I used to have so many people ask us how in the world we could afford to do Disney so often. When I would tell them it was one of the cheapest family trips we could do I'd watch their jaws drop. SO about a year and a half ago I wrote this guide in hopes that my not rich Disney loving friends could get in on the Disney action... So many people have asked for me to send it to them and I realized there was SO MUCH more I could add about restaurants and rides and what to bring and where to go... SO I thought I would update it for my cheapskate Disney loving peeps. Enjoy!! I guess it's no secret that we have a family passion for Disney. What may not be as known is that I am a total cheapskate and despise spending more money than necessary on a given experience. Let's say I want it all for half the price. ;0) TICKETS- Interesting fact about Disney park tickets.... 10 days for the park only cost a teeny bit more than 5 days at the park. It is MUCH more economical to go for a longer stay...not stay on site... and not have extra magic hours. Oh and a ten day pass can be used over the course of 14 days. At least that's how it's been in the past. So you can take rest days to just swim or head to a beach. LENGTH OF STAY- We find staying a little longer and not going to the parks ALL day is much more fun for us. We may only go to the park for a few hours some days or take a day off. Russ usually can take one week off work so while the girls and I may stay longer- he will fly in on a Friday and fly out the following Sunday. That gives him 9 full days and 2 half days. TRANSPORTATION- we travel by car.... well the girls and I do. Russ usually flies in to meet us so we don't have to use his vacation days on travel. Not only does this save a TON of money in airfare but we also don't have to rent a car or stay on Disney World site for transportation. Another big perk of going off season is the rates you get on rental homes. CHEAP! Last year I think our 4 bedroom home ran us about $600 a week with pool heat. Not 100%. 2 years ago we got a 4 bedroom at Encantada with a heated pool for $500 a week cause we booked so many weeks. Then we split the cost with family and friends who came with us. So total cost to us for a month of accommodations in a NICE house with a heated pool???? Less than $1000.00
SO ANYWAY!!! I have had a lot of requests for info on how we do Disney so here goes...
We do Disney relaxed and inexpensive. It's the way we like to do things. If you are trying to do a quick 3 day trip and are only able/willing to go during school vacations this plan may not work for ya. However, I will add a section toward the end for short busy time trips to Disney for when all else fails!
On another note- if you do get annual passes they are not for a season. They are for a year from the date of purchase. You get free park hopper included and free parking all year. You also get discounts around the park. Discounts vary but this last trip it was 10-20% off everything.
TIMING- At Disney timing is EVERYTHING!!! Going during Christmas vacation and summer vacation means a lot of your time is guaranteed to be spent in line. No thank you. I make sure we go during slower times of year when the parks are more enjoyable.
You can also determine which parks you should go to on which days. Check out this crowd calculator. It tells me how crowded the parks will be overall on certain days and even which park is the least crowded on any given day. In my testing it seems to be right on most days. I find it very handy.
For park hours and events I like this site http://www.wdwinfo.com/Wdwinfo/hours.htm
ACCOMMODATIONS/Pros and Cons of staying on site- I have tried staying on site at Disney and frankly I DON'T LIKE IT! The rooms that are a decent price(still pricey I think) are the size of a shoe box. If you want a spacious room be ready to pay and arm and a leg. No getting ANY breaks from the kiddos unless you pay for a suite or 2 rooms. Putting the kids to sleep before you and watching a movie with your honey....GOOD LUCK! While I still had fun staying on site I was more than ready to get to our townhome.
Not to mention then you are stuck eating on site which is NOT so cheap and I felt like crud not eating normally. Plus I just didn't like having to wait in line every time my kiddos wanted a drink or snack. I find it more convenient to grab it from the stroller or back pack. The economy rooms do not have a refrigerator or even a coffee maker so eating cheap or healthy is a challenge.
Many people are lured by the convenience factor to stay on site. If you stay in one of the more expensive hotels that is very close to the parks this may be true. It is not necessarily true for the economy hotels on site. I found waiting for a bus and then riding to the hotel/park took about as long as driving to the town home.
