Budget Friendly Monday

Budget Friendly Monday

Travel Packages –

Disney is the king of selling the travel package. It is the easiest thing in the world to go in, select the boxes you want and get an estimated cost of a vacation. They make the process of spending $3,000 on a long weekend effortless. When you are costing out your vacation there are so many options that you may feel like you have to select the package. This may not always be the most economical option. If you are looking to save money there are a few things you need to ask yourself.

Questions:

What type of accommodations are you looking for?

  • Are you willing to stay off property to save some money?
  • Are you willing to stay in a value resort? Or are you looking for high quality resort themes, signature dining on premise and awesome pools?

What type of dining are you looking for?

  • Are you willing to eat off property?
  • Are you willing to brown bag it and/or eat counter service most of the time?

What type of park touring will you be doing?

  • Are you willing to take a day or two off and enjoy other things at Disney?
  • Are you willing to only tour one park a day?

Answers:

What type of accommodations are you looking for?

  • If you are willing to stay off property this will be a huge money saver. But you must also factor in parking, no dining plan option and no Magical Express option.
  • If you are willing to stay at a value resort you can save money, but without the loss of the Disney perks. If you are looking to stay at a Deluxe resort, I highly suggest looking into buying DVC points.

What type of dining are you looking for?

  • If you are staying off property, then eating off property is a good idea. You won’t experience the same atmosphere, but you will save money.
  • If you are willing to brown bag it or eat counter service, you will probably not need the dining plan. The dining plan is an expensive edition if you are not using it correctly.

What type of park touring will you be doing?

  • If you are willing to take a day or two off and enjoy the “free” things at Disney, you can save money and stretch the tickets to include multiple vacations, more on this here.
  • If you are willing to only tour one park a day, this will save you the expensive of a park hopper.
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ADR’s — The Importance of Reservations

ADRs

ADR is a common Disney abbreviation used by the Disney online community. If you have started planning your Disney vacation for the first time and taken a look around the many blogs and forums you will find thousands of acronyms that will leave you scratching your head. All Ears has a great list that you may find helpful.

ADR = Advance Dining Reservations

In my opinion this is an essential part of every Disney vacation. It is not the first step but it is very high on the list, following length of stay selection and which park to visit on each day. Dining selection can actually happen before you even book your room.

We have our length of stay chosen and our Wilderness Lodge reservations are made. On Sunday our group of approximately 14 will be meeting to discuss our park choice and dining plans. One of the most debated topics when planning for a group is always where and what time to eat. My suggestion is to have everyone write down their “wish list” and then go about fulfilling at least one off of everyone’s list. This may sound difficult, but from my experience there will be many repeats. If you are new to the Disney vacation world, read up on the offerings and reviews. If you aren’t planning on buying a park hopper ticket, and even if you are, plan your meals according to which park you are visiting on that particular day.

There are two dates that every Disney vacation planner should abide by. 1st – the day you leave! But a very very close 2nd is at the 180 day mark. This is the day that you can make your ADRs. For us March 11th is the DAY. There are a couple things that dictate what makes this day so important.

  • The time of year. If it is the peak traveling season, ADR’s are going to be important. If you don’t have a reservation you will either not be able to dine at a table service restaurant or the wait time can be excruciating.
  • Is the free dining promotion being offered? If it is, ADR’s will be just as important in October as they would be in July. It is next to impossible to get a last minute reservation during free dining month. 
  • If you are traveling with a large group, making ADR’s on the 180th day out is crucial. Most of the table service restaurants are not set up to accommodate big groups. They will accommodate you, but you will need to work with them on the times you want to eat.
  • If you have a time of day that you would like to eat, then you should not wait to get your reservations set. If you want to eat dinner between 5:30 and 7:00 each night make sure you plan accordingly.
  • Finally, if you have a must have dining experience make sure you are prepared.

There are 2 very easy ways to book your ADR’s.

  • By phone 407-WDW-DINE: This is the old fashion way, and offers a personal touch. You will be able to speak to a human (although you could wait on hold for awhile) and they can help you navigate through the perils of ADRs with a professional touch. If you are booking for a large group (10+) I would suggest calling. They will be able to help book the reservations properly. 
  • disneyworld.com: I had my first ADR online experience last summer when we were planning our October 2012 trip. We had 7 people in our party. It was super easy and gave other time and place options if the one you picked was not available.

I will leave you with my “wish list” for this trip.

  • Cinderella’s Castle: Even though in my opinion is that this is not the best place for princesses my 3 year old already asking to go inside the castle.
  • San Angel Inn: I am obsessed with Mexican food, and I have never been here. If this does not make the cut for your group (as it probably won’t mine), we love the quick service located in the Mexico pavilion.
  • The Garden Grill: It has been years since I have eaten here, and I would like to try it out as a character meal.
  • Kona Cafe: I would love to try out the breakfast here. I have heard wonderful things.
  • Be Our Guest: I have heard mixed reviews, but I would like to eat in the newest Disney edition. My guess is we will probably do so as a quick service at lunch.

What is on your “wish list” for your next vacation?

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Preparedness — What do I Bring?

