How to Save Money on Disney Souvenirs

bill-fold-squeezeLet’s face facts. Going to Disney World for a vacation is not a cheap thing to do. You have to shell out money for lodging, meals, transportation to and from Orlando and, if you’re anything like our family, lots of souvenirs. The good news is that I have a few good ideas on how to save money on Disney souvenirs.

Buy before you fly (or drive).

I think this is something that people often neglect to do. It’s very easy to get wrapped up on the impulse purchase at all of the great souvenir shops in the parks and at Disney Springs. When our kids were younger this was especially difficult because when my kids want something, I want to give it to them.

One way that we have found to mitigate this is to purchase some souvenirs before we left for our trip. You can find things for far cheaper online and at outlet stores prior to leaving.

Take this shirt on amazon.com for instance. On amazon, it sells for $13 – $20. At any of the Disney World locations in Orlando, you would likely pay around $30 for it. If I bought each member of my family this shirt (or something similar) on amazon it would save me at least $50 versus at Disney World. It is sold by Disney through amazon so it is of the same high quality your would find in the parks.

We typically try to buy our kids, and ourselves, a few pieces of memorabilia prior to leaving for our trips. It makes budgeting a lot easier because you stretch out how long you have to pay for your souvenirs for as long as you want.

Then we hide them from the kids. We will give them to them the day we are leaving for our vacation or we sometimes hold them until we get down there.

Another idea is to give the souvenirs to your kids every few days. What I mean by this is give them a shirt as soon as you get down there, and don’t be surprised when they want to wear it every day. Then a day or two later give them a cap or a set of Mickey Ears.

Disney Gift Cards

Another thing we do is get a Disney gift card or two for each member of our family. This does two things for us.

First, it provides each member with a specific budget of how much they have to spend. This allows for the impulse purchases that all kids (and dads) want, but it makes them think about how bad they want the shiny new object they just found. We use it as a budgeting learning tool for our kids. Once they have spent all of the money on their gift card they don’t have any more to spend the rest of the trip.

Now, I will say that we usually also put rules on when they can spend their souvenir money. Typically we make them wait for at least a few days into the vacation before they can start shopping. We also usually have them save a little bit for our last day because we have a tradition of going to Disney Springs on our last day in Orlando just to shop.

The second thing it does is save us money. You can buy Disney gift cards at BJ’s Wholesale Club at a slight discount. They typically cost around $96 for a $100 gift card so it’s only about a 4% savings, but when you couple this tactic with others the savings can really start to add up.

There are a few notes on the gift cards that I want to mention. One is that they don’t expire. If you’re planning multiple trips you don’t have to worry if you have some money left over on them.  You can use them on your next trip.

The other thing I want to mention is that these cards can be used at most places that accept credit cards at Disney World. We use them for all of our dining and shopping needs. We always try to figure out about how much we are going to be spending eating out at the parks and resorts and budget meal costs into our gift card purchase.

Pin Trading

One thing that is HUGE at all of the Disney parks is pin trading. Most people wear their pins on a lanyard and proudly display them the entire time they are on vacation.

Did you know that if you approach any Cast Member (Disney employee) and ask them to trade pins with you, they will? Our kids always have a lot of fun doing that and that is how they have gotten some of their coolest pins.

For this reason we usually buy some of Disney pins at a discount before our trip. You can usually find a batch of 25 pins for around $25 or less so it is much more economical than buying them at the park where they typically run around $4 each for the very cheapest ones. Some of the more expensive ones are upwards of $30.

Sometimes you can even find some really cool pins in a batch purchase like this from amazon or ebay. We always have our kids pick out the ones they are certain they want to keep and not trade. We fasten the ones they don’t want to lose to their lanyards with locking pin keepers.

Disney Outlet

If you are driving to Orlando, another great idea to save money is to make a pit stop at a Disney Outlet Store once you start getting close to your destination.

On occasion, we try to stop at the Disney Outlet Store in Florida off of Interstate 95 to or from our vacation. All of the products in the store are Disney branded. You will likely not save as much as you would if you were shopping online but the items will not be as pricey as they are at Disney World.

This gives us a chance to shop around and touch the stuff we’re thinking about buying so it is a great option.

I hope I’ve given you some good ideas on how to save money on Disney souvenirs. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments below. Also, if you have any money saving tips for vacation souvenirs, I’d love to hear about them.

