Disney Savings Tips

Our family is in the very early stages of mapping out a Disney World vacation in the next year. Our kids are old enough to enjoy, and remember, the vacation, and we would like to go before they get too old to appreciate it. I’m curious if it is possible to weave some frugality in our Disney vacation plans while still making it a memorable trip for our family. That’s where I need your help finding Disney vacation tips.

disney world vacation
Photo courtesy of aw101101

Stay Inside or Outside the Park?

At first glance, it seems finding a hotel or other lodging outside of the park seems to make the most sense. However, there are advantages to staying inside the park, too. I’ve taken particular interest to the Animal Kingdom Lodge, but it’s pricey with rates starting at $240 a night (and even higher with “savannah views”).

If we decide to stay five or six nights that could add up to over $1,000 pretty quickly. Then again, since we’ve never been to Disney World, and likely won’t go back for a while, it might be worth the splurge (I can’t believe I just typed that!). Anyone have experience with staying inside or outside the park? Advantages and disadvantages? Any tips savings tips for the Disney resorts?

Finding a Deal On Park Tickets

I noticed at the Disney World website you can purchase a package deal through their “Price Your Dream Vacation” widget. Out of curiosity, I scheduled a six-night stay inside the park with a “5-Day Magic Your Way Ticket with Park Hopper®” pass. We would like to take at least one day off from Disney to visit Sea World. Depending on different room configurations, it looked like the package would cost around $3,500, or $580 a day. Ouch!

Is it cheaper to buy the Disney Park Hopper Pass separately? Are there discounts for those with retired or active military in their family?

Meal Plan or Wing It?

According to the Disney World site there are various meal plans available. I’ve heard horror stories about the meal prices at Disney World, and since I’m normally a dollar-menu kind of guy, the thought of spending tons of money on food hurts. Is the meal plan really a great deal, or do you do better to try to live off snack foods and bottled water (which I think you can take into the park, correct?).

Over time, I plan to compile another post with some of your tips and I’ll be sure to give you credit. And of course after our trip I’ll hopefully have some frugal Disney vacation tips to pass along to all of you. However, at this point in my plans I’m counting on readers to steer me in a frugal direction. Thanks for any travel tips!

Additional Resources:

For those of you who have visited before, what favorite Disney vacation tips can you share with fellow readers?

Comments

  1. I just took my three kids to Disney for 6 days in April. We scored a “Kids Stay, Play and Dine for Free” special, so I paid for myself and my 16-year-old, and the 7 & 4-year old were “free.” It was about $1,500 not counting airfare.

    In my opinion, the meal plan was worth it. The prices of the meals shocked me, and it was great whipping out my room card, knowing I had already paid for it. (REMEMBER – you need to pay for the tips.) I opted for the cheaper plan (I think it was 1 sit-down meal, 2 quick-serve meals and 1 snack a day.) It was plenty. (REMEMBER – if you are going to do any character dining, make your reservations well in advance.)

    We didn’t get the park hopper passes, because I didn’t feel we would want to go to more than 1 park a day. (REMEMBER – there are 4 parks: Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot.) I figured if we wanted to visit one of the water parks, we could buy the tickets while we were there. If we didn’t want to go, no money wasted.

    We stayed at the All-Star Sports Resort and I didn’t let them talk me into an upgraded room. (REMEMBER – You don’t spend a lot of time in your room.) There was a pool, so the kids got to go swimming most evenings after we returned from the parks. And we didn’t miss not going to any of the water parks.

    I chose to fly into Orlando and use Disney’s shuttles for everything. No need to rent a car. REMEMBER – if you fly into Orlando, there’s no need to go to baggage claim. Disney picks up your bags and delivers them right to your room.) The shuttles pick you up at your resort and deliver you to the park of your choice. They run constantly through the day, so you can head back to the resort whenever you want.

    We flew Southwest. Cheapest flights and no checked bag fees! (Airfare added another $1,500 to my total vacation expense.)

    Before I made our reservations, I did price what it would cost to stay at my father’s time share (for free), buying tickets and paying for food out-of-pocket (using a conservative estimate.) It would have been about $200 less than Disney, before adding in a rental car cost. That sealed the deal for me. Pricing about the same, but no headaches from driving (or getting lost.) Anything to reduce the stress of a 6-day vacation for a single mom of 3!

    Other tips for Disney:
    Try to go during an off-peak time. Spring break was insane – huge crowds and long lines.

    If you do stay at one of the resorts and fly in using Disney’s baggage delivery, remember to pack swimsuits, sunblock, sunglasses and anything else you might need when you first arrive in a carry-on bag. It will be a couple of hours before your bags arrive in your room.

    Plan the night before for what ride you really want to go on. Send someone to that ride as soon as you get to the park for a Fast Pass. (Take all room cards with you to insert into the machine.) This will give you a pass to go back to the ride during a set time (10-11 or 1-2 for example) and you won’t have to stand in line. This is free!! (and I wish I had known about when I went.)

    Use the concierge at the resort to make dining reservations at any of the restaurants if you haven’t already. We did this once and it was great enjoying the park and then just arriving to the restaurant and being seated with no wait.

    HAVE A BLAST!!!

  2. This isn’t strictly a frugality tip, but it is the best tip I heard when I was researching a Disney vacation some years back. When you get into the park (presuming that you go at the opening), hustle back to the most popular ride first. The lines will not be long at the opening and you will save a love of standing-in-line time that way. If you follow the obvious path of discovery, you will end up in long lines even for rides that are not so popular.

    Rob

  3. I married into a family of Disney fanatics. We’re all frugal in our own ways, but I tend to come down on the side of staying in a Disney Resort, even though it is a bit of a splurge.

    If you’re driving to Disney, then staying offsite might be cheaper. But if you’re flying, staying at DisneyWorld means no car rental expense. Even the trip from the airport is included. (They also handle your luggage, with delivery direct to your hotel.) This cost savings might even up the options. (And there’s also the parking fees you’ll save, though some off-property sites run a shuttle.)

    Staying onsite means you can easily go back to your room for a break midday. It also gives you access to Extra Magic Hours, the opportunity to enter early/stay late on specific days.

    The Meal Plan means that you’ll need to have a lot of seated meals – which means reservations, which means less flexibility. Disney parks offer very good food for a tourist attraction. It’s reasonably healthy and tasty, too. Check out http://www.mousesavers.com and http://www.allears.net for planning.

    The military angle might help you out – have you checked out Shades of Green? http://www.shadesofgreen.org – It’s an Armed Forces Recreation Center and a Disney resort. My FiL was a civilian employee of the Army and he was able to get discounted park admission tickets.

    And you might want to call rather than booking online. We never plan to stay every day at the parks. Instead, we’ll go for five days and have three days’ worth of park admission, with the Hopper Option. (But leave off the option to keep your tickets valid forever – they charge extra for that.) A number of attractions are free – there’s Downtown Disney, and your resort is worth a day just to relax by the pool, too. And if your kids are old enough for a water park, you might consider that, too. They’re not free, but the admission is far less than a park. (I’ve found that online, the site forces you to book your ticket for the number of days you’re staying.)

    And Disney is notorious for dumping you out of attractions into a gift shop. We’re good about resisting those kinds of things, but some people go wild.

    Lastly, there are Disney resorts with kitchens available – I think they’re Disney Vacation Villas. They sell them as time shares, but you can rent them, too. They’re pricier, but the kitchen option might make it worth it – again, if you’re driving to the resort and can stop for groceries.

  4. Stay in the park if you can — it’s a pain in the neck staying at the hotels that claim to have shuttles. We ended up paying $50 for a cab back to the hotel when we missed the last shuttle home — and that was 10 years ago.

