How to Budget for a Family Trip to Walt Disney World

You can bring in outside food to the parks — and there are plenty of family-friendly activities outside the parks.
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Written by Sally French
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One of the biggest roadblocks for families when planning a Disney vacation is the high cost. But believe it or not, it is possible to pull off a Walt Disney World vacation on a budget.

Here are some money-saving tips to help you save at the Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

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Pick the right Walt Disney World Resort hotel

Among the biggest line items when budgeting for a Disney World trip is neither the theme park tickets nor the airfare — it’s the hotel prices.

There are more than 25 Disney-owned hotels at Disney World. According to Disney price tracking site Touring Plans, rooms run as low as $128 per night at the affordable Disney All-Star properties, but that’s assuming you book during the low season. In reality, prices run much higher.

NerdWallet analyzed hotel room rates throughout 2023 across the three tiers Disney uses to classify its hotels to better understand how much Walt Disney World hotel rooms actually cost. Here’s that breakdown:

Trip duration and pricing tier

Average Disney World nightly hotel rate (Saturday night)

One night (Value)


One night (Moderate)


One night (Deluxe)


One night (Average across all price tiers)


The best Disney World hotels for families

The best Disney World hotels for families vary based on needs (e.g., proximity to certain parks, theming, amenities and affordability).

Disney's All-Star Music Resort offers the best budget-friendly option for family suites at Disney World. Rooms sleep up to six adults and include one queen bed and two queen-size pull-down beds, plus two full bathrooms and a kitchenette with coffee maker and microwave.

The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. (Photo courtesy of Walt Disney World)

The Cabins at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort are also among the best Disney World hotels for families. They accommodate up to six adults and include a bunk bed. Their large size can make them ideal for a multigenerational family trip. Plus, the cabins are also pet-friendly, allowing up to two dogs per room (for an additional fee).

"Moana" themed rooms at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. (Photo courtesy of Walt Disney World)

While more expensive, there are two resorts that stand out as great for families (and that could save you money in the end): Disney's Contemporary Resort and Disney's Polynesian Village Resort. Both have monorail stations, providing easy Magic Kingdom access (which can mean savings on parking or rideshare). Both properties recently underwent renovations that added more Disney character touches.

"The Incredibles" themed rooms at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. (Photo courtesy of Walt Disney World)

In 2021, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort reopened with furnishings and fixtures inspired by “Moana,” and the retro-modern Disney’s Contemporary Resort’s refurbishment brought in characters from Pixar Animation Studios’ "The Incredibles" films.

The benefits of staying at Disney-owned hotels for families

While booking a cheap hotel down the street from Disney might be tempting, booking a Disney-owned hotel can pay off for families. Besides the immersive Disney theming and proximity to parks, some money or time-saving benefits of Disney World hotels include:

  • Easier mass transportation: Buses take guests between hotels and theme parks. Depending on the route, unique transit methods include boats, monorails or an aerial gondola called the Disney Skyliner.

  • Free parking: Theme park parking is free during your stay, which might be useful for families needing their own car seat (otherwise daily parking rates start at $25).

  • Early theme park entry: Disney hotel guests can enter theme parks 30 minutes before everyone else (park admission is required), which might help avoid paying extra for line-skipping privileges.

  • Extended evening hours: On select nights and at some parks, guests at Disney’s Deluxe Resort Hotels or Deluxe Villas are entitled to stick around longer (typically two hours past the standard closing time), which can mean fewer crowds and more time to take advantage of theme park tickets.

Book Disney Good Neighbor Hotels

That said, there is a middle ground that might provide the best of both worlds: the aforementioned benefits with a lower price point that comes when you don’t have the Disney name attached.

Disney officially recognizes dozens of hotels in Orlando as Good Neighbor Hotels, and they rank among the best family hotels near Disney World. They’re typically cheaper than Disney-owned hotels and they often offer other cost savings such as breakfast, kitchenettes or pet-friendly rooms. Most also provide park shuttles, enabling you to skip the rental car. Plus, Disney Good Neighbor Hotel benefits sometimes mirror what actual Disney hotel guests get, including early theme park entry.

