Tuesday, April 17, 2012

SAVING MONEY WHILE ON THE TRIP—At the parks!—Food, Glorious Food

SAVING MONEY WHILE  ON THE TRIP—At the parks!—Food, Glorious Food
April 17, 2012
There are literally hundreds of ways to save money once you get to WDW. There is no way I could ever post them all here, but I will post the main ones my family uses. 

Food and beverage are the two biggest ways we save money.  So let’s go with these first.

If you are going down in a camper or a tent then by all means eat at least part of your meals every day at the campsite.  We generally eat at the camper for breakfast, and then pack snacks or a sandwich and drinks in a back pack to help cut down the desire to purchase foods in the park.

You can easily pack these foods and keep them cold with the help of a blue ice pack and either some newspaper or a towel.  I put our sandwiches and chips in Ziploc containers to help prevent crushing.  These along with a beverage we have at least partially frozen in our camper freezer and a blue ice are wrapped in a towel or newspaper and placed in the camera back pack. 
Be prepared to have your back pack viewed when entering the park so I generally do not wrap the top of the bundle, but lay a separate small towel or wash cloth over the top that can easily be removed so the inspector can see into the clear containers to see what’s in the pack.  We have never had an issue with taking food in this way.
One note I’d like to make here.  Keep it simple.  Keep the pack be it back or fanny light and easy to handle.  If you don’t want to pack food, then consider fanny packs, if that, only.  You want to keep it as simple as possible.  You are there to have fun, not die of exhaustion.  We pack a very light lunch, and sometimes send the pack back to the camper/room at some point after the food is consumed.
If you are traveling with a child that will fit in a stroller, by all means take your stroller.  Even consider purchasing a small cheap umbrella type stroller just for the trip.  A tired child is a cranky child, a cranky child makes for a cranky adult and then no one in your family, or in line with you is happy. 
This is considered the “happiest place on earth”, but it doesn’t mean it is immune from theft.  So NEVER leave anything of value hanging on your stroller while you go into a show or ride.  It just might not be there when you get back.  Security is great at WDW, lost and found is also REALLY good, but they see MILLIONS of guests a year and they can’t be everywhere at all times.  So be responsible for you and yours.
If you are flying down you can do something similar.  We generally fly Southwest Airlines and make one of our free  checked suitcases be one of those soft sided rolling ice chests.  On the trip to and from WDW the ice chest is packed with soft clothing such as socks or underwear inside clean plastic bags.  Once at the resort we unpack the ice chest and fill it with ice from the free ice machine and foods purchased at the gift shop.  Even though the foods at the gift shops can be a bit high, they are still cheaper than a meal in the park. 
One of our carryon bags for the flight down is generally a snack bag filled with goodies that will pass inspection by TSA that we’ve purchased ahead of time on sale.  No liquids of course, but things like raisins, candies (no chocolate as it melts so easily), cookies, snack crackers etc. 
This allows us to have a snack on the plane or while waiting for a layover on the flight each way if there is a delay as well as for the parks. 
We also pack a large assortment of Ziploc bags in all the sizes.  These come in handy for a huge variety of reasons that I’ll go into later.
Whether we stay in our camper or a resort we always pack Britta self-filtering water bottles for each person in our party.  Trust me this is something you really want to do.  While Walt Disney World is a wonderful place their water is HORRIBLE! The cost of a bottle of water, generally Dasani, is also quite high.  However, they will give you FREE ice water at all the concessions.  This we put in the water bottles and all is fine. 
You can also take packets of water flavorings with you for a variety of drinks.  Simply put the free water in your bottle, then filter it back into the cup and add the flavorings.  DON’T put the flavorings in your Britta.
We clearly label whose bottle is whose because if someone gets a cold or flu you don’t want to share the germs.  I also pack extra filters in case this happens so we don’t re-introduce then germs to ourselves once we are feeling better.
Carrying a water bottle can be made easier by planning ahead.  We have various bottle carriers we use.  My favorite is one that is on a swivel and slides either over a belt or into a pocket to hang from the pocket/belt.  It is basically a flat stick with a swivel clip on it.
Others we have are Epcot ones we purchased for our “souvenir” on one trip that adjust to any water bottle, narrow strapped ones that have a simple ring on it that only fit certain sizes and carbineer ones.  The only one we have been disappointed with was the carbineer one.  It seems to be that it is only for larger necked bottles.  Ones like Ozarka fall right out of it.  But it works fine for our Britta.
