Follow Me

{travel guide} Tips for Planning a Disney World Vacation - And How to Save Some Cash



  Monday, February 17, 2020 at 7:30 AM   |    Post a Comment     Tagged:,,,,, 

People are constantly amazed/shocked by how often I go down to Disney World. Starting in 2014 I went around three times a year (mixed with Universal Orlando Resort.) The past couple years I've just been visiting Disney since we focused more on Universal on previous trips.

I think it's time for me to share how I plan and save for these trips as well as how I save a bit of cash along the way because, as we all know, Disney is expensive!

View all my Disney World Vacation Posts

In the future I won't be going nearly as often because of adult responsibilities like mortgage payments and saving for new (but still used) cars. It was also cheaper for me in the past because I split hotel bills with friends. So that's my first tip - share hotels with friends and make it a friend's getaway!  I'm determined to still get down to Florida on occasion to check out the new rides/lands/etc. (I'm looking at you, Ratatouille ride opening this Summer!)

This guide will not go into the Disney Dining Plan or buying hotel packages with tickets because that's not how I plan my trips. But definitely google if you want to learn more about DDP!



My Disney Travel Trick to Saving Money!

Here's my Disney travel secret - I save money by buying Disney Gift Cards! How does buying gift cards save money, you ask?


If you are a member of BJs, Costco or Sam's Club you can buy discounted Disney gift cards. At BJs you can get a $500 card for $479.99. That's an extra $20 you can use for food or souvenirs. You don't save as much on the $25 or $50 cards (the $100 is comparable to the $500.)  

Don't worry if you aren't a member of a cost club - many send out free trials that you can take advantage of. For example, BJs often offers 3 free months. Pay attention to any coupon books you get in the mail! My mom and I share a membership that we paid $25 for with a deal. You can also use a Target Red card to get 5% off the purchase of any gift card.

Once you have all your gift cards, head over to DisneyGiftCard.com and combine them! You can have up to $1000 per card so you may have a few fully loaded ones. Then use these to buy your tickets, pay for your hotel and on your trip for food and souvenirs!



Slowly buy these throughout the year or do what I do - save per month in a Capital One 360 Savings Account (this link should give you an extra $25!)  Before my trip I make a spreadsheet of the costs I know and estimate for food, souvenirs, etc. so I know how much to save. For this particular trip I saved almost $100 on Christian's park ticket and our hotel by purchasing gift cards.

When it's time to get your park tickets - buy that amount of gift cards and continue to save in your account. Buy the rest of your gift cards as you get closer to the trip so the money you saved gains interest instead of sitting in a gift card gathering dust. Take note of purchase limits, some stores only allow you to buy a certain number of gift cards.


And now on to the rest of the planning process!

Where to Stay

Disney World Hotels

I prefer to stay on-site at Disney World hotels even though they are usually more expensive than other options. For me, the benefits of staying on property outweigh the slightly higher cost.

By staying at a Disney owned hotel you don't have to worry about transportation. Disney provides a free shuttle service - Disney's Magical Express from Orlando airport. It can also take care of your checked baggage so you don't have to waste time waiting.

Disney World also offers a few forms of transportation to and from the parks. You can take buses, boats, the monorail and even the brand new Skyliner. If you want a more private form of transportation you can still pay for an Uber or a Lyft Minnie Van.

Disney World Skyliner transportation

Hotel guests can also take advantage of early Fast Pass booking for popular rides. Instead of the usual 30 days regular ticket holders get, you can book your Fast Passes 60 days ahead of your check in date! This comes in super handy when trying to experience popular rides like Smugglers Run, Flight of Passage, Slinky Dog Dash or Seven Dwarves Mine Train.

Another great perk of staying at a Disney hotel is Extra Magic Hours. On certain mornings and evenings hotel guests are able to go to the park before any other guests or stay past traditional park closing time. This is a great way to have less wait time for rides and enjoy a slightly less crowded park. Once EMH begins you have to scan your magic band before getting in ride lines to prove you have a hotel reservation.


When to book?
A lot of people don't realize this, but you are able to cancel Disney hotel reservations up to 5 days before your check-in date. You can also update your reservation if a deal is released.
NOTE: I'm not sure if this applies if you buy your park tickets and hotel as a package.

I like to book the cheapest on-site hotel (except All Star Movies/Music - not a fan) for the dates I want as soon as I decide when I want to go. Then I keep checking for Disney to release their seasonal deals or Annual Passholder deals and update my reservation. Usually it's the same hotel but sometimes I change if another is cheaper or if a hotel I really want to stay at has a good deal.

Sometimes I book trips for two separate date windows if I haven't decided on flights yet. You have to put down a one night deposit upon booking, but when you cancel that is returned to you. I find this helpful in planning trips with multiple friends until we can fully nail down dates.

