Sort of sounds like an oxymoron... doesn't it? It's hard to believe that you can make a WDW trip relatively inexpensive for your family but it's totally possible. You have to know what the shortcuts are though.
Years ago my husband and I did the ultimate "no-no." We paid full price for everything. We didn't wait for discounts and we didn't shop around enough. It's no secret that in the past couple of years, Disney seems to be seriously increasing prices but giving guests LESS for what they pay. Of course I don't agree with it but does that mean I'm going to stop going to my favorite vacation destination? Heck no! I simply learn how to cut corners.
Follow these simple rules and you'll be on the fast track to saving tons of dough.
1) BE FLEXIBLE
2) SHOP AROUND
3) GIVE AND TAKE
No, I'm not asking you to take up yoga. I am however suggesting that you take a look at what Disney considers a "value" season. You can get on-property rooms for a much more fair price if you are willing to visit Mickey at a time when not everyone else does. Typically this means any time that is not around a holiday and is often prone to cooler temperatures. A perk to this is that while you are saving money by going on an off season, you'll experience shorter wait times in the more popular attractions.
Understandably, many parents (and teachers) prefer that their children aren't taken out of school for a week. But, come on... I think your 8 year old can learn that 4 x 3 = 12 a week later than the other kids. Plus, you can do some math with them on the plane ride to WDW by showing them how much money you saved by pulling them out of class! It's a win win!
Here is an example of how much money you could be saving by making your travel time flexible. I'm using resorts that I would likely stay with just my husband. So, keep in mind that this is for 2 adults. Room only... not including a discount or resort tax added.
Value Resort - Standard view room at Pop Century
Value Season - As low as $82/night
Peak Season - As high as $149/night
Moderate Resort - Standard view room at Coronado Springs
Value Season - As low as $159/night
Peak/Holiday Season - As high as $244 night
Deluxe Resort - Animal Kingdom Lodge - Savannah View
Value Season - $325/night
Peak/Holiday Season - $550/night
Deluxe Resort - Boardwalk - Boardwalk/Water View
Value Season - $425/night
Peak/Holiday Season - $660/night on New Years Eve
Notice how the amount almost doubles with some of these resorts! By booking your vacation on a value season you are saving a ridiculous amount of money.
Another way to "be flexible" is the actual days of the week that you travel. Now, this is debatable and sometimes doesn't matter but it could pay off and save you a small amount. We try and fly on Tuesdays if we make our vacation a full week. Certain days of the week are more expensive to fly with certain airlines and in specific months of the year even. If you know you want to go in the fall, look and see if there is a difference in flight prices from week to week or month to month.
If you're paying full price for a room, you should be getting a discount on food. If you're paying full price for tickets, you should be getting a discount on a room. Disney is constantly pumping out deals that could suit you and your family. If you can combine rule #1, being flexible, with rule #2, shopping around, then you're setting yourself up for success!
One of the discounts that seem to pop up every year is the infamous "Free Dining" deal. How it works is you pay rack rate for your room and tickets (book a Magic Your Way package) but you get the dining plan for "free." This discount is by far the easiest to be fooled by because it's not suitable for everyone. In general, if you're booking a value or sometimes a moderate then you can benefit from free dining. If you're booking a package with a deluxe resort then I seriously suggest that you book with a "Room Only" discount. A 40% off discount on a $450 a night room is HUGE! You can pay for your dining out of pocket and enjoy your resort savings. For more of the mathematical details on this just check out this article by the amazing TouringPlans.com.
You can also get a slight discount on park tickets if you purchase them from an authorized seller online such as Undercover Tourist. They are real park tickets and you use them just the same as you would if you had purchased them straight through Disney.
GIVE AND TAKE
By this I simply mean that you should sit down with your family and determine what matters most to you in your vacation.
Some families will choose that more days spent in the parks is more important to them than staying in a "nicer" resort. Others will realize that they want to indulge in some of the best Disney dining and they will splurge for the Disney Dining Plan. You have to decide what's best for you and your traveling companions.
I do warn those thinking of using Disney Dining Plan that you may be losing more money in the long run if you aren't maximizing the plan by choosing restaurants that have a higher dollar amount. I have spoken on this before in previous blog entries but I constantly feel that it's necessary to remind people that while the DDP can save you money... it may not be best for your family if you're just looking for burgers and other standard American food. Families staying in a room with a kitchenette could choose to just pack their lunch every day and save some money. Disney allows this and it's a great way to pinch pennies.
Really think about if certain "add-ons" matter enough to you to spend the extra dough. If you think you can handle one park a day then don't bother with the "Park Hopper" add-on. If you're perfectly okay with eating breakfast in the room, packing a lunch, and eating dinner at a counter service restaurant, then I'm positive the Disney Dining Plan doesn't suit you.
In the end, planning ahead and doing your homework for a WDW vacation can be your greatest help in saving money. And let's be honest... who doesn't like saving money?