The Walt Disney World® Resort in Orlando, Florida is the ultimate family destination in the United States. Here children and adults can forget about the outside world for a few days and relive moments from iconic films, enjoy meals with their favorite characters, eat and drink around the world, and make memories that will last a lifetime. My family has always been big Disney people. I visited when I was a child, went there on my honeymoon, and now that I have children of my own I take them frequently. Walt Disney World® has the reputation for being an expensive undertaking. I have gone every year for the past 6 years, and people always ask me how I do it. I have provided tips below on how to do a great Disney vacation without having to break your budget to do it. These tips are great for the Disney novice who has never gone before or for the experienced traveler who may want to cut some costs. My philosophy has always been, Why spend $7,000 on one trip when you can do 3 trips for the same amount?
Get Help from a Key to the World Travel® Agent
Planning a Disney vacation can be very overwhelming especially if you have never been or have not gone to Walt Disney World® in many years. The process has changed significantly, and at a minimum, you need to book more than 6 months in advance. Your Key to the World Travel® agent will walk you through the process of planning a Disney vacation, and put together a great trip within your budget constraints. From picking your resort, figuring out how many days you want to spend in the parks, to making your advanced Dining reservations, FastPass+, and showing you other amenities that you and your family may want to take advantage of. There is no cost to you to use a Key to the World Travel® agent, and your agent will monitor your reservation to make sure you can take advantage of any offer that is available to you.
Stay On Property
Years ago you were able to stay at a hotel outside of Disney for a reasonable rate and would be able to go to the parks and save a few bucks. Those days are gone. Many of the decent hotels on the outside are around the same price as some of the lower Disney hotels. If you drive to Disney, by staying on property your parking fees are waived. Parking is $20.00 per day in the parks. You can also use the Disney Transportation system to travel from park to park or to your resort. You are also able to have any purchases shipped back to your resort and can also charge back to your room. You are also able to use the Disney Dining Plan and have a 60-day window to book your FastPass+. There are some hotels that may not be Disney Hotels but fall into the Good Neighbor Hotel category. This means that they must be up to Disney standards when it comes to cleanliness and most of all service. There are plenty of options.
Disney, just like anywhere else, has a peak season and an off-peak season. Pricing for a package during September will be less than a package during Spring Break. Disney discount promotions also tend to come out for some of the slower times of the year. You have until 30 days before your check-in date to change your reservation without a penalty. Take advantage of promotions if you can, you can save a good amount of money and in some cases may be able to step up to a better resort for almost the same price. This can save you a ton of money.
Dining Plan or No Dining Plan
The Disney Dining plan and its value have are always debated. Some think it is great because you, in essence, pre-pay for your meals, and others think it is not worth the money. The best way to judge if the dining plan is worth it to you is to figure out a per day cost. We will use the Disney Dining Plan, which is the most popular one. This plan includes 1 Table Service meal (sit down meal with a waiter or a buffet),1 Quick Service Meal (A Fast Food Type restaurant or food court), 2 Snacks (Mickey Ice Cream Bar, Starbucks Iced Coffee Drink, etc.) and a Refillable Resort mug (only for use at your Disney resort.) The dining plan for an adult costs around $75.00 per night and for a child it is around $26.00 per night. All the restaurants at Walt Disney World® run on a credit system. Most of the restaurants on the property including many of the Character Dining experiences cost 1 table service credit. Signature restaurants, Cinderella’s Royal Table, and dinner shows will cost you 2 table service credits. Once again your Key to the World Travel® agent will be able to show you how best to use your dining credits. Dinner at most Character Dining experiences will cost around $59.99 per adult. If you are looking to do many of these, the Disney Dining plan is definitely worth the price. If you are just going to eat non-character meals, then it may not be the best value.
The Park Hopper® option on your ticket gives you the ability to travel between parks on any given day. So you can go to Magic Kingdom® in the morning and watch Rivers of Light at Disney’s Animal Kingdom® that night. You can also add the Water Parks option to this which gives you access to Disney’s Blizzard Beach or Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon each day that you are staying at the resort. This is a great option for travelers on condensed trips who want to make sure they are able to see everything or for those who want to take advantage of the Disney Water Parks. For the Disney traveler looking to save money, this is definitely one thing to cut. Not only does it cost extra money, it is also time-consuming traveling from park to park and when you are in Walt Disney World ®, time is just as valuable as money. Stick with one park per day. If you feel that staying in a park for 16 hours a day in the heat is too much, take a break and either have a meal at one of the many resorts, go back to your resort and jump in the pool, or take a ride to Disney Springs™ and explore.