    If you have a little one, take your own stroller. Renting one every day really added up.

    You’re going to pay a premium for food, but there are ways to mitigate the cost. We went to a convenience store and picked up a few things for pbj’s, snacks, beverages, like that. Very expensive, since the store was near Disney turf, but still less expensive than the food. Then we set limits — our breakfast was the hotel continental breakfast, carry our snacks, have one meal as cheap as we could manage. Then have one pleasant ($) meal, and one Magic Kingdom type snack.

    Warn your children ahead of time about merchandising. What do they call it? The happiest place in the world? Then why are all those little kids crying?

    There are wonderful things — big balls that bounce magically around (I think those were $50), Princess dresses ($80), I don’t know what else. My daughter was a complete brat for the first half of one day — “Why can’t I have a princess dress? It’s not fair! Those rides aren’t fun! I don’t have a princess dress!” Coach them beforehand so their expectations are in line with your budget.

    Expensive trip, no matter what, and it’s hard to anticipate exactly how much it’s all going to cost without making yourself crazy. Your best bet is to set behavior limits rather than dollar limits, and use ice packs for the sticker shock headaches.

    But don’t order the ice packs from room service.

  5. As you get closer to your trip, sign up with Tour Guide Mike (http://www.tourguidemike.com/). I promise it is worth the money because he has so many great trips about making the most of your trip, avoiding crowds, etc.

    Also, consider watching for next fall’s “free dining” promotion. It’s a HUGE money saver because your meal plan is, well, free and you still get to enjoy all of the fun experiences such as character dining, snow cones, etc.

    We only do day trips at this point when we’re in Florida visiting my grandma, but I’m looking forward to a big trip in a couple of years! Planning the trip is half the fun!

  6. Regarding the military family question…

    “Special Offer: Active and Retired U.S. Military may obtain one complimentary 5-Day Disney’s Armed Forces Salute Ticket (Base Ticket with the Park Hopper option and Water Park Fun & More Option).

    The no expiration option is not available with this tickets. In addition the military member may also purchase 5-Day Disney’s Armed Forces Salute Companion Tickets for up to five (5) family members and/or friends for $99 plus tax (Park Hopper Option and Water Park Fun & More Options may be purchased for an additional $25 + tax for each option – the no expiration option is not available with these tickets).

    Tickets must be purchased at the theme park ticket windows. They are not available online or by phone.

    These tickets are valid through December 23, 2009.

    http://www.wdwinfo.com/discounts/discounts-military.htm#current-discount

    Considering that normal 5-day tickets cost about $250, it might be cheaper to invite your retired-military family member with you. There’s no mention whether the military member must accompany you, so that might merit a phone call or email to the Disney people.

    More links: http://www.disneymilitarysales.com/
    http://bookwdw.reservations.disney.go.com/ibcwdw/en_US/specialOfferDetails?name=Promo&promotionCode=fy09military&market=fy09military&CMP=VAN-WDWFY09MilitaryOfferVanity
    http://orlando.about.com/od/disney/qt/wdwmilitary.htm

    Hope this helps!

  7. I’ve found that the BEST resources for planning a Disney trip (I’ve planned several…) are Mousesavers.com, Passporter.com, and TourguideMike.com (the last being a pay website, nominal fee to join. For the first time in our several trips to Disney, we stayed at a townhome just off Disney property, Windsor Hills community.

    Staying at a townhome helped us because it can be significantly cheaper than staying onsite. It also allowed us to plan some meals and all our breakfasts at home. (We drove so we packed some homeade dinners in advance in a cooler with dry ice.) We ended up splitting the condo with my inlaws, so the price was even cheaper. We had our own swimming pool at the condo as well. I think staying in a condo helps everyone escape the hustle and bustle of the Disney resort. There is so much energy at Disney and for a true vacation, you need to have a calm place to relax and kick back. It is sometimes harder to do that on the Disney resorts because there are so many people around. We took afternoon breaks back at the condo, and it worked out really well.

    For tickets, sign up for the newsletter at Mousesavers.com and they occasionally have good deals with codes with UndercoverTourist.com. There are many different types of tickets for Disney, make sure you purchase the ones you really need. In my opinion, people don’t really need parkhoppers, it just adds to the stress of driving around etc.

    Limit sit down meals to no more than one a day, and maybe less than that. There are a number of good take out places in the park and you can find some good ratings in the Passporter hardcover book and on their community board. Remember that there are few places to eat that you’re truly going to remember years from now, you’re going for the experiences not the food. Yes it’s overpriced, but there are a few deals to be had.

  8. I’m a new Frugal Dad reader, so you may have covered this in the past and I missed it, but I’d say that my number one frugal tip when it comes to “expensive” vacations such as Disney World is to make your own food.

    Buying some bread, PB&J, and a few cheeses (some cheese can be kept at room temperature for a day or two and be fine) can save you big costs. These, along with granola bars or trail mix and some fruit and veggies can cover you for breakfasts and lunches, and all you have to worry about is dinners.

    I’ve never been to Disney, so I don’t know how practical it would be to find a grocery store (particularly if you do stay inside the park), but it’s a thought.

  9. One additional note. I personally don’t think the meals plans are that great of a deal. While the Disney food prices are expensive, the amount of food they give you is tremendous. Once you realize this, you start to see that the meals plans give you much more food than you can eat. My family shared meals in many cases.

    I’ve seen many the story where the family was either racing to use all their food credits at the last minute, or simply let them go expired. As the previous person mentioned, free dining is great, but I’m not sure I’d pay for it.

    Also, in the event that you do choose to stay onsite, I would recommend a good certified Disney travel agent to watch for deals for you, unless you’re a big do it yourself type vacation person. A good Disney travel agent will continue to monitor new deals as they come out (they get advance warning, in some cases) and they can renogitiate your travel package to save you money if a better discount comes out, which in many cases, it does. This costs you nothing, Disney pays them a small commission.

  10. There are a lot of nice hotels outside of the park in and near Downtown Disney that are much more affordable then staying inside the Park.. Also Downtown Disney has some great resturants that are kid/teenage friendly, some of which wont break the bank.

    My recommendation is not to buy food inside of the park… if you are a tightwad like me : )… You would absolutly croak at the prices.. I remember paying 15.00 for a veggie burger (just a boca burger patti) and some greasy french fries.. Your better off eating a really good breakfast before you go in and carrying some snacks with you.

    Also, another thought for you would be to stay in a cheaper hotel on the outskirts of Disney.. you would have to drive about 15 or twenty min. to get to the park but you would easily shave off 100.00 a night from your stay.

  11. We stayed at Animal Kingdom in December. I think you can make less expensive choices, but I’m really glad we stayed there. The ease of hopping on the bus is great, and the animals just a few feet from your balcony truly enhanced our whole Disney experience. This is just my opinion, but in choosing to ‘do’ Disney, we weren’t planning to repeat it, and we didn’t try to do every single thing as cheap as we could. The Mara (at Animal Kingdom) is great. I don’t think the dining plan is a good deal, but food isn’t very important to us. We did not eat at the more expensive restaurants at Animal Kingdom. The mugs were a great deal for us, because you pay the $12.99 once, and can reuse the mug the entire time you stay there at the resort. You can get sodas, coffee, juice and hot chocolate. I did take a small container with some dishwashing soap in it to wash the mugs. :) I had budgeted $150/day for the 4 of us for eating and spending money. We did not hit that mark even one day, including the first day when I shelled out the money for the mugs. Most days we were around $100 or less. I took snacks with us, and we used those for breakfast on some days, but I did also get the Mickey waffles for the kids a couple of days, and we also had a few treats like the Mickey shaped rice krispies dipped in chocolate (yum!). I tried to balance money with ‘fun’. Our kids saved their money and were responsible for buying their own souvenirs. My husband and I don’t tend to buy stuff like that. Saving for and planning the trip is part of the fun for both the kids and the grownups, and my kids were careful in what they chose to buy. The gift shop at Animal Kingdom does have a few grocery items like bread, lunch meat and condiments. Oh, one note, too about the Disney resorts. The deluxe resorts are the only ones that will have two queen beds. Because my husband is 6’4”, double beds just don’t really work for us. You might consider that if you are tall also.

