How We Made Our Wish Come True: Disney World on a Budget

This year, with a lot of planning and a bit of flexibility, we were able to take a wonderful trip to Orlando and visit both Disney World and Universal Studios. The best part was that we stayed within a careful budget, and paid many thousands of dollars less than you might expect. Here are our tips for making this trip affordable:

1. Use Credit Card Bonuses to Cover the Costs of Flying

A lot of people are nervous about using credit cards and trying to earn rewards points, but if you have decent credit and are even a little organized, using points can save you large sums of money and allow you to have wonderful experiences that you may not necessarily be able to afford otherwise, especially if you have a large family. If you’re a beginner, check out our guide for how to travel with rewards points.

We planned our 2022 credit card strategy for our 2023 vacations. We used Southwest Rapid Rewards cards to cover the entire cost of flying for 8 people, from Baltimore to Orlando (with many points to spare). But there are many other options to choose from. See a few of our favorites here.

2. Stay Outside of the Park

There are some great perks to staying inside the boundaries of Disney World, but if you’re on a budget, you may be able to save a significant amount by staying outside the park and renting a car (again, using points if you have them!). Even factoring in parking and a rental car, this was the best option for us. Since we were planning on doing both Disney and Universal, we found a resort within easy driving distance of both. We found a very fun resort with waterslides (a huge hit), mini golf and more, for less than even the most affordable Disney resort. We made sure it had a full kitchen, which leads us to our next tip…

3. Pack Soft Coolers and Buy Groceries

We ate many of our meals in our resort, and packed soft coolers to bring food with us into the park, which is allowed. Use frozen water bottles to keep your food cold, and pack plenty of snacks, so you don’t need to stop for a meal three times a day. We still had a few meals in the parks, for the experience, but our small kids are constantly hungry, so being able to access our own food on demand saved lots of time and money.

4. Use Points for your Hotel

As a last note on our resort stay, we were able to cover this completely using our Bank of America’s travel rewards card, which was offering a larger-than-normal bonus at the time. This one was new to us, but it is nice because it is super flexible. The points act as a statement credit for any travel expense. We each got the card and used it enough on our regular, every day expenses to earn our bonus – $500 toward travel expenses for each of us. Keep an eye out for these promotional bonuses as they do occur at different times throughout the year.

5. Go During Non-Peak Time

This one saves not only money, but frustration. Peak time can be so very crowded, and if you are able to go at a time when Disney is less crowded, it will be a more pleasant experience. We went in the spring and the weather was great, but we made sure it was after the rush of spring break, and prior to the rush of kids getting out of school. Yes, we let our kids miss a few days of school and had to do a bit of planning and extra work prior to leaving to make sure everyone stayed caught up with their school work!

6. Save on Tickets with a Disney Rewards Card

Finally, the big expense of Disney tickets. At no less than $109 per person per day, Disney really adds up when you have a large family! So this year, we got the Disney® Premier Visa® Card to offset the price of tickets. This earned us a bonus of $300 each to be used at Disney, which will cover a couple days worth of tickets. The annual fee is less than $50, netting us $250 each for a total of $500 toward our Disney World tickets for our family. The cards also earn “Disney dollars,” which can be used at the park for food, souvenirs, and other expenses, as well as at Disney stores everywhere.

7. Research What to Do, and What to Skip

The last way to save money, and maximize your time, is to do your best to figure out what is most important to you, and what you can do without. I started out with the desire and expectation to see every park, but after some careful reading, scrolling and talking with my family, we paired down to two Disney Parks and two Universal Parks (and frankly, even this was enough to exhaust us!) We still didn’t get to see every single thing we wanted to – there is just so much to see! But we sure did see and experience a lot, and had an amazing (and affordable) vacation.

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