Disney on a Budget

If at all possible, I highly recommend traveling to Disney in or around January. In the past three years, we’ve always had mild weather in the low 80’s to upper 70’s. While temps can dip below that in January, the averages are still lovely.

In addition to milder weather, the crowds aren’t nearly as bad as summer months when EVERYONE is traveling during summer breaks.

Lastly, most resorts run specials during this time. We were lucky to snag a deal at the Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. Admittedly, we have been spoiled in the fact that we stayed at Disney’s Grande Floridian the 2 years prior. That wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for my husband having work obligations there.

What we love about both resorts, there is a running path connecting the two and a course you can run for additional mileage. Not to mention, it’s fun getting lost running around the resorts themselves. We also found the convenience of the monorail at these resorts ideal. With two little ones, it makes getting to places so much easier. You can also view the Magic Kingdom fireworks show nightly from each resort, music included as they have speakers projecting the full show for your enjoyment.

When considering where you’d like to stay, I highly recommend researching the cost to park a vehicle, sometimes at the resorts, but also at the parks you’ll be visiting. You may find it’s worth staying at a resort that is on the monorail.

You don’t need a car at Disney! When you stay at one of Disney’s resorts, you can sign up for Disney’s Magical Express, a bus service that takes you round-trip from the airport to your resort, for free. I understand why families do Disney. They make it so simple to travel with children without needing so many things. (No need for car seats on the buses.)

We booked flights with Southwest Airline points so that wasn’t a cost to us. If you have a credit card with rewards, check to see if your travels can benefit.

Tips for visiting Disney Parks on a budget:

  • Pack a bag solely dedicated to food. Snack items you and your littles enjoy such as flatbread rounds, peanut butter/almond butter and jelly, protein bars, ziplock bags, oatmeal, granola bars, fresh fruit, Chomps, raw nuts, cheez its, etc.
  • Pack paper plates, napkins, and bowls. They will be used in the hotel room.
  • Resorts have serving sized peanut butter, jellys, cream cheese, and plasticware at the cafe bars, for FREE.
  • Pack empty water bottles that you can fill up on resort.
  • Pack a compact/foldable cooler for your daily lunches and snacks in the parks. (Unless you have a stroller rental, see below, where it is included.) YES, parks allow them! They just check any bags and coolers thoroughly at security before entering.
  • Pack plenty of sanitizer, Clorox wipes and wet napkins.

Don’t hassle with packing a stroller. A friend of mine told me about Kingdom Strollers 3 years ago. It’s a stroller rental service that I cannot live without when doing Disney!

I’m excited to share Kingdom Strollers has provided me with a custom link for you to book your rental, HERE .

Cleanliness is my main care when renting. Three years renting with them, the stroller always looks brand new. They take pride in their process for sanitizing their strollers which you can read about on their site.

We always get the double Bob. Our most recent stay we reserved it for 4 nights, I added the insurance for $25 for the duration of the rental and paid around $90-100. To me, that’s worth not having to hassle bringing our own single stroller and having 2 kids fighting over who gets to ride. (Plus the risk of it getting damaged when checked at the airline.)

Also included are the drink holders, a cooler, and rain cover for the entire stroller. They deliver to your hotel and pick up from your hotel. You can also have it delivered to the airport! Their customer service is phenomenal. They’ve always been early for their deliveries, send convenient text reminders about your pick-ups and returns, and always have the friendliest staff to greet you. Need to cancel or change your reservation? They don’t penalize you and are happy to accommodate your requests.

Simple Tips for Planning:

  • Book your travel
  • Reserve your accomodations
  • Book your park tickets
  • Download the Disney app & easily link your reservations and tickets.
  • Determine which parks you are visiting which day then reserve your 3 Fast Passes (per person)
    • Tip: After you use your 3 Fast Passes, you can book additional reservations for more rides in the same day. Keep this in mind when planning out your day because you won’t have access to additional FPs until all reservations are completed.
  • Use the app to view showtimes for each park, parades happen throughout the days at Magic Kingdom and are always fun to enjoy. Plan to arrive a little early to get a good spot.
  • Use the app to view when buses are arriving at your resort to take you to each park.
  • Use the app to make dinner reservations. The character breakfast at Ohana at the Polynesian is popular. We experienced Chef Mickey our first trip. It was fun, but they are expensive. It’s an all you can eat buffet so we planned for it to be a late lunch to serve as our lunch and dinner that day. Their is also a character meal at The Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom. All of these options can be accessed via the monograil. Chef Mickey is in The Contemporary Hotel and can be accessed by monorail or the walking path from Magic Kingdom.
  • Once basic reservations are made, you can make an itinerary. I make a loose schedule and allow for the day to happen in lieu of holding to a tight schedule. That’s just not fun for anyone.

