Money Saving and Shopping Tips
Every little bit helps: Not everyone is like Scrooge McDuck with bags of coins in his money bin. Still, you want to give your children the best memory filled vacation ever. To do that they will need souvenirs, T-shirts, mouse ears and so on. Some of these tips will save you a lot. Truthfully though, most will save a few dollars. However, five dollars here and ten dollars there add up. It can be surprising how much that adds up. *** IMPORTANT*** Every little bit helps.
Travel Off Season: When is off season? It’s probably easier to say when the peak season is. Any time school is out can be considered the peak, crowded, expensive season at Disney. That’s pretty much it. We traveled to Disneyland once just prior to Thanksgiving. I thought most people would wait for the Thanksgiving weekend to travel so the days just before should have fewer people at the park. The Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday right before Thanksgiving was the least crowded I have ever seen it. Disneyland almost seemed deserted. Thanksgiving day saw huge crowds which lasted the rest of the weekend.
There are lots of reasons to travel off season. One of the big reasons we do is to avoid the crowds. By traveling during the off season we have been able to walk onto rides. What may have 45 minute, or longer, wait times during the peak seasons, often have no lines during off season.
Another reason to travel off season is that you can save hundreds of dollars by traveling off season. You will find the biggest saving in air travel and hotels. We once stayed in a popular hotel across the street from Disneyland’s main gate for $69 per night. Out of curiosity I checked the price during the spring break season and about fell over when I saw the same room going for $350. As I recall, our airline tickets were about $200 less for each than during spring break.
Buy before leaving home: Trading pins, mouse ears, Disney T-shirts, Disney fanny packs can all be bought before leaving home. You can make it special for the kids to find something new each day on their pillows. You can buy several trading pins with a lanyard from eBay for as low as $5, although averaging around $17 for a lot of 5 or 10 pins with lanyard, while buying one at Disney will cost you at least $15 for one pin not including the lanyard. If your kids wear their lanyard with their pins they can trade them with cast members.
Mouse Ears: Everyone has to get Mickey or Minnie Mouse Ears at least once in their life. These days, mouse ears come in all kinds of different styles, from glittery to neon colors which light up for using at night. Buying mouse ears at the park will give you the most variety – there are shelf after shelf of them – but, if you spend a little time on the Internet you can find a good variety, just not as much variety as shopping the Disney Store.
Mouse ears at Disney start at around $10 a pair and go up to $45 or more. You can shop at a party store near you and get some for around $6 or $7. However, except for the original beanie style ears, higher price often means better quality. Although it cost a bit more, on our last trip we waited until we got to the park to buy ears for our little ones. They had fun picking out their own.
Princess Dress: If your little princess is going to need a princess dress, buy one at Walmart or online before leaving. They cost at least triple at Disney and, for the most part, there is little difference. I have seen princess dresses at Disney for $350. Yikes!!! The lowest prices I have seen at Disney were about $35. I do encourage you to check the Disney Store and compare. The Disney Store offers complete costumes which I haven’t seen elsewhere.
If your little princess is getting a princess makeover at Bibidi Bobidi Boutique, she WILL need to dress as her favorite princess. Once you get to Disney and she sees a lot of other little girls wearing them, she won’t be happy until she has one too.
Disney Credit Card: The advertisement says that once you spend $500 in purchases during the first three months from account opening, you get a $200 statement credit. There are discounts on merchandise when shopping at the parks or Disney Store and dining at the parks and elsewhere. Several other perks are also included so you really need to look it up yourself making sure to read all the rules.
Stay On Site: Wait a minute, isn’t staying On Site at Disney exorbitantly expensive? Yes, at Disneyland, California. If your destination is Walt Disney World in Florida, off season at one of Disney’s Value Resort hotels can be very close to what you would pay at one of the surrounding hotels. Once you add in all the extras that come with staying on site at a Disney Resort hotel you can come out ahead. Plus, it’s always nice to stay in the Disney bubble if you can.
After dark, you will see lots of glow sticks in various shapes and sizes. Definitely buy a bunch before leaving. See if you can get the kind that goes around your neck. If you don’t, be prepared to fork out a large sum buying them in the park. I have to admit, the light up Mickey Mouse ears are pretty awesome.
Autograph Books: These are running around $13 to $20 and more in the parks. This is a good item to buy beforehand. Some on EBay are as low as $.99 whereas most run around $6 to $14 with some a bit more. Either way, your kids need to have one for meeting Disney Characters. Your kids will have fun collecting character autographs. Plus, it’s fun looking through them several months, or even years, later and seeing Mickey’s autograph or Goofy. Chip and Dale both have special unique autographs.