What to Bring

There are various philosophies when answering this question. And I will tell you right off the bat, mine is probably not the best. When touring the parks, I am a minimalist. I do not like to be encumbered with a crap ton of stuff. My sister-in-law (love her!) is the opposite, she takes the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach. I think it is safe to say that the perfect medium is where to aim. While she is weighed down and encumbered, I am very often wishing I had one thing or another. We can both agree thought that there are certain things that any traveling party should take with them while park touring.

Hydration

No matter how young or old the people in your party are you will need hydration. This is especially true in the hot summer/fall months. I have a strict rule when it comes to DDP snack credits, we do not use them on drinks. There are so many better ways to use these precious credits, I simply refuse to purchase drinks with them. Some ideas to make keeping hydrated easier:

Bring you own!

Bring you own!

  • Bring your own drinks: I bought gallons of water from the grocery store when we got to Florida and use them to make iced tea (with supplies I brought from home). All Disney hotel rooms have mini-refrigerators in them, even the Value Resorts. I would stock up with one bottle per person filled with tea/water and take into the parks with us. You could also bring bottled water and when finished you can refill at a water fountain. **Be wary though, the water tastes terrible.** To combat this we took the packets of flavoring into the parks. It is a small, light weight thing to carry and makes the water taste much better.
  • Take advantage of free refills: There are a select few places in the World that offer beverage stations, making for free refills. Tortuga Tavern in Magic Kingdom, Sunshine Seasons and Electric Umbrella in Epcot, Backlot Express in Hollywood Studios and Restaurantosaurus in Animal Kingdom have this option. I have read that all you have to do is ask and any counter service will provide you with a refill. I have not tried this, but you can bet I will be in September.
  • Use your refillable drink mug smartly: If you are on the dining plan a refillable drink mug is included in the price. Because these mugs are only refillable at your resort, we never take them to the parks with us. I told you I do not like carrying extra things around, and this is one of those things. However, if you are using your dining credit at your hotel counter service be sure to grab a bottled drink. Use your cup to drink while you eat that meal and then you have an extra drink for that night or next day.
  • Club Cool: We make a stop here every time we go to Epcot. Club Cool is sponsored by Coke and allows you to taste all different sodas from around the world. It is a great experience and allows you to hydrate for free!
Club Cool

Club Cool

Medication/Medical Needs

Obviously if you have medication that needs to be taken at certain times of the day, you will need to carry that around with you. But I would suggest condensing as much as possible. I packed one small pack that went into my bag every day. This bag consisted of: Saline drops (I wear contacts), a medicine container (Advil & Excedrin), Children’s Tylenol, and a few Band-Aids.  Each park has a first aid station where you can buy additional medication, rest if you are feeling ill or treated for minor scrapes. Unfortunately, I can say that we have had use for one of these stations and they are stellar. They are trained personnel, who are very helpful and the stations are well stocked with over the counter medication that you may need.

For the Kiddos

When you have little ones, the things you need to pack for a day in the park can be very overwhelming. Again, I choose to believe less is more. Along with the diapers, formula and binkies there are a few things I consider must haves.

  • Change of clothes: You never know when your child will soak through, drop an entire glass of juice down their front, or dive happily into the nearest water fountain. I pack a change of clothes for Livi in a plastic bag, so that it will stay clean and dry in the bag and so that I will have something to put the yucky clothes back into.
  • Wipes: Even if your child is out of the diaper stage, I suggest taking wipes. You never know when hands and noses will need wiped down.
  • Snacks: Above and beyond the snacks you can buy in the parks, I suggest taking snacks for your children. It is much cheaper and when you are waiting in line, waiting for a parade or simply walking to the next ride you will be happy to have them.
  • Autograph book: If it is age appropriate pack your autograph book. This year we got one that has a picture slot next to each autograph. I have inserted a picture of her with each of the characters; she still carries it around as one of her prize possessions.

Technology

There is so much technology that we carry with each of us every day. There will be a million moments that you will want to capture throughout your trip.

  • Cell phone: It seems obvious, but you would be surprised how many people want to disconnect with technology while on vacation. I understand the sentiment, but there are some really good reasons to have it on you while in Disney. You may need to be located by someone else in your party, the parks are very large and it is pretty easy to get separated.  The WDW app is another great tool to have on you: includes show/parade time, maps and other great features.
  • Camera: You will want to make sure you have your camera. If your camera takes batteries pack extra and if it is on a charger make sure you have that in your room as well.
  • Video Camera: If you don’t have a video camera consider purchasing one (we got our recently for under $200). Or ask around and borrow one. There are so many things you will want to capture on film while you are in the parks.

Stroller

This is the most important thing of all for travelers with kids. For any child under the age of 5, my recommendation is to bring your own stroller or rent from a company other then Disney. Disney does offer strollers, however for little ones they are not the most comfortable and do not recline. Even for children 5 & 6 I would suggest renting a stroller. With long hours in the park you and the child will be very happy when they can be pushed at some points.

Sometimes long hours in the park require a couple minutes of being pushed.

Sometimes long hours in the park require a couple minutes of being pushed.

