In case you missed it, last week I wrote about several tips and tricks to save you time and money in the Disney World parks. This week, I’ve got some tips for planning and using points for your trip.
When should we go? My standard answer to this question used to be “anytime school is in session”. That is no longer the case because the peeps at Disney are marketing geniuses and are the Jedi masters at getting people to visit the parks year round. April, September and the first half of November are usually good times to go but do a little research first. Marathons, cheerleading and dance competitions, or other special events can flood the parks, especially on the weekends. Avoid the weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. These are the highest attendance weeks of the whole year and parks often reach capacity and close by mid-morning during these weeks.
Where should we stay? There’s no easy answer to this one so I’ll just give you the good and the bad of on and off property.
On property: Disney hotels are going to be a little pricier than off property, but factor in the fact that you get free transportation from the airport (Magical Express), in-park transportation and you don’t have to pay to park, it may even out. The downside is you can never leave Disney property and there’s no such thing as free breakfast at any Disney hotels.
Disney does offer specials occasionally for a free dining program with resort reservations, usually during the slower times, which is when you want to go anyway. I’ve also found it’s easier to stay on property if you’re the typical family with 2 kids. Any family suite options for larger families are cost prohibitive, although adjoining rooms are an option. But, you’re still paying for 2 hotel rooms.
Off property: I have 4 kids and the bigger the kids get, the more room you need to spread out and the more bathrooms you need to accommodate teens who take a while to get ready. There are a ton of condos in close proximity to Disney. We rented a 3 bedroom, 2 bath condo this past summer for $1100 for 8 nights. Because we had a full kitchen, we didn’t need to eat out every meal and we were able to save our leftovers from restaurant meals to have for another meal later.
Keep in mind that off-property, you will need to rent a car and plan on paying $20 per day to park. For me, the money saved on food and lodging costs always seems to outweigh this disadvantage.
Where do I find condos to rent? Trip Advisor and Vacation Rentals By Owner are good places to look for a condo or home rental. Home Away and AirBNB are also good options.
What about hotels off property for points? All the major hotel groups are represented within just a few minutes’ drive of the Disney gates so if you’ve got points, you could easily have free lodging for the week. I especially like the Starwood Preferred Guest program since if you book 4 nights, the 5th night is free.
Are there discounts for park tickets? I have never found discounts of more than $10 per ticket that weren’t a time share presentation. My advice is to just accept the fact that this is the most expensive part of your trip and buy them directly from Disney and be done with it.
I’m also going to go ahead and address a question I get asked often since one of my daughters works for Disney: No, she cannot get you free tickets. If all 60,000 Disney World employees had unlimited access to free tickets, then hardly anyone would ever pay to get in the parks. As her family, we do have access to some passes but there are restrictions and limitations and half the time I visit, I pay for a ticket. So if you know someone that works there, please don’t ask them for tickets. It gets stressful after a while when you have constant requests for something you can’t provide.
What days should we go to which parks? For the smaller parks, Hollywood Studios, Epcot and Animal Kingdom, the day you visit probably won’t matter as far as crowd levels go. I highly recommend a subscription to Touring Plans. This group has done nerd-level amount of research on crowd levels over the years and has recommendations for each park depending on your vacation dates. Typically, Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday are the slower days at Magic Kingdom.
A subscription to Touring Plans also gives you access to their app “Lines”. Lines is a great tool to have in the parks for wait times that I find to be a little more accurate than Disney’s.
How can I save on airfare? If you’re sitting on a gold mine of airline miles, then theoretically you could fly your whole family to Florida for free, but most people don’t have access to enough miles to fly multiple people nor is it the best use of miles for a domestic flight. There are a lot of discount airlines that fly to Orlando.
Spirit, Jet Blue, Frontier, and Allegiant all offer inexpensive flights to Orlando. We fly Allegiant almost every time from Tulsa. It’s a direct flight and I’ve never paid more than $150 round trip for a ticket. There are a lot of other fees involved with discount airlines so do your homework and you can avoid most of them.
If you use points for your hotel stay and a discount airline, then you won’t feel so bad about spending money on the Disney tickets. If there’s something I haven’t covered, leave a comment and I’ll be happy to answer any questions!