Walt Disney World on a budget

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

There's no need to put off that vacation to Disney World that you and the kids have been dreaming about.

When considering a vacation to WDW, there's the finances to consider, the planning, and oh, yeah, the finances.But fortunately, the powers that be at WDW have made it possible for you to experience the magic without emptying out the kids' college accounts.

If you have never been to WDW in Lake Buena Vista, Florida before, it's wise to start your vacation planning at home. WDW covers about 25,000 acres and contains four theme parks and additional waterparks. Also, planning early helps you obtain some great savings deals and extra conveniences.

Here are some things to consider during your planning:

Determine your overall budget:

  • don't forget about travel costs (plane fair, gas, etc.)
  • food costs
  • accommodations
  • park tickets for the family
When can you travel?

"Value season" takes place over select weeks throughout the year and offers lower room rates than peak or holiday seasons. Value seasons often coincides with smaller theme park crowds. This means that you'll spend less time in lines! Weeknight stays (Sunday night through Thursday night) sometimes have lower rates than Friday nights and Saturday nights. If your schedule is flexible, you may want to get quotes for various times of the year and then make your decision.

What parks are of most interest?

For example, are you looking for thrill rides, kiddie rides, water parks, etc.? It may not be realistic or even wise, to try to visit all the parks in your first vacation to WDW.

What type of accommodations are you looking for?

The accommodations are plentiful and range from luxury to budget-friendly. This is no time to be disappointed about being on a budget. Disney Value resort guests are treated to larger-than-life swimming pools, playgrounds, arcade rooms, and standard amenities. There are more than 8,000 rooms at four resorts so about one-third of Disney's hotel accommodations fall into the value category. If you want to combine a camping/outdoor experience with your WDW vacation, that's possible too. Families can rent a campsite at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground (with nearly 800 available) and either pitch a tent or bring along an RV.

How to visit the parks

Depending upon your time and your budget, you can determine which park tickets are best for you.

For example, WDW has designed a Magic Your Way ticket system that lets guests decide which ticket features best fit their Disney vacation plans and that's what they buy. Guests decide the number of days and whether optional features park hopping, visits to Disney attractions outside the theme parks, and "non-expiration" of tickets are important. Some price and value considerations:

  • Per-day ticket costs decrease for longer stays. A seven-day ticket without optional features brings down the per-day cost to less than half the price per day, compared to seven individual one-day base tickets.
  • The Water Park Fun & More option ($52) can produce significant savings for recreation and entertainment outside the theme parks. The number of admissions it provides to the guest's choice of Disney water parks (DisneyQuest, Disney's Oak Trail golf course and Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex) varies depending upon the number of days of the Base Ticket (the option on a one- or two-day Base Ticket provides two visits to the guest's choice from among the listed attractions; with a 10-day Base Ticket, it provides 10 visits). Considering that one-day admission to a water park is $39-$45, and DisneyQuest is $35-$41, substantial savings are possible.

The Park Hopper option can enhance the value of the vacation by allowing guests to take advantage of special fun offered at different times of day at different Disney theme parks. (Also: Extra Magic Hours exclusive theme park time for guests staying at Disney hotels rotate among the parks; Park Hopper lets Disney hotel guests experience one park and shift that same day to another offering the additional park hours.)

Kids under three get free admission to all WDW theme parks. If you have children who will need a stroller (all that walking can be quite tiring), you may want to consider renting a stroller for the day's use in any of the four WDW theme parks. You can choose a stroller for your entire stay (which offers some savings) or keep your receipt if you're park-hopping during the day. Just drop off the stroller when you're leaving a park and use your receipt to obtain a stroller when you enter another park.


Larger families may want to consider paying a bit more for accommodations that include a kitchen. By having a kitchen, you can eat all or some of your meals in your home-away-from-home. If doing your own cooking while on vacation doesn't appeal to you, no worries. There are many different restaurant choices.

Most table-service restaurants throughout WDW offer children's menus, with kid favorites such as chicken strips, macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, spaghetti and meatballs, and PB&J sandwiches.

There are "all-you-can-eat" meals restaurants as well. More than two dozen Disney mealtime experiences offer the proverbial seconds . . . and even thirds and fourths many accompanied by a visit from your favorite Disney characters.

Dining reservations are recommended at the full-service restaurants and may be made up to 180 days in advance. Many popular restaurants frequently fill up early.

Eating meals either an hour before or after the "standard meal time" can avoid crowds at popular restaurants.

There are plenty more tips about visiting WDW on a budget. I highly recommend visiting www.disneyworld.com. Also, travel agents can be of great assistance in getting the most out of your vacation. So go ahead and start planning. And don't forget to budget in your own mouse ears.