Yes, I believe Disney can be done inexpensively. And as an extra bonus this year, you might stumble upon some extra magic as you can see above!
By way of history, I had a full trip booked for September, 2010 with my spouse and my son. There was to be only 1 day of school that first week due to the dates of the Jewish holidays. I rightly assumed that the week following Labor Day would be the best week to go, i.e., the smallest crowds. With a school age child the thought of going to any Disney property when the rest of the country is also on vacation seemed maddening.
I booked a great deal through a contact from my brother-in-law. They had stayed at an expensive property (The Boardwalk) for half price. That’s how I like to do it. This woman who did that booking also scared me into thinking Disney is so expensive that she suggested a car service to the hotel with a supermarket stop. My point here is that because of her training, I now look at every which way to be at Disney without spending any extra money. Turns out it is not difficult and you don’t need any supermarket stops!
There are properties at Walt Disney World for all price points. Some properties can be $100 a night. And the wonderful Disney magic is the same at the $100 a night property as it is for the $600 a night property: free bus from the airport, free transport between hotels and park, early and late hours hours at the parks, and Fast Pass! I have already saved you hundreds of dollars.
My last trip was half paid for by Disney. The second half was paid for by me. So I look at how to stay at Walt Disney World from a thrifty stand point. I recommend the meal plan if you are staying on property, this way you can book several meals before you leave home and get some character meals scheduled for the kids. We did not have the meal plan for our extra 2 days. We would have 2 1/2 years ago if my son hadn’t decided he couldn’t get on an airplane that year. Personally we didn’t have time for sit down meals, and I am cheap, so all our meals ended up being sandwiches and hamburgers at little more that $10/person/meal each day. I live in NYC and think that is not over priced. Certainly if you have a large family, you may want to shop beforehand and bring your own food into the parks. Many rooms all over Disney have full kitchenettes so making sandwiches for your family of 6 will not be difficult.
I have been to Disney twice and received full park tickets. This is a big expense. Looking at paying for park tickets objectively, I would say that for my family the park hopper wold not be a necessity. We spent 11 hours at Hollywood Studios and I could easily do that with any park. Who wants to spend time traveling between parks which takes time away form the rides! Just a cost saving alternative! My feeling the least expensive way to do the parks is to buy a pass for each park as you need them and if you need the pool, take 1 day off and do other things like swim and go to Downtown Disney. Look over your options carefully, I did notice that the more days you extend your passes, the less expensive every successive day costs.
You could spend the half day of arrival or departure at Downtown Disney, go bowling, go shopping, eat, and not pay for the park ticket that day. If you have younger kids, my newest recommendation is to take the kids to the Art of Animation property and tour it. It is like being in the movie! Cars, Nemo, Little Mermaid, Lion King,. I am 53 and my son is 9. We were equally thrilled hanging out in Radiator Springs and taking pictures! The dining area there was not inexpensive, but it was reasonable. Again, if we can pay $10 for a meal, I will not complain, but we are only 3 and we are used to NYC prices.
Departing Disney is made so easy it is shocking. I checked and confirmed, you can check your bags at your resort with an actual TSA agent. Additionally, I was shocked to find my boarding passes printed and waiting for me on my door when I awoke on my last day. You not only save money be taking the very comfortable bus to the airport, you also get the royal treatment! This could not have been more convenient for us as we said good-bye to this Magical Place!
Disclosure: I attended a sponsored event at Walt Disney World. This post had nothing to do with that event. All opinions are 100% honest and my own.