Mini-mizing the Mouse:
AllEars® Readers Share Their Tips

by Debra Martin Koma
AllEars® Senior Editor

Feature Article

This article appeared in the June 2, 2009 Issue #506 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)


Well, we AllEars.Net types are certainly a frugal lot! We asked for your best money-saving tips and boy, did we get them! Tips on saving money before the trip, tips on saving during the vacation, and even tips for saving afterward, when you're planning for your next visit to the Mouse. We plan to share as many of these bright ideas as we can - in fact it will probably take two articles to cover them all.

I've tried to sort them into some kind of logical categories, so get your pencils ready to take notes on Part I of Mini-mizing the Mouse: AllEars® Readers:

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FOOD AND BEVERAGE

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Clearly, food and drink are among the biggest expenses of a Walt Disney World trip (after you pay for transportation and tickets, of course!). A TON of you suggested that a great way to save is to "BYO" - that is, bring your own food and drinks. Here are just a few of the many variations on this theme:

Jan Gruver: We bring breakfast food with us and eat in our hotel room. Our usual assortment is instant oatmeal, granola bars, oranges, apples or bananas, bagels and cream cheese and orange juice. Everyone gets what they want and it saves LOTS of money and time in the mornings when we are anxious to get into the parks. We take some sort of snack with us - usually trail mix - to eat while in the long lines. It keeps the kids occupied. With the weather usually being so hot we don't get very hungry during the day, but purchase some snacks to share at lunch or in the afternoon. It is usually something like a turkey leg and popcorn, ice cream, etc. - just something snacky. By dinner time we are usually pretty hungry so we eat something in the parks if it is a long day. Otherwise we go back to the hotel and eat in the restaurant or food court. We usually have snacks in the room for the evening-pretzels or cookies. We have used this method of saving a few dollars while still eating well while at Disney. For a family who wants to eat three full meals a day or big "sit-down" meals this wouldn't work, but it is perfect for us!

Tina Snyder Barto, PA: My favorite money-saving tip is to save on breakfast. We pack in our luggage, paper bowls, plastic silverware, cups, cereal, bagels, Pop-tarts and bottled water. (You will then have room when you go home for souvenirs.) You can either pick up milk and OJ at a resort shop or order all your groceries from gardengrocer.com for delivery right to your room. For the $12 delivery fee and a tip you will still be saving a ton of money just on bottled water alone!

Moira: I think that most people would agree that the water from the drinking fountains at Walt Disney World is barely drinkable. However, with the heat and humidity there you need to stay hydrated. Since I think the bottled water is too expensive I bring a refillable bottle to fill at the fountains. To make it taste all right I add a powdered drink mix. They come in single serving sizes, so just throw a few in your bag so you always have them. I usually get the green tea or white tea flavor so the taste isn't too strong so it's as close to water as you can get.

Josh Olive: Bring a Brita water filter. That way, you can refill your water bottles in your room with water that tastes good.

Hilary Huffman: My money-saving tips come from the perspective of a traveler who goes to WDW either with my husband or solo, though they could certainly be adapted for travelers with children and/or larger groups. 1. Bring your own coffee and, if your resort room doesn't have a coffee maker, a cheap coffee maker. We purchase Starbuck's coffee beans then grind them up and take a supply on vacation. (Given that Disney coffee is often pretty bad, this also makes sense from a taste perspective!) 2. Bring breakfast and snacks foods with you and enjoy them in your room. We often either request a fridge or bring fruit that doesn't have to be refrigerated. A cooler can also work well. Some good cheese, olives, crackers and wine can be a wonderful and romantic way to end the day or a nice interlude between park time and dinner. 3. Bring your own alcohol rather than having a nightcap (or a morning Bloody Mary! it is vacation, after all) at the hotel bar. Because we fly to Florida, we often stop for supplies at a grocery store before arriving at the resort.

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DINING PLAN
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Another way to save on food is to take advantage of the various Disney Dining Plans that have been offered in recent years. Needless to say, if you can time your visit to coincide with a time that Disney is offering the FREE Dining Plan, you save even more. Here are some tips for optimizing the Dining Plans:

Fran: We used the basic Disney Dining Plan this trip. After having a quick-service lunch the first day, we decided we didn't need the dessert that came with our meal. If we were in a place such as Starring Rolls Cafe or Sunshine Seasons, we chose a muffin for our dessert, bagged it up with napkins, forks, and knives and saved it to have for our next morning's breakfast along with a cup of tea we could get with our resort mug. Voila - free breakfast.

