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Walt Disney World on a Budget: How Two College Students Paid for a Disney Vacation

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Amherst chapter.

Growing up, I absolutely loved anything and everything Disney. My family is especially aware of this — in fact, my sister, Cara, and I would concoct the perfect Walt Disney World trip for our small family of four and try to convince our mom and dad to take us, whose response was always a slow nod and a doubtful “mmhmm…” Sitting down one day last summer, my boyfriend and I envisioned what our own Disney World vacation would look like: where we would stay, what we would eat, which rides we’d go on, etc. This quickly turned into plans for an actual Disney World trip as a couple. 

If you want to go to Disney World but don’t know how to start planning or what you’ll need to save up for, Hakuna Matata (it means ‘no worries’)! To make your dreams come true, here are some quick tips including the things we did to plan our Disney vacation as college students on a budget.

We first decided to give ourselves plenty of time to budget over several months. Starting in September, we saved money by working as much as possible during winter break, spring break, and by adding Disney gift cards to our holiday wishlists. Our first expense was round-trip plane tickets with Delta Airlines, after making sure to compare to other airline prices first, beginning our first day early in Epcot after landing. Our choice of the All-Star Movies Resort package is one of the cheapest options that also includes park tickets, giving us a total of five park days, five nights at the resort, and an early flight home to New York on the sixth day. This let us hit every park and even our favorite, Magic Kingdom, twice. Our budgeting lasted until the deadline for the resort package in April, and our trip happened in late May.

To spend less money in the parks, we discovered that Disney World lets you bring in outside snacks, including one sealed water bottle for each guest entering the park. Although Disney is very accommodating with allergies, I usually plan to bring my own snacks anyway. It’s nice to be able to have a quick bite as you wait in long lines. Something we didn’t consider until the second day was bringing our own cups to refill instead of buying water bottles all day. Some water fountains were conveniently placed within the lines while others were within the park, it certainly helped keep us hydrated! Another brilliant but also laughable thing we did was order ahead (to avoid the lines and embarrassment) from the kid’s menu for lunch. We liked that it offered cheaper meals that included an entrée, two sides, and a drink, which was just the pick-me-up we needed. The portions may be smaller but it left more room for Mickey-Mouse-shaped snacks!

We made sure to have a dine-in experience too…or should I say, drive-in? We ate at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater in Hollywood Studios, set up to look like a 50’s style drive-in movie theater. To plan for most of our meals, we looked ahead at the menus and their prices to determine what amount we’d be spending on food each day and decided it was best to spend most of our gift cards on meals. This dine-in experience was a great, cheaper option, in addition to the Rainforest Café in Animal Kingdom which we also enjoyed on another day. We personally preferred the more casual dining experience over Cinderella’s Royal Table, for example, because we didn’t want to sit in a fancier restaurant as a sweaty, dehydrated mess. Plus, it left more funds for spending in the gift shops! 

If you don’t think you’re going to want any Disney World merchandise, you’re wrong. Especially since we were there for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary Celebration, we just couldn’t leave without something fun to remember the trip. Don’t forget that it is your vacation, and any money you put aside for it can be used however you want! It’s okay to splurge on yourself for a trip that doesn’t come so often. Something we definitely don’t regret splurging on is Genie+. This is the new fast pass for Disney, it lets you skip the line by choosing a specific time to ride, and you can use it all day by choosing one ride every two hours. For us, it was $15 per day, but it was worth every penny since we got to go on all of the rides we had planned on.

This trip was magical in every way possible. I had an incredible time each day and might have even shed some tears leaving Magic Kingdom during the fireworks show, as my inner child was already missing the magic.

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Jessica Mangels

U Mass Amherst '25

Jess is a junior Environmental Science major at UMass Amherst with a minor in Education. She is from Long Island, New York, and loves being able to catch a good sunset at the beach. She enjoys sharing her passions about sustainability, saving the planet, her favorite TV shows, and music with others.