Disney World is one of my very favorite places for family travel. There are so many options for dining, shopping, and entertainment that make this travel destination appeal to every member of the family. (My husband would totally agree to a Disney trip just for the Cannonballs! sub at Earl of Sandwich, but that's another story!) If a Disney trip is in your future, you have to do some planning to maximize your budget and your time. Here are a few of my tips on how to extend the Disney magic on a budget:
Visit Downtown Disney On A Budget
Downtown Disney (soon to be Disney Springs) offers plenty of fun and free entertainment, as well as budget-friendly options. The Earl of Sandwich restaurant is a great option for hungry people on a budget, as the sandwiches are hearty and inexpensive. My favorite -- Cannonballs! This meatball sub is so delicious that I almost ate the entire thing in one sitting. Almost.
Entertainment options include street musicians, live performances on the stage, and the interactive fountain - where children can run and splash. Best part? Free to enjoy. Just don't forget to bring a change of clothes.
Children also enjoy the LEGO Disney creations outside of the LEGO store, as well as the princesses outside of the World of Disney Store at Downtown Disney. If you can, take a moment to walk inside and look around. If it's in your budget, this would be a great place to pick out a souvenir for friends or family members that were unable to come along on your Disney vacation. The World of Disney Store offers merchandise for every price level.
Spend One Day At The Disney Park Of Your Choice To Save Money
I know, I know... How do you do just one day at Disney?! And how do you choose which park to visit? I know, because I've been in this difficult situation before. This is what we do:
Think about the child that you are bringing along with you. Will that child prefer certain character interactions? Will she get excited about seeing the iconic castle, riding certain rides, or watching live performances? These questions should help you to decide which park would be best to visit.
Once you decide on the park, the next step is to map out your day. Print off a map of the Disney Park of your choice, and mark the rides and attractions that are the most important. You can view the showtimes and character greeting times and locations online for the date that you are planning to attend. Once you get a feel of what's most important to fit into your day at Disney, mark a walking path on your map.
We did this on our first trip to Disney this year, and it really helped us to fit in everything that we wanted to do the most - and even more! We decided to go to the Magic Kingdom. After all, "magic" is in the name!
You will spend a lot of time wandering around aimlessly if you don't have a plan in place. Why not put a little bit of planning into your day so that you can fully enjoy the park?
Visit On Off-Dates To Get More Days At Disney
Plan to visit on off-dates to save a little bit of money. There are special offers for Disney dining and resorts during the off-season, but if you are staying off property, you can find even bigger savings. It's all a matter of preference, and what your family budget and desires can handle is quite different from the expectations of others.
Country Inn & Suites Orlando Maingate at Calypso Cay was an excellent resort choice for us during our January trip. Our room offered a bunkbed suite that resembled a sunnier, calmer Pirates of the Caribbean vibe, and the resort offered free Disney shuttle service (saving $14/day for parking at Disney). It also has a Disney booth for information and ticket purchases, as well as Disney signage in the elevator for added excitement! The breakfast was amazing, too! And the best part -- it was included in the price of the room!
No matter where you choose to stay, you can bring a little bit of Disney magic to your hotel. Tuck away small, inexpensive or handmade Disney items and lay them out each night during your visit with a handwritten note from your child's favorite Disney characters.
Explore Celebration, FL During The Morning...
Take a stroll through Celebration, FL - the small town with a warm Disney flare. There are nice places to shop and eat, as well as hike through nature. Although we were unable to squeeze in a day at Celebration on our previous trip to Florida, the locals assured us that this is the place to go for a stroll and unwind from a big Disney day.
... And Play Games At Disney's BoardWalk At Night!
One of my favorite beach attractions is the boardwalk. There's just something about arcade games that brings out the child in me. Combine all of the fun of the beach boardwalk with the magic of Disney, and it's a perfect match! Disney's BoardWalk offers midway games, street performers, and excellent dining options - but bring your own food to make this attraction more budget-friendly.
Take A Trip To The Disney Wilderness Preserve
The Disney Wilderness Preserve offers over 1,000 types of plants and animals, making it a very interesting site in central Florida for bird watching, hiking, and encountering nature. The purpose of the preserve is to offset the environmental effects of the Disney Parks by offering a large green area for wildlife to thrive.
While there are no Disney characters, performances, or rides at the Disney Wilderness Preserve, it is still a neat place to explore with children. To tie in with the Disney characters, make a Disney-themed nature journal for kids to write down or draw what they see at the preserve.
Additional Tips To Make The Most Of A Disney Trip On A Budget:
Try packing lunches and taking them with you as you explore the area. Use a Mickey Mouse cookie cutter to make fun sandwiches! The Dollar Tree stores sell zippered sandwich baggies with Disney characters printed on them. These would be great for packing extra snacks, carrot sticks, grapes.
Explore the resorts. You can get free 3-hour parking at each resort, so use it to check out what the resorts have to offer. (This is especially great at Christmas, when each resort puts up a tree.) Or, if your hotel offers free shuttle service, ride over to Disney World and take the monorail to explore each resort at your leisure. You get to explore at Disney without paying for theme park access, and the monorail is a very fun ride!
Bring your princess dresses and accessories with you, or purchase from the nearby Wal-mart. We paid for the full Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique experience during the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, and while that was so much fun and worth every single penny to see how excited little Danger was, it was also very pricey. Expect the official Disney Princess dresses to start at around $60 at the parks and the World of Disney Store. Princess dresses can be purchased in advance for a fraction of that cost, but if you really want an official Disney Princess dress, check the Disney Store site for frequent sales.
EPCOT and Animal Kingdom offer free activities for kids. At EPCOT, children can travel the World Showcase and receive a Duffy bear to decorate and get stamped at each country. The Animal Kingdom has a free children's passport, where children have to complete learning activities to earn a stamp at each location.
There are so many other ways to save at Disney! with a little bit of planning and research, you can have that dream vacation that you so desperately desire for your family.
Do you have a special tip that wasn't covered here, or a fun way to save money for a trip? I would love to hear your suggestions!