Bring your own Food: As stated in other places, make sure to bring your own snacks at least. The more of your own food you bring the more you will save. Food at Disney is quite expensive. We bring snacks such as granola bars, cheese and crackers, string cheese and the makings for flavored water drinks. I like to use Emergen-C which has different flavors, vitamin C, and electrolytes which can make a big difference in hot summer weather. For breakfast, we take Danish Pastries and Bear Claws along with single serve cereal boxes and powdered milk.
Do Not Buy Park Hopper Tickets: We have found that park hopper tickets are really not necessary at Disneyland, California. On the other hand I wouldn’t do Walt Disney World without it. However, as nice as it is to have that option, a family of four saves $200 by not choosing that option.
Save on Meals: The time of day when you eat your meals can make a huge difference in cost, or cost savings. Of course the least expensive meal of the day is breakfast although we always splurge once every trip on a character meal which was $35 per person on our last trip. If you are staying at a non-resort hotel, make sure to get one that serves free breakfast. They advertise continental breakfast but the average has waffles, toast, eggs, fruit, potatoes, cereal, juice, coffee, and milk or something very similar. Load up on your breakfast and then you can snack through most of the day. Lunch is always less expensive than dinner so it’s a good idea to have a good lunch as late in the afternoon as they still have lunch prices, usually between 2 and 4 o’clock. Again you can then snack through dinner time and have much shorter lines for your favorite rides.
Spending Money: Each child should have an amount of spending money. I read a wonderful idea recently about having them earn their Disney Bucks before going which we put into practice on our last trip. You can have chores, behavior goals, or other things where they earn their own Disney Bucks. Then you make sure they fully understand that is the amount they have to spend. Once it’s spent there is no more. One way we used this was they would each get a Disney Buck if they had a day when they didn’t fight while riding in the car. You can have fun thinking up creative ways for your kids to earn.
Refillable Mugs: If you are staying at one of the Disney Resort Hotels and like to drink coffee, tea, or soda, you can buy a Disney Resort Refillable Mug that you can use for your entire stay. The cost is 18.99 and you can then refill it as much as you like at no further expense. Current rules state the refillable mugs can only be used at Disney Resort Hotels only and not in the parks. Make sure to check before you buy though. Disney is always changing things so the way they do something this month may be very different next month. Still, it’s a great way to save as drink costs can add up.
Souvenir Shopping: Souvenir shopping is really unavoidable. I usually like to buy myself something small to remind me of our trip. Before you ever get to Disney, your children have probably heard 50 times already that they can’t buy anything the first two days. You can encourage them to be on the lookout for what they want. (Yeah, right. Much easier said than done, and I hate to say it, but it absolutely did not work with our little ones during our last trip.) This gives everyone a chance to look around at ALL the stuff that is calling your name to buy.
By the time you have been there a couple of days you have an idea of what you really want. This will save you money and you will probably be happier with your purchase. We usually get ours when we are headed back to our hotel for the evening. Of course there are always exceptions.
Shopping Disney: Even though I can probably save money looking on EBay or Walmart, we do a lot of shopping directly from Disney. From boys and girls pajamas to underwear, to small Disney character figures to use on birthday cakes, and much more. Generally I have found the quality to be excellent. As I have stated before, buying items before your trip and then surprising your kids with something new on their pillow each day can be fun and you save in the process. Believe it or not, I have bought things from the Disney Store online for less than the same item costs at the parks.
Disney Tickets: More Days Cost Less
Before you lay your money down and actually purchase your tickets, you need to know, not only how many days, but what kind of tickets you are going to buy. There are basically two types of tickets. There is the one day one park ticket which allows you to enter whichever park you are buying the ticket for but you cannot enter any other park. The other type of ticket is the Park Hopper Pass which allows you to hop from one park to another as many times as you want for the number of days you bought your ticket for.
Now, let’s look at ticket prices for Disney, California where there are two parks: Disneyland, which is comparable to Magic Kingdom in Florida, and California Adventures. You can buy a one day one park ticket for either park, or you can buy a Park Hopper ticket which allows you to hop between both.
One Park: Day 1: $117.00 Day 2: $210.00 Day 3: $280.00 Day 4: $305.00 Day 5: $320.00
Park Hopper: Day 1: $167.00 Day 2: $260.00 Day 3: $320.00 Day 4: $355.00 Day 5: $370.00
On a recent trip to Disneyland we had planned to buy tickets for four days. When we looked at the actual cost of four days and then five days, for only an additional $15 we added day five. That turned out to be the day we checked out but we made our flight reservations for evening which gave us close to a whole day at the parks. The price break, to have an accumulative effect on your total cost, really starts on day four.
