How to Afford Disney World in 2023: Insider Secrets for Doing Disney Cheap

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According to a survey conducted late last year, over 90% of respondents feel that a Disney vacation is too pricey for the average family to afford. In fact, half have postponed a trip after being surprised by the cost of tickets or food and beverage. Unfortunately, these travelers don’t understand how to afford Disney World and the tips available for doing Disney World cheap—or at least within budget.

Following some simple steps and heeding our money saving tips can help you shave hundreds of dollars or more from the cost of your Disney World vacation. Keep reading for tips on how to afford a Disney World Vacation.

How to Afford a Disney World Vacation: Timing Is Key

If you’re looking to save money on a trip to Disney World, you should start planning well ahead of your intended travel dates. That’s because affording a Disney World vacation largely comes down to timing. Let’s break it down to see how this works out.

Be Flexible When Choosing the Dates for Your Disney World Vacation

Disney World castle, with crowds in front - affording disney world vacation
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When it comes to doing Disney World cheap, it pays to know that Disney pricing is determined by seasons. In short, when demand is high, prices go up and when demand is low, prices are cheaper.

Affording a Disney World vacation largely depends on isolating those low-price seasons and booking accordingly. Generally speaking, you’ll pay more if you travel during school breaks than you would if you visited when kids are in school.

Here is an example. A 5-day, 4-night Disney vacation package (resort and tickets) for a stay at Disney’s All-Star Music resort the weekend of Christmas will run you a minimum of $4,136 for a family with 2 adults and 2 children under 10. The same family could take the exact same trip in September for $2,911. That’s over a $1,000 difference in the cost of their trip.

If you can be flexible with your travel dates, you’ll have a better chance of booking when hotel rates and ticket costs are cheaper.

Travel When Your Children Are Younger

While resort and ticket pricing vary according to season, you’ll also see different prices across age groups. Disney hotels do not charge for children under 18 when staying in a room with an adult (but they will leverage an additional fee for more than 2 adults in the same room.) However, you’ll also see that park tickets are priced by age. Anyone over 10 pays the adult price. This makes sense, since children over this age are likely tall enough to experience all of the attractions across the 4 parks.

On the other hand, children aged 3-10 will find a few attractions that they are unable to ride, due to height restrictions. Space Mountain, for instance, requires riders to be at least 44 inches tall.

To compensate for the fact that younger guests will not be able to experience every attraction, Disney discounts tickets for children in this age bracket. This means you’ll save money if you travel before your kids reach the age of 10. For instance, a 5-day ticket for an adult starts at around $511 for children aged 3-10. The same ticket rings in at $532 for anyone over 10.

Since children under 3 can visit Disney World theme parks for free, many people will advise you to travel with toddlers in order to afford a Disney World vacation. This advice is fine if you think you will be taking more than one Disney trip during your youngster’s childhood years.

However, if this is your one and only visit to Disney World, we recommend waiting until your kids are old enough to enjoy and remember their Disney vacation. However, don’t wait until your children are older to start planning for your Disney vacation. If you start when they’re toddlers, you’ll have plenty of time to save for your future Disney trip.

Doing Disney World Cheap, Selecting the Right Accommodations

The hotel you choose is another big factor in determining whether you can afford a Disney World vacation. There are multiple hotels across Disney property, as well as nearby, all offering rooms at varying price points.

When choosing your hotel, you’ll need to decide whether you will stay onsite at a Disney owned and operated hotel, or off property at one of the many nearby resorts or chains.

Staying onsite has a number of advantages. For one thing, you’ll have access to Early Theme Park Entry. This exclusive perk allows you to enter one theme park per day a half an hour ahead of regular opening. If you play your cards right, you could experience one or 2 headliner attractions with little to no wait during this time.

Disney resort guests also have access to Disney’s complimentary transportation system. This fleet of buses, boats, monorails and Skyliner routes helps you travel efficiently between your resort and the parks at no additional cost.

While many offsite resorts do offer a shuttle transportation to and from the hotel to Disney parks, some will charge a separate fee, and many will require you to book your transport in advance. If you’re the type who likes to roll out of bed at will on vacation, and get a leisurely start to your day, this may not fit your needs.

