How to Fit a Disney & Orlando Trip into a Budget

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Deal Expert, Chicago
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This year resort fees are going up again for popular Orlando hotels. This will turn some folks off, but for those for whom Disney or Universal is a rite of passage or a treasured family vacation, here are some ways to save on an Orlando trip:

Off-site hotels

Options abound for different types of visitors. Finalize your list of attendees before hunting for an Orlando hotel deal. Apartment-style condo units are common in the area and can often fit four or more travelers in one room. Another benefit to condo-style properties is that they often come with kitchenettes and other amenities of home, like washer-dryers and separate living areas and bedrooms. Because these hotels are so geared toward family stays, many have fun features for kids like playgrounds as well. Note that these places often charge a daily resort fee, yet it goes to a more comfortable stay. The fees can cover everything from breakfast to in-room Wi-Fi to shuttle service to the parks, which saves on parking and time.

Staying on site

If you can find a deal that fits your budget for a Disney Resort hotel, guests receive these extras: complimentary airport service, resort transportation and parking plus extended theme park hours — Extra Magic Hours — in which guests get exclusive access to select attractions at one of the theme parks one hour before or after regular hours. You can also save at official Disney hotels that are on the resort property but not owned by Disney.

Travel at the right time of year

If you’re looking to take advantage of summer vacation time, the period from mid-May to mid-June and Aug. 15 – Sept. 30 can be a great summer period to find a deal at the theme parks as school year dates vary across the United States. Peak season times in Orlando are February-March (spring break), June-August (summer vacations), Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday weeks. For the lowest rates, target January, April-May and September-October, as these are less popular times to visit.

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How to find cheaper flights

Think weekday arrival and departure dates when looking at fares. Flights on Fridays and Sundays will be more expensive. Our airfare experts advise to be flexible with travel dates and to try searching from nearby airports to save money. Typically airfare is cheaper to book during the week because airlines release sales Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so don’t save your vacation planning for the weekend!

Check parks’ own offers

Disney typically has at least one deal live on its Special Offers page. Discounts can range from stays at Disney Resort hotels to shows to park passes. There are also discounts for Florida residents and military members and their families; create a profile to access these offers. Universal Orlando also includes hotel, park pass and show discounts on its Hot Vacation Deals page.

Get multi-day passes

The longer you stay, the less you pay per day. Guests who buy a five-day ticket packages save more than $30 per person, per day (ages 10 and older) compared with one- and two-day passes. For guests with less time to travel, buy the Park Hopper Option (approximately $60 more per person per day) that allows you to visit all four of the theme parks in one day vs. one per day with the Base Ticket option. Also, when guests upgrade to a Magic Your Way package with minimum four-day theme park tickets, they get one more day free.

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Use Local Deals

Give yourself, and your wallet, a break from the parks by using deals at spots around town. Download the Travelzoo mobile app to instantly get Orlando local deals on meals and entertainment.

Dine at Disney

Disney often offers specials that include a Disney dining plan that make it more affordable to eat on-site, and could save up to 15%. Valid at over 100 restaurants, they range from basic Quick-Service Dining plans to a robust Platinum Package. Travelzoo Deal Experts have found that quick service options usually are filling enough for both lunch and dinner.

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Show 47 Comments
  • MimiBklyn

    The Disney Dining Plan rarely saves anyone any money. I honestly don’t think some of the people who write these travel articles about Disney World have ever even been there.

    • stueycat

      Actually it does depending on where you eat, we choose the most expensive restaurants to make use of it and it definitely was worth having. We figured our meals would have been close to 600 a day without the plan. And you get a lot to eat, almost too much, and I wish they had a two point plan as we were stuffed and still had more points to use. Good thing is you can convert the meal points to snacks!

      • MimiBklyn

        Exactly – you would never order as much food as the plan gives you if you were paying directly, and you would never plan your meals around what gives you the biggest “bang for your buck.” You’d just eat what you pleased, where you pleased, instead of worrying about making an overpriced dining plan “worth it.”

    • Sandra Givens

      Depends upon your dining style whether or not it will save. People need to look at sample menus online and run the numbers.

    • Kevin Wong

      My wife and I were amazed to see how many people use the dining plan, how much food is ordered, and sadly how much food is wasted. We opted to go a la carte instead and would generally share an app, entree, and dessert for a check total around $32 for the two of us per meal. We found some pretty decent eats at Disney, but thought Sanaa at Animal Kingdom Lodge to be the most outstanding per dollar spent.

