Going to Disney on a Navy Budget

At the end of October, my husband and I used one of his four day weekends to take a trip to Disney World. It was a blast and our first real vacation as a married couple. We were so glad we did it. The schedule we’re on can get stressful and zombie-like, and the change in pace was exactly what we needed.

I’ve been to Disney World a few times with my family, and Reid went with his family when he was little. However, taking a Disney vacation as newlyweds seemed a little unattainable. My first attempt at pricing a vacation was very overwhelming and made me choke a bit. Thankfully, I got a little wiser and realized that there were cheaper ways to get to Disney, especially for military families. This post is about how we did it and were still able to stay at a Disney resort, use the dining plan, and spend less than $2,000 (with souvenirs!).

1. We used a Disney travel agent. 

This wasn’t originally in the plan when I began to bargain hunt, but it worked out very well! I knew there was a hotel specifically for military families going to Disney (more on that later, and why we wound up not staying there), so I posted in a local spouses group asking for the name. Through that post, I was contacted by a fellow Navy wife who is a Disney travel agent, and she offered to help me plan our vacation.

This is was a huge lifesaver, as there were some things I knew about (the aforementioned hotel, special priced tickets), but she helped me find the best deals that fit in our budget. And the best part? I didn’t have to pay anything extra to use her! I’d call that a win.

2. We did not have any preference for which resort we stayed in. 

Not caring which Disney resort you stay at helps immensely with getting a good deal. It means you won’t miss out on a good price because you filtered it out. This is even better if you’re not planning on spending a lot of time at your resort. Since we were only planning to sleep there and maybe eat breakfast there, we knew that the resort we stayed at didn’t completely matter. A Disney resort is a Disney resort and they’re all great quality!

We were able to get a room at Coronado Springs. It was on the second floor, had a nice view, and comfy beds. Even better, our room was close to one of the bus stops, and it happened to be the first stop the busses to the different parks make! First ones on in the morning, first ones off at the end of the day… it was pretty great.

I’ll note here also our reasoning for staying in the park. If you’ve seen the parking lots at Disney World, you’ll understand. They are huge. And overwhelming. And difficult to navigate. And, on top of all of that, there is a fee to park there each day. I knew it would be a hassle to stay at an outside hotel, drive in every day, pay the parking fee, wander around the parking lot, and everything else involved with that like using extra gas. We wanted to be able to maximize our time in the parks and minimize hassle, so staying at a Disney resort was the best option for us.

3. We did not stay at Shades of Green.

Stay with me, I know this sounds counterintuitive for a Navy family. For those who don’t know, Shades of Green is the resort reserved for military families. It typically has prices that are cheaper than the usual Disney resort. However, it is not an official Disney resort. Therefore, if you stay there, while you get bus transportation to and from the parks, you do not get access to the dining plan. Having been to Disney and being very aware of food prices, I knew the dining plan would be a very useful tool.

4. We drove there. 

This is not going to be a practical move for everybody. We live in the Charleston area of South Carolina and Disney World is in Orlando, Florida. So, I can’t give any tips on finding good flight deals. The drive is just over six hours for us, so a full tank of gas. Not bad considering how much gas we use driving back and forth to base every day (the struggles of having one car and a 25 minutes commute).

5. We used the Disney Dining Plan. 

The Disney Dining Plan is one of the best year-round deals to come out of Disney World vacations. It makes eating meals at Disney completely stress-free. I wasn’t able to get official numbers on what we would have spent on food (we saved receipts only to realize that the price of meals shows up a $0.00 when you use the dining plan). However, based on the prices I noted on the original receipts from the restaurants we used our table service meals at (pre-applying dining plan, and so we could estimate tip) we would have paid much more without the dining plan.

We got the standard dining plan, which means we had one quick service meal, one table service meal, and two snacks per night we stayed at the resort. This worked out perfectly, even though we were there for three nights and four days. Our first and last day were partial days, so it all evened out.

It’s important to note that for the table service meals, tips were not included. Even with tips not being included, we really enjoyed the freedom of being able to eat wherever we wanted without worrying about the price. Plus, with my food allergies, eating out in general can be difficult to navigate. Disney makes eating at the parks and resorts with allergies as easy as if I didn’t have allergies.

6. We purchased our park tickets on base. 

This was what really helped us save money. Not caring which resort you stay in, driving, and using the dining plan can definitely save you some dollars, but taking advantage of military pricing was what really saved us the big bucks. I went to the ITT (Information, Tickets, and Travel) office and was able to get four day park hopper tickets for half the normal price. If you are a military family planning to go to Disney, definitely make sure you get your tickets from base. You will save quite a bit of money!

7. We didn’t add any extra things. 

We didn’t add time at the famed water parks, attend Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, or schedule any character breakfasts. We kept our vacation as simple and easy as possible. We enjoyed the spontaneity and were only restricted to what times we had scheduled our FastPasses and dinner reservations. This also meant no extra fees or needing to be at a certain place constantly throughout the day.

We did bend on thing we promised ourselves we would not ever do (even when we have kids): we stood in line for a character meet and greet. These don’t cost anything extra, but they typically have very long waits for less than a minute with the character. But it was a chilly morning at Hollywood Studios on our last day, Reid was wearing his Chewbacca hoodie, and there was a ten minute wait for Chewbacca. It was basically a requirement at that point! 😉

To add to our old-person status, we didn’t even take advantage of extra magic hours. They are open to anyone staying in the resorts, but we decided not to use them. To be completely honest, at the end of each day we were so exhausted we could barely keep our eyes open! We did as much as we could each day and had a blast, all without adding extra experiences.

8. We didn’t go crazy with souvenirs. 

This may seem like a given, but maybe not. Souvenirs at Disney can get pretty spendy, and there is a lot of cool stuff. The stores are filled to the brim with witty t-shirts, beautiful ornaments, adorable children’s outfits, and enticing character paraphernalia (they are really taking advantage of this Star Wars thing). Needless to say, for the impulsive shopper, Disney World souvenir shops can be a bank account drainer.

We didn’t really discuss how many things we would buy beforehand, but we did discuss getting a couple things and trying to avoid spending a lot. We got a few fun things that fit our personalities well and were things we knew we’d use and love. Souvenirs were definitely not our primary focus.

All in all, we had a fantastic vacation and did not have to pay through the nose for it. We let someone help us find the best deals, stayed in the parks, utilized military-friendly pricing, and enjoyed our meals through the Disney Dining Plan. It was a great weekend getaway and a nice break from the norm.

It is important to note that our experience may not be exactly like your own. It’s just Reid and I, no kids, we live decently close to Orlando, and he currently has set days off (one of the small perks of prototype). But I can say that taking a trip to Disney as a Navy family is definitely not as expensive and complicated as it seems! Friday’s post will be dedicated to eating at Disney with food allergies.

3 thoughts on “Going to Disney on a Navy Budget

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  1. We’re so happy you two got to go to WDW! And you got to see Chewbacca! While wearing the coat! 🙂 LOL We’re going to try driving next time.

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