Bring Light ups and other paraphernalia
Any parent who has gone to a theme park that has nighttime entertainment cringes when the cart full of light up wands, toys, and ropes comes rolling by. Kids just gravitate toward it just like moths. These toys are not the cheapest price items and can add up quickly. Plus, these are the things that you will find under a bed or in the bottom of a closet weeks after you get back. A trick that my family does is that we buy our own light ups from either a Dollar Store or places like Walmart and Target. You can find Disney-themed ones, and these usually will use common batteries from around the house. Disney is very liberal when it comes to bringing in your own items. Of course they will check them at the security check-in, but for the most part, will not tell you they are not allowed in the park.
You’ve seen one souvenir shop you have seen them all
The biggest fear is walking through a gift shop, and Disney has a ton of them. Most of the rides will exit right into a themed gift shop. Wall to wall stuffed animals, t-shirts, and other little items line shelves to catch your child’s eye. As a frequent Disney traveler, I can tell you that for the most part with the exception of an outfit with a park stamp, all the shops sell pretty much the same stuff. Many of the dolls and toys that you find can also be purchased at the Disney Store for less. You are paying for the Disney Parks stamp. A good rule of thumb is to prepare your children beforehand. Let them know that when you get to the resort to pick out things that you cannot get anywhere else. For example, in Pandora, the popular item is the Banshee puppet. Now they cost about $59.99, but you will not find these anywhere but there. The Disney Animator dolls are all over the park and cost around $5-$10 dollars more than in the Disney Store at your local mall. The important thing to remember is that you are there as a family or group of friends to make memories and have fun. Gifts from the gift shop are a bonus.
Disney Visa card and Gift Cards
Disney has a partnership with Chase Bank and offers either the Disney Visa Credit Card or Debit Card. They both give you discounts on purchases in the park. If you spend $50.00 you get 10% off. The Credit card also has a rewards points system which you can use towards any purchase. When we plan our vacation I like to involve the whole family. When occasions such as birthdays or Christmas come around I will tell people to purchase Disney Gift Cards for my children to use when we go. Certain stores like Target or warehouse stores like Sam’s Club allow you to purchase gift cards at a discount. Take that big change bottle you have an convert it into gift cards as well. Not only is that money you can bring with you, but it also gets everybody involved is putting together a great family vacation and you will be surprised how frugal children can be when they have to spend their “own” money.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
For my family of 4, airfare can get very expensive. Since I live in the New York City area, I am able to drive to Disney. It takes about 19 hours, and with the fuel efficiency of cars today, we are able to drive down and save a nice chunk of money. We think of it as a new adventure. If you live a little further away, taking a road trip can be a fun precursor to your trip. The only drawback is that you may either have to spend fewer days in the parks or take more time off. Amtrak offers train service to Orlando, and if you live on the east coast they offer the Auto Train which allows you to put your car on the train to Orlando. Some of these options are much cheaper than flying.
Disney is not always reaching into your pocket
Walt Disney World® is a magical place, and there are many ways that you can save a buck in the park. First, all quick service locations offer free cups of ice water to visitors. Walking around the park in the summer can be brutal, and if you were to buy bottled water all day, you may go broke very quickly. Disney allows you to bring your own water containers and will provide you with free ice water. Even some of the restaurants will have a water cooler in the waiting area for guests. In the Magic Kingdom®, there is trading card game called Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. You can go through the park and battle some of the iconic villains from Disney movies. The cards you use are free of charge and make for a great souvenir. uring special events you can get even get rare cards. If you have a daughter and the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is on your list, just remember you can bring your own dress. What I will do is purchase a dress from the Disney Store after Halloween when they are on sale. Instead of paying all that money in the parks, I bring my own.
For some people going to Walt Disney World® and staying at a top resort with all the trimmings is a necessity. They either will only go once in their life or are lucky enough to be able to afford it. It is very important to my family that we go on a fun vacation every year. We work extremely hard all year and want to be able to escape for a week or two and enjoy ourselves. Disney is our #1 spot to do this. Many of these tips can be used on other vacations, and help you save some money. But just remember the most important tip of all…it does not matter how much you spend on a trip, meals, or souvenirs. The most important part is that you and your family have an amazing time and make memories to last a lifetime.
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