Disney World is one of the most magical places on Earth. From the smells, the treats, the rides, the characters, and the smiling and friendly staff, Disney is a favorite vacation location for us.
Want to know how we did Disney in a week for less than $2,500 for a family of 4 (at the time it was 3 adults, both parents, a grandparent, and 1 child)? I will share my budget and tips for how we made amazing memories in the happiest place on earth!
We love Disney so much, my daughter and I have been 4x in the last two years with a combination of different family members and friends.
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Buy Military Tickets
- We bought Military Tickets through the ITT office at our local base. The great part of this was that we plugged this into the MyDisney app and were able to order our Magic Bands ahead of time.
This also let us choose our Fast Passes, which saves you major time.
You can get these tickets also at Shades of Green; however, if you are not staying there – plan to get there, park, go in, stand in line, buy tickets, etc.
I do not recommend this if you plan on going to the parks the first day you get there – as this is wasting valuable time.
You can also get military rates at the park, but you will pay taxes on it.
- One exception is the Florida Resident Tickets. If the member has a home of record in Florida, this can be a cheap option as well.
Call Disney Reservations
We did not stay at Shades of Green. We went during Spring Break – one of the busiest times of year.
They were completely booked.
However, we still stayed on the grounds.
Staying on the grounds means you don’t have to pay for transportation or parking at the gate ($20 per park).
- By calling Disney, they will give you military rates (usually up to 40% depending on the class of hotel) on your stay.
When you call, they will ask you if you prefer Value, Moderate, or Deluxe rooms and will find you the cheapest resort with availability.
My daughter was into Disney movies at the time so we chose the Disney All-Star Movie Resort – we got it for less than a $100 a night (about $94).
On another note, we also stayed in Coronado Springs during our Christmas stay and got a great rate ($120) because they were doing construction – which we did not care because we were in the park.
They gave us these cool pins as well. If you, or child, collects pins – these were a fun addition that you can’t buy at the shops or kiosks.
Bring Your Own Food
- When you can, bring your own food. We chose not to do the dining plan.
BUT, we still ate on the grounds every day.
We even had breakfast at Be Our Guest (the Beauty and the Beast themed restaurant), and several other quick service Disney restaurants.
However, this area we could save money by bringing food with us. We were within driving distance, so we could use this to our advantage.
We bought food from the store that we could supplement for snacks and mostly breakfast.
If your room has a full freezer/fridge – take advantage of frozen breakfast foods, for example.
Cereals, croissants, pastries, and bagels are great for some breakfast meals where you do not have to pay in the park.
- We also brought tons of snacks in our backpacks (Sun Chips, packets of nuts, Motts gummies, really any snack food that doesn’t melt in the HOT Florida sun! This saved us from buying tons of ice cream, popcorn, and pretzels.
Bring a Backpack
- A backpack can serve as a diaper bag for young children, but it also helps with older children too.
If they are old enough, they can carry their own string back pack (like this one).
- We carried bottled water (we brought a case with us) in our backpack as bottled water is about $4.00 a bottle in the park (obviously, tap water is free, or go to Starbucks – they give you free water).
We stuck all of our snacks in there as well.
Backpacks are also a great place for holding ALL the things that will occupy your time in the long lines (should you go during a high season time).
Prepare for Lines, Heat, and Rain
Long lines in peak season means bored children.
Many rides have entertaining features, but there are some that well, are less thrilling.
- Bring things to occupy their time.
We brought bubbles, stickers and a notebook, and a cheap digital camera.
- It is hot in Florida – of course. You can fall victim to the heat. Be sure to pack sunscreen and these cool mini-spray fans.
We each had one, which are powered on batteries – and could mist ourselves whenever, wherever.
It is Florida and can rain at any moment – be prepared for it! Usually when it rains, the parks clear out, so use that time to jump in line for rides.
- To add to the experience, we packed Disney trinkets that we found at the Dollar Tree and Walmart (coloring books, figurines, stickers, stuffed animals like Minnie/Mickey).
This limits how much you buy in the parks – which will be way more expensive.
Each night after she went to bed, we stuck a Disney item out for her to find in the morning – starting the magic each morning.
If you are driving to Disney, you can find a lot of Disney items at the neighborhood Walmarts for a great price (collectibles, t-shirts, etc.).
Our Disney Budget
Hotel Stay – $94 per night for 5 nights = $470
Tickets through ITT – 5 days @ $984 or 4 days @ $904 for 3 adults, 1 child
Food – Lunch and dinner – $30 per person per day – $600
Character Dining Experience (Breakfast) – $140
Gifts (from home) – $20
Other incidentals (snacks, gifts, parent’s Starbucks) – $280 = 4 people at 5 days – $14 per person per day
Grand Total – $2,494
Can you spend more? Of course! Did we experience Disney on this budget? Most definitely! See some of my pro tips below!