Extra magic hours also entice many to stay on site. I will say I can see the lure of this if you are staying a very short time or during a very busy time... If you are doing the trip off season then with a crowd calculator you will have plenty of time to do so much without wearing yourself down. During peak season extra magic hours are still VERY busy as they only keep the main attractions going.
We are big fans of renting a home off site. We rent off of http://www.vrbo.com/ and almost always stay in Kissimmee, Fl. It is very close to Disney and convenient to everything you could need.
FOOD- We generally just eat at the rental home. Disney parks allow you to bring in a small cooler type bag. We pack snacks and water and whatever. We keep ours in a stroller. They also have lockers available. A lot of times I have each girl carry a small little string back pack with a water and the snacks they want for the day. Then when we do end up waiting for something they just grab their snack.
The food on site is very good for theme park food. I just can't eat it all day. They even offer almost everything gluten free. We love that! So depending on how much money we have we will indulge in the occasional gluten free hamburger or wonderful margarita. Oh and the chocolate caramel corn is DIVINE!!!
I guess it's no secret that we have a family passion for Disney. What may not be as known is that I am a total cheapskate and despise spending more money than necessary on a given experience. Let's say I want it all for half the price. ;0)
TICKETS- Interesting fact about Disney park tickets.... 10 days for the park only cost a teeny bit more than 5 days at the park. It is MUCH more economical to go for a longer stay...not stay on site... and not have extra magic hours. Oh and a ten day pass can be used over the course of 14 days. At least that's how it's been in the past. So you can take rest days to just swim or head to a beach.
LENGTH OF STAY- We find staying a little longer and not going to the parks ALL day is much more fun for us. We may only go to the park for a few hours some days or take a day off. Russ usually can take one week off work so while the girls and I may stay longer- he will fly in on a Friday and fly out the following Sunday. That gives him 9 full days and 2 half days.
TRANSPORTATION- we travel by car.... well the girls and I do. Russ usually flies in to meet us so we don't have to use his vacation days on travel. Not only does this save a TON of money in airfare but we also don't have to rent a car or stay on Disney World site for transportation.
Another big perk of going off season is the rates you get on rental homes. CHEAP! Last year I think our 4 bedroom home ran us about $600 a week with pool heat. Not 100%. 2 years ago we got a 4 bedroom at Encantada with a heated pool for $500 a week cause we booked so many weeks. Then we split the cost with family and friends who came with us. So total cost to us for a month of accommodations in a NICE house with a heated pool???? Less than $1000.00
SOUVENIRS AND GROCERIES- When we need to buy odds and ends we usually head to the Super Target. Super Target in Kissimmee has a huge section dedicated to Disney stuff that is MUCH cheaper. You can get the Disney pins, panchos, umbrellas, frames, spray fans etc.... Of course we do the occasional item in the park. We just make sure it's something we want of higher quality that we are willing to pay the money for. I just won't buy a lot of gadgets in the park.
The park items last forever and are very nice. You will find so many great options so take your time and shop.
I also recommend buying your groceries at Target or Walmart if you are on a budget. Publix can get PRICEY.
COSTUMES- I plan ahead and buy off of amazon.com WARNING the costumes in the park are GORGEOUS and well made and VERY EXPENSIVE! I'd rather bring hair glitter and dress up my own little princess or pirate and use the money for other things.
HOTEL- If we need a hotel for travel on the road or an extra day I usually book it on www.hotwire.com super cheap. I stick to 3 star and above and they have always been great.
TIPS TO KNOW-
* If this is your child's first trip to Disney or it's been awhile try to find documentaries on Disney. They often have them on the travel channels. Or you can order the free info dvd from Disney or watch things on line. Let your child watch it as much as they want. Explain to them that Disney is always fun and nothing there will hurt you. Look at the rides together and see what they are drawn to and what seems to concern them so you can explain it. Explain that at Disney people love to dress up like Halloween because it's fun but not scary at all. Disney is a lot to take in and a child who feels familiar with it will have more fun. Mom and Dad will also have more fun if their 3 year old doesn't scream every time someone walks up in a costume. ;-)
*if you have small or sensitive children start them small and work up... start with Magic Kingdom. Do the carousel then It's a Small World. Next try Winnie the Pooh and Dumbo and see how they are. If they still seem timid try The Jungle Cruise or Alladins Flying Carpets. Avoid the 4-d shows like Philhar and Haunted Mansion until you know they are warmed up and get that Disney is safe.
