Saturday, January 25, 2014

How I did it

Welcome to my blog! If you are an avid Disney vacationer this blog is probably not for you. If you are someone wanting a full blown Disney World Experience with all the bells and whistles with visits to every park, this blog is not for you. (There are many other blogs out there you can use to help you plan your trip which I have listed for you.) But if you are living on a SMALL budget but would like to plan a nice Disney vacation for a week that will give your kids (or maybe just you!:) )a Disney World experience then you may find this helpful.

Two years ago I decided to would like to try to take my kids to Disney World while they were still little. I knew Disney would be an expensive trip but I have some fun memories of going with my family when I was younger, I love Disney movies, and I wanted my kids to experience it at least once.

There was just one problem; my husband and I live on a small income.

I began to look online. First I looked at the packages on the Disney website. I was disappointed as I realized we could never afford to spend the thousands of dollars it took to plan a Disney vacation. Even if we ever had that much money (from a tax refund or an unexpected bonus) we live so tightly that it would never be responsible for us to spend it on that.

As I began to do a little research I started finding blogs like and that gave a lot of advice on how to plan a trip on a budget. I read through all the material on the sites and got some great ideas. I loved how Couponing to Disney encouraged people to save little by little out of their budget to go debt free. Mousesavers had all the latest discounts and all kinds of trip planning information.

While I had some great ideas for making a trip cheaper I eventually gave up hope of taking my family of 4 because I still realized that for us, it would never really be an option for us to do a full blown Disney vacation. And even if we saved $2,000.00-$5,000.00 it would be hard for me to spend it on a vacation. I would never be able to enjoy it.

So for a year I dropped the whole thing. Then one day I decided to kind of look at it again. I wondered, “Would it be possible to do a kind of bare bones Disney trip that was still full of fun that didn't break the bank?”

So I jumped in with both feet and spent hours researching when I had a little time here and there and I figured out that I could. I planned a trip to Disney World for a family of 4 for about $500.00 out of pocket and this is how.


1. Hotels and tickets are the most expensive things at Disney World. I knew if we were ever able to go to Disney I could not afford to spend a lot on hotel rooms. We don’t have a lot of money but we have good credit so I decided to use it. I signed up for Chase Marriott rewards card. I payed several bills and payed them RIGHT off. When I did that I received 50,000 rewards points plus a voucher for a free night. I then found a Marriott that was close to the Disney Property, had a free breakfast, a bus to the parks, and good reviews. I looked through so many Marriott hotels until I finally found the right one. (If you don’t have good credit you can usually find off-site hotels that are very inexpensive. For example, $40.00-$60.00 a night if you do your research.)

I used the Marriott points and voucher for 4 nights. One night for on the way to Florida and 3 while we were there.

But I also wanted to experience one night in a Disney Hotel. So I went on Expedia and signed up for their rewards card and got a $75.00 statement credit and used it towards one night in Disney's Pop Century Resort which is just bridge walk from Disney’s Art of Animation Hotel. This (AOA) is the newest Disney Value Hotel that has Cars, The Little Mermaid, Finding Nemo, and The Lion King in it’s themes. Pop Century has iconic themes from Pop Culture from the 50s to the 90s.

After using the credit this left me with about $40.00 left to pay towards the one night in Pop Century. (Our first night at Disney World.) Disney will let you access amenities for the whole day you check in and check out. This would be a huge part of making our trip more full, giving us access to the Disney pools, playgrounds, transportation, atmosphere, restaurants, and grounds for 2 whole days while we are there before we use our park tickets. This is another way I saved a lot of money. (But I will talk more about this further down.)

(The Disney World Dolphin hotel and the Disney World Swan Hotel also can be booked using points through a Starwood Credit Card. You can sign up for this card and earn points to book these hotels that are on the Disney grounds.)

Hotels: $40.00 - 5 nights


2. The tickets to Disney are so expensive. They have gone up even since I bought our tickets. There are very few ways to save here but this is how I saved some. I signed up for one more credit card. (This is the last one.) It was a Chase Freedom Card. It gave me $100.00 when I spent 500.00 in the first 3 months. So I paid bills and then paid them off. It also gave my rewards dollars for every dollar I spent and 5% cash back for certain items. So with that I acquired about $125.00 that I used for my tickets. And here is the kicker of why my trip is cheaper: I only bought 1 day tickets. Not 3, 4, or 5 day tickets like is recommended for all the parks. (I will explain further down what we are doing on the other days.) Remember this is a bare bones trip but with planning can be super fun and relaxing. Anyway my tickets were the most expensive thing. They were about $385.00. But I applied $125.00 to them and they were $260.00. If you have one child that is under 3 years old they don’t need a ticket and that will save you almost $100.00. Children under 3 can also can eat at Buffet restaurants off an adult plate free. (This includes Character Meals.)


