There are a couple of ways to ‘save’ money and still do Disney. This is the link for any special rates they might be offering: http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/special-offers/
Then there are rates for the military: http://bookwdw.reservations.disney.go.com/ibcwdw/en_US/specialOfferDetails?name=Promo&promotionCode=fy11military&market=fy11military
Regarding tickets, the most expensive days on a Disney ticket are the first three. For three days, it costs $250 for example (regular tickets, no discount). For four days, it might cost $260. Five days would be $267. etc. So you see, it comes out cheaper per day – the longer you visit. You can spend seven days for about $10 more than you would spend for three days! They get you with the cost of the first few days, and basically throw in the rest.
Another cost cutting way: buy your tickets at AAA. You automatically get a discount. PLUS you will get (you have to ask for it) a AAA Diamond Parking Pass. This pass does not allow you free parking but it does give you parking at the front of the parks around the handicapped section so you don’t have to worry about tram rides. You just walk into the park because you’re closer to the front. Much easier!! AAA offers different discounts throughout the year.
Talking about parking – if you stay on Disney property, parking is free. They promote their bus service which I suppose is fine but I rather like coming and going when I want to instead of by following a bus schedule. Parking at Disney is $14 a day per car/van unless you stay at one of their hotels. If you do that, they give you something to stick in your window for the free parking.
Where to stay? That’s up to you! You can rent a house (there are some good/safe neighborhoods that are minutes away – and a couple that are actually closer to Animal Kingdom than many of the Disney hotels). You can cook meals easily – you can spread out – you have your own pool. If you want to get info on renting a house, please let me know!!
On property? Why? Well – first – you don’t have to pay for parking! And, sometimes – depending on the time of year – you can get the ‘free food’ program. If you stay on Disney property and don’t want to worry about the cost of food – they have different dining plans that are included in the cost of the room. There is a value meal plan that runs about $30 a day adult, $10 a day child (which gives you two counter service meals per person a day, plus one snack per person a day). There is the regular dining plan, runs about $45 an adult and $12 a child, (which gives you one counter service meal, one table service meal (this includes character meals), and one snack per day per person). This is a LOT of food, even if you don’t think so when you first start. Then there is the deluxe dining plan (about $60 per person), which offers three meals a day – either sit down or table service, you can switch them up, your choice, plus a snack per person per day). Sometimes, Disney will offer a ‘free regular dining’ plan with the cost of the room. This is an EXCELLENT deal and a good time to travel. Normally, if they offer this – they start mentioning it around May and the dates are good for August – September. Free food is a good incentive to stay at a Disney hotel!!
As you probably know, if you want to sit down and eat at one of their restaurants, you need to make reservations way in advance. You can do that online at their website and actually see a lot of the menus as well, http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/reservations/dining/ There is a website that offers menus here too: http://allears.net/menu/menus.htm You can get the menus for table service OR the counter service.
To talk more about the food, the very best for dinner is Ohana’s over at the Polynesian Resort. PLEASE NOTE – you do NOT have to stay at a hotel to eat there! The best character meal for me is Chef Mickey’s over at the Contemporary Resort. These are two deluxe properties and it gives you a chance to poke around in their stores and look at the hotel as well. For cheap eats at each of the parks, you can get an egg roll for about $2.25 if you are hungry for a snack at the Magic Kingdom. Also – don’t be shy about ordering from the kids’ menu if you are doing counter service. They have really good food for kids and when you are hot and walking around, it is usually just the right amount (at least for me!). There are some restaurants I would say are excellent – I love going to the Brown Derby at Hollywood Studios but I get the Cobb Salad off the appetizer menu. There is NO WAY to eat all of it – and it cost $15! But it is delicious!!
HOTELS: Disney has different categories of rooms. The Value Resorts are the cheapest. You can stay there for as little as $69 a night if they are running a special and it is the right time of year. I just got $81 a night with the AAA rate (you have to go through AAA to get the rate). Of the Value Resorts, I like Pop Century. It is VERY whimsical. And it is the best of the values. They have two double beds or one king. Rooms are small but if you don’t plan on spending a lot of time in it, they aren’t bad. And they have a very nice food court and great Disney Store. PLUS an ice cream parlor! There is a NEW value resort (Art of Animation) and I would imagine it has taken the place of being the nicest value as it is the newest.
The next up are Moderate Resorts. The rooms are all bigger than the values of course. And, of those – the Caribbean Beach Resort has slightly larger rooms but they are basically all the same. There is Coronado Springs, Caribbean Beach Resort (which has some rooms decorated like Pirates of the Caribbean), and two Port Orleans. Port Orleans French Quarter is more like New Orleans. Port Orleans Riverside is more like the bayou. The only moderate resort that will legally fit a family of five is Port Orleans Riverside. Room rates are usually around $150 a night. There is a food court, plus a sit down (table service) restaurant at each of the moderates and their pools all have slides and ‘better’ features.
