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Almost every year my family packs up and heads to a fun-filled week in Orlando. We have vacationed there when money was tight and also when it seemed like we had a little extra if that's possible. I often hear people say that a trip to Walt Disney World is cost prohibitive and my response is “have you tried?”
It is possible for everyone to experience the magic of Disney with the right planning. I am sharing my top ten tips to make Disney affordable and memorable.
1. When to Start Planning?
Decide when you want to go and start researching. Six months or more is ideal as it allows you to make changes as needed while avoiding fees. Be mindful that during peak times the prices are higher.
2.What to Spend?
Set a Budget. There is that “B” word again. This is the only way to stay on track and avoid vacation remorse. Vacation remorse is when you go on a fabulous trip only to regret it after seeing the final bill. Been there:(
3. Where to Sleep?
Consider value priced hotels. If this is your first trip to Disney, I think it is extremely important to stay on Disney property. Lucky for you Disney has resorts to meet all budgets. Of course, you will lose some of the glam but who cares “It's Disney” and you will still get perks that are only for Disney guest.
4. What's there to do?
Everything! Plan with your budget in mind.
Four major theme parks
Two water parks
5. Maximize your time.
With so much to do, you want to make certain that you don't waste a single minute. This is also where staying on property makes a difference. In addition to free airport transportation via the Magical Express bus, guest are afforded early and extended park hours. Most resorts are accessible via Disney bus or monorail. My kids love the monorail and it made our earlier trips even better. We could jump on it and have the kids ready for a quick nap or sticky wipe down. I also suggest you make a map of everything you want to see and do inside the parks on Disney.com.
6. What to Buy?
Souvenirs- No trip is complete without them. Every kid, even mom, must have at least one pair of personalized Mickey ears. Depending on the kids ages, I would plan for at least one surprise per day. If you surprise them with the trip details, I would use the stickers that Disney usually sends with your bag tags. The magic bands that serves as your room key and park tickets make a great souvenir and you can award them to the kids upon arrival. T-shirts are fun and can be DIY or purchased before arriving. I normally give everyone a souvenir allowance the day of arrival to avoid meltdowns and overspending.
7. What to Eat
No way around this, you gotta eat but Disney offers so many options. When you start to plan early enough, you might find a budget friendly trip that includes meals. Selecting a meal plan is the best way to really plan out your food budget and knowing your family's eating habits makes this even easier. Disney does allow you to bring in some snacks which helps but you can definitely have them in your room. There is constant food throughout the parks with options for everyone. I find that cafeteria and counter style food service is the cheapest.
8. Which Tickets?
You've mapped out all there is to see and do but when do you purchase tickets. Gate prices are always more expensive unless you are a resident of Florida or military family. Be realistic with time before you purchase. While a park hopper sounds great in theory, it is a waste of money if you know your kids will only want to see one park per day or will not have the stamina to park hop. With so much to see for many a park a day is a great option. My family prefers the 5 day park hopper because my son the animal lover wants to go to Animal Kingdom daily and gives mommy and daddy two days to unwind. Depending on how we plan the trip we either buy them when booking the trip, purchase at the hotel or visit our local AAA office. The prices of the parks are increasing so be prepared.
9. What to Drink?
Depending on the time of year, it gets very hot! I highly suggest bringing at least 2 bottles of water per person. Don't use these with your meals but to quench your thirst and avoid dehydration. We always buy two cases from a local market upon arriving to store in the room. Collapsible water bottles are also a great especially the ones that have the clip.
10. Who Can Help?
The hotel concierge and even the staff members at Disney resorts are your friends so utilize them. I generally call while planning our calendar to see what is happening at the hotel. Most of the events are free and usually involve a souvenir of some sort. There are also certified Disney Travel Planners who can help ease some of the stress in playing.