* Disney Day 3: The Magic Kingdom: Pointing out on the map where we were. (We were in line for over 3 hours for the Song Of The South ride.) We didn't reach this ride in time to get a FastPass.
One of the most important things about going to Disney World for any one should be budgeting. Not just of money - but of emotions, relaxation, and most important; stress. You are on vacation ... and ... you are going to "the happiest place on earth" after all. Leave all your worries and your frustrations at home. If your children act up, if someone cuts in line, don't sweat it. I mean ... discipline your child promptly but don't make a scene. I saw so many parents getting unreasonably upset with their children. By making this trip more about them ... you will discover that the trip is about you. Take a moment to understand that piece of zen I just typed.
I can't tell you all of the tips I used to save money on my trip, but I will try my best to help you get the most bang for your buck that I can.
First ... having a credit card that rewards you in some way is very important. By reward ... I mean some card that gives you points in a program, frequent flier miles, or some percent back. The latter being my choice. I used my PayPal card to pay for everything ... eventhough most of the trip was paid for by someone else. I had them deposit approximately $1000 into my checking account two weeks before the trip. I used my PayPal card to pay for everything (which if does not have enough funds pulls money from my checking account). Every time I made even a $2 purchase - money was debited from my PayPal accout which gives me 1.5% cash back and in turn also debited from my checking account which gives me 1.5%+ back in rewards points. $1000 only equals $30 ... but hey $30 is $30 right? It helps to offset any unexpected expenses. Purchases at Disney World actually get you higher than 1.5% back through the Visa Extras program. If you have a Visa Debit/ATM Card - you can sign up regardless of which bank you are with.
As mentioned in the previous part of this series - a travel agent can most likely get you a much better deal on a Disney vacation. Of course there has to be some sort of middleman markup, but the savings on a Disney World trip is still much greater than you can get on your own. It took me less than 30 minutes to book my hotel and get a few tickets through a local travel agent. If in or around Greenville South Carolina - I highly recommend Linda Long Travel. Stacy, at Linda Long, was very helpful - quickly finding what I needed and didn't push any premiums or extras on me. If you do use Linda Long Travel - ask for Stacy and tell her you heard about her on this blog.
Previously I suggested buying your Disney tickets through a link in the MouseSavers.com newsletter. This is only a better deal if you are not buying a Disney package. When talking to a travel agent - make them aware of any savings that you noted in a MouseSaver's newsletter. It's best to print any tips or discounts out so your travel agent can verify them.
One note about staying on Disney property vs staying in a hotel near Disney. If your hotel does not offer a free shuttle service, know that you will be paying $10 to park at each theme park. If you do one park a day ... this equals $40. This was one of the unexpected and unbudgeted expenses that skipped my mind in the planning of this trip. All In all we spent $50 on parking fees. Still ... it was cool to have all the parking receipts lined up on the dashboard like trophies. Remember though that staying on a Disney property that gives you free transportation to the theme parks is like getting a $10 per day bonus because you don't have to pay for parking. Disney shuttle and monorail services also drop you off right at the theme park and in some cases you get to walk through special gates and you are there. Also know that if you stay on property - you get to get in the closest park to your hotel an hour early. You could literally get half the rides finished in this time because the crowds are so much lighter.
While on the topic of driving & parking ... if driving; here's a GREAT tip I discovered while down there. A dad got out of a car and tied a ribbon to his antenna so he could easily locate his car in the parking lot. Know that if you drive a Dodge Caravan (or other common automobile) ... even if you remember where you parked - finding your car amongst similar cars may be difficult. I could shoot myself for not remembering a trick I used to use when I went tailgating at Clemson Home Football games. I used to take a FunNoodle™ and place it over the antenna of my car so I could quickly look out at the parking lot and locate my car ... it also was great to be able to send others out to the car to get things left behind or to return things to the car that got burdensome to carry. If you don't have an antenna or have an auto-retracting antenna - get a magnetic antenna and place it on the top of your car or just get a dowling rod (from a craft store) and place it securely. It looks kind of silly at first - but trust me ... this is a very helpful idea ... at Disney or anywhere that has a large parking lot. Kids should like the FunNoodle™ idea too - make it a tradition. If you have multiple kids, let a different one "Place the FunNoodle™" each day.
Having to stress over finding your car in the endless Disney parking lots can easily ruin your whole day. Your parking tram attendant will most likely remind you that Disney's Magic Kingdom has the largest parking lot in the world. I wouldn't even cloud my mind with anything other than the name of the parking lot you were in. Parking lots are named by 5000 car capacity. They are named Mickey, Goofy, Donald, etc etc. As a child going to Disney World ... I remember my dad boiling sometimes because we couldn't locate the car. It may seem easy to remember once you park, but the excitement of the day and the lots filling up with a much greater volume during the day can make remembering your exact spot difficult.
I also suggest getting a mesh backpack. The one pictured here is only $9.88 at Walmart. Disney places security gaurds before the gates to check bags as a requirement by the Department of HomeLand Security. A big dark bag will hold you up in line and make people behind you angry. I suggest you not carry a purse. Try to fit everything into one small pack that you carry on your shoulders. Carry a couple of snacks, some water, and have an accessible pocket for your maps and tickets. Try to have as few things to carry as possible and make one person in charge of the money, but make sure at least one other person has a credit card on their person. Leave your driver's license and wallet. Carry a minimal amount of cash. I suggest $25 in cash per 4 people. ALL eating places within Disney take credit cards, even the ice cream vendors. I suggest paying for everyhting you can with credit cards or debit cards.