  12. we went as a family 4 years ago. i have 4 kids. we stayed in my parents’ timeshare condo which was a gift. :) it was very close to disney. (i’m with john above – you need a break from the busyness of disney). we brought all of our dinners with us when we drove there from nc. we also brought almost everything we needed for our lunches (except we did have turkey legs one day.) we got 5 day park hopper tix, took a day in the middle to rest (excellent idea.) kids went with limited cash to buy themselves a souvenir. it was actually not that pricy at all for us. biggest tip of all: if at all possible, go during disney’s down times!!!! we went the 2nd or 3rd week of jan. and it was awesome!! no wait on rides – incredible!!!

  13. Ok,guys,don’t flame me or anything, but …

    This is a vacation, and one your family will remember for years and years to come. Why cheap out via an excuse of being frugal?

    I normally agree and am thankful for your tips on being frugal, but this is one area where I heartily disagree. We stayed onsite at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, with a Savannah view. There was nothing more precious than waking up my granddaughters every morning (ages 3 and 8 then) to watch the giraffes eating right outside our room. We’d sit on the balcony for an hour or so, just watching the animals. That was sweet time for me, and well worth the extra expense of the room. It was also our down time. I knew we’d have hectic days of rides and shows, and we geared up for this by having quiet time before the day got started.

    If you stay onsite, you’re also saving on transportation. We planned our trip for between Thanksgiving and Christmas and never waited in lines for either buses, boats or rides. The parks were not very crowded, and it was worth taking the girls out of school to go during the school year instead of more crowded summers and spring break times (the teachers gave them homework and schoolwork to take with them, and it was finished before we headed out in each morning). It was worth it to me to not have to worry about where we were driving and about getting gas or parking and having to walk to park entrances.

    Yes, I opted for the meal plan, too. We could order whatever we wanted from the menu, including dessert and appetizers. We used some of our meal points on snack stuff, and that was ok with us. We dined with princesses and characters, and several years later, my granddaughters still talk about those meals. A sit-down dinner each night was another chance to regroup and refresh before heading out for a few more activities.

    In my opinion, and I realize many of you may not agree with me, a Disney vacation isn’t just about getting away. It isn’t about resting and relaxing so much as it is giving your kids (and yourself if you love Disney as much as I do) an experience and an adventure. It was something I saved for, and I saved until I had enough to make it very, very special. I’m saving again so we can do it all over in a few years, including staying onsite and having the meal plan.

    I understand frugality, and do practice it in many areas of my life. A Disney vacation is not one of them. Hopefully there’s some compromise being built into your vacation.

  14. There are quite a few discounts to take advantage of if you are active or retired military! My family is planning a Disney vacation later this year and are using these discounts to make it affordable for us.

    With tickets, check http://www.disneymilitarysales.com/. It is a promotion this year for active duty members. The active duty member can get a free five day ticket, while up to five family and friends can get a five day ticket for $99. The promotion ends in December, but Disney may continue it. It’s worth checking into. If you live near a military installation, ask your MWR or ITR office for ticket discounts.

    Also, if you are interested in going to Sea World, Anheuser-Busch offers free tickets to active duty members and National Guard members through http://www.herosalute.com/. The offer may expire in December, but they have renewed it the last couple of years.

    For lodging, I recommend the Armed Forces Vacation Club (http://www.afvclub.com/) open to active or retired members of the military. It is a Space-A condo rental for $329/week. There are usually quite a few condo rentals for the Orlando area, more during the winter months. You do need to check fairly often, as the available spaces are always changing, but the price is worth it. Many of the condos come with a full or partial kitchen allowing you to cook your own breakfasts or dinners, which is a great money saver. Staying off Disney allows you to relax more at night, recharging yourself for the next day. Days at Disney are busy!

    Just a side note, Disney does allow you to bring food into the park. If you eat a large breakfast and pack snacks for the day, you won’t have to buy a lot of meals from Disney.

    One last comment is that The Happy Housewife, another blog I follow, is doing a series called 30 Days of Disney. She’s offering great tips from her experience (http://thehappyhousewife.com/category/disney/).

    I wish you the best of luck planning your trip. There are many ways to make Disney affordable, but still fun!

  15. Not sure how big your family is, but about 15 years ago we stayed in the Cabins at Fort Wilderness (http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/cabins-at-fort-wilderness-resort/). I seem to remember the bedroom had a double and bunk beds and then a murphy bed in the main area. What we liked was the kitchen area though. This way you could fix lunches and even bring leftovers home for later when we did eat out.
    I would recommend staying on park property. Even as an adult I usually need to go back to the room for a power nap before heading out for more. It is much more convenient to hop on a bus or tram or whatever instead of driving and parking. Especially if only part of the group wants to head back.

  16. We just got back from Disney and we stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and had a Savannah View. It is not worth the money. You are just paying for the way the hotel looks because the service is nonexistent. Me and my hubby recently stayed at a Ritz-Carlton and the service was so steller that it was worth the money. The Animal Kingdom Lodge pales in comparison.Trust me, your kids will not mind staying at a cheaper place and you can see the same animals when you go to Animal Kingdom.

    We did get the food plan and we did not find ourselves scrambling to use it all. My hubby eats like a beast so we actually ran out of meal plan credits before the end of the trip. The meal plan is just super convenient. You are going to be at a Disney park 8-10 hours a day and you don’t want to have to worry about food.

    A good tip for food is to set reservations in advance. If you don’t, you will be eating hamburgers and hot dogs your whole trip. The two African restaurant on Animal kingdom are good. The best one is one that is not a buffet(I cannot remember the name of it but the food is excellent).

    Staying at a Disney establishment is also convenient because they provide transportation all over the properties.

    Here is a tip for rides. Don’t wonder aimlessly around the parks. You will be exhausted and will risk not riding the best rides. Plan what rides you will go on before you even get to the park. Go to the biggest and baddest one first and get a fast pass. You will have to wait a certain amount of time before you can get a fast pass at another ride, then go get another fast pass. While waiting for your fast pass time, you go to ride other rides. Hint about fast passes: You can go after the time on the card but not before.

    Disney is all about shopping and your kids will want everything they see. Maybe have them wait until the end of the trip before they make a decision about souvenirs. That way, they will have seen everything and they can make a more informed choice. Also, they have the same stuff all over the properties so you will see it again.

    As far as park hopper passes, we didn’t go that route. We had day passes and it worked fine. It will take you 8-10 hours to see one park and to ride the rides so you really don’t need it.

    Last but not least, older kids will want to go to the parks with the thrill rides. My daughter did not like the Magic Kingdom and she is 8. She told me she wished we had went to a water park or Hollywood studio’s instead. She loved Animal kingdom and Epcot though.

  17. I remember going to disney a few times as a kid. We didn’t have much money back then and we stayed in a hotel in kissimmee not far from Disney. We ate our meals outside the disney property. Coming back to the hotel for lunch was nice because we got to have a “pool break” in the middle of the long disney day.