Planning a Disney World Vacation

disney-world-vacation-39-days-to-goAs many of you know, April and I are in the middle of planning a Disney World Vacation. We are super excited about it and we are a measly 39 days, 21 hours, 10 minutes and 5 seconds from being on vacation! Excited much?

Now, I say that we are in the middle of planning it, but it is mostly planned. And when I say we, I mean April. She certainly take the brunt of the planning of all of our vacations. But she enjoys doing it and I enjoy letting her.

What is there to plan? Aren’t you just going to go to the parks?

Well, yeah, we are definitely going to “just” be going to the parks. But if you don’t have a plan you might find yourself among throngs of crowds, waiting in hour long lines and not being able to get into the good restaurants.

When should you go?

I think a better question is when can you go? As for me, I will go whenever I can. With that said, there are times when the crowds are lighter.

I find that many people are hindered by their kid’s school schedule. We have been fortunate in that our kids have always done well enough in school that we can justify pulling them out for a week to go whenever we want.

That is why we are going the second week in December this year. The crowds will be on the light side. We will also get to see the Osborne Spectacle of Lights one last time.

I’ve done some research and writing on when to go. Check out my article on when to go for some tips. Check back often. It’s an evolutionary writing.

Dining Reservations

I have said it before and I’ll say it again here. Make dining reservations as far in advance as possible. Don’t say I did not warn you.

disny-ohana-restaurant
With Stitch at Ohana’s Best Friends Breakfast

We have found that even making reservations exactly 180 days from the date of our stay, we often find it difficult to get into the more popular restaurants. Fortunately for us, the most popular restaurants are not our favorites, but if you’re looking for character dining it is best to book as soon as you can.

One of the restaurants that I’m really looking forward to this December is Coral Reef in Epcot. It is a really cool place to eat where the rolls sort of get reversed between fish and people. There is an enormous aquarium and the restaurant has stadium seating. It sort of feels like you are sitting in a fish bowl and the fish are viewing you. There are even sharks in the aquarium. SHARKS!

Coral Reef Restaurant by Richo.Fan is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Coral Reef Restaurant by Richo.Fan is licensed under CC BY 2.0

There are gobs of great restaurants to eat at. Pick the ones you want to eat at and jump on getting some reservations. Without them you may not get in. Again, I cannot say this enough.

Which Park, Which Day

This is a tricky one to figure out. If you are making in park dining reservations and do not have a park hopper, you may get pigeon holed into going to certain parks on certain days. Don’t be discouraged. You can work around this. The only park this really happens to with us is Epcot, usually, because we frequently eat at resort restaurants.

If you have some flexibility a great resource is the Undercover Tourist iPhone app. It’s free and easy to use. It not only gives you wait times for the attractions, but lists the parade times and even tells you what the estimated park crowds are heaviest and lightest for that day.

I love going to Magic Kingdom on the very first day we are there. To me it’s nostalgic and the crowds will not keep me away. But everyone is different.

Whatever parks you decide to visit on whichever day, you will certainly want to take advantage of FastPass+.

FastPass+

Learn how to skip the lines from the pros at Undercover Tourist. I cannot explain it any better than them, so I’ll just leave you with this link.

In short, though, FastPass+ allows you to skip the line queue by setting up an approximate time you want to ride a specific ride. You are allowed a few of these per day. I recommend using them for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in Magic Kingdom, Toy Story Mania and The Rockin’ Roller Coaster in Hollywood Studios, Soarin’ and Test Track in Epcot and Kilimanjaro Safaris and Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom.

Break Days

What is a break day? Stay at the resort and go to the pool. They are all awesome and you get a relaxing day without having to rush to or from a park. April has found that these are her favorite days on vacation.

Planning a Disney World Vacation

Whatever your plan is, try to be flexible as well. You may end up having to change your plans due to weather or park crowds. But it’s OK. Relax. You’re on vacation at the most magical place on earth. And I’m sure you’ll be able to reschedule your plans.

If you have any questions or comments, as always, reach out to us below.

Discount Disney World Tickets

There are quite a few ways to get discount Disney World tickets.  There really is no real reason to pay full price when you can save a few bucks.  Here is a list of a few of the ways we’ve found to purchase park passes at a discount rather than having to pay full price at the gate.

What kind of tickets do you need?

The first thing to decide is what kind of tickets you need for your trip. There are a few options to choose from. There is an annual pass (with a few different options to choose from) and a Magic Your Way base ticket.

