We just returned from a week in Disney World. Well, 6 days. We drove which really cuts into vacation time when you have to travel 16 hours in the car one way.
I have many Disney posts to write, because the parks are constantly evolving and this trip I experienced a few firsts. We used the Magic Band system and we finally rode the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. I also paid $5.50 for a Churro, which blew my mind.
I’ve watched the prices inside the parks go up every year since I was a kid. I remember when the Dining Plan was just $9.99/day for a child. Truthfully it wasn’t that long ago. I know this because I paid it for my kids on a few of our trips. I was a tad disheartened to see how expensive the food inside the parks (and the souvenirs) have become. A Disney vacation is many times a once in a lifetime trip, or at least a once every several years trip. But seeing the current cost of lodging, tickets and food I wonder how many families will ever make the trip.
We didn't do the meal plan, and we stayed in our Disney timeshare. We got a great deal on tickets through the DVC (Disney Vacation Club). We are very blessed because all of these things make our Disney trips possible. I've been there enough times (40+) to understand the system and save our family money. We are a well-oiled Disney vacationing machine.
There are many ways to vacation in Disney. Packages, staying outside the parks and driving in every day, staying inside the parks and using Disney transportation, some families just do one park and that’s it. Before I dive in, I want to add that if you are flying and staying in a Disney resort, the meal plan is really the way to go. It’s not necessary, but food in the parks is expensive. And if you don’t have a car, you’re stuck with what Disney wants to charge for a hamburger. The meal plan is best value – by far- if you need to purchase most of your food in the parks.
To maximize savings, here are a few of my best tips for families:
1. If you are staying inside Disney World (at a Disney resort), flying and doing a package with the meal plan, you still need to pack dried goods in your luggage. This is why:
The standard meal plan provides 2 meals – one quick service and one table service. You also get one snack. Families on the Disney Dining Plan should always maximize the dollar and book dinners for table service. These meals are the most expensive (as opposed to using that table service for a breakfast buffett). Let’s say you plan to eat quick service early (11am) for lunch in the parks and you book restaurant dinner for 5pm. You get one snack a day. Most likely, you or your kids will want a snack in between lunch and dinner. Or after dinner before bed. A hot pretzel, a bottle of water, a Mickey Krispy…you get the idea.
But wait, you haven’t had breakfast!
And your kids haven’t had breakfast!
Do yourself a favor and pack granola bars, oatmeal packets, dry cereal and other easy snacks in your luggage. Even if you have to pay for that extra bag and fill it with snacks and juice pouches, and it costs $30 to get it on the plane, remember ONE churro costs $5.50. If you are a family of four, and you have to stop and buy a snack or a breakfast for everyone, you will spend at least $20 every time you whip out the wallet.
Bring snack food in your luggage, and pack a small soft cooler for the parks.
If you have a stroller, hang it on the back. If you don’t have a stroller pack a backpack. Disney allows visitors to bring food in, so take advantage!
The other option – if you really don’t want to bring food along, is to book a late breakfast (table service) and eat enough to get you to your quick service dinner. Or vice versa.
Just remember that after buying that dining plan you will cringe when you have to pay for any extra food at Disney prices.
Much more on packing in my Disney book, Walt Disney World Tips n' Tricks.
2. If you don’t do the meal plan, and you have a car, GO TO THE SUPERMARKET. Fill your room with groceries and pack a cooler every day for the parks. Budget the kids and let them each buy ONE snack a day in the parks. This is exciting enough and it won’t break the bank. But for lunches? Think peanut butter and jelly, apples, yogurts and even Lunchables. The plan is to eat from your cooler.
We have done this many times and it works. We have gone to the parks and not spent a single dollar. Pack your soft cooler before you head out in the mornings and eat dinners outside of Disney if possible.
3. The kids need to bring their own souvenir money. Mom and dad pay for the tickets and the food. But make it VERY CLEAR the kids spend their own money on stuffed animals and other souvenirs. Give the kids methods to earn spending money by assigning chores at home and saving birthday money. Make this a big deal so they understand there are NO LOANERS from mom and dad.
4. Skip the extras. Do not do the Memory Maker Picture package. Bring your camera and ask the photographers by the characters to take a photo with your camera as well. They will. No need for the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, bring Disney dresses and doll your daughter up in the hotel room. I have a tutorial video HERE if you want to do a copycat boutique hairstyle.
Truthfully, you don't even need a park hopper add on for the tickets. Go to one park a day and enjoy your hotel when you are finished. The less running the better with small kids, and everyone will enjoy the downtime.
5. Buy before you go!
For families with kids who are Pin Traders, buy pins on ebay before you leave. Kids trade away the pins they have, so what they start with shouldn't be their favorite. The goal is to trade and find favorites.
Before you leave for you trip, buy small souvenirs at Walmart and Target when you see them on sale. If you see a small Mickey stuffed animal, buy it and toss it in your luggage. Leave this for your child “from Mickey Mouse” in the hotel room. Get one small surprise for every day of the trip and leave them for your kids to wake up to every morning. These will keep your little ones from salivating over every toy in the gift shops. They will love their gifts from Disney Pals and you will save tons on souvenirs. Look for shirts, sunglasses, small toys, and stuffed animals.
Lastly, bring your own sunscreen and ibuprofen. Pack hand wipes and sanitzers. The less you need to buy on site the better.
Share your saving tricks in the comments section!