OK, I don’t actually have any tricks, but I do have some tips for how to runDisney when you’re pinching pennies. We’re in the middle of paying off some serious credit card debt we racked up while we were having trouble getting and staying pregnant with our second child. I self-medicated the pain of secondary infertility by traveling and eating out a lot. We’re in year two of paying it all off and are making good progress, but don’t want to put our lives completely on hold even though we know it will take a little longer.
After a long discussion with Erik, we decided that it was worth it to us for me to keep running my runDisney and other races but that we needed to find a cheaper way. Last year, we had annual passes to WDW and so for all my races we’d go down as a family and spend at least three days at an on site hotel, enjoying the parks and restaurants. It sure added up and we ended up not making as much progress as we’d hoped on our debt paydown. So this year, we’re doing it a little cheaper.
Here are some ideas for doing a runDisney race when your budget is tight. A caveat: if a big part of your enjoyment of runDisney is being able to spend a lot of time in the parks and extending the race into a race-cation, many of these won’t work for you. We live close enough to WDW that the idea of going to a runDisney race without actually going into the Magic Kingdom is bearable, if a bit painful. If going to Disney is a once every few years event for you, you honestly should just save up and splurge on a full trip with park visits and restaurant meals. And, most of these tips apply to WDW because I’ve only been to Disneyland once, so my only tip there is to stay offsite because it is really affordable and you can walk to the start.
My tips to runDisney on a budget:
- If at all possible pick a race that you can drive to.
- In other words, if you live in Georgia, pick a race at WDW. If you live in Arizona, pick a race at Disneyland. If you live in Canada or in the middle of the country, you’ll just have to keep an eye on airfare, use points/miles if possible and hope for decent rates.
- Pick an affordable hotel to stay at.
- Off site hotels in Orlando can be really cheap. You can find rooms under $50 a night. You give up some perks like race transportation and the extra Disney magic of staying on site, but if you’re really on a budget and you have a car, it’s an option worth exploring.
- On site hotels give you the benefit of race and park transportation, extra magic hours if you’re going to the parks and Magic Bands. I also think there’s an extra something that you get from staying on site, that keeps the magic going even when you’re not in the parks. It’s going to cost more than staying off site, but you can make it affordable.
- Make sure to use any discounts you’re entitled to. Florida Residents, Disney Vacation Club members and Disney Passholders all have discounted rates fairly regularly. Military can also get discounts at Shades of Green.
- Make sure you know which resorts are host resorts for the race. Only host resorts will provide transportation to the race events including the race and the expo. For the bigger race weekends, all resorts are host resorts, but for smaller races like Tower of Terror and Expedition Everest, only certain resorts are host hotels. If you do not have a car, this will be critical. If you have a car, staying at a non-host resort is an option to consider.
- Compare rates at the value and moderate resorts. Sometimes a moderate can be very close in price to a value resort. If you’re staying at a value, I prefer POP to the All Stars, but research and draw your own conclusions.
- Make sure to check rates at the Swan & Dolphin. While not owned by Disney, they have all the same perks and are within walking distance to the Boardwalk and Epcot. I have a Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card and earn points that I can (and do!) use for “Free Nights” at the Swan & Dolphin. I still have to pay for the parking and resort fees, but my last stay there for Expedition Everest ended up costing $39 including taxes. Not too bad. You can join the SPG rewards program even without the credit card and earn points from staying at any Starwood hotel. (No I’m not paid to say any of that, but I figured most people didn’t realize that the Swan & Dolphin are Starwood hotels with a rewards program).
- Even if you’re not a DVC member, you can sometimes find great deals on “renting” points for a stay. This can get you a bigger room that you could share with other runners also.
- Stay the minimum number ofnights possible.
- If you’re serious about saving money, try to stay just the minimum number of days for the race. For most races, if you’re just doing one race, you can manage just one night. For Expedition Everest, we drove down Saturday morning, went to the Expo in the morning, went to the race in the evening and drove home after lunch on Sunday.
- Find roommates.
- If you can find friends who also are running the race, buddy up and share a room. You might even be able to upgrade to a nicer room if you’re splitting it four ways.
- Plan to bring as many of your meals as possible.
- This is much easier if you have a car because you can bring a cooler or stop by Publix.
