Disney World on a Budget: Resorts and Travel

Hotel

To close out this series, let’s look at the resorts and the least expensive way to get there.

Let’s start with getting to the resort. Some people prefer flying, while others would prefer to drive. If you can’t drive there in 2 days, it’s probably best to fly when you factor in days off of work and the time you’ll spend in the car. However, if you can get there in 2 days or less, then driving is probably going to be the cheapest option. In addition to being cheaper, it has several other benefits. If you’ve got kids, you can pack all the extras in a vehicle that you wouldn’t be able to put on an airplane. Think stroller. In addition to that, having a vehicle gives you flexibility when you’re down there. Run out of diapers? Just run to the store and get some more.

Once you’re down there, should you stay on Disney property or not? If you’re looking for the cheapest option, staying off property is probably your best option. If you want to get the dining plan, staying on property is your only option. One added benefits to staying on property is the transportation system. If you fly into Orlando, the Disney Magical Express can transport you directly to your resort. Once you’re at your Disney resort, you can use the Disney buses, monorail, and boat system to get around all at no cost. If you prefer to drive your vehicle to the parks, you can park for free if you’re staying at Disney resorts. Otherwise, you should expect to shell out some big money to park each day.

Disney has resorts for all price ranges. They are divided into 4 different categories from least to most expensive: Value, Moderate, Deluxe, and Deluxe Villa.

As you go up in price, you get certain benefits and better amenities. For example, more expensive resorts are usually closer to certain theme parks like the Magic Kingdom. The resorts that are the least expensive usually have the most people staying at them, which means that the buses are usually filled more than the ones going to the moderate resorts and above. You also have extra transportation options at the more expensive resorts, such as boats and the monorail. We’ve stayed at one value resort and 2 moderate resorts in the times we’ve been there. The moderate resort rooms are a bit bigger and you can tell that there is more attention given to them. I’m sure the deluxe and deluxe villa rooms are even better. If you’re looking for a great room at a lower price, check out http://www.dvcrequest.com where you can buy points from Disney Vacation Club members when they can’t use them. This could get you a Deluxe or Deluxe Villa room at a Value or Moderate price. Definitely worth checking out and something I will certainly be looking into the next time we stay.

I haven’t stayed off property, but I know some of them offer transportation to the theme parks. However, they are usually on the outskirts of the Disney property so you will likely spend more time waiting for buses and more time on them once they arrive.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series on planning a Disney World trip, making the most of it, and saving some money in the process. I’ve pulled from my personal experience when writing this. If you ask my wife, she’ll tell you that I get way to into this stuff.

If you’ve made a trip to Disney World, let me know about your experience in the comments below. If you have any questions related to planning your Disney trip, leave those as well and I’ll point you in the right direction. Most importantly, have fun!

Disney World on a Budget: Tickets

Spaceship Earth

Whether you’re buying your tickets as part of a package or separately, there are several ticket options that can make it difficult to determine if you’re making the right choice. Let’s cover some of those options below and I’ll give you my take.

  • Park Hopper – The Park Hopper option allows you to jump around to multiple parks in one day. If you plan on going for 4 days or more, you don’t really need the park hopper option. I’ve found that it’s better to focus on one park each day. When you try to jump from park to park, you end up spending more time getting from one place to another than you do actually enjoying the parks and attractions. If you’re only going to be there for 3 days or less, it might make sense if you just want to hit the major attractions at each park.
  • Water Park Fun and More – This option gets you access to the water parks, the DisneyQuest arcade, ESPN Wild World of Sports, and the Oak Trail Golf Course. If you plan on getting this option, you will probably want to devote at least an entire day to these places and skip a theme park. However, depending on the time of year you go, do you really want to spend a day at the water parks? We usually go in February, when usually only one of the water parks is open. We might get great water park weather, and we might not. It hasn’t been worth the extra cost for us. Perhaps if we were planning on stay two weeks, we might want to have the extra options. However, we don’t golf either and my daughters wouldn’t be into the sports stuff very much.

That pretty much breaks down all the ticket options. If you want to get the best value for your money, I would stick with the base ticket without the options. All of the resorts have pools you can use and many of them have a small slide for kids and other theming for the resort. It’s hard to justify the extra cost for the options when you may or may not use them.