My past few trips I stayed at Pop Century Resort but I've also stayed at Art of Animation and Port Orleans Riverside (both are usually too expensive.) In the future I plan to splurge on a couple nights at Animal Kingdom Lodge and spend the rest of that same trip at a cheaper hotel.



Staying Off-Site

If staying on property isn't possible for you, there are other options. You could stay at a Disney affiliated hotel, another local hotel or even an airbnb. I am not the best person to ask for this type of advice as I have only ever stayed on property at Universal or Disney. (I've also stayed with friends a couple of times)

If you don't stay on site keep in mind the other costs involved. How will you get to and from the parks? Will you rent a car or Uber everywhere? Same with getting to your hotel from the airport.

By staying off-site you also lose out on other benefits of staying at a Disney hotel - Extra Magic Hours and early Fast Pass access mentioned above (Disney partner hotels do offer 60 day Fast Passes.) You also won't get a complimentary (or discounted) Magic Band.

Flights/Driving

I won't go too detailed into traveling to Disney because everyone has their favorite airline or way to travel. I will say I haven't paid for a flight to Disney - and most of my US-based trips - since January 2014. I signed up for a Southwest credit card when they had a 50,000 point sign up bonus and have used points to pay for my flights ever since! It is my main credit card so all my purchases gain me points for flights. I even used my points for Christian's flights this year.

Southwest currently has a 40,000 point bonus if you spend $1000 in your first 3 months - some cards are higher than 40K. I also have their business card since I'm a freelancer so I got another 50,000 points with that.

Park Tickets


Regular Tickets

You can buy your park tickets as part of your hotel reservation or purchase them separately. Since I'm an annual passholder, I book separately for everyone else in my party. The more days you buy, the cheaper the daily price becomes.

For my upcoming trip I bought Christian a 6 day pass even though we were originally going to get a 5 day pass because it was only $13 more.  Now we can go to the parks the day we arrive instead of just going to Disney Springs or checking out other hotels. We may only use it to see the Magic Kingdom fireworks, but it's better to have the option than regret not having the extra day.

Disney also offers ticket deals from time to time. Right now they are offering a 4-Park Magic Ticket for $338.77 that let's you enjoy one admission to each of the 4 parks (one per day.) Sometimes they offer Mid-Day magic tickets where you can enter the park after 12pm for a cheaper price. Florida Residents also get great deals more often. Keep an eye out!

To hop or not?
I usually buy park hopper tickets because I like being able to visit more than 1 park in a day. But if you know you will only be heading to 1 park each day there's no need to spend extra for a hopper ticket. You can always upgrade it at a ticket window if you change your mind!

Annual Pass

If you are planning on going to Disney more than twice in a 12 month period, an Annual Pass will most likely be cost effective for you.  Basically, if you plan on going to the park more than 10 days in a year you will save on normal ticket prices. It's not an exact science because ticket prices vary based on how many days you buy at once and what time of year it is, but generally 10 days will make it worth your while.

Not everyone in your travel group needs to have one either. So if you know you'll be going multiple times in a year go ahead and "splurge" on the annual pass. It will save you money in the long run.

Unfortunately, Disney likes to raise the prices on APs frequently, as of writing this post they've just updated the cost of a Platinum pass (cheapest non-Floridian's can buy) to $1,272.68 with tax. When I first bought mine it was $829 and my second pass was $952. BUT as long as you go a certain number of days you can make it worth it.  

With the current prices you would have to go on 2 trips for 4 days each to make up for the price of the annual pass. Easy peasy! 


Discounts
You'll be able to let your friends share in some of your perks - like dining (10% at select restaurants) and merchandise discounts (20% at most stores.) Some tours have Annual Passholder discounts as well. You can also get up to 3 extra discounted tickets for special parties (holiday or after hours events.)


Photopass
Annual passes also come with access to all your photopass photos. This means you can take as many pictures as you want with Disney photographers and download them for free! Plus any rides that take a photo of you will also be included. If you want this ability without an annual pass you pay $169 for 30 days of Memory Maker or pay for each photo you download.

A fun photopass spot (it also comes with a zoom out video)

Example
Prices have since gone up but, in 2017, I paid $829 for my annual pass (technically $817 because I used my gift card trick above!) I went to the park 18 days bringing my cost per day down to $46.  I also used my discount on merchandise, hotel stays and food.

Over the course of the year I saved $1158 vs normal ticket prices, accommodations, merchandise and food. Calculating only what I spent on food, extras and merchandise I saved $244.  This is not counting what I saved by having access to Memory Maker each trip (that would bring it up to $1834.)

This trip I'm using it to save 15% on the Wild Africa Trek at Animal Kingdom, a safari tour I've wanted to do for YEARS! (still saving up for a real safari but that's a pipe dream if I'm being honest with myself, especially since I'm married and we would need to save for 2 people now)
Savings on 1 visit to Disney World with Annual Pass

Fast Passes


Fast Passes are they key to not wasting time waiting in lines. The gist is - you get to pre-book 3 fast passes per day at one park. After you use those 3 you can book 1 at a time for the rest of the day. You can only book your first 3 at one park but after that you can switch. 

