Disney on a Budget, Part 2: Lodging

In previous posts you learned that we went to Disney World on a family vacation this summer. Melissa started sharing a little about the planning for this trip. She has reviewed our money saving strategies that we employed on food here and here. This was not easy considering the less than normal way we traveled this time. She also gave some insight as to the timing of our trip in her Father’s Day post. Today I will cover some of the lodging tips we have uncovered while planning Disney trips we have taken with the kids.

abbie stich

We have been to Florida with the kids three times. Each time we used a different style of lodging to suit our needs. Our first trip was an extended family celebration of my parents’ wedding anniversary. All told there were 13 people on the trip, seven of which were 10 years of age or younger. We decided on this trip we all wanted to stay close together. For this reason we chose, to go with a vacation rental home. What is more close than sharing a house! This was our first experience using VRBO.com and it went so well we used it again last summer on our Washington D.C. family trip. My parents were so pleased they have used it since to plan several other winter getaways for themselves.

We arrived a day earlier than everyone else in Florida on that trip in 2009, so we spent the first night in an on-site Disney hotel. That gave us access to the parks and free parking for the day. The rest of the time we relied on a rental car and paying the parking fees. We learned several things during our one night on-site. For instance, even though there is complimentary shuttles everywhere, it may take you a while to get where you want to go. And you may have to take a bus, a train, a monorail, and a boat to get there.

hollywood studios

The second trip to the Sunshine State was for a national robotics competition. The team I was working with made it into the national contest and we went along to support them. On this trip a VRBO was not a very economical choice. The five of us could not justify the cost of a house. So instead we opted for an off-site hotel. We chose one close by that had a pool we could use when we needed a break from the parks. The location and the pool were must have items for this trip.

We planned to return to the hotel around lunchtime each day so we could eat and our youngest could nap. During the nap, our older two daughters swam to their heart’s content in a nearly empty pool. The cost of the hotel was reasonable enough that we were able to absorb the cost of a rental car and parking fees and still spend less than staying on-site would have cost.

pop century

On our latest trip we took another approach to lodging. We stayed on-site the entire time. Mostly that decision was made by the rules of the dance extravaganza our kids were participating in. All dancers were required to stay in the same hotel as the rest of their dance school, and it would not have been much of a family vacation if we stayed in different locations from one another. As it was, we really enjoyed the time with the instructors and other parents at the hotel.

Since our lodging accommodations were selected for us, we had to find other ways to make the trip more budget friendly. The biggest thing we did was eliminate the need for a rental car. Disney really does a good job of making this possible. As Melissa wrote about, Garden Grocer’s delivers food to Disney. We may have paid a little more than normal for the food, but by having our food delivered we did not need a car.

We were also able to take buses to each park, thus avoiding the need for a car and the cost of parking. Of course, if you had a car you could leave it at the hotel and still ride the bus. This wasn’t the case for us though. We rode the buses to and from the parks a total of seven trips, and only had one trip that was less than desirable. We will share that story later on.

cool Jocelyn

60% of the family traveled by bus right to the front door of the hotel. The remaining 40% flew into Orlando and rode the Disney Magical Express from the airport to the hotel. The Magical Express is a complementary service offered to everyone staying in a Disney hotel. While it may have been magical that I did not have to drive, it was not express. The process is efficient, but each bus stops at a predetermined set of hotels. Depending on which hotel you are staying at, it may take a while to get you to your room. We were on the bus for a little less than an hour, which is about 15 minutes longer than it would take by car. I will sit on a bus for 15 minutes if it means a rental car is not necessary.

By taking these few steps, we were able to easily eliminate the need for a car. Saving the $200+ the car would have cost made the room rate more affordable. The other big cost savings we made in regards to lodging was our food choices Melissa shared previously. These two items saved us hundreds of dollars, and made the cost of staying on-site reasonable for this trip. Not to mention the reduced stress of not having to drive anywhere. I cannot remember the last time I went almost six full days without driving somewhere.

In a future week we will expound on our lodging details. We will give more pluses and minuses for all the different ways we have traveled. Let us know if there are any specific details you would like us to talk about.