Can Walt Disney World ever be affordable?
I mean, this is obviously a widely varied answer based on individual circumstances. For myself, I quite honestly would have said no. However, I’ve just booked my second family trip in 3 years. Therefore, if you can bear with me throughout this rather long blog post, I hope to show you how to make a trip to Walt Disney World affordable.
I have to caveat this by explaining that we are really not a wealthy family, at all. Over the past 5 years, as a result of my health, Matt and I have both left stable 9-5 jobs. We now have the uncertainty and massively fluctuating income of both being self employed.
So, for people in our financial situation, the “affordability” of our lifestyle comes down to simple prioritisation. My husband and I have both suffered some pretty serious health conditions throughout our 12 years together. I have a degenerative nerve disease, so my pain and poor mobility will only escalate from here on out.
These challenges have changed our outlook on life quite a bit and we do live in a way that many would consider irresponsible. And that’s fine. The old saving savvy and career driven Kellie would have agreed with that (probably sensible) analysis. ‘Live for now’ certainly isn’t for everyone, but it is for us.
In order to accomodate ‘live for now’ on a modest income, we’ve chosen to live a very simple (some might say frugal) life. Even then, we do struggle. But it’s a worthwhile one!
We’re quite unique in our set of circumstances and therefore sharing how we are able to live simply in order to afford things like trips to Disney World, might not necessarily translate easily into others’ situations. You may, however, be able to consider incorporating a couple of these ideas.
Neither myself or my husband drive, so we have no car related expenses. We only have 1 kid and won’t be/can’t have any more. We live in a small rented flat for which we thankfully secured below market value rent, due to my disability. Matt and I both work from home, so have very few travel/meal costs. We’re a vegan family and rarely eat outside of the home. I constantly look for better utility deals and we are careful with out energy use. We don’t have a TV license or a TV subscription as we only use Netflix and Amazon Prime. We also don’t have a landline phone.
Personal living expenses:
Neither of us smoke, I don’t drink at all and Matt drinks very rarely. We don’t really go out drinking/socialising, just maybe 3-4 times per year, for special occasions. I dye my own hair, don’t have any beauty treatments, rarely buy make up or other personal luxuries. Many of the things we own (tech, clothing, household products), I win from my comping hobby. I also win a fair amount of breaks and holidays, so can focus holiday funds on one main trip. Possibly the most controversial, we don’t really put towards regular savings (due to my inability to stop booking holidays – whoops).
Earning Extra Cash
As you can see our choice to live a simple life gives us a great jumping off point to affording a nice trip every couple of years. The obvious next step, however, is that we need to have a certain amount of income. Being self employed, our income is based on a combination of effort and luck. Matt actually does a lot better than I do in his chosen path of composing for film and video games, as talent is a more saleable asset. I only really have my tenacity to contribute to the pot!
Given our massively fluctuating income, trips and holidays are not easy to afford. This is where my tenacity comes into play. I do everything and I mean EVERYTHING that I can to source extra income. Some of these are crazy little things, but they do add up, especially over the year. There are so many ways that I do this, that I’ve had to write an entirely separate post about it (coming soon).
Making the trip affordable
Now that we’ve looked at how a few lifestyle changes and earning additional income can help you to afford luxuries such as a trip to Disney World, the next thing to do is to make the actual trip cheaper. I mean let’s face it, this is never going to be a cheap holiday. If you’re willing to compromise though, you can actually save yourself thousands of pounds. Unless you are too wealthy to need this post, a few thousand pounds should be the difference between affording a Disney World holiday or not. It certainly is for us!
The key to cheap flights is flexibility. Unfortunately, when you are bound to the children’s school holidays, flexibility is a very difficult thing to have. If you don’t have kids or your kids are preschool age, I urge you to go before they start school. The price difference is insane outside of school holiday periods! We took our son for his 4th birthday and were able to get such an amazing deal at the beginning of December that we could afford ‘on property’ hotels at both Disney and Universal. If your kids are 5 or older, however, see below.
