Disney YOUR Way – Planning an Affordable “Adult” Disney Vacation from Start to Finish
The purpose of this posting is to help guide anyone who may be planning a Walt Disney World vacation. Although it may seem overwhelming, I promise you that preparation is key when it comes to WDW, and it is sooooooo worth it. Trust. The first time I visited the Happiest Place on Earth, I was anything but happy. You simply cannot and should not “wing it” when it comes to Disney, especially during your very first trip! For the second trip I took to WDW, I spent hours upon hours planning, and it truly paid off! My hope is to help anyone planning their first trip to Disney create a memorable (read magical) experience!
“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” – Walt Disney
So, you’ve been planning an “adults-only” vacation to The Happiest Place on Earth – where do you begin? The best place to start is nailing down a date with your pals. Temptingly, you may hope to travel during the holiday or summer season. If you love long lines, uncomfortable temperatures, and becoming generally agitated, then these times may be perfect for you. Otherwise, check out this calendar to figure out the best time to visit WDW.
Still with me? Good! Now that we’ve got the dates picked out, lets get down to business… to defeat.. the LOGISTICS! Let’s talk travel and accommodations.
“Look for the Bare Necessities”
If you are looking for a cheap vacation, then unfortunately Walt Disney World may not be the place to go. HOWEVER, there are ways to save some major dough on your travel and housing.
Some airlines have some major deals that you can redeem so that you can save your hard-earned cash for the important stuff. (Did anyone say “Dole-whip”? More on that later.)
Score! ($): Southwest Airlines –
Fly via Southwest Airlines by booking in the “Wanna Get Away” category. Southwest tends to have the cheapest quality flights year-round, and some flights have wifi (for an additional fee.) Also, you can have a free carry-on, a free “personal item”, AND your first checked bag flies free! Bonus points: sign up for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Card, buy your WDW tickets and book your hotel with the card, and you can earn the points to pay for your plane tickets! (Right now, they have a promo where you can earn 50,000 points by making $2000 in purchases within three months of opening the card.) Don’t open the card for the sole purpose of getting a free flight, obvi. But if you are someone who can pay off a balance that big fairly quickly, it may be worth it! If not, the website also offers fairly frequent sales and promos, where one-way flights are as low as $59!
Since Orlando is a destination that attracts people from all over the world, you are in luck when it comes to booking comfortable yet affordable accommodations. If you plan to visit the parks for the majority of the day, perhaps you are simply looking for a place to rest your head at night. Looking for something a bit more “resort” like? They got you.
Score! ($): Groupon
If you are just looking for the “bare necessities”, Groupon is definitely the way to go. Depending on the time of the year, you may find a room in Orlando for as low as $30/night! Just be sure to research the hotel you are booking prior.
Score! ($): Camping at Disney
The great thing about WDW? There is something for everyone! If you think you’d like to camp at Disney, check out the Fort Wilderness Resort for a fairly cheap campsite!
Pretty Sweet! ($$): Disney Resorts
Wanna stay on Disney’s property? Although these hotels aren’t the first properties usually pictured online and in advertisements, they still offer the best of both worlds: affordability and Disney-style comfort. Check out these value resorts here.
Pretty Sweet! ($$): Other Orlando Hotels
If you don’t need the full “Disney Experience”, try booking at some of the cheaper “resort style” hotels in Orlando. Most will have shuttle services that will take you to the WDW Ticketing and Transportation Center. From there, you can catch a second shuttle bus to your final destination (if you are visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Epcot, etc.). Be sure to check out whether this service is free before booking. If you go this route, check out my favorite hotel outside the Disney chain: the Double Tree by Hilton at Seaworld.
Vacation in Style ($$-$$$): Disney’s “Moderate” Resorts
If you are looking for the “Disney Experience”, look no further! Disney’s Moderate Resorts are the best, and offer fully themed rooms and recreational areas that people of all ages will enjoy!
The Whole Package ($$$$): Disney’s Deluxe Resorts
If you picture yourself staying in the Animal Kingdom or the Polynesian Villas, look no further. These resorts are the best of the best! You get the best views, the best suites and the best experience if you can spare the pennies, all within the closest proximity to the parks. Check them out here.
