So you’re ready to go to Disney?! Make sure you follow these tips to make the most your hard earned cash!
1. Order from the Disney store and have it delivered or stop in at the local Wal-Mart.
I have 3 daughters and 3 stuffed animals in the parks set me back $100 easy and they were not even medium sized plush! Ornaments in the parks were also 3/$60. Online at the Disney Store, I was able to get 3 large stuffed animals for $30 and 3 ornaments (exact same ones I saw in the parks) for $11 each. You can place an order at the Disney Store online and have it sent to your resort hotel and pick it up at check in! Each day you can set out some surprises for the kids before you leave or even set them up so they are a surprise when they get back! When a Princess Elsa doll at Disney is $25.99 and online the same doll is $10, it makes sense to buy ahead of time. Don’t get me wrong, I found some AMAZING must-haves in the parks and I was not afraid to shell out the extra money for it. But when it comes to kids, they will be excited either way. Also consider stopping off at the Wal-Mart by Disney. Key chains for $1, mugs for $6, and purses for $9 are just a tiny amount of Disney items that they have in their HUGE Disney section! Stop in and get souvenirs at a discount!
2. Get the dining plan and make reservations at all of the character meals.
The dining plan can either be worth it or not worth it. Depends on what you want to do while at Disney when it comes to food. If you have character obsessed children like I do, then the dining plan is SO worth it! A character meal for a family of 4 can easily cost close to $200. On the dining plan, you pay on average $60 per person per day for adult and $30 per child per day. On the dining plan, that is $180 per day for 3 meals and a snack and without it, it is only one character meal! So book your vacation as soon as you can and stay up until midnight the night before they open up reservations for the first day of your trip. I was able to book the first reservations of the day for 5 popular character meals with no problem. Character meals mean no waiting in line for a photo and autograph. You eat and the characters come to you!! You spend less time waiting in line to meet characters and have more time to see the attractions and ride some rides! And we were one of the lucky ones and were declared The First Family of the Day at Hollywood and Vine in Hollywood Studios. Not only did we get a certificate but we got to spend time with all of the characters together as well as getting photos with all of them together. It was a wonderful experience and one that we will never forget!
3. Use your snack credit at Starbucks.
Not a lot of people know that there is a Starbucks in every park close to the entrance. You can use 1 snack credit from the dining plan for any drink on the menu. I had a large Vanilla Latte every day while at Disney and I used a snack credit! If you go even further and just get a regular cup of coffee as a snack credit and you have the Starbucks app with Gold status, you can get free refills all day!
4. Be the first ones in the parks.
The very early morning is the least crowded the park will more than likely be each day. For example, we arrived at Epcot 30 minutes before the park opened via Bus transport from our Disney World Resort Hotel. There were maybe 6 other people on the bus that day going to Epcot. We had an 8am breakfast reservation at Ackershus with the Princesses (where we met 5 Princesses, got their autographs and took photos with!) After breakfast we were able to see almost every attraction, stop in each country, met some surprise characters with little to no wait, and were done for the day around 2pm. We headed back to the hotel for a nap and then went back for the night time shows! We NEVER encountered large crowds and were able to do everything we wanted to do, plus a TON MORE, while also getting in a nap! Yes, I took naps at Disney. It was magical!
5. Substitute items on the dining plan to get what you need for later.
Plates are almost always over flowing with food at Disney. And some of the meals require drinks. When that happens, grab a water bottle to take with you into the parks. At the Art of Animation, where we stayed, they had a great breakfast platter called The Bounty. I loved it but I am not a fan of hash browns. So I asked and they let me substitute eggs, bacon, or even extra pancakes, instead of the hash browns. You would be surprised what they will let you do when it comes to food if you only ask. Also, the cast members are genius when it comes to making the most of your dining plan. You can always go up to a check out and ask to see a breakdown of what you have left. Then tell them what you need/want and they can help you make the most of your requests!
6. Make your break/nap time for the kids the hour before a parade starts and save your spot.
Magic Kingdom has some amazing parades, shows, and fireworks. The last day that we were there, I really wanted to see them all. So an hour before the next show was going to start, we sat down across the street, facing the castle, and stayed there. My 2 youngest took naps while I rested. By the time they woke up, the first show had started and we had the best seats in the entire park. That afternoon we saw 2 parades and 2 shows from that spot and got the rest we needed. We did the same thing for the evening parade and shows and I am so glad that we did because it was amazing and we didn’t miss a thing!
7. Get 5 day of park tickets instead of 4.
You can either pay for 4 days or 4 days and get the 5th day free! 4 day and 5 day park tickets cost the same! Go to the 4 main parks (Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot and Animal Kingdom) and then take a vote on which park everyone wants to visit again on the 5th day. We ended up going back to Magic Kingdom!
8. Mark on your park map all of the FP kiosks.
Once you use your 3 Fast Passes in Disney World you have to go back to the Kiosk each time to pick a new Fast Pass. This makes it easier to find one closes to you and closest to the rides you want to ride! And if you don’t get a Fast Pass time that you want, keep checking. Fast Passes can change and availability sometimes shows up last minute.
9. Use the My Disney Experience app to keep track of everything and to find what you need.
Thanks to a woman I met in the park, I learned this little trick. When you click on a location in the My Disney Experience App (attraction, dining, etc) you can choose to see it as Info or Map. When you pick Map, it gives you an icon to show you where you are and another one to show you where the attraction is. As you move, the icon moves! So you can easily find your way to where you need to go! This really came in handy at Magic Kingdom!
10. Stay on-site and let Disney take care of everything.
I know what you are thinking; Disney Resorts in the park can be a tad bit expensive. But when you think about all that you get when staying at a Disney Resort, you really end up saving money! Not only do you get Magic Hours, which lets you into the parks earlier and later than anyone else but you also get free transportation to and from the parks and shopping areas as well as to other Disney Properties. No paying for parking, which can be $20 plus per park per day, or gas or wasting your time looking for a parking space. Just show up, board and let Disney do the rest! They also have activities every day at each of the resorts as well as movies under the stars every night. You can book your Fast Passes 60 days before your trip which makes a HUGE difference if you want to get the best times early in advance! You also get Free Magic Bands for everyone in your party and free transportation to and from the airport! Plus they will deliver your luggage directly to your room! And if that wasn’t enough, you get the special Disney Magic that comes with staying at a Disney Resort! From Free Latex Balloons if you are celebrating a special occasion (just ask the front desk!) to amazing Mickey H2O toiletries, to free WiFi for your entire trip! When you add up everything that Disney provides for you when you stay onside vs how much you will have to pay for it off site, staying in the Parks is a win win!
Finally, remember to have fun. Let the Disney Bubble consume you and take your worries away!
Guest blogger Claire is mom to three lovely ladies, living everyday to the fullest and enjoying each moment she can being swept away in the magic of Disney! For more on Disney, check out Planning a Trip to Disney with your Special Needs Child, How the Disability Pass Works, and these Top 12 Tips on Saving Money at Disney.