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Friday, January 5, 2018

How to Do Disney "Cheap"

Guide4WDW.com

by: guide4wdw - Collin

Cheap and Disney are honestly two things that don't belong in the same sentence. But, believe it or not, you can book a Disney vacation on a reasonably tight budget. Of course, cheap is subjective and the quality of the experience you get at Walt Disney World is certainly not "cheap" entertainment but quite the opposite. The Disney parks are truly the best in the theme park industry and extremely high quality would be a much better descriptor of the vacation experience in my humble opinion. Fortunately though, it is quite possible to book a vacation without breaking the bank in a major way. 

Today, we're going to take a closer look at that concept as a whole and look at the most cost effective ways you can get to and tour Walt Disney World. Before we get started, there's a few things you'll have to realize when analyzing our breakdown. First, when you go on a tight budget, there will be a certain level of sacrifice. You wont likely be staying at the Deluxe resorts (unless you book with DVC points or with a larger party) and you will typically have to forgo the dining plan in favor of purchasing meals out of pocket. Additionally, there are many ways to do this, and this is simply the best way I have found based on previous experience. Taking all of that into account we'll get right into it! 


Transportation
Transportation costs are a huge factor in booking a vacation anywhere in the country. Unfortunately, travel costs are some of the largest hidden cost of the Disney vacation planning experience. When it comes right down to it, you really have two main options, fly or drive. If you fly, the best option tends to be budget carriers as we mentioned in Finding The Best Flights to Disney World. We've had great luck with Allegiant Airlines in the past. The flight costs tend to be low (just be aware of the baggage fees, arrival at Sanford Airport, etc.) and the planes they typically fly are large, clean, and feature a fairly friendly staff. 

Before you book, be sure to check around and see if other airports in your area offer better prices on any available carriers. For example, here in KY we have 3 airports within a reasonable drive: CVG (Cincinnati), LEX (Lexington), or SDF (Louisville). Inevitably one of the three will offer a better price than the others and it's typically different for each and every date of travel. You may not be able to find the deal of the century but a typical flight can be found at around $125-$180 for a round trip flight for one person with one carry on bag into Sanford Airport just outside of Orlando (prices based on flights in late January so expect a bit higher price point for summer/holiday travel). Unfortunately, you will have to find a transport service or rent a car to get to your Walt Disney World Resort since the Magical Express (Disney's airport transport service) will only pick up at MCO. 

Last but certainly not least, depending on where you live and how lengthy the drive is, you could always make the road trip down. For us, living nearly 14-15 hours away from the parks, it tends to be more economical to fly rather than splitting up the drive and purchasing a hotel for an additional night. Especially considering the lost time which could have been allocated to your vacation.  

Dining
Dining tends to be a fairly touchy subject, but if you avoid the dining plan for reasons stated in our Is The Dining Plan Truly a "Good Deal" From a Cost Perspective? - A Closer Look (despite how convenient the dining plan can be), dining at Disney does not have to be ridiculously expensive. If you're willing to pack granola bars or quick snack style meal items for breakfast on your way to the park and can get by with 2 counter service meals you can do dining each day of your vacation for under $30 per adult per day. Now, to get to that number, you do have to be somewhat conscious of what you're spending but even an excellent meal at Floatworks over at Port Orleans French Quarters will run you around $15 a person at most. Additionally, if you are willing to drink a glass of water (which is entirely free across property) rather than bottled water or a fountain drink, you can save even more money on your overall dining experience. If you plan on going the quick service route to really maximize your savings, here's a few of our top recommendations. If you're willing to stretch your budget ever so slightly more, we came up with 5 Excellent Entrees Under $15 at Walt Disney World. Some of our top picks are counter service, but a few are excellent table service options that wont break the bank. 