Search and search again
The amount that flight prices fluctuate throughout the year is unfathomable. How the same flight can be £300 and £1200 in the same month is a constant source of distress for me when searching for flights. I would advise planning 6-12 months ahead of the trip and setting up some price alerts with sites like Google Flights, Momondo and Skyscanner . Jack’s Flight Club is also well worth signing up to, although it’s a little more random in style, so it doesn’t necessarily offer you the discounts you need. After a few months, you will get a good feel for the types of prices available at your chosen time of year, which allows you to seize a deal when you spot it.
Be willing to compromise
For our trip in December we decided to use indirect flights. With a young kid in tow and my very poor mobility, this is a huge hassle and not something we’d ever ideally choose to do. However, if the flight is £600 cheaper (each!), then you must seriously consider putting yourself out. For us, it genuinely was the difference between being able to go and not this time. Plus, I get to go to Texas, even if it is just in the airport!!
Another thing I would highly recommend, is to consider flying out from other UK airports. If you are lucky enough to live near either Manchester or London, you should automatically be able to get the cheapest flights from your local airports to Orlando. Anywhere else in the UK, is a different story. Our local airport, Birmingham, has incredibly expensive flights to Florida. I don’t think I’ve found a circumstance yet where flying from London or Manchester hasn’t been cheaper for us, even when you factor in the UK end travel and hotel stay costs.
Dates can be vital for savings
The day of travel can also make a huge difference to flight costs. Tuesdays and Sundays seem to be the cheapest days to fly. Cheapest days of the week do vary slightly based on the time of year, however, so be sure to check every day of the week for flight costs. We saved £500 on flights by coming home on a Friday making it a 13 day trip instead of 14. This also then cut down the hotel cost by one night.
The other thing to consider is specific dates. People don’t like to fly on 13th of the month (yes really) so it is often cheaper. Also, flying on national holidays, Christmas day or New Year’s eve etc can save you a fortune.
If you are lucky enough to have teacher training days tagged onto the end of a school holiday, use them! This allows you to fly home on a day where most of the UK children will already be back at school and can make an enormous difference to the cost of your return flights.
Package deals vs booking separately
I’m not personally a fan of package holidays, they are a bit too restrictive for my taste. Having said that, when we went to Orlando in 2017, we booked a Virgin Holidays package deal, as the sale price was remarkable. It’s always worth having a look at package deals in the sales as there are huge savings to be made. Outside of sale periods, however, I would aim to book each aspect of your trip separately.
On top of the flight aggregator style sites mentioned above, if you are booking separately, there are some great deals to be found directly with airlines. Norwegian Air has become an incredibly popular choice to fly to Florida from the UK in recent years. They offer great prices from London and have an excellent reputation. Sometimes the US based airlines can be cheaper, particularly if they include lay overs. This time, we have found that United Airlines were able to offer us the best deal.
The area that you can probably save the most money on a trip to Walt Disney World is your accomodation. If you are willing to compromise on your accomodation then you can save an absolute fortune.
If you are determined to stay ‘on property’ for the full Disney experience, then believe it or not using the Disney site directly can be your best bet. This is especially true when they have offers like free dining plan or 14 park days for the price of 7. Be aware though, that this will only be the cheapest option if you are not willing to compromise on accomodation. Disney property when compared to other options, will almost always be the most expensive, even at the value resorts. For a guide to how dramatic the cost different is, our hotel on I-Drive is just over £400 for 13 nights, the cheapest value resort stay at Disney during the same period is over £200 per night.
Because we booked during the sale last time we went, and it was for my son’s birthday present, we were very lucky to be able to stay on property at both Universal and Disney. However, as we are going at Christmas this time, it’s just not affordable for us. We had a tough choice to make, either don’t stay at a Disney hotel or don’t go at all. I think you can guess which one we chose!