One last thing to mention – If you look at the price of a one-day ticket, the price seems astronomical. However, the price drops considerably as you add more days on to the tickets. When you add 5 days or more, the price to add a day is less than $10. The longer you the stay, the better the value per day.

How many days do you plan on staying at Disney World or how many have you stayed in the past? Let me know in the comments below.

Disney World on a Budget: Dining Plan

Disney Dining

Last week I started a series about doing Disney World on a Budget. I covered their Special Offers and using Disney gift cards to pay for your trip. In this post we’ll be covering just the dining plan. Some people love the dining plan, some people avoid it, and others may not realize what it is.

First, let me explain for you what the dining plan provides. There are multiple levels. The quick service plan provides for 2 quick service meals (think burgers, fries, and chicken finger types of food most of the time) and a snack for each person each night you stay. The standard plan gives you one quick service meal and one table service meal instead of 2 quick service meals. From there you can go into the deluxe plans where you get 2 table service meals in a day and more. With the deluxe plans, you won’t be walking around Disney World. You’ll be rolling around or hauled in a cart after eating that much food. All of the plans give you a refillable mug you can use at your resort.

For the purposes of this post, I’m going to cover the standard plan that gives you a table service and quick service meal each day. I’m sure it is by far the most popular option that people choose.

Pros

  • Since the dining plan is baked into the cost of your trip, it makes it easier to budget for your trip.
  • You can use the snack credits you get each day to get items like cinnamon rolls for breakfast the next morning.
  • It gives your Disney World trip more of an “all-inclusive” feel.
  • You can use your table service meal for character dining experiences that would other otherwise cost you $100-150+ for four people if you paid out-of-pocket.
  • Disney World sometimes offers free dining during times of the year when the parks aren’t as busy. If you take the free dining, you can sometimes use the savings to stay at a nicer resort and still come out ahead.
  • It makes a trip less stressful since you don’t need to track how much you’re spending at each meal.

Cons

  • You have to stay at a Disney World resort to get the dining plan.
  • Even though the dining plan offers food at a discount, you can definitely do dining out-of-pocket for less than what you would pay for the dining plan. The dining plan includes desert with almost every meal, which isn’t necessary when paying out-of-pocket. Plus, you can probably get by with sharing meals at some restaurants, especially for kids. Otherwise, you’ll likely leave food on the table.
  • The dining plan does not include tips, so you’ll want to carry some cash with you to table service meals. Expect to pay a tip of anywhere from $15-30 for four people.

No matter what you choose, it’s a good idea to do the math ahead of time. You can look at the Disney World website to figure out about how much a meal will cost at various restaurants. Try not to let your jaw hit the floor when you see the prices. For us, the dining is part of the Disney experience, so we would have a hard time going without getting the dining plan.

How do you dine on vacation or at Disney? Let me know in the comments below.

Disney World on a Budget: Special Offers and Discount Gift Cards

Cinderella's Castle

As I stated in an earlier post, we recently returned from a trip to Walt Disney World. I had discussed one way of saving money on hotel rooms if you’re driving, but now I want to dive a bit more into other ways to save money on a Disney World trip. This week I’m going to focus on special offers and Disney gift cards.

  • Special Offers – When you go to Disney World to price your trip, you’ll likely see across the top of the page a place to enter in the dates of travel and how many people will be in your party. If you want to find the best deals though, you should go all the way to the bottom of the page and look for a link to their special offers. If you go through the normal booking process on their site, these discounts will not automatically be applied to your trip so it’s best to see what is available first. If they release a deal after you’ve booked your trip, you can give them a call and they will apply it for you. Check the special offers page often.
  • Gift Cards – You can pay for a Disney trip with gift cards and the best place to get Disney gift cards is at Target with a REDcard. With the REDcard, you can buy gift cards at 5% off. You can even buy extra cards to use while you’re at the parks. After you’ve found the best offer available for your trip, take 5% off with gift cards from Target using the REDcard. If you don’t live near a Target store, they can be shipped to your house through Target.com for free.

Check back next week as I cover the Disney World Dining Plan and whether it’s a fit for you and your family.

Any question or comments? Leave them below. If you know any ways to save money when paying for a Disney trip, leave those below as well.