A park hopper pass is an extra $50 per person. That stays the same.
Walt Disney World in Florida is very similar although the ticket prices are a bit different. Park Hopper tickets are a $65 add on for one or two days but go up to $75 per day from three days on. There is also the consideration of adding access to the water parks with another add on.
When you start to set up you Disney Budget you can run the numbers and see what works for your family. For Disneyland California we found the park hopper wasn’t really necessary as we spent our days in only one park each day. For Walt Disney World in Florida, I would not even consider not having park hopper tickets.
Air Transportation is one area where you can save big!
Which airline should we take? Which airport do we fly into? How far in advance should we get our tickets? Most Importantly, What will it cost so we can add it into our budget? Can we save money with this?
If you are going to Disneyland, California, you will want to fly into John Wayne Airport in Orange County. You can still get there by landing at Los Angeles or Long Beach but, unless you have a specific reason to go to either of those two airports, I wouldn’t suggest it.
When you land at Orange County, it only takes about 30 minutes to get you to your hotel. If you are staying at a Disney Resort Hotel, you will catch the big Disney Bus. You can’t miss it as it is the only one with huge Disney pictures on the side. Make sure to have your bus voucher handy and know were you get you bus.
If you are staying off property, property that is not in one of the Disney Resort Hotels, you will want to have a prearranged bus/limo set up. Cost is about $15 to $20 per person each way. Research it on the Internet as there are several companies that provide that service. All are equally good, just the prices differ.
Which airline? The way I would tackle that one is to start looking at Expedia (Click here for Expedia.)and Orbiz (Click here for Orbitz.) Spend a few days playing with times and dates to get a good idea of what your costs will be. Orbitz, Expedia, and Travelocity are online travel sites where you can book all your reservations whether it is transportation only or a complete vacation package.
The farther out you make your flight reservations the less it will cost you. If you make your reservations six or more months out, check back regularly as airlines often change their flights with different times and different numbers. The biggest dates to worry about are 30 days prior to departure. After that prices quickly go up. At one week before you leave ticket cost go way up. You also have to take into account that the farther out you buy tickets the better your chances of getting the flights you want. 30 days out, if you are traveling during spring break or Christmas you may not get anything.
Frequent Flyer Miles: Many frequent flyer programs allow you to give miles to another person. By combining all our miles we often have enough for one of to fly free. You might also be able to get miles from other family mambers or friends. Perhaps your grandparents have a lot of miles in their accounts with no plans to use them. Ask, the worst that can happen is they say no.
Money Back: If you make your reservations and three weeks later you see the same flights going for less than you paid, many airlines will reimburse you the difference. That’s another reason to keep checking on your reservations. However, you have to contact them immediately while the lower price is still in effect. Airline prices fluctuate throughout the day. I was making reservations one time and a short while after the reservations were made the price dropped quite dramatically. I was able to cancel the original flight reservation and make a new one saving close to $500.
Early Reservations a Must: It can’t be emphasized enough how important it is to make hotel reservations as far in advanced as possible. Most hotels these days allow for canceled reservations at no cost up until just a few days prior to checking in. Do not take this for granted though, you need to check that out when you make your reservations.
When it comes to Disney, both the Disney Resort “on property” hotels and those “off property” fill up fast, even for the slow season. It is not uncommon for hotels in and around Disney to be filled up three months or more in advanced. I once tried to book one of the more popular off property hotels four months in advanced during one of Disney’s busy times and found everything booked already.
While writing this I the first week of August I checked availability of the Disneyland Hotel and found it fully booked through October. If this is similar you your time table, don’t fret. Try a travel agent. Sometimes hotels have rooms set aside for travel agencies. However, the closer your trip gets the more likely it is that you may not get your first second or third choice.
Travel agencies have a lot to offer, especially if they are Authorized Disney Vacation Planners. This authorization means they know a lot about helping you plan your Disney Vacation. This can be more valuable than you realize. I usually do my own travel arrangements but each time I have used a travel agency I have been glad I did. One time we used a travel agency we were able to go to Sea World in the middle of our Disney Vacation and thereby breaking things up a bit. It was nice and the added cost broke even with what we saved using the travel agency that time. It’s not always like that which is why I usually spend times checking hotels and flights before approaching a travel agency.
If you use a travel agency I suggest an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner rather than the travel agency down the street from you. They can give the best advice and save you money as they are really Disney professionals. Where do you find one? Just Google Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. They are used to working through the Internet and telephone so even if they are located in another part of the country they can help you.
Travel agencies can save you money. If you are going to use one then do it early. A year in advanced is not too early. Besides, you need the financial information from the travel agent for making up your budget.