When buying your park tickets, the key to saving money is keeping it simple. With young kids, you probably won't have the time or stamina to visit water parks, so you'll be good with a base ticket that gets you into Disney's four parks: Magic Kingdom, Disney Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, and Epcot. Three-day base tickets start around $203 for adults and $171 for kids age 3 and up; four-day passes start around $212 for adults and $178 for kids 3 and up. Children under 3 get into parks free. Base tickets let you enter only one park per day, so if you'd rather hop around, add the Park Hopper option for about $50 a day. Buy in advance at disneyworld.com to avoid price increases.
Scout for bargain packages at Costco, AAA, MouseSavers.com, AllEars.Net, Travelocity.com, and VacationOutlet.com. You can also use a travel agent specializing in affordable Disney vacations, such as SmallWorldVacations.com and YourMagicalJourneys.com. When weighing whether a package price is worthwhile, make sure you'll benefit from all the extras. To save on rental cars, restaurants, and hotels, apply for the free Orlando Preferred Visitor Magicard at orlandoinfo.com/magicard.
Whether you stay on-site or off, you'll get your best hotel deals in low season. While Disney's deluxe resorts carry top-dollar price tags, there are more affordable on-site options. The best values are the All-Star and Pop Century resorts, where rates start around $82 per night. When booking, always ask about special offers or discounts. Active and retired members of the U.S. military can stay at Disney's discounted Shades of Green (shadesofgreen.org), where rates are based on military or civilian grade. Off-site, you can find one-bedroom suites for around $70 a night at Comfort Suites Maingate East (comfortsuitesfl.com) or get a $99-a-night deal on AllEars.Net for a suite at Sheraton Vistana Resort Villas (www.starwood.com).
The Disney Dining Plan can be a sensible to way to curb meal costs while giving you the flexibility to pick from 100 Disney restaurants. The plan is best for hearty eaters and families with kids age 3 and up; kids 3 and younger dine free anyway. You buy the plan for the length of your stay (as part of Magic Your Way Package Plus Dining), and for about $40 a day, you get one table-service meal, one quick-service meal, and one snack, such as ice cream or popcorn. You can even trade in two meals for one at an upscale restaurant like California Grill. The plan is good at character meals as well.
If you're not on the Disney Dining Plan, you can cut costs at sit-down restaurants by going for lunch instead of dinner. Sharing portions keeps the tab down, too. You can save a bundle by picking an off-site hotel with a kitchenette and/or kids-eat-free policy and eating in your room whenever possible. Stock up on healthy snacks at the local Gooding's supermarket on Interstate Highway 4 so you don't have to buy them in the parks. Also carry a refillable bottle or mug into the parks to replenish at the water fountains.
Buy your child one small memento -- like a pressed penny from the resort vending machine -- on the first day of the trip. Then tell her she can select one more special souvenir on the last day of the trip. Or do what Jen Manriquez of Michigan did for her two preschoolers: She bought some sale-priced character tees and flashlights from the Disney store at home and surprised her children with them when they got to their resort. "They were so excited to have their new Disney shirts and toys that they didn't ask us to buy them anything!" Manriquez says. She also picked up some glow necklaces at her local dollar store for the kids to wear at the nighttime parade.
Not all of your memories will be store-bought. Take a field trip to Fort Wilderness campgrounds and visit the Tri-Circle-D Ranch & Farms. There, kids can see the horses that pull the trolleys down Main Street in Magic Kingdom. For around $4, they can even ride a pony. The carnival games at Disney's Boardwalk are another inexpensive way to entertain kids. And back in the parks, look for face painting and character tattoo stations, like Pete's Paint Shop in Mickey's Toontown Fair in Magic Kingdom. For around $15, children are transformed into tigers, pirates, and evil queens. And of course, don't forget kids' biggest thrill of all: autographs from their favorite characters.
There are many simple pleasures in Disney World that won't cost a thing.
On the monorail, kids get a kick out of riding up front with the conductor. At Disney's Fort Wilderness campground, children can gather around the campfire with Chip and Dale for a sing-along and s'mores, and then watch a movie. The low-tech but charming Electric Water Pageant parades past the beaches of Disney's three monorail hotels (the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, and Contemporary) after sunset. (Drive or bus over, if you're not staying there.) Walking along Disney's Boardwalk is always entertaining, with jugglers, magicians, and other performers putting on impromptu shows.
Savvy Disney travelers have discovered these cheap tricks.
Pass up the Mickey ponchos. Instead, buy a bunch of cheap ponchos for $1 or so from your local bargain store at home and have them on hand in the parks. After a rain, simply throw away the poncho and use a fresh one if another storm strikes.
Buy an official refillable mug. These $13 cups are very cost-effective if you drink a lot of coffee or soda. But keep in mind that they can be refilled only at the resorts, not in the theme parks.
Bring your own stroller. Rentals have soared to $15 a day for a single and $31 a day for a double.
Check these sites for more Disney bargains.
MouseSavers.com. Uncover the hottest deals in the World.
DISboards.com. Fellow Disney travelers share money-saving strategies and other tips.
MousePlanet.com. Read latest Disney news and trip reports.
AllEars.Net. This comprehensive site delivers information through articles, blogs, and newsletters.
Restaurant.com. Purchase discounted gift certificates to restaurants near Disney World.
Entertainment-Savings-Offers.com/orlando/book. The $20 book pays for itself in the coupons you get toward Orlando hotels, restaurants, and rental cars.
Copyright © 2009 Meredith Corporation.