Hey all, today I am featuring my friend Karolyn as a guest writer on the blog. Karolyn has vacationed at numerous Disney locations over a dozen times! And she has written a wonderful two part article for the blog on how her and her family save big money (literally thousands!) on vacationing to Disney both throughout the year and also on the actual trip expenses. You can learn more about Karolyn at the bottom of this post, but for now… enjoy her amazing tips on SAVING $$$$ AT DISNEY!
Planning a trip to Disney World can be quite challenging – and sometimes confusing. There are so many sites offering various tips, tricks, and discounts. I’m sure most of us still end up scratching our heads while we wonder which ones are being truthful and which ones really work.
Well, in this post, I’m going to tell you what I’ve done and what has worked for me. This is how my family and I save thousands of dollars every time we visit Disney World. I’ll be honest, it takes some work and quite a bit of planning, but when you see how much you can save it’ll be worth it.
Before we get started I’d like to take a moment to say how difficult it is to put some of these suggestions into writing. So I would like to apologize ahead of time if this is a bit confusing. I’ll do my best to illustrate this post with hyperlinks and images along the way. In the long run, I’m hoping that my suggestions will at least point you in the right direction so you can save some significant money on your next Disney vacation. These are all suggestions, so please feel free to use whichever suggestions YOU feel most comfortable with.
NOTE: PRICES AS DISPLAYED IN THE TUTORIAL OF THIS POST ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE!!
SAVING MONEY ON DISNEY HOTELS – STAYING ON ACTUAL DISNEY PROPERTY & SAVING MONEY
Now, I’m going to start with one of the BEST tricks my husband and I have ever learned: Disney Vacation Club (DVC). Nope, we’re not members. Instead, we “rent” DVC points from existing members – we “rent” points because we’re not actually purchasing a DVC membership from anyone. This is one of those things that can be a little tricky to explain, so I’ll do my best and include images along the way. We’re about to do a lot of math, so keep a calculator and some scratch paper handy.
Let’s start by exploring what it will cost for a family of four to stay at the Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge for one week over the summer in 2016. I’m going to pick a random date and look into getting a room for two adults and two children. Here we go…
I’ve stayed here before and have gotten the Savanna View, so I’ll select it again. It’s a wonderful feature for children (and adults) – if it’s in your budget. I’m also going to skip getting park tickets since I have some other suggestions for later.
Okay… here is the total cost for two adults and two children to stay at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, in a Savanna Room, Sunday, June 19 – Saturday, June 25, 2016 (6 nights)… $3,480.78! Yep, that’s just the room. We haven’t added park tickets, food, airfare, car rental, souvenirs, etc.!
Now, let’s try DVC Rentals. There is a super easy way to do this – and this is also helpful if you’re planning a last minute trip. Let’s start by going to David’s Vacation Club Rentals.
DVC does not include every hotel on Disney property, but there are a lot to choose from. This is how it works…
First, go to Reservation Form and select your date and your top hotel choices. It’s recommended that you pick more than one hotel, because reservations depend on which DVC rooms are available. There is no guarantee that your first choice will be available, so try to stay open-minded and flexible. You will be contacted if none of your choices are available – which is when you’ll be given suggestions for what is available.
Next, scroll down and select “Start Reservation Process Booking Form.”
I’m going to select the exact same information that I put in at the official Animal Kingdom Lodge website. That way we can compare prices.
There’s our total! $1,638! That’s a savings of $1,842.78. Impressive, huh? That type of savings alone can help cover the cost of your park tickets – and then some. I also have some savings tips for park tickets, but we will get to that later.
NOTE: If you are interacting with this site (or any other site) while you’re reading this blog post, do not proceed with any purchases unless you are actually ready. Stop especially if you’re ever asked for credit card information. We don’t want any unplanned purchases. We are just previewing potential purchases, not actually making reservations!
Now, before you go and race to this website to book your next Disney vacation, I want you to know the difference between staying at a Disney hotel as a non-DVC guest, directly through Disney, and staying via at a Disney hotel with someone else’s DVC points.
First of all, the rooms are slightly different. All studio DVC rooms come with a king/queen bed and a sofa bed – with the exception of Old Key West, which features two queen-size beds and no sofa bed. Standard DVC rooms have some small kitchen features (small fridge, microwave, dishes, etc.) and no daily maid service. It’s up to you to weigh the pros and cons and decide what works best for you and your family. You may love the idea of having a little kitchen space, but hate the idea of having a sofa bed. Do a little research to see if you and your family will be comfortable in a DVC room verses a regular Disney hotel room – there are lots of wonderful fan-made YouTube videos that will give you tours of DVC hotels and rooms. Many hotels are updating, so keep checking up on official Disney sites to get the latest information.
