Can’t Afford the Cheapest Disney Resort Vacation? Try these Alternative Family Vacation Spots.

Due to price hikes the last few years, even the cheapest Disney resort vacation is now out of reach for a lot of households. Depending on what kind of deals and hotel you get, a family of 4 could fly to Europe for the same price as staying at an on property Disney world resort. Disney has also removed discounts in the last 3 years.

As a theme park lover myself, I understand why people go anyway. Disney provides a special, uncompilable experience. However, it isn’t really a realistic destination for me to plan for anymore. Let's take a serious look at what makes Disney so appealing, so that few can find the best alternatives at an even better price. For the purposes of this article, I will specifically be using Disney World, Florida to give examples of prices and amenities. 

Spaceship earth at Disney World, Florida

Why Does Even the Cheapest Disney Resort Vacation Have “Disney Magic”? 

Attention to Detail and Exceptional service

It seems that no matter how expensive hotels and tickets get, some people are still willing to pay an arm and a leg for it. And there is a reason; they don’t call it “Disney Magic” without cause. Historically, Disney is known for staff that goes the extra mile to keep guests happy, even in the midst of long lines, bad weather, and toddler tantrums. To find good substitutes, one would have to find cheap alternatives to a Disney resort vacation that also offer great service or unique experiences. 

A Variety of Activities Within Reach

Even at the cheapest price points, Disney resorts offer a huge amount of amenities in a convenient package. Resorts can offer pools, movie nights, mini golf, specialty restaurants, character meet-and-greets, live entertainment and shopping. That’s not even including what is available in the 4 attached theme parks, 2 waterparks, shopping district and boardwalk available at Disney World, Florida! Additionally, If you stay at a budget resort like Art of Animation, and you want to visit an ice cream shop or eat a fancy dinner, you are never discouraged from visiting another resort. Therefore, the best alternatives to a Disney vacation would include an impressive variety of activities. 

On Property Hotels and Transportation

Why is “resort hopping” so popular at Disney World? Why do people choose to stay overnight on the Disney property despite the ridiculous prices? One of the biggest reasons is that Disney gives you great transportation perks! There is a bus system, multiple monorail loops, water taxi, walking paths and rideshare program all operating at Disney World. Frequent flyers at Disney World love to complain about buses running late, However,I think it's a bit silly when you consider the fact that most vacation destinations don’t have that kind of complimentary transportation at all! Even the cheapest Disney resort vacation negates the need for a car rental in many cases. 

What does the Cheapest Disney Resort Vacation Cost?

Cheapest Travel to Florida

Travel prices vary greatly depending on nearby airport and how far you have to fly or drive. For the purposes of this section, I will be using my location in Iowa for estimating prices. The cheapest possible flight to Orlando, would be about $150 on an Avelo airlines. The flight is point-to-point, before taxes and fees. We should also include $80 for our travel from the airport to the Disney resort ecosystem, since the Magical Express from MCO Airport was canceled. 

Cheapest Disney Resort Hotels

Disney resorts are sorted into several budget levels. The cheapest Disney resort level is called “value resorts”. This term includes 5 different hotels with basic rooms, pools, and ala carte cafeteria options, as well as access to Disney’s transportation. These hotels do not have all the features or level of decoration that you would expect at a moderate or deluxe resort, but many people prefer even the cheapest Disney resort vacation compared to using a budget off property hotel . A quick Google search today shows the cheapest rooms as All-Star Sports Resort or Pop Century Resort, with prices being listed on multiple blogs at $118 for a standard room with 2 queens. If you stayed off property and used a hotel shuttle to get to the park, I imagine prices could get closer to $90. 

If you want more information about the differences between hotels, what each hotel offers, and how to get deals, I recommend reading the Dis. They also have a lovely podcast. 

Cheapest Park tickets

Park tickets will be the most expensive part of a Disney trip, if you are going with a family. Disney park one day tickets are $109 -$160 per person, but get cheaper per day as you add days. Many people also add a rest day or park-hopping day. You won’t need a ticket for that. If you add on a park hopper ticket or waterpark pass, expect to pay around $30 or more extra per day. 

Food and souvenirs

From family to family, this is the most variable aspect of planning a trip. I  don’t spend a lot on souvenirs, and I like to bring snacks to save money when I can. However, my parents often get fancy meals and souvenirs when they travel. I would suggest budgeting what you would normally spend at a regional theme park or tourist trap, and then add a 15 - 20% upcharge. 