      As for staying at a Disney property, we found the themed common areas to be the only remarkable feature; the guest rooms were rather standard and not worth our money. Perhaps we’d find more value in it if we had kids, but we’ve become accustomed to 4-5 star accommodations around the $300/night off-peak rate.

    • Kim Magee

      i think it does if you have the one qs and one table service option and do character meals, which you can put a value on

  • iheartfl

    It wasn’t mentioned that you can also rent whole houses for the same price or less than a hotel. Most vacation rental homes offer free Wi-Fi, a private pool, game room, etc. We always stay at one when we go down. It also works great to share with another family. I usually stay at property 7101382 on Vacation Rentals. Com.

    Also, I think Disney still offers the Tables in Wonderland dining card. It can be used at table service restaurants to give you a discount of the total bill. If you prefer sit down service instead of quick service places and you go often enough, or have a large group, it definitely pays for itself.

    • Samantha Allen Nations

      WE always stay at the vacation homes as well! We have 5 children and its so much more affordable for us. Plus I love to be able to wash clothes if needed- weird I know! Once we had a family share the home with us (bc it was a last minute decision for them to go) and it was fine- 2 large families in one house was still more room then you get in a hotel.

    • MimiBklyn

      Tables in Wonderland is for Florida residents & Annual Passholders only.

      • Eileen

        and Disney Vacation Club members

  • Sandra Givens

    “Official Disney hotels that are on the resort property but not owned by Disney.” These would not be “official Disney hotels.” The Swan and Dolphin, for example, are fine hotels and well-located, but although you get Extra Magic Hours and can use WDW transportation, you cannot purchase the dining plan when you stay at them, use the Disney Magical Express from the airport, or charge things back to your room. You also don’t receive the new Magic Bands for free as do Disney guests. Same with the Disney Springs area hotels or places like Bonnet Creek; you don’t get the benefits of a Disney hotel – and you’ll pay $20/day to park at the theme parks. People need to know these things when pricing a Disney resort against a non-Disney hotel.

    • stueycat

      That was the other thing I noticed! While it might be cheaper to stay off site, the little things add up like parking, gas, off site eating or groceries, etc. Seeing the long line of cars on Christmas morning at magic kingdom made me glad to be on the bus zipping past them. Also I would hate to be driving in that mess, before and definitely after the park when you are dead tired. Just stay at the cheapest disney resort and you’ll appreciate not having to drive anywhere.

  • SuperTroll

    The best way to save money on a Disney vacation is to go somewhere else. I went 6 years ago and it was a disappointment. Waiting in long lines while the rich get to go ahead of us is not a fun vacation. I might want to go back in 10 or 20 years, if I live that long.

    • Lisa Berton

      Rich people don’t get front of line access. FastPasses are available to everyone.

      • SuperTroll

        I’m aware of that. The point is that not everyone can afford FastPasses.

        • Wayne Schutts

          FastPass is Included with the Disney ticket unlike Universal which charges a separate fee. You use the Disney Parks app or an in park kiosk to schedule the FastPass for no extra fee.

        • Steve

          FastPasses are free. That’s what the previous poster meant by, “available to everyone.” You get like 3 per person per day, and they require that you go to the particular attraction at a specific time. You acquire them at kiosks around the park (or in some cases you can get them online ahead of time). They don’t cost anything.

        • Lisa Berton

          The cost of each Private Premium VIP Tour varies between $400 and $600 per hour, depending on the season.

          I’ve been to Walt Disney World about 30 times and maybe just once have I seen a VIP Tour group walk by me. If someone thinks dropping that much money is worth getting on rides faster, then let them. My opinion is, it’s too bad the tour guides get paid squat for doing the work.

    • drCwrites

      super, why do you begrudge the “rich” what they have earned? If you are not rich, why not? What have you failed to do?
      Your comments and the responses suggest they have been to Disney, understand how the free passes work. Have you really been there?

      • SuperTroll

        Dr C

        Why do you begrudge me the right to express my opinion and vote with my dollars? If people think that the 1% deserve to get special treatment and they are willing to wait patiently while a business lets them cut to the front of the line then go right ahead and give your money to that business. However, I encourage the 99% to boycott businesses like that. They will have to raise their prices to make up for the lost revenue and only the 1% (and the foolish) will be paying those ridiculous prices. I won’t. Yes, I’ve been to DisneyWorld, but I was wrong about FastPass. I thought they were talking about something new that lets the rich cut in line. I think they offer some tour guides or something for the rich that does that, but I haven’t kept up with what’s happening in DisneyWorld because it’s no longer enough bang for my buck.

