/ Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

            For more than a year, I have made it my goal to shed light on the many opportunities that await the Walt Disney World® skeptic.  In each “More to the World” post, I have featured a reason people frequently give for questioning whether or not WDW is for them.  To date, I have yet to address, what is arguably, the number one reason given by skeptics for not taking a vacation to WDW:  It costs too much.  I have found that individuals who hold to that belief typically fall into one of two camps:  My/our limited vacation budget will not allow for the high costs of a WDW trip; or what WDW offers to its park patrons and resort guests is simply not worth what is being charged.  With those issues in mind, I will endeavor to provide ample information to persuade budget-conscious WDW skeptics that they, too, can enjoy Walt’s wonderful World.


 Included with Admission

            When skeptics learn that a 1-day ticket to the Magic Kingdom® Park is $95 and a 1-day ticket to Epcot®, Disney’s AnimalMagic Your Way Kingdom Park® or Disney’s Hollywood Studios® rings up at $90 per park, they are often quick to mark WDW off their list of vacation destinations.  Sadly, they assume that the cost will be $90 or $95 for each day they visit, and quickly conclude that they would rather go somewhere they can afford to visit for more than one day.  day tickets will pay $69.75 per person per day; hence, enabling them to meet their budgetary needs while experiencing all the fun that Disney has to offer.  All guests can select from a variety of ticket choices, which include the No Options pass (Base Ticket), the Park Hopper Option, the Water Park Fun & More Option, or the Park Hopper and Water Park Fun & More Option.  The most affordable one is the Base Ticket.  Therefore, guests hoping to enjoy WDW on a strict budget would be wise to forego the additional costs associated with the more expensive tickets like the Park Hopper, Water Parks Fun & More Options, or the combination of the two.  

              For budget-minded individuals who have never been to WDW, the ticket price for their length of stay may still seem high.  How many times have WDW fans heard a skeptic say, “I just don’t think it is worth the money.”   The best response to such a statement is to share exactly what they will be receiving for their money and how it compares to other entertainment based vacation options.  To begin with, no other vacation destination in the world offers guests four distinct theme parks.  Guests who select a multi-day ticket at WDW have the opportunity to experience any or all four of the aforementioned parks, which collectively include over 200 unique rides, shows, interactive play areas, exhibits, galleries, demonstrations, performers and Character Meet & Greets for guests of all ages.  How does the cost of visiting WDW compare to other activities across the country?  Here are some examples: 

    • Universal Studios® Orlando Single-Day Adult Admission Ticket – $92.00
    • SeaWorld® Orlando Single-Day Adult Admission Ticket – $82.00
    • New England Patriots Upper Level Single Game Admission – $75.00
    • Aladdin The Musical at New Amsterdam Theater in New York Third Level – $66.50

While Universal Studios® Orlando and SeaWorld® Orlando come in with a slightly lower cost; each are somewhat limited in their scope of offerings for the entire family when compared to WDW.  When a per-hour cost is taken into consideration, the professional sporting event and the Broadway show come in substantially higher.   (Approximate per hour cost:  NFL game – $18.75/hr, Broadway show – $21.17/hr, WDW – $7.92/hr) 

            Not only does Disney come in with comparable cost on admission, they also offer discounts on admission tickets.  Right now, guests who book a 4-day minimum Magic Your Way room and ticket package for this Spring will receive an additional ticket-day per person for free.   Disney also offers discounted tickets to U.S. military personnel and their families throughout the year.  Now through September 24, 2014, military members can purchase a 4-Day Park Hopper Ticket for use now through September 27, 2014 for only $169, which is 50% off!  Be sure to check out these as well as other discount offers throughout the year by searching the home page of disneyworld.disney.go.com and clicking on “Explore Our Special Offers“. 


Where to Stay

            It is a common misconception that it is more cost-effective to stay off-property when visiting WDW.  The amenities available at WDW Resorts not only make vacation more enjoyable, they make it more affordable.  While some WDW Resorts are considerably higher priced than those found off-property, due to their extensive amenities and theme, there are several that are similarly priced to the hotels found in Kissimmee, Celebration or Orlando.  Depending on the season, select WDW Value Resorts can start as low as $85 per night.  Disney also offers several resort discounts throughout the year; so, as previously noted, be sure to visit the “Explore Our Special Offers” section of disneyworld.com.  For example, WDW is currently offering up to 30% savings on rooms at select WDW resorts this Spring.  (Note: For this offer, rooms must be booked now through March 31, 2014.). 

