Guest Post by Elizabeth Atwood at Rock-A-Bye Parents
For many people a trip to Walt Disney World is a once in a lifetime thing. The problem I often see because of this is that a lot of families want to fit everything into their one trip. This causes vacation burn out and it can lead to a very expensive trip. To keep your sanity and your budget in tact it's important to look at the choices you've made and to decide whether they're worth the time and money.
Are you planning on staying on or off property? Staying off property may seem like a better value, but make sure you look at the hidden costs. How much will you pay to rent a car? How much will it cost you to park at the theme parks? If your hotel offers a free shuttle check to find what times it runs. I've seen shuttles that have 6:00 p.m. as the latest time that they will pick you up at Walt Disney World to get you back to the hotel. The service is nice, but it may not allow you to take full advantage of your time in the parks.
Personally I feel that staying on property is the best way to go. We often drive to Walt Disney World, so we have a car, but when we fly it's so wonderful that Disney will shuttle us to and from the airport for free, and then there's free transportation all around the park. When he have a car my husband always wants to drive everywhere, but I prefer taking Disney's transportation. Why waste our own gas? Plus having Disney shuttle me around makes it feel more like a vacation.
Even if you stay on property it is still good to look at all your options. Growing up one of the reasons we would stay at a Deluxe Resort was the great pools. Now when we would vacation during winter months we knew it would likely be too cold for us to want to swim, so that would play a part in helping us decide what resort to stay at. A lot of people also want to stay at Deluxe Resorts for the use of the monorail. The monorail is awesome, but remember that it only will get you to two parks. Is it worth spending a lot of money to use it? You don't have to stay at a Deluxe Resort to ride it. Right now I have a toddler, so he's very happy just staying at a Value Resort where he can really run around. Someday if we have two kids though you can bet we'll be splurging on the Wilderness Lodge or Animal Kingdom Lodge resorts where they have bunk beds! The important thing is to look at where you're staying and decide whether it's worth the expense or the savings.
There's no denying that Walt Disney World has some amazing restaurants. It's important to pick and choose the ones you visit though both for your timing and your budget. If you choose a lot of full service meals you're going to lose a ton of time and you're really going to notice the cost. Normally we choose only one full service meal a day. The problem with full service meals is that you have to wait to be seated, look over the menu, order, wait for your food, etc. Now the buffets can help speed things up, but I don't need to spend hours of my day in a restaurant no matter how cool that restaurant might be (although there are ones that we always hit).
There are ways to save on full service dining though. You'll find that many of the full service restaurants don't have much of a difference in the fare offered for lunch and dinner. What you will find though is that there often is a big price difference between lunch and dinner. I'm not a huge fan of a big lunch, but we always have a our big meal at lunch time while at Walt Disney World to save money.
If you've been researching your vacation than you likely have heard of Disney's Dining plan. This is where you pay a set amount of money up front and then Disney gives you credits that you use to purchase your food on vacation. Lots of people like to participate in this program, but really look at the Dining Plan before you make a decision. We've used the Dining Plan when Disney offers it free with a resort and ticket purchase (you'll often find this deal for select dates in the fall). I can tell you that we get way more food with the Dining Plan than we would ever buy on our own. We actually save money by not using the Dining Plan. Just make sure you look at it in detail and decide if you'd actually use all that is offered.
With the way Disney's park tickets are currently working you have a lot of different choices. The more days you buy at a time the cheaper the price per day is. There are many add-ons including a Park Hopper option and the Water Parks and More option. These extras can really increase the price of your tickets, so really make sure you're going to fully use them.
When I was a kid we would always buy Park Hopper tickets because it lets you visit more than one theme park a day. With the way the tickets are set up now we never pay for the Park Hopper option because we just can't justify the price. If you only have a little bit of time and want to see all four parks in less than four days it may be worth it then, but other than that I personally would pass.
Now I truly cannot see the use of spending money on the Water Parks and More option. This gives you one pass to your choice of miscellaneous Disney locations per day. Unless you plan to actually take the time to do one of the offered choices every single day (or take a day to do a lot of them) than you are much better off paying for those by themselves. Trust me that your budget will thank you for it.
There is no question that there is a lot to see and do at Walt Disney World. You don't have to do it all though to have an amazing vacation. Take a look at all of your options and decide on what is right for your family and your budget. Happy planning!
Read more from Elizabeth at her blog: Rock-A-Bye Parents