Theme parks are expensive places to visit. Prices are sky high on everything from admission tickets to souvenirs and even food and beverages. Disney is certainly not alone, as its prices are carefully monitored to remain in line with those of SeaWorld, Universal and other market competitors. Rather than competition driving down prices across the board, as happens in many industries, the parks are aware that guests will visit no matter what the price, so instead the competitors strive to keep prices roughly equal across the industry.
How, then, can those on a budget fight back? Is it realistic to plan a Walt Disney World vacation if you are not independently wealthy? Is a second mortgage on the house necessary if you have multiple children?
Fortunately, a Walt Disney World vacation does not have to be the staggeringly expensive purchase that it may seem at the outset. A myriad of money saving tips exist that will help keep you on budget. It is important to go through the tips before you go and decide which ones best fit your lifestyle and can be incorporated without you feeling that your vacation is lacking. A tip that might work perfectly for one family could leave another family feeling deprived of an important part of their vacation. Know yourself and what is important to you, and never make yourself miserable just to save a few bucks. You will be much more likely to stick to your budget if you feel that you are getting what you want from the vacation.
With the above in mind, presented here are this author’s tips and suggestions for saving money at Walt Disney World. Again, select only those items that fit well into your lifestyle.
1. Utilize local grocery stores. Most items sold on Walt Disney World property carry a greatly inflated price tag. The shopping center directly across from Downtown Disney, called Crossroads, is also quite expensive. Find out where the locals shop and go there instead.
2. Carry a backpack containing snacks and drinks into the parks with you. Although large coolers are not permitted, in recent years Disney has relaxed its ban on outside food and drinks. Some people carry in all of their food for the day, but most simply carry snack foods and beverages. Bringing in alcohol is not allowed.
3. Do not be afraid to eat off property. Orlando has a wide selection of restaurants in every price range and many are quite good. If you have a car, make your way off of the tourist strips out into the neighborhoods to eat with the locals. Even without a car, you can easily get to the vast array of fast food chains and midrange table service restaurants located in the Crossroads area across the street from Downtown Disney.
4. Eat only one big meal during the day. The all you can eat buffets, though pricey, are an excellent value for those with large appetites. Alternatively, try a family style restaurant or even a regular table service place. Lunch prices are generally in effect until 4 pm and offer a significant savings over dinner prices. The rest of the day, eat snacks that you brought in or indulge in a decadent pastry or ice cream concoction.
5. Portions are huge, whether fast food or five star dining. There is no extra charge for sharing, and you will often be brought an extra plate and perhaps an extra salad or side item as well. If two people in your party have small to medium sized appetites, sharing is definitely the way to go.
6. Eat kids’ meals. You will have to look around a bit to find things you like, as some restaurants stock standard kids’ meals of peanut butter and jelly or chicken fingers. At some restaurants, however, the kids’ meals are just smaller sized adult meals. These meals are perfect for adults with smaller appetites, and often include a dessert item in the price.
7. Souvenirs can eat up a significant portion of your trip budget. Make a pact with the family before you leave that you will buy souvenirs only on specifically designated shopping days. This will curb impulse buys and allow you to decide what you truly want. Be sure to visit the and under store at Downtown Disney as part of your shopping. This is a great place to pick up smaller fun items.
8. Pack appropriately. The theme parks make a fortune on changing weather conditions, selling logo ponchos, sweatshirts, flip flops, towels and even blankets to tourists who did not plan ahead. If you purchase clothing items at Walt Disney World, it should be by choice, not because you’re suddenly freezing. Always dress in layers and carry a towel and change of clothes for water rides. Bring a poncho every day. It’s Central Florida and rain is always a threat. Also bring in your own autograph book and pen, as well as extra camera batteries. Planning ahead for the small essentials can save significant amounts of money.
9. Visit the World of Disney before making final souvenir purchase decisions. The store is gargantuan and carries more merchandise than you can imagine, in every conceivable price range. Warning: Set a budget before going inside. It would be quite easy to break the bank in a store this big.
10. Think outside the box. A great meal can be made from appetizer sized portions at the various snack stands. A walk around Epcot’s World Showcase is chock full of sampling opportunities, while the Baked Potato cart in Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Square provides a filling meal on its own. Do not become a slave to the idea of three meals a day, when nibbling throughout the day works just as well.
Remember that this is your vacation, and you do not want to nickel and dime yourself into misery. Utilize budgeting tips as they realistically fit into your trip plans, but give yourself permission to splurge now and then. Just limit your splurges to the things that really matter to you.