How to Get the Most out of your Disney World Family Vacation

Are you thinking of visiting Disney World in Orlando with your grandchildren, or maybe taking the whole family? Keeping a promise to give them a magical vacation, while keeping the cost down, can be quite a challenge. In this article we share advice about different ways to save money without cutting back on the fun, plus tips to make your trip more enjoyable. We spoke with the folks at Disney World about their 2010 promotions and got their insight about getting the most out of your Disney vacation. We also got great advice from Boomerater members who shared valuable first-hand experience.

If you are interested in learning about other travel ideas, please visit our vacation ideas section on Boomerater.

“Give a Day, Get a Disney Day”

This 2010 promotion is one of the best deals around for a number of reasons. Everyone who volunteers to work at a charity listed on the official Disney site will get a free pass to a DisneyPark for use on a specific date before December 15, 2010. Just go to this link and type in your zip code to find out all of the available volunteer opportunities. What a great to teach the importance of volunteering to all members of the family. In some cases children as young as 6 can participate, so you can get your grandkids involved in helping their community. There are lots of different charities, depending on where you live. Everything from helping seniors to building houses to tutoring children to working at a wildlife center. There is a limit of 1 million passes and 600,000 have already been issued, so sign up soon. Also, if your plans change and you can’t make it to Disney, your volunteer efforts will still be rewarded. Not only will you be helping others, but you may also donate your free pass to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Florida, as detailed on the site.

Other tips from the Disney folks…

· There are two promotional deals currently available if you book by March 31st and travel by August 14th. You can receive a gift card when you check in at the resort (of escalating value depending on the resort and duration of your stay), or you can receive a discount of 25% - 45% off the price of your room. Black out travel dates for this promotion are 3/28 – 4/10. If you book by calling Disney make sure you ask for the special offers… the phone operators are not permitted to suggest them to you.

  • New offers typically are promoted on the site http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/ mid April to early May for the rest of the year. Definitely check the site before booking a summer, fall or winter trip. Historically these deals have been great money-savers. And remember if you book over the phone that you must specifically mention the offer you are interested in at time of booking.

· If you are a Florida resident you can receive a significant discount off park tickets and resort reservations. You must show proof of residency, so sorry, out of state guests accompanying you do not get the same discount.

· If someone will be celebrating a special occasion while visiting a park, make sure you tell them when you make your reservation. They will be issued a pin showing they are celebrating a birthday, anniversary, special achievement, 1st time visitor, and other milestones. Disney told us that “Magical things often happen to guests wearing these pins.”

· Make sure that children have identification at all times, preferably in a hidden spot (sewn into clothes, on a lanyard worn under their shirts, or other spot). If they should get separated from you, park officials will want to know your name, cell phone number and the resort where you are staying.

· If you are traveling with a group definitely book through a “Grand Gatherings” operator at (407) 939-7526. They can link your rooms together so that your party is all in the same section of the resort. If you book on line there is no way to do this and you can end up being widely spread across floors and wings.

· If you are traveling with pre-school children make sure to pick up the “Magic & Wonders for Kids 5 and Under” pamphlet at the check-in area of each park. It lists all the activities geared to pre-schoolers in all of the parks, many of which you may never discover on your own.

One Boomerater member with years of experience at Disney offered this valuable advice…

Disney can be expensive, but there are ways to save.

· Park Ticket prices: In addition to the special promotions, children under 3 are free, and children 3-9 pay reduced child prices.

· If you are a member of AAA - give them a call - they offer discounted Disney vacation packages. Also, if you don’t want a whole package through AAA, you can earn a 15% discount at a Disney resort if you give them your AAA number.

· If you go to the Disney website you will see the different special offers they have going. They have a trip planning section where you can put in your dates, hotel and such and get pricing so you can try different scenarios to see how much they cost.

Staying offsite is the least expensive way to go. You can get some great deals that are not on Disney property. But if you're not driving to Orlando you will need to rent a car. The onsite hotels are the most convenient, with a transportation network that makes it easy to travel between the parks and resorts. Disney has 3 resort types - Economy, Moderate and Deluxe.

· You can sometimes get economy rooms for under $100 a night. I've never stayed at an economy - I hear the rooms are smaller and the beds are doubles. Some of the economy hotels have "Family Suites" which cost a bit more, and offer more room.

