With these expert tricks, you won't break the bank when taking the little ones to Disney.
Kids don’t care about Mickey Mouse, and neither should you if you want to save hundreds on your next family vacation to Walt Disney World Orlando. What kids care about is the idea of Mickey, Disney’s top celebrity. Disney trots that mouse out like he’s the headliner at Coachella. Suddenly, kids who spend most days watching Sponge Bob Square Pants or PAW Patrol get fixated on Mickey. Even adults might trample you to get a selfie with the Mouse.
One couple even spent $5,000 to have Mickey and Minnie attend their wedding, leaving them without enough money to feed guests at the reception. You don’t have to break the bank to see Mickey. Besides, your kids might not care as much as you think, and they certainly won’t remember how much money you spent.
“Material things, they lose their value,” said Dr. Treshonda Daucom, a Central Florida-based therapist specializing in child psychology. “One of the things they always hold onto are the memories and experiences.”
That’s what you want to deliver: a memorable Mickey experience. You don’t have to spend $3,000 to $5,000 on theme park tickets, expensive Disney merchandise, and transportation to see Mickey. Instead, use these hacks to create a budget-friendly dream Disney vacation.
Top Picks for You
Pass on the Park Hoppers
Disney promotes its park hoppers as value options. Yes, they are cheaper than buying individual park passes. However, long lines and small kids make park hopping more chore than value.
Three-day park hoppers for two adults and two children under 10 will cost you at least $1,800. Children 10 and older pay adult ticket prices. A five-day park hopper starts at about $2,300. These tickets don’t include parking, food, or souvenirs.
Purchase a one-day, one-park pass to the Magic Kingdom instead. A one-day park pass can cost from $581.50 for a family of four and less if you are a Florida resident. Also, check with your hotel, which may offer discount tickets. Then, plan to spend the entire day at the Magic Kingdom sometime later in the week. Make it the finale for your Disney dream vacation.
Dine With Disney Characters Without Breaking the Bank
You don’t have to enter the parks to spend $5,000 to dine with Mickey. Disney offers character dining at a few resorts accessible outside the parks. Reservations for these dining experiences go fast. Disney recommends booking character dining 60 days out from your visit. The best character dining experience is at Chef Mickey’s restaurant at the Contemporary Resort, which serves breakfast and dinner. Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, and Donald Duck will come to your table while you feast on an all-you-can-eat menu. The meal costs about $35 to $59 per adult. So, expect to spend at least $160 for a family of four. That’s more than you’d spend at a local steakhouse. However, you’ve given your kids a memorable day at Disney for a fraction of what you’d pay in the park.
For other options, The Wilderness Resort Lodge has Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs character dining, and The Grand Floridian Resort’s Wonderland Tea Party at 1900 Park Fare has characters from Alice in Wonderland (although it is temporarily closed).
Buy the Disney Merchandise Outside the Parks
Chandra Thomas Whitfield is a host and producer for Colorado Public Radio. In 2018, she and her husband took their sons, ages six and four, on a Disney vacation. Before the trip, Whitfield called friends who warned her about the expensive Disney merchandise. So, she decided to buy items online and at discount stores. She purchased Disney family T-shirts on Etsy, where they cost as little as $5 each, compared to the $20 to $30 you will pay at Disney stores.
“We had our shirts with mom, dad, and brother with little Mickey ears,” Thomas Whitfield said. “To make it feel dramatic, I didn’t give the shirts to the kids until we got to Disney.”
Before they left for the park, Thomas Whitfield presented the kids with Disney-themed gift bags that included the shirts, a Disney water bottle, and other goodies she picked up at a dollar store.
“Of course, this might not work with a 14-year-old,” said Thomas Whitfield. “But for young kids, they don’t know the difference. They were totally convinced that Mickey had given them the gifts.”
Go to Disney Springs
Disney Springs is a shopping district with a Disneyesque vibe. Formally “Downtown Disney,” this outdoor shopping extravaganza features a mega movie theater, restaurants, Starbucks Reserve, entertainment, music, and many attractions, including a Lego store with a 3,000-square-foot outdoor play area. The best part? It’s free.
Daucom recommends letting your children walk around Disney Springs in costumes. “They’ll remember they were in their princess dress,” she said. “To them, that’s like they were at Disney.’”
You can buy the costumes from party rental stores for less. For example, a Beauty and the Beast’s Belle costume costs $50 at the Disney Store but less than $20 at Party City.
Don't Pay for Transportation
Even if you drive to Orlando, you can save big bucks taking advantage of the area’s free or affordable transportation. Whitfield said she only paid for transportation from the airport to the hotel. For the rest of her stay, she used the hotel shuttle and Lymmo, a free bus service with stops throughout downtown Orlando.
Disney operates a free shuttle service that stops at all the resorts, including BoardWalk, a resort reminiscent of 1940s Coney Island. You can also use SunRail, a train service that operates Monday through Friday, connecting Orange, Osceola, Seminole, and Volusia counties. Sunrail destinations include museums, attractions, parks, hiking, shopping, and dining. Roundtrip fares range from $3.75-$9.50 with 50 percent discounts for kids ages 7-17, seniors 65+, and disabled individuals. Children 6 and under may ride for free with paying adults.
INSIDER TIPYou can ride Disney’s inner monorail for free. The inner monorail includes stops at the Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian resorts. Park at Disney Springs and take a free connector bus to one of the three resorts. It’s a fun way to beat the heat.
Splish Splash at Other Affordable Water Parks
One-day admission to Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon water park costs $69 plus tax per person. That’s at least $287.57 for a family of four. So instead, take the family to a nearby aquatic center or splash pad.
Free splash pads are all over Central Florida. Dr. P. Phillips Community Park has a splash pad open seven days a week. Kissimmee’s Bob Makinson Aquatic Center has two large swimming pools, a children’s play area, concessions, lockers, life jackets, and a 150-foot water slide. This place looks like a waterpark, yet it cost only $5 per adult.
Enjoy your one-day trip to the Magic Kingdom on your last full day in Florida. Then, head home with Mickey memories and more cash in your wallet.
“One of my favorite sayings is: “It doesn’t matter what you’re doing or where you’re doing it. It just matters who you’re doing it with,’” said Daucom. “The important things are the relationships, that bonding. and doing those things together.”