Dianne Spawn: I have found that over the past several years that it's great to go during the "Free Dining Plan." The schedule works out very well for us. We have not changed our eating habits, only the amount of money we spend. We use the counter service credit for lunch time and then have a nice sit-down dinner (with the table service credit). I still find that paying for the meal plan is still a good savings.

Laura Amlung: We are going on our next trip in June and are taking advantage of the quick service dining plan. We did our math and it seems like a pretty good deal. We've done the regular dining plan before, but this time around our pocketbooks (and our time... we're only there for five days) couldn't afford it. We'll have to see how we like this dining plan!

Jodi from Louisiana: As an avid visitor to the world, we have found a few ways to save a buck or two. We have found the dining plan is a money-saver and we do not travel to Disney without it. We just returned from a trip and tried the counter service dining plan and enjoyed it just as much, if not more than, the sit-down dinners. Also, trade in those left-over snacks for some take-home magic!

Jennifer Keller: We saved over $400 by using the Deluxe Dining Plan. We scoured AllEars.Net menus to find which restaurants had food our children would eat and how much each meal would cost with tax and tip. Then we figured out the cost of the plan for two adults and two children, and it was definitely worth it, knowing approximately how much to allot for tips. This can be done with any of the plans, and then meals are paid for ahead of time. When booking with Disney reservationists, it also allows you to make payments over an extended period of time so it isn't so hard on the pocketbook.

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OTHER FOOD/BEVERAGE TIPS
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Josh Olive: Eat at buffets to maximize your value for the cost. This is especially true for the breakfast/lunch time. If you time your ADR (advance dining reservation) so that they change out the breakfast menu for the lunch menu during the course of your meal, you basically get two meals in one, and you can satisfy the heartiest appetite. Also, if you can travel during the International Food & Wine Festival, you can enjoy eating around the world, which is extremely good and extremely filling at about the same cost as a counter-service meal.

Debbie: Even though a counter service restaurant offers meals in a combo form, it may be possible to buy the items separately. Recently, I did this at Pecos Bill's in Frontierland. I wanted the vegetarian burger, but didn't really want the fries that came with it. I asked and ended up saving almost $3. I was amazed at the difference in price.

Elizabeth Doda: One of the best money-saving things we found on our last trip was the Rotisserie section at the Caribbean Beach food court. The turkey and chicken meals came with enough food (vegetable, mashed potatoes, etc.) that I was able to split the meal with my 2-year-old. Plus, I felt like we were eating something a little healthier than just hamburgers and hot dogs.

Jennifer J. Bogdanski, Esq.: Eat at a more expensive restaurant for lunch rather than dinner, as the menu choices are similar but the prices are lower - so you can experience the restaurant of your choice for less. Also, check out the menus on Deb's site before you go. They've been updated recently, and the price of an entrée can differ in price between otherwise "comparable" restaurants.

Jeremy Hardy of Hattiesburg, MS: My wife and I split an entree at table service restaurants. The portion sizes are usually more than one person can handle (or should handle anyway). Our server at the Sci-Fi Dine In split a milkshake for our 3 and 4 year old daughters to share also. Sharing really made sense for us, as my wife has had Lap Band surgery and is not able to eat much anyway-sharing made her feel less wasteful.

Mark & Eileen Miller: Share meals. If you're buying at the resort (we do, since I don't cook on vacation!), split entrees. Or get a double cheeseburger, cut it in half, and you've got two burgers at a fraction of the price of two full meals. Cast members have always accommodated our requests for an extra plate or extra silver. Their servings are large, and you won't go hungry!

Kelly from MI: One tip I read somewhere that I LOVE: If you have small children, bring some resealable sandwich bags with you to the parks. Kids never eat all of their food. Order grapes or carrots and you can save them for a snack later in the day.

I don't know about you, but all this talk of food has made me hungry! But the next installment of money-saving tips will move away from meal-time and talk about other ways to save money while you're visiting parks - on everything from souvenirs to activities. Coming soon!

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RELATED LINKS
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Annual Pass Discounts: http://allears.net/pl/apass.htm

Tables in Wonderland (formerly Disney Dining Experience): http://allears.net/din/dde.htm

Swan and Dolphin Discounts: http://allears.net/acc/sd_discounts.htm

Disney Vacation Club Discounts: http://allears.net/acc/dvc.htm

Searchable database of reader tips: http://allearsnet.com/rta/tips.php


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.