Apr 1, 2013

How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Disney World, Part Two: Money Talk

We're back with part two of our series, and today we're discussing finances. It's a subject many people don't feel comfortable talking about, but we hope you'll find some ideas here for ways to save on a Disney vacation.

No matter how many times I've been to Disney World, I always do research to see if there are new ways to save money on an upcoming trip. The advice I see most often is that you should stay at a hotel off-site and bring your own food and pack lunches.

Let me show you a realistic price comparison.

Off-site hotel (very basic): $350
Car rental: $100
Fuel: $60
Parking fees: $85
Groceries and eating out (lunch and dinner for 2 adults over 7 days): $300
     TOTAL: $895

Keep in mind that if you stay at a hotel in Orlando and the surrounding communities, you'll have a 20-mile drive each day to get to the parks. Fuel isn't cheap, and time is money.

When I went to Disney in 2008, I tried to spend as little as possible. I packed boxes of Cheerios and granola bars to eat for breakfast and lunch and only purchased dinner in the parks. I was miserable. I walked around with my ziploc bag of Cheerios while everyone else was enjoying burgers, burritos, fresh fruit, and ice cream sundaes. Towards the end of the trip, I tossed the Cheerios and bought park food.

Disney Value Resort: $595
Transportation: FREE
Quick Service Dining Plan: $490
     TOTAL: $1,085.00

Disney resort guests have access to programs and amenities that off-site hotels can't offer. For example, if you fly into Orlando International Airport on select airlines, Disney will pick up your checked bags and deliver them to your room. You simply hop on the Disney bus when your plane lands and don't have to worry about a thing! When your trip is over, Disney will take care of checking you in for your flight, picking up your checked bags, and dropping you off at the airport.

In addition, you'll receive complimentary Disney luggage tags, a miniature golf voucher for each guest, arcade points for DisneyQuest, a water sport voucher, and discounts for spa treatments, childcare, and Planet Hollywood. If you buy the dining plan, each guest will also receive a refillable mug that you can fill at your resort's food court for free for the duration of your stay.

If that isn't enough to convince you, one park each day has Extra Magic Hours and either opens early or closes late. Only resort guests are invited to take advantage of those extra hours.

I think it's worth the $190.

I believe that the biggest factors that will affect the overall price of your trip are what you spend on airfare, the time of year you travel, how long you stay, and the type of park tickets you purchase.

I've flown to Orlando three times, and the average I paid for airfare was $220. Not terrible, but not great. This time, I plugged our home airport and destination airport into airfare-compair.com and airfarewatchdog.com. Both sites sent me daily e-mails with price updates and deals. We scored roundtrip tickets for $107 each plus taxes! There may be a big difference in what kind of price you find depending on where you live and which airport you fly out of. I'd say our airport is small-ish with a slim selection of airlines, so we were delighted to find inexpensive tickets.

When to Go
Disney, like many other travel destinations, has some seasons when prices are low and some when prices are high. If you have the flexibility to travel anytime during the year, I highly recommend going when school is in session. Not only are the prices lower, but the crowds are much lighter. It's a win-win! Don't forget about school vacations, like Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day, and Spring Break. Even though they occur during the school year, they are busy times for Disney World. I like to refer to this site when checking for value seasons.

How Long to Stay
As I mentioned in part one of the series, it could take you two weeks or more to see everything at Disney World. Unfortunately, a lot of people, ourselves included, can't afford to be gone that long. The length of your trip will vary greatly by the ages and interests of the guests in your group.

For example, Marshall and I are fairly young and both love roller coasters. We'll save time by skipping the more child-friendly rides like Dumbo and The Teacups. We are both physically able to walk long distances without needing breaks and will be fine even on hotter days. I like to plan a minimum of one day per park. We are planning on spending some time at one of the water parks, golfing, and DisneyQuest, so we've added a couple days to allow for those activities.

Keep in mind that elderly people and children may walk slowly and need more breaks. They also may not be able or want to go on the more thrilling rides with the teens and adults. If there will be anyone in your group who fits that description, you may want to stay longer.

Ticket Prices
I have always built our package and made our reservations online at http://disneyworld.disney.go.com and have been very pleased with it. The packages I put together include our resort room, park tickets, and dining plan.

The cheapest ticket option is to just buy basic park tickets. Beware that if you choose the basic tickets, you'll need to carefully plan out your days. If you don't add the Park Hopper option to your tickets, you will be limited to one park per day. But it's cheaper. We like having the extra flexibility and have done plenty of "hopping," so the Park Hopper option is a must for us.

This time, we also added the Water Park Fun & More option for $47. This option will give each guest one pass per day to use at one of the two water parks, one of the two miniature golf courses, ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex, Disney's Oak Trail Golf Course, or DisneyQuest. We were primarily interested in going to the water parks, and it would have cost $52 each at the gate. For less than the price of one water park ticket, we are getting access to a whole lot more! Sometimes buying everything as a package gives you better deals. Do your research before you buy!

If you book your vacation and a better offer is made available, don't despair! Simply call Disney, and they will apply the new offer to your existing reservation. The customer service representatives are super friendly and helpful.

We hope you're enjoying our series on How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Disney World. Come back Wednesday for part three in this series!

How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Disney World, Part One: Myths Busted
How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Disney World, Part Three: Where to Stay

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  1. Great tips! We stayed on campus years ago when our kids were little, and it was totally worth it to have those extra hours without the crowds, plus the bus to and from the parks.

    1. I totally agree! Thanks for stopping by!