Deluxe Resorts: There are a lot of these. All of these will sleep a family of five except Animal Kingdom Lodge and Wilderness Lodge. My favorite is the Polynesian. Absolutely gorgeous. Rooms are spacious and bathrooms beautiful. Plus, you are on the monorail. Rooms at all deluxe properties are expensive with Wilderness Lodge, Animal Kingdom lodge the least expensive and the Grand Floridian the most expensive. I’ve never stayed at the Grand Floridian but they have a great character dinner (and breakfast) here. It is gorgeous. The Contemporary would be my next favorite and the rooms here are large, too. LOVED staying here – it again is on the monorail. I have never stayed at Wilderness but it has the same designer as Animal Kingdom. Both opened up at the same time. Rooms here are the same size as a moderate resort so you get ripped off if you ask me. The kids like Animal Kingdom so we’ve stayed here twice (on special rates only otherwise it is WAY too expensive). There are giraffe out your door – and it is pretty neat. Any of the Boardwalk Resorts are great – there is the Boardwalk, the Yacht Club, and the Beach Club. The Boardwalk is within walking distance to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. There is also the Swan and Dolphin there which are not technically Disney Hotels but they have GREAT rates sometimes ($149 a night and you are RIGHT THERE at the Boardwalk and the rooms are deluxe – http://www.swananddolphin.com/ You have to book through them and not Disney directly).
Bonus to stay ‘on property’ (at Disney) – every day they open up at least one park early for their guests. And every night at least one park stays open three hours late for their guests. Crowds are considerably smaller then! Plus you can charge things back to your room and have the packages waiting for you at the hotel so you don’t have to carry them around if you don’t want to.
There are also hotels at Downtown Disney, which are not official Disney hotels but they are close and usually you can get a room for $70-100. There are hotels OFF property completely – which run anywhere from $25-200 a night. I know of some nice ones but there are a bunch of REALLY icky ones too. There is a Fairfield Inn Lake Buena Vista that is nice and has a wonderful breakfast for instance.
Arriving at the Park: Each park has a ‘security check point’ at the front. There is also a ‘no bags’ point right next to it. If you do not have bags, go through. But if you have even a small camera case – you have to go in the bags line. I think a backpack works well to carry water/snacks. A soft-sided cooler is even better. Don’t over pack it because you’ll be carrying it with you the entire time. It will go on rides with you. Each ride has an area below the seat (like an airline) that holds bags. You cannot go back and forth from your car to the park – because that is just a LOT of walking. Plus, you’ll have to go through security again. Just a lot of time and your feet will appreciate you NOT going back and forth for water! Believe me, once you get to your car – you will want to get in and goooooo! Keep your water cold in your room fridge and carry it with you in your backpack. You might even think of an insulated lunch box from the kids and filling it with your waters for the day so you have just a little extra hope that it is cold. You won’t be able to have ‘freeze’ packs because there isn’t a freezer in your room (only a small fridge if you’re staying on property) but if you bring plastic baggies with you – you can fill them up with ice from the machine at the hotel – double bag them for when they melt – and place them in the insulated lunch box with the waters. Or go a restaurant (that sells fountain drinks – or a cart if it sells fountains and not bottles) and ask for a cup of ice – and add your water! Your backpack should hold the drinks, your camera, sunscreen, and anything else you think you’ll need for the day. If it seems like it is too heavy to carry – then make the decision to just ask for free water throughout the day. OH – over at Epcot – there is the ‘Cool Zone’ (I think that’s what they are calling it). It is a building alongside the ‘Character Corner’ – which also has an ice cream fountain store (excellent by the way – great to get a sundae on your snack credit). Anyway – the cool zone is sponsored by Coke. It is nothing more than a bunch of taps with different flavored sodas from different countries. And it is FREE. So if you are really thirsty and at Epcot –head over there! Do NOT try the Beverly. Or try it just to say you did – but I warn you – it is gross! It is funny to have your camera ready and ask someone to try it! I personally like China best. It is a watermelon flavor. But everyone has their own favorites. There’s a ginger ale that’s not so bad. Also – water fountains are everywhere! Especially near the restrooms. So if you find a restroom – you’ll find a water fountain. Make one person be in charge of the tickets – my husband always holds them in his wallet. As you go through the turnstile, each person uses a ticket. He goes through first – and stands there waiting with his hand out to collect them from the rest of us. Of course, if you are running to get the fast passes, you will need all of the tickets with you (or whoever is in charge of getting them). Personally, I have my husband do the running for the fast passes as well!