There are plenty of people who bemoan, “Walt Disney World is an expensive place to vacation.” While those people are correct in some ways, in my opinion they are way off-base in other ways.
Yes, there are many places where you can vacation for less money than a Disney park or resort . . . but, in my opinion, there are very few places where you will find the value for your dollar that you will find at my happy place.
Of course that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to economize whenever you can, and there are some very simple and reliable ways to do that. I am not an expert on saving money; I’m actually far more experienced at frivolously wasting money than saving it. That’s why Carol does almost all of our vacation planning. Here are a few very simple things I’ve picked up over the years by listening to Carol!
Money Saving Tip #1 – Do your homework!
Plan your trip well in advance and do plenty of research. That AllEars.net Weekly Newsletter you receive by e-mail every Tuesday has some terrific ideas in the “Tip of the Week” section – some of them will help you save your hard-earned cash. There are some very well written guide books available online and in almost all book stores and they all contain some helpful pointers! Don’t overlook the online resources such as the AllEars.net Tip Archive, Mousesavers.com and Mouseplanet.com. For a more complete look at online resources available check out the full AllEars.net list of Disney related links here.
Money Saving Tip #2 – Take advantage of the Disney Dining Program (when it’s free)
During some slower times of the year Disney will offer the dining package, free of charge, to guests at select Disney resorts. This is a good deal! Carol and I have used the Disney Dining Program several times; we even paid for it once. Our most consistent complaint has always been, “It’s too much to eat!” Of course, that’s just another way of saying, “It’s great value for the money.” When it’s free, why would you not take it?
There was only one version of the dining plan the last time we used it; now there are several options to choose from. Here are a couple of our suggestions to help you make the best of the dining package, regardless of what option you choose.
1) Share meals: Carol doesn’t eat breakfast but I do so I use a counter service meal for breakfast and then later in the day we share another counter service meal for lunch. There is always enough to satisfy us both!
2) Use snack credits to buy take-home treats. Carol and I always had trouble using up all the snack credits. We would often use one to pick up a cold bottle of water or a Mickey Ice Cream Bar in the heat of the day, but when the trip was winding down we always had some left over. Solution? Why not use them to buy candy and treats to take home for children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews?
Money Saving Tip #3 – Look for the Bounce-back Program
From time to time Disney resorts will advertise a “Bounce-Back offer”. If you book your next stay at a resort before the end of your current vacation you can sometimes get free dining during your next visit, other times they may offer substantial discounts on the room rate. These are always good deals! Look for a brochure or flyer in your room, or in your check-in package!
Money Saving Tip #4 – Buy an Annual Pass
Yes, I know, you’re thinking, “But Gary, an Annual Pass is too expensive. I only go once a year and a seven day park-hopper is all I need.” I understand your thought process, I thought the same thing . . . but I was wrong! Even before Carol and I retired, back when we only visited once a year, we always bought Annual Passes. We would buy an AP one year, then the following year we would plan our vacation one or two weeks earlier, while our AP was still in force! We squeezed two annual vacations out of one Annual Pass. Here’s how the math worked out for us. Instead of each of us buying two 7-day Park Hoppers (2 X $408.96 incl. taxes = $817.92) we bought one base level annual pass ($675.21 incl. taxes) and we saved $142.71 each. That’s $10.00 a day per person!
I’m going to impersonate one of those slick TV salesmen when I say, “But wait . . . there’s more.”
An annual pass does more than just get you into the theme parks. It gives you free parking at the theme parks. It gives you 10% off merchandise at all Disney owned and operated stores. That’s almost every store on Disney property folks!
Isn’t that amazing? “But wait . . . there’s more.”
How would you like 15% off a fishing tour? Or 50% off miniature golf? Or 30% off the rental of a boat, bicycle or surrey bike? Or 20% off the cost of bowling at Splitsville? You get all of that and more with an Annual Pass.
“Tables In Wonderland” Cards are only available for purchase by Florida Residents, Disney Vacation Club Members and Annual/Seasonal Passholders. This card can save you a bundle if you like to dine at Disney restaurants. You will save 20% at most “table service” restaurants.
And another very important perk for AP holders? Magic Bands! Resort guests and Annual Passholders are the only groups who receive Magic Bands in advance and can use the My Disney Experience system to make those oh-so-important FastPass+ bookings in advance, before their vacations!
I’ll say it one final time – if you visit once a year you really should consider buying an annual pass. Use it for two vacations then let it lapse. Buy another AP at the beginning of vacation #3 and it will also cover vacation #4.
Money Saving Tip #5 – Use a Travel Agent
This is the most important tip I can give you. Find a travel agent who really knows Disney and rely on them to make all of your resort bookings. There is no charge for their services and a good agent will save you a pile of cash.
Friends kept telling Carol and I to use an agent . . . but we didn’t listen! Carol always took care of our bookings. She enjoyed it; she was sure that she was getting the best deals; she was sure that she was always on top of things. She followed all the Internet sites and was quick to call Disney whenever there was a discount available.
We decided to let an agent from Mouse Fan Travel book a trip for us and see how it worked out. Carol talked to the agent, outlined the details and soon the confirmation arrived by e-mail. Carol looked at it and said, “That’s about the same as I would have done”. What was nice was that, just a few weeks later, another e-mail arrived. It said, “AAA rates have come out and I was able to apply them to your February reservation.” A revised invoice was attached to the e-mail. When we compared the prices on the old and new invoices we were very pleased; we were going to save $185.75 on a 12 night stay. WOW! We were impressed . . . Carol didn’t have to prowl those Internet sites and phone to amend the booking every time a new “deal” came up. She had more time for other things, such as dining reservations! And that e-mail was not a “one-off” thing. We get a message like that quite regularly. We enjoy that kind of savings on the majority of our bookings. Why would we not use an agent?
But . . . you have to find the right one. The travel agents who really know Disney are the ones who graduated from Disney’s own agent training programs; they have mortarboards with Mickey ears attached! Not only will these experts know what discounts are currently available, they will have a pretty clear idea of what will be coming next. These specialized agents will proactively apply new discounts for their existing client bookings whenever they can.
The best money-saving tip I can give you is to find one of these travel agents and let them take care of your resort bookings. If you know an agent who specializes in Disney, give them a try. If you don’t know anyone, ask a friend to recommend someone, or ask me. I’d be happy to give you a suggestion!
So there you have it, my two cents worth on saving money at Walt Disney World.
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