* for sensory sensitive children bring squishy ear plugs to help them with the noisy rides and fireworks. This will make it more fun and less scary for them. Also practice with them on how to cover or close their eyes if they get overwhelmed.
* a portable, easy camera and video device is easiest. Make sure you bring battery chargers and a big memory stick for the camera so you won't run out of space so quickly.
* carry a phone charger with you so you can park by a plug and recharge if you need to do that... or an extra battery works.
*If at all possible get your Disney apps loaded onto your smart phones. You can use these to check crowds and how long lines are while you are in the parks or on the go.
* single rider option is available on many popular roller coaster type rides like Expedition Everest, Rockin Roller Coaster, Test Track... no matter how long the ride is the single rider option usually only takes 5-10 minutes wait. This will make it easy for those preteens to ride the roller coasters 10 times in a row. :-)
*Make sure your kids and you always have
water bottle- the ones with a filter are extra handy at disney
small stick suntan lotion most of the year
sweatshirt for night anytime except summer
pancho for frequent and sudden Florida downpours
Ipods, Ipads, books or whatever for lines or break times
* You can get fast passes for some of the popular rides. This is a reservation for a time to ride that particular time without waiting in line. Just go to the ride you want... use your park ticket and use the machine to get one. They are free and run out so go as early as possible.
*See the parade once if ya want... the Magic Kingdom night time parade is awesome BUT... If you've seen the parade SKIP IT and head for the popular busy rides right when it's about to start. The lines CLEAR OUT while everyone watches the show so it's easier to get on the busy ones.
*Wear UBER comfortable shoes. I have literally fractured my foot from walking so much on the hot concrete at Disney in thin flip flops. It's lots of walking and I learned the hard way that good shoes are not optional. I buy very nice, squishy flip flops for all of us.
WHAT NOT TO MISS IN THE PARKS-
Well, this actually totally depends on the ages of your children. We have all ages so I'm just gonna list the absolute family favorites and you can go from there. FOR sure be sensitive to what rides might be scary for sensitive little ones. Of course we LOOOOOVE everything at Disney but there is SO MUCH. So when we are limited this is what we hit first.
Magic Kingdom- Pirates of the Carribean, Big Thunder Mountain, The Haunted Mansion, It's a Small World, Philhar Magic movie, Winne The Pooh ride, Buzz Lightyear, Peter Pan when the line is low
Hollywood Studios- Toy Story, Rockin Roller Coaster, Star Tours, Little Mermaid show, Clubhouse Disney show, drawing classes, American Idol experience, Beauty and the Beast show, Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground when it's not too hot (WARNING!!! Shows at Hollywood Studios end kinda early... like 5. So even if the park is open late there isn't that much to do with the little ones. Get there earlier for this park or you'll be bummed. I know this from experience. That being said... we love this park.)
Animal Kingdom- Dino Dig when it's not too hot, Nemo show, Expedition Everest, the safari ride, jungle treck to see the tigers, Lion King show, It's tough to be a bug
Epcot- Nemo ride, Turtle Talk with Crush, the big circle ride at the front... what's the name??, Club Cool to taste sodas around the world for free, Test Track, the boat ride in Mexico, the movie in China
BUDGETING- This last trip we tried something new for our spending. We went to cash budget for all of us. We decided how much we could afford per day for each child and I divided it into separate envelopes for each child for every day. For instance- Zoe-Monday, Zoe- Tuesday... The deal was that this money had to cover EVERYTHING above Disney tickets and food from the house. Each child had a back pack and could bring food if they wanted to save their money for other things. If they wanted food in the park, toys, a movie ticket or anything extra they had to use their money.
It worked BEAUTIFULLY!!! Their was no whining about who should get what. There was no guilt that I should get them ALL a Mickey Mouse ice cream if I wanted one. :-)
The best thing was that they didn't spend as much on silly things. They REALLY thought hard about what was important to them. Everyone walked away very happy about their purchases. One child spent was more on toys, one more on food and sweets, one on clothes.. and all of them were pleased. OH and they learned a great budgeting lesson to boot.
