Today’s guest post is from Kathleen Anckner, a Disney Vacation Planner with Polka Dot Bow Adventures, a fee-free agency, meaning clients pay no more than if they booked directly through Disney (and usually less because Polka Dot Bow Adventures automatically applies the best available discount to reservations).
Moola Saving Tips For Your Mouse Trip
Thinking about a trip to Walt Disney World? Putting together a Disney vacation can quickly turn from exciting to overwhelming, especially when it comes to the bottom line. Walt Disney World isn’t exactly cheap, but it doesn’t have to be a “once-in-a-lifetime-blow-your-vacation-budget-for-the-next-decade” extravaganza either.
As a Disney Vacation Planner, I love to help clients plan a Walt Disney World vacation that best suits their dreams and budgets. Here are some ways to help you get maximum value for your precious vacation dollars.
Scout Out Deals
Many people just assume that staying at a Walt Disney World resort is out of their price range. It’s true that there are many, many accommodations to choose from in central Florida, but Disney usually offers deals throughout the year that range from room, package, and military discounts to free dining promotions. Certain room deals can help you save 15-30% off standard room rates, and some vacation package promotions can save families hundreds of dollars.
For example, the Magical Family Savings promotion offered for certain times this fall could save a family with 2 adults and 2 kids (ages 3-9) more than $200 on multi-day theme park tickets and a 4-night stay in a pirate-themed room with a water view at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort.
If you’re considering staying off site, keep in mind you’ll have to pay for parking at the theme parks, whereas Disney provides on-site guests free transportation to and from resorts, parks, and Downtown Disney via monorail, bus, or ferry. And if you’re flying to Orlando and staying off site, you’ll need to add the cost of a rental car, car service, or taxi to your budget. Disney resort guests receive complimentary transportation on the Magical Express to and from Orlando International Airport.
Using a travel agent that specializes in Disney vacations is also a big money and time saver. In addition to helping you decide on the right hotel and ticket package for your budget, an agent will stay on top of current promotions and changes that could affect your trip.
Warning: Shameless Marketing Plug Ahead — Booking through Polka Dot Bow Adventures doesn’t cost you a dime, so why not let us scout out the best deal for you? If you’ve already booked through us and a better promotion comes along, we’ll apply the best available discount to your reservation, which means you don’t have to spend time on hold with the Disney call center trying to get those savings.
Although, Disney does have great “hold” music!
Travel During Off-Peak Times
I can just see my sister, a dedicated teacher rolling her eyes as she reads this title. (“Don’t you think I’d travel during the off season IF I COULD?”) She can’t (sorry, sis!), but maybe you can. If you have any travel flexibility beyond traditional holidays or school breaks, Disney usually offers some great package deals in the fall, at different points throughout the winter, and in the late spring.
Consider “Roughing It”
Does your family like to camp? Or maybe you have an RV? Think about pitching a tent or hooking up your rig at the often-overlooked Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground. You get the perks and conveniences of being a Disney resort guest but at a cheaper price. During low seasons, campsites range from around $50 (plus tax) per night for a tent or pop-up site to $70-$90 (plus tax) for full-hookup campsites. Peak season rates jump to more than $80 (plus tax) for tents and pop-ups and around $100-$120 (plus tax) for a full-hookup site.
Road Trip It
Yes, driving to Walt Disney World may take longer than flying, and yes, you may have to deal with a lot of “Are we there yet?” or “How much longer?” from the back seat if you’re traveling with kids, but eliminating the cost of airline tickets can save a big chunk of your vacation budget.
If you’re staying on site at Disney, parking is free at all the Disney theme parks and resorts during your vacation. Personally, I prefer to park our car at the resort and let Disney do the driving for us while we’re there.
Many of you Moola Savers are from the Southeast, which means Walt Disney World is probably less than a 10-hour drive. So get up early, put your favorite Disney tunes on the car stereo, and hit the road!
Have a Plan
You’ve dropped your bags wherever you’re staying, and you’re ready hit the parks! Let’s hurry up and… wait in line?
No one wants to spend money to stand in long lines. Familiarize yourself with each park’s layout ahead of time, decide what attractions are on your “must do” list, and map out a plan to tour the park.
(Warning: Shameless Marketing Plug # 2 — Booking through your friendly Polka Dot Bow Adventures Vacation Planners means receiving personalized recommendations and complimentary resources to create customized touring plans to help you make the most of your time at the parks.)
