Now that it’s spring and the government rebate checks are starting to roll in, many people are sounding like that old Super Bowl commercial:
“You’ve just received your rebate check! What are you going to do now?”
“I’m going to Disney World!”
If you decide to go to WDW this summer and you want to stretch your rebate money (or your own funds) a little further, here are some tips to reduce the costs of a WDW vacation.
1. Do your research before you leave. Disney World is not a small place with just a few options. It’s sheer size and the number of things to do can overwhelm many visitors. If you go to WDW without a clue as to what is going on, you’re going to spend more than you need to simply because you don’t know any better. Pick up a couple of guidebooks from the library and familiarize yourself with the options, offerings, and expenses ahead of time so you know what to expect and can budget accordingly. Two valuable websites for the cost-conscious are Mousesavers.com and Disboards.com. Both offer tips and hints, and the Disboards are free message forums where you can ask your own questions.
2. Go in the off-season. The off-season for Disney World is any time that kids are in school. When kids are out of school, the crowds and prices shoot up. Does this mean that all of the summer is peak season? No. Early June and late August offer lower crowds and cheaper rates. If you want to go around the Fourth of July, however, expect to pay top dollar. When making reservations, try different dates. Sometimes just changing your dates by a few days either way can out you into a cheaper “season.”
3. Learn what discounts are available and how to get them. The websites listed in #1 track the currently available discounts and teach you how to get them. Some of the most common are AAA, Annual Passholder rates, specials for holders of the Disney Visa credit card, and discounted packages that are released to the general public when occupancy needs a boost. It’s not as difficult as it once was to find discounts at WDW, so don’t think you can’t get one.
4. Consider an Annual Pass, even if you’re only going once. Annual passholders are entitled to a variety of food, merchandise, and lodging discounts. Even though the pass may cost you more than a regular ticket, it may pay for itself depending on your party size, length of stay and availability of lodging discounts. Since only one person in your party (an adult) needs to have the pass to get the discounts, it may be worth it to get an annual pass for mom or dad and get regular tickets for everyone else. The websites listed in #1, along with All Ears Net offer advice and break even analyses to help you make this decision.
5. Purchase only the base ticket. WDW now offers a dizzying array of tickets for varying lengths of stay, with or without options that include admission to the water parks and park hopping. While the extra options are nice, they do add to the overall cost of your tickets. Think about your travel plans and decide if you really need or want those options of if the base ticket will suffice. Also decide if you want to buy tickets only for the length of your planned stay or if you want to go ahead and buy additional days. If you think you’ll ever visit WDW again, buying tickets with more days than you need can be a smart move if you can spare the extra cash. This is because WDW tickets never expire. So if you buy a ten day pass for this trip and only use four days, those remaining six days are good forever and you won’t have to pay anything more to use them, avoiding unpleasant price increases.
6. Pre-buy souvenirs. This is especially helpful if you have kids who will want everything they see in the parks. Buy some Disney merchandise at home before you leave (hit the sales at the Disney Store, or look in Target and Wal-Mart for Disney items) and hand it out to the kiddos during the trip to tame the gimmie monster. They won’t know that it’s not from the parks and you’ll save a fortune.
7. Limit souvenirs. Souvenir expenses seem to creep up on you. You don’t think you’ve spent that much but then, at the end of the trip you get the bill and freak out. Create a plan to limit impulse spending. You can give each person a set amount to spend and let them choose how to spend it, but when it’s gone, it’s gone. Or you can hold off on all purchases until the last day of vacation when certain items are likely to have “risen to the top” as great purchases, thus avoiding all the junk purchases in between. Create your own plan and stick to it.
8. Bring your own water bottles and snacks to the parks. Disney does allow you to bring your own food as long as it’s not excessive. With bottled water going for $3 a bottle, bringing your own and filling it from a water fountain will save a fortune. If you hate the taste of Florida water, buy some individual sized Crystal Light or Kool Aid stir-ins and bring them from home. Also pack your own snacks like granola bars, chips, nuts, etc. You can pack stuff that’s better for you and much less expensive that what you can buy in the parks.
9. Order kids’ meals instead of adult meals at counter service restaurants. Kids’ meals are much cheaper than regular meals and the portions for the kids’ meals are more realistically sized than those for adults. They also include a drink in the price which adult meals do not.
10. Alternatively, split a meal. If you are a moderate eater, you’ll probably find that two people can split a regular sandwich and fry-type combo meal and be satisfied. It saves the money and wasted food of an unnecessary second meal.
11. Share everything. You can order a large drink, which is a better value than the small, and share it amongst your group. It’s cheaper than buying three or four smalls. The same goes for snacks (popcorn, especially) and any other food purchases. Buy one and share. This eliminates wasted food and money.
12. Earn a little Disney money ahead of time. Some Get Paid To sites — notably, Quick Rewards and Sunshine Rewards — offer Disney Dollars and Disney gift cards as cash out options. If you have a while before your trip you can make some extra spending money. Alternatively, you can ask for or give Disney Dollars and gift cards as gifts for Christmas, birthdays, etc. to help defray the cost and give kids some pocket money.
13. Bring as much as you can from home. Everything in the parks is more expensive than at your local store — in some cases a lot more. Make certain to bring enough batteries, medications, film, toiletries, diapers/baby needs, feminine needs, and anything else you might need from home. Otherwise expect to pay top dollar for supplies.
