Money-Saving Magic: AllEars® Reader Tips, Part 1
Compiled by Debra Martin Koma
AllEars® Senior Editor
This article appeared in the April 23, 2013 Issue #709 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
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.
We love our Disney, don't we? But we realize that the prices often force us to be frugal.
So several weeks ago, we asked for your best money-saving tips and boy, did you send them in! Thanks!
Take a look at the tips we've collected on saving money before and during the vacation. We plan to share as many of these bright ideas with you as we can — in fact, it will take at least two installments to cover them all. I've tried to sort them into some kind of logical categories, so get ready to take notes on Part 1 of Money-Saving Magic: Tips from AllEars® Readers:
Tom Galloway: Research! Utilize the excellent menu feature here on AllEars.Net. Know what the different restaurants or service counters offer so that you know they serve something both you and your kids like. With the costs of an entree, you definitely don't want your child to tell you they don't like what you ordered. Make a list of the places in each park that satisfy all of your needs. Then, if possible, actually make choices before you go. Stick with what you know works, especially for your kids.
Katharine Marshall: Take advantage of all the discounts — we use the military and annual passholders' ones regularly. We also stay Sunday through Thursday to avoid "weekend" rates and bonus! — parks are usually less full weekdays.
Cari: The best tip I've ever read is the "Five Dollar Savings Plan." It's pretty easy: during the year, I try to pay with cash as much as possible. Any time I get a $5 bill as change, it goes into the Mickey Mouse bank on our bookshelf. You'd be surprised how fast it adds up!
Tammy W.: We travel in the fall or mid-January when rates are the lowest. If you request a Disney Vacation Club information packet, it lists the cheapest and most expensive times to travel.
Susan: My cardinal rule for Disney vacations is to have everything paid for before we leave. I bring a coupon folio with cash for tips for our full service meals, the boys have their spending money, my sister and I have our money. Meals, transportation, park entry, it's ALL paid up already, so we feel like we're staying for free and I know when I get home I won't be facing a mountain of debt. How does this save me money? NO INCIDENTALS, NO SURPRISES. Do I spend more money than others do on their trips? I'm sure I do! I've seen some miraculously affordable plans. But I always come in on or under OUR budget, and to me the workable budget is almost more important than the dollar figure itself.
Melissa Weis: Did you know that the cost of booking a vacation with a Disney travel agent is the same as booking a vacation yourself directly through Disney? Sometimes it can even be cheaper, as the agent will watch for discounts to help you get the most value for your hard-earned dollar.
Michelle G: It all begins at home. Every Sunday I do my grocery shopping. I always use coupons, and whatever the value of the coupons are I take out in cash and put it in my Disney travel case. If I feel I cannot take out that much this week I will take out half the value of my coupons. Then when I reach about $50 I buy a gift card for Disney with the cash. I do this because if I leave it, I know it is there and I will tend to spend it!
Mary Ann W.: I always book 'room-only' reservations. I find it's the best deal. This vacation I'm using my friend's Disney Vacation Club. I'm paying her $11 per point, which lets me stay somewhere (Animal Kingdom, Kidani Village) I never would have wanted to stay for the price. We're staying in a one-bedroom villa for $315 per night, no tax. That's better than a 40 percent room-only discount! We usually don't skimp on anything when we vacation so if we can save a buck on the big items like tickets and hotel we consider ourselves lucky. I also shop for airfare, from New Jersey well in advance. Three of us are flying from Trenton for a grand total of $353! Advanced planning is everything.
Kris: My fiance and I stayed at Walt Disney World as part of a business thing, and were able to get a "ConventionEars" ticket for 6 p.m. admission, which we used on our day of arrival. It was half the price of a regular admission, and Magic Kingdom had Extra Magic Hours until 2 a.m. that night, so we got a full day for half-price! Make sure to look into ConventionEars if you're at WDW for business.