I know this is a lot to take in and looks like you will be carrying around a suitcase full of things. But honestly, I fit it all in a normal sized book bag. Meghann fits hers in a gigantic book bag and purse, but even that isn’t so bad. When you have the stroller you can pack it in there, even if you aren’t a minimalist like me.

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How Long Should We Stay?

Vacation length is determined by many factors. These factors can include vacation time available, budget, reason for visit, time of year and age of people in your party. I don’t believe there is the “perfect” time to visit WDW, but I do believe there is a perfect vacation length and time for each party.

Vacation Time Available & Budget

These two factors may not be one in the same. Disney does offer specials throughout the year and often times it is beneficial to stay longer in order to reap the most savings. If you have the vacation time available to you it is worth checking out all specials when deciding on your length of stay. In October we were originally planning on only staying 5 days. However, with the special it was cheaper to take advantage of their 6 night, 7 day free dining promotion. This meant extra days off of work and school, but we decided it was worth the trade. As with any WDW decision, planning is the key to success. If you can plan ahead and save up your vacation days it can save your budget in the long run.

Reason for Visit

Is it your first time? Are you going for a specific event? The reason for your visit will play a large role in determining your length of stay. If you have never been to Walt Disney World in Florida, I would suggest no shorter than 5 days to visit the parks. This also goes if you are traveling with young children. You are going to move at a slower pace. However, short trips to Disney can be just as fun. There is nothing quite like experiencing a whirlwind Disney trip. A park hopper ticket can be a great way to experience the World in a weekend. I would never suggest this to newbie’s as you will leave unfulfilled and frustrated. But for those of you that know your way around the parks it is a great experience. This year will be a great time to go for a short trip. With Limited Time Magic premiering this year, be sure to check out the schedule and plan accordingly. These special times of the year make a magical place even better.

Time of Year

Crowd levels are synonymous with certain times of the year (i.e. Spring Break, July & August, and Christmas). This will also play a part in your park touring. It will take you much longer to do the same amount in a park during Spring Break then in mid September or early December. Check out the crowd calendars and if you are touring during peak season be sure to set your expectations accordingly.

Age

I touched on their briefly before, the age of the people in your party greatly affects your touring speeds. Thus the younger and older your party is the longer you will need to adequately enjoy the parks. I remember vividly taking many long weekend trips throughout my teenage/college years. With all of my siblings able to make early mornings and late nights, we could see and do everything on our list in 4 days. Now, with children under the age of four, I always budget at least 5 days.

Obviously, there are lots of things to consider when you start planning for a trip. I highly suggest starting your planning process early and start getting a feel for how long you can afford to take and what will be the best fit for your family. If I had to tell you the “perfect” vacation length for me, right now it would be 6 nights/7 days, 6.5 of those days would be spent in the park, and half of a day would be spent at a pool, touring resorts or relaxing.

Animal Kingdom October 2012

Animal Kingdom October 2012

What is the “perfect” vacation length for you family?

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The World of FastPasses

It is highly probable that sometime in the near future this blog post will be a completely mute point because FastPasses are getting ready to change forever. If you have not heard, Disney is in the middle of testing brand new technology for ride “booking”.  It is called FastPass+, and DIS has a great over view of it here, http://www.wdwinfo.com/wdwinfo/fastpass.htm. It sounds like the FastPass system will also stay as is, but it will definitely be affected by the Plus system.

However, there have already been changes when it comes to the FastPass enforcement. I will openly admit, we were “one of those people” who would not come back at the designated time of our FastPass. A couple of our party would traverse the parks at our designated times to pick up FastPasses throughout the day. This allowed the majority of our group to tour the park in a relatively thorough manner. We would then use our FastPass when we came to the ride, as long as it was after the time on our pass.

When we were preparing for our October trip I was researching and found out about the new enforcement of the times. I was saddened but I did not believe it would ultimately affect the way we tour the park. I was WRONG, way wrong! It was difficult to use the FastPasses effectively  First it is hard to get passes for the correct times, times when you aren’t seeing a show or having lunch/dinner with your coveted ADR. Second not only does someone have to traverse the park to get the FastPass but then the entire group has to trek across to the park to go on the ride. I know there are “ways” to do this correctly but it does not always work out perfectly. We had a particularly bad experience in the Magic Kingdom one day while we were there and we ended up giving up on the FastPasses by the middle of the day. Walking us and 3 kids back and forth across the park just wasn’t worth it.

We waited in the Pooh line, because we were tired of walking back and forth….and it is interactive so the kids were kept busy for the 25 minute wait.

I say all of this to get to the point that I am actually ready for the FastPass+ to be released. Originally I was not a fan and I even told me brother I wouldn’t use the service because it takes the fun out of touring the parks. But after using the FastPasses the way they were designed I realize that this is really a flawed system and makes the parks much harder to navigate. I will book my FastPass+ times 180 days out, just like I book my ADRs. And I will plan on which part of the park to be in based around those times. It does seem a little too well thought out (even for a spreadsheet maniac like myself). But if it saves me from walking back and forth from Frontierland to Tomorrowland to Fantasyland and back then I am in.

What are your thoughts on FastPasses? Do you use them now? Do they confuse you? Will you use the FastPass+?