3. Breakfast for 4 of our days is free. (Another plus to using the Marriott on those days. Disney hotels as far as I know don’t have free breakfast.) I plan on eating there and picking up some fruit for our lunches. Lunches will be packed from the fruit, trail mix, and sandwiches I bring. Dinner will be eaten out at Quick Service Restaurants.

(All except our last day there where we have a reservation at the Animal Kingdom Lodge to eat at Saana. This restaurant is amazing and you can watch the animals roam while you eat through huge windows.)

Our kids are little and can split a quick service kids meal. I have already looked at the menus of all the places we plan to eat and have found the best quick service restaurants. For 2 adult meals and one kid’s meal it will be about $30.00. (We only drink water at home so that is what we will drink for meals here too.)

The quick service meals plus one sit down meal is about $210.00 for food. But I already spend $115.00 a week in groceries so when I take that into account it is $95.00. When you add the few groceries I am bringing from home it is about $115.00 for food.


4. 150.00 for gas - (Yes we are driving which saves a ton.) I have used and aquired $50.00 in gas cards. Swagbucks is an awesome way to earn gift cards. So for gas it is $100.00

So the base of our trip is $515.00

The Plan

5.  Other than trying to use card points the biggest revelation to me about Disney World is that there is a lot to do outside of the theme parks. If I am going to drive to Florida it is not worth it to go for just one night and leave.

Though reading through Disney blogs I realized that you can visit all the different Disney resorts, eat, and sight see for free. Since we are staying at a Disney resort on the first night we don’t even have a time limit for those first two days of the trip. (Sometimes there is a 3 hour limit when you park at a resort without staying there.) We can just hop on the Disney transportation or we can drive and see all of these amazing resorts. So this is the schedule I made for our trip.

Day 1 - Leave North Carolina Monday afternoon and stay in Jacksonville that night. (The Jacksonville Marriott used less points than the one in Orlando and I don’t have to rush an 8 hour drive worrying I will miss out on time at the Disney Hotel. )

Day 2 - Eat free breakfast and head to Orlando and arrive around noon. Go ahead and check in (even though our room will probably not be ready yet) and get our access to the hotel pools and facilities. Spend the day exploring these two awesome resorts:

(For example at Art of Animation, go to Radiator Springs and take pictures with all the Cars, looking through all the Lion King suite, the Nemo section, exploring the lobby and gift shops and arcade which is really cool. Also, go see the big statues from the Jungle Book and lady in the tramp and swim in the great pools at Pop Century.)

Dinner - Eat at the hotel quick service restaurant - Landscape of Flavors  or Everything Pop.

Then that night drive over to the Wilderness Resort for the Chip N’ Dale campfire sing along.

This is one Character experience that is free. All the Disney blogs suggest reserving Character meals so your kids can meet the Characters without waiting in line at the park but these are so expensive. I looked and looked to try and find a moderately priced one but even the breakfast meals (which are cheaper) are way out of our budget. But then I read about this sing along on one of the blogs and it looked like so much fun and a way to see this resort which has a totally different atmosphere from the rest of Disney.

After that come back and sleep. Another option would to be to watch the free Disney movies they show each night outside our  hotel instead of the campfire.

Day 3 - Wake up and take an early morning swim before checking out at 11. Since we can have our parking pass for the rest of the day we can leave our car at Pop Century and hop on the Disney bus and take the bus to the monorail. Then we will ride the monorail and see all of the awesome resorts connected to it. There is a monorail line that goes through the Contemporary Resort (goes right through it), the Grand Floridian, and the Polynesian Resort. These all have great things to explore and the Polynesian Resort has a beach that you can hang out on (and if you stay late enough you can watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the beach and even hear the music through a speaker they provide.) We plan on eating at Captian Cook's for dinner that night and relaxing with the kids on the beach.

Afterwards we need to head back, get our car, and check into the Marriott where we will be spending the rest of the trip. We need a good nights sleep because the Magic Kingdom is the next day!

Day 4 - Wake up early and either take the hotel bus or drive to the Magic Kingdom. If we are going to be there only one day then we are going to go the WHOLE day. I have read you have to get there when the rope drops in the morning to be able to ride several rides with shorter lines.