Bitterchickey: Buy tickets in advance (as soon as you know you're going). We usually have about a year between trips, and with four travelers, I'll buy one ticket a month, for example. If the timeframe for the next trip works out, we upgrade the pre-purchased tickets to annual passes when we arrive at the resort. Ticket prices rise every year, but a ticket you buy at today's prices does not begin the expiration countdown until it is used for the first time at a park; so you could buy a ticket today, and hold onto it until that dream trip finally happens!
wsbombie: If you do not visit often enough to have an annual pass, the 10-day non-expiring ticket is the way to go for savings. You can get the non-expiring ticket with either hopper add-on or just for one day/one park.
Julie Maguire: The best thing we ever did was to get a Starwood American Express card. Starwood Hotels runs the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin. You accumulate points through purchases. We haven't paid for lodging on our last two Disney trips. And I think we found out about it on AllEars.Net!
Faith: We rack up Disney Reward Dollars on the Disney Visa like mad for the time between trips. We recently upgraded to the new premier version of the card, and that has helped immensely! Two percent back on groceries and gas? DONE! We use it like a debit card and just pay it off each month. That really helps! Then we cash it in right before the trip and use it for food, souvenirs, park tickets, etc.
Shannon Mason: A way my family saves money is by using Mypoints and cashing in our points for gift cards. I have been able to redeem my points for $50 gift cards to BP and Shell gas, $50 Visa gift cards and gift cards to restaurants, i.e. Rainforest Cafe, Subway, etc. All you have to do is click on emails, take surveys and buy through Mypoints from your favorite retailers to earn points on purchases. For our trip this March, my mom and I cashed in points between the two of us for $200 worth of Visa gift cards that we are using for food, gas and souvenirs in Disney World!
Kate: We try to book when Disney is offering a gift card. Last time we received a $200 gift card and we used it for at least half of our other meals. If your trip is still several months away, you can also save up a little each week and buy a gift card to use exclusively for meals. This way it will seem that your food is already paid for.
Tammy Wilczek: We have learned how to do "Disney on a Dime". All my husband's business expenses go on our Disney Visa Card so that we can get about $1000 a year in reward dollars to put toward our trip (you could also do this with personal expenses). We pay the entire balance every month so there are no charges.
Cindy: Put money you would spend on food onto American Express gift cards, especially if they can be purchased as part of a school fundraiser (shopwithscrip.com)!.
Heather: Sam's Club sells Disney gift cards at a slight discount. Some other discount and grocery stores also sell them and you can in turn earn points on your grocery account for them.
FOOD & BEVERAGE
Kathy Jo Horan: I think it is important to know that you do not have to order a "meal" at a quick service restaurant. If you just want pizza without a salad, or a hamburger without fries, you can have it! And it costs less!
Tammy W.: The Disney Dining Plan is a must, especially since we usually get it for free in the fall. We also bring a case of water bottles and cereal to eat in the room for breakfast.
Joyce A. Deen: We love the Disney dining plan, but have learned that three meals a day, even counter service, can be a bit much, and if one of the meals is a buffet — calorie overload! We discovered that by having a late breakfast (often snack credits) on a buffet day, we could save that counter-service credit. Then, on our last day, we could use it, plus any leftover snack credits, to get food to take on the plane ride home that afternoon. Earl of Sandwich makes sandwiches that are wrapped well enough to be carried around, and Goofy's Candy company has lots of bags of candy that are one snack credit each. By taking an extra-large tote purse with me, I could carry two sandwiches, two cookies, and whatever candies we got and not have to rely on buying airline food. Next time, we may try combining two of our table-service credits and eating an upscale meal!
Chris Kulp from Allentown, PA: Whatever you do don't spend money on bottled water. It is so expensive and there are water fountains everywhere. This goes for the theme parks and the airport. Simply bring an empty bottle and fill it up as you need it. If you are really hardcore about it you can drink water the whole trip and skip buying drinks at the quick serves entirely. Also think about bringing lots of snacks from home such as granola bars and peanut butter cracker packs that you can eat instead of buying snacks and treats in the parks. You'll save a bunch of money this way.