Now, let’s assume you decide to stay in a DVC room. There is a possibility that you can get the exact same room and the exact same dates for even less. Yes, even less than David’s website! This is going to require more work on your part, but if you’re up for the challenge, let’s get to it.
If you go to disboards.com, you can find DVC members who are personally selling their points. David’s DVC Rentals buys their points from members and sells them to you for $14-$16/point, depending on where you’re staying – I’ll explain the point system in a moment. If you ask around you might find someone who is willing to sell you their points for less. Again, it’s a good idea to have a couple of hotel choices, because availability will vary.
How do you calculate DVC points? Grab that calculator and I will show you.
First, look up a current DVC Points Chart.
Then, select your hotel (once again, I will stick with my previous selection).
Now you can see that points vary in many different ways – not just room type. You must also consider which day(s) of the week you will be staying there (Friday and Saturday nights require more points) and when you plan on going (Adventure Season, Choice Season, etc.). My travel dates are June 19 – June 25 (Magic Season), 2016. According to this point chart, to get a Savanna room for those dates I’ll need 117 points. David is willing to book my room at $14/point and it will cost me $1,638 to book through David’s site. Let’s see how much I can save if someone is willing to sell me their points for less.
$13/point = $1,521
$12/point = $1,404
$11/point = $1,287
$10/point = $1,170
You get the idea.
Now, you may be asking, why are people selling their points? DVC points expire, so if members aren’t going to be able to use them in time, they sell them to help cover the cost of being an official DVC member. If you’re lucky, you might find someone whose points are on the verge of expiring and they’re willing to sell them to you for $11/point. The trick is to be active on the disboards.com website to keep an eye out for those type of deals. Should you choose to go with someone you’ve contacted via disboards.com, well, it’s up to you to discuss the details regarding your reservations – everything will be done in your name with your credit card information. This website is monitored, but please proceed with caution! Again, I want you to do what YOU feel comfortable with.
Shopping for points can be more difficult and require more of your spare time for research, but it’s up to you. Again, whatever works best for you and your family – and what you’re comfortable with. David’s DVC Rentals is a great way to book a reservation without having to worry who is taking care of the reservation. We’ve done it both ways and have had positive experiences every time. This is completely a personal preference, so do what YOU think is best.
Now, if you decide to go with David’s Vacation Club Rentals, you can also use their Cost Calculator to view the cost for ALL hotels (including various room types) at once to see which Disney hotel works best for you and your budget. Once again, I will search the exact same dates.
Looking at this chart I can see that my cheapest (Florida) options are…
1st – Animal Kingdom (Value, Studio) for $1,120
2nd – Boardwalk Villas (Standard, Studio) & Old Key West (Studio) for $1,246
3rd – Animal Kingdom (Standard, Studio) for $1,372
how to save on DISNEY PARK TICKETS & PARK HOPPERS
Now that you’ve got your hotel reservations made, let’s talk park tickets. I’m not going to get into the new wristbands – that’s a whole separate topic. Right now I’m just going to talk about buying park tickets and how you can save money.
NOTE: Disney JUST updated their ticket options and prices. I have adjusted this blog post to reflect their updates, but I apologize if anything got missed in the progress.
When buying directly through Disney, it’s always recommended that you purchase them in advance to save a couple of bucks. Disney also offers military and Florida resident discounts, so if that applies to you, please look into it – I think those are the best discounts out there.
Since there are so many combinations for park tickets (park hopper option vs. no park hopper option) (water park(s) vs. no water park(s)), I’m just going to pick ONE option to use as an example. So, in this scenario, I’m going to pretend to buy two adult and two child 4-day park hopper tickets.
My total is $1,635.84 for my 4-day park hopper tickets.
I have read that there are three authorized Disney park ticket sellers: The Official Ticket Center, Undercover Tourist, and Park Savers. We have only purchased through Undercover Tourist before, but we have NOT purchased through The Official Ticket Center and Park Savers. Anyway… according to each of their websites, this is what it will cost to purchase the same tickets through each of them.
NOTE: Like I mentioned above, Disney JUST updated their park ticket prices and options, so these discount sites are sure to adjust their prices as well. ACT FAST while savings are significant!