Most people visiting Walt Disney World will probably want the Magic Your way Base ticket. The only real reason to upgrade to an annual pass is if you plan on visiting more than once in a 12 month period of time or if you are visiting the parks more than 10 days which is currently the maximum number of days you can put on a base ticket.

If you decide you need the magic your way base ticket there are a few add-ons you can purchase. One is the Water Parks and More upgrade.

"Ski Patrol Disney Blizzard Beach Florida" by Dr latino999 at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ski_Patrol_Disney_Blizzard_Beach_Florida.jpg#/media/File:Ski_Patrol_Disney_Blizzard_Beach_Florida.jpg
Ski Patrol Disney Blizzard Beach Florida by Dr latino999 is licensed under Public Domain via Commons

We almost always upgrade to the Water Parks and more option which allows you the same number of “fun visits”. Here are what the Fun Visits are:

If you use this option for one water park and one miniature golf entrance it has paid for itself. We almost always hit the water parks at least twice so it’s really a great value for us.

Entrance to Disney Quest used to also be included but since they announced its forthcoming closure which I talked about here. It is now included on your regular park pass.

Another upgrade is to add the Park Hopper. The Park Hopper option allows you to visit more than one park per day. This option is extremely useful if you are visiting during certain events like the Food and Wine Festival. We often like to visit one park for the attractions and then head over to Epcot for the food.

undercover-tourist-discount-disney-world-ticketsUndercover Tourist

This is the way we usually purchase our tickets. They have several different options options to choose from. You can save up to $38/ticket to Disney World from Undercover Tourist, plus FREE shipping!

Undercover Tourist offers discount Disney World tickets for all pricing levels with the exception of annual passes. They also offer tickets to other Orlando attractions such as Legoland, SeaWorld and Universal Parks.

The best thing about Undercover Tourist is that the discounts are offered to everyone. You do not need to be a member of any organization or club to receive a discount. Their discounts are also usually deeper than other organizations that you already have to pay to be a member of.

AAA

AAA offers discounts for members, currently up to $25 off gate prices. From what we have seen, this discount has never better than Undercover Tourist’s. With that said, if you are a member, it may be worth checking into at the time you are purchasing your tickets. I believe you will find that Undercover Tourist is always going to be cheaper.

Military

Walt Disney World usually has a discount for active duty or retired United States Military Personnel. If you fall into either of these categories, thank you for your service, and definitely check into the military discounts. They are usually pretty deep. You are also eligible to stay at Disney’s Shades of Green Resort which provides nice accommodations at a very reasonable price.

disney-vacation-clubDisney Vacation Club

Every once in a while Disney will offer annual pass discounts to DVC members. They are usually priced at the Florida resident discount. We always try to take advantage of this but it usually only works out to be a savings if you are either staying for more than 7 days or if you can manage two trips within 12 months.

Discount Disney World Tickets

There are a few other discount ticket offerings. Florida residents get a discount and there is a program for school field trips. But in summary, I still feel that Undercover Tourist is the best route for non-annual pass tickets as they offer the deepest discount and have the most flexibly.

As always, if you have questions, please ask below.

Disney Vacation Club Rentals

disney-vacation-club-logoI have heard time and time again how darn expensive it is to stay at Walt Disney World, and you know what? One great way to save some money on your vacation is to find a Disney Vacation Club rentals program.

Where can I find Disney Vacation Club Rentals?

There are quite a few programs that will rent you Disney Vacation Club (DVC) points. In our opinion David’s Vacation Club Rentals website is the best place, by far, to to rent them. DVC points are used to book lodging at deluxe Disney owned resorts.

How does it work?

Basically the site acts as a middle man, securing points to book your stay. DVC members who will not be able to use their points contact the service and sell their usage rights to them. Then when you contact the site they pair you with points to suit your wants and needs.

This service will save you hundreds of dollars by booking through it instead of directly through Disney.

How far in advance should I book my vacation?

This really depends on where you want to stay. Some resorts are more desired by guests and therefor book sell out faster. Generally speaking, the earlier the better. For many of them you will want to book as far as 11 in advance.

Here is a list of the most desired rooms. If you want any of them it is wise to request them 11 months from the date you want to check in.

