

One of the things I love about Disney is that there are no restrictions on bringing outside food into the park. Instead of spending a ton of money on food, we ate breakfast at home and packed a lunch each day (Lunchables two of the days and Uncrustables the third). We also took a ton of snacks with us in the bottom of the stroller. This left room in our budget to eat dinner out a couple of times. We still spent our fair share on popcorn, cotton candy, funnel cakes and ice cream (ha!), but a quick trip to Aldi on the first night saved us so much money!

Side note: When our youngest daughter was 2, she was on a dairy-free, gluten-free diet, and I was SO impressed by Disney’s accommodations for her food restrictions. They really do an amazing job, even creating a special dessert just for her at one dinner that had all of her sisters drooling!

Disney World tips for real families with real budgets

3. Use your FastPasses

It had been a while since we’d been to Disney, and the last time we went, you manually requested each FastPass right at the ride and then returned at the designated time. Now you download the official Disney World app, which allows you to book 3 FastPasses for each day of your visit up to 30 days in advance. Once we figured it out, we booked our top rides at each park to avoid those long lines.

Other than those three rides, I held all of our plans loosely. It would be too easy for me to get so caught up in a checklist or schedule and ruin the trip for everyone, so we chose to identify only our top picks and simply wander in between.

Disney World tips for real families with real budgets

Even with this laid back approach, we were able to ride almost all of the roller coasters (and several of them many times) and see everything we wanted to see. This time none of our kids really wanted to meet the characters (and I wanted to die when Jackson stomped right on Donald’s foot at one of our only character meet ups!), but it would have been a little tougher to balance if they’d wanted to ride all the rides AND meet all the characters!

Disney World tips for real families with real budgets

4. Plan an off day

We didn’t plan a day off this time, even though I knew how important it was, and we were all beat by the last day. In fact, we actually only stayed at Hollywood Studios for a couple of hours because the babies were falling apart. Fortunately, we did have a good part of Tuesday off since we went to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party that night, but ideally, we should have done one less day and taken Wednesday off altogether! It’s tempting to pack it in since adding “one more day” at the parks is so inexpensive, but it’s really not worth it. (Writing this for my future self as well!)

Disney World tips for real families with real budgets

5. Give the kids the camera

If you have older kids, I highly recommend handing off the camera to them. We still need to go through the hundreds of pictures our girls took at the parks, but it was so much fun to watch them try to capture everything. Thankfully I have an older Sony DSLR that I felt comfortable handing over, and I can’t wait to see their pictures and create a photo book of our trip.

We did have our Photo Pass scanned at a few places—roller coaster ride photos and the few character meetups we did—and there’s one photo I’ve asked my husband to have printed for me for Christmas, but for the most part the Photo Passes seem way too expensive to me. If you were doing a big trip focused solely on character meetups (which we’ve done in the past), then it might be worth paying the $169 to be able to download all of your photos!

Disney World tips for real families with real budgets

Overall it was a fun—but exhausting trip—and I’m glad we did it. I love taking tinies to Disney because of the wonder of it all (although Jack was not as easily impressed as his sisters were at his age!), but it was also really fun to go back with big kids this time and ride rides together.

What’s your best Disney World tip for families?