        • Debbie Robinson

          SuperTroll You need to get your facts straight. While the rich are the ones that can AFFORD to do the VIP tours, ANYONE can take advantage of the VIP seating and such if they can afford to pay for the individualized service. I work for Disney and I assure you, timing is everything. If you utilize your My Disney Experience App and book your Fast Passes along with your dining reservations (both of which you don’t need to be staying at a WDW Resort to do-anyone can use the App), you will not be waiting by any degree longer than any one else. Most guests have managed to save their rides, watch the parades and shows of their choice and make their dinner plans without needing the VIP service. The WDTC is like any other business out there-in business to make money. No one claims they’re a non-profit! But their GUESTS are STILL the Company’s #1 PRIORITY! Every company I have done business with in the past 20 years charges for basically private services. Call it preferred, call it whatever you want-they offer it-you don’t have to partake. Slamming Disney for doing what every other business out there does is disgraceful!

          • SuperTroll

            Debbie, you’ve got a lot of nerve telling me I need to get my facts straight. You need to get some facts, period. At least I have some facts. I posted a link from a major news website. You posted your claim that you work for Disney. You could be anybody. Then again, with your attitude you may well work for Disney. It wouldn’t surprise me. But you didn’t tell us anything that we didn’t already know. They’re a business that wants to make a profit. They can charge whatever they want to whoever they want, and I can criticize their policies even if you don’t like it. You seem to be an expert at talking. Those are the most irritating types of experts.

          • Deb R

            I’m not saying that Fox is wrong-your version if that article IS! If you actually posted what they said, that would be one thing but you inferred things that were not said. Anyone can get VIP service if you can afford it. There are plenty of people who save for their special holiday that COULD, if they chose to, add the VIP service.And what business doesn’t want to make a profit. they wouldn’t be in business if that weren’t true. You’re being ridiculous! You show me a theme park that doesn’t charge for personalized service-if they even offer it. Ya, that’s right-they don’t exist. Show me a company that doesn’t need/want to make a profit. Ya, that’s right-they don’t exist either. Show me ANY business that offers personalized services and don’t charge for it? Yep, right again, THEY DON’T EXIST!

          • SuperTroll

            Deb, You say I Inferred things that were not said in the article. What things? That only the rich get that VIP treatment? That’s exactly what was said. The title of Fox’s story is: “How the rich do Disney World”. There’s no inferring about that. I also never said or inferred that other companies don’t do that. I’m in favor of boycotting them, too, but this TravelZoo offer is about Disney World. Twist my words some more. I’ll be waiting.

          • Chef

            I just read the article and it’s mostly about the high-end real estate available “on the grounds”. Is this what you’re referring to?

          • Chef

            The travelzoo article is an attempt to help people find ways to save $. Yes, Disney does offer a high-end package that is unaffordable for most. You can pay for advantages (skipping the lines, tour guides, etc). But you don’t have to. I understand it can be frustrating to see people paying to skip the lines and so on. But that’s capitalism. It’s EVERYWHERE! Do you enjoy going to sporting events? Football, baseball, etc? Do you shun the teams and sport because of the luxury boxes? Those tickets usually come with better parking, better food options, etc. Do you stop going to a mall because the put a Tiffany inside next to a Kay?
            Do you stop eating at a restaurant if they offer a Chef’s Table experience for $$$$? It’s everywhere.

          • SuperTroll

            Chef, you didn’t tell us anything that we didn’t already know. I don’t pay for concerts and sporting events (with a few rare exceptions), but you’re welcome to spend your money on those things if you think you get good value from them. I no longer think Disney offers good value for the cost because of the long line waits and I think a lot of that is because some people are paying to skip the lines. But feel free to give them your money if you think it’s good value. You’re entitled to your opinion. What’s your point? That you don’t agree with my opinion? Do you really want to know what activities I do and don’t do? You ask a lot of redundant questions to try and make a point that you could make a lot more directly by just saying it.

          • Deb R

            Thank you Chef. That was the point I was trying to make. Citogal is right-Disney and their guests do not need people like him in their parks anyway. Obviously he doesn’t go out of his house much. Certainly not to do anything that actually costs money!!

