Saturday, September 17, 2011

Making Disneyworld Affordable

I am preparing for my third Disney trip and I’ve discovered a few tips to cut corners. First step is decide if you can go off-season. Disney’s off-season includes small chunks of time between summer and major holidays. If you can get away mid-week that’s even better.

My first family Disney trip was a prepackaged tour with hotel, flight, and rental car. It was a good deal twenty years ago, but not so much now. Packages are advertised as a bargain because the airlines base it on you paying the highest price for everything, and then tell you how much of a discount you got. I can save almost 50% composing my own packages.

Let other people do the work for you. I put what I am looking for as far as an airline price on various sites such as: Travelocity, Last Minute Travel, and Travel Ticker. When a fare in my range comes available, I receive an email. It pays to shop ahead, but do not book too close to Thanksgiving or Christmas since prices take a major hike. Be open to airline perks too. Some airlines offer upgrades or discounts if you continue to use them. Other airlines specialize in flights to particular destinations and offer lower prices. So far, I have not been able to fly cheaper to Florida than Air Tran.

Almost all airlines charge a fee for bags. You’d be surprised how much you can get in one suitcase. I try to wear what will take up the most room in the suitcase. Two carry-ons is your limit, which includes a purse or laptop. I ditch the purse by packing it in the suitcase and keeping tickets, money, and identification in the carry-on. Got your airline tickets, now it is time to book your rooms.

Are you available for a discount? Shades of Green is a Disney lodging strictly for military families. Someone in your family must have an active duty military ID card. Your AAA card can garner you a discount too. My best luck has been staying at Lake Buena Vista Hotels, which are technically on Disney property. I shop online using sites like Travelocity for the cheapest rates. Once I locate the one I want, I call as opposed to booking online. When I call, I ask for a better deal. I can usually get $10 knocked off the room.

When choosing your hotel or accommodations, consider food. A room or condominium with some kitchen facilities is a real money saver. Every time you want water or soda, you drop four dollars at the prime hotels. Often they don’t even have vending machines forcing you to go to a pricey gift shop or restaurant. A small fridge and microwave can easily save you $100 a day on food for a family of four. Disney even allows you to carry your lunch into the park as long as you don’t bring a cooler on wheels or glass bottles. Some hotels even offer a free hot breakfast. Your cheapest meal will be breakfast. Lake Buena Vista Best Western offers an inexpensive breakfast buffet. I also use to get gift certificates for restaurants within walking distance of my hotel in turn saving about $25 on every dinner.

If you have children, you might consider a hotel with a mini-water park, pool, and playground. You will want some down time from pounding the pavement of the various parks and a hotel based water park keeps you from forking over almost $200 to go to a water park—this doesn’t include the transportation getting there either. Ask before you book if the hotel offers Disney bus service to the parks.

The real benefit of staying in a Disney hotel is breakfast with the characters, photo sessions with the characters, and even early entry into the parks. I received all of that just by applying for a Disney Rewards Credit card that came with Disney bucks to use in all the gift shops and restaurants inside the park. I will have to add here if you want to go Epcot, you might want to stay at the Swan because it is on the boardwalk, great swimming options, including a beach. You can easily walk to Epcot. My personal favorite--a fridge in your room.

You can manage without a rental car. Choose hotel or condominium with park bus service. You will probably pay a resort fee around twelve dollars for this benefit, but it is well worth it. After a long day at the park, it is heaven to walk up to a waiting, air-conditioned bus as opposed to hiking miles and miles to your hot rental car. Consider it is almost $600 a week to rent a car in Orlando. Airport transportation is often included with the Disney hotels, but tends to be spotty if you fly in late at night. Ironically, you can save money by booking a limo service like Quicksilver as opposed to renting a cab. A driver will meet you at the baggage area to handle your bags. You also have the option of making a grocery stop included in your price. The driver will pick you up in time to make your homeward flight without the hassle of returning a rental car. Depending on how far out your hotel is it runs around $100 for a town car for two without tips.

Park tickets are a major expense, especially with a family. Beware the park hopper tickets. They sound like such a good deal; you can go to all four parks in one day. This is not feasible unless you train for ultra-marathons. First, it takes time to get to each park, at least an hour. Hours spent under the Florida sun, walking pavement with children wears you out fast. You won’t want to hit another park. You can see most of the fireworks from the balconies of the surrounding hotels. The hopper tacks on another $30 on the ticket price. Everyone I’ve talked to admits one park is all you can do in a day. In fact, a day between parks is good policy just to recover.

You can usually buy your tickets before you go from AAA. The benefit is you don’t pay Florida sales tax, which takes the ticket price up to $100 for a day park pass. Sometimes a multi-day pass is a good bet, but you don’t start saving money until you buy a three day or more pass. It may turn out that you don’t have three days of park touring in you.

Know your prices. A one-day adult ticket is $84. I’ve seen people on EBay pay up to $122. Be careful whom you buy your tickets from because they are not always selling real Disney tickets; often they are selling vouchers for tickets that include a time-share tour. Finally, souvenirs, who doesn’t want to take home the memories.

Your best memories are pictures. Take plenty, and then you can have them made into everything from calendars to coffee cups at your local Walgreens back home. Visit places like Walgreens, Wal-Mart, even the Dollar General while in Orlando because they have souvenirs at reasonable prices.

By planning and putting out a little effort, an affordable Disney vacation can be yours.