Many of my emails are from sweet families who have never been to Disney. They are confused, concerned and they don't know where to begin.
How much does it cost? Why do you say no park hopper tickets? My kids are _ and _ years old...what should we do???
What is a meal plan? How do we get one?
This post is my attempt to strip away the extra confusion and break it down to help every family understand all this "Disney Talk."
When booking our rooms, what do you mean "inside the parks"?
Staying "in the parks" is Disney talk for staying on Disney property. You are in a Disney resort, which enables you to buy the meal plan and takes away the need for a car. Disney has a tram system that goes to every hotel, every park and more. You will be easily transported every day.
It's very awesome.
Disney has MANY resort options, making staying "inside the parks" affordable for many families. Disney will also transport you from the airport FOR FREE (bags and all!) if you stay on property.
Trust me when I say staying outside Disney is cheaper for rooms, but add on a rental car and the cost to park daily and you are NOT saving much money.
Why do you say no park hopper tickets? What are they?
"Park Hoppers" are tickets that enable you to go to as many parks a day as you please. You can go to one park in the morning and another at night. Or one park in the morning, one for lunch and one for dinner. It's up to you.
I personally stay away from park hoppers because there is more than enough to do at one park every day. This is especially true if it's your first visit. Add in a meal, time to get back to your hotel and downtime at the pool (or a nap for babies), and it's bedtime if you have small children. We like to have time to relax, time to swim and time to shop. Sticking to one park a day (especially for your first visit) takes away the confusion it saves you money.
5 day Disney tickets for a family of 4 (2 adults, 2 kids) $1036.00**
5 day Disney tickets for same family with park hopper option: $1264.00**
If you want to go back out at night after a day at the Magic Kingdom, go back to the Magic Kingdom. The only tricky part of sticking with one park a day is planning your meals. If you are doing the dining plan (more on that below) you will need to plan accordingly.
What is the meal plan? Where do we get one?
The meal plan is Disney's way of making your life easy. If you stay inside the parks, at a Disney resort, you can opt to add on the meal plan. This basically prepays for all your food while you are on your vacation.
There is more than enough food, and without getting into it you can trust me when I say you will NOT be confused at Disney. Every "cast member" (disney employee) knows 85% of families will look dumbfounded the first time they go to order lunch.
They will help you, and you will be good to go the rest of your trip. I promise!
I like the meal plan for three reasons:
1. You can save accordingly because you know what the meal plan will cost per day per person.
2. You don't have to fumble with money while yelling at your tired, whiny kids to pick what they want for lunch.
3. Everyone gets their own meal, including drinks and a dessert at each meal. Kids LOVE this.
I don't like the meal plan for one reason:
1. It's pricey, and you have to pay for every day of your trip. You can't do the meal plan for three days and no meal plan for two days. You do it or you don't. Everyone in your family is all in or all out.
There are a few types of meal plans, 1st timers only really need to know about two (because the others are extravagant). There is "Quick Service" and 'Disney Dining Plan."
Quick service dining means cafeteria/mall food court style. It's that simple. You will prepay for 2 quick service meals and 1 snack PER PERSON per day.
Snacks are kiosk foods such as hot pretzels, popcorn, water bottle/drinks, ice cream.
Disney Dining Plan is one sit down, restaurant meal (buffet or order off menu), one quick service meal and one snack PER PERSON per day.
Quick service dining is $34.99 per day for adults and $11.99 per day for kids.**
Disney Dining Plan is $51.54 per adult and $15.02 for kids.**
Disney offers you the meal plan when you call to book your room. Your room key will have the meal/snack credits on it, making your trip VERY simple. When you order food, your card is swiped, and meals are removed.
So if your family of 4 is going to Disney for 5 days, and you have your 5 day tickets for $1036.00, you can ADD ON the cost of your meals for the trip. The quick service dining is cheaper, but you will have to do without the character meals and all that jazz. You definitely get MORE for your money with the Disney Dining Plan, but it is not necessary. And quick service dining is still plenty of food and cost effective.
Add on 5 days of Quick Service Dining to the cost of you tickets and your 5 day trip is now $1506.00.
Add Disney Dining Plan and your trip is now approximately $1702.00.
*Meal plan DOES NOT include alcohol or gratuity. You will owe your server a tip when you eat at restaurants!*
The good news is that you are paid - aside from souvenirs, gratuity for restaurant meals, beer and treats from candy stores you don't need any more money.
The Dining Plan option makes your trip easy to budget and you can plan your meals every day. If you start your trip in the Magic Kingdom, book a dinner for that evening at the Crystal Palace (Winnie the Pooh and friends). This is where not "park hopping" gets tricky, you need to book meals for parks you will be in every day.
If you're doing the Disney Dining plan, plan your meals (make reservations - you can do it online at Disney.com) , and THEN plan your parks.
Any other moneysaving tips? We are on a budget!
YES! Pack a suitcase of food! I say this is in my Tips and Tricks page. Even with the meal plan, your kids will need snacks. Anything you don't bring you will pay for - at Disney prices. Pack a small case of granola bars, fruit snacks, etc. Pack in tupperware to avoid crushed food when you open your suitcase in Disney.
Every day, pack a small cooler to take to the parks of snacks. YES, the parks allow food from outside.
Use this empty suitcase on the way home for your souvenirs, princess wands and pirate swords. Tupperware is good for glass ornaments, trinkets, etc.
Also, bring some souvenirs! Buy your Disney shirts at Walmart before you go - stuffed animals too. Hide them from the kids, and bring with you to Disney. Leave your kids a present from Mickey every morning, and they won't be begging to buy every shirt or stuffed animal in the parks (at twice the price of what you paid at home).
You'll still be buying things, but not as much.
I hope that covered the basics - where to stay, how to "play" (park tickets) and how to eat!
Happy planning! As always, I look forward to emails if you need help!
** prices as of today. Disney goes up every year. Check their site before booking!