From everything I read I learned you cannot go to the Magic Kingdom without a plan. If you do it will be miserable for everyone. You need to plan your fastpass plus rides 60 days (or 30 if you are offsite) before you go. You need to plan on where you want to go, where you want to eat, download the Disney App to check ride times, where you want to eat, and how long you want to stay. And you need to get there when the rope drops in the morning to be able to ride as many rides as you can before the lines get long.

Then after that you need to be really flexible and patient. Especially if you have young children. If it is hot you need to come prepared with water bottles, cold wash clothes, fans, etc. You can bring food in so I am bringing lunch with us. You need to bring ponchos for rain, etc. (There are many blogs and sites that go into all of this extensively.) I have 3 restaurant possibilities already planned out for the best price. I plan to start early, get through our fastpass choices, then spend the rest of the day going to as many of our rides as we can but taking it slower and relaxing. We are hoping to take it slower in the afternoon so our kids can make it to the evening parade and the fireworks. We plan on watching the fireworks in front of the Castle so we can leave as soon as they are over with our younger kids. If they were older we could stay till close and take advantage of shorter lines. But with our kids we will be thankful if we can make it that long. They are at the ages now where they don’t have to have a nap so I am hoping it will be a go.

So we will go back to the hotel and sleep in as long as we can the next day.

Day 4 - Sleep in. Grap some breakfast and maybe go for a swim or play video games in the game room. (In general recover from the day before.) Then head to Downtown Disney and take in all the free sites. My son is especially excited about the Lego Store and all the sculptures made of Legos. But there are a lot of awesome stores and restaurants there. It is a great place to site see and take pictures. That afternoon we have a late lunch (because lunch is cheaper than dinner) at Sanaa

This will be our most expensive meal but it will be a great way to see this awesome resort! The animals will be roaming around, the meal will be awesome, they have a playground and campfires and stories at night. I am excited about seeing the inside of this resort as well. I plan on staying here as long as the family wants and then heading back to our hotel and relaxing the rest of the night.

Day 5 - Getting breakfast and making the long trip back to North Carolina.

Some Extras

Here are a few things I bought before the trip that are not needed but make the trip more special and will save you money if you don’t buy them in the park.

1. Disney Dollar Store Prizes (for the kids instead of souvenirs at the park.)
2. Glow bracelets at the dollar tree (for the light up parade instead of their expensive light up wands.)
3. Disney pins on ebay for the kids to trade. (google it.)
4. Dollar Ponchos in case it rains
5. Mickey t-shirts when I found them on sale throughout the year for each person. (about $8.00 a piece.)
6. An autograph book when it was onsale on the website. ($8.00)
7. A used stroller cover for the rain off ebay. (It rains a lot in Orlando and didn’t want our one day to be ruined if our stroller and all our stuff got soaked.)

I got a free disney map from the Disney World website to kind of get the layout down of where everything was. I showed my kids youtube videos of the rides to get them excited and see which ones they really liked. We watched lot of Disney movies to get them excited about going.

Well there you have it. I hope this blog has been helpful to someone and that maybe my hours of research and planning can help someone else be able to go to Disney World who otherwise would not be able to go.

Feel free to click through some of my other posts for more tips and advice.


  1. Wow, you seem to have spent so much time researching and planning - it seems almost impossible to go for 500 dollars with four people, but you seem to have done such a great job! Your kids are really lucky you gave the this experience. I´d like to recommend a source that I found tremendously helpful: - I´m a working mum and for me it was a good thing to find all the information I need for our first trip to DW this summer (coming all the way over from Germany!) in just one place. It´s really good! Also it´s getting updated regularly (prices and options for DW seem to change all the time...) Anyway, I enjoyed reading your blog, it makes me look forward to our trip!

  2. Erin, thanks for stopping by all the way from Germany! I am glad my post could get you excited for your trip. I am pretty excited too. Thanks for the advice as well. I will check that site out.

  3. Cool Tara, I too have been wanting to go but feared spending the money like you mentioned. I am going to try some of your stuff out....while I know we will be buying tickets for a few more kids then you....the price is still solo much better!

  4. Hey Kelly! That would be cool! Yes you would have more tickets, and you would have to figure out your hotel situation. You can have 4 people in a hotel room and then one in a pack and play if they are under 3. So you would either have to get 2 rooms, look into a suite, or possibly renting DVC points. (People who have a time share at Disney rent out their points and apparently this can save you a lot of money. I didn't really look into it but I read about it a lot on the Disney blogs.) I I hope you guys are doing well. Miss you.