The first question you have to ask yourself before planning a trip to Disney is, “What are our priorities?” If simply going to the Disney Parks is at the top of the list, then there are many ways to save some dough while you explore the happiest place on earth. If you want the full immersion experience; there are tips to make that choice more affordable too. Let’s go over some of the tricks I used for my vacation with my 3 boys a few years ago.
Main Street USA Photo by FloridaDiva
First of all, we went at Christmas- it was their gift that year. And, yes, I know, it’s been recommended by this site, to not visit the parks over the Christmas to New Year’s week. But that’s exactly when we went. (Going at other times can save you even more money than is listed in this article.) There were a few reasons we went at this time, mostly because it had been my lifelong dream to take my kids at Christmastime and that year had been particularly rough on us as a family. Another reason I wanted to go at this time of year is the extended hours that the park operates under. Instead of closing at anywhere from 7 pm to 9 pm they remain open until midnight or 1 AM. You get a little more bang for your buck.
Planning this trip on a budget was a little tricky considering the holidays are the most expensive time to go. Room rates and airfare are generally higher and there are few, if any, savings promotions running over Christmas. I managed to save thousands none the less. Here’s how I did it.
1. Set the trip priorities. Simply taking the boys to see and experience Disney for the first time was the number one goal, and I knew that with extended hours we weren’t going to be in the hotel for anything more than sleeping and showering. This meant it wouldn’t make sense to stay at one of the resort hotels as we would hardly be there to experience the atmosphere and perks that they offer. So, we stayed at a nearby off-site hotel that cost us $750.00 for the week. This was in comparison to the $3000.00 I had considered for the same time in a cabin at the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground. (There are other, more modestly priced options at The Disney Resorts, which I will discuss later.)
2. I did my homework. For 10 months prior, and as the year got progressively worse personally, I continued to research, talk to travel agents and called The Disney Parks to ensure this trip would be a bright spot for my boys at the end of the year. One of my biggest concerns was the cost of food. As a newly single mom, funds were tight, but we still had to eat. So, I came up with a plan. Our booked hotel room had a small kitchen. I bought a few groceries after we checked in and it totaled just under $100.00 for the week. Included in that amount was a small Styrofoam cooler and some ice packs. We had breakfast in our room every morning and I packed sandwiches and snacks in the cooler which we kept in the trunk of the car and simply went to the parking lot for lunch most days. Disney now allows you to bring your own food into the the park which is even better! Water bottles were kept in our backpack and I bought the boys a treat of their choice every day, as well as dinner in the park. This usually consisted of Quick Service Food, but we did have 3 dining reservations during our stay as well. (Coral Reef Restaurant at Epcot, The Rainforest Café in Downtown Disney and Chef Mickey’s at The Contemporary Resort). By packing our own meals, and spacing the dining experiences out, we never felt like we were missing out on anything and I saved an estimated $1000.00 over our 7 day trip. (A Disney Dining Plan will save money too if you’re staying on site. Discussed below.)
Chef Mickey’s Photo by FloridaDiva
3. I didn’t book the first airfare I was quoted. My travel agent had quoted me just over $5000.00 for the 4 of us to fly from our home in Calgary, Canada to Orlando, but I went home and fired up my computer. By booking one way tickets online, myself, with 2 different airlines, I was able to get sale seats both ways and ended up paying $3600.00 instead. (Note to foreign travelers that doing this “flags” you since you have a “one way ticket” into the US. But, an honest explanation and producing the tickets for a return flight sets everything straight, rather quickly, with security.)
4. I used rewards points. These vary from place to place, but I browsed my AirMiles rewards site and found that they offered 7 day passes for both adult and child (at varying amounts) for Disney World. I began shopping for all of our necessities at stores and shops that offered points and ended up being able to get tickets for the entire family, free. A savings of $1200.00 from what my travel agent had quoted me, and a $1000.00 savings from what Disney’s website was charging.
Parking Lot Entrance Photo by FloridaDiva
5. I used a website to book a car rental well in advance. This saved hundreds of dollars compared to other quotes I’d received and from booking at the counter on arrival. I also called my insurance company before I reserved and found out that if I booked a mid sized or smaller (no convertibles), that my regular car insurance would cover it. This saved an additional few hundred dollars in optional insurance coverage. We ended up with a Dodge Charger for just under $300.00 for the week. Fuel was only $30.00. (Of course staying on site will eliminate the need for a rental all together as transportation is included in your stay.)
Car Rental Photo by FloridaDiva
Now of course, even though all of this saved me just over $4000.00, there are those that aren’t comfortable “do it yourselfers” or even some that prefer to stay on site, but this doesn’t mean that they can’t save too. Here’s some tips for the full emersion experience that can save you some money while you enjoy the magic of Disney. And don’t forget, our official Disney Travel Agent, Patricia, can assist with any arrangements you need and is an expert on all things Disney. You can contact her here.
1. You won’t need a car rental. When you stay at any one of the Disney Resort Hotels or affiliated properties, your transportation from the airport to your resort is included. Also, without a car, you don’t have to pay the daily parking fees. This is because you will use one of the many transportation options available from your resort to get you to any of the parks, downtown Disney or even to neighboring resorts, all free of charge.
Disney Monorail Photo courtesy of Todd Sleppy
2. Value Resorts. Disney offers many options for resort guests, from luxury accommodations overlooking the wildlife preserve at Animal Kingdom, to animated or sports themed rooms for the more frugal traveler. But even the more modest accommodation option still gives you all the perks like early entry to the parks or extended magic hours after the park closes for others.
3. Disney Dining Plans. This is an option to pre-purchase your meals at a discounted rate. This is chosen at the time you select and purchase your park passes, so be sure to look into the various options available to you beforehand.
The key to any successful Disney trip is to know the choices available and finding one that suits your budget and expectations. So start researching, comparing and asking questions of those in the know and plan your own experience now! Happy Trails!
Diva Tip: Since doing it yourself takes more research and advanced bookings to maximize savings, keep a binder with all confirmation numbers and receipts and be sure to take it on your trip when you go.
My love for Disney began at an early age; in fact, I was so young on my first trip to Disneyland that I can't remember it! Since then, I've made tons of my happiest memories visiting again and again with family and friends. Combining my love for all things Disney and my passion for writing has made working for Disney Divas and Devos a dream come true!
Use Patricia at All for Dreams Travel, the OFFICIAL travel agent of Tips from the Disney Divas & Devos!