We Tightwads feel really lucky to have just spent a week during March break in Orlando visiting Universal Studios and the Disney World Theme Parks with our girls. Actually, truth is, this was our third visit in about 2 and 1/2 years. Very "un-Tightwad like" you may be thinking, but the there is a way to make a Disney vacation affordable. Each time we have gone, we have done things a little differently. So, here are our simple tips on how to save some bucks while not missing out on the fun.
Tip 1: If you are going to stay at a Disney resort, think about one of their budget hotels. Disney classifies their resorts as either Budget, Moderate, or Luxury. The difference is the quality of the rooms, the hotel amenities and the proximity to the parks. Truth be told, we have only ever stayed at the Budget hotels, (we are Tightwads after all :) )for a few reasons. One reason is obviously the price, and the fact that we don't really care too much about the hotel, as our main reason for going to Disney World is to ride the roller coasters and to see the Princesses. Spending time at the hotel is not high on our list of priorities, especially since you are free to dine at and visit the Luxury hotels if you wish too.
We have stayed at both All Star Movies and All Star Sports Resorts. The latter, which was where we stayed this last trip, was by far a better experience. Our room was newly renovated, the pool was fantastic, and transportation to the parks was super easy using the shuttle buses, which run regularly and are free for resort guests. In some cases, the shuttle buses travel to all 3 All Star Resorts (Movies, Sports and Music) before heading to the parks, and then on the return as well. Due to it's location, All Star Sports is the first pick up spot of the 3 and the first drop off spot. Incredibly important since first on pretty much guarantees you a seat on the bus (much appreciated by tired little legs), and first off means you are back in your room sooner rather than later (again, much appreciated by tired little and not so little legs).
Although when we stayed at All Star Movies our room had not been updated in a long while (think aqua laminate furniture - yikes!), in both of our stays in Budget Resorts the staff was Disney friendly, and the rooms were spotless.
Tip 2: If you are staying on site, choose a meal plan. The first time we went to Disney, we actually drove (how can two girls travel 24 hours to and fro without arguing for a moment, when they can't even make it home from school without wanting to pull each others hair out is a mystery to us...but we digress). That time, we rented a condo/hotel with a full kitchen. We had breakfast in our hotel, packed a lunch and had dinner back at the condo. Definitely a money saver - but having to cook during a vacation sometimes sucks. Our second trip, we just paid as we went....and did we ever pay! Eating at the theme parks is costly! So, this time we got a meal plan, made our reservations before we traveled, and enjoyed being able to eat our meals, and snacks, without having to pay for anything but tips. Nice.
Tip 3: Don't get suckered into buying stupid souvenirs. Yeah...that Goofy hat with the floppy ears is really cute when you're riding Splash Mountain...but what are you going to do with that thing when you get home??? Same goes for Mickey ears, Fantasia hats and Fairy wings. Unless you are convinced that you will cry with regret for years because you passed on this purchase ...pass.
Tip 4: Take pictures of your pictures. We think that some of the funniest pictures ever are the ones that are taken of you when you're on these crazy rides. Your mouth is wide open because you're screaming with fear or excitement (or both), you have this psychotic look in your eyes, and the Goofy ears on the stupid hat you're wearing are flopping in the wind. Hilarious ! and if you want to take the memory home, it will cost you about 20$. Now, although we didn't do this ourselves, we did see other riders taking out their cameras and snapping photos of their photos as they were being displayed on screens in an attempt to lure you into purchasing them. When EN commented to another lady that this was a smart idea, she said that the pictures come out a bit blurry....but we bet they're still funny.
Tip 5: Speaking of pictures...Disney has a great service called PhotoPass. There are photographers scattered all over the parks, ready to snap your picture, which is then loaded onto a PhotoPass card. When you get home (or even in certain locations in the parks), you can view your photos, email them to friends for a limited time, and purchase them. They are really nice, but again, pretty expensive. We learned that if you give your own camera to the photographer, he or she will take the same shot with it..and then you have essentially the same pose...for nothing. Pretty smart huh?
Tip 6: We're actually not sure how we feel about this...but it IS a money saver...and we did see lots of people doing it. Picture the scene. You are having a buffet breakfast. The food is aplenty, and, generally quite yummy. You load your plate with things that are fried, sauced and generally unhealthy. To compensate, you grab a few apples or bananas. Lo and behold, after scarfing down your meal, you find that you have no more room for the fruit you lovingly chose. What to do???? Putting it back would be unhygienic, throwing it away is wasteful. Oh, how about just tucking that banana into your backpack, for a snack when you feel peckish...you know, instead of buying a banana later on. We did this once with a couple of apples. EN felt guilty, FF didn't think about it too much (he wasn't carrying the backpack!), but when the girls were hungry a few hours later..tah dah...Disney magic...the apples made an appearance.
Tip 7: If you decide to go to Universal Studios (do go ! the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is phenomenal), stay at a Universal "affiliated" hotel. These are MUCH cheaper than the 3 Universal hotels and most offer transportation to the Universal Parks, and extra hours, so that you can enter the park an hour early - a must, especially if you go in a busy season. We stayed at the Fairmount Inn...it was great. The price was reasonable, the staff was incredibly friendly and helpful, the room was basic but spotless, the pool was great, and a yummy continental breakfast was included.
Tip 8: If you book your Disney vacation on-line through the Disney website, check it periodically, up until your departure date. If there is a sale that comes out after you have booked, Disney will honor it. Thanks to this good advice, we saved 350$ this year. With the money we saved we could have bought about 15 sets of Mickey ears !!! (but we didn't).
Tip 9: Set a spending budget and stick to it. This is really easy if you have a meal plan, because your food costs are already accounted for. There are so many nice things to buy both at Universal Studios and the Disney Theme parks. Decide how much you want to spend on souvenirs and gifts, and stick to it. If you're traveling with children, it's doesn't hurt to remind them that they can't have EVERYTHING they see.
So, although a Disney vacation can be costly, it doesn't have to break the bank. Shop around, cut corners that don't really matter to you, and enjoy a beautiful and magical vacation...it really is one of the happiest places on earth.