Also, offsite hotels aren’t always cheaper. While there are a number of Good Neighbor hotels that meet Disney’s exacting standards that offer cheaper rates, some are more expensive than Disney’s onsite value resorts. Keep reading to decide which is right for your budget.

Disney’s Value or Moderate Onsite Resorts Are Budget Friendly

Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort - booking a moderate resort is a great way to afford a Disney World trip
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Since staying onsite has some definite perks for the Disney vacationer, we recommend that you look here first when planning your trip. Disney’s Value resorts offer the most affordable rates of all Disney properties, as well as clean and comfortable accommodations and rich theming.

Disney’s Value resorts include:

  • Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort
  • Disney’s All-Star Music Resort
  • Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort
  • Disney’s Pop Century Resort
  • Disney’s Art of Animation

If you’re looking for larger rooms than you’ll find at a Disney Value Resort, or nicer grounds for getting in a morning jog, consider bumping up to a Disney Moderate Resort. While these accommodations are pricier, you’ll often find rooms that are comparable to some offsite chains.

Disney Moderate Resorts include:

Staying at either a Disney Value or Moderate resort can be a great way to afford a Disney World vacation, and depending on the season you’re traveling, can even help you do Disney on the cheap.

Offsite Good Neighbor Hotels Provide Disney Quality at a Value Price Point

To afford a Disney World vacation, some travelers book hotels offsite but near Disney parks. Since these include many popular chains, such as Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott, it’s a great way for anyone with hotel rewards points to do a trip to Disney World cheap.

Fortunately, Disney has partnered with many of these properties to ensure that they meet the same exacting standards of a Disney World resort. Good Neighbor Accommodations are inspected frequently to ensure continued compliance.

Great Amenities at a Great Price! For more information on Disney World Good Neighbor hotels, read our dedicated article.

Good Neighbor hotels are also required to provide a minimum set of amenities, such as a shuttle to the parks and a guest services desk to assist with things like ticket purchases or dining reservations.

As mentioned above, some Good Neighbor hotels will offer cheaper rates than Disney resorts, but the more upscale chains will be on par with the cost of an onsite hotel or more expensive than a Disney Value resort.

If your goal is to do Disney as cheaply as possible, you’ll need to compare value resorts to the rates offered by Good Neighbor Hotels or contact a travel agent who can find the least expensive accommodations for you. A travel agent can also help you turn your booking with a good neighbor hotel into a package that includes your park tickets.

Affording Disney World: Select the Best Ticket Option

Disney World park ticket featured over picture of Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run
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Your theme park tickets are one of the biggest costs of a Disney World vacation. Fortunately, there are some informational tidbits that can make it easier to afford Disney World Park passes.

Skip the Park Hopper Perk

Disney World tickets come in many variations. The two most common options are the Standard Base Ticket and the Park Hopper Ticket.

A Standard Base Ticket provides admission to one park per day. For example, if you book a park reservation for EPCOT on the first day of your trip, you may only visit this park on that day. You may leave at any point you wish and re-enter, but you cannot “hop” to another park.

On the other hand, a Park Hopper Ticket allows you to visit multiple theme parks in a single day. If you make a park reservation for Magic Kingdom in the morning, you can then visit Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, EPCOT or all three in the afternoon. The only caveat is that you have to actually enter the park you have booked at some point before visiting other parks.

While a Park Hopper ticket does provide you with maximum flexibility, it comes at a higher cost. It’s an expense that many families simply don’t need.

If you’re traveling with younger children, you may find it takes you a full day to visit a single park. If you wish to take a break in the afternoon and visit your resort pool, before heading back to the park in the evening, you really won’t need to purchase the Park Hopper either.

When it comes to affording a trip to Disney World, skipping the park hopper perk is another way to shave dollars off the cost of your trip.

Saving with a Standard Base Ticket

While purchasing a Standard Base Ticket over a Park Hopper Pass will automatically save you money on your Disney vacation, there are ways to save even more. Again, it comes down to timing, and when you take your vacation.

Ticket prices tend to be higher on weekends and school breaks. That means they are also lower when kids are in school.

To isolate the cheapest Disney World base ticket price, visit, select the number of days you’d like to visit the parks, and then scroll through the calendar on the page. You’ll be able to see the ticket price for each day of the year.

