I am a big fan of one of the most expensive vacation places around - Walt Disney World. After several visits with my family (four kids) I know many ways to keep the costs down that might be helpful to other families.
- Time your vacation carefully. If you go during the most popular seasons (Christmas, early summer) you will not only pay higher rates for hotels, but will have to deal with crowded parks that mean longer line-ups and less time enjoying attractions. During the slow times, not only are hotel rooms in general less expensive, there are often special deals offered. For example, when I went with my sister last February, we were able to take advantage of a buy one pass, get second pass half-price offer. My next trip is planned for late August, and we have hotel rooms booked (another special offer) within WDW for just $49 a night.
- Consider camping. If you like to camp, WDW has a great campground with reasonable prices and excellent facilities, including Disney movies shown at night and other entertainment. You are still on site, with easy access to the theme parks.
- If camping isn't for you, you might consider staying outside the park. During the low season, you can often get hotel rooms for under $20 a night. You will probably be spending very little time in your room, so all you really want is a clean, safe place to sleep.
Another alternative, especially if you have a large family or group, is to look into the options of renting a house or condo during your stay. There are a number of organizations in the Orlando area who will help you make the arrangements for this. The rates are often very reasonable especially if you want to be there a week or more.
- Staying inside the park has its advantages, too, although costs are generally higher. Be sure to ask if there are any special discounts being offered when you call. Sometimes just changing the starting date of your vacation by a day or two will mean a much lower rate throughout your stay. One big plus to staying on-site: you can use all the WDW transportation to get you back and forth. You can also have anything you buy in the park sent back to your room so you don't have to carry stuff around. And Mickey will be happy to call you every morning to wake you up!
- Food is a big expense. Here's what we do: we bring a cooler and refill it with ice twice a day. In the cooler we keep bottled water, fruit, cheese, peanut butter, bread, crackers, etc., all in waterproof containers. We also bring a toaster and our George Foreman grill. This enables us to easily make breakfast in the room as well as bedtime snacks. I usually pack food for one meal in our backpacks and then we plan to buy one meal in the park each day. I let the kids know that water will be our only drink during the vacation, and we refill the water bottles throughout the day.
On a recent visit, I got to know another family that brought a slow-cooker with them. It took the parents just a short time to pop the ingredients in the slow-cooker before they headed out in the morning, and they arrived back at dinner time to a delicious cooked meal. I'll be bringing mine along on our next trip!
- Get the most out of your restaurant meals. We love the character meals, so we plan that our meal out will be one that includes Mickey, Winnie the Pooh or other friends. We also enjoy the restaurants where the staff get involved in entertaining us - such as Whispering Canyon or the Prime Time Cafe. These often require priority seating, so we plan our schedule and make these reservations in advance. Buffets work well for us, because we have a variety of special dietary needs in my family. With these plans in place, our restaurant meals are part of the fun, not just a way to refuel.
- Buying the right admission ticket can be a challenge. There are few discounts on admission, but there are some. CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) offers a discount, and you may have access to others through your place of employment or professional organizations you belong to. If you have an American Express card, you can get discounts in several areas. When my son went to WDW on his honeymoon, he got an American Express card just for that reason.
You also need to figure out which of several options in tickets is right for you. The length-of-stay tickets allow you to park-hop throughout your visit, but if you decide to spend a day at Sea World or Universal Studios instead, you've lost the cost of that day. The Park-hopper tickets give you a certain number of days but never expire, so you can return years later and use up any remaining days. You also need to decide if you want the "Plus" options, which allow you to visit waterparks and other entertainment at WDW.
- Be sure to pick up all the extras you think you'll need before heading to the park. Yes, you can get film, portable fans, pain-relievers and sunblock in the parks, but you will pay more than if you picked these items up at home.
- Check some books on WDW out of the library before you go, and spend some time with the excellent website www.wdwig.com. These will help you plan your time for maximum enjoyment. A few tips that seem to generally apply: -start early. Often the parks are not very busy during the first hour or two of the day, and you may be able to get several rides in before the line-ups start. -use Fast Pass! These machines at the more popular rides will assign you a time to come back when you'll be able to walk on with only a short line-up. - know which lines move quickly and which don't. Some rides that seem to have long line-ups have fast-moving continuos loading (as well as entertaining walk-throughs) so you actually won't be waiting as long. Haunted Mansion is one of these. Dumbo, on the other hand, is very slow even if the line looks short. Look for signs telling you how long the wait is - don't just go by the number of people ahead of you.
My Story is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. Send your story to firstname.lastname@example.org with "My Story" as the subject. You don't need to be an author. Just someone who knows how to save some money!
Take the Next Step
- There are tons of great ways to save on Disney vacation without spoiling any of the magic. DisneyVacationSpecials.com features tips on where to stay, how much to pay, and the best places to play at Disney
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