Disney World on a Budget

Disney World on a Budget (How to Play, Stay & Eat Cheaply)

It seems like the cost of everything is increasing these days and a visit to Walt Disney World is no different. Many families save for five or more years just to afford a single Walt Disney World vacation. I’m here to tell you that it is possible to do Disney World on a budget!

I worked for the Walt Disney Company for 12 years, so I made a lot of visits to the theme parks and Disney World resorts. I’m going to share with you my best tips for making your money go further during a Disney trip. 

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7 Tips to Do Disney World on a Budget

Skip the Park Ticket Add-Ons

The author holding a Mickey Mouse in a card

You don’t need the Park Hopper option or Genie+ to have a fantastic vacation. Skipping these two things (especially the Park Hopper) can save you hundreds of dollars per day for your family. When planning a Disney itinerary, I always recommend visiting one theme park per day and getting the most out of your visit, so park-hopper tickets are unnecessary. 

Choose Your Accommodations Wisely

The Riviera Resort building from the outside
View of Riviera Resort from Caribbean Beach

There is no single hotel or vacation rental that is the best for all budgets, so you’ll need to choose your Orlando accommodations based on what is most important for you. 

Many families prefer to stay at one of the Disney value resorts so they can take advantage of early theme park admission and free transportation. Larger groups can save money by renting a vacation home. There are also plenty of affordable hotels off of Disney property. 

Visit During the Low Season

Unfortunately, there is no longer a true low season at Walt Disney World, but there are “lower” periods. September to early October and mid-January to February are some of the best times to visit the Disney resort for reasonable prices and fewer crowds. If there are any deals for these periods, they begin advertising one month to six months out. 

👉Related Reading: I break down all the factors that go into choosing when to visit in my article covering the Best Times on Year to Visit Disney World.

Make Your Own Food

The restaurants at Walt Disney World are expensive! Even more affordable quick-service meals cost between $10-20 per adult. You are allowed to bring your own food (as long as it is in a soft-sided cooler with no ice) into the theme parks. This can save you a ton of money throughout your vacation. Plus, several accommodation options have kitchens or kitchenettes. 

Don’t Buy Souvenirs at the Parks

While it is very magical to pick out the perfect souvenir at the parks, it is going to cost you a lot of money. In Orlando, you can buy Disney products at drug stores, supermarkets, outlet malls, and tons of other random stores. The prices are usually much cheaper at these shops. You can also order Disney Store items online, where there is more likely to be a discount or sale running.

Speaking of online shopping, be sure to bookmark my Disney packing checklist so you don’t forget to bring any essentials!

Buy Ticket Packages 

If you are planning to visit for 5 days or more, I recommend getting a four-day ticket package. This allows you to spend a full day at each theme park. If you are booking a stay at a Disney hotel, you can usually add theme park tickets and additional tickets for water parks or special events.

Use a Travel Agent 

Several independent travel agents specialize in Walt Disney World vacations. They are up-to-date on current specials, hotel rates, and package deals. In almost all cases, a travel agent will help you save money over booking your Disney World vacation yourself. 

Want more tips? Check out my full list of 49 tips for visiting Disney World!

9 Cheap & Free Things to Do at Disney World

Visit Disney Springs

People wandering in different shops at Disney Springs

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: 10 am – 11 pm daily | Entrance: free admission

Disney Springs is a shopping, dining, and entertainment district located on Disney World property. Admission is free to Disney Springs, but you will need to pay for any activities or purchases. 

You’ll find several affordable dining options at Disney Springs, including Blaze Pizza, Chicken Guy!, and Earl of Sandwich. You can find live musicians and other entertainment throughout the area, especially on the weekends. 

👉Related Reading: Exploring Disney Springs is just one of the many Free Things to Do in Orlando

Go Miniature Golfing

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: 10 am – 10 pm daily | Entrance: $14 adults, $12 under 10

Walt Disney World has two miniature golf locations: Fantasia Gardens and Winter Summerland. At $14 for adults, mini-golf is one of the most affordable activities to do on a Disney vacation. I love the theming of the Fantasia Gardens course, but Winter Summerland is easy to access since it is connected to Blizzard Beach water park. 

Walk Around Disney’s Boardwalk

View of colorful establishments from Disney's Boardwalk

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: Vary by location | Entrance: Free admission

Disney’s Boardwalk is an area that has dining, entertainment, and nightlife offerings. The area connects to Disney’s Boardwalk Inn, Yacht & Beach Club hotels, Swan & Dolphin hotels, Epcot, and the Disney Skyliner. For some late-night dancing and drinks, visit the Atlantic Dance Hall (free admission) between 8 pm and 1 am on Thursday-Sunday.

Explore Different Resorts

View from the rooftop of Topolino’s Terrace
Rooftop lounge at Topolino’s Terrace at the Riviera Resort

📍 Google Maps | Website | Entrance: Free admission

Walt Disney World has more than 30 Disney hotels on its property. Thanks to their extensive transportation network of buses, monorails, boats, walking paths, and the Skyliner, it is easy to visit and “hop” around the different Disney resorts. 