It’s only natural to want to try foods while in the park.  PB&J isn’t near as appetizing when you smell burgers frying. So scheduling your actual in park meals can become a real money saver.  We generally eat at least one meal a day in the parks or at a resort.
Lunches are cheaper than dinners and often they are the same foods.  So eating a late lunch might hold you until you get back to your camper or room to eat, especially if you have snacks in a back pack or fanny pack.  We eat our main in park sit down meal at the end of the lunch period.  That way a burger, hot dog, or salad, that stays the same in price throughout the day will do well for dinner much later in the day if we decide to eat two meals in the park that day.
Staying on site is great for going back to the room to rest, something I recommend if you are traveling with people of all ages who are use to a daily nap. If you do this you can actually schedule all your meals at your camper/room.  However, you will lose time due to the travel to and from the parks  so if you are very limited on time then you need to personally weigh the pros and cons of both.  Many a child has had a nap in a stroller in the parks.  If you are a nursing mother there are nursing stations, baby care locations and family restrooms throughout the parks.  I personally have sneaked in many a short nap in Carousel of Progress (hey, it’s a long slow dark ride in a comfortable seat  in the cool and it does not change from year to year.
Meals other than the buffets can be shared easily.  My husband and I split most of our meals, sometimes purchasing an extra side or a dessert or appetizer, but generally we simply split the meal. 
When considering a burger for lunch or dinner check out the burger places that have a relish bar to go with the burgers, chicken sandwiches and such.  Cosmic Rays is one such place, they have sautéed mushrooms, onions, pickles, lettuce and all the other fixings you can think of.  When sharing a burger meal you can easily cut the burger in half and build it the way you want on each half.  I for one put just about everything on a burger, so a half burger fully dressed is plenty of food to fill me up.  My husband just puts basics on his, but he eats fries and I don’t.  So splitting the meal works very well for us.
If eating at the buffets, which you cannot split,  consider going in at the end of the lunch time period, then you will end up being there as they are putting out the dinner foods and pay at the lunch price. 
Getting free water and filtering it through your Britta will save you considerably on the meal over getting a soda pop or tea, both contain ice made with their local water, which can really change the taste of a beverage.
If you really don’t want to pay the price for a meal at a restaurant, but really want to see the inside of the restaurant then consider going in for a shared appetizer or dessert.  There is no set rule that you have to get a full meal to go into the restaurant.  Trust me some of the restaurants are well worth making the reservations just to soak up the ambiance.
You can make your ADRs (advanced dining reservations) as much as something like 145 days prior to your visit.  Be aware that some restaurants will require a “charge card” number to make these reservations.  I have used a debit card for this on more than one occasion.  This is because they often have no shows, so you could be charged a small fee if you don’t show for your reservation.  If you call and cancel the reservation—free phones around for you to make/cancel reservations—scattered around, or you can do it from your cell. 
We seldom make dining reservations far in advance when it is just two or three of us.  Generally there are enough cancellations we can get any reservation we want a day or so ahead of time.  HOWEVER, if you are traveling with a large group, a single traveler OR MUST eat in a certain restaurant then I recommend making the reservations early. 
A tip to single travelers.  All the restaurants have a LIMITED number of tables for single diners.  If you call to get a reservation and can’t get one.  Hang up and call back and ask for a table for two, often you can get a table then.  They will not charge you for the “no show” of the second diner.   They will only charge you if you simply don’t show at all.,
Another way to save money is to purchase children’s meals at the fast food/counter locations.  Often the portion is plenty large enough for an adult.  There are also numerous snack food vendors all around the parks, a quick turkey leg or a churro will often be enough to take the edge off your hunger.  By all means try the Mickey Bars. A personal favorite.
There are other ways to get discounts on the meals as well.  One is the annual pass I previously mentioned.  Only one ADULT in your party needs to have the annual pass to get the discount for up to 10 people.  The annual pass discount percentage and the restaurants it is good at are all listed on the All Ears website I listed in a previous post.
