When we asked our readers for their top tips on cutting costs at Walt Disney World, we got hundreds of great ideas. Here are the best ways to save money on Mickey.
Disney World on a Dime: Great Money-Saving Tips
Do it Yourself
Book your Disney World vacation online. I've done a lot of comparison shopping and always found the cheapest rates by booking each component -- air, ground transportation, and hotel -- myself. The best unofficial Disney site I've found is www.disneyinfo.com. Disney's own Website, www.disneyworld.com, is also a good source of information.
Foothill Ranch, CA
Membership Has Its Rewards
Before you start planning your vacation, find out whether your company or credit union belongs to the Magic Kingdom Club. Membership entitles you to discounts on four-day Park Hopper and Length of Stay passes as well as Disney dining, hotels, and merchandise. If your employer is not a member, call 714-781-1550 to request an application.
'Tis the Season
The key for our family of six is traveling off-season. We went the day after Labor Day. We got six round-trip airline tickets from Minneapolis, four nights at the Quality Suites, and a five-day rental on a minivan, all for $1,000. It was a great vacation.
A Star is Born
We were able to afford the convenience and services of a Disney resort by booking a package vacation at Walt Disney World's least expensive properties, one of the All-Star Resorts. As AAA members, we were entitled to an additional discount on our already-affordable off-season lodging and admission package. For less than $70 a night, we enjoyed free shuttle buses, two pools, a game room, and a food court.
Sally and Jake
Party of Five
Taking our large family to Disney can be expensive. None of Disney's budget resorts will book a family of five in one room (unless one of those children is a baby). So if you don't want to splurge on one of Disney's luxury properties or on two rooms, choose a hotel outside the park gates. We like Quality Suites (407-396-8040); the hotel is clean and has a pool.
Tinley Park, IL
The Suitest Things
We booked a two-bedroom suite with microwave and coffeemaker at the Lake Buena Vista Holiday Inn Family Suites for $59 a night. With the hotel's free shuttle to all Disney parks, free breakfast, and kids-eat-free deal, we saved a bundle.
It's in the Card
Contact the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau Inc. at 800-643-9492 or www.go2orlando.com, and request the Orlando Magicard. The card saved us up to $50 a night on a hotel and entitled us to discounts on a rental car.
Lake Parsippany, NJ
Walt Disney World: Ease Your Trip With Magic Bands
Eat your largest meal of the day at lunchtime because prices are lower then than at dinner.
Do the Splits
Share your meals. The sit-down restaurants at the parks serve such large portions that we always ordered one meal for two and an extra plate. Occasionally, a restaurant will charge a dollar or two to share, but most are happy to oblige.
Don't Act Your Age
Adults can easily order a children's meal at any counter-service restaurant. You get a generous portion at half the price.
Eating lunch in your room saves money. Try to book a room with a refrigerator -- or rent one for about $10 a day -- and fill it with food from Goodings Supermarket, a wonderful gourmet shop off I-4 at exit 27. By midday, our kids needed a break anyway; after we'd eaten, we'd return to the park refreshed and well-fed.
Cheap, Filling, and Good for You
Don't miss Pizza Planet Arcade at MGM Studios. It's a blast, and a small pizza costs only about $5. The fruit stands around the park offer apples, pears, and oranges for just 85 cents.
Kids Eat Free
Have breakfast at restaurants that allow kids to eat free. Many advertise this right in their windows.
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Autographs -- a Bargain!
Your kids will want to have memories of all the Disney characters they meet. The best souvenir in the park is an autograph book. They're sold everywhere and cost only $6.
Green River, WY
The Best Things in Life Are Free
A surefire way to beat the cost of park admission is to take a day off. Visit Disney's resort hotels, tour the grounds, admire the gardens and architecture, listen to the music, and talk to cast members, or go to Fort Wilderness Campground, which has a petting zoo, a great playground, and a general store, where kids can play checkers.
Deals on Wheels
Bring your own stroller. Not only will you save the $7 a day it takes to rent a stroller, but you won't have to wait in line or worry about the park's running out of rentals.
The Classey Family
Although we were on a shoestring budget, we felt no child should have to come home from Disney without a souvenir or two. So we bought them only for our son, not ourselves, and limited him to about $25 for the whole trip. For him, just getting something small like a Mickey Mouse pen was a thrill.
De Forest, WI
Bring along your own refillable water bottles -- one for each member of the family. Disney makes it easy. You can fill the bottles at water coolers all over the park. That hot Florida sun makes you thirsty; a family of four can easily go through $20 a day buying the bottled stuff at $2.50 a pop.
Cut Off, LA
Fill 'er Up
If you're staying at a Walt Disney World property, invest in one of the refillable coffee/ tea mugs for $5.95 to $9.95 (the price varies from hotel to hotel); these are refillable at your hotel for the length of your stay. You'll need the caffeine to keep up with your kids. And given the cost of a cup of coffee these days, you'll start saving from your very first day.
Have Car, Will Travel
We discovered that having our own transportation was key. Even if you're staying at a Walt Disney World hotel and have access to the free shuttle bus, it pays to rent a car because round-trip shuttle rides between the airport and the hotel can cost $100. For about the same price (with AAA or corporate discounts), you can have the freedom of a rental car. This is particularly welcome when shuttle bus lines are long or when shuttles are crowded or running behind schedule.