THE BUDDY SYSTEM- The other thing we tried this time we call the buddy system. We assigned each adult on the trip to a child for that day or half day. That adult was responsible for everything that child needed during that given time period. If an adult was needing time for something our oldest child was given a younger buddy to help.
The system worked BRILLIANTLY and we had our best trip ever. Every child was able to get special quality time with every adult. It also gave us the ability to focus in on the interests of the child we were with at the parks and split up then meet back together. It also made it so much lower stress for the adults feeling responsible for just one child.
Of course this will look different for each family and is entirely dependent upon how many adults, children and older children you have on the trip. It's a great consideration as you plan though! We love it so much we have taken to using it almost every time we go on a trip anywhere.
THE LAST RESORT- If you ABSOLUTELY must go during a school holiday here are some tips for making it more fun. We've done it and it can still be awesome. Some tricks of the trade help.
The week of Christmas is going to be the absolute busiest but it's cooler and has the amazing Christmas decorations! If you are going to do Christmas time make sure you look at the crowd calculator to always go to the slowest park and go during slower hours... like late at night.
Summer has times that are slower so take a good look at the crowd calculators and try to go then. Also work around the heat by taking naps and going late at night. The great thing about summer is usually at least Magic Kingdom is open late. So you can do one park right at opening- nap and rest all afternoon- then hit another park after dark.
If I was choosing to do a school holiday Disney vacation I would probably try to choose spring break. Spring breaks are staggered so not everyone is off at the same time which helps. The weather is also usually cooler during March/April though it can still be hot. Again, check out that crowd calculator and see what you can find out.
Also be extra sure to grab fast passes to your favorite rides as soon as you get in the park to avoid standing in lines for two hours. Watch the line times carefully on your Disney phone apps if possible. Talk to the family to decide which rides are really important and decide to just chill and enjoy the journey. :-)
PARKS AND MORE-
The Disney parks and more ticket option includes entry into Disney Quest and the water parks. I'll explain what they are and you decide if it's worth it to you for the money.
Water Parks-We have not done the water parks mostly because we have had weak swimmers with us every time we've gone or it's been cool and just not happening. I have heard they are amazing and we will probably go when the kids are older I just wouldn't try it with young children myself.
Disney Quest- It's like 5 floors of awesome arcade. You pay one price and play all you want for as long as you want and there are some VERY cool games and lots of old favorites. I don't even love arcades but I like this. That being said... I do NOT like it with young children. It's HUGE and can make a person with ADD dizzy. Put a 4 year old in there and you better be ready to just chase them from game to game. EXHAUSTING! With older kids you can separate and meet up with or just your honey... a blast.
CHARACTER DINNERS AND EATING EXPERIENCES-
There are so many amazing places to eat at Disney that I haven't nearly tried them all but I'll tell you some we have experienced. OH and for most of these it's never too soon to make a reservation. They book up.
Eating at Cinderella's castle- It's fun. It's pretty. It's expensive. It's only Cinderella characters. All my girls wanted to know was where were all the other princesses. OOPS! Which brings me to my next option...
King Akershus Princess Storybook Meal- http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/akershus/
It's in the Norway section of Epcot. It's not cheap but cheaper than the castle and depends on which meal. There are LOTS of princesses and my girls thought it was AWESOME!
The Brown Derby- This is a fine dining joint in Hollywood Studios. It is NOT cheap and the food is AMAZING! I wouldn't take my kids there personally cause I don't wanna drop that kinda money on a meal that's gonna be rowdy. It's a date or girls' night gig for me. The steak and mashed potatoes are so wonderful. They even have gluten free rolls and gluten free chocolate cake that is RIDICULOUS!
The Japanese restaraunt- This is the one in Epcot. It's Hibachi and it's fun. The food is good but not amazing. I think it's overpriced but not bad.
The French restaraunt in Epcot- SO YUMMY!!! I loooooove it and it's not cheap. The French onion soup.... ahhhhhh....
