Guest Post by Megan
At the entrance to the Magic Kingdom, there’s an ideal photo spot where Mickey’s face is landscaped into the hill out of plants. Above this cleverly designed flower bed, there is a banner which states “Let the Memories Begin!” Our family set out to do just that. We tackled our first Disney adventure on a very tight budget. I will not be listing the amount of money we spent on food, accommodations, and souvenirs, however in this post, I will be sharing the tricks we used to cut costs and still make our Disney trip memorable without breaking the bank.
Our accommodations were located in Downtown Disney at the Royal Plaza Hotel. We were fortunate to be able to stay at this hotel for free due to my husband attending a conference there and his employer paying for lodging. If you should choose to stay in the Downtown Disney area, there are pros and cons to this location.
The pros were the close proximity to Downtown Disney itself where there is shopping and restaurants galore! We happened to be there on St. Patrick’s Day and found live music playing almost around every corner. It was really fun! Another bonus to Downtown Disney is that they have buses to shuttle you from your hotel to the various parks. By taking the bus, you avoid paying the parking fee at the Disney theme park. Just be prepared to have a 15-30 minute ride to your destination.
The hotel also offers a pool and hot tub. Since we stayed for 5 days, but only ventured to the theme park one day, the pool was really helpful in filling up our down time. The kids loved swimming and we were pleasantly surprised that it was a saline pool instead of a chlorinated pool. If you have never experienced the difference, let me say that that saline pools are wonderful!!! They are gentle on eyes, hair, and skin and there isn’t that strong, nauseating chlorine smell.
The cons of staying in a hotel in Downtown Disney is that they throw in extra fees. I found them to be pretty sneaky. There was a resort fee (on top of the nightly rate) and refrigerators and microwaves are not included! Seriously?! For a one time fee of $25 per appliance, a refrigerator and a microwave could be brought to the room. Since we were pinching pennies to make this trip happen, we opted to save the $50 and live out of a cooler by making frequent trips to the ice machine and getting creative with the coffee maker. I’ll explain more about that in the food section. If you’re thinking about doing laundry while at the hotel, be prepared to pay around $4 per load in the washing machine.
Let me begin by sharing how we cut food costs during our 5 day stay at Disney. I think I may have packed our entire pantry!!! I brought 2 loaves of bread, peanut butter, honey, kid-friendly snack food, cereal, paper bowls, plastic spoons, paper towels, sandwich bags, pop-tarts, instant oatmeal, granola bars, bottled water, gatorade, and capri suns. Each morning, we ate breakfast in our room. The Royal Plaza has a restaurant located in the lobby where they say kids eat free at certain times, but for $17/adult for a breakfast buffet, we said NO WAY! We ate cereal in our hotel room, keeping the milk cold in our cooler with a generous supply of ice (FYI: milk is only supposed to be kept for a maximum of 3 days in a cooler). We also were able to make instant oatmeal by heating water in the coffee maker.
The coffee maker at the Royal Plaza was quite different from any other I’ve ever seen. They even made it difficult for you to brew your own coffee! Thankfully, my husband is a coffee guru and was able to carefully fold our coffee into a coffee filter and work it from that angle. We know what we like and were glad to have our preferred brand each morning.
For lunch, we ate peanut butter and honey sandwiches with various other items. On the day we went to the Magic Kingdom, I packed our lunches and took them into the park. While Disney says they don’t allow outside food and beverages, they don’t seem to be strict with that rule. Most people we spoke to at the hotel said they did the same thing and took their lunch into the park.
Now, here’s where we did our food splurges:
In Downtown Disney, the food was excellent at each of the places we ate, however it was pricey. I highly recommend asking for a coupon book in the hotel lobby with coupons for the Downtown Disney restaurants. We used them at each place we ate and even at the Lego store to buy a Lego set.
We really enjoyed eating at the T-Rex Cafe. We were seated in the Ice Cave where every 15 minutes, there was a “meteor shower” complete with a light show. My 4 and 6 year olds loved it! My 2 year old found the meteor shower a little scary and was nervous about the robotic dinosaurs. Aside from that, the food was excellent, the service fantastic, and the overall experience was really cool!
