Ever since having children I’ve dreamed of taking them to Disney World, but we’re cheapskates, and the pricetag had us scared off for a long time. However, last fall we finally made it happen! We all had an AWESOME time, and with careful planning it was way more affordable than I would have guessed – even for a family of seven!
We actually ended up with a last minute addition to our group when a child moved in a few months prior to our trip for what was supposed to be short-term foster care, and ended up staying longer than expected. At the time of the trip our group consisted of Mike and me, and five kids ages 18 months, 4, 5, 6, and 6.
Throughout our planning we found some great ways to cut costs and make it work, even for our large-in-numbers-small-in-cash family. I thought I’d share my suggestions with you on how to afford Disney World with a large family!
Buy Early, Buy Often
We bought our tickets one at a time over the course of 18 months. We signed up for the free newsletter from MouseSavers.com, which includes a link to slightly discounted tickets. The tickets include free shipping, so there was no penalty for buying them one at a time. Sure, I could have just saved that money over the course of the 18 months, but other financial needs always seem to come up, and we were committed to making this trip a priority for our family. Plus, ticket prices go up every once in a while. We bought tickets with no expiration, so we locked in lower prices. If you buy online, buyer beware as there are many scams out there.
Only Buy What You Need
Think carefully about how many days you actually need at Disney World. We ended only doing three days, split between two of the parks. We were saving a bit of money by buying fewer days, and we figured any more than that would be too much of a good thing for our crew. In the end we felt we were completely right in that decision. In a few years we’d like to go back when our kids are older and do more days hitting all the parks. But with such young kids, we knew what we could (and could not) handle. That being said, it actually isn’t that huge of an expense to add on additional days after you pay for the first couple, so consider carefully just how much time you’ll really want. The same goes for park hopper passes – they are considerably more expensive, and you can easily spend at least one whole day in each park, so it really isn’t necessary to “hop” between the parks in a single day.
Stay Off Grounds
Now, this is a touchy subject. Die-hard Disney fans were not happy to hear that we were not staying in an official Disney resort. But you know what? We got a beautiful, fully-appointed four-bedroom, four-bathroom townhouse with a kitchen and an amazing resort-quality community pool. Guess how much it cost. Go head, guess. $601 for five nights! That included taxes, by the way. ONE night at a mid-level Disney resort would have run us that much for a group our size. We stayed 20 minutes away and it was an easy drive. We have absolutely no regrets about staying off grounds. Look on sights like VRBO.com and VacationHomeRentals.com for some great deals (just do your homework and make sure everything is legit).
Drive Instead of Fly
So this is probably the hardest sell of the lot. But seriously, it cost us about $400 round trip to drive from the Chicago area to Orlando. That would have been the cost of ONE airline ticket to fly there. To save on time and money we drove through the night (no additional hotel stays), and truly the driving wasn’t an awful experience – we actually had quite a bit of fun along the way. Especially when you compare it to trying to get five kids through an airport and then listening to them whine and cry about ear pressure for the entire flight. Not to mention dealing with all the luggage, rental car, car seats for the rental car, etc, etc, etc.
Skip the Meals
Obviously you have to feed your children. And it’s Disney – the vacation of a lifetime – so you want to enjoy yourselves a little. But so many people make a huge deal about the meals at Disney World. From what I hear, most of the food is grossly overpriced, and only adequately tasty. We didn’t make any reservations prior to leaving for our trip. (Did you hear that audible gasp? It was from all the die-hard Disney fans around the world.)
We ended up eating cereal for breakfast in our townhouse and bringing plenty of snacks to the parks with us. Disney has lots of quick-service meal places where I had planned for us to eat at least one meal out each day for less hassle and cost than the sit-down restaurants, but we only ended up eating at a quick-service counter once. That’s because the snacks generally held us over, and by the time lunch rolled around we were ready to take a break and go swimming, so we’d head back to our townhouse and make PB&J. Our trip was JAM PACKED with fun. We didn’t want to spend time sitting down to eat a leisurely meal when we could be enjoying rides.
If You DO Make Meal Reservations – Get the Most Out of It!
We did end up making one last-minute reservation after we arrived in Florida and it was for a character meal on my son’s birthday. Dean happened to be turning four while we were there, but we hadn’t planned this as a birthday trip and didn’t want all the kids expecting Disney for every birthday, so we intentionally made his birthday our day off from the parks.
However, it’s our family tradition to take the family out for a special meal on each of their birthdays. The day before his birthday I happened to see a cancellation for a character meal at one of the hotels. Some of the character meals/reservations take place in the actual parks and you need to be in the park to attend. However, we happened upon an available reservation for a restaurant in one of the Disney HOTELS! That means we didn’t have to be in the actual parks.
The meal was EXPENSIVE! Some friends had gifted us Disney gift cards prior to the trip, so we put them all towards that one meal to help offset the cost. But, we didn’t use up valuable Disney park time eating a sit-down meal (like we would have had we done the meal on one of the days when we paid to be in the parks). The parking was even free (just show the parking guard your meal reservations on your phone). We had a great time, the kids enjoyed the all-you-can-gorge-yourselves-on breakfast buffet, and our little guy was treated to the most special Birthday memories surrounded by all his favorite Disney characters. We managed to get a huge dose of Disney (we were there a few hours) even on our non-Disney day.
The Final Price Breakdown
Here’s what we spent all-in:
- Off-grounds townhouse: $601 (including taxes)
- Gas for driving: $400
- 3-day park tickets (2 adult, 4 children, 1 free infant): $1671.96 (free shipping)
- Parking: $51 ($17/day x three days)
- Character brunch: $270 (we applied $220 in gift cards towards this expense)
- Money spent in the parks on foods, snacks, drinks: $250
- Groceries for meals in our townhouse (we spent so much time at Disney World that we did fairly cheap and easy meals – think frozen pizza and cold cereal): $100
- Meals and snacks while driving: $200
Grand Total: $3543.96
That comes out to $590.66 per person if you don’t count the toddler.
Or $295.33 per month if saved over the course of a year.
But Wait, There’s More …
Not only did we manage to figure out how to afford Disney World with a large family, we also ENJOYED it! To get my next post “How to Enjoy Disney World with a Large Family” delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here:
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