MyMagic+ includes FastPass+, MagicBands, and My Disney Experience. Understanding how MyMagic+ works will save you time and add convenience to your vacation.
This service is a key to your park plans and — good news! — is included with your ticket, package, or annual pass at no extra charge.
Here’s how it works: FastPass+ lets you reserve access to 3 select attractions, shows, or character greetings in 1 park per day. Translation: Your kid HAS to meet Anna and Elsa, or you MUST ride the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train? Make FastPass+ reservations for these and you’ll have a designated window of time reserved when you can move through a shorter line. Less line time means fewer fussy tears, from you or your toddler. Everybody wins!
FastPass+ reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance for Disney resort hotel guests and 30 days ahead of time for off-site guests. These reservations open at midnight, and — Warning: Shameless Marketing Plug # 3 — Polka Dot Bow Adventures Vacation Planners will happily burn the midnight oil to make these bookings for their clients.
These waterproof wristbands serve several functions: they are the key to your Disney resort hotel room, your entry to the parks and FastPass+ entrances, and a method of payment for that impromptu Mickey ice cream bar. MagicBands can also be used to board Disney’s Magical Express and for Disney Dining Plan transactions.
MagicBands are included with your vacation package if you’re booked in a Disney resort hotel, or if you’re a Walt Disney World Passholder. (Fun perk: You can customize the color of the MagicBand for each member of your party.)
Not staying on site? You’ll get a card when you buy park admission for your FastPass+ selections. You can also purchase MagicBands online ($12.95 plus tax) or at locations throughout Walt Disney World and link them to your tickets via My Disney Experience.
- My Disney Experience
This is both a web site and a free mobile app for your smart phone, and it is what ties MyMagic+ together. Create a profile, and you can manage your daily plans, including FastPass+ selections and dining reservations. It also gives you access to GPS enabled maps, attraction wait times, character greeting locations, and show times.
Rise and Shine!
Okay, you’ve got a plan and you understand how MyMagic+ works. So get out of bed, sleepyhead!
The shortest wait times for attractions are in the morning and rise steadily as the day goes on, so plan to get up early and arrive at parks when they open. You’ll experience more attractions during those first few hours than you will at any other point in the day. If you’re staying at a Disney resort, you’ll also have access to Extra Magic Hours at the parks for no additional charge. Each day a park opens an hour early or stays open two hours later exclusively for resort guests.
Bring Your Own Snacks
Don’t let low blood sugar or the high priced theme park food ruin your vacation! Disney lets you bring snacks and food into the parks. (What’s not allowed: food that needs to be heated, glass containers, alcoholic beverages, and coolers larger than 24″ (61 cm) long and 15″ (38 cm) wide and 18″ (46cm) high.) So fill up your water bottles, make some sandwiches, pack your protein bars, and save your money for a few special meals during your stay.
Speaking of meals, if you’d like to sit down for a character meal or dine in a particular Walt Disney World restaurant, you can make Advance Dining Reservations up to 6 months (180 Days) ahead of your arrival date. Make dining reservations early, because they fill up fast!
(Warning: Final Shameless Marketing Plug — Booking dining reservations is another service Polka Dot Bow Adventures Vacation Planners provide for their clients. The dining reservation system opens up at 6:00 a.m. (EST) online We’ll set our alarms so you don’t have to!)
Shop For Souvenirs Beforehand
If you’re traveling with kids, hit up the Dollar Spot at Target for inexpensive Disney merchandise before your trip. Stash the trinkets in your day bag and surprise your little ones throughout your days in the parks. This can help reduce “but I have to have” whining and impulse buying. This same strategy can be applied to t-shirts and princess dresses — pick these up at your local big box store for much less than they cost at the parks.
You’re at Walt Disney World though, so of course it is fun to find that something special to remember your vacation. An easy way to stick to your souvenir budget is to purchase Disney gift cards before your trip so you won’t be as tempted to overspend. If you’re a Target Red Card holder or BJ’s Wholesale Club member, you can purchase Disney gift cards at a discount, sometimes up to 5 percent.
After preaching the importance of getting value for your dollar and planning ahead, don’t forget to have fun! Be confident in the decisions and plans you’ve made, and when you arrive at Walt Disney World relax and enjoy those spontaneous and magical moments that you could never possibly plan for, like seeing your son dance with Woody and Jessie in the Move It! Shake It! Dance & Play It! Street Party, or having a Cast Member ask your little girl for her autograph because she’s dressed up like her favorite Disney princess. This is your vacation: enjoy it!