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More Fun, Less Money at Walt Disney World

Updated on June 6, 2012

Have a more enjoyable trip, spending less money, at Walt Disney World by arming yourself with some Disney knowledge.

So, you think you want to go to Walt Disney World. Only you’re scared. Your co-worker just took her family and she said the crowds were horrible, you couldn’t get into any restaurants/all the food was the same, the tickets didn’t let you do what you wanted to do and the accommodations were expensive. Yes, Disney World can be that way, but, no, Disney World does not have to be that way. A little knowledge can go a long way, even in the most crowded times.

The key to having a good time at Walt Disney World is knowledge. Disney consists over four major theme parks, several minor theme parks, golfing (miniature and real), shopping, many resorts, tons of restaurants, spas, and an internal transportation system. You need to know what you want do. You need to know what it takes—money-wise, time-wise, transportation-wise—to do these things.

You must make lots of decisions. The first thing you must do is decide, after you know your budget, is decide when you will visit. Many things can factor into this decision. For example, you need to factor in when you can get away from work. What are the kids’ school schedules? Can you pull the kids out of school? Disney has several different seasons. If you opt to go during peak season (spring break) or holiday season (Christmas) you will be paying considerable more than if you travel during value season. In addition to paying more, the parks and restaurants are more crowded. If at possible, travel during value season.

Next, you need to decide if you will stay onsite or offsite. By staying onsite you will be in “the magic” at all times during your trip. You can have Mickey wake-up calls, use Mickey soap, and possibly look out your window to see Cinderella’s Castle/the monorail/Disney Icons at all times. You can choose from a variety of different themes to experience your Disney magic in. You have access to Disney’s Extra Magic Hours which can give you one to three extra hours in the parks. You don’t need, but may still want, a car. If you do have a car, you’ll have free parking. You can have free transportation to and from the airport if you fly. You may choose to purchase a Disney dining plan.

But you may want to escape all the Disney-ism. You may want to eat at restaurants that don’t cost 3x the normal casual restaurant expense. You may only want a clean place to sleep and shower. You may be driving. You may want free Internet access and free breakfast. You’ve heard that you can stay offsite for much less. This is all true. But, if you do go this route, you may have to pay parking fees at your offsite hotel, parking fees when you go to Disney (currently $14 per day), and you may have to pay a resort fee. Plus, not all hotels offer free breakfast.

What you want to do is make a pros and cons list for each hotel you might want to stay at. Price everything. Know the secret code for discounts. I have gone to Disney at all times of the year, and I have never paid rack rate. You don’t need to either. There are special codes can reduce the rates a Disney resort up to 40%. A Disney specialist TA can keep you up-to-date on the codes or you can visit a number of fan sites out there that list the codes. However, I have opted to stay offsite at times and have had wonderful trips.

You must either then decide on if you want a package or to make a room only reservation. The only way to get the dining plan is if you purchase a package. The dining plans may not be purchased separately. While Disney touts the dining plan as a savings of up to 30%, most people actually save a lot less. If you use the menus and prices as a guide in deciding where to stay, you may find that the dining plan would cost you less than if you were to purchase your meals out of pocket. Some people say they love the convenience, but the dining plan requires you track credits and you must still tip—using two charges. If you simply want to pre-pay, put your dining budget on a gift card and pay for your meals using that. The children’s menu is very limited—only for those 9 and under. Your ten year old will be paying the adult price, and it’s hefty. But, for some, the value is there for the dining plan.

Also, if you choose to purchase a package, you must buy tickets through Disney. The highest priced tickets come through Disney. There are many reputable discount ticket brokers out there. All of them will sell you tickets at a lower cost. Do not buy your tickets through Craig’s List or EBay—these tickets may or may not be what they say they are and there is no way to know until you are at the gate. Besides, tickets that have been used even once are non-transferable. Also, check with your company’s human resources department. Often times, they will sell discount tickets, maybe up to 20% off, or be members of Tickets at Work.

Be sure to buy the right ticket. Disney sells a base ticket and then everything else is optional, at an extra cost. Do you really need to have the park hopper option? If you want to visit more than one park per day, yes. If you are on a budget, you can plan your days easily without it. Do you want the Water Parks Fun and More option? Probably not, if you will only be visiting one or two days; you’re better off just buying a single ticket to that minor park. Don’t forget Disney resorts have nice pools. So do most offsite hotels. Would no expiration benefit you? Only if you take a few short trips over a year apart.

Now that you know what you want, you must decide to book yourself or use a travel agent. A travel agent will handle the details, but really it only takes a short amount of time to do this yourself. There are plenty of websites that can help you with any planning details. If you use a travel agent, they will own your reservation and you cannot make any changes; your travel agent must do it. If a discount comes out, you are at the mercy of their schedule and client list. Some discounts have very limited availability. With a RSS feed, you don’t even need to be checking things constantly; it will come to your inbox. If you do go with a travel agent, make sure you use a Disney Specialist, preferably a Disney only agency.

Now that your reservation is made, you must plan what days to be at which parks and what to do when you are there. Going to the right park on the right day can cut a two hour wait to less than 20 minutes. I highly recommend a copy of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. Also, a good planning website can do wonders for you. This will help you know when and where to make your Advanced Dining Reservations. If you don’t have one, getting seated at a table service restaurant is next to impossible.

These few steps, which is less work than it sounds, can save you a ton of time. It might even save you over a thousand dollars, or more. It will also make your trip very enjoyable. It will seem as if you and your co-worker were on two totally separate vacations.

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