The Official Ticket Center = $1,494 (Savings of $141.84)
Undercover Tourist = $1,489.80 (Savings of $146.04)
Park Savers = $1,441.32 (Savings of $194.52)
Some ticket options even claim to include extra days for free! Still, you do the math and decide which option works best for you and your family.
IMPORTANT! I do NOT recommend buying park tickets off of Craigslist, Ebay, or any other site where there is no guarantee for what you are actually buying. Once a Disney park ticket is used, the user connects that ticket to his/her fingerprint. They also expire 14 days after their first use. This is all to prevent folks from transferring tickets from one user to another. Please stay safe and purchase a NEW ticket from an authorized seller. Also, don’t buy tickets with more days then you plan to use, you won’t be able to sell the remaining days for the reasons I stated above.
how to save on the DISNEY DINING PLAN
Eating at the parks can be a costly expense. However, Disney will let you bring in your own food and snacks! Plus, you can get free water at any restaurant. One year we packed a bunch of instant lemonade packets and added them to our free waters. So feel free to get creative and pack your own treats to save some money. Also, if you’re visiting EPCOT, Coca-Cola has a shop where you can sample Coke beverages from around the world.
If you’re really set on dining at Disney, I highly recommend purchasing the Disney Dining Plan. Sure, it can be pretty pricey, but if you’re on the Disney Dining Plan you won’t have to worry about the cost. So if you usually pick the cheapest meal, go nuts and pick the most expensive option – it doesn’t matter! The first year my husband and I did this, we saved our receipts and compared prices at the end – to see if we really saved money. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but if we spent the money on our meals out-of-pocket, we would have spent $100+ more on our food – for just the two of us. The dining plan is a great option if you want to eat at Disney, but want to save as well.
The dining plan has different price options (which determine how many snack, quick-service, and table service meal) credits you get. You can include the dining plan when staying directly through Disney or DVC – just be sure to mention it however/whenever you book your hotel reservation. It needs to be added before you begin your Disney vacation.
This is a complicated topic, so I’m not going to dive into any further details at this time. Right now I’m simply recommending the Disney Dining Plan as a way to save money if you want to eat at Disney restaurants.
Transportation at Disney is FANTASTIC! If you don’t have plans to travel anywhere, except various places on Disney property, I highly recommend using their buses – it’s completely free! Plus, if you’re flying to Orlando and you have a DVC reservation, you can have your checked luggage picked up by a Disney cast member – you’ll have to mark your luggage with official Disney tags, including a code that will link your luggage to your Disney reservation. We love this feature because we can hop off our flight and walk straight to the Disney buses to go to our hotel. Then, while we’re enjoying Disney Springs or swimming at the pool, our luggage will magically appear in our room later that day – you don’t even have to be in the room.
You and your family can use Disney transportation to get to Disney Springs, Disney Parks, and other Disney hotels. The buses are clearly marked and run often, so you’re usually not waiting too long for a bus. Oh, and don’t forget that there are also ferry boats and Disney’s monorail! The monorail is a fun way to travel to select hotels as well as The Magic Kingdom and EPCOT. Not having to pay for a rental car can be a significant money saver.
Once you arrive at your Disney hotel, be sure to ask about their free buttons. If you’re celebrating a special occasion at Disney you can get buttons for your whole family. There are buttons to celebrate an engagement, honeymoon, anniversary, birthday, first visit… and, again, they’re all free. Get one for each occasion that you’re celebrating. Wear these buttons in plain sight and you might get a surprise magical treat from a Disney cast member. In the past we have gotten free desserts, fast passes, and got to ride in the front car of the monorail (but I don’t think they permit that anymore). Also, when I’ve been at Disney to celebrate my birthday, I loved having lots of Disney cast members and fellow guests wish me a happy birthday (even by name!) – I felt extra special. If anything, you’ll come home with a special souvenir from your trip.
WRAPPING UP PART 1
I hope this information has given you lots to think about. Once again, I know that planning a Disney vacation can be expensive, but with some research and careful planning, you can visit Disney for a fraction of the cost.
And good news! I have even more tips and tricks for saving money on your next Disney vacation. You can check out Part 2 HERE!
Karolyn has vacationed at Disney over a dozen times and loves trying to find creative ways to save. When she’s not busy planning her family’s next Disney vacation, she enjoys photography, movies, writing, and quality time with family and friends — including their rescued Chihuahua pup.
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