You may recall that my family recently had the opportunity to attend a special media event at Walt Disney World. It truly was a magical adventure that I'll never forget. Being able to go behind the scenes to learn about Summer Nightastic! at Disney was such an unbelievable experience.
We got to see the Main Street Electrical Parade up close and personal and experience the Summer Nightastic Fireworks Show from a prime spot on Main Street. I can't even tell you how amazing the fireworks display was -- my kids were totally engaged from start to finish, as was I!
Of course the Disney experience can also come with a hefty price tag if you're not prepared, so I spent some time while we were there talking to people in the know on how to make this destination affordable.
Their consensus? It's much harder to save money at Disney after you're already inside those magical gates. However, if you're willing to do a little preparation in advance, you can definitely whittle down your vacation budget to an affordable amount.
:: Saving on Lodging
- Rates are at their lowest between late August heading into November.
- Consider a villa instead of a hotel room if you're interested in staying off site. You'll enjoy significant savings, plus you'll likely have a private pool and kitchen at your disposal.
:: Saving on Transportation and Parking
- Use the free shuttles if you're staying on Disney property. You'll save on gas, as well as the significant parking fees.
:: Saving on Food
- You can often take advantage of a free dining plan in the fall months. Disney has confirmed this offer for the time period of August 15 - December 21, 2010!
- Pack a lunch and carry snacks with you in small coolers. You can rent a locker for $2 (minus the refundable $5 deposit) so you're not lugging them around the park.
- Beverages may end up being one of your largest expenses, especially if you're going during the summertime. Pack refillable bottles to cut this expenditure dramatically.
- Are the kids balking at the fountain water? Carry powdered drink mix packets to add. We're often able to find these free or nearly free anyhow!
:: Saving on Souvenirs
- Purchase Disney-themed trinkets at bargain prices from the Dollar Store and elsewhere to surprise the kids with.
- If you're a first-time visitor, stop by City Hall on Main Street to pick up a free "My First Visit" button.
- Mickey Mouse Ears are a relatively inexpensive souvenir to pick up in the park. Even if you get them monogrammed, you'll only pay $15 or less.
- Avoid the balloons. This was a tough one for us since my two-year-old LOVES balloons, but they're way overpriced, and you're not going to be able to take them home with you.
- Take your own glow necklaces and bracelets. I've found these in the Dollar Spot at Target the past few years around Halloween, so I always stock up to avoid the outrageous price that fairs and amusement parks charge.
- Use the pressed penny machines! For just $0.51 you can get a cool Disney souvenir that you can carry in your wallet. Our family has been collecting these for years from various establishments. It's fun to look back through them and remember all of the fun we've had.
- Pick up an inexpensive autograph book and create your own souvenir with your favorite characters' autographs. Don't forget your camera so you can add a photo later!
:: Miscellaneous Tips
- Buy Disney gift certificates ahead of time at your local grocery store. Not only will you earn additional rewards on your store loyalty card, but it's also a fantastic way to enforce your food and souvenirs budget.
- If you're renting a stroller, pay for the whole week up front to save $3 per day on your rental fees.
- Pack rain ponchos. It pays to be prepared -- a rain poncho will run you $8+ in the parks, or you can pick up enough for the whole family elsewhere for the same price!
- Don't forget extra batteries. A 4-pack of batteries could run you as much at $10 in the parks, and you don't want to be forced to pay that if your camera batteries give out.
Now mind you, I am not a Disney expert. These are just some tips that I picked up on our trip and from talking with others, as well as from some of you wonderful readers. Here are a few more resources that were recommended to me numerous times by others.
:: Resources to Check Out
Above all, have a magical time, and don't be afraid to splurge a little. After all, these are memories that will last a lifetime, and you don't want to have any regrets about missed experiences. Save on the areas that matter less, so you can spend a little more in the areas that do!
How did you enjoy a Disney vacation on a budget? Do you have any fantastic tips or tricks?