    My suggestion is, there’s no need to splurge for this trip with the excuse being your kids. If you want to splurge for yourself, hey, go for it. But, your kids will be in awe of the entire town of kissimmee and will be overjoyed no matter where you stay, where you eat and what you do. I’m not sure how old your kids are, but remember that disneyworld is HUGER than HUGE, and it will wipe them out, despite their excitement.
    If you’re breaking up the trip with the 5 day pass, it may make even more sense to stay off property, you have no need to rush through the attractions and see everything asap, so you can go outside for lunch, pool time, naps etc.

    You’re going to have an amazing time and your kids will remember it forever. Enjoy it, frugal or not!

    PS – I love your blog, I never comment but always enjoy it.

  18. Wow! You have your work cut out for you.

    I would have to agree with John on the town homes/condos. You can save a ton of money, by being able to cook your own breakfasts and dining in as much as possible. There are a ton of condos available. I suggest checking out http://www.vacationwithconfidence.com. It is a vacation home/condo website that is sponsored by the Central Florida Vacation Rentals Managers Association.

    As far as the tickets go, you have several different options. You can save $50 a person, buy purchasing the 5 Day Base Ticket instead of the Hopper pass. The difference is that the Park Hopper allows you to visit more than one park per day and the Base ticket is only one theme park per day. And in my opinion, to be able to see everything, you should only plan one park per day. Check out http://www.kgstickets.com. They have a Low Price Guarantee on all of their tickets, and also deliver them right out to you.

    A couple of tips for inside the parks. I highly suggest bringing snacks and water inside the parks with you. They allow small (soft sided) coolers or back packs. Water is $3.25 for a 20 oz bottle water inside the park, and less than 25 cents outside of the park. Freeze the water bottles the night before, so they are good and cold and refill them as the day goes on. Its great to have snacks for the kids too. The snacks allow you to avoid purchasing the popcorn and other “hold me overs” through out the day. Not to mention the snacks keep the kids occupied while waiting in line.

    I also suggest plenty of Sun Block. The Florida Sun will burn you fast!

    I also have heard mixed reviews about the meal plans. If staying on Disney property they are probably the way to go. But if staying in a condo, save your money for the grocery store.

    Also, if you have a retired or active duty Military Member in your party, I highly suggest looking into the Shades Of Green Resort that is on Disney Property. It is a resort for Military families only, and the room rates are based on the military members rank. There ticket prices are excellent too. They are discounted plus no sales tax.

    If you have any other questions, please ask, as I am a local and my wife is a Disney Cast Member.

  19. when my son was younger I did the week trip to Disneyworld. Even then I was cheap, so I booked a two-bedroom “luxury” condo in Lake Buena Vista (I think it was a Hyatt operation) which came fully equipped with complete kitchen. There were balconies, whirlpool, cable, etc. We rented a car for a week to get the best rate. Buying food and snacks at a grocery store allowed us to stock up and have food available the whole week. (We could also have our “usual” breakfast at our own pace. We purchased a four day pass, so we were able to drive where we wanted, when we wanted. No hassles. The condo resort also included shuttles to/from the park for no extra charge. If you go the middle of September the weather is not as hot and should not have the long lines (we experienced pretty much no waiting). Just because you’re making memories doesn’t mean you have to spend a bundle! Enjoy!

  20. These comments were of tremendous help. This will be my first Disney trip w/ family. So planning is important! thanks to everyone.

  21. I’m lucky enough to go to Disney a lot (we actually just let our passes expire).

    Food)
    Kid’s meals are usually around $4-5 and come with a drink.

    A cup of ice is always free, so bring your own water bottle.

    Mickey has bought my kids popcorn 5 times in the last year.

    Two scoop cones at MGM across from Fantasmic can be split into two one scoop cones.

    Soda is free at Club Cool in Epcot.

    Topping bars are a good way to load up on veggies.

    I generally pack sandwiches for me and my wife, along with some fruit, and buy the kids stuff.

  22. How ironic I’m seeing this article! I’m actually planning a Disney vacation right now. We are traveling in September. We chose to stay at a moderate resort (Port Orleans Riverside) for $149 per night. If you choose to look into this, portorleans.org is a wonderful resource about both Port Orleans resorts.

    I looked into AK lodge but heard stories that if the animals aren’t active it can be pretty boring. It’s also further away from the other parks (with the exception of AK). For our family, the difference in price for the risk of not seeing the animals wasn’t worth it.

    There are also some great benefits to the economic recession. Disney just recently offered buy 4 nights in a Disney resort, get 3 free. The offer that we booked under was “stay at least 5 nights in a Disney resort, get the dining plan free” For us (2 adults, 4 yr old) that came to $91 per day. A savings of $637. We chose 8 days of park tickets, 7 nights in the hotel, and free dining plan for a grand total of $2037.

    Considering that’s Disney it really isn’t a bad deal. Plus, that includes everything we would basically NEED except our gas to and from Florida.

    Disney has a great website and a discussion board. It will have on their website all the benefits for staying at a Disney resort which basically boil down to free transportation and extra magic hours. The transportation is nice!! When we arrive we will park our car and not start it back up until the day we leave. Some complain about the travel time but for our resort is 16 minutes to AK and 10-12 to the rest. After you’ve been walking that much all day, you don’t mind sitting down for 10 minutes until you get back to your room.

    HAPPY PLANNING…and I love your blog!!

  23. Check out the Value resorts – Music/Sports/Movies & Pop Century. Average price per night is $80. Normal size rooms, perfect if you’re not spending a lot of time in your room. Each property usually has two pools and on-site restaurants (cafeteria style). They also offer bus service to all the parks.

    I don’t know if this will be in effect when you travel, but Disney offers this deal at least once a year.

    http://bookwdw.reservations.disney.go.com/ibcwdw/en_US/specialOfferDetails?name=Promo&promotionCode=fy09q4dine&market=fy09q4dine

  24. Our family of 8 took a trip to Disney World serveral years ago. We stayed on site and found it to be very convenient and easy to get around. We had the park hopper passes that allow you to do to different parks. The benefit to that is that each day one park is opened early so if you have a park hopper pass you can go to that particular park and go see the main attractions there without the long wait. Between the park hooper passes and staying on site where we had access to shuttles all the time, we felt like we really saved time and money.

    In regards to souveniers…my tip is to plan a trip outside the park to a Walmart store and buy your Disney T-shirts and other souveniers at Walmart verses in the park — you’ll save TONS!

    Also, before we made the trip I went to Walmart to the camping section and bought 2 plastic rain ponchos (about $1 each) for each of us. If it rains while you are there the park sells rain ponchos for about $8 a piece or more. I was SO glad I did this because we used ALL the ponchos I had bought ahead of time!

  25. Definitely second (or third, or fourth…) using tourguide mike.com. You will save an incredible amount of time in the parks by using his “tour guides,” and you’ll get a lot of very good, and up-to-date, information about the parks–all at a very reasonable price. Also, we used a travel agent at dreamsunlimitedtravel.com, and she saved us a bunch of money on our Disney hotel, and gave us really good advice about the parks. We have stayed both off and on-site during our trips, and I have to go with staying onsite (we stayed at Pop Century (the newest “value resort”), and had a great experience–it just keeps the magic alive.

