Walt Disney World on a Budgetby Erin Broemel, Guest Contributor
If there is one word in the English language that can transform your little monsters into complete angels, it is "Disney!" To children around the world, Disney is the ultimate adventure, but to parents it can be the ultimate expense. You can still give your children their dream day with Mickey, without shelling out the big bucks. How? With several tried and true techniques that rid the hassle and the expense out of the most magical celebration on Earth.
Your ticket to saving starts even before you leave! We all know there are deals out there, but the problem is where to find them. Between the books, the web sites, and the solicitations, it's hard to know what is a good deal, and what is a time share "opportunity" waiting to happen. Going in off-season can save you a ton of cash on a hotel. Plus, with no crowds and minimal wait times at the rides, who wouldn't wan to go during Value Season? It's a great way to get everything you want, and save a little extra dough.
One good option is to work with a travel agent who specializes in Disney. They generally know what specials Disney is offering and there is little to no work involved for you. Travel agents get commission directly from Disney, so you don't pay for their services, which means you can reap the savings and let Disney foot the service bill. Plus, it saves you the endless hours of paperwork and stress.
If you can't find a travel agent, or think you can get a better deal, try researching it yourself. You can find the codes that will unlock potential savings on vacation packages or your hotel room at web sites such as http://www.mousesavers.com and http://www.themouseforless.com! These codes are generally three letters, such as EYW. They are not hard to find, and can generally save you a couple hundred bucks, enough to spend an extra day at the Magic Kingdom!
One good trick of the trade is to stay off-site at Disney. Now, we all know that Disney's hotels offer the magic and splendor of the parks in a hotel setting, but they also cost up to twice as much as a "normal" accommodation of its rating. The Disney hotels are sorted on three levels: Value, Moderate, and Deluxe. Typically, you can get an off-site four-star hotel for the same price as the value resorts on Disney property. The problem, though, is that with little ones who require naps it is harder to get back to the room and then back into the park. But if you aren't traveling with toddlers, then this option may be for you! Several websites such as Hotwire.com and Expedia.com offer you options for hotels in the general Orlando vicinity. And these hotels can have a steal of deal available right when you're planning to go.
If you're dying to stay as close to the Haunted Mansion as possible (no pun intended), then it is possible to stay at Disney hotels and still save a buck. Try going during the off-season value times. Rates will be cheaper. This same idea holds true for the off-site hotels. Or look for room-only rates, which can sometimes save you a pretty penny or two over a package deal. Your best ticket is to stay at a Disney Value Resort, which at times can be picked up for around $69 a night! The only problem with these is that they are geared towards families with young children, so if you don't have children or your children are older, be prepared for the sheer number of kids! If that's not your cup of tea, then opt to shell out a few more dollars and stay at one of Disney's Moderates, which will have fewer kids and more adult activities, like sit-down restaurants.
Big savings can come from little indulgences. If your hotel has a kitchenette, you are way ahead of the game. You can create a delicious and nutritious breakfast for your monsters, without breaking the bank. You can whip up Mickey Mouse pancakes in a flash, especially when pancake mix runs around $2.00 a box and can feed a family of four for a week. Toss on some bananas and strawberries with whipped cream, and you've got a meal fit for a queen (or your very own little princess). This option can be better than the sinfully delicious cinnamon rolls from the Main Street Bakery, which runs $3 a pop! By the time you add in juice and other extras at that bakery, it can cost you more than $30 just for breakfast. If you are not one of the lucky few with access to a kitchenette, try for a hotel that has a complimentary continental breakfast, or even better a deluxe American, which has eggs, pancakes and breakfast meats. Talk about savings! Or make a pit stop at a grocery store on your way to your hotel and pick up a few basics - milk, OJ, etc. Disney Resort hotels now offer a mini-fridge for free (Deluxe and Moderate) or a small fee (Value).
One little tip that I follow every time I go to the parks is to pack a couple of granola bars or packaged crackers. These little snacks can pack a lot of energy, giving you the extra oomph you need to go on Mission:Space for a third time! Also, consider forgoing sit-down restaurants as they can be very expensive. While character meals can be a great opportunity to get a photo of your little princess with her favorite princess, there are also many other ways to see a character without paying for a meal your child may be too excited to eat. Any Cast Member wearing a red pin with a white glove on it can direct you to your favorites!
Last but not least -- souvenirs. Every time you go to Disney, you wind up with a ton of popcorn buckets, plastic mugs, and many other items you picked up along the way. You know the stuff I'm talking about. Make your dollars count - Orlando is inundated with Disney outlet stores and gift shops! You can pick up prime Mickey merchandise for less than half of what it will cost you in the park. Another good tip is to shop at the Disney Store in your area! Stuffed animals, t-shirts and hats go on sale all the time. If you've given yourself ample planning time, make a couple of stops at your local Disney Store and score some deals on souvenirs before you even leave for the park. Just make sure you hide them until you get to Disney World! Your kids are less likely to ask for a Mickey Mouse plush in the park if they are already carrying one you got for a third of the price! Plus, you can use the stashed gifts as rewards for your children's good behavior.
Walt Disney World is the most magical place on Earth. And you can enjoy every minute of it without spending your time worrying about what your credit card statement is going to look like. Take a couple of these tips with you as you plan your ultimate Disney vacation and you will feel a little less guilty about shelling out the extra dough for the occasional Mickey Bar! Trust me, the extra savings are definitely worth it!
This article appeared in our January 19, 2006 newsletter -- subscribe to our popular newsletter today for free!