Having said that, I know me, and once I’ve paid off the rest of the holiday, I’m sure I’ll be hovering around sites looking for a Disney deal. I’ve built up a fair amount of discount with my ‘genius bonus’ with booking.com (due to heavy usage!). I’m sure that can help us stretch to a 1 night Disney hotel stay, yes I’m terrible. If you would like to save 10% on any booking at booking.com, please click here.
Where to stay
This depends very much on what you are planning to do and your transport options throughout your stay. If you are planning to predominantly visit the Disney parks and are hiring a car, then Kissemmee is usually your cheapest option for a hotel. It is also possible to stay in Kissemmee without car hire these days too, due to the prevalence of car services such as Uber in Orlando.
If you are going sans car hire and/or are planning to visit both Universal and Disney, I would highly recommend staying on International Drive. Although much closer to Universal than Disney, there are lots of hotels that offer free Disney Park transport. In addition to this, many of the day trips that you can book in Florida, for example, Legoland or Kennedy Space Centre, have pick up points on International Drive (or I-Drive to locals). There is also a lot to do in the area itself in terms of food, shopping and attractions and the I-trolley is a cheap and convenient way to travel throughout the area.
This year we have chosen to stay on I-Drive. I’ve stayed there many times before and it’s hard to beat for convenience. I will admit that you lose some of the magic doing it this way, as the hotels are far less appealing in terms of theming and proximity to the parks. The bonus, however, is that they offer hotels for every budget, sometimes as cheap as $30 per room per night. You get what you pay for, but bearing in mind how little time you spend in a hotel room when visiting Orlando, it’s well worth the compromise in my opinion.
There are very few situations where I would advise you to buy park tickets when you get to Florida. The only way this might be cheaper, would be for a 1 day theme park visit. This is not a very realistic option given the size of the theme parks, but feasible for a flying visit. If you are planning to visit theme parks for 2 or more days, multiday passes bought in the UK are your best bet.
There are lots of offers available specific to UK guests only, the most common being the 14 day for the price of 7 tickets. Multi-park tickets or ‘combination tickets’ usually work out better value, but not actually cheaper.
There is a huge amount of planning involved in a trip to Orlando theme parks. It’s certainly worth looking at what you definitely want to do and your budget before you book.
Prior to the arrival of our little guy, I never visited Disney when I went to Orlando as I considered it to be ‘just for kids’. I was very wrong with that theory, but even so, Disney parks are by far the most expensive to visit. Universal is actually way better value in my opinion and you can get a 14 day ticket to Universal for around the cost of 4 days at Disney. Seriously!
This year we booked our tickets through Theme Park Tickets, as they had the cheapest combination ticket that we could find for our needs. The other main draw was that they allow you to pay for the tickets in installments. This is really helpful, as once I’d paid for the holiday, the theme park tickets were over budget for me.
Do bear in mind that if you’re buying 14 day tickets for both Universal and Disney, this can be up to 50% of the total cost of your trip. I’m now using my extra earnings to pay off my theme park ticket balance gradually before we go.
The margin for savings on theme park tickets, however, is quite small and the most you would probably save by chosing a different ticket vendor is £100. The way to save money is to be brutal with cutting out attractions. Pick the places you definitely want to visit and don’t be disappointed if you can’t afford to do everything. To be honest, there is way too much to even fit into a 2 week stay anyway.
Saving Money during your stay
Not being drivers ourselves, we have never booked car hire. I will say though, that in recent years car services such as Uber and Lyft seem to have taken over, even for drivers. These services can be booked fairly cheaply and from anywhere in Orlando. You get a break from driving and also cut out driver’s insurance, gas money and hire costs. You also have access to free transportation (buses, monorail and boats) throughout the whole of the Disney World Resort.
If you do decide to stay on I-Drive, the I-Trolley is a fantastic cheap and regular service which travels up and down the 11 mile stretch, stopping at major attractions, restaurants and malls. It also gets you fairly close to Universal Resort if you are staying a few miles out.