  26. Just a few tidbits from a lifelong Floridian and multi-Disney tripper:
    If you qualify, I do also recommend Shades of Green, the military resort – much cheaper than the other options and very, very nice = good location. I do not recommend the value All Star resorts AT ALL! We stayed there last time and it was horrible! I actually felt sorry for anyone who was going to have this be their only Disney experience. Overcrowded, tiny beds (doubles are the largest,no queens, noisy all times of day and nite – never again! The mid level resorts (Port Orleans for example) and much nicer accomodations for not that much more. Only a few times did I have accomodations at the top level resorts – I highly recommend them if you have money to blow (I’m betting you don’t though) top level service, gorgeious pools, best rooms etc (Yacht Club and Contemporary were great!) As to parks – kids love Magic Kingdom the most and Epcot the least in my opinion. Magic Kingdom has the most kid friendly options, Epcot is probably most fun for kids who are not toddlers and up – for the cool rides and shows – adults always enjoy the seeing the countries! I’ve enjoyed eating the most at: Magic Kingdom – avoid those awful turkey leg kiosks and have a decent meal – they have pretty okay food at the tomorrowland area for burgers and chicken. Also they have Mexican/Caribbean that is decent around Pirates of the Caribbean. Epcot – great food abounds, but I really liked the Italy, Japan and Mexican options (Mexico has great lunch options). The others here are right – parks food will always be more than eating away – but do plan to eat at one of the world restaurants in Epcot once and make reservations early! We made an error on one of the last visits and dropped in to eat lunch at the Ocean restaurant and about blew the whole trip budget – very, very expensive, but you do get to look at the aquarium. The MGM studios (I think they’ve renamed it now) has good food too, but book early for the Brown Derby or just eat cheaper at the Commissary near the animation studio. Offsite, you can find all the chains that are from where you are, but a good chain that we’ve enjoyed is Bahama Breeze – it’s in Lake Buena Vista. Needless to say we’ve been tons of times and limit the kids to one souvenir per trip – that helps a lot too!

  27. I’m so glad to see you starting this–we are planning to go in Fall 2010, and while I agree that we won’t go again for a while and am willing to spend money to enjoy ourselves, it can’t cost as much as a new-to-us car. Time to read through all these great comments!

  28. Just going to add a few things I didn’t see mentioned yet:
    - We would eat one meal a day in the park(s)between 2-4pm. Most still serve the lunch menu, which is cheaper and the crowd is usually might lighter – quicker service! We packed snacks to hold us over till our meal and would either pack additional snacks for our evening adventures or treat ourselves to something in the parks – for example, we like the French pastries and coffee at Epcot to enjoy during the Illuminations show.
    – Souvenirs – My kids have always LOVED the pin trading lanyards. We bought the lanyards on our first trip then for subsequent trips, I ordered inexpensive pins on the disney store site that they could trade. All Cast Members are required to trade pins on their lanyards if asked. Also, it’s fun to stand in line and trade pins with others. We avoided the “other” souvenirs this way. They have often used their spending money to buy a unique/exclusive pin found only at Disney. And, certain events, like the Halloween party & Christmas events, have commemorative pins.
    - I also agree with the Passporter.com is a great resource!! I’ve used their books for the parks and the Disney Cruiseline.

    It can be overwhelming to plan a Disney trip, but it will be memorable whatever you decide to do. Try to enjoy the planning process and harness the excitement and anticipation it creates in your family…you know,the Disney magic and fairy dust at work :)

    I’ve created a Disney Countdown chart that helps us all look forward to our upcoming vacation.For our first trip, when the kids were very young, it helped them to know how many days till the trip without having to constantly ask me.

    ooohhh…gotta stop typing. Bringing back fond memories and making me want to book a Disney trip too. Enjoy!!

  29. Souvenir tip from the Tightwad Gazette: “As soon as you make your plans to visit Disneyland/World, shop at garage sales for souvenirs. I was able to stockpile Disney hats, T-shirts, coin purses, waist bags, and stuffed characters for $4.70. The retail for these items was $114.05. These were doled out over the course of the week as the ‘I wannas’ struck.” (this book is at least a dozen years old so that price difference would be much greater now)

  30. We were just at Disney in March, a trip we planned and saved for over 3 years.

    There are new “family suites” at the All-Star Music resort. We chose that option, which while a little more than a standard room was not as expensive as booking 2 rooms, which with 5 adults we would have had to do. They have a bedroom, a pull out couch that sleeps 2 and a pull out chair that sleeps 1. Oh! And 2 bathrooms with 2 outside vanities. There’s also a kitchenette with mini-fridge, microwave, and coffee maker (plus counter space) that was great for making breakfast or lunch in the room. Disney housekeeping even restocks the plates and cutlery every day.

    Check out the pictures online and compare costs. You get the added bonuses of staying on-site with all the cost saving reasons you’d otherwise stay elsewhere. Feel free to email if you’d like more specific info or pictures of the room.

  31. Stay at the park. Definitely easier. Additionally, they run all kinds of specials at the value resorts that are fairly cheap, plus it qualifies you for the Dining Plan, which allows you to experience First Class dining at a super low price. They’re even running specials where you can get the dining plan for free when you stay on the property — which saves you HUNDREDS of dollars. I think the current free dining promotion runs from late August to early October, and they had the same thing last year, and it’s likely they’ll do it again next year. Get your flight reservations early, stay at a value resort and get the dining plan — it definitely makes the vacation one of those where you can “set it and forget it” — Disney takes care of everything, all meals are included, transportation is free and hassles are few. Enjoy!

  32. Hooray for Disney! I’m super jealous of your trip- and envy your planning! As a former cast member, the park holds a very special place in my heart! I can’t wait until my little one is old enough to enjoy it for us to go! Needless to say we need to start saving for it!

    I know it may be more expensive to stay in the park- but it is well worth the price, especially if this will be your one and only , or even one of a few trips. The Animal Kingdom lodge is amazing and if you do stay- you must get a savannah room…otherwise- you miss out on a wonderful daily experience of seeing the animals when you wake. But, for first timers with kids- I recommend staying on the monorail! You don’t have to deal with the transportation system (which is great- but busses can get old at 10:00 at night). You can just hop on the monorail and head to your hotel in 5 min. Of course- these are the most expensive hotels. But I think you can save in other areas. And with kids- they will need a break in the middle of the day- most likely and you can head to the hotel and enjoy the pool for the afternoon. My fav hotel on the monorail is the Polynesian. Well worth it!

    They don’t allow snacks in the park- but that doesn’t stop anyone! Take them with you! The meals are huge- so split them. And don’t buy the meal deal- its no deal. Eat breakfast in your room, have a light lunch in the park. Bring snack or snack at the hotel for an afternoon break and then have a decent meal in the evening. Splurge one or 2 times you are there with a nice meal.

    Let’s face it- you are going to spend the coin- but save on the extra stuff. Don’t buy breakfast in the park, don’t buy bottled water- ask for a cup for water (but don’t cheat and get soda- I have a problem with that!). Don’t buy snacks…take them. Splurge for an ice cream one day when you are there.

    But seriously- don’t skimp on things like the hotel…it is super worth it to stay in the park…not to mention, if you don’t stay on property- you have to pay for parking. Go after Thanksgiving and before the 18th of Dec…the rates and the crowds are less. Or right after the new year. Weather is still nice in FL.

    Take advantage of the fast passes.

    Find out where the characters will be every day in the park- so you can avoid the VERY expensive character breakfasts. The character visits are free.

    And most of all…have the time of your life.

    Frugally yours,
    anurbanfarmwife.blogspot.com

  33. Funny — I was going to mention the 30 days of Disney at The Happy Housewife, but looks like two other people mentioned it too!

    Best of luck as you plan your trip! (My husband and I went about a month before I got pregnant with our oldest, but we haven’t managed to go and take the kids yet — 10 years later. We would really love to though! The financial impact of a trip like that is so huge though.)

  34. I would suggest outside hotel because most if not all will provide shuttles to and from the airport as well as Disney World. Kissimee, FL (?) is a hotspot for off site hotels…

    I would suggest PB&J and the like for eating lunch in the park and def get a room with fridge.

