We love Disney. LOVE DISNEY. I truly believe its magical, despite being a complete and total adult now. Unfortunately, unless one has a fairy godmother, it can pretty expensive. There are fabulous deals – don’t get me wrong – but there’s not much you can do about things like airfare, hotels or ticket prices. We love to travel, so instead of going all out on just one trip, we’d rather save where we can so we can do more or stay longer. There are expenses you can trim while not cutting back your kids magical vacation experience one bit.
First off, do your homework. I used to just assume that all Disney hotels were expensive. But when they are running special deals – like free meal plans – you might just end up saving money by staying at one! Check around, call a travel agent and check the specials on the Disney website. You’d be surprised how affordable it can be when they have sales going on!
Negotiable Expense #1 – FOOD
- When staying off-site, find a hotel with free breakfast. Having to buy one less meal a day adds up quickly, especially for a family. And read the reviews to make sure your hotel’s ‘free breakfast’ is more than a stale loaf of bread and a toaster in the lobby.
- Try to buy just one meal a day. For us, this meant stopping at a convenience store when we arrived and buying supplies to make PB&J for lunch. Then had a nice dinner every night. You can adapt this for your family: maybe at a big meal at around 3pm, when the restaurants are empty and everyone is ready for a little break, or eating a huge lunch and a light dinner. The restaurant choices are SOO amazing at Disney – I’d rather have one amazing meal than three quick service ones!
- Bring your own stash of snacks. My suitcase is filled with things like granola bars, raisins, fruit snacks (all Disney themed, of course!) and crackers. Pick up a few of your kids favorite treats to have on hand for a diversion or a reward for waiting in that extra long line quietly. Bring along single serve flavor packets to add to water bottles that you can refill at the drinking fountains. All those snacks can really add up over several days.
- The exception to the cheap rule: Character Dining is totally worth it with young kids. I know it doesn’t seem budget savvy to pay $100 for a meal your kids probably won’t even eat. But trust me… after you’ve been waiting in a line for two hours to see princesses again, you will be kicking yourself for not just going to the Princess Lunch, seeing all the princesses they want and getting it over with!
Negotiable Expense #2 – Treats/Toys/Souvenirs
- Bring your own princess dress. In the park, princess dresses cost around $60. Pop on over to Target or the Disney Store and buy on ahead of time for less than half that price. The same goes for crowns, magic wands, pirate hats, tattoos, face glitter, etc. You can do your own magical makeover in the hotel before you get to the park – your little princess will feel just as special!
- Go shopping before you leave without the kids. Hit the Disney Store, Target and even the Dollar Store. Pick up little Disney treats to surprise your kids every day – they won’t know you brought them from home. Plan ahead and snag stuff around the holidays – small stocking stuffer gifts are perfect. Little play cell phones are perfect while waiting in line, fun flashlights and glow necklaces make after dark special, and a Mickey lollipop makes a long line go much faster. The Disney Store has some of the same merchandise sold in the park: check out the online Disney Outlet for deals. (Right now, they have kids t-shirts 2 for $8. Wouldn’t it be fun to surprise them with that one morning when they’re getting dressed?)
- Keep it memorable: A small Disney notebook is perfect for collecting character autographs. And how much more memorable will that be than a toy they’ll be tired of? Or get something personalized, like mouse ears that they can treasure forever.
Negotiable Expense #3 – Where to stay/Where to book
- Shop around: While ticket prices and hotels are pretty much the same wherever you go these days, be sure to shop around. Expedia sells Disney vacation packages – even sites like Last Minute Travel have potential deals to snag. But again, don’t leave the official Disney Parks site out of your planning. They not only run special deals, but when you book through Disney, you can get some pretty cool perks.
- Think it through: Hotel rooms may be cheaper when you stay further away from the parks. But is it really? Will you then have to rent a car and pay for parking both at the hotel and at the parks? Once you add those expenses in, you may not really be saving any money. Check out prices for a shuttle – you may not need to rent a car at all!
Now I confess: we didn’t follow all these suggestions every time we go to Disney and we probably won’t next time either. Its a vacation! Have some fun! These are just some ideas to help you stretch your fun budget a little!