Watch for Discounts on Hotels, Dining or Packages

While deciding when to travel and where to stay should be your first steps in determining the cheapest way to take a Disney vacation, there are ways to save more. One is by taking advantage of available discounts.

Throughout the year, Disney rolls out a variety of offers to help fill open room blocks at their onsite hotels. These include discounts on the standard room rate, special dining offers, or lower cost package pricing.

Since discounted offers are revealed randomly throughout the year, we recommend that you first isolate your travel dates following the tips above, as well as where you plan to stay. Then book your resort with a travel agent.

As we’ll discuss in a minute, using a travel agent offers you a lot of advantages, and one is access to discount offers without having to monitor social and web channels for hints of offer releases. You’ll have peace of mind knowing you’ve locked in your favorite resort while your travel agent is being notified of applicable offers. When a discount is released for your dates of travel and resort, your agent will automatically rebook you to any cheaper rates that become available.

If discounts aren’t released for your travel dates or resort, a travel agent will alert you to your options.

Saving on Meals While Vacationing at Disney

Shrimp skewer from one of the best best quick service at Disney World
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Many people focus on cheaply securing a Disney World hotel and theme park tickets but forget about the additional costs of their trip, such as those associated with food and beverage. The good news is that you can make a Disney World trip even more affordable by thinking ahead and following some simple tips to reduce your dining costs.

Skip Meals Like Breakfast

When doing Disney on a budget, we often skip breakfast. If you’re already thinking about the tears and rumbly tummies this may cause, let me clarify further.

While we often skip meals at our resort or in the parks, we don’t eliminate breakfast from our routine entirely. Instead, we pack some things from home that can be easily prepared and consumed in the room.

In the past, our menu selections have included things like Pop Tarts, breakfast or protein bars and instant oatmeal. Most rooms are equipped with a coffee maker, so heating water is a snap.

If you’re staying in a room that offers a microwave, you’ll have additional in-room dining options. Since rooms include a beverage cooler, you can reheat refrigerator or freezer items, such as breakfast burritos. While you can’t bring these items from home, you can easily pick them up with a quick stop at an area grocery store. Trips like these can easily be made using Uber or Lyft.

Share Meals at Park or Resort Restaurants

For many people, portion sizes are shareable at Disney resort or park restaurants. If your appetite is on the slimmer side, sharing meals is a great way to save money on your dining costs and do Disney World on the cheap.

This is particularly true for older children who may not want to eat from the kid’s menu, but don’t quite have the appetite for a full adult portion.

Choose Character Breakfasts Over Dinners

Character meals are the perfect way to visit with your favorite Disney stars, without having to wait in long lines. To top it off, the food is also great.

The drawback, however, is the price. Most character meals are offered buffet style, which can top out at $60 per adult.

You can trim those costs by booking a character breakfast over a lunch or dinner. At the Crystal Palace, for example, dinner with Winnie the Pooh and friends starts at $59 per adult for dinner. At breakfast, the cost starts at $45.

Plan Ahead and Pay Over Time

In one survey, 18% of respondents said they went into debt to afford a Disney World vacation. With interest-free financing options available, this really isn’t necessary.

If you plan well ahead of your vacation travel dates, you can take advantage of certain travel options that allow you to pay over time. One is by booking a package over a room only reservation. A package includes the cost of your hotel and tickets. You’ll pay $200 to hold your reservation with the balance due 30 days before your arrival date.

This means, you can make interest-free payments on your vacation as long as the balance is paid by the 30-day mark. A travel agent can explain the details and set you up on a payment plan or you can book online and make payments yourself.

Another option is to use the Disney Visa card’s interest free financing option. Cardholders can pay for their vacation over 6 months without fees or interest. However, since you’ll be charged the regular high rate of credit card interest once the 6-month period expires, booking a Disney travel package on a payment plan may be a better option.

You can still use your Disney Visa card to make your package payments when booked online or through a travel agent, ensuring you receive your rewards points, but you’ll have the advantage of a longer interest-free payment period if you book far enough in advance.

Making package payments is a great way to make a Disney trip affordable, because you can finance the trip without paying interest.

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We’ve teamed up with Mickey World Travel,a Platinum Authorized Disney Vacation Planner, to help you plan, book and afford the Disney World vacation of your dreams. Request a free quote today.