    Don’t blow money on the tourist traps, there are a ton of them!

    They do offer military discounts, so take advantage. I hope you have a great time and take lots of pics!

  35. A) Stay at a value resort (all star or pop century classic) — we stayed at the latter back in 2004 (was pretty new then) for around $100/night — a pizza fed us (from the food court) for less than $20. We drove, so we had snacks and drinks w/ us. As well as breakfast foods. Never bought them there.

    B)Park Hopper: we got a four day one that allowed for the water parks. Lightning around 3-4 pm every day resulted in us never going to the water parks or even the swimming pools. Worth every cent! (we had three adults and one kid ticket)

    — think the two of those combined was around $1600 or so.

    C) Meal plan. We didn’t get one, so we usually ate cheap at lunch time and supplemented w/ snacks we brought. A friend bought a meal plan — was about $500 or so for him, his wife, and their young son (was in 2005 or 2006) — they made sure they got their money’s worth. One night they ate on the patio there in the France section of Epcot, the meal would have been over $100, including two glasses of wine) — he was in law school at the time and couldn’t afford to have ate in the park otherwise (they flew in and took one bag of snacks, used it for souvenirs on the way back).

    Hope this helps!

  36. Disney allows you to bring in food. Pack a lunch and only plan to eat once in the park or in the downtown area.

    book a hotel which offers a free breakfast. One less meal to buy. Yes you will get tired of it,but save a buck and buy a t-shirt.

    Some of the items in a buffet breakfast can be used for your lunch. Hard boiled eggs can be used with the mayo and mustard in the park to make egg salad for sandwiches. untoasted bread will keep the egg salad off your hands

    call every family member you know and see if some long lost cousin works for disney. they can help get you in the park or discounted tickets. Plus some will get 30% off merchandise.

    Eat early while in the park. Eat off the lunch menu and only a snack if you stay late in the park.

  37. Get a room with a fridge and go grocery shopping as soon as you land. Breakfast foods and lunch foods are much cheaper. You’ll save tons of money that way.

  38. We went to Walt Disney World in Florida about a year and a half ago. We went with another family and stayed in a rental house about five minutes from one of the parks. Total cost for 5 nights was $650, so $325 per family. We had 8 of us, four bedrooms, 3 baths and a pool. We made breakfast every morning and took our lunch with us. One day we left the park and had lunch at a restaurant. It worked out great and the rental car was very inexpensive. You really have a lot of bargaining power when looking at rentals especially in this economy. The most expensive thing on the trip was the tickets to get into the parks. We bought a five-day pass but that was more than our airfare from Portland, OR to Orlando. Crazy, huh? Anyway, we had a great time and the only thing I would do differently is break up the parks with something different for maybe a half day here and there. Maybe leave the park in the early afternoon and drive to the beach for the afternoon and evening. I can only take so much stimulation and kids are the same. Just make time for down time too. Good luck.

  39. One tip, not related to frugality, but to organisation (and sanity)

    Janine at txmomx6 has pictures on her blog from a family Disney trip. Their strategy, with 6 children, to make things easier in the crowds was that every day the whole family (parents included), dressed in the same t-shirt colour.

    She posted a photo of the kids all dressed in yellow. Apparently the kids weren’t wild about it but it made it easy to keep track of everybody.

  40. Forget about Disney World and take your kids somewhere real. Our country has a wealth of state and national parks, historical sites and lovely nature areas that they will probably remember for far longer than a trip to the “Magic Kingdom.” My parents took us to DW and we visited other places in Florida on the way there and back. The Atlantic beach, historic St. Augustine and the glass-bottom boats in Ocala (though this is a commercial, for-profit enterprise) were far more memorable than standing in lines at DW–because those experiences were ‘real’ in a way that Disney was not.
    As a Frugal Dad, I’m sure that once you get to DW you’ll be disgusted by the mass consumerism of it all. Why not spend your money on something worthwhile AND fun?

  41. I know it’s been mentioned but Mousesavers was great in helping plan out the vacation and find great deals!

    We originally were planning to stay in Disney but we found a great deal at a hotel/resort real close. The hotel had a huge pool with a couple of water slides so we decided we wouldn’t need to go to Disney’s water parks. We also found a nice deal on a minivan. Since we could drive we were able to get meals wherever we wanted as well as take advantage for the local Target for water and snacks and such.

    Parkhopper passes were great. We’d visit a park in the morning, come back for a break, then go back at night.

    I wrote about our Disney vacation here: http://freefrombroke.com/2008/06/our-disney-vacation-summer-savings-series-9.html

  42. Been there several times. Stay offsite at BlueTree Resorts in Kissimmee for only about $800 per week. Two bedrooms, kitchen, four swimming pools, free miniature golf, tennis, basketball. Very close to DisneyWorld, Downtown Disney, grocery stores, etc.. I really don’t think you want five days at DisneyWorld. Three at the max. Sea World is very nice and considerably cheaper. The coolest thing in the area (about 1 hour drive) is actually the Kennedy Space Center. Don’t miss it. My kids loved it and they actually learned something worthwhile.

  43. Well, I’m only just now a regular reader, so I don’t know the ages of your kids. If they’re small, I’d consider staying inside the park. To give you an idea:

    We stayed in Orlando. It was a 15 minute drive to the front gate of the main park. Beautiful! Except that it was at least another 15 minute ride to the parking lot. Then, we took a shuttle from the parking lot to the boat. That was another 7-10 minutes. Then the boat took around 10 minutes. So from the time we got inside the front gate to the time when we actually got to the ticet stand to use or tickets? Over a half hour.

    As for Park Hopper, I’d really question how useful thatwill be. Depending on how long you stay, of course. And the age of your kids. My husand was pretty disappointed with the main park. He didn’t realize how geared toward kids it was. So we didn’t stay long. But if your kids are under 10 they’ll probably have a blast. More importantly, how long will they last being out and about? And how long does it take to get from park to park?

    In other words: How likely is it REALLY that you’ll be able to hit more than one park a day?!

    FYI, we went on our honeymoon, hitting a few different theme parks. Had a blast. So if you end up staying outside the park, consider also hitting Universal/Islands of Adventure. There is a ton to just see — the whole place is divided into areas, so cartoon junction has tons of characters all over the place;kids would love teh Seuss area… Etc. Email me (seattlegirluw@yahoo.com) if you want more info. We went snap-happy there.

    The way I found the tickets was to essentially spend a couple of months (off and on) comparing prices. Basically, most “great” deals on tickets you’ll be offered involve sitting through timeshare pitches. If you’re willing to do that, which I can’t imagine you are, there are some great offers in the Entertainment Book for cheap lodging and/or online for uber-cheap tickets.

    Also, we couldn’t go because I had MRSA, but SeaWorld now has a new waterpark. It looked AMAZING! The tubes actually were see-through when they went underwater, I believe, so you could see everything.

    If you end up deciding to go to more than Disneyworld, do look around. There was a place (I think the links have been deleted, but I’ll check) that sold discount tickets. The deal was, you had to buy a certain number. Like, two or more per person. Something like that. That way, they could afford to give you better prices.

    But I would highly recommend checking into Universal/Islands of Adventure for your kids. We got a 7 day pass for the price of a 3 day one.

    Oh, and don’t forget that if your kids have summer birthdays, try to incorporate it. They would get in free one of the days.

    Finally, for meal plans, I think it’s a personal choice. You’ll want to find out what kind of food is offered. In the end, to have any real selection, I seem to recall we would have had to pay for the biggest package which was too much. Instead, we got food as needed (the heat, relative to Seattle was so crazy we were more thirsty than anything) and ate at chain restaurants surrounding our hotel.(Hubby had never been to a Cracker Barrel so he was lovin’ it!) If you stay outside the park, consider getting an Entertainment Book. They’re cheap this time of year.

