By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2020, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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Families Doing the Basic December Walt Disney World Trip on A Tight Budget

By Dave Shute


This discussion is for families intending to follow the Basic December Itinerary, but needing to modify it to a tighter budget.  If your starting point is not the Basic Itinerary, see this page instead for other tight budget ideas.

The discussion below also assumes you are planning to stay at Pop Century but still have difficulties making the overall budget work.

(Those aimed at a deluxe resort, but worried about budgets—for example, who won’t go at all unless they can stay at a deluxe hotel, but can’t afford the Polynesian–should stay at the Wilderness Lodge and save a little more than $1000.

It is more kid-appealing than the Polynesian, but is not as convenient. Its rooms are smaller—344 square feet vs. a typical 415 square feet at the Polynesian–and only fit 4 people.)

NOTE: Military/DOD families, or those who could imagine traveling together with a military or DOD family, should review the Military Families section for another less expensive deluxe option—a split stay at the Polynesian and Shades of Green.


The most important thing in thinking about your budget is that there is much less of a payoff to a shorter trip than you’d think, and a huge payoff to staying in a cheaper rather than a more expensive Walt Disney World Resort.

The lack of value to shortening your trip comes from the fact that two of your key expenses—transportation from and to your home and park tickets—will be essentially the same no matter how long you stay.

For transportation this is obvious; for park tickets it comes from how Disney designs ticket prices. Basically, once you’ve paid for the first three days of a park ticket, additional days are almost free—e.g. $3/person/day. See this for more details.

So if you stay in one of the least expensive Walt Disney World Resorts (see this for where to stay), the way the math works is that if you assume $1,500 as your transportation costs, and a standard family of four, then you will spend 70% of the cost of an 8 night trip on a 3 night trip!

Another way to think about this is that if transportation costs you $1500, getting the same time in the parks by taking two 4 day trips will cost, including transportation, $7,600, but an 8 night 9 day trip costs just $5,800–$1,800 less!!


In reducing costs for your Pop Century vacation, the first principle is that shortening your trip is your last tactic, not your first.

This is for two reasons: as noted above, you will pay the same transport costs whether you stay for 7 days or for 9; and the way Disney prices tickets basically makes the cost to enter the parks is almost free after the third day.

So shortening your trip saves you much less than you would think.  Dropping 4 days—50% of your available time in Orlando–saves you only about 25% of your total costs, principally food and accommodations.


To reduce the cost of your trip, do the following things, in order. Stop when you get to a budget you can afford, as each added cut is more painful than the last.

  1. Consider driving—if possible, given where you live, it is almost always cheaper than flying, especially if you have a large family. When thinking about this, don’t let the reliability/size/mileage of your car overly influence you until you have checked out the cost of renting a car in your home town and driving it back and forth.  TOTAL SAVINGS: ASSUME $500, until you have your own figures.
  2. If you can’t drive, consider midweek arrivals and departures. For example, instead of arriving Saturday and departing Sunday, arrive Tuesday and depart Wednesday. Travel-oriented airfares are almost always less mid-week. To make the itineraries work, combine those for your arrival and departure weeks, adjusting as needed. You may also save a few bucks on your hotel from avoiding a second Saturday night, which are sometimes more expensive. TOTAL SAVINGS: ASSUME $500 until you have your own figures.
  3. Eliminate dinner at the Rainforest Café, and the Gospel Brunch at the House of Blues. Replace them with meals at the counter service of your hotel. This will save on the order of $200. The reason to cut these is that you can find identical meals in other places besides Orlando. TOTAL SAVINGS SO FAR: $700
  4. Eliminate Cirque du Soleil, saving about $325. Now we are getting into cuts that really hurt. While, like House of Blues and the Rainforest Café, you can see Cirque du Soleil elsewhere, it is less common, and you cannot see the actual show that plays at Walt Disney World. TOTAL SAVINGS SO FAR: $1,025.
  5. Eliminate one day from your trip, saving about $230-$360 in room, food and show costs. One day is about all you can eliminate without paying too high a price in lost sleeping in, pool time, and goofing off. You will pay a price, however: your trip will be less fun and relaxing than if you did not cut this day. See Shorter and Longer Itineraries for the December Week for how to modify your itinerary. TOTAL SAVINGS: $1,255 to $1,385, or 22-24% of a trip that started with a $1500 transportation budget.


Further painful thoughts on reducing your spending on food can be found at What If You Can’t Do the Dining Plan?

For a completely different approach, see Designing Your Walt Disney World Vacation to a Lower Target Budget.

You may find additional ideas at the wonderful site, but many of the concepts there require flexibility in your dates–which you can have in your second and following trips to Walt Disney World, but not your first!


For the basic December trip recommended by this site

  • See this for what to budget during the basic December trip
  • See this if you are on particularly tight budget, for (difficult) ideas to reduce the December trip budget by more than $1,000

If you can’t go the week this site recommends, see Estimating Budgets for Different Trips

For help getting to much lower budget numbers,

For Walt Disney World price seasons,

  • See this for resort price seasons
  • See this for Disney Dining Plan price seasons
  • See this for Walt Disney World theme park admission tickets

For the Tightwad’s Guide to Walt Disney World, see this

For the Comfortable Guide to Walt Disney World, see this

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