This entry is from our Expert Guest series where wedding and honeymoon professionals share their best tips on creating memories that last a lifetime.
Whether your only exposure to Disney weddings is via the Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings TV show or you’ve been dreaming about Disney weddings since you first sped by Walt Disney World’s Wedding Pavilion on the monorail, chances are you never thought you could actually afford one. However, contrary to popular belief, the place that will charge you almost $5 for a soda is actually one of the more affordable wedding options in the U.S. While the national average for a wedding in 2020 is $30,000, Walt Disney World weddings start at just $5,000.
OK, yes, it is true that you can have a wedding for less than $5,000 if, say, you follow a City Hall ceremony with dinner out for a few friends or you get married in your parents’ backyard. Regional differences can also have a big effect on wedding costs—couples in small Midwestern and Southern towns will pay half or even a third as much as those in big cities on the East Coast and West Coast. But if you have your heart set on the trappings of a traditional wedding reception—the ballroom, a catered meal, dancing—a Disney wedding might save you money and will definitely give you more bang for your buck!
Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings also offers the opportunity for magical touches that would cost a fortune anywhere else—like holding a reception or a dessert party in front of a dazzling fireworks show. And while there are plenty of pricey extras to drive up the cost of a Walt Disney World wedding, you could forego all of them and still enjoy the world-class quality and service that set Disney events apart from typical reception hall weddings.
Here are the top four things you can do to have an affordable Disney wedding.
1. Limit Your Guest List (And Ditch the Bridal Party!)
The No. 1 way to cut costs for any wedding is to cut the guest list, and Disney is no exception. If you can keep yours small, you’ll save on food and drink—the largest expense at most weddings—transportation and decor. You’ll also have a wider selection of venues to choose from and get more quality time with each of your guests. If you take it one step further and forego a bridal party (my No.1 stress-busting tip for weddings), you’ll save on personal floral, gifts, and potentially, cosmetology.
Gone are the days of the 300-person guest list mandated by the couple’s parents. If, like many modern couples, you are paying for your own wedding, you get to decide who to invite. Do not feel guilty about limiting the list to just those friends and family members who are actively involved in your life. You can always hold an event in your hometown a few months later for those who are unable to attend your wedding. Whether you plan a formal event that mimics a wedding reception or throw together a backyard barbecue, a home reception will let you share your photos, video, and memories with a wider circle of family and friends and give them a chance to participate in the celebration.
2. Choose a Less Expensive Venue
To hold a wedding at Walt Disney World, you are required to spend a minimum amount of money based on the venue you choose and the day of the week. The cheapest venues have a $5,000 overall Event Minimum and a $2,500 Ceremony Venue Fee on certain days. Because the Ceremony Venue Fee counts toward the Event Minimum, you only need to spend an additional $2,500 on everything else Disney can provide for your wedding—personal floral, cake, transportation, entertainment, food, and beverages—in order to meet the minimum.
The venues that qualify for the $2,500 Ceremony Venue fee are Luau Beach, a strip of white sand on Seven Seas Lagoon between Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and the Wedding Pavilion; Luau Pointe, a tropical hideaway adjacent to the Spirit of Aloha dinner show amphitheater; and Conch Key Marina, Marina Patio & Terrace, and Sago Cay, three spots ringing the marina at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort.
3. Book a Morning Wedding on a Tuesday or Wednesday
Tuesday and Wednesday are the cheapest days of the week to get married at Walt Disney World, and morning ceremony times come with lower Event Minimums and lower food-and-beverage minimums for the reception. Additionally, at that hour you can usually cut back on the amount of alcohol served (or eliminate it entirely) and skip expensive dinner menu items like steak and lobster in favor of economical brunch or lunch choices.
Yes, the Saturday-evening event is still de rigueur for local weddings, but a destination wedding offers you the opportunity to break from tradition and save a bundle in the process. Guests are already off their normal schedules while they’re on vacation at Disney, and this makes them more amenable to a morning ceremony followed by brunch instead of the usual sunset ceremony and late-night dance party.
4. Skip the Reception
One of the great things about Walt Disney World weddings is that you are not required to add a reception, which will save you thousands of dollars on food and beverages, entertainment, decor, and potentially transportation. Instead, you can treat your guests to a meal at one of the 90+ restaurants on property or even have an informal gathering in your hotel room or vacation rental.
If you want to add a less expensive catered event via Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings, you can opt for a two-hour celebration starting at $50 per guest. This could be a cake-and-Champagne reception directly after the ceremony or a dessert party with savory appetizers and a front-row seat for a fireworks show. Either of these would count toward your Event Minimum as long as you weren’t also having a full reception.
No matter what your wedding vision is, if you’re open to less conventional options, Disney can make it happen on a budget!
Bio: Print and broadcast journalist Carrie Hayward is the author of the Fairytale Weddings Guide, the only guidebook and bridal organizer tailored to Walt Disney World weddings, vow renewals, and honeymoons. Since 2012, Carrie has also hosted the Disney Wedding Podcast, a weekly show devoted to weddings and honeymoons at Disney destinations around the globe. The podcast features expert advice, money-saving tips./ and interviews with real Disney couples.