Steve: Since milk is not included in the Disney refillable mug program we always purchase the largest container of milk from the resort store. Price is much cheaper than food court. Saves time in the morning since the kids can have some milk and cereal in the room.
Kate: We always bring breakfast items (granola bars, fruit cups) and juice boxes to eat for breakfast as we are getting ready for the day. The night before, we put what we will need for the next day in a bucket of ice or our small cooler so it's cold for morning. This means one fewer meal we have to buy in the parks, but it's also a time-saver, as we are early people and like to be heading for the buses early for park opening. And since it's a light breakfast we are usually ready for lunch around 11 a.m. and beat the big lunch crowds! Bonus! We still usually treat ourselves to one or two special breakfasts during our stay (Tonga toast!) but it's a great way to keep the food budget in check.
John and Cassandra Pinheiro: We split all of our counter service meals. Disney is so generous with portion sizes, that we often find that one meal shared between two is plenty — and it leaves room for fun snacks between meals. Also, it's not illegal or against the rules to order more food! If, while eating, we think we're going to need more, we just get it (providing the line is short enough).
Ross: Perhaps this money-saving tip is too obvious and/or means only minimal cost savings, but we think it is the greatest. We order food delivered to our condo from Garden Grocer. This helps us save money, in addition to the great convenience. We eat all of our breakfast meals before we go to the parks. By selecting the items online prior to our arrival we are able to carefully select the correct amount of food for the week. We don't forget items at the grocery store, or end up buying too much, or expensive "impulse items" because we are in the "vacation mode." We select breakfast items that are very similar to our meals at home and save our special selections for our dinners at the parks. We love having all of our food items selected before we arrive and delivered right to our condo.
Donna Wisely: Being a Disney Vacation Club member has allowed us to stay in a one- or two-bedroom villa when we visit. We plan our meals ahead of time and purchase groceries for our stay. We ALWAYS eat breakfast in our room and then plan lunches/dinners/snacks based on our itineraries. If we have a car for our trip, we shop at a discount retailer a short distance south of Walt Disney World. If we don't have a car we use a grocery delivery service. Even with the delivery surcharge, it's considerably cheaper than paying for all our meals on the property.
Tom Galloway: On the shoestring plan, we have tried many things over the years and these are some that work: Eat a hearty breakfast at your condo or room before going to the parks. It's a long day and food is your biggest expense. Also, if you are staying at a condo or somewhere you have access to a kitchen, utilize it. Keep sandwich material and cook some frozen pizzas and put them in plastic sealer bags in the refrigerator. When you get back from the parks in the evenings, use the trusty old microwave. Instead of eating dinner in the park get a snack and eat back at the condo. This way you save some money and no one has to be burdened with heavy cleanup at the house or condo.
Terri Jensen: My #1 tip is to bring a small soft-sided cooler with you into the parks holding several ice packs, drinks and snacks. No alcohol or glass is permitted (except for prescription medicines and baby bottles/food.) All coolers will be inspected when you enter the parks, but they are allowed in as long as they are soft-sided. Once you have used up the contents of the cooler, you will have room to pick up a few pastries from one of the bakeries to have for breakfast the next day if you want. If you have access to a refrigerator, you can "recharge" your ice packs there. Otherwise, you'll have to rely on your ice bucket to recharge them or to bring ice. And of course, you'll need more ice/ice packs in summer than in winter.
Jimmy B: One of the things we do is bring our own alcohol to the resort. We also pack a separate suitcase with snacks and quick breakfast foods to help save. And when it's the sad time to depart home from Disney, we have an empty suitcase to fill with all our Disney goodies that were purchased.
Faith Turner: We visit the Mouse at least once a year. For our family of four that can get quite expensive, now that our two boys are over the age of 3. We always stay in a place that has a kitchen or kitchenette. This way we can always have at least one or two of the meals for the day in the room, depending on what we have planned. Since food alone is a HUGE expense when you are staying for a week, this really helps out.
