Friday, January 27, 2012


January 27, 2012

This time of year I often get a lot of inquiries about how in the world does my family afford to go to Walt Disney World so often when they know I work on a shoestring budget. Everyone is in vacation planning mode and the “world’ beckons. So I’ve decided it’s time for a blog post on the ins and outs of vacation planning, not just for the “world” but for any vacation.

The main thing is to remember it IS a vacation, don’t over plan your trip. Allow for down time in your schedule. Many a vacation has been ruined because someone in the family is determined they must “do it all.” And that makes for cranky folks old and young alike. Remember, you can always go back and do what you missed this trip next trip.

I am a big believer in pre-planning trips. I feel that half the fun in the trip is the planning, just not going overboard about it. That being said I will admit one of our most favorite trips to WDW was a spur of the moment trip we planned on the fly on one Monday and we left that Thursday.

Another non-WDW trip was a penny hike trip we took to Mt. Rushmore. On that trip we literally flipped a penny each night to see which way we would go and to decide what we would do each day. So there is a lot to be said for not planning as well. It’s just a lot riskier.

But this blog is about planning and doing the WDW trip on a shoestring.

First pick your dates, but be a little flexible on those dates. Often a lot can be saved on the accommodations and transportation by moving your dates one way or another just a few days.

I know on many airlines if you fly out on Tuesday-Thursday the airfare is cheaper than if you fly the other days of the week. WDW resort rooms and campsites are also generally cheaper Monday-Thursday than on the weekend. So if you can be flexible, then by all means be so.

Gasoline and diesel are generally cheaper during the winter months than summer months as well.

WDW also has “off season” discounts on their resort rooms, so if you home school, year round school, or for other reasons can travel during the non-summer and peak season months to WDW I highly recommend it.

Here are the historical peak season dates. Of course, as with all things it all depends on what is going on in the world as to how busy the parks will be on these dates. These dates were supplied by The Mouse For Less website (a great planning tool location for certain) /

Presidents' week in February

-Mid-March through Late April ("Spring Break"); Easter

-Memorial Day weekend

-June through mid-August

-Thanksgiving Day and weekend

-Christmas week through New Year's Day

After Presidents' week in February through early March

-Late April through early June (except Memorial Day weekend)

-The first part of Thanksgiving week

Mid-January until Presidents' week in February (expect attraction updates; pool closures; and refurbishments)

-The week following Labor Day until Thanksgiving week

-The week following Thanksgiving until the week before Christmas

The Walt Disney World travel guides by Steve Birnbaum usually also have peak season dates listed in them. This information seldom changes much, so you could look at a library copy of it for free to get that information.
The Birnbaum books are great for info about the parks and are updated often. Older versions are good for general info, but will often be outdated for the current rides, shops, restaurants and meal prices. So if you are going to use them for your ultimate planning book spring for the issue for the year you are going. However, since they are put together a year ahead of time know that some of the info even in those most current issues may be out of date.

The best price planning info is the free DVDs and info you can get from WDW yourself. If you use mypoints (more on this later in the how to pay for it post) then by all means order it through there and get the points for doing so.
You can also get a lot of the prices from the following websites:

The first is the official Disney website and the second is an unofficial one. I really like both sites. The Disney one gives you all the basic planning costs but the All Ears site gives you so much more. Right down to individual meal prices, no estimates, the actual cost.

All Ears also gives many helpful hints and lists current available discounts. A major plus when you are planning your trip on a shoestring. Two other sites that are great for helping you plan out your vacation are The Mouse for Less, which I previously mentioned and The Magic For Less.

If you like discussion groups then I highly recommend I have learned much of what I know on vacationing on a shoestring from the folks on that list. The rest of my knowledge comes from my natural tightwad instincts. Be sure to check out all the files and links at the yahoogroups site. There is a wealth of information there.

A word of warning about the mouse for less group. It is a VERY active group and so if you don’t want to get 100 or more emails in a day I suggest you either read it from the web or go on digest for that particular group. It is well worth wading through all the emails to glean a lot of information from that group though.

