So, you want to go to Disney.
That phrase just caused you to get a little bit giddy or start to freak out. Or both. Because this isn’t you:
It’s not me, either.
Take a deep breath. You can do this!
I think the first thing you need to do is ask yourself a few questions. It will determine what kind of trip you want to take, which will help you determine your budget, and just as importantly, where you want to spend your money. The great thing about Disney is that you can absolutely go all out and spend lots of money, but you can also have an awesome time while spending way less.
Do you plan to go back to Disney in a few years, or is this a “once in a lifetime” type of trip? How old are your kids? Do you like rides, or would you prefer to meet every single character? Or both? Do you prefer to be at the parks from open to close, or would you like a more relaxed approach, with more time at your resort? Do your kids (or you!) need afternoon naps? Would you like to have lots of character meals, or does having a few special meals and eating on the go the rest of the time sound more like your style? Do you plan to buy the kids a Disney mug and a set of mouse ears, or do you want to buy anything and everything their little hearts desire? How long can you stay, and how many days do you want to spend in the parks? What time of year do you want to go? (Check out Jenna’s post on crowd calendars if you need help with that.) And, are you a die-hard road tripper, or would you prefer to fly?
We landed somewhere in the middle, and a lot of you will too.
Start playing around on the Disney World website. Check out the resorts, and decide the best fit for your family. Our first family trip, we stayed in a Value Resort. Yes, the room was smaller and we didn’t have a ton of “extras,” but it was great for us since the kids were small and we spent lots of time at the parks. Our next trip, our plan is to stay at a Moderate Resort. The kids will be bigger and we’ll need a little more elbow room. We also plan to spend a little more time at the resort. Know your needs, and it will go a long way toward helping you set your budget and keeping your sanity.
Go ahead and throw a resort, ticket, and dining package in your cart on the Disney World website. Just do it. You can fiddle with it, changing dates, resorts, ticket options, and dining options, and see how that changes the trip price. (This doesn’t mean that you should purchase a dining plan, it just gives you an idea of what food will cost.) You might find that adjusting your trip dates by a few days will make a big price difference, but adding an extra day at the parks doesn’t cost as much as you thought. Play around until you find what you think will work for you.
Start an Excel spreadsheet (or download ours) or pull out your trusty pencil and paper. Be realistic about how much you think you’ll spend, keeping in mind your trip choices and your family’s style. Break it down in a way that makes sense for you, and include any and all expenses related to your trip. For instance, we kennel our dog when we travel, so that gets worked into the trip budget.
Our first trip, we had a budget of $3,200. That included two adults, a child, and one child under three (Disney doesn’t charge admission for kids under three). We stayed 6 nights, and had 5 days in the parks. We drove (12 hours each way – here’s a great fuel cost calculator), and were able to get a free Quick Service Dining Plan. We paid out of pocket for two Table Service meals in the parks, and ate at Downtown Disney one night. We had a small budget for souvenirs, and did a Jake and the Neverland Pirates package at The Pirates’ League for our son. We also purchased Memory Maker, which I highly recommend. That budget amount also included supplies we’d need for the parks (ponchos, etc.), breakfast, snacks, and bottled water to keep in our room, t-shirts for the family, autograph books and markers, and some surprises I purchased pre-trip to give to the kids during the drive/on the trip (more on that later). Oh, and the kennel for the dog. When we got home, I had enough left in the budget to order photo books from Shutterfly for each of the kids. We had a very full, very fun trip on a decently small budget.
Once you’ve decided how much you think you’ll spend, start saving. You read that right. Save. You can do it. Create a separate line item in your savings account, open a new account, or just start sticking cash in an envelope and hide it under your mattress. Find a way that works for you, and do it.
It took us over two years to save for our first trip. We used tax returns, extra income, and gifts to make it happen. Yes, it took a long time. Yes, sometimes it seemed like we’d never get to go. But I can tell you that when we got back home from our trip and everything was already paid for (and we had a little left over!), it was an awesome feeling. We firmly believe that no vacation is worth going into debt for. We’re planning on doing the same for our next trip, but including credit card rewards, and if possible, airline miles.
Real Mom’s Disney is committed to helping you plan the best Disney trip possible. Be sure to check out our other budgeting posts for ideas from Jenna and Lindsey, download our budget spreadsheet, and if you still have questions, feel free to email, Facebook, or tweet us!