Disclosure :: This post is sponsored by Tara Jones of Cupcakes Castles Travel Co.
So You Want To Go To Disney World…
Does the idea of planning a Disney vacation send you into a frenzy? There are so many choices: resorts, ticket options (to park hop or not?), dining, Bibbidi Bobbodi Boutique. How do you plan it all, and stay within your budget?
As a family travel planner with a NOLA-based travel agency, I specialize in Disney vacations, and have helped numerous families create magical Disney memories on all types of budgets. While I take care of saving you the most money possible on your vacation package (resort and tickets), many families also need help with trimming other aspects of their vacation budgets. Therefore, besides planning vacations, I spend lots of time researching other ways to save money at Disney.
Top Five Money-Saving Tips to Make Your Vacation Extra Magical
Autograph Books :: These little babies can cost anywhere from $10 to $30. Multiply that by the # of kids you have and it can be a small fortune. I have 4 girls, and decent autograph books cost anywhere from $8 to $25 each. Add that up, and it’s almost the same as a 1-day park ticket!
Making your own books is an economical way to bring home a unique souvenir that doesn’t look mass-produced. Involve your kids in the process. Depending on their ages, their help can range from choosing stickers, themes, and designs to making the entire book themselves. Supplies are easy to find at local craft stores or craft department at WalMart. All you need is a spiral-bound journal or photo album, scrapbook paper in the desired color/design, stickers, and a permanent pen (or letter stickers), and Voila! An autograph book as unique as your child!
Tara’s tip: Bring along a clickable sharpie for those autographs. They write smoothly and are easier to grip for characters with big paws or gloves!
Groceries/Food :: I am often asked if Disney’s dining plan is worth the cost. I could write an entire article about the pro’s and con’s of Disney’s dining plan (one is coming soon on my travel blog), but for my purposes here, let’s just say it’s a personal preference. Here are some basics of the dining plan. There are 3 main offerings of the plan, each with its own price point:
- Quick-Service: This plan entitles the guest to 2 counter-service meals (entree, dessert, and non-alcoholic beverage), and 1 snack per person, per night of your stay. Price: $41.99 per adult (ages 10 and up) per day, $16.03 per child (ages 3-9) per day
- Plus Dining: same as quick service, but substitute 1 table service meal (entree, dessert, non-alcoholic beverage) for 1 counter service meal. Price: $60.04/adult; $19.23/child
- Deluxe Dining: 3 table service meals and 2 snacks per person, per night of your stay. Price: $109.53/adult; $29.56/child
- All dining plans include a resort-refillable mug per person
Sounds like a lot of food, or it’s just not what you’re looking for? Then you may want to consider ordering groceries or stopping at the nearest Publix before getting to your resort. While stopping for your own groceries seems like a great idea, think abou the time it’s going to take to get everything on your list. A more efficient way of getting your goods is an online grocery.
Orlando has several grocery delivery companies, and while they’re a bit more than going to the store yourself (if you have a car), the slight mark up is insignificant compared to the time you will save. It’s imperative that you order your groceries at least 2-3 weeks ahead of time, as delivery slots fill up, especially during the busiest times of year (yet another blog post). You schedule a delivery time, and your order will be waiting for you upon your arrival. And the choices are vast. Deli meats, cheeses, and bakery-fresh breads are a great bag lunch option for a day in the parks, or even for the flight home! A case of bottled water is much less expensive through one of these services than purchasing them in the parks. Bringing your own snacks and drinks into the parks (yes, it’s allowed) or eating breakfast in your room will also save you time and money. Two of the most popular online groceries include www.gardengrocer.com and www.wegoshop.com.
Tara’s Tip: You can go to any counter service restaurant in the parks and get free cups of ice water!
Souvenirs :: The Disney corporation employs marketing geniuses, so it’s no surprise that many rides Disney parks exit into a gift shop. But once again, you can outsmart them by planning ahead and purchasing Disney merchandise off-site at bargain prices. Shop before you leave home for souvenirs at discount stores (the Dollar Stores and Target’s dollar section often have a great variety of Disney trinkets), or check out sales at your local Disney store. And you can use these gifts to your advantage – special gifts from a favorite character make any souvenir extra-special. Here’s an example: Upon our arrival at our hotel room, we find a note from “Tinkerbell” telling the girls that they will receive special gifts from her if they follow certain rules at Disney World. This creates a flurry of excitement, and the girls can’t wait until the next evening. When we are ready to leave our hotel room to hit the parks, I have my husband take the girls out first. I hang back to “finish my hair” or “change my shoes”, and arrange their “gifts” on their bed. Reminders of the rules are helpful throughout the day, and the excitement is almost electric by the time you swipe your Magic Band on your room door. When they run into the room and find their surprises, their eyes light up and you feel like Olaf in summer!
Weather Gear :: Central Florida is famous for unpredictable weather. You can almost count on it being warm most of the time, but it’s not unheard of for a cold front to make its way to visit Mickey and the Gang. If going in the winter months, bring a jacket and pants, even if the weather report says it will be warm. And no matter what season, a rain storm may be just a wind gust away. If you get caught in a famous Florida storm while in the parks, you can either follow the rest of the crowd lining up to purchase a pricey Mickey Mouse poncho,or you can just pull your inexpensive dime-store poncho out of your bag, chuckle at the lines you just avoided, and move on to the next ride.
Tara’s Tip: If you have a stroller in tow, be sure to bring along a stroller cover or an inexpensive shower curtain liner to cover it, as stroller parking is mostly out in the elements.
Your Next Disney Vacation :: Are you the type who visits Disney yearly? If so, take advantage of Disney’s Bounceback offer, which offers a deep discount if you rebook a Disney trip before checking out of your resort. Not sure how it works or what time of year to visit again? No problem! Call or email your travel agent (hopefully that is me!) and they can perform their magic for you while you use your last Space Mountain fast pass for the day. Planning ahead for your Disney vacation is a must these days, and with a few extra steps, you can save a bundle and have the time of your life doing so. Think of the money you save as a head start on next year’s vacation fund. And if you don’t enjoy spending countless, frenzied hours doing your own Disney research, contact me, where my vacation planning is “sprinkled with magic!”
Learn more about Tara’s services by checking out her website, Facebook page or by emailing her directly at [email protected]
Tara Jones is a travel planner with Cupcake Castles Travel Co, a New Orleans-based travel agency owned by a fellow NOLA mom, and a travel blogger. Besides booking your vacation, she will help you navigate your park days around the crowds, make dining reservations, help with fast pass booking, and special experiences. She also monitors for any discounts and will apply them to your reservation, ensuring that you pay the absolute least for your trip. All her services are free to you, because Disney pays travel agents a commission. It’s travel planning, sprinkled with magic!