          • SuperTroll

            Deb, If that’s the message that people who work at Disney project to the public then less people will go to their parks and they will have to raise their ticket prices even more to make up for the lost revenue. Keep up the good work.

          • SuperTroll

            The Fox article also talks about the “VIP experience at Disney World that includes avoiding the long lines for rides, hiring tour guides”. That’s primarily what I was referring to. The timeshare deals may also have those kinds of perks, I don’t know.

          • RoseLeigh

            After all these people replied to your posts with such nice, polite responses, let me be the rude one since you refuse to understand subtle hints. 1. You’re a jealous troll that whines about others not only having more more money, but daring to use it for fancy perks in front of you. 2. Nobody. Ever. In the history of accurate, non-biased, serious research uses anything coming from Fox news. I would say it’s comparable to doing a thesis with Wikipedia as a source, but even Wikipedia at least attempts to get the basic facts correct. Fox News is more like the National Inquirer where 2% might be based in fact, but the other 98% is overdramatized hyper-sensationalized, ratings-enducing bullshit made to scare and/or invoke outrage.

          • SuperTroll

            Rose 1. – I’m whining about the value of a Disney visit. That value has gone done a lot over the last 20 years due to overcrowding at the parks which has gotten worse because they allow the rich to pay extra to cut in line. If you are OK with that then spend your money at Disney. Those like me who think it’s a bad idea have the right to spend our money elsewhere. 2 – If you’re a liberal zombie I can’t help you there. If I cared about you I would look for another source for the information which I believe is true, but I don’t care about you. Adios.

          • RoseLeigh

            Not sure what drugs you’re smoking, but blaming an amusement park’s overcrowding on rich people cutting in line is about as illogical as blaming them for it raining on your Disney trip. People who pay extra to skip lines are going to Disney *anyways*. It’s not like rich people suddenly decided to switch vacationing in the Alps to Disney in the past 20 years all because they can skip lines at a few rides and oh noes that turned it into an overcrowding nightmare. Disney became overcrowded and higher priced because their marketing became better at packaging deals and specials to reel in people who used to think it was too expensive to afford.

            And as for Fox news, if you’re going to troll people by putting links as “proof” to an argument then it’s a little lame when called out on it to use the excuse it’s because you don’t care enough to find a reputable and accurate source.

          • Dwi

            No you don’t shut up; however, we will all shut you up, by ignoring all future posts. Don’t bother replying, because I am not going to bother reading anything you write.

          • SuperTroll

            DWI, I just reply to what others post here, and I don’t write War And Peace when I reply like Rose. You must be a very responsible person with a handle like DWI – Driving While Intoxicated.

          • Citogal

            Deb, I hope you won’t reply any further. This person’s screen name – SuperTroll – says it all. He probably boycotts many businesses, like airlines for having first class, or sporting or theatre events for having disparate ticket prices or skyboxes, or the fact that expensive
            restaurants are – expensive. That is his right to talk about it, even if it does sound like sour grapes. The upside is, people like him are not there to bring everyone else down, so the value in what he is saying lets us know he won’t be there to harsh our buzz! We can’t all be Christmas ghosts trying to make Scrooge see the error in his ways. Honestly, every single person has their fundamentalist line they won’t cross. Mine is “no ketchup on hot dogs.” Can’t convince someone to break their fundamentalist beliefs, they just dig in even harder. As Dr. Carl Sagan said “You can’t convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it’s based on a deep-seated need to believe.”

            I’m sure my post will illicit some rage, and multiple reposts of the FOX news story. THIS TravelZoo post is about doing Disney affordably, and he keeps trying to change the focus to the FOX article which is about what Disney offers to people who can afford to pay more. One does not preclude the other. The fact that VIP options are offered does not mean average folks can’t have a good time on a budget, we all just have to ratchet our expectations appropriately. I went in October 2015 and the hordes would agree, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. Not any different from the hordes at Wrigley field for a Cubs game.

          • Citogal

            One more thing Deb – during my trip, I used the Disney app to
            really help me save time and get more out of my experience with scheduling fast-passes and seeing how long/short lines were, and where I could eat relative to my location. If you are an employee, and can pass this on, one suggestion I would make is if the app could
            be a little game-like, where you check off all the attractions you’ve done and get virtual “badges” for completing so many in each park. Yes, long lines are a drag, but I self-comforted by spending time people watching or planning my next move. I play Ingress, a global ARG, and there were hundreds of portals at Disney to keep me entertained in lines.