Many can be booked on points and miles, ideal if you’ve been stockpiling credit card rewards.

Some of the best family resorts outside Disney World in the ‘Good Neighbor’ category are within walking distance of actual Disney property, bordering Disney Springs.

Disney Springs-area hotels bookable on loyalty points include:

Hilton Honors:

IHG One Rewards:

Wyndham Rewards:

Avoid eating in the park

Disney explicitly states that guests can bring outside food and nonalcoholic beverages into the parks, with just a few stipulations (such as no glass containers).

Plan on packing snacks to keep in your bag and enjoy throughout the day, and bring a water bottle to refill at drinking fountains. If your hotel offers free breakfast (many Good Neighbor Hotels do), take advantage. This will save you money and help you avoid wasting time once in the park.

Choose the best ticket option for your family (which probably isn’t Park Hopper)

There are two types of Disney Parks tickets: The 1-Park Per Day ticket, which, as the name suggests, allows entrance to one park a day, and the Park Hopper ticket, which allows entrance into multiple parks each day.

Park Hopper tickets are far more expensive — potentially hundreds of dollars more per day for families. And they’re probably not worth it.

If you absolutely must visit all four of the Walt Disney World theme parks but you don’t have four days on your vacation, then the Park Hopper might be inevitable. But if you’re there for multiple days, save by visiting one park per day. The best way to do Disney World is by focusing on one park at a time, anyway.

At Disney World, the theme parks are spread out so park hopping means you end up wasting time commuting between the parks, rather than actually in them.

Consider Disney World family vacation packages

Good Neighbor Hotels sometimes have Disney World family packages. Offers vary, but they often entail freebies like meals or parking. Many hotels are also willing to bundle in discount Disney tickets.

🤓Nerdy Tip

By purchasing Disney tickets through the hotel, travelers paying with a corresponding hotel-branded credit card might be able to seize the opportunity to earn bonus hotel points by purchasing park tickets through hotel Disney family vacation packages.

Buy Disney gift cards at Target

Disney gift cards can be used at almost all locations inside Walt Disney World for dining, Disney-owned hotels, park tickets and souvenirs.

If you sign up for a Target Circle™ Credit Card, you can save 5% on Disney gift cards and other eligible specialty gift cards.

Pack the essentials

Stopping at a convenience store or shopping on Amazon before your visit can help you save money while in the parks. Think spur-of-the-moment purchases such as rain ponchos, fans/water misters, sunscreen and other weather-related items. These will likely cost you more at the parks, so it’s best to come prepared.

Buy souvenirs in advance

If you have kids, buy that princess dress at a cheaper retailer before your visit. Buy glow sticks in advance so that you can hand them to the kids when they beg for the light-up toys sold before nighttime shows. You can also find a wide variety of cute (and affordable) mouse ears on websites like Etsy. As for Disney shirts, you can find reasonable prices for those at stores like Walmart and Target.

Cut back on theme park days with other free Disney activities

The Disney Skyliner. (Photo courtesy of Walt Disney World)

Free or cheap activities outside the Disney parks let you avoid buying theme park tickets for every day of the trip. It’s easy to spend time window shopping and taking in live music at Disney Springs or at Disney’s BoardWalk — both outdoor entertainment complexes. Bask in free rides on the Disney Skyliner or any of Disney’s boats or monorails.

Many hotels with loyalty programs are located within walking distance of Disney Springs. (Photo courtesy of Walt Disney World)

Visit other Orlando attractions

Orlando is packed with free and affordable family-friendly attractions. Options include the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens, Boxi Park (an outdoor entertainment complex made from repurposed shipping containers) and Old Town (a shopping district with amusement park rides of its own). If you’re attached to visiting a major theme park, consider Universal Studios.

(Top photo courtesy of Disney)

How to maximize your rewards

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