- Check to see if your room will have a refrigerator or a microwave.
- Bring water, breakfast bars, snacks, lunch meat, bread. Pick one or two meals to splurge on and eat from your stash for the others. You can bring food and drinks into the Disney theme parks (just no glass or alcohol), so even if you’re visiting the parks, you can save big by bringing your own food.
- Sign up for the race before the prices go up and get your discounts.
- This is less of an issue now as most races sell out in hours or days, but runDisney races do have certain dates when the price goes up. Don’t pay more for not planning in advance. Know when the race goes on sale and sign up on the first day.
- Make sure you use any discounts you can. DVC members sometimes get a discount and if you have a Disney VISA you can usually use the first four digits on your card to get a discount on registration. Sometimes running clubs also offer discounted registration.
- Consider picking one race instead of trying to do multiple races in one weekend.
- It’s tempting to do all the races in a given weekend. Only you know whether the extra races will add double and triple the magic to your experience. For me, one race really is enough to make the whole trip memorable and fun.
- I like treating the multi-race challenges as a once-and-done experience. I’d love to do Dopey, but not every year.
- Sneak away without your family.
- This one is hard, but it’s impossible for me to bring my family and not go to the theme parks, buy souvenirs, eat out and generally treat my race as a full fledged vacation. It’s a lot of fun and I do it sometimes, but only when I plan the race as a vacation. I runDisney too often to be able to afford to treat each race as a full blown family vacation.
- Resist the power of the Expo.
- Know in advance what you’ll buy (if anything).
- If you are not planning on buying anything, leave your money and credit cards in the car or at the hotel. Avoid the temptation!
- If this is your first big race, you should budget for some mementos, like a pin, a car magnet and the “I Did It” shirt. But remember, you’ll have your race shirt and medals to “collect” so ask yourself if you really NEED to collect the race pins (there are usually several to choose from) or stickers or I Did It shirts or little vinylmation medals or coffee cups or wine glasses (and so on) for ALL the races you run. I held strong and didn’t buy anything at all at the last two Expos I attended.
- One other way to race at little cost to you is to run for charity.
- Often, if you meet a certain fundraising requirement, your race entry and possibly room may be paid for.
- The fundraising requirement may be rather high (some are several thousand dollars) and you’re often required to make up the difference after a certain date if you can’t meet the goal.
- You can feel good knowing that you’re supporting a charity.
- Just remember that fundraising can be a lot of work. For me, I’d only do this if it was for a charity I truly believed in.
- If you don’t already have annual passes, consider not buying park tickets and just explore the free Disney activities instead. Some of those include:
- Downtown Disney – browse the shops and grab a bite to eat at one of the counter service restaurants. Ghiradelli is pretty awesome. The Lego shop is fun to play in too.
- The Boardwalk – we love walking around the Boardwalk and the surrounding resorts (Swan & Dolphin, Beach Club & Yacht Club). Just sitting on a bench and people watching is a lot of fun and there are some affordable places to get a bite to eat as well.
- Disney transportation – from your resort if you stay on site (or from the Boardwalk or Downtown Disney) you can start a Disney transportation adventure. Here’s one idea (We did this with Eli after the Enchanted 10 so we could have Disney fun while resting my legs for the PHM). From Downtown Disney, take a bus to Wilderness Lodge. From Wilderness Lodge, you can walk to the boat dock and take a boat to Fort Wilderness or to Magic Kingdom. From Magic Kingdom, you can ride the monorail to the Ticket and Transportation Center. From there, take the Ferry back to the Magic Kingdom. Walk to the Contemporary and take a bus back to Downtown Disney. The buses aren’t that much fun, but I love riding the boats, the monorail and the ferry. And you don’t need a ticket for any of that.
- Do some warm up runs (or nice walks) – Use the transportation tips to get to the Boardwalk and you can do a great jog.
- Disney also provides free outdoor movies (and sometimes campfires with s’mores!) at most of their resorts. My favorite is at Fort Wilderness.
That’s how I do runDisney on a budget. What tips do you have for being able to afford your runDisney addiction?
Updated: I got lots of feedback and reader tips so I did a follow-up post with even more ideas. Check it out here!
Want to know more about runDisney? I have a series of runDisney Basics!