  44. I did not read through all of these, but the only tip I have is to buy your park tickets through ebay. Find the pass you want and then buy it through ebay. You don’t have to pay FL sales tax and it will be cheaper. If you are planning on going again and again, it is better to get the 10 day hopper no experation option as you can use it forever and then never have to worry about a price increase. My husband and I are planning on going this winter and we got a 10 day pass and then will use it for our next 3 or 4 trips. His family lives in Orlando so I think we will go for the next few years.

  45. DO NOT BUY YOUR TICKETS THROUGH EBAY!!!! I can not stress this enough…people get scammed all the time! Yes, there are some legitimate tickets being sold, but don’t risk it. Sign up for the mousesavers.com newsletter and use the link for undercovertourist.com for your tickets. Spend some time over at http://www.disboards.com, they have a budget board with tons of great advice. Consider buying one annual pass to get the annual passholder discount (if offered) for your resort. I’ve used this in the past and gotten up to 40% off my room.

  46. I was going to read all comments before I added… in case anyone had already suggested what I’m going to say. But… I ran out of time. If you stay off property you will have a $12 (this year… will probably be more next year) a day parking fee. That adds up. On property lets you get to park faster, mid-day breaks if you want and then there’s the early hour and extra time in the evening. The All-Star and Pop Century hotels are less expensive options. Another choice is to rent Disney Vacation Club points from someone… you get to stay in a studio (just like a hotel room) or a 1 bedroom or 2 bedroom… for much less than staying at Animal Kingdom as a regular guest. If you stay in the bedroom ones you get a kitchen… so you can limit the cost of meals by buying groceries and eatting breakfast in and perhaps dinner too… just lunch at the parks. The # of points you rent will be based on when you go (supply/demand) and size of room.

  47. I didn’t read the other tips, but these are from my most recent trip..
    I just did a Disney trip with my family of four in September. Here is what I learned…we stayed on site, at Hilton, okay so not all Disney Disney but a nice hotel offering all the perks of the Disney on site hotels. The wonderful part was being able to go back to the hotel for a break, which I can’t stress enough..TAKE A BREAK MIDDAY! everyone will be all the happier. We purchased the park hopping tickets on our 5 day stay and we park hopped two nights. It was a perk not worth the payment in our opinion, we just had so much fun going to one park breaking it into parts through the day (going back to the hotel and swimming say then going back to the park for more night time fun). Disney always has a million different things going on at all the parks at all times so rushing from park to park seemed foolish after the first attempt at it. Breakfast, we made breakfast our biggest, hardiest meal; bagels, eggs, toast etc, we also brought our own pop tarts from home, cereal bars and what not. We actually shipped a box to the hotel, this varies so check out the cost, but it was so well worth it, we had food, random odds and ends, book or two, kids pre bought souvenirs. Lunch kids meals are huge in the parks. Also, who says you aren’t buying 3 kids meals when you walk through line? Most places in the parks are cafeteria style, you can eat cheaply in the parks if you scope the eatery. We always carried in our own water with drink mix packages, saved us cash in the long run on in park beverages. We also brought pretzels, trail mix w/o chocolate, granola bars. We had a snack suitcase and the kids got to pick out three snacks or so to take into the park. They each had a backpack that they carried all the supplies they needed through the day, they made zero complaints about them (maybe we just got lucky with that though??!) Pre trip I made a couple of trips to the Disney store and bought t-shirts and souvenirs, that alone saved us so much money at the end of our trip on the last day our two kids got to pick out something to take home, but with shopping before hand for t-shirts, autograph supplies, even minnie ears; we were able to afford that end of the trip souvenir. If you are flying in, don’t bother with the rental car, we did have one and really never used it, the shuttle service is decent (at the on-site hotel of Hilton mind you). Hilton by the way is near Downtown Disney, of which you can walk to and explore for some downtime. I have heard good and bad things about the airport shuttle service, so that depends on the people and the day of the week i suppose.
    No you don’t want to cheap out on a Disney vacation and you do want to splurge where you can. It is a great time and it is expensive, but if you plan, plan, plan you will come out on top both financially and in fun. My kids were 10 and 6 on this last most recent trip, so we spent a lot of time riding rides repeatably, getting autographs and exploring. I really got my kids into finding hidden mickeys in the parks and seeking out autographs. We also made a game (not sure how old your kiddies are), but we made a chart and for each chore done the kids earned twenty-five cents, after 4 quarters they got a bonus dollar. We started this a few months before we left and each child ended up with about $30 on an ATM style card from our bank. That was the fun money that mom and dad couldn’t intercede on; that alone saved us from any number of possible child melt downs of ‘i want’. They felt responsible and in charge with “my credit card sans the parents”; absolute lifesaver!
    mousesavers.com is a great website, sign up for the newsletter become a member for free and you will get access to deals on tickets, that is how we bought our tickets as they were the absolute cheapest compared to all the rest. We got them fast and they were great, we saved a lot using them.
    I have to say though, don’t stress. Stressing is not how you want to enjoy this great family vacation. Even while planning! We just took each day for what it offered, rain, sun, bad morning, great evening and ran with it. Smile at the frustrating things and take lots of pictures!!
    Find the things that interest your family and make that your starting point. Oh, and have a great time when you go!!

  48. My onsite pitch:
    Free parking + bus service for the duration of your trip (It’s $12 a day to park at the theme parks now! Youch!)
    Moderate hotel rooms include a small fridge for no charge now. This gives you the option of saving leftovers from restaurants. (Their beds are also much nicer than the value resort beds.)

    If you plan on staying onsite mainly for the bus service, do NOT stay at the Swan and Dolphin, Yacht Club, or Boardwalk resorts. For stops like Downtown Disney, all of these hotels share the same bus! It takes a while to visit all the stops and it can get packed and unpleasant very quickly.

    Check menu items and prices at Allearsnet.com. It’s much easier to plan a special in park meal or treat if you know what to expect pricewise.
    (http://allears.net/din/dining.htm)

    It’s been a few months, so I’m not sure this quirky tip is still true, but for in park soda cravings don’t buy the bottles at the popcorn stands. The snack carts charge $2.50 for the same bottle that costs $2 in the general merchandise stores at the front of the parks. This is also true for Downtown Disney where a bottled drink at a store like the Candy Cauldron costs $2 while a place like Wetzel’s Pretzels charges $2.50.

  49. Definitely skip the Park Hopper. I was there for four days not too long ago with no kids under 12 and each park is *decidedly* a whole day of entertainment. You will have no desire to leave one park and go to another, thereby rendering the Park Hopper pass worthless.

  50. It might have been mentioned above, but some of the guide books also have coupons in them for “% off” different resturaunts inside the park. Definitely worth the price of the book just to get a few coupons to use!

  51. I used to live in Kissimmee. There’s nothing frugal about Disney. I would definitely consider staying outside the park. If you drive or rent a car, there are many nice places to stay near. Also, buy your Disney trinkets, shirts, etc outside the park – maybe online even before you go and then you can ration them out during your stay and that way the kids get something Disney every day without you going broke. There are also many more frugal places to eat on the outside. It depends on whether you consider all the high price amenities to be a part of the Disney experience that you feel necessary. The kids are going to have a good time even if you don’t spend three or four thousand dollars.

  52. Here are a couple of free things you can do at Walt Disney World that are fun, and did I mention free.

    Ride the monorail. No I don’t mean hop in the cattle car and rub elbows with all the stinky people, I mean ride up front with the driver. There is no better view. Most of the drivers like to talk about Disney and the monorails so it can be educational.