· I've stayed at some of the moderate hotels and they are very nice and priced well. They usually have 2 double beds - depending upon the ages of your grandchildren you may be able to get a cot or something for one of them.

· Deluxe is most expensive usually $200 or more a night, with more amenities.

· If you book a discounted package thru Disney you usually need to book your room, tickets and meal plan all together. If you want to go ala carte and book things separately, the best place I’ve found to get park tickets is undercovertourist.com. I used this site for the past two years to buy my tickets. They are the same as you would get at Disney, but cost less. It's not a BIG savings per person, but it does add up. The price of the ticket online includes shipping and tax.

· Remember, paper park tickets are not replaceable. After you check in at your hotel bring your tickets and room card to your hotel’s guest relations desk and they will but your tickets and room key on one card. If the card is lost it is easily replaced.

· If you have other questions you can always call 1-407-W-DISNEY and talk to a rep. They are very helpful with giving information and pricing.

Some other good "unofficial" Disney websites that have valuable information are:

  • allearsnet.com
  • mousesavers.com (good info on saving$)
  • wdwinfo.com

· There is also a forum where many Disney "experts" exchange information and help others. It is www.disboards.com. I learned a lot from this site.

Another Boomerater member, who is also a frequent Disney visiter. had this additional insight to offer

· Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort is the one Moderate hotel with queen beds. We picked that for our vacation last year for just that reason and had a delightful time.

· One great benefit of staying at Disney is the free shuttle from OrlandoAirport, "Disney's Magical Express." If you plan to stay at Disney the whole time, you won't even need to rent a car between the shuttle and the on-site transportation (buses, ferries, monorail). Another benefit is the "Extra Magic Hours" where a different park each day is open either an hour earlier or stays open three hours later for on-site guests - very key to getting your money's worth.

· One discount website that's been providing great hotel deals for me lately, and shows a lot for Disney, is Travelzoo.com. Also, definitely check AAA and other travel agents to see what they offer. AAA offers special VIP parking for its customers, which we were always jealous of. Might have to try AAA one of these years for just that reason.

· To get the most for your money while there, I highly recommend research and planning. There are sites and resources that let you plan what you'd like to see in advance and help you avoid lines. Depending on when you go, lines can be killer, and if you don't plan accordingly, you can end up with a cranky, disappointed crew. We love "The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World" and its associated website Touringplans.com. Some people like Tour Guide Mike (tourguidemike.com), but it didn't work as well for us as Touringplans. We went last April during the busiest week of the year - they actually shut down the MagicKingdom two afternoons we were there because it was too crowded. But we never waited more than 15 minutes for anything, and saw everything we wanted to see thanks to careful planning.

· Plan to be there when the park opens, as early as possible, to see as much as you can before lunchtime. We left at around 12-1 most days after seeing most everything we wanted to see, and took a break at the hotel for a few hours to rest up and have a swim, then visited another park in the afternoon/evening. While we were on our way out each day, we would watch masses of people streaming into the park we were leaving. A great tip is to book character breakfasts for the first seating, before the park opens (there are a number you can try, including Cinderella's Castle and Crystal Palace at Magic Kingdom, Akershus at Epcot, Hollywood and Vine at Hollywood Studios (best for the preschool set), and Tusker House at Animal Kingdom. Once you're done eating, you're already inside the park, with a head start on the rest of the crowds. Book those as early as you can (180 days out for best availability).

Finally, this Boomerater member found significant savings by staying off-site

· We have been to Disney in Orlando 4 times and each time we rented a house within 10 minutes of the parks. Each came with 3 bedrooms, a full kitchen and a private pool. One even had a foosball game. The price for the whole house was less per night than the cost of one room at a Disney resort. On one occasion we had our children and parents staying in the same house and there was plenty of room. Two sites I use are VRBO.com (vacation rental by owner) and Rentalo.com.

· We went to a few parks each trip, but because we had a car we were able to find other less expensive things to do. The miniature golf courses throughout Florida are amazing and great for grandparents who may not be up to SpaceMountain. Though it is tempting to buy souvenirs for your grandchildren at the parks, you can get Disney character keepsakes at all of the area drugstores, grocery stores and discount stores, and you will save a lot of money. Plus you won’t have to tote them around the park all day.