Walt Disney World on a budget
I’ve taken my family to Disney World 3 times already so this last trip I decided we will try the value resort and take the low budget approach. I was a little worried because we’ve always stayed in the other categories (moderate, deluxe, and villa) so a value resort was going to be out of my comfort zone.
CHOICE 1: ACCOMMODATION
I chose Disney’s All-Star Movies resort which is the sister resort to All-Star Music and All-Star Sports. When booking a value resort it’s worth the extra $$ to upgrade to a preferred room category. We did this and were within 100 feet of the laundry area (I washed clothes several times), the pool, dining area, and most importantly the buses.
With almost 2000 rooms and 5 highly-themed sections to this resort there’s something for everyone.
Toy Story (newest one and where we stayed)
Herbie: The Love Bug
These rooms are the smallest of the Disney resorts at around 260 square feet with 2 double beds, vanity area, and toilet and tub in a separate room. There is a curtain separating the vanity area from the rest of the room which was great since I’m a mom of 2 boys and like privacy when I’m getting ready in the mornings. Each room comes with a dresser, small table, 2 chairs, and a mini-fridge. We had plenty of room for our 6 night trip but only because we drove and were able to unpack and store our luggage in the car.
There’s are two pools on property but we played in the main-pool, Fantasia, because it was located closest to our room. Each night the cast members play a Disney movie out by the pool for the guests and during the day play games poolside. You can also find a baby pool next to the Fantasia pool.
Cinema Hall is the location for food and is set up like a food court. We ate there every day and had so many options we only ate some things twice because they became our favorites. You have grab-n-go sections for drinks and snacks, area for pizza and pasta, burgers and chicken nuggets, as well as meat and three options. Of course you can’t forget about the dessert section with Mickey bars, cupcakes and cookies and ice cream.
*I didn’t get any pictures of the dining area because it was usually crowded (more so at 9pm instead of 6pm) and I don’t like photographing strangers.
Here are my 2 tips for saving money on dining at the resort:
1. We only got one refillable mug to share between me, my husband, and our 8 year old. The 6 year old doesn’t like “spicy” drinks so I always got him milk or lemonade. Since you can keep refilling the mugs we didn’t see a reason to each get our own and we didn’t want to feel the need to try and get our money’s worth by chugging cokes all day long. Sharing one mug at dinner with one or two refills was plenty for us.
2. The family pizza is the best deal. For $22 you can get a large pizza big enough for a family of 4 to share and an order of breadsticks. We even had leftovers the next day!
You can also find a Disney store where you can get t-shirts, hats, and anything else Disney related along with basic sundries (sunscreen, bottled drinks, wine/beer, donuts and other pastries, etc.).
CHOICE 2: PARK PASSES
I usually suggest to my clients to get a park hopper, especially if they have older kids because you never really know where you want to end up in the evening. This time I decided on a 6 day base ticket. It’s cheaper and I knew we could spend more time each day at one park. The last time we got a hopper we went to one park in the morning and another in the evening (usually the Magic Kingdom) which left us not exploring all of Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios. Aside from the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom is my kids’ favorite park and I wanted to be able to do more.
Because of this we saw Flights of Wonder, rode Kali River Rapids, earned a Wilderness Explorer badge, took lots of character photos, and saw the Lion King show.
At Hollywood Studios I usually divide an conquer boys vs. girls. After our usual Toy Story Mania battle I send the guys to Indiana Jones, Stunt Show, and Star Tours while the girls visit the Beauty and the Beast stage show, Disney Junior Live on Stage, and Little Mermaid.
If we have time we will do single rider line for Rock’n Roller Coaster. One thing I did on this trip that has sadly closed down was the Animation Academy. For 30 minutes you get a drawing lesson from an imagineer on how to draw one of the characters. I took my 6 year old with me and we learned to draw Pluto. It was great fun and an excuse to get out of the sun for a bit (or rain!).
CHOICE 3: FOOD
We brought a lot of food since we were driving and ate our own snacks, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bagels, and brought 3 cases of bottled water.
I only booked 2 table service restaurants (Via Napoli in Epcot and Trails End Restaurant at Ft Wilderness) and the rest we either bought snacks (Dole Whips, waffle sandwiches, or pretzels) or ate at a quick service restaurant.
If we were trying to economize then we ordered 2 adult meals without the drink (bottled water from home and juice boxes) for around $17 total. Otherwise 2 adult meals and 2 kids meals added up to $30+. Character meals are very filling but also very costly as the average cost for a family of 4 (2 adults and 2 kids under 9) is around $100.
Our food bill for the 7 days we were there was around $500 and because I knew on average what we would spend I bought a few Disney gift cards at home and was able to pay off the balance with the money I had already saved.
CHOICE 4: EXTRAS
As a friend of our says, “Disney World is great about separating people from their money”. A few of the extras that add up are souveneirs and photos. I always hit up the local dollar store and stock up on glow sticks, wipees, and any Disney trinkets I can find and we always bring our toys we bought on previous trip with us like the Buzz Lightyear light-up spinners (nighttime!). I’ve certainly gone overboard on t-shirts, stuffed animals, and Disney candy but this time I was planning on giving my kids the minimum. They each had their own gift card filled with $30 that they could spend however they wanted and when it was gone, it was gone.
You can purchase the Photo Pass package in advance but I’ve never seen the need to do so because the photographers will take pictures with your own camera when they take one with theirs. If you like getting ride photos (I don’t) then you might want to think about it or if you don’t have a camera or don’t want to keep your phone camera out for pictures then you might want to consider getting the package. Just be sure to purchase it at least 3 days prior to your arrival to get the discounted price.
Any trip to Disney World is going to be expensive but if you plan far enough in advance and use a few tricks I’ve outlined in this blog post then hopefully you can have a magical experience without the headaches of a large credit card bill at the end of your trip!