If you are staying at a Disney hotel you can do this 60 days before your trip. If not, be ready to book 30 days before your tickets are active. You can also book them the day you visit the park but the options will be pretty limited by that point, still worth using them though so don't miss out! Fast Pass availability opens up at 7am at your designated day.

Depending on which park you are at there are different "tiers" of Fast Passes. You can only book one Tier 1 fast pass in your block of 3. As an example, if you get a Slinky Dog Dash fast pass at Hollywood Studios you cannot book a fast pass for Smuggler's Run or the new Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway (opening March 4th) until after you use your first 3 fast passes. You can find a list of current tiers and available fast passes here.


Advance Disney Dining Reservations / Disney Dining


There are 2 different types of restaurants at Disney - Quick Service and Table Service. Quick Service restaurants are great for fast bites and do not take reservations. Some will let you order your food through the Disney app so you don't have to wait in line to order.  One of my favorite QS restaurants is Cosmic Rays Starlight Cafe, I love their condiment bar (I always grab a huge pile of pickles and fried onion sticks and get made fun of by my friends)

If you want to eat at some of the more popular Table Service restaurants within Disney World like Be Our Guest or Cinderella's Royal Table you will most definitely need an advanced dining reservation.  They open up 180 days in advance and are available whether you are staying at a Disney hotel or not. Some restaurants, like Cinderella's Royal Table, require payment upon booking, but most you will pay at the restaurant.

If you know you want to eat at a popular restaurant be ready to book 180 days in advance. If you are unable to score a reservation keep checking in the weeks and days before your trip. I've gotten random reservations up to a day before my visit. You can also set up alerts on MouseDining to be notified if a reservation for your party size and date becomes available.


 

Other Ways to Save


Spoiler Alert: Most of these are going to involve food

Opt out of Housekeeping

If you're staying at a Value or Moderate resort at Disney World you can save a bit of money by opting out of Housekeeping.  In doing this you will receive a gift card, the amount will depend on the length of your stay. To figure out how much your gift card will be, multiply the number of nights you are staying times $10 and then subtract $10 from that total. We are staying 7 nights on our next trip so we will get a $60 gift card. Hello, free dinner!

What this means is your room won't be cleaned through the duration of your stay.  Your sheets and towels will not be changed, your trash won't be emptied and your bed will not be made (unless you make it!) You will be able to call down to the front desk for anything you need (like new towels or sheets) but a member of the housekeeping staff will not make the bed for you.

If you check-in on your phone you can select the "Service Your Way Program" option and if you check in at the hotel your cast member will most likely ask if you would like to opt out of housekeeping. If not, ask to sign up for the Service Your Way Program.


Bring Your Own Snacks/Food

One of my friends likes to bring her own snacks that she can eat for breakfast or between meals at the parks. Some people also like to go grocery shopping when they get to Disney so they can bring things like sandwiches for lunch and not spend a fortune eating out at every meal. Amazon grocery delivery could also be an option.

Eat Off the Kid's Menu

This is my personal favorite way to save a few extra dollars. I order off the kid's menu when possible. It's still a good amount of food, especially if you want snacks like pretzels and ice cream during the day. Most quick service restaurants will let you do this, but if you dine at a restaurant with a buffet or Prix Fixe you will have to pay the adult price. I frequently order off the kid's menu at Be Our Guest (Lumiere's Delight for lunch or French Toast at breakfast for the win!)
Kid's french toast with the pastry plate they include with all breakfasts (and The Master's Cupcake)

Share Food/Snack at the EPCOT Festivals

Sharing meals with friends at quick service spots can also help to save some cash and leave room for lots of desserts and snacking. Because we all need a couple Mickey ice cream bars and some popcorn, right?
 
EPCOT often has festivals going on where you can try sample sized foods from lots of different outdoor kitchens throughout World Showcase. Whenever my friends and I go during a festival we don't plan on eating at restaurants. Instead we visit all the kitchens and snack on the offerings. We'll often share things that we all want to try. It makes for a cheap-ish day and instead of having 2 big meals you can just snack throughout the day.

About Closet Fashionista

Loves to get bargains on clothes and is obsessed with Harry Potter and Disney. By day she is a freelance graphic and web designer. She also has a slight obsession with movies.

You can also find her on the web at her Harry Potter and Matthew Lewis fan sites.

1 comment:

  1. I wish I could go to Disney so often! It's great you plan and budget to make the most of your money and time there! We really enjoyed Disneyland Paris but it's a little tricky trying to pick the park to visit next with all the major events going on around the world :(

    Hope that your week is off to a great start! :)

    Away From Blue

    ReplyDelete


Contact Form

Name

Email *

Message *


Blog Archive

Follow by Email

Followers