          • Deb R

            Thanks Citogal. Glad you had a good experience. (: He is such a buzz kill and very one-sided. That’s a great idea and I can submit it.(: Believe it or not, there are employees who all they do all day every day is update the system for live feed. Disney is always trying to make improvements for the comfort and convenience of our guests. They are also trying to add multiple parks for the FastPass because as you may have noticed, currently you can only FastPass one park at a time. There are a lot of tools that guests sadly don’t use that could make their time spent even more enjoyable although honest;y, like you, I love to people watch. Nothing better than watching a 3 year old meet Mickey Mouse for the first time-true love. Fantasmic!! (:

          • Citogal

            OMG, I went with my mother, and we saw a group of people doing the VIP. They had a little boy, I would say he was 3 years old, and he was having a tantrum because he wanted an Ariel doll he saw as they passed a store. The VIP escort went to buy it for them, and my mother saw he was already holding a naked Elsa Barbie-size doll and another smaller doll, also naked. She thought that was hysterical and kept recalling that for the entire week and laughing about it!

        • LawyerSoldier

          To each his own. You’re certainly entitled to your opinion and most will see that your comments (and screen name) are intended to get a reaction so you can bait someone and continue to engage in the manner you are. Personally, if I had that much cash to spare, I would buy one of the houses mentioned in the article you link to! And if I had that much dosh, you better believe that I would be getting the VIP tours and party planning services too.

  • Tammy

    I love going to Disney for vacation. We just went in October 2015 and we did the Disney vacation package. Hotel on site, dining plan and pre ordered fast passes all done on the web from our house. If you use the Disney vacation, you can even book way in advance and make payments. We booked in March and had everything paid for 90 days before we left. I did not include air fare as Alaska was having a sale and so we got really good airfare that way. We made dining reservations, had custom bands made, had fast passes for rides before we even got there. When I did a comparison, each item separately versus package, it was about $300 more. But we received early admission, dinner where and when we had done our reservations at and I didn’t need to pay all day long. The only money we took and used was for souvenirs. We spend more time and money when we go to Maui. We are not rich but when I vacation, I want to be able to enjoy myself and not having to make sure everyone else is taken care of. At Disney, everyone gets to enjoy themselves and mom doesn’t have to keep track of everyone.

  • Bradley McCord

    Worldventures has the BEST Disney plans and options hands down……have not seen a deal to beat them yet…..33 months

  • Mike_TV_Producer

    I’m a big TravelZoo fan and a big DisneyWorld fan – and after 25+ visits, I have to say this about this article…. All the points made are good, but incomplete. A Disneyworld vacation can be wonderful experience, but it is not inexpensive. Due to the cost I’d recommend a little more in depth research before going. A quick Google search will turn up the lots of great non-Disney affiliate fan sites. Same for Disney tours books available online or at your local bookstore. You’ll find many, many ideas for making the most of your visit.

    When my son was younger, we didn’t do a Disney park everyday. Instead we might play mini-golf, rent a canoe, horse back riding, go bike riding, drive to the beach, window shopping at Disney Springs, even ride the monorail and visit one the the Disney hotels for lunch or a snack. (Look for the Mickey ears sculpture near the Contemporary hotel pool – great photo op)

    Hotels on property and off have pluses and minuses – check out the online reviews for extras like great pools and proximity to shopping, mini-golf, restaurants, etc. Our most enjoyable on-property hotel stay were the moderates. Lots of good choices nearby at exit 68 on I-4, and along highway 192, west of I-4.

    One TravelZoo comment I do take issue with: Park Hopping… I’ve done many “two parks in one day” visits, just riding and enjoying our favorite attractions. 3 or 4 Parks in one day is possible but totally insane. You’ll spend at least 25% of your day traveling between Parks.

  • Steven

    If you were injured at Disneyworld, or at one of its hotels, check out http://www.yourfloridaattorney.net

  • mikem77764

    The meal plan is the best , kids treats could cost 300 alone in a week. $800 for four people and you get to use them on high priced character diners, breakfasts or just low end quick food.
    one character diner at the grand floridian would cost $200 alone, so $800 for a week is a deal if you go to 5 character dinners. You get a dinner, breakfast and a lunch or snacks daily per person.