How to save money at Disney world
Orlando, Florida is a great place. We really loved visiting there for our first ever family vacation. The flight was short, the weather was amazing and the fun was non-stop. I am counting down the days until we get to go there again.
When we first decided to go to Florida, we came up with a budget of $1,500 for the entire trip (our accommodations were free thanks to my mother in law’s timeshare). Unfortunately, we waited a bit too long to book our flights and when we finally did so, the cheapest thing we could get was just under $1,500 for the both of us (Elliott was free since he would be sitting on our laps).
Luckily, Richard got a big bonus at work that week so we decided to use $1,000 of his bonus to pay for the rest of our Florida trip. Having only $1,000 for one week for the 3 of us was certainly tough, but we did it!
Thanks to a lovely reader who sent me many, many fantastic tips, we were able to enjoy our vacation and stay on budget! Here are the things that we did:
Places to eat:
Earl of sandwich: I can not recommend this place enough. It is absolutely fantastic! It’s located in Downtown Disney and they sell lots of different things at rock bottom prices. We bought sandwiches both of the times we went there and they were only about $6 apiece. The food there is delicious, too.
Sweet Tomatoes: This is another restaurant that I really just can’t recommend enough. When you walk in the doors of Sweet Tomatoes, you will find a huge row of ingredients to make a salad. You load up your plate with all of that healthy goodness, and then when you reach the end of the row, you will come to the cashier to pay. I believe it was about $30 for 2 people, including a drink.
After you pay, you can sit down to eat your salad, or head over to the other food stations to get more food. They had different soups, pasta, and bread. There were also lots of desserts. Eat whatever you won’t – go up for seconds, thirds, whatever. The price is what you paid after you got your salad. And honestly, the food is so fresh and tasty.
Ghiradelli’s: Also located in Downtown Disney, the Ghiradelli’s store hands out free samples of their chocolate every time you enter the store. I can’t even tell you how many times we went into this store on our trip just to get the free chocolate (don’t worry, we did spend money in there too!). So yummy and who can beat FREE?
Giordano’s: Just saying their name out loud makes my mouth water. Their deep dish pizza is phenomenal. We bought the small size for around $20 and only ate half of it. So the price may not seem that great, but when you factor in just how many people that massive pizza can feed, the price it great.
Places to play:
Downtown Disney: This may be my favorite place to go in Florida (other than the Disney parks, of course). It’s free, there is no charge for parking and there are lots to see and do. We visited many different shops, just to browse and occasionally buy something interesting.
They have lots of things to look at too, though – not just stores. Lovely views of the water, neat looking buildings and let’s not forget all of the people watching (that was honestly one of my favorite parts of our Florida trip!). Downtown Disney has quite a few restaurants to eat at when you get hungry, as well.
The Lego store: Ahhh, The Lego Store. My husband’s favorite place. I think it was Elliott’s favorite place too. Downtown Disney is where you can find this store and it is so much fun. Right before you go inside, there are many tables and bins full of lego that you can play with.
Elliott sat and played for a good 20 minutes before we went into the store. Inside there is a huge wall full of different lego pieces and it is so cool to look at. The store also has many different lego displays that are huge. I think my favorite one was the dinosaur right outside the building.
Beaches: You will probably have to pay for parking, but other than that, going to the beach is FREE and tons of fun! We went to Clearwater beach, but Cocoa Beach is nice as well. The sand is so soft and it’s just so much fun to splash around in the water.
If we didn’t have Elliott with us, we would have laid out in the sun for a bit too. Bring some food and have a picnic lunch on the beach. Frugal and fun!
Where to shop
Walmart supercenter: Many resorts and hotels have a grocery store right near them so that you can stop by to pick some things up, but they will most likely be expensive. If you drive a few extra minutes you can probably find a Walmart Supercenter and get all of your groceries for a heck of a lot cheaper than the expensive store near all of the tourist spots.
Target supercenter: I may have liked this place even better than Walmart. Their staff was extremely inexpensive, their store was clean and their employees were very nice. If you haven’t been to a Target Supercenter before, try to get to one. You will love it. It’s much better than regular Target (although I love regular Target as well!).
Things to do at Magic Kingdom
The Magic Kingdom was our favorite park. I think it was actually my favorite part of the entire trip.
Toon Town: This cute little “town” is full of the homes of Mickey and Minnie Mouse. You can explore the homes, take pictures and have lots of fun. There are lots of picture opportunities in Toon Town, so if you’re a bit nuts with the camera like me, head on over.
Play/park areas: There were quite a few small park areas for kids to hang out. They are a lot like regular parks, with slides and jungle gyms – just no swings. This would be a good place to let the kids play, while you sit down and take a breather.
Parades: There are 2 parades at the Magic Kingdom, one in the afternoon (3 pm) and one in the evening (8 pm, I believe). We only saw the afternoon parade and it was awesome. The characters looked a lot like the ones in the movies and everyone was so smiley and happy and excited to be a part of the parade.
I took well over 200 photos at the parade alone, so this is another thing you must see if you like to take pictures. Be prepared to find your spot on the side of the “road” before 3pm though, as the crowds fill in pretty quick. We went looking for spots at 2:45 and the street was already packed.
Other ways to save money on your Disney vacation
– Buy groceries and make meals yourself. At least breakfast and the occasional dinner.
– Pick up a copy of “I Love Orlando” magazine from your hotel front desk. It has a ton of great coupons that can be used toward dining out and attractions.
– Pack spices if you plan to cook, so you don’t have to buy them at the store.
– Bring your own food and drinks to the parks. You’re allowed.
– At Magic Kingdom – buy a cinnamon bun from Main Street Bakery. They’re delicious and one of them can easily feed 2 people. They also only cost about $5.
– Visit “Celebration”. It’s a cute little town. We loved walking around and admiring all of the nice buildings. Don’t forget to stop in the Market Street Cafe for something inexpensive and yummy to eat.
– Take advantage of the pool at your resort/hotel.
– Take advantage of any free meals your resort/hotel has to offer.
Florida is a great place for a family vacation. With a little bit of effort, you can enjoy yourself and not spend a lot of money!
Now you’re talking my language! Disney and Cheap! Most folks think it is an extravagant vacation…but I don’t know of too many places, apart from camping, that you can take a family of 4 (adults) for 11 nights for less than $5000, including everything–flights, airport parking, gas, car rental, rooms on site, all food, entrance tickets and souvenirs. We rarely go offsite for anything except our initial grocerty stop. Huge entertainment value for your dollar at Disney.
OUCH on the flights! I assume those were out of Toronto? Do keep your eye on Buffalo (closer to you I believe) and Detroit. Easily under $300 per person anytime out of Detroit and most often under $200. Well worth the drive, in my opinion.
i know! i thought it would be very expensive as well, but was pleasantly surprised. 🙂
yes we flew out of toronto, the airport is like 10 mins. from us. buffalo would be 2 hours and there was no way we were doing that with a toddler.
Understood, especially if he isn’t used to longish car rides….but what if you came across flights for $60 for both of you…yes I have seen them out of Detroit! So tempting…
i have flown from there before so i know the flights are very cheap. i’m sure in some instances it would be worth it, but we dont fly very often anyway, so we’ll see what happens the next time we decide to. 🙂