Resort Accommodations
As one of the larger and more important expenditures of the experience, resort accommodations can play a key role in your overall costs. Disney offers a huge variety of resorts and a fairly vast variety of price ranges to go along with it. I wont lie to you and say that you can book an incredible deal at a deluxe resort by using a special code, knocking three times at a certain door, or booking at the perfect time precisely 143 days out from your check in date. Honestly, none of those elaborate strategies many sites have claimed to be foolproof over the years ever work

With Disney's resorts remaining filled a vast majority of the year, and technological improvements allowing the company to pin point low crowd times and adjust accordingly to fill rooms and sell tickets, the days of really deep discounts are likely over. Of course, there is a discount out currently for up to 20% off resort accommodations and a free ticketed day which you can find in this article -Disney Discounts Are Here For Spring and Early Summer - Up To 20% - but that is about the best discount we've seen recently and the only discount we'll likely see for spring and early summer bookings.   


While all of that is true, there are a few ways to stay in a budget friendly way. First, be willing to stay in a value tier resort. Pop Century and Art of Animation are excellent resorts that I'd stack up next to any mainstream hotel in the country. They're not going to be the elegance of the grand Floridian or the tropical getaway that is a stay at the Polynesian, but they're excellent resorts nonetheless. 

One last thing to consider in this category is the fact that booking with larger groups can bring down the costs quite a bit if your group is willing to spread out the costs among each member of the traveling party. For example, a 2 bedroom villa at Saratoga Springs may cost $700 a night (which is quite high!), that room will also comfortably hold 7 adults, and even more if you swap out adults for children, etc. If you spread the cost evenly among two families, your price drops to around $350 a night (sometimes less) which isn't entirely terrible for deluxe tier accommodations. As previously mentioned though, if this is out of your price range, you can easily find accommodation for a family of four for under $200 a night on non-discounted rates. 


Consider Buying Through DVC Points
Continuing on in the resort realm, booking with rented DVC points may be a good option if you're looking to book the deluxe tier at a lower price point. You can save quite a bit of money booking through the various DVC points resellers (none of which I am currently affiliated with), but it does come with one major caveat and that is no cancellation. If you book and something happens and you cannot make the dates, you will be charged the full amount of the stay no matter when you cancel. Personally, if I was going to go this route, I would buy travel insurance just in case. It's not the perfect booking arrangement but something you'll certainly want to consider if you want to slide into the deluxe tier without spending a ton of extra money. Additionally if I was considering this booking avenue, I'd book with a travel agent because of the many steps involved and precautions that should be made to avoid any overlooked costs (necessary or unnecessary). If you're interested in that, we recommend Destinations to Travel.       

Buy Tickets at Discounted Rates
While we recently took a closer look at this topic in depth in our 2018 Discount Disney World Tickets article, it is quite possible to buy Disney tickets at more budget friendly prices than what Disney sells them for in packages and in stand alone offers. Personally, we recommend the Official Ticket Center because we can verify the tickets are guaranteed authentic and the business is supporting friends of ours in the industry that truly have a passion for the theme parks and work with Disney first hand. Don't fall into the ticket scams that are found all over the internet for Disney tickets, if it sounds too good to be true, I can 95% guarantee you it is. However, great offers can be had from authorized resellers as mentioned above. Even right now, when you book you get a 5th day free on select tickets. While that seems like a small savings, a one day ticket can cost quite a bit for a family of four or more and the savings start to add up.      



Enjoy the "Free" Entertainment 
Last, but perhaps most importantly, I recommend to every guest looking to save money at Walt Disney World take the time to enjoy what's offered completely free fo charge. Head to Disney Springs for some shopping on a non-ticketed day, go play some miniature golf at Fantasia Gardens (which isn't free but not terribly expensive), grab an ice-cream at the Boardwalk (free parking but not free ice-cream), or simply enjoy the perks of your resort. Every Disney resort has a great pool no matter what tier you're staying in. Additionally, each resort has it's own special touches and places to explore (even if you're not staying at that particular resort - it's free to park at any resort if you're visiting!). Perhaps the greatest example of that is the Carolwood Room at the Wilderness Lodge. All of these are excellent ways to spend a day or a portion of a day while avoiding the costs of an extra ticketed day in the parks. These options may not sound as impressive as a day in the parks, but I can honestly say many of the days I've spent resort hoping or touring Disney Springs have been more memorable than anything else.            


    



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