Friday, April 17, 2009

How to save money when going to Walt Disney World

I made mention yesterday that we are going to Walt Disney World next month. Since that post, I had several people ask how can we afford to go two or three times per year. If you follow the blog, you may recall that we went in November 2008. Well...there really are no "secrets" to getting a good deal. The trick is to use common sense and patience. I will give you a few pointers that I use when planning a Disney trip.
  1. Get the Disney credit card ASAP. Not only do you earn "Disney Dollars" you can also get no interest for six months on your trip. The card company will also email you special offers, such as room and ticket discounts. You also get discounts in some of the stores at Disney World.
  2. Book your trip about a month or two in advance. Disney will often run specials to fill unsold rooms. If there are less than 40/45 days before you check-in, you will have to pay in full. Otherwise you will only have to put down a small deposit, around $200.
  3. Always stay at a Disney Value resort. The only real difference between a Value and Moderate resort is a hot tub at the pool. In all seriousness, there is not much difference in what you get for the extra money.
  4. Book your trip directly from Disney, either online or over the phone. Do not pay an agent to do it for you. I prefer the flexibility of booking online.
  5. Always ask for a standard room. Disney offers rooms with better views or proximity to the pool. You can usually save $100-$200 by getting the standard room.
  6. Decline travel insurance to save more money. This is up to you but use caution. Their insurance is about $133 per trip for me. That is usually about 10% of what I am spending on the whole trip so it is not worth it in my eyes. By booking only a month or so in advance, I have a pretty good idea that I am not going to miss the trip. The only exception I can see could be trips during hurricane season.
  7. Try different resorts and try each one more than once. Disney holds block of rooms for certain periods of time. If you try Pop Century today and there are no rooms available, try again tomorrow as some may be released. Also, not all moderate hotels cost the same. If one hotel is particularly empty, they may offer those rooms for less money. I check all of the hotels multiple times before I choose any particular one.
  8. Add your tickets to the room reservation, in other words, book it as a package. If you book your room and tickets together, your room key will be your ticket - very convenient.
  9. Plan on staying at Disney the whole time, do not go to Sea World or other attractions. Disney charges you a small fortune for your first day ticket. However...the price drops dramatically after the first day. Literally a ten-day ticket costs almost the same amount as a three or four-day ticket. They want to keep you at the Disney parks and it works!
  10. Do not get park hopper tickets. There is no real need to jump from park to park. One park per day is enough! It will save you a chunk of change.
  11. Do not get no expiration tickets. They cost about $20 more per day. Just buy the days you need for your immediate trip. If you fail to buy enough days, you can always add more days to your trip ticket at an extremely discounted rate. I think all tickets expire two weeks after their first use.
  12. I do not buy fun visits for my tickets either. These are extra trips to the water parks and a few other activities. It might be something that you are interested in but it costs extra. We spend enough time in the main parks that we do not need any other entertainment.
  13. Drive your own car if you can. You get free parking at all of the parks...if you stay in their hotels. It saves us about $400 to drive versus flying.
  14. Do not rent a car. Even if you fly in to Orlando, Disney will pick you up and take you to any of their hotels. Once inside the complex, you can use their transportation for free. You never need to leave their park/hotel area during your entire stay.
  15. Unless you really want to eat in their nice restaurants, do not buy the dining plan. I find the dining plan restrictive because you have to make reservations for the sit-down meals. You then have to plan around the reservations and it distracts from your trip. It also does not save you a lot of money...unless you plan on eating a fine-dining meal each day. I would also avoid the quick service dining plan. To me the math does not add up. The dining plan is also a waste if you do go outside of Disney for the day. You pay for the plan based on the number of nights you are staying. If you went to Sea World for two days, you obviously will not use your Disney meals.
  16. If you do want to try the dining plan, go in the fall as they often give away free dining. That is actually the best deal each year. You can get a cheap room and free food! This year the deal is offered from August until October.
  17. Always check out the special offers on their website before booking anything. That link can be found here: Disney Special Offers
  18. When you get to Disney, check the calendar for which parks have "Extra Hours of Magic." They keep a different park open later (or earlier) each day for people staying at Disney hotels. You can get more done in those few hours when compared to all day during normal hours where the park is open to the public.
  19. If Disney has a party, such as the "Pirates and Princess Party" or "Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party" or the one at Christmas...go to it. It costs extra but again, you can do a lot in those few hours because of the reduced crowds. You should hang at the pool that day because the party admission is not good until like after 4:00. If you go to the park sooner, you will have to burn a regular ticket as well. Use that day to enjoy the amenities.
  20. Get a good travel guide before you book the trip. It will advise you when is the best and worst time of the year to visit. It will also help you to plan your time there wisely. I would recommend strongly that you pick up a copy of The Unofficial Guide Walt Disney World 2009.

In general, if you follow these tips you should be able to save some money. When I stay at a Value resort in the fall, I can typically get an eight or ten day trip for the four of us for around $1200 to $1500 - and that includes the free dining! We drive there so I have gas to pay for but, in total, we spend less than $2,000. If I think of anything else, I will pass it along. In the mean time, let me know if this helps anyone out.


Tina Merritt said...

We're actually in Orlando right now. Unfortunately, when you have older kids, you are restricted to when you can visit Disney by when school is out. That is why we are here during spring break. I found a site: to be extremely helpful for us. Mike is a VIP tour guide for Disney and has a lot of great tips for visiting Disney, especially during the crowded times. For about $35, he creates a customized tour guide based on the age(s) of the kids and your personal preferences. We went the week after Christmas (the busiest week of the year) and never waited in a line because we followed his guide.

I definitely agree with you on the Dining Plan! We got it one year and found it to be WAY to much food. We pack food to bring with us now. Also, I make a trip to the Disney Outlet store to pick up some inexpensive souvenirs before the trip which keeps the kids and my wallet happy.

Kevin Lett said...

I am jealous of you tonight!