I always recommend visiting the monorail resorts (Grand Floridian, Contemporary, and Polynesian Village) and grabbing a drink or snack at each stop. You can also enjoy the campfire at Fort Wilderness, explore your favorite movies at Art of Animation, and see the savannah at Animal Kingdom Lodge. 

👉Pro Tip: Technically, the parking lots at Disney hotels are reserved for guests and dining reservations. Most of the time, the security guard will let you through if you explain that you are looking to walk around or grab some food. However, Disney has been more strict about letting day guests park at the hotels, especially the ones that connect to the theme parks via the monorail or Skyliner. 

Take Advantage of Hotel Activities 

An information board of Recreation Activities in Disney World
Each resort has an activity schedule

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: Vary by activity | Entrance: Free or additional fee

The recreation and children’s activities team at the Disney World resorts put together a packed schedule of fun activities throughout the day. Many activities take place near the pool throughout the afternoon. In the evenings, most resorts have a campfire and movie under the stars. You will be able to check the recreational schedule at your Disney hotel for specific times and offerings. 

See the Disney Animals

The author's husband observing the ankole cow in Animal Kingdom Lodge
My husband, Jeremy, watching an ankole cow at Animal Kingdom Lodge

📍 Google Maps | Website | Entrance: Free admission

You don’t need to ride Kilimanjaro Safaris to see the savannah animals, many of the same species can be found at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. The hotel has great viewing locations from inside and outside the building. You can also head over to Fort Wilderness to see the horses and ponies that work and live at Disney World. 

Watch the Fireworks

Colorful fireworks in Disney World

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: Vary | Entrance: Included with park admission, free at resorts

Disney World is well-known for its elaborate fireworks shows. Currently, guests can watch Disney Enchantment at Magic Kingdom and Harmonious in Epcot. If you aren’t visiting a Disney park, you can still view the fireworks from many places around the resort. 

The Polynesian Village beach is the best location because they also play the soundtrack for the Magic Kingdom fireworks. Other spots to see the nighttime shows include the 4th-floor deck at the Contemporary, the Boardwalk, and the Dahlia Lounge at Coronado Springs. 

Look for Hidden Mickeys

One of the hidden mickey in Disney World
(photo: Alisia Luther / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | Guide Book | Entrance: Park admission required, free admissions at hotels

Hidden Mickeys are camouflaged outlines of the famous mouse’s head that can be found all over Disney property. Turn your day into a scavenger hunt by seeing how many you can find around your hotel, the theme parks, and everywhere else at Walt Disney World. If you want to get serious, I recommend bringing a Hidden Mickey guidebook on your Disney trip to help you on your hunt. 

Go For a Swim

View from the Doubloon Lagoon at Port Orleans and the clear blue sky over it
Doubloon Lagoon at Port Orleans – French Quarter

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: Vary by location | Entrance: Free admission

I can’t think of any hotels in Orlando that don’t have a pool, but I can guarantee that some of the best swimming pools are at Disney hotels. Include a pool day in your Disney World Itinerary to enjoy the Florida sun and water (while you save money). 

The feature pools at Disney resorts are themed to match the hotel. Most pools have a water slide and offer children’s activities throughout the day. It may not have the thrill rides of the water park, but it also doesn’t require paid admission. 

Where to Stay at Disney World on a Budget

You’ll first need to determine what is most important for your family before you choose where to stay during your Disney vacation. Walt Disney World resorts are expensive, but they come with free, reliable transportation to the theme parks and the Disney magic. Vacation homes can be more affordable for larger groups to split the cost. Plus, there are plenty of budget-friendly hotels located near the Disney property. 

Disney Resort Hotels

A big turtle statue in a Finding Nemo themed buildings
Finding Nemo themed buildings at Art of Animation

👉 Best Accommodations For Families | ✨ Best Budget Hotel: Disney’s Art of Animation Resort

There are five Disney value resort options – Art of Animation, Pop Century, All-Star Music, All-Star Movies, and All-Star Sports. These are the most affordable on-property hotels for a Disney World trip. My top recommendation is Art of Animation because the hotel theming cannot be beaten. Plus, Art of Animation and All-Star Music offer family suites that sleep six people and have a kitchenette. 

Off-Site Hotels

👉 Best Accommodations For Budget-Conscious Visitors | ✨ Best Budget Hotel: Holiday Inn Resort – Lake Buena Vista

Around Lake Buena Vista, along International Drive, and throughout Kissimmee, there are several budget-friendly hotels to choose from. Some hotels offer free breakfast and/or complimentary theme park transportation (both amenities can help you save money). The Holiday Inn Resort is located just a few minutes away from the Disney parks. Other great options include Home2 Suites Flamingo Crossings, Maingate Garden Inn, and Galleria Palms

Rental Homes

👉 Best Accommodations For Large Groups | ✨ Best Budget Rental: 5-Bed Kissimmee Home

If you are traveling with a large group, you’ll find that splitting the cost of a vacation home is more affordable than purchasing multiple hotel rooms. Look for homes in Kissimmee, which is located just to the south of Walt Disney World. Use all the money you save to get Disney souvenirs or enjoy table-service restaurants. 

