In case you forgot (or in case you haven’t seen me in person and heard me obsessing over it …), I’m currently planning my family’s first visit to Disney World! Woohoo! I’m sharing my planning experiences to hopefully help other first-time planners/parents. My first post was all about research, but today, I’d like to talk about the next big hurdle you’ll encounter when planning a trip: the budget!
How much does it cost?
Disney makes it seem easy to price a vacation. You simply visit their website, enter in some dates, choose a resort, add tickets, select a dining plan and … voila! You have your final price, right? WRONG. There are soooo many factors that go into that equation, and you can dramatically change your bottom line by shifting some key decisions and exploring all your options.
The TouringPlans Blog has a detailed post explaining the various methods you can use to price your vacation – it’s a lot of detail, but it’s worth reading if you’re trying to get the most bang for your buck!
Personally, I think it boils down to a few factors:
Dates – Like a lot of vacation destinations, Disney World adwdjusts its pricing based on expected crowd levels – the bigger the crowds, the higher the prices. If you have the flexibility to visit at an off-peak time, you can save a lot of money.
This is why the first step in WDW Prepschool’s six-step process is picking dates. You can use her crowd calendar or a myriad of others around the Internet that have the same basic information. Esentially, any time schools are out, you can count on Disney World being crowded. That’s why we decided to take our daughter out of school for our first trip – go ahead and judge me, but I think the savings in our budget (and sanity) will be well worth it. Plus, she’s only going to be in preschool; as she gets older, I don’t think that decision will be as easy.
Transportation/lodging – In my opinion, these go hand-in-hand ... From the get-go, I knew we would be flying to Orlando. (I still have flashbacks to our loooong family road trip when I was 8 … plus, I drive enough on my commute to work.) So I immediately knew I needed to factor airfare into our budget. And then Disney sorta
trapped me attracted me to stay at one of their on-site resorts because they offer Magical Express buses to/from the airport as well as free transportation (bus/boat/monorail) all around property. This means we don't have to figure out navigation/parking on our own ... DONE!
Despite my preferences, I fully realize a lot of people choose to DRIVE to Orlando instead. This makes staying at an off-site resort more appealing because you already have a car and don't need to rely on any transportation. This is a HUGE money saver if you're looking to do Disney on the more frugal side. Do you think Disney is going to show you off-site resort/hotel prices on their website? Nope! This adds some complication to your research, but it can really cut your budget and take that Disney-generated price waaaay down.
How can I save for it?
My first piece of advice to anyone planning a Disney trip: It's never too early to start. Why? Well first of all, there's soooo much to learn, and you'll appreciate having the extra time to research all your options and make decisions based on what's best for your family. And second, you'll have more time to SAVE!
Last year, before we booked ANYTHING, we opened a separate savings account just for our Disney fund, and our giant jar of change (every family has one, right?) was our first deposit. It wasn't much, but it was a start. Over the next six months or so, we were able to add a few larger deposits.
After we’d made some more concrete decisions on lodging, tickets and food, I calculated how much we still needed to save. I took that amount and divided it by the number of weeks until our trip – then I had a weekly “payment” that was much easier to manage. With the magic of automatic banking transfers, our Disney trip was suddenly funding itself!
Another thing we did? We opened a Disney Visa Rewards credit card … I realize not everyone is a fan of credit cards, but we decided to try the whole “charge everything, pay it off and keep the rewards” method … For us, it works! I am completely OCD about checking our account balance daily to be sure we’re not overspending, and I always pay the bill in full on the day we get the statement. I don’t wanna disclose how much we’ve received so far, but let’s just say we’re on track to fund our entire dining budget with rewards. BOOM!
If you’re interested in more strategies for saving, check out these other websites I found helpful:
- Mouse Savers – Ways to Save for Your Disney Vacation
- Your First Visit – Families Going to Disney World on a Tight Budget
- ITA Matrix Airfare Search – Search your flight options and monitor ticket prices (can’t purchase tickets here – you’ll book directly through the airline)
- Disney Dining Calculator – Help calculate your dining costs based on the restaurants you want and compare dining plan costs to out-of-pocket costs
If you’re starting to price your Disney vacation, I hope you found this helpful. Next up? How I
got lucky got a hell of a deal on our resort ...