Other Fabulous Tips
If you have a child under 5 – it is ideal to have a stroller of some sort. I have brought both of my strollers on different occasions.
Disney is HUGE. That is a lot of walking, no matter how many times you go back to the hotel.
Your child will be whining, your arms, shoulders, and neck will hurt from picking them up. Trust me, stick them in it and everyone will be happy!
Buy a cheap $20 umbrella stroller and take it with you.
It folds up on the buses if you stay on one of the many gorgeous properties, and when you have to do stroller parking – it takes up little room.
Not only that, but you can use it to reserve some space for the parades.
Park Hopper Tickets
When you purchase your tickets – be sure to add Park Hopper.
For Military tickets – it is usually included and well worth it.
Sometimes you want to do Animal Kingdom in the mornings and Magic Kingdom at night.
Animal Kingdom is VERY WARM especially from about March to October. So hitting it before peak sun is great.
Also, the animals tend to find shady parts to lie in during afternoon hours, which makes the Safari Ride not as enjoyable.
But there are a lot of exhibits to see neat things – and of course, I hear the new Pandora area is fabulous.
Magic Bands & Fast Passes
See that orange band on my daughter above?
Those are Magic Bands. You can get them even with ITT tickets.
They are the best technology Disney has come up with.
Your hotel room card, your Fast Pass, and your Credit Card can all be stored on this wristband.
You can select who has the Credit Card on their band (if you are worried there band may fall off). However, we never had an issue (even with 3 year old wrists).
You don’t have to carry cash with you, they just touch the Mickey and it goes straight onto your hotel bill.
It also stores your Fast Passes – which you MUST do if you want to maximize your time.
Fast Pass reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance.
Popular rides (Peter Pan, Splash Mountain, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Space Mountain) go quick, so make sure to book them.
You can also book passes to see characters.
She loved seeing all the princesses and her favorite Disney Jr characters (they are at Hollywood Studios).
Once you use your 3 Fast Passes you can get more that day (but generally, it is what is leftover).
Get the MyDisney App
If you have a Smartphone – you MUST have the MyDisney App.
Download it on every adult phone.
It has maps of the parks, wait times of every ride and character experience, times for the parades, and park hours.
You can also link your reservations so that you have access to your Fast Pass reservations.
Experience Disney During the Holidays
This is not a budget tip, but more of a confirmation if you are asking yourself this question. Should we do a special event?
Disney World has different special events throughout the year.
Very Merry Christmas Party
Star Wars Galactic Nights
We took a special trip last year to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. It was an additional expense, but we loved it.
You get in at 4pm and experience Magic Kingdom decorated for Christmas.
Why did we enjoy this?
Limited crowds – so lines were much shorter.
Free goodies. They have the BEST Snickerdoodle cookies and hot chocolate. Seriously!
Characters are out in the park, and there is a short line to see them.
Disney Springs has Christmas trees decorated with all the major movie themes. Great to see them in the morning and go to the park in the evening.
Fireworks In Magic Kingdom
One of the best experiences at the Magic Kingdom is their nightly fireworks.
However, it is BEYOND crowded.
Everyone crowds to main street or the circular area right in front of the castle about 30-45 minutes before it starts.
However, we found a great area to see the fireworks as our own little secret (especially if you have seen the show before).
If you go to Adventureland, find the Swiss Family Treehouse. The bottom has a great view as well as the top (and it was filled with 3 families) – much more enjoyable.
However, you don’t get to see Tinkerbell fly.
If you HAVE seen the fireworks – this is the time when the busiest rides have hardly any wait – take advantage.
Go to Epcot
I hear the question asked, “If we can’t do all of the parks, which one should we drop?”
Do not choose Epcot to drop – if you have small children.
Here is why…
Epcot is filled with many countries – all with food and places to sit. You know what kids love? FOOD!
Not only that, but there are some very fun rides at Epcot.
The “Golf Ball” at Epcot was one of my daughter’s favorite rides – it is slow, but it takes them on a neat journey through time.
You also have the Frozen ride, Soarin™, The Land – which you ride on a slow moving boat and see all the hydroponics and greenhouses they have, the boat in Mexico (with Donald Duck), Finding Nemo (and the aquarium after it), Fast Track, and Mission Space.
If nothing else, hit it on it’s late hour days and do a 1/2 day with your Disney Park Hopper.
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About the Author
With three decades of military support, Kelsey’s mission is to help new and existing military families in their unique adventures through all military topics including PCSing, budgeting, school choice and rights, housing, and especially just being a military spouse.