    Walk through the hotels. This is really special during Christmastime. Each of the hotels has a unique theme and there are interesting displays in every hotel.

    Stop and Smell the Roses. Disney flora is amazing. Sometimes we get so caught up in running from ride to ride that we don’t take the time to relax and enjoy everything the parks have to offer.

  53. My favorite part of my trip to DW was the “Behind the Seeds” tour at Epcot. They take you into all the greenhouses and laboratories where they grow all kinds of plants, using various methods. The tour is run by interns who work at DW as part of their Agricultural major at college back home. They are very into what they do and answer all kinds of questions. The kids won’t be that bored with it (45 minutes I think), and it makes a nice adult brain break from the Disney overload. I think it was about $10/person and well worth it.

    I’ve stayed at DAK Lodge, get the Savannah view or stay somewhere else. You are paying for the novelty of seeing the animals outside your room.

    Are you familiar with the “Hidden Mickeys”? This is a very frugal way to spend time as it doesn’t cost anything (unless you buy the book). Plus it’s a great activity to keep the kids occupied while in lines.

    This is my solid gold tip though, and you will need to do this ASAP. Find out what time the fireworks are at Magic Kingdom, and book a later dinner at Ohana’s during that time. It has a great view of Cinderella’s castle.

  54. Purchasing the meal plan depends on your family’s eating habits. If you tend to eat full meals and need to eat at specific times, the meal plan is worth it. Food in the park is very expensive. If you can be more flexible with your eating, I would skip the meal plan. Instead, eat a larger breakfast outside of the park before you go in and bring in your own snacks that you purchase from a store like Walmart.

  55. Animal Kingdom is not worth the money. Pop Century is a value resort and it’s lawnscape is beautiful. Just walking around outside is FUN!
    Take all the snacks you can. Depending on kids ages take things they like ie. Smuckers PB & J sandwiches (they are $2.49 each there), Small bags of snacks, cookie, crackers, candies etc. I always take my breakfast foods with me(bagels, oatmeal, cereal) the foodcourts have microwaves you can use.I’M 60 & TAKE pb&j FOR ME.
    The meal package is not a good idea because you spend too much time in the restaurants and you can find more affordable meals in the parks.
    Epcot has a great food court were you can even order a childs meal. Meals can also be split between each other. After breakfast in my room I pack one day meal and enjoy it at patio tables that are everywhere. You can even buy Bumblebee
    Chicken or tuna snacks with crackers. My dinner I buy a sandwich or slice of pizza.
    Take bottles of water in with you. You can refill them at fountains in all the parks and H20 costs about $2.50 per bottle (Pop too).Fruit is a good thing to take in with you too.
    If you have never been to WDW there is too much to do to waste your time in over priced restaurants.
    Remember the more you take in the parks with you the more money you will save.

  56. Hey, I don’t feel like reading through all of the comments, but if no one else has recommended the Happy Housewife to you, you might want to go check her blog out. She & her family are avid Disney fans & she’s posting a 30 day series on money saving tips if you are visiting the park.

  57. We are going on our 5th trip to WDW. fortunately we are able to take advantage of military specials. Right now until December 23, 2009. Military personnel and retirees are eligible for a free 5 day hopper plus ticket and can purchase up to 5,5 day base tickets for $99 each. You can upgrade to Hopper for an additional $25 and Hopper Plus for additional $50. Also there is a very good discount on resorts for military right now. There is also the Shades Of Green Resort on Disney. Even if you are not eligible to stay there you can eat there at reasonable prices. There is also a little store in the hotel with decent prices. Last time we went we split our stay between the Carribean Beach and the Polynesian. We saved money and enjoyed both resorts. They will send your luggage to the other resort at no charge.

  58. Stay Inside or Outside the Park?
    Anyone have experience with staying inside or outside the park? Advantages and disadvantages?

    I have done both. We last went to Disney in 2006 and stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Now that I have stayed both on and off the Disney grounds, I will never stay off the resort again. The price for the room is a little higher than what you will find off the resort, but the benefits of staying on the resort makes up for it. Disney customer service is phenomenal. They were very helpful in every question and need that we had. I commute a lot for work. Disney does a great job at getting you from place to place within the park. We parked our car when we arrived and didn’t need to drive ourselves anywhere else (so long as you stay at Disney) while we were there. It was GREAT! Staying off the resort you waste a lot of time sitting in traffic getting into the resort, paying for parking only to park in the middle of no-where (Goofy 86 – what?). I really appreciated not having to drive my family around and letting Mickey take the wheel…heh
    For the room at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, you really don’t need the Savannah view. There are plenty of areas that you can view the animals without standing in your room to do it. We did not opt for the savannah view and had a great time.

    Meal Plan or Wing It?
    According to the Disney World site there are various meal plans available. I’ve heard horror stories about the meal prices at Disney World, and since I’m normally a dollar-menu kind of guy, the thought of spending tons of money on food hurts. Is the meal plan really a great deal, or do you do better to try to live off snack foods and bottled water (which I think you can take into the park, correct?).

    We used the meal plan when we went. I enjoyed this because we had pre-paid for everything before we arrived. The sticker shock had worn off before we got to the park (heh). The meal plan is nice because you swipe your card (your meal credits are placed on your universal card that Disney uses for your room, tickets, and meals) and the actual price doesn’t matter. On our meal plan, we had some # of snacks, a Counter meal, and a sit-down meal. This worked out well for my family of 4 (at the time). The down side is that the meal plan allots you, what I consider to be, a lot of food. It started out great at the beginning – but we were stuffed and ended up not finishing food towards the end. Some restaurants at Disney required reservations. We did not decide where we would have dinner till the day that we were going to eat. We had minimal hassle with making reservations. I would definitely do it again. I think in the end I saved money if you did the comparison of cost vs. meal plan value – although I know we wouldn’t have bought some of the food we got through the meal plan.

    Hope this was helpful – Let me know if i can assist more!

    Enjoy!

  59. Tour Guide Mike is the BOMB! Well worth the few dollars to plan your trip out. We also bought our park hopper tickets online and basically ended up getting 6 days for the price of 3. Can’t remember who we bought them from but it was a company recommended from the Tour Guide Mike site.

  60. I would not pay the price of any hotels but the value one. Pop Century is my favorite. You get the same bus service. Save where you can as you will spend a lot while there.
    Take your own breakfasts from home. There is a food court where you can toast your bagels or toast and make instant oatmeal. I bring tea bags and disposable cups from home and eat there every morning.
    Take snacks in the park with you. Candies, bags of snacks, Chicken salad or tuna & crackers, any munchies you like.
    The meal plan is not worth the money and wastes too much of your time. You’ve never been there and need touring time. There is a lot of walking to do.
    Wear COMFORTABLE well broken in shoes!!!
    Have a great time!

  61. For my family the food we eat on vacation is part of what we look forward to. There are five of us; two adults and two kids.

    We would never go to Disney without using their dining plan. They offer several different plans depending on how you want to eat. Quick serves (fast food type) or Table Service (sit down restaurants), and even snacks. (Snacks include things like 1 order of popcorn, a funnel cake, a soft drink, a muffin, 1 lbs of fudge etc).

    There are so many cool places to eat, even the fast food places are included in the meal plans, so unless you plan on leaving the parks for each meal, or carrying in your own food, it’s worth it to do a price comparison.

    We actually did the numbers figuring how much it would cost out of pocket to eat realistically for us in the parks, and it was no contest. The Disney dining plan saved us money and gave us enough flexibility, including snacks, for everyone to eat basically whatever they wanted without breaking the bank.

    Also, sometimes Disney offers the basic dining plan for FREE during certain promotions.

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