Cheap Eats at Walt Disney World

The cheapest way to eat when visiting Disney is to bring and make your own food. If you stay in a hotel or vacation rental that has a kitchen or kitchenette, you can have breakfast in the room before heading out for the day. Sandwiches, jerky, cut-up veggies, and whole fruit are easy items to pack in a cooler. Also, bring a reusable water bottle so you won’t need to buy beverages all day. 

👉Related Reading: A refillable water bottle is just one item on my Ultimate Packing List for Disney. Check out the other items I recommend so you won’t need to buy any necessities when you visit Disney World. 

If you want to purchase food at the parks, choose quick-service restaurants instead of table-service meals. Also, most of the kid’s meals come with enough food to feed an adult. Here are some of my favorite affordable quick-service dining and snack locations. 

Casey’s Corner (Magic Kingdom)

American Classics

View from the inside of Casey’s Corner
Seating inside Casey’s Corner

📍 Google Maps | Website | Price Range: $

Casey’s Corner is known for its hotdogs and corn dog nuggets. You can get a meal of a hotdog and fries for less than $10. You can’t go wrong with the corn dog nuggets and cheese sauce. 

Pecos Bill Cafe (Magic Kingdom)

Southwestern Cuisine

People in front of the Pecos Bill Cafe
Pecos Bill Cafe is located across from Splash Mountain

📍 Google Maps | Website | Price Range: $

All the meals at Pecos Bill Cafe are $15 or less. Plus, they come with a lot of food. You can find Southwest flavors like nachos, fajitas, and rice bowls. 

Aloha Isle (Magic Kingdom)

Famous DOLE Whip

📍 Google Maps | Website | Price Range: $

For $7 or less, you can enjoy this popular Disney snack. The classic flavor is pineapple, but you can also enjoy coconut, raspberry, and seasonal DOLE Whip. 

Les Halles Boulangerie (Epcot)

French Favorites

📍 Google Maps | Website | Price Range: $

This hidden gem is located on the back left side of the France pavilion. It has sandwiches for under $10 and pastries that cost between $3 and $7. There is a small seating area where you can enjoy some air conditioning with your meal. 

Kabuki Cafe (Epcot)

Japanese Snacks 

📍 Google Maps | Website | Price Range: $

Kabuki Cafe is a snack stand towards the front of the Japan pavilion. It is best known for the Japanese shaved ice, but you can also find $6 sushi rolls here. This is a great snack or appetizer while exploring the World Showcase. 

Pizzafari (Animal Kingdom)

Pizza and Salads

📍 Google Maps | Website | Price Range: $

Pizzafari is centrally located with Animal Kingdom. You can enjoy a personal pizza and side salad for $10-$12. Since the pizzas have a thicker crust, they are definitely filling!

Flame Tree Barbecue (Animal Kingdom)

Barbecue Dishes

The Flame Tree Barbecue signage on the entrance

📍 Google Maps | Website | Price Range: $

The best part of Flame Tree Barbecue is the portion sizes! The entrees cost $12-$16, but there is plenty of food. Some couples find that they can split a dish between themselves or with a child. 

Woody’s Lunch Box (Hollywood Studios)

Elevated Kid’s Food

People in the Woody’s Lunch Box

📍 Google Maps | Website | Price Range: $

In addition to hot sandwiches, you can also enjoy potato barrels (aka tater tots) and box tarts (aka Pop-Tarts) at Woody’s Lunchbox. This location also serves breakfast for those who rope drop and run to Toy Story Land. 

⭐ Love this guide? Then you’ll really love my Disney World park itineraries – be sure to bookmark them now for later:

Frequently Asked Questions

How much should I save for a Disney vacation?

Most families save between $5,000 and $10,000 for a trip to Disney World. This includes budgeting for accommodations, park tickets, transportation to and from Orlando International Airport, food, additional activities, and souvenirs. 

👉Related Reading: Planning to visit other attractions in Orlando when you visit Disney World? I have a whole guide to traveling to Orlando on a Budget

How much should I budget per day at Disney World?

While budgeting for Disney World varies wildly based on your party size and travel style, on the more affordable end, you should plan a Disney budget for a family of four to include at least the following:

  • Park ticket: $55-110 per day (depending on multi-day ticket package) per person
  • Food: variable (as little as $20 per person if preparing and bringing your own food)
  • Accommodations: $100-300 per night
  • Miscellaneous (parking, souvenirs, transportation, other): $100 per day

Altogether, you can expect to budget $500-$1000 per day for a family of four. You can easily spend more than this with specialty dining, upgraded accommodations, and special activities.

Can you bring food to Disney?

You can bring your own food to the Disney parks. Packing your food is one of the best ways to save money on your trip to Disney World. Just make sure that you don’t pack any glass containers or hard-sided coolers. 

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Try not to get overwhelmed with planning your Disney World budget. It is definitely possible to have a magical and memorable vacation without breaking the bank! 

I hope I’ve helped you learn how to do Disney World on a budget! For more helpful tips, be sure to check out my deep library of Orlando travel guides.

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