Michelle G: We are Disney Vacation Club members, Annual Passholders and have the Tables in Wonderland dining card… I go on AllEars.Net and look at the menus to help me get a feel of how much we will be spending on each meal — don't forget to add on some drinks. Then I include my discounts and tip so I can estimate how much we will need per day for food. It is a lot of work to do this planning, but it helps us a lot and I will pretty much have it paid for before we leave.
Clare: Visit table service restaurants for lunch instead of dinner. The menu items are similar, you get the experience, and the prices are often lower! You can have your cake and eat it, too, for cheap… er!
Kris: We are also frugal and love being prepared. We were able to find collapsible water bottles with sport top spouts at our local dollar store, along with 12-pack Crystal Light singles and 10-pack off-brand powdered mixes. We took four bottles, then carried drink mixes in a baggie in our backpack, spending roughly $10 on supplies for four days of beverages! Many other guests were jealous of our neat bottles, which had a metal clip we used to hang from each of our bags. We filled them from water fountains with no problem, they didn't leak at all.
Natalie: When your group is tired and thirsty, head to Club Cool in Epcot. You can sample Coco-Cola flavors from all over the world — for free!
Shellie: I bring most of our beverages with us. I will bring a 12-pack of soda or three different two-liter bottles, a flat or a couple gallons of water. My biggest money-saver is bringing my own chocolate milk. My son drinks a lot of chocolate milk so I scope out the ads for the 10 for $10 sale and stock up the two weeks before we leave. One dollar milk is tons cheaper than the approximately $2.50 milk at Disney.
Margaret: We live in Florida, so we are at the parks all the time. Spending even just a few hours at the parks can really hurt the wallet, especially when there are seven mouths to feed. What I began doing is making sandwiches for everyone, keeping them in a cooler and heading out to the car at lunchtime. I will have everyone tell me what they would like on their sandwich and assemble them at home. I will keep lettuce, tomato, mayo, mustard and Italian dressing on the side in the cooler. I label each of the lunch bags and finish adding the condiments as each person would like at lunchtime. We have drinks and bags of chips in the car as well. I will spend only 1/10 of the amount of money on lunch and it is delicious and more nutritious than eating in the park. We do this even if staying on Disney property or at our timeshare on 192. You get away from the rush of the park and it really does not take too much time out of your day. This does require a little extra work in the morning, but it is well worth it. I couldn't see spending $80 for lunch a few times a month, every month for the past four years… that adds up!
Diane C.: We're a family of three that lives about 90 minutes from Walt Disney World. We usually pack our own picnic lunch of sandwiches and bottled water or sports drinks that we take with us when we have a Disney Day. It's amazing how hungry you get when you're touring, so we always bring our own snacks (packs of pretzels, cheese crackers, apples, bananas, etc.). It is a little inconvenient carrying a backpack loaded with food, but I figure that one small inconvenience saves us in the neighborhood of $50 per day that we spend in the parks, so it's worth it. Even though we love the Magic, we just can't look past some of the disproportionately high prices for things like bottles of soda and water. Lately, our favorite picnic spot has been the porch of the Main Street train station, where you can overlook all of Main Street, USA. There are tables and chairs up there that never seem to attract too many people. Once, we even had the Trolley Show cast members perform right in front of us on the porch as part of the "Walkin' Right Down the Middle of Main Street USA" show, and then as they left, they tried to bargain with us for a couple of the homemade chocolate chip cookies we were eating at the time! My son thought that was hysterical! We've also enjoyed the outdoor porch area of the Mexico pavilion at Epcot, which also has a number of tables and chairs that are usually vacant.
Speaking of food, I guess this is a good spot to end this week, leaving you HUNGRY for more! Watch out for the next installment of Money-Saving Magic tips in an upcoming issue of AllEars®.
Annual Pass Discounts:
Walt Disney World Discounts
Tables in Wonderland (formerly Disney Dining Experience):
Searchable database of reader tips:
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.