Few phrases excite more than “We're going to Disney World!” although most things don't quite impact the wallet like a family-sized trip to America's favorite theme park.
The entire point of going to Disney World is to create memories and have a blast. But, the cost of a stay at Disney World for a family, big or small, can be staggering, and the planning process could be stressful. Good thing there are tricks that could greatly reduce the headache the trip could become.
When to go
The first step should be to decide when the trip will be. Disney World, and many of the hotels around the park, operates on a seasonal schedule. This means the higher traffic times, like summertime, will increase your spending.
The perks of going during the busy season are most, if not all, of the rides, attractions and shows will be operational. Disney plans maintenance and downtime for these things during the off season.
Disney World also hosts events. One of the most popular is the Star Wars Weekends that take place during the early summer months. In the fall, there are the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, and Halloween celebrations. Around Christmastime, Disney World is decorated for the holidays and nightly Christmas parties are thrown. If early spring is more your preference, there's the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival.
The downside of going during a busy season is the crowds. Luckily, Disney World enthusiasts have put together crowd calendars, which can help you determine the best time to visit which park during which day. The Undercover Tourist crowd calendar is one of the most popular, and if you have a smartphone, search for their app for a free download.
Admission ticket options
Disney World has four theme parks, two water parks and a plethora or other locales such as golf courses and an ESPN sports complex. However, a general park ticket won't grant access to all of what Disney World has to offer.
There are three different options for admission. The first is a standard park ticket that is good for the duration of your stay but only allows you entrance to one theme park a day, with no access to the water parks or other locations. Another more popular option is the Park Hopper pass, which allows you access to every theme park per day, so you could spend the morning in Animal Kingdom and the evening in Magic Kingdom, but still won't have access to the water parks or other locations. The final option is the Water Park Fun & More Option, which gives access to the water parks and all the other locations.
Where to stay
Staying on-site at Disney World will cost more than staying off-site, but there are bonuses that come with spending the extra dough. One of the biggest is not needing a vehicle to get around. Disney World has its own transportation system complete with buses, boats and the famous monorail. Every resort on Disney property is serviced by at least one of these. Plus, there are more than 20 Disney-owned resorts to choose from on the property, ranging from value-priced options to more deluxe accommodations.
Another reason to stay on-site is because Disney offers resort guests Extra Magic Hours. There are some days when certain parks either open an hour early, or stay open up to three hours later, just for resort guests. This allows more time to check things out, with fewer crowds to battle with.
There's also a resort specifically for members and retirees of the armed services, called Shades of Green. It's on Disney property but is operated by the U.S. Army and offers a considerable lodging discount for those with proper military credentials.
Disney dining plans
One more perk of staying on-site is being able to use the Disney Dining Plan. Basically you pay upfront for all your meals and snacks, sans alcoholic beverages, tax and tips.
There are several dining plans to choose from, with the most popular being the standard dining plan. This gives each person in your party two meals (including drink and dessert) and one snack per night of your stay. The cost for 2013 is $17.16 per night for visitors age 3 to 9, and $55.59 per night for visitors age 10 and up.
There are more than 100 restaurants that operate within the parks, so you'll likely find something to fit everyone's tastes.
Disney oftentimes offers discounts ranging from a percentage off resort stay to free dining plans for your entire party. But, those discounts and promotional periods usually happen during the park's off season, and aren't widely advertised by Disney except on their website or by word-of-mouth.
Disney releases promotional information a couple months before the promo begins. This might be a problem for the family who plans way in advance, but a call to Disney's customer service line often results to getting the promo applied if you meet requirements for it.
Disney Vacation Club point rentals
One of the absolute best ways to save money on a Disney World trip is to rent Disney Vacation Club points. It sounds convoluted but it operates like if you were to rent a time share. Using a service like David's Vacation Club Rentals allows you to pick the dates you want to go, and shows you which resorts are available to your party and for what price. This price is oftentimes half of what Disney World charges for the same room during the same dates, even when add-ons like dining are included.
For example, if booking your trip through David's Vacation Club Rentals, a seven-night stay for two adults and two children during the summer season in an Animal Kingdom Villas with a view of the park's savanna, with the basic dining plan and Park Hopper tickets added on, will cost about $4,100. The exact same package when booked through Disney will cost about $6,350. Going with David's saves more than $2,200.
Learning from others
The Internet is full of blogs, forums and websites devoted to Disney World. Many of these share tips and tricks far beyond what what's already been mentioned, such as dining reviews and menus, ride and closure information, and words of encouragement for “Pooh-sized” (overweight and obese) park visitors. These sites also have tons of information on how to physically plan for the trip, because the average Disney-goer walks 10 miles a day while there.
A trip to Disney World is literally like visiting another planet, and should be memorable for all the right reasons.
Squashing some of the stress before pulling out the credit card will only help you further enjoy your vacation.