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Feel Free to Skip Genie+

While we frequently use Genie+, the service isn’t a must-do. In fact, for vacationers looking for cheap Disney World travel, skipping the service when possible could chalk up to big savings.

Genie+ allows you to skip the regular queue on many popular attractions in favor of an expedited Lightning Lane. (You can read all of the details on our comprehensive Genie+ blog). On the downside, you must purchase access to Genie+ before you can use it.

Genie+ starts at around $15.00 per person, per day plus tax, but rates will vary depending on demand and crowd conditions in the parks. We recently saw Genie+ listed at $30 per person per day during spring break travel.

The good news is, you can skip the Genie+ service and still minimize the time you wait in line with the right strategy. This is particularly true at Animal Kingdom and EPCOT. By arriving for Early Theme Park Entry and riding headliner attractions early in the day, you can knock out many of the high-wait attractions before many people get to the parks.

Other Tips to Help You Afford a Disney World Vacation

Following the guidance above will help you shave the biggest costs off your trip, but you can cash in on some other tips to make your trip even more affordable.

Take a Pool Day

Our first trip to Disney World was a whirlwind 3-night, 4-day adventure that left us little time for anything but hitting the highlights. While we told the kids up front that we wouldn’t have time for the resort pool, they took one look at that elaborate waterslide, and the trip just wouldn’t be complete without some pool time.

The moral of the story here is that it’s ok to skip the parks for a day to soak up some pool time, to resort hop or anything else your family would like to do. It might net you some added family harmony while also saving your wallet.

Plan and Book with a Travel Agent

As previously mentioned, a travel agent can apply discounts to your booking and schedule a payment plan for your trip, but working with a planner who specializes in Disney has other benefits. Because Disney planners are experienced with Disney travel, they can help you isolate the cheapest resorts and times to visit based on your needs.

A travel agent will also lend the benefit of their experience to your trip, through valuable tips and insights that will save you time as well as money.

Watch Airfare Over Time and Book When the Price Is Right

It used to be you could jump on a Southwest flight the minute that fares were revealed for your travel dates and be reasonably assured you were getting the best price. Since the COVID pandemic, the world of airfare pricing has changed, and finding the best flight for your budget isn’t always easy.

Often, that initial discount fare the airline provides turns out to be anything but bargain basement once you select seats for your family to sit together, pay for luggage and other upcharges that airlines may levy.

When it comes to finding the cheapest flights for your Disney trip, we recommend running fares early on, using a site such as Google Flights. Then, set an alert to be notified when prices change.

Google will then send you an email each time the cost for fares rises or falls. You’ll be able to see the range of fares offered for your dates and book when they hit rock bottom. You can even select a certain flight with a particular carrier and have Google alert you to changes in fares.

Skip the Rental Car and Save on Ground Transfers

Prior to mid 2020, Disney World offered a service called Magical Express. Booking a Disney World resort or vacation package also included ground transfers from the airport to your resort (and back again) on the Magical Express fleet of buses, making it easy to do Disney on the cheap.

Unfortunately, Disney did away with this valuable service coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic and has given no indication that it will return again. Guests now visiting Disney World need an alternative option for ground transfers.

Some guests will rent a car. This makes sense if you plan to visit other sights in the area or are staying offsite and plan to drive to the parks. It isn’t the most economical option, however.

Using Uber or Lyft is a more affordable way to get to Disney World from the airport. You can expect to pay between $35 and $55, depending on when you travel and the size of the vehicle you request. Lux vehicles will of course cost more.

Uber or Lyft will pick you up at the airport and transport you directly to your hotel, but if you don’t mind stopping at other resorts along the way, you might save money by booking a ride on a Mears shuttle bus.

A Mears bus will run $19 per individual over 10 years of age, or $13.50 for children aged 3 through 9, making it ideal for parties of 2. For families, rates may get pricey compared to ride sharing.

Depending on the length of your trip, shuttle service or ride sharing could easily be cheaper than renting a car for your entire stay.

Using Credit Card Rewards

Several credit cards offer rewards on purchases that can later be redeemed for travel, making it easier to afford a Disney World vacation. When thinking about rewards cards for a Disney trip, the Disney Visa is one of the first to come to mind.

The Disney Visa by Chase offers 2 percent back on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants and most Disney locations. Rewards accrue as points that can later be used to pay for Disney travel expenses.