They also have a dining card called “Tables in Wonderland  This gets you a larger discount than the annual pass does and at more restaurants, during different time periods, however it has an automatic 15% gratuity added to it for every restaurant meal, I do not believe it charges it for the counter service meals.  This comes with a fee to purchase it, I believe the current purchase requires and annual pass and $75, but I could be very wrong about that. Again the complete info for this card is listed on All Ears. For two of us eating the way we do this card is a break even for us.  When there are three of us and/or we are traveling more than once in the year that it is good for then it can be a money saver.  For large parties it could be a good money saver, depending on where you eat and when.  You will need to do the math and look at your dining plans to see if it is a cost saver for you.
If you plan on eating at Rain Forest Café, Yak and Yetti table service and T-Rex then you might want to consider getting a Landry’s Select restaurant card, previously titled the “Safari Club”. The card comes with perks like immediate seating when you arrive at the restaurant and points to apply to future meals as well discounts in their gift shops. 
I do not know the current cost of the card as I have had mine for numerous years, even though we have no Landry’s restaurant near where I live we always use it when visiting WDW and now when we go to Branson, MO.  There are Landry’s all over the US and the card is good at all of them.
If you are staying in a resort other than Ft. Wilderness they all have a food court of some sort.  At these food courts you can purchase a refillable mug good for that trip and that resort only.  If you drink a lot of soda pop, coffee or cocoa it is well worth the price to purchase one for each family member. 
It’s been a few years since we’ve been to WDW, but when we were last there the Animal Kingdom had a refillable one day only glass as well.  Travel note: in the past there have been no straws at the Animal Kingdom for the safety of the animals.
Remember those Ziplocs I mentioned packing.  Well one of the many uses for them is for the excess food you will find you have during the day, not from the buffets of course.  Remember I said the portions are large at Walt Disney World.  We often find we have something left over.  Carrot sticks, raisins, a roll, chips, something.  Into a Ziploc they go and we munch on them later in the day.
While on the subject of Ziplocs now might be a good time to mention some of the other uses we take them for.
1.       To corral small souvenirs together to help prevent loss.
2.       Large ones work well to put cameras in to protect them (and other electronics) from rain or moisture on the water rides.  We’ve shot many a photo/movie through Ziplocs in our various trips to the World.
3.       Carrying first dry, then wet socks for the days it rains or you get wet on a water ride.  The fastest way to get blisters is to wear wet socks, avoid blisters at all costs. They can really put a bummer in your trip.
4.       For carrying spare clothing for small children.
5.       To pack snacks in a back pack or fanny pack.
6.       For a small first aid kit for the packs.
7.       To repackage a rain poncho after you use it—they NEVER fit back in the original package.
8.       To pack dirty clothing in for the trip home.
9.       To pack detergent in if you choose to do laundry while there, be prepared to have your detergent powder inspected at the airport if you take it with you.  Far cheaper than purchasing it from the vending machines at the laundry (available at all resorts and the campground). I always pack ours in an outside pocket that I’ve put a zip tie (we use a zip tie on all zippers on all luggage when flying—don’t forget to pack extras for the trip home AND to have some method to cut them open in one unsealed pocket on a checked bag) on that the TSA could easily remove to inspect the “white powder” in my checked luggage.
10.   We pack all liquids that travel in our checked luggage in double Ziplocs to prevent leakage in luggage.
11.   For placing foods in the ice chest in a hotel room.
12.   Food storage for things like donuts purchased in the gift shop.
13.   Homemade wet wipes for sticky fingers and faces throughout the day.  A damp paper towel or wash cloth in a Ziploc is very handy to have for those little oops in life.
These are just a few of the ideas we use them for, but you get the general idea.  Ziplocs are essential when traveling on any trip, and especially WDW.
Remember when planning your trip to do a price comparison from purchasing your meals a la carte and the complete dining packages, sometimes the complete package is far cheaper.
Remember, no one says you have to eat at a certain time while on vacation.  Make your meal times flexible and avoid long lines at the eating establishments. 
So now you are fed.  On to my next savings suggestions.
Jan who loves to try at least one new restaurant each trip to Walt Disney World in OK

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