A Suggested Schedule:

  • Magic Kingdom – Day 1
  • Hollywood Studios – Day 2
  • Animal Kingdom – Day 3

I recommend this order because Magic Kingdom is a heavy walking day with the most rides. It is truly magical from the moment you walk in.

We discovered that Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom isn’t as busy first thing in the morning. Arrive when the park opens, ride Dumbo, The Barnstormer, Meet Donald, Goofy, Daisy and Minnie Mouse at Pete’s Silly Slideshow (short lines at this time), make a FP reservation for “it’s a small world”, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The Mad Tea Party and Carousel are always fun too.

There is a nice shaded boardwalk that surrounds Tom Sawyer’s Island. It’s about this time in the day when the kids are ready for a snack and we let them enjoy a Mickey Ice Cream after.

Our boys always love The Jungle Cruise. Try to make a FP reservation for this ride also.

*Tip – If you’re traveling with a little one that is too short for a ride, a cast member will offer you a Ride Swap. They scanned our bands to allow for my husband and I to take turns riding with our oldest and also gave us FP to make this swap happen quickly. This is available at any of the parks.

Be sure to catch one of the park parades and shows in front of the castle. The muppet show in Libertyland is also fun to watch. Both also provide an opportunity for rest. There is a nice faux grassy lawn area in front of The Crystal Palace & Casey’s Corner where we have enjoyed our picnic lunch and the parade at the same time.

*If traveling with a baby and/or a child with sensory sensitivities, there is a Baby Care Center in this same area. Read about the facility resources here.

Plan to make Magic Kingdom an all day experience and include the night show at the castle.

Day 2 at Hollywood Studios is kind of a chill day. Make your FP reservations for the Slinky Dog Roller Coaster and Alien Saucers.

*There is a beverage cart in the line for the Slinky Dog Roller Coaster – adult beverages included.

If you’re a Star Wars fan, we were told you need to get there at opening if you want to experience Rise of the Resistance. There are only so many slots they can accomodate for the day. Once you get your booking time and they are all reserved, there will not be another opportunity. We’re not followers of Star Wars but we were blown away by the expansion of Galaxy’s Edge. You might as well have been in the movie, it was unreal!

There are so many great shows at Hollywood Studios, Frozen, Beauty & the Beast, 3-D Muppet Show, and Indiana Jones just to name a few.

Day 3 at Animal Kingdom is also another pretty chill day. Be sure to make a FP reservation for the Kilimanjaro Safari, an up close encounter with African wildlife you won’t believe.

We went straight to the Tree of Life when we first arrived and were able to walk straight into the It’s a Bug’s Life show. You can look at the available showtimes for this online. From there, we had a 10-11AM FP arrival time for The Lion King, a must.

If you are in need of a little extra coffee, there is a Starbucks called “Creature Comforts” on the way into Africa. Drinks are allowed in the Lion King Show.

Make a FP reservation for The Lion King. We didn’t have any inclination as to what this show would be like but it blew us away. There are times when the cast members are interactive with the audience. If you want your littles to have the possibility of standing alongside a showman, try sitting on the edge of a row.

After the show, we made our way to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. There, we hopped on a train that had views of some African wildlife, Ostrich, Elephant, etc. Once we arrived, we enjoyed a nice shaded path to a fun petting yard for little ones.

I also recommend exploring the other trails in Africa. You will see so much wildlife, it’s as if you’re at a dedicated zoo.

Up! is a fantastic show. Our boys are lovers of nature so they enjoyed the interactive show and close encounters with real life birds. We didn’t realize this show was so interactive. If you want to be a part of the show, try to sit on the end of the rows in the middle two sections. I won’t give away the surprise, but just know it’s REALLY COOL.

You’ll also find 2 rides in Asia, Everest and the Rapids. FP reservations would be good to have.

The River of Lights show is now open and a wonderful evening show to experience before leaving the park for the day. Either arrive early or make a FP reservation. Might I also suggest you choose seating with easy access to the exit.

We spent our last day poolside at the resort and loved the time to decompress and relax after all of the park excitement. We were lucky to have warm weather and enjoyed the pool everyday we were there. The kids in particular loved the slides at the main pool. I admit, they were fun!

Because our Disney Magical Express didn’t depart until 4:30, we had a full day poolside. We retrieved our bags from the bell service with plenty of time to change into clothes for the trip home.

Time together as a family and making unforgettable memories was so special. The ear to ear smiles our boys kept on their faces the entire time, the open mouthed laughs of excitement on rides, saying “yes” when they wanted the Mickey Ice Creams, the best bedtime stories told by daddy each night, and extra snuggles and love from the boys are all things I will never forget.

We are thankful for the Magical Time!

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