Other credit cards allow you to accrue points more liberally. The Chase Sapphire card is one of our favorite travel rewards cards. In addition to offering 60,000 points at sign up, you can earn 2 points per dollar on all travel purchases and 3 points per dollar spent on online grocery purchases or at restaurants, to name a few of the earning perks. Points can be spent on airfare, hotels, rental cars and other travel expenses.

Other cards offer cash back on purchases that you can spend in multiple ways, including statement credits to help offset the cost of your Disney trip. If you use credit cards to pay for some of your expenses, it’s worth looking into the different options and find the one that provides you with the biggest chance for earning rewards.

Get Help Affording Disney World: Use Gift Cards

If you haven’t heard it before, you’ll be glad to know that Disney offers a gift card, redeemable for Disney travel and some onsite purchases. Gift cards are a great way to save money on a Disney vacation, thanks to the inherent flexibility.

For one thing, they can be gifted. When someone asks what you want for Christmas or your birthday, requesting a Disney gift card can help you to afford that trip to Disney World a little easier.

Even better, gift cards can sometimes be bought at a discount. If you have a Target Red Card, you’re already saving 5% on purchases you make at the store. This perk extends to Disney gift cards, in essence, saving you 5% anytime you use your purchased gift card to pay for vacation expenses.

If you keep your eyes open, you may be able to find other discount deals on Disney gift cards. Best Buy has previously offered $50 cards for $45. If you have a Chase credit card that offers 10% back at Best Buy, you can save even more on a gift card purchase.

Say No to Starbucks or Joffrey’s

Seasonal coffee sign at Disney World Joffrey's location.
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If you’re used to a premium cup of Joe in the morning, saying no to Starbucks or Joffrey’s in favor of brewing coffee in your room could save you a bundle. Disney provides coffee, cream and sugar in your room, so it’s easy so make and sip your coffee while you get ready in the morning.

In addition to making your Disney World trip cheaper, taking coffee in your room will also save you time in line. Believe it or not, you can find some of the longest lines at Disney parks at Starbucks and Joffrey’s locations.

Use the Disney World Transportation System

You’ll see a number of ride sharing vehicles picking up and dropping guests off at Disney parks, including the exclusive Minnie Vans. While this may seem like a faster and more efficient way to get where you’re going, it does come at an added cost.

During our last trip, we averaged $15 to $30 the few times we ordered up a Lyft to take us to the parks. On the other hand, using the Disney World transportation system is included in the cost of your onsite Disney resort stay.

Avoid In-Park Purchases Where Possible

Theme parks, like airports, take advantage of a captive audience to charge more for simple products like bottled water. To avoid the added expense, we stop at a Walmart on the way to our hotel and pick up a case of water bottles.

Since every Disney resort includes a beverage cooler, we fill it up with our bounty. Each morning when we go to the parks, we transfer the contents of a cold bottle into a reusable thermal water bottle and take that with us for the day. Instead of spending $3.00 or more in the parks, we’re getting the same product for less than a dollar.

You may also want to consider bringing snacks from home to munch on in the park. Souvenirs are another area where you can easily rack up unexpected expenses, so surprising your children when you arrive with items you purchased at home, may ease the urge to buy items inside the parks.

Affording Disney World Is Possible

While there are cheaper vacations than traveling to Disney World, making a trip isn’t necessarily out of the question. With a little saving and savvy planning, you can make a Disney vacation fit your budget.

Other Disney World Tips and Tricks

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Kathleen Hesketh and Ali Patton, mother daughter travel bloggers

We're Kat and Ali, a pair of mother daughter travel bloggers sharing our knowledge and experience from multiple years of Disney travel with other Disney lovers and first-time visitors, hoping to simplify your vacation experience and help you enjoy all of the magic of a visit to Disney World. As Disney vacation planners, we can now book vacations through Mickey World travel, at no additional charge, and help you realize all of the magic of a trip to Disney.

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Kathleen Hesketh

Kathleen is a travel agent with Mickey World Travel, a platinum level Authorized Disney vacation planner, where she helps people discover the magic of a Disney vacation and other travel destinations. She is also the chief author and editor for Seconds to Go - a travel blog where she shares experiences from traveling the U.S. with her daughter, Ali.

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