            Even if the cost of a WDW resort still seems a little high, on-property resorts come with several cost-saving perks.  All guests staying on property are offered free transportation and baggage pick-up/drop-off both to and from the Orlando International Airport via Disney’s Magical Express (shuttle bus).  Currently, a taximagical express ride from the airport to a hotel in Celebration or Kissimmee is approximately $60; so, guests staying on-property will save around $120 for a round trip.  While some off-property hotels offer shuttle service to-and-from the parks, they typically make very few trips daily, which almost certainly will result in some loss of ticket value for those going back-and-forth between their hotel and the parks.  Travelers who did not drive to the vacation destination—and are staying off-property in a hotel not offering shuttle service—will likely have to rent transportation  for the duration of their vacation.  WDW Resort guests have complimentary, continuous transportation within the WDW property, which saves on the cost of a rental car and parking fees, not to mention shortened travel time, translating into more park time. The average cost of a rental car in Orlando is $42 per day and the single-day parking fee at WDW is $15, which totals approximately $285 for a five-day vacation.  Undoubtedly, the complimentary resort transportation made available to WDW on-property guests will provide a significant savings. 

            Furthermore, that same transportation is made available to WDW Resort guests who are taking advantage of park Extra Magic Hours (EMH).  For those unaware, EMH is a special benefit afforded exclusively to guests staying at the WDW Resort hotels, the Shades of Green® Resort, the Hilton Orlando Resort, and the WDW Swan and Dolphin Hotels.  These additional park hours are offered daily at a designated park, and extend resort guest park time there by one hour before opening and/or two to three hours after closing.  As previously noted, the per-hour cost of visiting a WDW park is approximately $7.92 ($95 one-day admission divided by an average of 12 hours of operation).  By staying in an on-property resort, guests receive an additional $7.92-$31.68 worth of value per person for each day of their stay depending on the number of Extra Magic Hours available on a given day. 

            Another cost-saving option for families on a budget is to spend one vacation day at their WDW resort.  For example, if their length of stay is four nights and five days, they will save $12 per person by opting not to purchase tickets for the fifth day and buy 4-day ones instead. All Star Pool Add to that the aforementioned multi-day ticket sayings. For those who choose to do so, they can rest assured that there are more than enough free resort activities to keep their party entertained on their “day off”.   All WDW Resort hotels include one or more swimming pools, several of which are virtual mini water parks.  Several of the resorts also include recreational opportunities such as volleyball courts, basketball courts, running trails, playgrounds, etc.  Cast Members daily host a number of kid-focused activities at the pool(s) as well as around each resort property.  What’s more, every resort on property offers its guests the opportunity to watch a different Disney movie every night of the week free-of-charge via “Movies Under the Stars”.  Since there’s no charge (or ticket required), why not splurge just a little on some yummy popcorn at the park, return to the resort by means of WDW’s complimentary resort transportation, and enjoy a Disney feature film?


Where to Eat

            While the food at WDW may seem pricy compared to what you eat on a normal day at home, it is comparable to other theme parks and vacation destinations across the country.  For example, a chicken fingers basket at Cedar Point® in Sandusky, OH, is $10.20.  A roast beef sandwich with potato salad and fresh fruit at Universal Orlando® Resort is $8.99.  While at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe in the Magic Kingdom® Park (MK), the 1/2 Rotisserie Chicken with Mashed Potatoes and a Vegetable is $9.99 and the 8 piece Chicken Breast Nuggets with Choice of Side is $8.69.  Not only are prices similar and sometimes more affordable, WDW is known for both quality and quantity when it comes to dining options.   Each entree served at WDW has been specially designed by one their world-renowned Disney Chefs and they have been designed to fill.  Most main dish and meal options throughout property are large enough to be shared.  For families on a budget it is a good idea to order half as much as what you would normally order at most dining establishments.  Remember, you can always order more, but you can never return uneaten food.  Here are some great counter-service locations at each park that are known for offering large portion, shareable meals:

  • Magic Kingdom® Park – Pecos Bill Tall Tale Cafe, Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe, Columbia Harbour House
  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios® – ABC Commissary
  • Epcot® – Yorkshire County Fish Shop, Katsura Grill, Liberty Inn
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom® – Flame Tree Barbeque

