Friday, November 6, 2009

Tips for Disneyworld on a Budget

I scoured the Internet when planning our Disney vacation for money-saving tips. A lot of sites had one or two helpful tips, but I never found a good comprehensive list. Here are several things we did to save money and have fun at Disneyworld.

Disney on a Budget

1) Travel during the off-season: Frommer's gives you an idea of when the best off-season times to travel to Orlando are. You will find much better rates on everything - from airfare to hotels - during off-season travel periods. For our late October/early November vacation, our hotel and airfare (booked together on totalled $640 after taxes - that included two adult round trip flights from Kansas City to Orlando and seven nights at our hotel.

2) Unless you plan on doing all Disney all the time, don't worry about booking a room in a Disney Resort property. We stayed at Comfort Inn Lake Buena Vista. It was a 10-15 minute drive to the parks (by car or by the free shuttle the hotel offered) and had all of the amenities we wanted (pool, fridge, microwave, laundry). We simply aren't at any hotel enough to justify the exorbitant rates we would have paid at a Disney property.
Our rooms at the Comfort Inn were newly remodeled and in great shape. The electronic billboard outside of the hotel said all rooms were $60/night; you would be lucky to book a room on a Disney property for less than $100/night, even during "Value Season."

3) Tour a resort to get reduced prices on your tickets: Our hotel "concierge" offered us tickets at almost half price in return for spending 1.5 - 2 hours touring a resort property. You can read a little bit about our experience in this post. One day tickets for a Disney park at the gate will run you about $85-$90, we got our tickets for $49 each (including taxes).
I would not trust the discount ticket booths you see all over Orlando - their agents buy the unused days from tourists with multiple day tickets and then sell the tickets back to you. There is no way to verify how many days are left, and often the Disney employees will ask you for an ID at the gate. You are not assured of getting in to a park on a recycled ticket.

4) Bring a soft-sided cooler with you and pack your own meals/snacks: Meals in the parks can add up quickly. Depending on the number of people in your family, you can save a significant amount of money by bringing in quick and easy meals rather than buying the processed food available at Disney.
I booked a hotel with a refrigerator and microwave, and we stopped at the grocery store on the day we arrived. We bought cereal and fruit for breakfast, sandwich fixin's and veggies for lunch, a case of bottled water, and I had packed lots of granola bars and crackers for snacks. We also ate dinner a few times at the hotel: rotisserie chicken, veggies steamed in the bag, and a delicious pasta meal that we cooked in the bag.
I packed napkins, plastic silverware, and Ziploc bags in our checked suitcase, and we bought a package of disposable bowls for the hotel room. We packed our cooler every morning using ice from the hotel ice machines, and it was easy to transport around the parks in our stroller. We also took the cooler with us when we visited both coasts.

5) Don't pay parking fees: Stay in a hotel that offers free shuttles, or park at Downtown Disney for free and take a free Disney shuttle to the parks. Parking on a Disney park lot will run you $14/day. That can add up if you are spending more than one day at the parks.

6) Bring souvenirs with you: Bypass the expensive souvenirs sold in the parks and bring some with you instead. You can look for better deals on Ebay, craigslist, garage sales, and your local stores. Once in Orlando, skip the big "Florida/Disney Gift" cheapie stores (most are huge blue buildings); their merchandise is very poor quality (and a lot of it is in seriously bad taste). There are a few Disney outlets that sell old/discontinued Disney merchandise, but we didn't find any Earth-shattering deals at the character outlet we went to.
One other thing to buy before you go - anything glow in the dark if you plan on attending the night parade at Magic Kingdom. We bought glow in the dark bracelets at Target - 12 for $1; we ended up handing most of them out to kids around us at the parade (I love the generosity of toddlers!!). We also bought Disney stickers and tattoos at Walmart, Kieran enjoyed those on the plane and at the parks.

Disneyworld is a fantastic experience for all ages, and you do not have to be wealthy to go. Just be smart, plan ahead, and take advantage of the money saving ideas offered by the veterans.

Have a magical day,

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