Animal Kingdom Villas

  • Concierge Level Studio
  • Concierge Level 1 Bedroom
  • Concierge Level 2 Bedroom
  • Value Studio
  • Value 1 Bedroom
  • Value 2 Bedroom

Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort

  • Standard View Studio
  • Standard View 1 Bedroom
  • Standard View 2 Bedroom
  • Theme Park View Studio
  • Theme Park View 2 Bedroom

Boardwalk Villas

  • Standard View Studio
  • Standard View 1 Bedroom
  • Standard View 2 Bedroom
  • Boardwalk View Studio
  • Boardwalk View 1 Bedroom
  • Boardwalk View 2 Bedroom
  • Grand Villa

The Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa

  • Standard View Studio
  • Standard View 1 Bedroom
  • Standard View 2 Bedroom

Aulani Villas in Hawaii

  • Standard View Grand Villa

The rest of the rooms can be booked later. The site goes into more detail on how far in advance you should request certain room types. It’s fairly detailed and ranges from 11 months to 3 – 6 months in advance.

How do I book my vacation?

  1. Go to David’s Vacation Club Rentals.
  2. Click on the Reservations Form button.
    disney-vacation-club-rentals-form1
  3. Read through the first page of the form carefully. They go over in great detail what the process is. In a nutshell you will pay a $98 partial payment. This is not a fee and is refunded to you if the service cannot secure you a reservation. Once you have read through all of the details on that page and understand the process, proceed to step 4.
  4. Click the big blue button at the bottom of the Reservation Form Details page.disney-vacation-club-rentals-form2
  5. Here is where it really starts to get fun. Select the dates you want to schedule your vacation. Remember what I mentioned above. The farther in advance you can request your reservation, the more likely it will be that they can secure it for you.disney-vacation-club-rentals-form3
  6. Select your first choice for your room. You will have an opportunity to select a second, third and fourth choice in a minute. My first choice is a studio with a theme park view. You can see that it tells me how much this room will cost. You can play with this depending on your budgetary needs.disney-vacation-club-rentals-form4
  7. Next you can optionally select your alternate choices. Remember, that these will be booked in in the order that you select them if your previous selection is not available. Put a check in the “I understand, please allow me to choose” check box.
    disney-vacation-club-rentals-form5
  8. Select your alternate choices. Their price will be displayed for you.
    disney-vacation-club-rentals-form6
  9. Click the Next Step button and fill in your personal details on the Personal Info page. Please don’t forget to tell them you found them through wdwmagicalmemories.com.
  10. Click the Next Step button and fill in your details on the Guest Info page. Here, information is filled out about each guest. They need this information because a “Magic Band” will be mailed to you for each guest. A magic band is an RFID that you wear on your wrist. You will eventually link your park passes to it as well as other goodies such as Photopass*.
  11. Click the Next Step button to get to the summary page. Carefully review all of your information.
  12. Once you are satisfied with your details click the Next Step button. Here you will pay your $98 partial payment.

Once you have completed all the steps above the good people at David’s Vacation Club Rentals will begin securing your reservation. Once your reservation has been secured you will get a confirmation email with a confirmation code.

You can confirm your reservation through Disney at this point. Here is where you can do that. When asked how you booked your reservation on that page, select “Using a Disney Vacation Club membership”.

Details on how to complete your payment will be emailed to you.

A completed invoice, including rental agreement will also be emailed to you. Your payment in full is your acceptance of the rental agreement.

*A quick not on Photopass and RFIDs: Probably the coolest thing about the Magic Bands coupled with Photopass is that not only can you have your picture taken by Photopass photographers throughout the park, but your picture is taken for you on attractions (rides) and automatically linked to your Photopass account as long as you are wearing your Magic Band.

Are there extra fees?

Nope. That’s it. You just pay for the lodging. Keep in mind that you still do need to purchase your park passes. The rental program only covers lodging.

Disney Vacation Club Rentals

This is a great way to keep costs down for a trip to Walt Disney World. I hope this helps you plan your vacation where dreams come true.

As always, if you have any questions on this process ask them in the comments below. If you have used David’s Vacation Club Rentals in the past, please let us know how it went for you.

When Should You go to Disney World

We get asked this question all the time.  When should you go to Disney World?  There is no easy answer for this question but I’ll try to give some recommendations here.  Ultimately you need to decide what works best for your family.  Many people looking to go are greatly hindered by their kid’s schedule at school.

The most difficult thing about your vacation to the most magical place on earth may actually be leaving.

disney-world-we-are-sad-to-leave

Crowds

I think the major thing most people consider is the crowds.  The day of entering a park at rope drop and having it to yourself is all but over, even when the crowds are at their lowest.  No matter when you go, you will have some crowds to deal with, but how those crowds affect you can greatly be mitigated.  We will have a comprehensive guide to the crowds at Disney World coming soon.

