Friday, July 31, 2009

Disney Days: The Dreaded Budget

Many folks are feeling a strain on their wallets from our nation's money woes. While taking vacations might not be in everyone's future, sometimes splurging on a fun trip is just the cure for the economic blues. A trip to Walt Disney World is no longer out of the realm of possibility for the average Joe. Actually, Disney is doing it's best to entice families to visit its parks. They're feeling the pinch of the slumping economy too and are offering tons of deals and discounts, so there's been no better time than now to take advantage of the Mouse!

When I tell my tales of trip planning and trip taking, especially to someone who has never been (or at least not for a long time), I tend to get some variation of the this response, "I'd love to go to Disney, but it's too expensive." I didn't start this series of posts to lie to you about how easy it is to pack your bags and head of the the World on a whim. A Disney trip is not cheap. But there are countless ways to save, and while other parks may be cheaper still, I'm a firm believer in the idea that you get what you pay for. So, with no pretending that some saving won't be necessary, let's dive right in...

Everyone wants to know the nitty gritty, right? How much will a trip run you? Just exactly how much, in clear dollars and cents? Well I've always been one to get right to the point, so I'll tell you that my average budget for one week of vacation, for one adult, all-inclusive (and I do mean all) is an even $1000. Seems like a lot, but when you consider that airfare, tickets, resort, food and a couple special events are already accounted for, that number begins to look a whole lot better. I've done trips for less, and I've done trips for more, but on average that 1k mark always seems to be about right. Below is an example of my typical per person budget.

Now I'm fairly certain that I don't need to describe to anyone how to book a room, tickets, etc. You all can do that easily enough through Disney's website or Dreams Unlimited. The key to it all is talking about ways to save money on your trip, so that will be the focus of this post. How can you have that fantastic, trip of a lifetime, you've turned old and gray and still look fondly back at it, vacation without breaking the bank? Well, there are a few big things and loads of little things you can do in an effort to pinch pennies:

#1 - Choose your trip dates wisely. As discussed last week, the time of year that you choose to visit the World can have a significant impact on the cost of your room, not to mention airfare. This definitely has the potential to be your biggest money saver. The cheapest times of year are January, August, September and early December. Check out the seasons here.

#2 - Consider what ticketing option will work for you. Will you be visiting the park every day, including travel days? Do you hop from park to park or stick in one place? Do you want to save leftover days for future use, or plan to not have leftovers? We stick to one park per day and usually have one down day (no park) on each trip, so our ticket cost is usually about $240 per person as opposed to the over $400 it would be if we choose to get park hoppers, water park admission and the non-expiring feature. Be sure to read up on all the ticket options before making your purchase.

#3 - Decide your resort style. Disney has a whole smattering of resort options, in all different price ranges. Pick the one that has the amenities you need most. Are you looking for a place to lounge poolside with lots of recreation options or just need a bed, a roof and some Cherry Coke? There's no need to spend $300 per night on a room unless that particular resort has a must amenity that you can't get anywhere else. More on this next week...

#4 - Dine on a dime. While food prices are higher than the average restaurant, they're not completely out of whack for what you'd pay normally (ex. $2.50 gets you a large soda). I've found the portions are generally bigger than what you expect though, so consider a little sharing. Three people can definitely share two meals on occasion, especially if each person plans to squeeze in a Mickey bar later in the day. And Disney allows you to bring in your own snacks and bagged meals. Either bring stuff from home, or have Garden Grocer deliver groceries to your resort for a mere $12 to help save costs. And consider taking advantage of one of Disney's prepaid meal plans (more on these in a later post) to help rein in the food budget.

#5 - Take advantage of the freebies. Bring a water bottle from home and fill it up at fountains rather than buying bottled water. Word for the wise though, some folks don't like the taste of Magic Kingdom's water (it has a bit of sulfur taste to it), but that can be easily masked by drink packets. Utilize the free bus, boat and monorail transportation offered between resorts and parks. Also get in on the Magical Express, the free shuttle from the airport to Disney resorts. Not renting a car is a huge savings!! Also make use of Extra Magic Hours, which are the times before and after the regular park hours where Disney resort guests get the parks all to the themselves. This extra time means your park tickets are worth even more when divided by the hour.

There's no denying it. You'll be spending a fair amount of the above on a trip to the World. But, when you consider that King's Dominion tickets cost $40 per day, Six Flags come in at $50 per day and Hershey Park will run you a whooping $52 per day, paying $35 per day (based on a 7-day ticket) for Disney, which encompasses four theme parks doesn't seem so bad. Your remaining expenses are the same as you'd pay for any destination vacation. So go ahead, find yourself a Dollar Store piggy bank and get to saving, cause this trip is totally doable!

And come back next week to discuss... Home is Where Your Resort Is.

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