10 Ways to Lower the Rising Costs of a Disney Vacation

This article is a response to Planning a Walt Disney World Vacation, published on October 24, 2006.

The cost of a Disney vacation is on the rise. Ticket prices have increased and coupled with the price of gas these days, saving money by piling into the car for a family road trip no longer makes sense. As a habitual Disney vacationer, however, I have found many ways to combat the rising costs at Disney World. In fact, last year I visited Disney World no less than three times! This article will attempt to share my inside tips on how to stretch your dollars to meet the rising costs without pitching a tent.

Tip #1: Be Your Own Travel Agent

The internet has revolutionized the travel industry. From the comforts of your own home, you can surf the web for the latest travel deals, compare prices, and plan your own itinerary. Disney travel is a specialty that many Disney fans keep a 24-hour watch on for the latest specials. There are entire message boards and groups that focus solely on Disney World travel (www.wdwinfo.com). Bookmark a few Disney travel sites and visit regularly to see what the latest Disney rumor is. Many times, these websites will know about the next big special before many travel agents. You can call Disney direct to make reservations or use the convenient online reservation system. (www.Disney.com)

Tip #2: Go During Off Season

The off seasons at Disney World are the best value for your money. The Disney system has four seasons for travel that vary based on the time of year. Late August begins a low season that extends through the month of September, offering low rates, low crowds, and extra specials. The period of time between Thanksgiving and just before Christmas is also one of the best times to go for the lower rates, holiday decorations, and low crowds. January through President’s Day week is another time of year when special rates seem to appear.

Tip #3: Take Advantage of the Perks

When Disney costs are broken down, there are many hidden perks that often go unnoticed or underutilized. The newest FREE perk that comes with a stay at any Disney resort is the Magical Express service. Disney’s Magical Express will pick you up at the airport, gather your luggage right from the baggage claim, and transport you on a Disney bus to your resort. A few hours later, Bell Services will be at your hotel room door with your luggage. Before this service debuted, visitors had few options other than a rental car or expensive limousine or cab services. Mears offered a per person rate that would have cost my family over $100 for the round trip service.

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The Disney busses are another way to avoid renting a car. The busses will transport you all over Disney World for free. If you’d like to take a boat ride, free cruises are available at some of the resorts. The “cruises” will transport you to Downtown Disney or MGM Studios, depending on which resort you board at. The Boardwalk area has a dock for MGM Studios and all the Downtown Disney Resorts (Old Key West, Port Orleans, and Saratoga Springs) have boat service to Downtown Disney.

Other perks are extended magic hours at the Disney parks for resort guests on certain mornings and evenings. The refillable mugs at each resort are another type of perk. At only $11.99 each, a refillable mug can hydrate a person for their length of stay. This can eliminate purchasing multiple drinks every day for thirsty kids.

Tip #4: Bring Your Own Staples

Instead of relying on Disney for every snack and meal, many people have cases of water shipped from www.Staples.com to their resort for around $7, by signing up for the free Staples membership. Garden Grocer is a grocery delivery service in Orlando that will bring your pre-ordered groceries right to your resort for a price comparable to shopping at the local market. You can order your groceries online before you leave at www.gardengrocer.com. Another strategy that some families use is to pack an extra suitcase with light food items. The suitcase can then be used to transport souveniers back home when you leave.

Tip #5: Turn Lunch into Dinner

Dinner is almost always the most expensive meal of the day. Why not eat a late lunch instead of dinner? Many restaurants will have seating until around three o’clock and that can easily mean that you’re eating your meal near the time when some people are ready for an early dinner. Lunch prices are lower and many of the same menu items are offered at lunch as at dinner. An added perk is that you will miss the dinner hour crowds by eating earilier.

Tip #6: Give Kids Their Own Spending Money

Save yourself the added costs of impulse buying by giving kids their own spending money to shop with for the trip. Instead of pulling our a few twenties at the store, vacation money can be doled out before you go for souvenier purchases. Disney Gift Cards are available at Disney Stores and online, to make this even easier. Kids with a limit on their spending will cost much less on your vacation. Gift cards might be helpful for adults too, allotting a certain amount of money ahead of time to shop with. Have the kids let friends and relatives know before holidays and birthdays that they are going to Disney.

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Tip #7: Buy Mickey Must-Haves Ahead of Time

Online shopping at www.disneystore.com can help to get the Mouse gear ahead of time and eliminate the need to buy a retail priced Mickey Mouse shirt at Disney World for $35. Disney themed clothing and items can be purchased online with one of the frequent coupon codes or online specials, or at a local store. I have seen Disney themed items at the Dollar Store before that would cost about $8 at Disney World. The entire family will look sharp in matching Mickey shirts on the first day at the parks, without having a huge credit card bill for t-shirts with a mouse on them. A fun idea for gifting kids at Disney is to bring some small Disney items in your suitcase to leave as daily surprises. Small notebooks, pens, stickers, and other tokens are easy to pack. Very few people can escape walking around Disney World for a week without something Disney themed, so I suggest a pre-trip shopping day to eliminate the urge to shop at the first Disney store you see when you arrive.

Tip #8: Set Up an Automatic Savings Account

Interest rates for www.ingdirect.com have allowed me to earn between 4-5% interest on my money while I wait for my next trip to Disney. The online account keeps me from dipping into the money set aside for vacation and the automatic savings plan quickly builds up my savings over the course of time, without the need to worry last minute about where I can come up with the cost of a vacation this year. The interest can help to offset some of the rising Disney costs. If internet banking is not your choice, set up a savings plan with your local bank to build up vacation dollars or invest in a Certificate of Deposit to earn some interest.

Tip #9: Stay and Play Longer

The new Magic Your way Disney park tickets are the most expensive for short stays. The new system is designed to charge approximately 80% of the ticket cost in the first 4 days of park visits. The difference between a 7-day and and 8-day Magic Your Way Disney ticket, is about $4 with tax. The 10-day pass is the most bang for your buck if you plan to stay awhile.

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The Magic Your Way Passes have options for upgrades such as a Park Hopper, which lets you visit more than one Disney park in a day, and the Hopper Plus, which adds a set number of visits to the Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon, or Disney Quest based on length of the MYW Ticket. The extra costs of these add-ons might not be worth it for your family unless you are positive that visiting more than one Disney park in a day is something that you must do.

Some families might opt to take a longer vacation every other year to stretch their dollars. Another option is to purchase an Annual Disney Pass and plan next year’s vacation a week or two earlier to re-use the pass.

Tip #10: Skip the Character Meals

I know that parents reading this may be throwing stuffed Mickeys at me right about now, but I must add this tip as an optional way to save some money at Disney World. The character meals are a marketing dream and every parent falls for the bait at one time or another. I did. I finally broke down after successfully raising my oldest through the preschool years and into early adolescence without attending one single character meal during our many travels to Disney.

I took my youngest Mickey fans to a character breakfast and learned that $75 is too much to pay for a few bites of scrambled eggs and a short table visit with Pluto and Minnie Mouse. There are many other places to meet the Disney characters at the Disney parks for free. The average cost of a meal at one of the several character meals at Disney World will be between $80-140 for a family of four. Children over nine years-old are considered adults and will be charged about $27 for their Mickey Dinner. Think about making the character meal sacrifice as the biggest way to beat the rising costs of a Disney vacation. Skipping just one character meal will shift your budget back to Disney vacation costs in 1999. Think about it.