14. Bring your own rain ponchos and fans. If you’re going in the summer, afternoon storms and high temperatures are a certainty. Disney knows this which is why they sell expensive rain ponchos and portable fans for top dollar. You can get inexpensive ponchos and portable fans from Target or Wal-Mart before leaving home. No, they won’t have the Disney characters on them, but they’ll cost you a fraction of the price you’ll pay at WDW.
15. Ship things to your resort ahead of time. If you’re bringing everything you own to avoid paying Disney prices, how do you get it there without paying a fortune in extra baggage costs? Pack a box with your supplies and ship it to your resort ahead of time using UPS, FedEx or DHL. It will be waiting for you upon arrival. If you plan in advance, you can use standard ground service instead of the pricey two day or overnight options.
16. Get your tickets from a reputable discount broker or, at least, buy them online ahead of time. Yes, there are some shady ticket brokers out there and you need to be careful. But two of the best are Undercover Tourist and Ticket Mania. They both sell legitimate WDW tickets at discounted prices. Disney will also cut you a price break if you buy online before you leave home, rather than waiting until you get to the gate.
17. Skip the table service restaurants. Counter service meals are less expensive than the sit down table service restaurants (and less time consuming, if you’re pressed for time). They’re just as filling and offer a variety of choices. Gone are the days when counter service meant only burgers and fries.
18. If you do want to try a table service restaurant, do so at lunch. Lunch prices are less expensive than dinner, often for the same menu.
19. Avoid extra luggage costs by bringing your laundry supplies from home and doing laundry once or twice. Rather than packing enough clothes for every day of your trip and running up your luggage costs, bring travel sized laundry detergent and do the wash. No, it’s not a super fun way to spend vacation time, but it saves room in your luggage for souvenirs. Bringing your own detergent is also much cheaper than buying it at WDW or sending your laundry out for Disney to do (which is very expensive).
20. To further lighten the load and reduce your costs, stock up on free samples of shampoo, detergent, toothpaste, deodorant, etc. Sample sizes are usually the same as travel sizes. Rather than buying a bunch of travel sized items, just keep an eye out for free samples and add them to your vacation stash.
21.If you plan to do much beyond Disney’s property, consider getting an Orlando MagicCard (free from the Orlando Visitor’s Bureau). It entitles you to discounts at many Orlando-area restaurants, hotels, and attractions. Similarly, an Entertainment Book for Orlando offers coupons for local restaurants and attractions, plus hotel and car rental discounts. It’s not free (about $30, or less if you buy in the middle of the year) but it might pay for itself if you plan to do a lot beyond Disney’s borders.
22. If you’re staying at a Disney resort, buy the refillable mug. It’s $12, but entitles you to free soda, tea and coffee refills during the length of your stay. It pay for itself in just a few drinks, plus it makes a great souvenir to take home.
23. Get a refrigerator or cooler. This can save you a small fortune. Disney’s moderate and deluxe resorts offer in-room dorm-sized refrigerators at no extra cost. If you stay in a value resort, you can choose to rent one ($10/day), bring one from home (if you drive), or buy or bring a cooler and fill it with ice from the ice machine. The purpose is to give you a place to chill milk, sandwich fixings, etc. to reduce your food costs. Even if you only eat breakfast in your room you’ll save a bunch of money over buying it everyday, especially if you have a large party. Not to mention the time you save by not waiting in line every morning. People can be eating while others are getting ready.
24. And where are you supposed to get the food to put in this cooler or fridge, you ask? If you’re driving, you can bring much of it with you from home. If you drive yourself or rent a car, you can hit the grocery stores or Wal-Mart in town. If you fly, several grocery stores in the area offer grocery delivery to the Disney Resorts. Even if you have to pay a delivery fee, your savings will more than cover it.
25. Consider staying on Disney property. When people think about saving money, they automatically assume that they will do better by staying off property. That’s not necessarily true. Disney offers value priced accommodations and, with discounts, these get pretty attractive price-wise. If you stay off property, you’ll have to pay for parking at the parks ($11/day), call a cab, rely on infrequent shuttles or rent a car. Don’t forget gas costs if you drive yourself. All of these add to your daily totals. On site guests get free parking and transportation to the parks. Plus you’re right there. You don’t have to navigate traffic or waste time at the parking plaza. Certainly, some people do better by staying off property and you should certainly look into it. But remember to factor in the increased transportation costs into your budget. A great deal on an off site hotel can quickly be eaten up by parking fees and gas money.
26. Know that saving at Disney is all about compromise and be willing to give up some of what you want to get more of something else. Certainly, you can opt for the best of everything and to do everything top flight. But you don’t have to do that to have a good time. Rather than staying in a deluxe resort, maybe you can choose a moderate and be just as happy. Instead of ten nights, will seven be sufficient? Maybe you can eat counter service instead of table service. Maybe one good souvenir is better than twenty so-so souvenirs. Every compromise you make frees up money for other stuff. For example, if you stay in that moderate resort, maybe it leaves you with some money left over to have a few character meals. Make a budget and decide where you can compromise to get the number down to an affordable, yet fun number.
Visiting Walt Disney World doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition. With a little research and preplanning you can dramatically reduce your costs and stretch your funds (and fun) even further.
Image courtesy of Stuck in Customs