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Disney on a Dime: An insider’s perspective on how to stretch your Disney Vacation dollars
Disney World–it’s the most magical place on earth. With it’s flying elephants, princess palaces, and dancing cast of characters, it’s a child’s paradise and a dream vacation. Who wouldn’t want to visit Cinderella’s castle, bump into Buzz Lightyear in the park, or have dinner with Mickey and Minnie?
Disney World is almost a right of passage for kids these days, and many young-at-heart adults eagerly head back every year. So how do you swing a sweet vacation without breaking the bank? We’re not gonna lie—it’ll cost you a pretty penny, but there are ways to save money without sacrificing fun. We spoke with Erin Sistar of The Vacation Wizards travel agency to find out just how you can experience the magic of Disney without blowing your budget. Check out these money-saving tips:
The majority of vacationers are diehard believers that booking a hotel close to, but not inside the park, will help save big bucks. Surely any accommodations on Disney property would be more expensive, right? Often times, that’s not true.
While Disney does have several premium hotels located on property, they also have four more reasonably priced value resorts: Pop Century, All-Star Sport, All-Star Movies, and All-Star Music. With a reservation at any of these hotels, you’ll enjoy the on-property conveniences, but avoid the $20+ daily parking fee at the park. It will also include Magic Bands for the entire family, a $20 per person value.
Your magic band is a virtual backpack of conveniences that you wear as a bracelet. It electronically holds your room key, park passes, fast passes, dining reservations, pictures, and more, right there on your wrist! It also syncs with your My Disney Experience account, an app that you’ll use while you’re in the park.
If the value resorts are still too steep for your budget, you might choose one of the many Walt Disney World Good Neighbor Hotels. These hotels are held to the Disney quality and standard of service, have a Guest Services desk that can assist you with your Disney vacation planning, are convenient to the Disney resort and provide transportation to all the parks. Many of the hotels also offer complimentary breakfasts and evening receptions.
Unless you’re a Florida resident or active or retired military, you’ll rarely find a discounted Disney park ticket. So how do you stretch your entertainment dollars? Book your room and your tickets together in a basic package. While you’ll still pay full price for the tickets, a package will include a discount on the price of your room. It will also protect you from falling prey to scammers who sell “discounted” tickets that you’ll eventually find are expired or have been previously redeemed.
One of the simplest ways to get the most bang for your buck is to book your Disney vacation with as much lead time as possible. Did you know that you’re able to book a Disney hotel room 499 days in advance? If you want the most economical price, your reservation should be made no less than seven months ahead of your departure date and ideally closer to one year. It will also afford you the greatest variety and availability for specialty dining, character dinners, and other limited space activities during your stay.
Everyone has to eat, but should you buy a Disney Dining Plan? Food can eat up a lot of your budget, especially when you’re eating on the run. The dining plan is a fabulous option, but it’s not for everyone.
If you’re a family of four and have two tweens or teens that are eating you out of house and home, buying a meal plan is a no-brainer. And, it gives you the added convenience of a now all-inclusive trip. But, if you have two little ones who live on goldfish and eat a few bites from Mom or Dad’s plate, it’s not worth spending a few hundred dollars.
Disney offers three different dining plans so you can choose the option that works best for your family:
This is the least expensive meal plan. For each person and for each day of your visit, it includes:
- Two quick-serve meals where you order at the counter and seat yourself
- Two snack credits that can be used to purchase items like a coke, popcorn, pretzel, or ice cream
- One refillable mug, which may be used at any of the resorts, but not at the park
- One alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink credit to be used at your meal
Disney Meal Plan
This mid-level plan replaces the two quick-serve meals from above with one quick-serve meal and one table service meal, which includes character dining.
Deluxe Disney Meal Plan
This is the most inclusive and most expensive meal plan. It replaces the two meals above with three meals, which can be any combination of quick-serve and/or table service meals.
If the meal plan isn’t for you, there’s no need to worry. Disney will allow you to bring food into the parks, within reason, of course. They’re generally more lenient when you have little ones afoot. Grown teenagers carrying a full-sized cooler, however, probably won’t get by so easily.
Be sure to bring your own water bottles into the park, too. It’s hot, it’s busy, and you’ll undoubtedly get thirsty running from ride to ride. You’ll find water fountains everywhere, so fill up those bottles and go! You can also go to any quick serve, snack counter, or cart and ask for a cup of water. And yes, it’s FREE. Finally, if you’re in the park during your table service meal, you can kindly ask your waiter to refill them with cold, icy water.
Another way to stretch your dining dollars is to bring some of your favorite food from home. Well, sort of. There’s no need to pack those pop-tarts and oatmeal packets in your suitcase when there’s Amazon Pantry. Place your order online and ship it to your hotel so that it arrives on the day you check-in.
Our last no meal plan, money-saving food related trick has to do with those magical character meals. If you’re planning on making a reservation, opt for breakfast or lunch. The dinner option is much more expensive.
Lunch is a great time because you’ve been in the park all morning and you’re likely ready to put your feet up and enjoy some AC. Your little one might even take a quick nap.
Breakfast, on the other hand, lets you enjoy the rest of the day and leave the park when you’re ready. You won’t feel pressure to stick around for later reservations if the fam is ready to go.
A trip to Disney World is one of the most fun and memorable vacations you’ll take, but it doesn’t have to break the bank. Use these tips and your smart spending will help make your Disney vacation even more magical!