|Disney World Free Dining Trip
Also, we are quoted about Disney in today's Tennessean.
Here's the text of our original submission to Mary. Lots of props for this information goes to all our usual online haunts, but especially the WDW today podcast. Mary really did pick the best tips!
PLAN, PLAN, PLAN AHEAD
- Head to the Nashville Public Library and check out a copy of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. This single volume covers 90% of what you need to know to make your trip as perfect as possible. If you're going down more than once in a calendar year, go ahead and invest in one for keeps.
- To shrink the number of days you need for your vacation, use the touring plans in the guide to hit the maximum amount of attractions in a minimum amount of time. This "guerilla-style" park touring really works!
- mousesavers.com is a goldmine of discounts and tips.
- Plan your food first. Allearsnet.com is a great resource for menus for park restaurants.
- Compare on-property and off-property hotels before you book. Most hotels off property are forced to be competitive since Disney has such a wide variety of resort options now. Once you've found a hotel or two you think you might consider, check their reviews at www.tripadvisor.com. You may find that your $39/night bargain is located right next to a helicopter tour launch pad!
- Study and learn the ticket options... they're more complex than most advanced trigonometry texts. The "Water Park and more" option is only useful if you're planning on spending several days in the water parks. If this is a repeat trip for you and your style of park visiting doesn't demand it, consider not adding the park hopper option.
- If your trip is five nights or longer and you're staying on property, consider purchasing at least one annual pass for an adult in your party. Annual pass holders can get seasonal discounts on Disney resorts. Check mousesavers.com for typical room discounts and then do the math to see if you'll save money.
- Be realistic. This is a vacation. There will be some things that you want to do that will cost more than you ever would spend in another situation. Plan your splurging opportunities and enjoy them when you experience them.
- Buy souvenirs before you go. Buy Disney stickers, stuffed characters, etc., before you go and don't let the kids see them. Pull them out when you get there and you don't have to pay the inflated resort prices. You can even buy Disney snacks here (I saw some at the Wal-Mart market today) and they can stick those in a fanny pack to have in the park. For instance, the last time we were there, they were selling spray bottles with fans attached that were full of ice water. They were displayed in huge ice-filled carts and were very tempting. The cost for them was around $17 dollars. I found the same type product at Wal-Mart for $5. It even has a strap like the ones Disney sells. You may be able to find some things like that on sale now and save them for your trip.
- Wal-Marts and Walgreens around Disney are an excellent source for deeply discounted Mickey schwag.
- Hit the Disney outlets in Orlando... especially if you went last year too! All of Disney's "expired" merchandise from last year's big movie, holiday or event can be found at their official outlet stores. The closest is at the "Premiere Outlets" mall just off of I-4.
- Mickey ears are one of those things a child must have, and there's no discount route to them. When you go in the Magic Kingdom and go under the railroad tracks, the hat shop will be on your right. The kids can pick out their Mickey ears and watch the person there embroider their name on it. To keep it cheap, have them sent back to your resort for free (although they may not want to part with them immediately) and they won't get damaged or lost during your park visit.
TRANSPORTATION (This is always a big issue.)
- Even though Disney's Magical Express service is free, if you are flying, RENT A CAR. There are several reasons for this. Staying on property means you're paying inflated Disney prices for every last snack or grocery item, and if you have an emergency... forget it! With a rental car, you can stock up on inexpensive snacks, take advantage of the discount food options all around the parks (like the battling buffets at Sizzler and Ponderosa: under $5 for breakfast!), go out for diapers or other supplies, or make a quick trip to the drugstore. There are several grocery options very close to Disney property. And, at the end of a long day in the parks, you don't want to wait for a crowded bus with potentially cranky children.
- Guests staying on property can park at the parks and the resorts for free, saving you $10 a day in parking. Also, having a car also cuts down on transportation time back to the resort for the all-important nap.
- To save on a rental, send mom and kid(s) on Disney's Magical Express to the resort with the luggage. Dad rents a compact car and meets us at the resort. This way, you have the flexibility of having a car, but won't pay big bucks for a minivan just to haul your luggage twice.
- There is an Alamo car rental on Disney property, but renting at the airport is almost always cheaper. We usually rent from Budget. They are on airport property (no shuttle!). If you have a Costco or USAA membership, they have great deals, especially in September.
- Gas at Hess stations on property is the cheapest in Orlando. I know this sounds crazy, but it's true. Fill up before you make the airport trip. Then you can top it off at one of the overpriced stations nearby.
- We are big fans of the Disney Dining Plan, especially when it's FREE. For the past two years, Disney has offered free dining in September, which also happens to coincide with the time of the year that hurricanes tend to hit and their attendance drops. We are going this year for the third weekend in September to celebrate Patrick's birthday. Again, if you have the dining plan, a car is a must. It is difficult to "resort hop" on Disney transportation, so when your dining plans are at a resort, drive. The great thing about the dining plan is that you know EXACTLY how much you are going to spend (or not spend) on food. When we have used it, I brought cereal and bowls with us, and we used snack credits to buy milk at the resort. There was a coffeemaker in the room. This makes getting to the parks early much easier.
- Until Disney changes their policy, snack credits on the dining plan can be used for just about any food item in the resort gift shops under $4. The nice thing is that you can pick up a package of bagels and a jar of peanut butter for two snack credits and dine quite heartily for breakfast just on the snack credits!
- At the "counter service" restaurants (what Disney calls their "fast food" places) the portions are HUGE! Consider splitting an adult entree between two adults or an adult and a child. If you aren't sure what you'll be getting, scope out what everyone's taking back to their tables.
- EVERYTHING on the counter service menu is available a la carte. Feel free to add or delete individual items like grapes and cookies and french fries so that meals can be spread around your party.
- If you're a light-eating adult, consider the child's menu. Actually, if you're not a light eater... consider it! Sometimes the entrees are identical to the adult ones (like the hot dogs) except they're served in a Mickey-shaped plate. Although their signage says "10 and under," it's never enforced. Hey... you might have kids waiting back at the table!
- If you want to eat at a sit-down restaurant on Disney property, get your "Advance Dining Reservation" called in as soon as you have a reservation. "ADRs" save you money because you've pre-planned your meals and you aren't caught spending money you hadn't planned. You can book 180 days in advance. If you have a Disney resort room reservation, you can book 180 days in advance, plus the number of nights of your reservation. For instance, if you had a ten day vacation that started on June 1, you could book all of your reservations on January 1. Non-resort guests would have to call back each day to make the next day's reservation.