          Another way to save on food cost, if luggage allows, is to pack items like granola bars, Pop- Tarts®, instant oatmeal bowls and other items that will travel well for breakfast.  Even if guests want to enjoy one special breakfast in the park, it is definitely cost effective to B.Y.O.B., “bring your own breakfast” for the other days of your stay.  If there is still room in the luggage, bring along goodies like gummy fruits and/or candy.  Guests are allowed to bring food into all of the theme parks, so it is acceptable to load up a purse or backpack with food for the day.  Even if the suitcases are stuffed, guests can still save money by purchasing snack items in the park instead of eating full meals, three times a day every day.  Another great way to save money is to have one larger meal early in the afternoon; then, eat light throughout the rest of the day.  Choose filling and sharable items such as a Jumbo Turkey Leg, Mickey-Shaped Soft Pretzel, Waffle Sandwich, or Warm Cinnamon Roll.  


Something Extra

            Frugal guests need not rule out the idea of participating in some of WDW‘s extra pay activities.  For those who have booked a Magic Your Way Vacation Package, there are complimentary vouchers included in the Magic Your Way booklet, which is mailed out in advance of the vacation arrival date.  Currently, the vouchers include the following discounts:  two admission tickets per room to Disney Quest® Indoor Interactive Theme Park; two rounds per room of miniature golf at Disney’s Fantasia Gardens or Disney’s Winter Summerland Miniature Golf Courses; one arcade game card per room loaded with 100 game play points to use at any resort arcade; 15% off of select boat rentals at any WDW marina location; 15% off of most spa services 50-minutes or more at an WDW Resort spa; 10% off any of the activities at Sammy Duvall’s Watersports Center at Disney’s Contemporary Resort; and 15% off the hourly rate at a Children’s Activity Center at select WDW Resorts.

            When it comes to souvenirs, penny-wise guests need not fret.   In recent years, Disney has been developing several lines of affordable options for guests on a budget.  These items can be found in multiple locations at each park and resort:

Collectible Pin Trading – Pins available for purchase at WDW range in price from $6.95-16.95; however, authentic Disney® pins can also be purchased for less than $1.00 on eBay®.   Before leaving, guests can collect pins; then, while visiting the parks, children and adults can trade their pins with any Cast Member wearing a pin lanyard.  (Note: In order to trade, pins must bear the official ©Disney on the back.)  Trading is definitely encouraged, and the options are endless each time guests visit.

Antenna Toppers – These car accessories have gained popularity in recent years because of the wide selection of choices including the vintage favorite, the famed Orange Bird of Sunshine Tree Terrace at MK.  Toppers are $4.95 or 2 for $8.00.

Disney Collector Packs – These small mystery packages contain several miniature character figures that are not identified on the labeling; so, just like the fun and suspense of opening a pack of baseball cards, everyone is a surprise.  There are several themed series available such as Star Wars and Disney Parks that sell for $5.00 per pack.

Pressed Pennies – Pressed penny stations can be found in several locations throughout each park and resort on property.  Children love to watch as their penny travels through the intricate mechanical components and comes out with an embossed image of Pirates of the Caribbean®, Brer Rabbit, Cinderella Castle or many other classic attractions, parks, resorts or characters.  At under $1.00, these are possibly the cheapest souvenir on property.

Character Autographs  –  An autograph book to be filled with the signatures and/or messages penned by favorite Disney characters can be purchased in a discount store or homemade in advance of the trip, or in the parks or resorts for $10-$20.


          When I began this post, I noted that the number one rationale given by skeptics for not taking a vacation to WDW® Resort is that “it costs too much”.  My challenge was to provide tips and information that would persuade those budget-minded, prospective WDW guests to take into consideration the value of an on-property stay at a WDW resort and the complimentary transportation made available there as well as the comparatively reasonable cost of park tickets, dining, and souvenirs before ruling out a trip to Walt’s wonderful World.  If questions or doubts remain, please make an extensive search of wdwradio.com and disneyworld.go.com in order to discover more expansive details on the hundreds of opportunities available to penny-wise patrons of all ages. 

 (All images copyright Disney.)