In the meantime, we will break the crowds down into four categories:

  1. Low
    1. Mid January through most of February
    2. The first two weeks of May
    3. The last half of August
    4. September
    5. The last half of October through the fist week of November
    6. The first week of December
  2. Moderate
    1. January 4 through Mid January
    2. The third week in February
    3. The first half of March
    4. The last half of April
    5. The last half of May
    6. The first two weeks in June
    7. The first half of October
    8. The second week in December
  3. High
    1. The second half of March
    2. The first week of April
    3. All of July through the first half of August
    4. Thanksgiving Weekend
  4. For the love of all that is Holy I can’t even walk around
    1. December 24th through January 4th

Low crowds are obviously ideal, but they are low for a reason.  Most people are not afforded the time to go during this time due to life’s schedule, be it kid’s school or work.  We typically try for Low or Moderate times to go which is a good balance.  We have also been during high crowd times and it is very manageable if you make good use of FastPass+ and dining reservations (more on that another time).

We have not visited during the “For the love of all that is Holy I can’t even walk around” time but April really wants to go for Christmas sometime.  Based on people we have spoken with and other reviewers it can be shockingly busy.  I know for fact that Walt Disney World does have a capacity limit and will close parks to entry of new guests when they reach it.  This has, in fact, happened in July which I would consider a High month.

christisn-with-tinkerbell

I think our best trip was the time we went for the first two weeks of December in 2012, but I’m probably biased because Tinkerbell landed on me in that trip.  But the crowds were good.  We even were able to walk on many rides, something that definitely would not happen later in December.  Early December can be considered Low – Moderate.  Late December is definitely High.

Special Events

Another consideration to make on making your decision is special events.  We love, love, love the Food and Wine Festival.  April and I always make a date night and walk around and sample a bunch of the great international food that the best restaurants have to offer in Epcot (not to mention the wine and… ahem… beer).  You basically get a bite or two for each sample but the price is reasonable.  Try the escargot at the France pavilion.  Thank me later.

There are several special events throughout the year.  Some of them require a special pass that you must purchase and others are included with your Magic Your Way Base Ticket.

No matter what your interests are, there is likely a special event that you will enjoy.  We will have an events guide page coming soon so please check back for a more comprehensive guide for events.

Weather

Florida weather can be unpredictable.  No, you’re not going to get snow, but no matter when you visit you are likely to see at least a little rain.  The summer months can be absolutely sweltering.  Couple temperature in the 90’s during the day with high humidity and you will be sticky.

Conversely, the day time temperature in the winter months can be chilly.  The average temperature in January is a high of 71 and a low of 49.  Now if you’re from Chicago, a 60 degree day in January is going to feel nice and warm, but will it be warm enough to visit Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach?  That is up to you.  I will go to the water parks any time.

The water parks do stay open year round and they keep the water heated to a comfortable level.  They do close for inclement weather and if the temperatures get too low to keep the water a comfortable temperature.  If the water parks (or water rides) are on your “must do” list, you may want to make sure you are planning your vacation for when you can really enjoy them.

typhoon-lagoon-water-slide

The pools are a bit of a different story, at least to me.  All of the Walt Disney World Resort pools are also heated so you can also enjoy them year round.  It’s not as bad to make the short walk to get inside as it is if you’re out of the water for long periods of time hiking two the next slide, like you would be at a water park.

Back to the heat.

If you have to go in July or August there are ways to beat the heat.  They have a lot of shaded places and the dining rooms are all climate controlled.  Another option is to return to your resort or hotel in the heat of the day.  Take a lunch break and go back to the park when the sun is lower in the sky and the temperature is starting to drop.

Rain, rain, go away…

You will get wet in Orlando.  I think that goes without saying.  The rainy season typically starts in mid-May and runs through October.  That’s a long rain season.  With that said, most days it’s going to be a passing shower.

Speaking of rain, you know what brings a lot of it?  Hurricanes!  And Florida gets them.  Disney World does have a good hurricane policy but if this is a major concern of yours I would avoid September and October.  Personally, I would not avoid these months for this reason.  To the best of my knowledge Disney World has only closed the parks due to hurricanes twice, once in 2004 and once in 2005.  They do have an excellent policy and work hard to keep their guests safe and comfortable.

There is a lot to consider when planning your trip to Disney World.  It will be fun regardless of when you go.  There is always something magical to do no matter when you are there.