Pollo Campero- All you Guatamamas gotta check out the Pollo Campero in Downtown Disney! So much fun taking our Guatababies there and it's not too expensive for some decent food. :-)
Baby Cakes- Everyone is sure to love this scrumptious little bakery inside of Pollo Campero. BUT if you are a gluten free person you may never recover. EVERYTHING is gluten free and ohhhhhhh soooooooo melt in your mouth awesome. Don't let it throw you that everything looks a little different. It tastes GREAT!
The Candy Cauldron- This one's in Downtown Disney pretty close to the movie theater. OH MY WORD!!! BEST. CANDY. EVVVVVER. The monster pecan patties are my fav in the WOOOORLD. Everything is pretty much YUM! YUM! YUM!
Bongos- This is in Downtown Disney too. It's cuban food and fabulous. It's not horrible expensive but not cheap. The yellow rice and chicken is something I dream about at night. :-) They also have great live music and sitting on the porch by the water at sundown rocks.
Rainforest Cafe- They have one in Downtown Disney and at the Animal Kingdom. I've only been to the one in Downtown Disney. It's a HUGE one... bigger than the usual Rainforest. Average food. Above average but not outrageous prices. Cool experience.
T Rex-Take what I said about Rainforest but imagine dinosaurs instead of rainforest animals. There ya go..
Ghiardelli Cafe- BEST. ICE. CREAM. SUNDAE. EVER. Saw the price and almost screamed but the girls wanted us all to share one and buy it together. All three of us split one and it was plenty. The thing was huge and so super good. Can't believe I'm saying this but it was worth the price.
Margarita in Mexico- I don't even know the NAME of the place but in Mexico- Epcot- there is this little cafe by the water. It's right across from the pyramid structure. Anyway, their Margaritas ARE SO GOOD!!!
PLEASE!!! For the love of all that is good!!! Do not miss the beauty that is Downtown Disney. You can shop, eat, play, listen to music, go to movies, shows... whatever... and there's a lot of entertainment for free! FOR SURE hit it at night. Check the times but most nights it's open till 11 or midnight. There are all kinds of street performers and when it's lit up at night the streets are so cool.
OTHER DISNEY STUFF TO KNOW-
Cirque De Soliel La Nuba- Awesome show. Expensive and worth seeing.
TrenD- A store in Downtown Disney. It's Disney stuff but it's subtle and fashionable. You could buy me almost ANYTHING in this store and I'd probably love it. It's always a must for my Disney dollar.
The Lego Store- No matter how old you are the Lego store will suck you in. You can play Legos for free outside the store for as long as you like. Lots of free fun.
The boats- there are lots of little boats that go different places like downtown Disney or the resorts... it's fun to just get on and take a ride. They are all free.
The Boardwalk- Don't forget the boardwalk. This is a cute little area between Epcot and Hollywood Studios. You can take a boat from either park, walk from either park or drive. They have several resorts, restaraunts, a beach area, bikes to rent, shops, etc. It's super cute.
AMC Theater- There is a VERY nice theater in Downtown Disney that is fun for seeing movies when you need a break.
NON DISNEY STUFF-
Discovery Cove- Expensive and way worth it.
Universal Studios- Only Islands of Adventure is worth it. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is out of this world. The ride in Hogwarts will BLOW YOUR MIND. Warning... it's a little shocking and scary but oh so cool. Oh and YOU MUST drink butter beer... that is not optional.
BE A KID-
Now after all the planning and organizing is done..... HAVE FUN! I mean it. QUIT being an adult. Live it up. Don't TOLERATE the little kid rides. SOAK THEM IN! Watch your kids faces... don't miss a thing. Don't rush the kids. Don't skip the little things. PLAY legos at the lego store. Make Mr. Potato heads with them in the toy store. Chase bubbles in the street. Plunk down on the sidewalk and watch the jugglers. These are the moments that really matter. THOSE are the memories.
Don't try to squeeze in every single thing. Instead fully live in every single moment. THEN I promise you it's a trip you won't soon forget. And let's get real... if you can't have fun at Disney World you need to seek help quickly.
OK!!! Well I hope that helps some of you. We LOOOOVE our Disney trips. They are such wonderful family time for us. I wish you a magical trip. HUGS! Angel