Visiting Mickey Mouse and his friends does not come cheap. If you are taking a vacation to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, you're likely to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Whether you are budget-conscious or willing to splurge in Walt Disney World Resort it helps to know how to get the best deals. This article presents a variety of tips that helped my family save money on our recent trip to the Walt Disney World Resort in May and June 2012. Consider these tips to keep more money in your wallet before and during your trip to the most imaginative and enjoyable amusement parks in the world.
1. Mousesavers.com is a great website with extensive tips and strategies of ways to save money during your visit to the Walt Disney World. The site covers everything from hotel accommodations to transportation and tickets.
2. We saved money by staying off the Disney resort property. Although on-site properties are most convenient, this convenience comes at a price. The budget-conscious should also consider vacationing Walt Disney World during off-peak season – generally April-May (as school ends) and September-October (as school resumes) where demand for rooms and, hopefully prices, will drop.
3. We found the best park ticket prices at Undercovertourist.com. This site was very reliable. Place your ticket order several weeks in advance if possible to take advantage of free shipping.
Undercover Tourist has a will-call pick up at a UPS store, but you have to check the store hours to be sure the store is open when you need your tickets. Subscribe to the Mousesavers.com newsletter and save a few additional dollars on tickets ordered through Undercovertourist.com.
4. Because we were staying off property at a time share, a rental car was a necessity. A friend told us about the Costco.com site. Here's an overview of how we saved hundreds of dollars on a rental car. About six months before the trip, I booked a SUV for about $600 for a 2-week rental. Compared to renting directly from the company, this was a good price.
A month before our trip, I re-checked the Costco travel site and found a larger vehicle (a van) for less (about $400). Then the week before, the van's price dropped to $285! So, it pays to keep checking back. We ended up renting from Alamo. Checking in and dropping off the van were convenient and easy. Alamo also had a toll-saver plan, which saved us time and money on the road.
5. When we filled the tank, we did so at a Hess gas station near where we were staying -- about 20 miles from the airport. Fueling up at a station farther from the airport was less expensive that at those nearest to the airport. Also, driving this distance did not affect the gas gauge; our gas gauge still showed a full tank when we returned the car.
6. Parking at the theme parks costs $14 per day, and you can park anywhere in the resort. Reentry during the same day is also included in the cost of the parking fee. If someone in your group has an annual pass, the parking is free.
7. The Park Hopper option is an added expense that was not necessary for us. Because we were there for 10 days and toured the park leisurely, our strategy was to maximize our time in the parks instead of moving from park to park.
The parks are about 15 minutes apart if you're traveling by car, but you have to take into account the added time to park, clear security, and enter the gates, which now requires adults to place their finger on an electronic fingerprint reader. It's better to stay put unless you are sure you want to cover more than one park in a single day.
8. Save money on multi-day theme park tickets. If you are not sure what type of ticket you will need, buy what you are sure you will use. You can always upgrade your ticket at the parks if you need additional days or features.
9. Buy whatever you can outside the parks, including souvenirs. You will find a wide
10. Meals are a good place to scale back. According to USA Today, the average meal price per person is $20 inclusive of a drink and tip but could well exceed $150 per person at fine dining restaurants. Counter service prices average about $10 . Save a few bucks at a counter serve restaurant by ordering iced water instead of a soft drink. Disney does not charge for ice or a cup of water.
While we splurged on occasion, we tried to eat outside the park for the most part, where we found better quality food that was less expensive. Refer to the guidebooks recommended in this article for advice on restaurants. But here are a few strategies and places that worked for us.
Strategies for Spending Less on Food
We stayed in a timeshare condo which had a full kitchen. This allowed us to eat breakfast in the room.
Pack a lunch like simple sandwiches or wraps. We took a small collapsible cooler into the park. We froze juice packs and half-filled water bottles (filling the other half with water). This kept our food chilled and our load became lighter and food and drinks were consumed. Instead of renting a locker which is at the entrance to the parks and a hassle to get to when deep into touring, we carried our cooler around with us. We packed light, and after we ate, the cooler was folded and placed in one of our bags. By packing your own lunch you avoid the long lines at the restaurants.
Places to Eat in and Around the Parks
There were a number of places to eat in and around the theme parks that were reasonably priced or were worth the splurge. Suggestions:
- Carrabba's Italian Grill. This a chain restaurant where food made to order from scratch. Servers were very friendly. If you join their mailing list at least a month ahead of time, you might able to get a coupon for a free appetizer.
- Golden Corral. This is a buffet offering a large selection of dishes. Food was decent and relatively inexpensive.
- Sweet Tomatoes. This is a buffet-style chain establishment that serves delicious fresh salads, soups, pastas and desserts. Go online and get on their email list for money-saving coupons.
- El Patron Mexican Restaurant and Cantina. El Patron is a quiet family owned restaurant with good food. We dined at about 6 pm on a weekday and had no wait for a table.
- Publix. Publix is a supermarket chain that offers reasonably priced groceries. One rainy night we stopped by for groceries and ended up buying a family pack of fried chicken. For about $11, you get 8 pieces of chicken, 2 sides (potato salads, etc.), and dinner rolls. The chicken was delicious and the sides were gourmet quality. I also bought a gallon of sweet tea from Publix for under $3 to keep in the condo.
- Brown Derby Restaurant. Ok, so this dining venue is pricey, but in my family’s opinion, it was worth it. This was a lovely upscale restaurant. The Cobb salad, which has its origins at the real the Brown Derby restaurant chain, was delicious. We walked out of there with a recipe card for the salad and the dressing. My 9-year-old who usually eats just simple salads asked for a second helping of this salad. Since we were having lunch, we dined on several appetizers instead of on full entrees. The other neat thing was the glowing blue raspberry lemonade slush. She took home the glowing ice cube as a souvenir.
- Tokyo Dining. In the Japan Pavilion at Epcot, there are two restaurants above the Mitsukoshi department store. Tokyo Dining overlooks the World Showcase Lagoon, offering a beautiful view. A nice selection of four lunch specials (appetizer, entree, dessert) was priced under $25. We went at about noontime and the restaurant was empty. If you want to dine less expensively, a counter restaurant is also available. However, it was worth paying extra for the relaxing atmosphere and fabulous service.