Readers, how do you save money while visiting the WDW Resort?  Where do you like to get the most for you money when meal time rolls around?  If you were visiting on a budget, what souvenir would you choose?


Kendall began visiting Walt Disney World in 1991 with her family and has continued to visit the resort with her husband.  As a child, she and her family filled vacations with challenges such as “How many times can we ride Splash Mountain during SpectroMagic and the fireworks?” (Answer: 7)  Now, after marrying a converted Disney skeptic, she and her husband enjoy challenges such as “How many hours can we eat nonstop at the Food & Wine Festival?” (Answer: 4)



6 thoughts on “More to the World for the Budget-conscious Traveler”

  1. Tony E (BacksideOfWater) says:

    What I did on my recent trip was since I had the dining plan so my meals all came with desserts. For the Counter Service meals I would save the dessert to eat the next morning for breakfast. That way I save the price of breakfast and a snack credit at the same time.

  2. Tony E (BacksideOfWater) says:

    Oh and also with the counter service meals, I used one at my resort’s food court so I used my mug that came with the plan for my drink and used the drink that came with the credit for a bottle of water to take to the parks

  3. May says:

    You present a lot of opportunity costs I had not previously considered. Good point about rental cars. I often find myself telling individuals that it is cheaper to stay at an All-Star “resort” than it is to spend a night at many hotels.

    Cost comparisons are also valid in this discussion. Consider how much it costs to see a 3D movie for two hours at many movie theaters.

  4. Anne says:

    Kendall, another very informative post.

    Here’s an extra special souvenir tip. I have a memory-making suggestion that offers something “free” to toddlers/preschoolers. Parents, if your little one has never had a professional “Grown-up”/“Big Kid’s” haircut, have his or her very first one done at the Magic Kingdom Park’s “The Harmony Barbershop” near the Emporium. It’s the place to take your wee one for that first professional trim. Just so you know, a cut there is not free, it will cost $15, but it’s worth it to see your child’s face light up when he or she receives the (included with the price) “First Haircut” mouse ears along with a commemorative certificate… and more. That’s right, the ears, record of the big event, and extras are basically free souvenirs! The Disney barbers that work there are entertaining, professional stylists that make it very fun. So, if you are going to pay for that first cut anyway, it may as well come with Mickey ears and be a memory-making experience at WDW, too. Ask for the “My First Haircut” service when you get there. Check the Disney website for more details about “The Harmony Barbershop”.


    Here’s a money saving tip for those who drive to WDW and stay on property. We always bring cases of bottled water with us. We pick up 24 or 32 bottle packs for around $5 each at a supercenter near home. We are more than willing to pay the modest fee to rent a refrigerator at the resort (if it’s not included with the room); then, we chill some bottles overnight for the parks the next day. It’s a big savings!

    Sharing is always cheaper. The very best food to share at WDW is, of course, the popcorn. It’s a million times better than anywhere else in the world (unless maybe you buy some at another Disney destination). There’s more than enough for two or three to share in a great souvenir bucket (around $12). Our family of four has never been to WDW without sharing a bucket (or 2) of this relatively inexpensive treat. IT IS FABULOUS!

  5. Fran Cassano says:

    Kendall, this is an awesome collection of advice! It’s great that you shared these fabulous tips on one concise, printable page to take with us on our next trip or to put in our planning files 🙂

  6. Kendall Foreman (MoretotheWorld) says:

    Tony: These are great suggestions for anyone on the Dining Plan. The Dining Plan is not something I have a lot of experience in because my husband and I typically share EVERYTHING, and we usually purchase lots of items that would be considered “snacks” instead of meal credits. Thank you for filing in some information where I had left a gap!

    Anne: Fantastic suggestions! I know lots of people take their children to the Harmony Barber Shop for their first cut, but I was unaware of everything that comes with the “First Cut” package. What a deal! I also completely agree about bringing your own water. We do that every time we drive down.

    May: I think a lot of people do not stop to consider the per hour cost of activities they do on a regular basis. I agree movie theater tickets have become especially pricey. The city near us just got an IMAX. Going to a 3-D movie in that larger format is actually a higher per hour cost in many cases (depends on the length of the movie) than going to WDW.

    Fran: Thank you for the compliment! Please share the post and your print-out with friends who haven’t been to WDW. It is always my aim to help WDW newbies and skeptics have a great vacation!