Once you get all your research info together and you’ve chosen your time frame then it’s time to pick your resort, your tickets and whether or not a water park is in your future.

Picking the resort is strictly a thing of personal preference. Some folks prefer to stay off site because often at first glance the price is cheaper. There are numerous great hotels and condos for rent in the area and if that is your preference than you are on your own for the planning of that part, or check with the Magic for Less travel agency, more about these wonderful folks in a bit.

You see we have only stayed off site once in over 30 trips to the world and swore we’d never do it again. But that is OUR personal preference I know a lot of people who never stay on site and prefer it that way.

While our room off site was cheaper what it cost us in other ways was so much more expensive. Staying onsite comes with numerous perks. Here’s a list of some for you to consider when making this decision:

1. Once you arrive, if you are not leaving the resort area then you never need your car again until you leave. They transport you everywhere for free, even to their shopping complex called Downtown Disney. If you decide to leave the resort they do have a car rental spot onsite, where they will bring the car to your hotel room for you and you can rent the car for just the days you need it. Oh and by the way, it’s generally a cheaper rate if you rent it at the resort than at the airport due to airport usage taxes and such. Say for going to Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure or Sea World one day. More on these two another time.

2. If you are flying in they pick you up for free at the airport with the Magical Express, collect your luggage for you and deliver it to your room. When you leave they pick your luggage up at your resort and check it in for you at the airport. This leaves you free to go directly to the parks or wherever once you have checked in and to visit the parks on your last day if your tickets are all inclusive. A big plus. It also means you do not need a rental car to get to the resort, pay turnpike fees (which are hefty) or pay for an airport shuttle. Nor do you have the delay and hassle at the airport. While you make a quick potty run after you get off the plane a Cast Member from WDW is collecting your luggage for you. How great is that? The transport is a large comfortable bus that shows Disney commercials and such on tvs to start your Disney experience immediately.

3. Extra Magic Hours are a wonderful plus for resort guests. This is an extra 1-3 hours a day at a different park every day either in the morning before the park opens or after the park closes at night. Only resort guests are allowed in the parks during Extra Magic Hours so the lines are much shorter then. It’s a great way to get to ride the most popular rides without using a Fastpass or waiting in a long line. It’s also a great time to collect a Fastpass for a special ride later in the day.

4. If you are staying OFF site you must pay for parking at the parks that can add up quick on a multi-day trip. However, once you pay for teach day that is all you pay. The current rates are: Automobile, taxi, limo or motorcycle $14, camper, trailer or RV $15 and Bus or tractor trailer $18. There are ways to get discounts like owning an annual pass—we’ll get into this more later or being a member of AAA.

5. If staying off site you must also consider the driving time and gas each day both to and from the parks and possible turnpike fees. If you have little ones, or a person who simply needs to rest occasionally it is far easier to go back to your hotel room/campsite by staying onsite than off site.

6. Amenities, the resorts at WDW have a LOT of them. From swimming pools, to tennis courts, hot tubs and a petting zoo at the campground. And you don’t even have to be staying at the campground to enjoy the petting zoo, just take the free ground transportation over and while you are there consider the walking trails, or rent a bicycle or water craft for a fun afternoon. At night time the campground has free Disney movies and campfire sing-a-long or you can take a special nighttime canoe trip. Don’t forget to watch the Electric Water Parade on the bay while visiting the campground after dark as well, or maybe pay for a carriage ride. At the Animal Kingdom Lodge they have free use of night vision binoculars for you to watch the animals on the savannah after dark. That is always fun to do.

7. Each resort has a place to grab a bite to eat and you can purchase a refillable beverage cup that is good for your entire stay at your resort and it more than pays for itself during any trip. To date there are no refillable cups at the parks, except I know that for awhile the AK did have one that was for the day of purchase only. There is generally pizza delivery available to your room as well.