We also ate at the Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant. The food was great and the atmosphere was cool if you like pubs and Irish music (which we do!). While we didn’t eat at Earl of Sandwich, I have heard from a friend that their sandwiches are excellent!
Due to the price of most Downtown Disney restaurants, we were happy to find a Panera Bread down the road where we could opt for simpler meals such as soup.
Inside the Magic Kingdom, there are many food options you can take advantage of if it’s in your budget. We splurged by buying Mickey shaped ice cream for each of our kids (gotta’ buy Mickey shaped ice cream, right?) and ate dinner at a restaurant near Frontier Land called the Columbia Harbour House. It was fast, it was actually VERY affordable, and the food was so good! From my more experienced Disney friends, pretty much all food in the Magic Kingdom is tasty, so I was super happy to feed our entire family of 5 for about $30-$40 at this place. We left with our tummies full!
THE MAGIC KINGDOM
We could only afford to go to the Magic Kingdom for one day, so we made the MOST of that day as we possibly could. I recommend buying your theme park tickets in the hotel lobby (if your hotel offers this service). It saved us from standing in a long line with our 3 little ones. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
We started early by taking a complimentary bus from our hotel to the monorail, which then took us into the theme park. Since we had a backpack filled with diapers, wipes, drinks, and lunch, we had to go through the bag check. I was surprised by how quickly they rummaged through our things and gave us the go ahead to be admitted to the park. Lines flowed smoothly and we were inside without too much difficulty.
There are only a few tips I have to offer as to your Magic Kingdom experience. Everyone is different as to what they want to accomplish in their time within the park, so I won’t bore you with the details of each and every ride we went on, however, I do recommend going into the park with a game plan. Studying a map of the park (which can be obtained in most hotel lobbies) is a good idea so that you know where to go once inside. Early morning tends to be less busy when it comes to waiting in line for the rides. Take full advantage and hit the rides you want to do the most when the park is less populated. When the lines get longer and the wait times are 30 minutes or more, I recommend using the Fast Pass system. It’s a free service in which you scan your tickets for the ride and Disney provides you with a time interval in which you can return to the ride without having to wait in the long lines. IT IS A-W-E-S-O-M-E!!! To fill in the time while you’re waiting for the fast pass appointment time, you can ride less popular rides OR catch some of the shows Disney offers such as the Pirates of the Caribbean show (big hit with my boys), the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, and the Country Bear Jamboree.
We skipped the Disney parade, however that is a good opportunity for children to spot their favorite characters if you don’t want to stand in line to meet them. We tried to stay for the fireworks show, but honestly, our children were begging to go back to the hotel around 6:30pm. They were exhausted! We were happy to oblige.
OTHER THINGS TO DO
Besides there being other theme parks, if you find yourself like us, spending 5 days in Disney but only able to go to the park for one day, there are other things to do around town. I mentioned filling time at the hotel pool, but if the weather isn’t ideal for that, did you know there is outlet shopping nearby? Just be careful which route you take because you may find yourself on one of the many toll roads in the area. Ugh! Tolls…
Also, I found out after we left that there is an IKEA in Orlando! Had we known this, we would have spent some time there. Oh well…
Cocoa Beach is only an hour away, so if you are longing to see some ocean, drive an hour east and go to Cocoa Beach! If you’re more ambitious, the Gulf Of Mexico is 2 and a half hours away. Just beware of Tampa traffic!
Finally…you may have a very different trip in mind for your Disney adventure. Whatever you are planning to do, if you need to cut costs, please visit the website www.mousesavers.com It is so helpful in answering questions about where to stay, where to eat, how to buy tickets, etc. It is an overwhelming amount of information, but it just might be the perfect resource to help you plan your Disney vacation.
You can request a Free Customized Disney Map!
Highlight your family’s favorite Park activities and attractions and then have them delivered to your door! Create special keepsake Maps of all 4 Parks that highlight your favorite attractions and entertainment.
Just Click on the Image above (the link is in the image) and it will take you to the request form. (US ONLY)
You can request a Free Disney Planning DVD while supplies last! (NO LONGER AVAILABLE)
Here is a photo of the DVD I requested when this offer was previously available:
Other Post You May Enjoy:
This post may contain affiliate links. Please refer to the Disclosure Policy for more details. Photo Credit: