Tuesday, July 22, 2014

10 Tips for Saving Money on a Disney World Vacation

Earlier this month, I wrote about how to save money on a Disney Cruise.

Now it's time to talk about how to save money on a Disney World parks vacation!

Just like a Disney Cruise, if you pull up the Disney World website and start to price a vacation package that includes hotel, park tickets and food, you might get discouraged at the high price. A week in early December (which is off-season) for my family of 5 starts at over $4000 for the least expensive option! And that doesn't include airfare.

But there are many ways to reduce the price of a Disney World vacation, so consider some of these strategies:

1.  Stay off-site

Staying in a non-Disney hotel is one of the biggest ways to save money. I realize this is not a popular option with some people, but hear me out.

You can stay in a really nice off-site hotel for $100/night or less. Some have free transportation to the parks. There are many time-shares and condos for rent in the area that run $120-$150 a night for a 2-bedroom condo. Think of all the space you will have, and how you can save money if you can prepare some meals in your hotel room.

In 2010, we stayed 8 nights at the Wyndham Bonnet Creek time-share property. It is actually ON Disney property but is a non-Disney resort. It is located right next to Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort, and we could see that from our resort. We shared a 4-bedroom condo with my extended family, and our portion of the room was less than $100 a night. We ate breakfast and dinner in our room because we had a full kitchen.

Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort

Awesome pools

To get the best deals on off-site properties, try sites like Last Minute Travel or Priceline. For time-shares, it's almost always cheaper to rent points from an owner than to book directly on the resort's website. Check for point rentals on Ebay or with companies like Vacation Strategy and Vacation Upgrades. Read about current hot deals on off-sites properties on travel forums like the DIS.

Keep in mind that if you stay off-site, you may need to add in the cost of a rental car and theme park parking to your budget. 

2.  Go during the off-season

Most hotels and Disney resorts are cheaper during off-season times. For example, a standard room at Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort varies from $182/night to $284/night, depending on the time of year. Some Disney restaurants also have an up-charge during peak seasons, like summer and Christmas.

Riding in the front of the monorail with the driver, back when it was still allowed

3.  Book a value or moderate resort

If you really want to stay at an on-site Disney resort, pick a value or moderate resort instead of a deluxe resort. The difference in price can be huge!

For example, on a random day in Dec 2014, the rates are as follows:

$130/night Pop Century (value resort)
$201/night Caribbean Beach (moderate resort)
$566/night Grand Floridian (deluxe resort)

Value and moderate resorts still come with all the benefits of staying on-site (Magical Express bus from airport, buses to theme parks, Extra Magic hours, etc.) Most moderate resorts have hot tubs, water slides and zero-entry pools.

Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort

4.  Use a travel agent

I said it for a Disney Cruise, and I'll say it again for the parks. Use a travel agent! One that lives and breathes Disney. Here is why:

If you book a Disney resort or vacation package online 6 months in advance, you may think you booked early and got the best price. However, Disney frequently offers discounts and promotions as you get closer to your vacation date. If a discount for your same room comes along, Disney does not automatically apply the new lower rate. A good travel agent will look out for promotions that can apply to your reservation, and automatically adjust your reservation to get the discount.

Examples of discounts include a percentage off your hotel room or a free dining package.

In 2012 when we stayed at the Caribbean Beach for 3 nights before our cruise, our travel agent was able to adjust our price down twice before our vacation!

Breakfast at Chef Mickey's

5.  Reduce your park ticket cost

Park tickets are super expensive! There are not many ways to get a discount on the tickets.

For a slight discount, subscribe to the MouseSavers.com newsletter, which gives a discount at Undercover Tourist. I have done this before, and it's legit. It is not a huge discount, I think it only saved me about the amount of tax on each ticket.

Skip the park-hopper tickets. That saves $60 per ticket. Especially if you have young kids, I think visiting one park a day is enough.

Also, consider going to the parks for fewer days and taking breaks throughout your vacation where you enjoy the pool and other free stuff at your hotel. Your feet will thank you.

The best seat on Main Street U.S.A.

6.  Bring your own food

Eating at Disney World is expensive. Many hotels now have small refrigerators. Consider bringing some food with you from home for breakfast (Nutri-grain bars, granola bars, etc.) The parks allow you to bring in food and drink. Fill a water bottle in the morning and refill it throughout the day in the parks.

If you are not renting a car, you can get groceries delivered to your resort through Garden Grocer or WeGoShop. I used Garden Grocer on a past trip, and we definitely saved money by having those groceries delivered and eating breakfast (and a few dinners) in our room.

Eating at our hotel

7.  Reduce souvenir costs

If you are trying to stick to a budget, the really annoying thing about the Disney parks is that every ride dumps you out into a gift shop. So be prepared!

Add Disney gift cards to your family's birthday and Christmas wish lists. Buy Disney souvenirs at home before you go (from Target, the Dollar Store, etc.) and bring them with you to surprise your kids.

Talk to your kids about a souvenir budget before you go into the parks. Trust me, the merchandise is hard to resist!

Figments from EPCOT

8.  Go with a group

If you have the chance to go to Disney World as part of a convention or group, you can get a drastically reduced rate at the resorts and a discount on park tickets. In fact, if you have a group that requires 10 or more rooms, you qualify for a Disney group rate.

So maybe it's time to organize a family reunion!

I took my 2 sons to Disney World last summer for a big reunion, and we stayed at Wilderness Lodge on a big discount (around 40% off).

Disney's Wilderness Lodge

9.  Eliminate or reduce transportation costs

A Disney World vacation is much cheaper if you don't have to buy airline tickets to get there. If you can't drive in a reasonable amount of time, considering opening a credit card for your favorite airline that goes to Orlando. For my family of 5, Southwest Airlines provides the most flights and flexibility for miles and points travel.

Be flexible with the days you fly. Many times, flights out of Orlando back home are more expensive on Sundays, when everyone is trying to fly back. Search your airline's calendar to find the days with the lowest fares. Many airlines have reduced prices for mid-week travel.

Fun times on the plane

10. Use credit card rewards

Just like with a cruise, you can collect rewards on your credit cards to help reduce the cost of your vacation. Open a Disney Chase credit card and collect dollars to use all around Disney World. Or, open a Barclay Arrival card to offset your hotel expenses. Use any hotel points you have accumulated to stay off-site on your drive to Orlando or for your first night.

What are your top money saving strategies for Disney World???

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