Going to Walt Disney World on a Budget (Part 1)
In February of 2011 my wife and I started discussing taking a trip to Walt Disney World. This trip would be the third trip for me and the first for my wife and daughter. Our goal was to have a quality vacation while going to Disney World on a budget. A trip to Disney World will never be cheap, but there are ways to incorporate more value into the proposition. Initially our interest was sparked by low priced fares to Orlando, but eventually we decided that we had better options. The biggest part of saving money is taking the time and energy to slow down before making financial decisions. Spending $350 to fly 3 people to Disney World seems like the obvious best choice. Then we needed to evaluate all other expenses that exist based on the flight. In order to get the discounted pricing we had to fly into Orlando’s Sanford Airport which is located further form Disney World, thus requiring transportation. If we flew we would need to either take a shuttle or rent a car in order to move around the world.
Ultimately, we chose to extend our existing June road trip to Panama City Beach. In total, this would be an 1,800 mile round trip, compared to 1,200 miles to simply drive to Panama City Beach. We decided that the extra 600 miles driving would be the more affordable option. We stopped on the way down and visited my cousin which really worked out well. With this option we drove our own car, packed everything we needed and spent a little more than $100 in gas.
The most important part of the transportation aspect is figuring out how much each decision is costing you on your trip. Even if the cost of flying and driving was exactly the same there are other factors that must be considered when making a decision. Bags may cost extra on some airlines, but as long as your automobile is big enough you can pack whatever you want. No need to rent a car or rely on shuttles. One warning about relying on shuttles if you are staying off property at Disney World be sure to check the shuttle schedule. We had considered taking a shuttle to the Disney Parks every day, but it turns out that the shuttles only run at about 4 am and noon. So you either need to be the kind of person that arrives at the park super early or super late. I love to get to the park before it opens, but during our time there I did not find it necessary to arrive too early.
Although we loved driving and found it very convenient for us especially when we arrived we are still evaluating our options. Just to drive from our house to Walt Disney World is 1,700 miles round trip. If we get 17 miles per gallon in the SUV, that works out to 100 gallons of gas or between $350 and $400. The most interesting way that I am considering for our next Disney trip is to fly Southwest. They offer flights for about $220 per ticket, which is $660 for the 3 tickets we would need. Another way to do this is by using Southwest Rapid Rewards for 13,600 points per ticket, which is 40,800 points for the 3 tickets we would need. Unfortunately for me I have not flown in years, my wife and daughter have never flown. How would such a limited traveler even consider using frequent flyer miles? This is where using a credit card bonus comes in handy. I signed up for a Southwest Airlines card from Chase with a Bonus of 50,000 points! This means by simply applying for a card my family will be able to take a trip to Walt Disney World. Sounds like a pretty great trade.
Even if we fly for free we will need to make arrangements. We will need to rent a car making sure to use a shopping portal and searching for any promo codes. An inexpensive car can be found for the week and cost less than driving to Orlando. Another great method is if you stay at a Disney Hotel you get free transportation from the airport. This includes picking up your bags and delivering them to your room for you!
In Part 2 of Disney on a Budget I will evaluate how we decided on our lodging in 2011 and the ways in which we might change our methods going forward. Should we stay at the park or out of the world? Should I buy the dining plan option?