Better alternatives to the Cheap Disney Resort Vacations

Find a National or International Theme Park Resort That Can Compete with Disney

Disney World is not the only Internationally loved theme park! You may want to do a price comparison against Universal Studios. It's not uncommon for Universal to beat Disney at price. You could also look at Legoland, Busch gardens, or Seaworld, depending on your family's interests. 

If you had been saving to splurge on a moderate room at Disney, try looking at internationally renowned parks too. The Dutch theme park Eftelling is older than Disneyland, and has just as much attention to detail. Furthermore, Efteling has fantastic package deals if you stay in an Efteling resort!

Find a Regional Theme Park Resort That Can Compete with Disney

It won’t always have the same magic as the Disney parks and resorts. But, regional parks have a lot to offer! Plus, you can save on travel costs by traveling to a less remote location. Many regionally dominant parks also have an affiliated hotel, campground or resort. This can give you that all-in-one, worry-free experience. I also think that local parks actually have better thrill rides than Disney. Unfortunately, most regionally dominant theme parks don’t have comparable character meet and greets and dark rides. The examples I'm listing do a good job of solving some of the “local theme park” problems.

Wisconsin Dells

Where I live we get a lot of commercials for this place, and to be honest, the hype is justified. Wisconsin Dells has a huge variety of waterparks, theme parks, hotels, and other experiences. If Disney appeals to you because of the variety of things to do and how close everything is, it would make a great uber-budget friendly substitute for a Disney resort vacation. If you are looking for a REALLY good deal, try booking a winter trip at a hotel resort with an indoor  waterpark. While the outdoor entertainment is closed, you still get access to the indoor park. Plus, some resorts also offer winter sports like sledding and skiing. Keep in mind, however, that the Dells is sometimes about quantity over quality. For example, you might not find Disney quality dark rides or park decorations, and the story elements are usually super corny.

Lost Island Theme Park

I have written a few posts about this park now, and there is a reason! Lost Island Theme park is the closest thing the Midwest has to real competition with Disney. Especially when it comes to telling a story! In addition to a theme park (complete with unique souvenirs and character meet-and-greets) the greater Lost Island resort includes an award winning waterpark, mini golf course, and a KOA campground. Between all of these amenities, the resort has enough to keep a family occupied for a few days. Plus there are a few museums and activities in the surrounding city of Waterloo, IA.

All the staff at Lost Island are helpful, courteous and have a fantastic attitude! Park operations run very smoothly, especially compared to other regional parks. You can tell that the management follows Disney service standards. They go that extra mile to make guests feel at home and comfortable.

The one downside to this location is that the theme park is very new. It tends not to get crowds, is still being outfitted with new rides, and generally feels a bit empty.  You can read my blog documenting progress and predictions here. Or, read this blog about who should buy a season pass. 

Find a Robust Beach Resort That Can Compete with Disney

You are already planning to fly to the other end of the country for sunshine and fun. Why not consider a beach resort instead of Disney World? Florida has plenty of beautiful beach towns with free beaches, pools, fresh seafood and tropical drinks. Try looking for a cheaper all-inclusive (or similar) resort with beach access. Ideally, near a boardwalk or some museums. If you can’t find what you desire in Florida, see if it's in-budget to visit Jamaica, Mexico, or the Bahamas. Depending on where you stay, you might be able to learn surfing scuba diving without leaving the hotel area.

Take An Amenity Packed Caribbean Cruise

Did you know that some families can cruise for a better price than visiting Disney World? Many frequent-Disney-fliers choose cruise after being priced-out of Disney resort vacations. Just like theme parks and resorts, different cruise lines and cruise ships can offer different experiences. They also offer different prices. Ships look a bit like Vegas, and others scream "kid friendly" from top to bottom. Some offer spa treatments, and some offer land excursions. Cruises are great for people who don’t want to worry about planning once you get to your vacation destination. Food, entertainment and transportation between destinations is all handled, which gives guests a feeling of control and comfort. 


What do you think about these cheaper alternatives to Disney Resort vacations? Have you had to rethink your "cheapest" Disney resort vacation for budgetary reasons? Have you been to any of these locations? If so, how do they compare to the Megalith of Disney? Do you think the cheapest Disney resort vacation is worth it? Let me know in the comments below!


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