“Keep Moving Forward.”
Flights – check! Hotel – double check! Now that you know for sure that you’re going to make it to Disney, you’re in great shape. But what does “going to Disney” really mean? Walt Disney World (and Orlando in general) is actually made up of quite a few parks. Below, I have listed the highlights of each major park to give you a general idea of what to expect at each one.
When you think of Disney World, the “Magic Kingdom” is typically the first place that comes to mind. There is so much to see and do here, and is
probably definitely the most magical and family-oriented park in the entire world. There is nothing more exciting than the first glimpse of the towers of Cinderella’s castle when you are approaching the complex via monorail or ferry. The entire atmosphere is exciting, overwhelming, exhausting, bustling, and pure fantasy all in one. Definitely a must-do park at least once in a life-time for anyone ever planning a trip to the Walt Disney World Resorts. If you are looking for a suggested itinerary to make the most out of your day at the Magic Kingdom, click here. The magic Kingdom is a day-long adventure, so be sure to wear comfy shoes and get a good night’s sleep the evening before!
Widest variety in activities, attractions, and character sightings of all the parks.
Many fun, milder rides for those of us who do not have young stomachs or other body parts.
Best “bang for your buck”.
You can pre-book FastPass+ for three rides, then book more after the first three are used via mobile app. FastPass+ allows you to skip the lines at pre-determined times for rides that you choose. More on FastPass+ here.
Extra Magic Hours are available for free if you stay in a Disney Resort, or for an additional fee through an Orlando concierge.
There is a nighttime fireworks display that is absolutely phenomenal!
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Disney’s Animal Kingdom has a reputation for being a “half-day” park, and this may deter new visitors from including it in their WDW vacation. *Picks up megaphone* ANIMAL KINGDOM IS THE BOMB.COM! The park is divided up into multiple “continents”, each one hosting unique attractions and decoration. If you’d like to see a suggested itinerary, click here.
There is an absolutely incredible amount of detail in this park! Definitely plan to include some time taking in the sights when the lines become longer during the afternoon!
With such a variety of food, there is sure to be something for everyone to enjoy.
Thrill seekers: listen up! Expedition Everest and Dinosaur is perfect for those that enjoy hi-speed, exciting attractions.
The Kilimanjaro Safari allows for a close-up look at some amazing animals, some of which will come right up to your buggy!
Although Epcot is not as highly “Disney” themed as the other parks, it is one of the most popular parks in the chain. More like a showcase of different “themes”, Epcot is a one-of-a-kind park, and is well worth a visit! To see a sample itinerary, click here.
Epcot includes many attractions that vary in themes and even have a “Nighttime Spectacular” show that can’t be missed. From attractions like “Frozen Ever After” to “Soarin’ Around the World”, this will surely be a park that those in your group who may not have chose WDW as their first choice for a vacation will love!
There are also many different “adult” things to do in this park, rather than Magic Kingdom, which is more family-oriented. Like trying new things? Visit the World Showcase to pick up a passport and try “Drinking Around the World” or “Snacking Around the World”.
“All you need is faith, trust, and Pixie Dust.”
Now that you have your mind wrapped around the most famous of the three parks, now what? Well, now would be a good time to plan out your budget to make sure you have enough “Pixie Dust” for everything! Things like transportation and food add up, so be sure to take advantage of free shuttle services, and stock up on groceries since you can pack a lunch and bring it into the parks! Uber and Lyft are great ways to save money, however, it may be worth it to spend the money for a rental car if you are staying for the majority of a week, or staying in a more remote hotel. Another great way to save: skip the “Park Hopper” tickets. It may be tempting to visit multiple parks per day, however the difference will cost you roughly $40-$60, and that’s a lot! After all, we are adults on a budget!
A parting note: even though it seems overwhelming, and plans may change based on finances/weather, just keep this in mind:
A trip to Disney will be one of the most incredible, nostalgic, and magical experiences of your life. No matter how you plan it, at least plan it, and allow it to be amazing because of your preparation!