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Walt Disney World on a Budget: Where to Splurge & What to Skip

Disney's Contemporary Resort

It is no secret that a Walt Disney World vacation doesn’t come cheap. Between airfare, hotel stays, tickets, dining, souvenirs, and much more, nailing down a budget and sticking to it is no easy task. Then on top of regular travel-related expenses, a Disney trip forces you to factor in considerations like: Should you stay at a Disney resort or somewhere off property? Dining plan or no dining plan? Is a Park Hopper ticket really worth it? Let’s find out!

SPLURGE on a stay at a Disney resort

Disney Bay Lake Tower

Image: Brittany DiCologero

A quick search on TripAdvisor or Priceline will show you how easy it is to find an inexpensive place to stay in the Orlando area. (Priceline even has rates using their Express Deals options for as low as $32/night!) But consider what you’re getting into before booking one of these cheaper stays. Some budget hotels fall into the budget categories for more reasons than price alone. Always check online reviews before booking a resort in any destination– Even if you see your hotel room as a place to sleep and shower, you want to make sure you have a clean place to do so.

Aside from the gamble of cleanliness (and guest service), non-Disney hotels are often further away from the theme parks, and do not come with many of the perks that staying on property entails, such as Extra Magic Hours (which gives resort guests EXTRA time in the theme parks), complimentary transportation (both between the resort and the theme parks AND between the resort and the airport), and things like package pickup, Disney concierge on-site, and more. Though it is more expensive than that $32 surprise room, staying at a Disney value resort can really save you the stress of figuring out your own transportation from the airport, and it can give you a greater value for your park ticket if you take advantage of Extra Magic Hours.

If you’re still looking to stay off-site, whether it be for proximity to other Orlando attractions, or to get “more for your money,” check out Disney’s Good Neighbor Hotels, or consider a more middle to high end resort experience in Orlando, as though more expensive than a Disney value resort, you may find some rooms to be a deal compared to other travel destinations.

SKIP Park Hopper tickets

Animal Kingdom

Image: Brittany DiCologero

Now don’t get me wrong, I PREFER having the Park Hopper option added to my ticket. I love having the flexibility of being able to hop on the bus and switch parks whenever I feel like it, and even more than that, I love feeling like I can make my dinner reservations months in advance without a care in the world for which park I’ll end up in on that day. Having Park Hopper tickets however is a convenience, and unfortunately for those low-budget trips we sometimes take, conveniences are the first things to go.

Especially depending on how many people you’re paying for, skipping the Park Hopper option has the potential to save you hundreds of dollars. And while it is convenient to have the option to switch parks available, you can easily (with some extra planning) work your day around staying in the same park. Still worried about skipping out on the Park Hoppers? Don’t be! If you find yourself desperately wishing you could switch parks a day or two into your trip, head to Guest Relations or a vacation planning booth outside the park and pay the difference to upgrade your tickets.

SPLURGE on a good bag

PeopleMover

Image: Brittany DiCologero

This tip goes for traveling anywhere, not just to Walt Disney World! One of the worst things about traveling is dealing with a messy, difficult, or all around uncomfortable bag. Whether it be the purse or backpack you plan on taking into the parks everyday or the luggage you’re using to fly down, spend the extra money on a good quality product that you’ll feel comfortable using. Sometimes the right bag doesn’t even need to be pricey. I prefer to use cross body bags, with just the right amount of pockets to help you stay organized during a trip to the parks without feeling bogged down by stuff. If a backpack is more your style, you may want to try a small to mid-sized light or neutral color with only a couple of pockets that will make going in and our of it throughout the day super easy!

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