Here are some budget considerations:
* Food - food is actually very reasoanbly priced within the Disney Theme Parks. Selection isn't all that great. The Animal Kingdom in particular has almost zero food. For some reason, the main food there is naked hot dogs. I can hardly eat a hot dog without chili. Later in the day I discovered that the Camp Minnie-Mickey section of the Animal Kingdom has pizza and a few other things. It's obvious that Disney has recognized that this is a problem as two full blown themed restaurants were under construction while I was down there.
If I may ... I suggest you either arrive at Animal Kingdom after lunch, leave for lunch and come back, or bring a lunch in a nice backpack.
The Magic Kingdom is pretty well equipped with places to eat. As is Epcot. For the Magic Kingdom I would recommend you eat a big breakfast before going, then eat a light lunch like a Barbeque Turkey Leg at Magic Kingdom, then about 7PM eat near The Pirates Of The Carribbean. You will be very near Main Street USA and ready to find a good spot for the Electric Light Parade and fireworks display. There are a number of restaurants to the right of The Pirates Of The Carribbean - and although I didn't eat there this trip I have eaten at The Crystal Palace and El Pirata Y El Perico Restaurant. Both are very affordable and have a nice place to sit down and take a break.
In Epcot, I highly recommend eating a light breakfast before entering the park and eating at DeLand for lunch. Make sure that you take the "Behind the Seeds Tour" at Deland after your lunch. This is a great relaxing boat ride giving a brief American agricutural history and showing how Disney is on the cutting edge of Hydroponic gardening. Actual fish, vegetables, and fruits used at Epcot are grown at DeLand. It's very neat to see these active gardens. You'll see a tomato TREE - yes TREE, you will also see lemons the size of pumpkins. I assure you that you will love this ride - and like I said ... it's a good chance to let your food settle.
If you are able to afford it; the World Showcase in Epcot has great dining experiences available at each country.
Disney MGM is full of affordable eating opportunities.
I recommend that, at least one or two nights, you eat elsewhere in Orlando for dinner ... one night we ate at an Ethiopian restaurant. You may laugh at that. I've been to Washington DC several times - where there is a large Ethiopian subculture. I've always enjoyed eating at the Ethiopian restaurants. So ... I suggested we try an Ethiopian restaurant near our hotel. As fate would have it ... this restaurant had just located in Orlando - owned by the same people from Washington D.C. - where I had eaten previously. The food is very reasonably priced. You don't use eating utensils - you use an Ethiopian bread to pinch your food. This is a great opportunity for children to experience something different. You will be very surprised at how filling and appetizing the meal is. Also know that one plate is probably enough for 3 people. If you have more than that, get different things to sample.
The Ethiopian restaurant I'm referring to is called Ethiopian Cuisine, it is just off off of International Boulevard and right next door to a comedy club.
All drinks and ice cream are priced below your average fair or sporting event price within Disney - something that really surprised me.
* Souvenirs - your children will most likely want souvenirs. I suggest you visit the dollar store before your trip. In your backpack keep a couple glow bracelets and give them to your kids at night so they won't feel left out. Note that vendors at the night shows charge more than the vendors you pass while entering the event area - at least I noticed this was true at Fantasmic at Disney MGM Again, this trip is about them - which in turn will make it about you. I have been collecting Goofy Hats over the years since I last went to Orlando in 1998. So, I had enough Goofy Hats to go around. If you are prepared like this... you won't have to even worry about stopping and wasting time at a souvenir stand.
Want a free souvenir? Pal around with the Disney cast members. Let someone go in front of you in line, give up a spot for someone in a wheelchair, help someone on or off a ride - just get noticed being kind by a Disney cast member and they will give a "Pixie pin" - supposedly the only way you get this "Pixie pin" is by impressing Disney staff with an act of kindness. I got this pin without knowing I would for surrending a prime parade spot for someone in a wheelchair.
* If you look at the first picture you can see the "Pixie pin" on the strap of my backpack.
* I looked on eBay for this pin and apparently people sell these instead of giving the second pin away
* Tickets To Other parks - you may be better off getting your Universal and Sea World Tickets while in Orlando. Many places (including your hotel) may offer a Flex Ticket that allows you to go to four different parks for one price. This is a better deal if you have teenagers that you trust to be on their own ... this will give them a lot of options for night time entertainment.
Lastly ... know that Disney will wear you out if you let it. Don't think that you have to get everything done. The parks all have periods of time when they are not busy. Disney specifically times events such as parades so that people can take advantage of crowded rides. Catch a day parade in one park, but take advantage of the crowd watching the parade on other days to get on rides across the park from the parade. I mangaed to get in two day parades - my favorite was the Animal Kingdom parade.
Budget your time around sitting down and resting every couple of rides or shows. I assure you that you will be able to see most if not all of the parks. Don't rush! Have fun! Relax!