A few weeks ago, I shared a scenario to illustrate the reality of the potential budgetary constraints and considerations in planning a Walt Disney World vacation. Thanks to all of your comments, tips and discussions, we were inspired to visit the opposite side of the spectrum and see just how many costs we could cut, while still presenting a realistic example of how families could save on a trip.
Of course, there had to be a few parameters - and since this was designed in the spirit of the “least expensive” rather than full-on “Disney on the cheap,” here’s what I set out to work with:
- Four guests (two adults, two kids)
- Four days (full days)
In the interest of “keeping it real” as much as possible, I will use the “Davis Family” again – as a reminder, Mom – Susan, Dad – Richard, and two kids Billy (age 9) and Emily (age 5) are visiting from the midwestern United States. In this example, they are returning to Walt Disney World for a visit since they had so much fun on their first visit – but this time, they are not only using what they learned last time to craft a much less expensive visit, they have a much shorter window for their visit.
Since their first visit was in the fall, they decide they’d like to visit again during January since Richard, an avid marathoner, scored a spot on his corporate team to run the 2014 Walt Disney World Marathon (registration fees covered), a trip that would also coincide with Emily’s 6th birthday. Susan and Richard reviewed the discounts available for on-site lodging, but figured they could get a lot better of a deal, especially since they had some experience under their belt.
Let’s see how they did!
Susan checks out a Vacation Rental website (like vrbo.com) and finds that there are 1-bedroom villas just minutes from WDW property that start at $75/night and require a three-night stay: perfect! These accommodations include one queen size bed, two full-size futons, a full kitchen and site amenities include free parking and a fully stocked kitchen as well as a community pool and jacuzzi. Accommodation tax of 12.5% factored.
Although they purchased park hoppers in the past, they decided to stick with base tickets and visit each park separately this go around – and after some careful research (perhaps using the free Least Expensive Ticket Calculator!), Richard and Susan eventually find the Undercover Tourist, which offers the popular 4-day base ticket and a rate $6 off adult gate price from the official website. At $290.95 per adult ticket and $270.95 per child ticket (tax included, with free shipping) the Davis family saves a total of $25 on theme park tickets.
Now, this is where it gets fun! Since the villa has its own kitchen, Susan reasons that breakfast can enjoyed at”home,” or on the go, snacks and sack lunches can be store-bought, prepped and packed, empty filtered water bottles carried and filled, dinner ready in minutes from arriving back to the villa, and just a few purchases in park will be necessary:
- Breakfast items - 1 package of bagels ($3.50), 1 container of cream cheese ($2), 1 box Chex cereal ($3), 2 cartons of milk ($5), 1 carton orange juice ($3), bunch of bananas ($2.50), and coffee from home (free). Breakfast item total: $19
- Snack items – box of granola bars ($3), package of apple sauce pouches ($3), medium sized bag of trail mix ($5) and box of clementines ($6). Snack item total: $17
- Lunch items – loaf <24 slices> of bread ($4), package of Kraft singles ($3), package of sliced ham ($3), package of sliced turkey ($3), container peanut butter ($4), jar of jelly ($3), 1 large bag of potato chips ($4) and ziplock bags from home (free). Lunch item total: $21
- Dinner items – box of spaghetti ($2), 2 bottles spaghetti sauce ($4), 1 pound hamburger meat ($4), pre-made garlic bread ($2.50), 3 bags of salad mix ($6), 1 bottle salad dressing ($2.50), 1 rotisserie chicken ($6), 1 bag frozen peas ($1.75), 2 packets microwavable rice pilaf ($3.25), 2 frozen pizzas ($10) and 1 carton ice cream ($4). Dinner item total: $46
- Other dining expenses – Richard and Susan are fully aware that Billy and Emily will not be pleased with sack lunches all four days, so they are planning on surprising the kids with one table-service lunch: Crystal Palace, the all-you-can-eat character meal on the Monday after the marathon, and conveniently, Emily’s birthday. With tax and gratuity, this will be approximately $100.
- Since they will be staying off property, they will have to pay the $15/day parking fee at the theme parks ($60 for 4 days)
- Miscellaneous expenses – though they will have purchased enough food items, Richard and Susan are allowing a budget of $20 for special snacks ($5/pp).
TOTAL = $1,662 *
*Transportation wasn’t worked into the total, as this would vary, depending on where a family is traveling from, however, if we were to use the Davis’ last estimates of driving again, we’d add about $750 to $800.
As you can see, crafting a much lower-cost vacation isn’t rocket science, but it is an exercise in determining what a family’s needs are versus their wants. When trips are more frequent, it is easier to forgo things like knick knacks and souvenirs, though that tactic would likely not fly easily with kids. Also, it’s important to consider what value is associated with time – since the Davis’ will be eating dinner at home, that means less park time, which may or may not work with different family’s touring goals.
In the end, this exercise proves that with a little creativity and leg work, a trip doesn’t have to break the bank – though it isn’t without some degree of sacrifice.
If you were challenged to plan the least expensive trip, what would YOU do?