8. Disney character wake-up calls. If you are staying in the resort, alas not the campground, then you can be awakened each morning with a wake-up call by a Disney character. It’s part of the magic and many an adult likes it as much as the younger set.

9. Entertainment, many of the resorts have free entertainment going on at various times. One night at the Port ‘o Orleans, back when it was Dixie Landings, we stumbled into a live show at one of the clubs. It was a very good show. This was our one spur of the moment trip to WDW and everything was just perfect that trip. Just the two of us and all the pieces fell together just right.

10. Resort guests get first pick at dining reservations.

There are more pluses, but you get the idea.

Next you need to decide on package, or non-package deal. Again this is a personal decision. We seldom go with the packages because we generally take our own food with us for at least part of the meals and we most often purchase an annual pass. So the non-package generally works out cheaper for us. However, that being said, Disney has been running some pretty sweet deals this last couple of years that include free meals. I recently priced out a trip for the two of us to take a long weekend down and found out that the package that included length of stay tickets and meals was only $50 more than without meals. I would have had to pay far more than that for a la carte meals for five days for two! if we had decided to make that trip, it would have been well worth that $50 for the quick service meal plan, or even to pay the additional for the upper meal plans difference. So check your prices closely, sometimes the packages are much cheaper, depending on what you choose to include.

Tickets are another consideration. Our big trip for each year is generally 14 days and we go into the parks for 10 of those days. The other 4 days we go shopping, visit the water parks, go to another park (generally US/IOA) or simply crash and burn for a day. Our shorter trips are generally 4-5 days and we hit the parks all of those days. You can purchase plain tickets that are good for one park per day, Park Hopper Tickets or never expiring tickets. Each ticket has it’s pros and cons. That is a decision you will have to decide.

If purchasing tickets for just that particular trip we choose the Park Hopper, because we won’t stay in an overly crowded park. We have learned if one park is really crowded then another one is probably nearly empty. Certain parks on certain days are crowded, (see the Birnbaum books to determine the days). Or we will want to go to a park for a certain show on a certain day and maybe not want to spend the entire day in that park. But that is our preference, again you have to decide.

Generally we plan on going more than once in a year so we will purchase an annual pass. When I list how to get discounts and such I’ll go into all the pros of having the annual pass. It is the most expensive of the tickets at first glance, generally about $50 more per person than a 10 day pass, but it is good for 366 days from the day of FIRST USE! First use, not January 1 to January 1, not the day you buy it, but when you first enter a park using it for the first time. It also comes with some major discounts for lodging, food, shopping, special events and special products that you can’t get otherwise.

Once you’ve made all the decisions and decided whether or not you are going to other attractions in the area then you will need to figure out your budget and how to pay for it all. Don’t forget to add in meals, snacks and souvenirs at the parks. Plus you need to remember the “other” expenses like pet sitters at home, (although WDW does have a kennel and in the campground they do have a pet area--check the rules about vaccinations prior to planning on taking your pet) transportation there, if you are traveling by car are you stopping along the way? Will you visit attractions, where will you sleep each night. There are ways to cut all these costs (well maybe not the pet sitter) and a later post will go into this in detail. As well as a post on where to get the money to pay for it all.

But first, now that I have scared you with all this “planning” part I’d like to suggest a way around a lot of this first step. While I’ve never used their service and have no connection what so ever to the folks there I have heard nothing but rave reviews about The Magic For Less Travel Agency. These are the folks that help with the yahoogroups I mentioned earlier and they work VERY hard to make certain you get the best possible vacation at the lowest possible price. Even after you have booked with them, they keep looking for better deals for you and make certain you get the BEST possible price. If you are from the Dave Ramsey list then you know Jeannette is with The Magic For Less and she’d be more than happy to help you with your vacation planning. She can be reached at: or follow her on facebook at:

I suggest you shoot her an email and allow her to run some comparisons for you.

In a later post I’ll go more into what has to be paid when, refund policies and much more.

Next post: So now you’ve planned it how are you going to pay for it?

Jan who can’t wait to go again in OK


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