This is another area where you can save a huge amount of money in Orlando. Food and drinks at the theme parks are very overpriced, much like in the UK. There are ways around this, but it depends how much you want to save versus have convenience.
Outside of the theme parks, it can be super cheap to eat in Florida. At many of the buffet style and chain restaurants on I-Drive, you can eat a main meal for around $10 per person. Even cheaper still and advisable if you’re a vegan, is to go shopping when you arrive. Walmart, Publix and Walgreens and are easily accessible and cheap. It’s pretty standard for Orlando hotel rooms to contain a fridge, but it may be worth checking. Somewhat surprisingly, there is a good range of vegan food available in Orlando supermarkets.
It’s perfectly acceptable to take food into Walt Disney World, so your best bet if you don’t mind the hassle, is to pack a lunch and take a bottle of frozen water per each family member. You can get water bottles refilled at any snack stand on Disney property for free. Never pay the $5 they ask for a bottle of water!
Universal are a bit stricter with allowing food into the parks. However they allow anything required for dietary needs, small snacks and baby food. You can also use the same water trick as at Disney.
We usually pick a couple of days to eat at nice theme park restaurants and bring our own food for the rest of the park days. This literally saves multiple hundreds of dollars. If you are a big drinker of fizzy drinks, I’d highly recommend buying a refilliable theme park mug. They work out much cheaper if you would be buying fizzy drinks at the parks anyway. Also, the Coke Freestyle machines are super exciting for fizzy drinks enthusiasts such as myself, so many flavours!!
Again, these are predictably much more expensive at the theme parks. A wide range of Disney themed gifts and souvenirs can be found at the Disney Character Outlets, and at superstores such as Walmart and Target. I would highly recommend setting a day aside for shopping in Orlando. The outlet malls are incredible and you can get some amazing discounts. Bear in mind that somewhere like Walmart can take a number of hours to get around. They are enormous and even our hypermarkets in the UK don’t touch them in terms of scale.
Mobility Impaired savings
Being mobility impaired can add considerable extra costs onto your holiday. One thing that I’d say is that unless it’s an emergency, never hire a mobility scooter or wheelchair at the theme parks. The standard daily cost is around $50 plus deposit fee. So for a 14 day trip, you’re looking at an extra $700. Not a cost I approve of, but I understand why it’s there.
There are many mobility hire companies that hire out wheelchairs scooters and even buggies for around $200-300 per 14 day stay. This obviously saves a huge amount when compared to theme park hire costs. They all provide a delivery and collection service to and from most hotels in the area, which is really handy. Never pay to hire a pushchair though. These can be picked up for $25 in Walmart and then donated at the end of your trip.
Careful Planning can save you £s
Most supermarkets, department stores and malls have free mobility scooters available from guest services. This means that if you can plan your days out ahead of time, you may only need to hire a scooter for part of your trip (i.e theme park days). Make no mistake though, if you struggle to walk, you will need a scooter or wheelchair! It is by no means a luxury item, Orlando is enormous. The parks are enormous, everything is just on another scale. I can walk a short distance with crutches, but you are looking at miles and miles of walking per day at the majority of attractions.
Another tip is to take your own stick holder or bag, because the mobility companies tend to have an extra charge to have these fitted to the scooters.
Trips to Walt Disney World are never going to be the cheapest holiday your family can take. For me though, it’s definitely worth the additional effort I put into making it happen. I hope this post has shown how this kind of trip can be much more affordable, even for a lower income family with willingness to compromise and determination.
Finally, for additional Walt Disney World planning trips I would highly recommend the Disney in Detail Youtube channel, which I am absolutely addicted to. Also, Emma Drew, who I’m also a huge fan of, has some amazing Disney saving tricks over on her page.
Please note: There are affiliate links on this post, which means that I get a small payment should you choose to book via any of the offers. This is at no extra cost to yourself and allows me to continue my blog. Thank you for your understanding.