I should have posted about our amazing trip to Fort Wilderness Campground at Disney World a while back, but I wanted to have all the videos done first. Check our our magical vacation videos HERE.
Disney World is not for everyone, but it’s our favorite place to go on vacation. If you follow my YouTube channel, you know we’ve travelled many places with our children, but we always return to Disney World every few years. It’s where my parents took me on vacation growing up, so it’s as sentimental to me as it is fun. It’s also one of the places that brings enjoyment to my teenager AND my two small children.
Our Disney Methods
Everyone does their Disney vacations a bit differently and, in my experience, most people are passionate about the specific methods they follow when experiencing the Disney resorts. Obviously, you should vacation in a way that is best suited for your family’s needs and interests. I’m just going to share how WE like to plan our Disney vacations. If you get any ideas or helpful hints, then that’s great!
How we pay for it
I’m certain I don’t need to go into detail about how expensive a Disney vacation can be. Depending on your transportation, accommodations, length of stay, and a host of other factors, a Disney vacation can either be a moderate or an extreme expense, but it’s almost never cheap.
Because we go about every 3 years, we have a good idea of what it is going to cost us. About 2 years out, I start saving a monthly amount through an online bank that offers automatic withdrawals. I use the online banking because it is separate from our regular bank accounts and I’m less likely to pull money from it for other reasons. I treat it like a monthly bill and, because I start them a few years prior to the trip, the withdrawals are quite small and manageable.
We also keep it affordable through our choices of accommodations and meal planning (see below).
Where we stay
Obviously, we like to stay in our camper when we travel. Our Disney Vacations are no different. Disney has its own campground: the Fort Wilderness Campground and Resort. There are three tiers of campsites for RVers: premium, preferred, and basic full hook-ups. We always book a preferred site for two reasons:
1) They are a little less expensive than the premium (just under $100/night) while still offering full hook-ups
2) Because they are in the original loops from the first days of the campground, they are located close to the transportation boat launch as well as the campground store and restaurants.
As far as campsites go, $100/night is really high, but compared to the cost of staying on site in a Disney hotel, $100/night is a steal.
Before we were RVers, we always stayed off-site. There are tons of reasonably-priced options for renting full-size homes within 10 minutes of the resorts through VRBO or AirBnB. Staying at one of the Disney resort hotels can significantly increase your costs for accommodations, so it just wasn’t reasonable for us to pay for on-site accomodations in a small hotel room when we could have a whole house all to ourselves for a fraction of the price.
Campground guests are never eligible for the free meal plans that are often offered to other on-site guests in the fall. Thankfully, we can easily pack a full vacation’s worth of breakfast food in the camper before we leave, as well as snacks and ingredients for sandwiches. We eat the rest of our meals in the parks. We also save money by getting counter-service meals instead of table service, which is super easy now that mobile ordering is available. The portions are large, so we can even share some meals between kids to cut down on cost and waste.
Another helpful option is to pack your own meals and snacks. Unlike almost every other amusement park in the country, Disney let you bring your own food into the park. Just be sure to check the guidelines for storage as large coolers are no longer allowed.
I itemize our food costs upon returning from each visit and we always spend less on food than we would spend to have each of us use a meal plan. So, until my kids are teenagers and start eating like it, I don’t see us purchasing a meal plan in the future.
Obviously, if we are taking the camper, we have to pull it from Pennsylvania. It takes us 20-25 hours, depending on whether or not we stop to boondock in the night.
We actually started driving down before we got a camper. Jim doesn’t mind the drive and it costs way less in gas (even with our gas-chugging F250 pulling the trailer) than it would cost for the 5 of us to fly down.
If you decide to drive, keep in mind that campground guests are the only on-site visitors who do not have to pay a daily parking fee to keep their cars there.
Many people like to plan their Disney vacations down to the minute, day by day, so they don’t miss anything. They have fastpasses, dinner reservations, and shows scheduled for every day.
There was a time when we did that too, but because we go every few years, I now feel less pressure to “see it all.” So, before our window for reserving meals and rides opens, we sit down and discuss what we really want to do. Is there a new ride we’ve never ridden? Is there a restaurant we’d really like to try? Then, I set aside specific days where we get reservations to do those things. The rest of the time, we just wing it. By being more flexible, we have been able to have some amazing experiences we hadn’t planned ahead of time.
That being said, we almost always go during low-crowd times of the year (February or September) so I cannot promise it would work during busy seasons. In addition, we are seasoned Disney visitors, but if I were going for the first time I would find it extremely overwhelming. For someone who has never been on a Disney World vacation before, I would highly recommend either reaching out to a friend who goes often, visiting your local Disney-specialized travel agent, or taking advantage of the services offered online from freelancers willing to do all your planning and scheduling for you.
Like I said, we tend to visit Disney World during the slowest times of the year, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be crowds. With Disney’s new pricing system pushing people away from the busiest seasons, there are still likely to be days when the parks are packed.
Our most-useful strategy for avoiding crowds? Getting our butts out of bed really early.
We are early-risers as part of our daily routine, so getting the kids out of the house by 6:30 is a regular practice for us. If you are staying at a Disney Resort, you should definitely take advantage of the Early Magic Hours provided at most parks. Unlike past years, Disney now offers EMH almost every morning for Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios. Each time we took advantage of the extra hour, we walked on three or four empty rides before the queues started to fill with people. But, even if you are not staying on site, getting to the parks early is still a good strategy, as things don’t really pick up until almost lunch time.
If you’re thinking, “why would I want to get up early on vacation?” then Disney World might not be a good vacation destination for you. Sure, it’s fun, exciting, charming, and magical, but it’s not particularly relaxing. Maybe you should try a Disney Cruise instead.
Because we have so many more destinations around the country where we would like to take our RV, I cannot say when we will be heading back to Disney World. But, if this past vacation was our last Disney vacation as a family, I am happy to say it was definitely the best. Check it out in the link below!