In April 2018, I proposed to my now wife Helen at Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World. Of course, for anyone who has proposed and subsequently got married you’ll likely know that getting engaged is the easy part.
The more difficult, and subsequently more expensive task is often getting married.
Personally, I wanted a small wedding. I come from a significantly smaller family than Helen does and not everyone in my family is supportive of my sexual orientation, so I knew that of those that could attend the number would likely be much lower.
Meanwhile, Helen, well, she just wanted that beautiful white dress that most little girls dream about when they play dress up with friends.
However, they weren’t the only requirements.
Helen is one of three daughters and the first to get married despite being the youngest (aged 26 at the time of our engagement).
Subsequently, Helen’s dad also had a request – to walk his daughter down the aisle.
Given that none of Helen’s family had previously travelled to Orlando, the place of our engagement and so many of our incredibly happy memories we decided to combine all three requests and travel abroad for the ceremony.
Better still, the entire experience (flights, accommodation, park tickets, food and of course the wedding ceremony itself) cost less than £15,000 ($20,000) for ourselves and all nine of our guests.
Planning a wedding can be stressful enough.
However, planning a budget wedding just outside of Walt Disney World, well that’s something else entirely. So how did we achieve this?
Table of Contents
The Venue & Wedding Ceremony
We were married at Paradise Cove situated on a picturesque lakeside in the heart of Orlando, just two miles from the entrance to the Walt Disney World Resort.
We never visited the venue prior to getting married here (eek!) but read plenty of independent reviews online in advance and spoke to the team via email at length before choosing Paradise Cove as our venue.
For convenience, we purchased a package provided by the venue that included a professional photographer and the use of the Lakeside 2-story Bridal Suite on the morning of the wedding.
Paradise Cove performs a number of same-sex weddings every year, and both the marriage officiant and the photographer were part of the LGBTQ+ community and subsequently left us feeling incredibly at ease throughout the entire ceremony and during our photoshoot.
Despite having not seen Paradise Cove prior to our wedding day I’m incredibly pleased that we chose this venue given both its incredible natural beauty and the kindness and co-operation of the staff.
Since it's been almost four years since the wedding we sadly no longer have a record of the exact amount we paid for the wedding venue & ceremony itself (including the photographer) and it's likely increased by 10% to 20% as a result of inflation. However, if we remember correctly the total cost was between $1,800 and $2,200. This also included all the admin associated with registering the marriage and having the wedding certificates posted to our home in the UK.
We are based in the north of England, around four hours from London.
Subsequently, when flying to Orlando it’s significantly cheaper to get a flight from Manchester or Birmingham Airport (£250 in a mini-bus return) than it is from an airport in London (£800 in a mini-bus return).
However, given that we’d chosen to get married in March (outside of the peak season) there was only Virgin Atlantic operating direct flights from Manchester to Orlando, and they wanted circa £800 per person – significantly more than the £300 per person you’d pay when flying from London.
However, there was a workaround.
Flying from Manchester to London Heathrow, transferring to London Gatwick before flying onwards to Orlando.
In the case of myself and Helen’s family, we’d then return with a stopover in Atlanta, while my mum and brother would return a couple of days easier with the same transfer between Heathrow and Gatwick.
By doing this, the cost of all our flights worked out on average at £297.74 per person ($350).
Given that the average cost of a flight from the UK to Orlando during school term time is usually between £280 and £350 this was a really good deal and something that wouldn’t have been possible had we chosen to travel over Easter or into the summer.
Of course, it's worth keeping in mind that we still had to pay for our minibus to Manchester Airport and our transfers between London Heathrow and Gatwick. However, doing this brought the total cost of our eleven flights to around £3,400 ($4,100). That being said, it's not something we'd do again. The stress involved with this part of the trip would have been a lot to deal with as a couple, let alone when trying to navigate an international multi-airport flight with nine other people.
Accommodation & Park Tickets
We wanted our wedding to be as much about our incredible nieces and nephew visiting Walt Disney World for the first time as it was about us getting married and thankfully we were able to make that happen on a budget.
Myself, along with Helen’s family members spent ten nights in Orlando staying on-site at Walt Disney World in a two-bedroom villa at Old Key West.
Meanwhile, my mum and brother stayed over at Animal Kingdom.
While my mum and brother’s booking was relatively straightforward, our booking was slightly more complex.
There were originally going to be only five people staying here; myself, Helen, Helen’s parents and Helen’s sister.
At that time the cost of our accommodation, transfers from the airport (Disney’s Magical Express), park tickets and Disney Dining (no longer available) cost £8,270.
This worked out at roughly £1,600 per person ($2,100) or £160 per person, per night.
However, circumstances changed and we ended up adding on an additional adult and three children (one under the age of three and therefore not requiring a Walt Disney World park ticket).
Thankfully, we were able to add them onto our trip without a major impact on the overall cost of the accommodation and instead the total cost came in at £11,420 ($13,500). Sadly complimentary transfers from the airport with the Magical Express and the free Disney Dining Plan is no longer available. This sadly means that if we were to re-book our wedding today we probably wouldn't stay on-site and instead would pay for accommodation, park tickets and food seperately.
Reflecting On Our Wedding Almost Four Years Later
Almost four years on from our wedding day and it’s safe to say that a lot has changed.
Helen and I now travel with a baby – who is set to be a Disney enthusiast given the fact that before the age of one he has already been to both Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney World.
However, our nieces and nephew still regularly talk about our trip to Walt Disney World and ask when we’ll be going back.
This for us was the real achievement of our wedding, to create a magical and memorable experience with our loved ones.
That being said, reflecting almost four years later there are certainly some things we’d do differently.
In fact, the only thing we’d keep the same would be the wedding ceremony at Paradise Cove.
We found this venue to be incredibly accommodating and supportive of ourselves as members of the LGBTQ+ community and fantastic value for money.
Unsurprisingly, however, if we were to retrace our wedding again, we would find whatever workaround we could to fly direct from the UK to Orlando.
The stress involved for the amount of money we saved here (despite being in the four-figure range) simply wasn’t worth it.
Meanwhile, given the changes at the Walt Disney World Resort post-2020, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to find a vacation package that offers such fantastic value for money as what we had back in 2019.
Given this, we’d likely stay off-site in a nearby Airbnb or Vrbo and purchase our park tickets for the Walt Disney World Resort alongside our food separately.
While this undoubtedly would have left us having fewer character dining experiences (given the lack of free Disney Dining) it’s the only way we feel you’d be able to keep to a similar budget as that of 2019.