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Disney World - The Lengthy Planning Process
Old 02-04-2014, 01:16 PM   #1
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Disney World - The Lengthy Planning Process

We recently spent a week in Disney World (our first time) and I wanted to share the process we used to plan the trip, attempted to cut costs as well as get cost saving ideas from this frugal forum for future trips to Disney World or travel in general. While this may be over the top for many, hopefully some of you can leverage a couple ideas to help if you have a Disney World trip planned in the near future. Ok this is lengthy so here it goes:
Criteria - As part of that planning process (and before DW would allow me to start “tinkering”) she had two criteria that could not be altered 1) we had to stay on Disney property for this trip 2) we had to bring (pay) for our oldest daughter (my stepdaughter age 23) who no longer lives with us. In total the party consisted of 5 family members (me, DW, 4 ½ year old son, two stepdaughters 19 & 23).

The Early Planning Process & Travel:
Decided When – We had a somewhat flexible schedule and could gear the trip a little more around our preference (i.e. crowds, festivals, etc.). For us the major driver was crowds as we are not crowd people and heavy crowds would completely ruin our trip. I know…. I know Disney World is almost always crowded but you can substantially reduce the impact of crowds by looking at off-peak dates. There are many websites you can use that leverage historical crowd sizes and project out the highest and lowest crowd size weeks for the upcoming year. I used and recommend getting a one year subscription to Touringplans.com (roughly $9) for additional benefits that will be spelled out below. The one con regarding the off-peak season is that we ran into a couple of attractions that were closed for restoration.

Plan Early – For us this meant planning a year ahead of time, January 2013 for a January 2014 trip, enabling us to get rough estimates on costs and dedicate a savings plan for the year to have the trip paid off before we departed. It should be noted that we were not be able to book any rooms or reservations this far in advance, but we were able to start framing estimated costs. Knowing that we were traveling in January and that January is considered offseason we researched other offseason months to get estimated costs using Disney’s website.

Used Credit Cards to our advantage – Although we had been saving up for the trip we leveraged a Southwest & Chase Sapphire CC to pay for the trip and simply paid the cards off each month (you do not need to charge the entire trip all at one time and we actually made three payments). In addition we switched to purchasing everything with a card (including daycare costs) to gain as many miles as possible. Again we paid it off each month. By using this strategy and starting the planning process so early we were able to accumulate miles and get 5 free roundtrip flights from Pittsburgh to Orlando.


Booking Reservations:
Contact a Disney Travel Agent – Disney prices are set prices and travel agents are paid by Disney based on the amount of dollars they bring in (at least this is what I told). What this means is that we got the same price for the room and park passes from our travel agent as we would by booking it ourselves. I did check the prices myself and they were the same as what was listed on Disney’s site. So what is the advantage of using a travel agent if you can get the same price yourself? The first advantage is that travel agents (at least ours) are tuned in to any specials that Disney may offer before your trip. For example, about three months prior to us leaving, Disney ran a special offer for 15% off room rates for a set week. Our travel agent contacted us regarding the offer, letting us know that all we had to do was move our travel dates by 1 day (arrive and leave a day later than our original plan) and we would qualify. She then handled all the leg work of changing the reservations. In addition, she handled all the park pass purchases.
Caution – Our travel agent tried to sell us on the Disney Dining plan and book our flights. She really pushed the Disney Dining plan telling us how much money we would save. Don’t book either of these until you do your homework (or you land a free Disney Dinning plan promotion).

Food
Food Costs (this is a biggie) – Disney food choices are expensive and so is the Dinning plan! After getting the quote for the middle of the road dining plan and picking ourselves off the floor DW and I began the research process. First we determined that we would do one table service meal a day and lunch would be just a simple quick service meal (we actually only did the quick service meal one time. Eating a big breakfast in the room and taking snacks ended up being more than enough). Knowing we were only going to eat one table service meal a day the next step was determining where. Our strategy was to pick one restaurant from each park or a late dinner at Downtown Disney (of course this was based on our research of the choices). I then pulled the menus from those restaurants and priced out what I thought everyone would order. I then built in a fixed cost for our counter service lunch meals and snacks and added them all together for the 7 days. After doing this exercise we were pleasantly surprised that our meal costs were much lower than the equivalent dinning plan we had been quoted. This made our decision not to get the Disney Dinning plan easy. We then made our restaurant reservations to lock in our restaurant choices.
Leverage Gas perks – Now that we were armed with our approximate food costs we purchased Disney gift cards from our local grocery store to gain fuel perks. In total we were able to fill up our SUV 2 times at $60 a pop for free. In addition, we used our CC to purchase the gift cards and gain some quick miles. At Disney we charged everything we did to the room and paid it off every couple days with the gift cards. Disney has a $500 running limit that can be charged back to the room so you will need to pay attention and pay this off accordingly.
Buy groceries and have the delivered to the room – To save money on food we wanted to eat breakfast in the room before leaving for the parks in the morning. In addition, we wanted to have snacks to take into the park in a backpack. To do this effectively we used an Orlando grocery service called GreenGrocer.com and ordered groceries delivered to our room. We ended up getting fruit, milk, yogurt, water, cereal, peanut butter, bread, etc. We even had beer delivered as part of this service. It was so nice to come back to the room after a day of walking and have the ability to pop open a normally priced ice cold beer! Also, having snacks with us basically eliminated the need for us to stop and each lunch….. we simply weren’t hungry.

Time!!
Leverage our time – A couple weeks ahead of time we created a plan of attack for each park based on the dinner reservation location. If our reservations were in Epcot we went to Epcot that day, if they were in Animal Kingdom we went to Animal Kingdom, etc... We then used the park brochures Disney sent us as part of the reservation process and determined what attractions we wanted to do at each park. After completing this we used TouringPlans.com again and plugged in the attraction for the appropriate park along with our Dinner reservation place and time and our fast pass times (you now can plan fast passes before you leave). The TouringPlans website optimizes the order of the attractions to give you the most efficient attraction order to visit the park. It even takes into account historical wait times, fast pass and dinner times! Being new to Disney this service was a game changer for our family and we really felt as though we leveraged our time effectively getting the most from what we wanted out of the parks.

Results
In all we ended up getting a suite at Art of Animation as it was cheaper than 2 rooms. We felt 1 room would have been too tight for 4 adults and 1 child. We stayed for 7 days and 6 nights.
Original quoted price from our travel agent for 5 people – A little over $7,000
Our actual price for everything (including stupid things like coffee and hot chocolate in the parks) – A little over $4,500
….. And the best thing about it is we did not feel as though we were cutting any corners! Oh and we had a blast!
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Old 02-04-2014, 07:59 PM   #2
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Thank-you for posting this!!! We really want to do a Disney World trip with our three kids (a once in a lifetime thing for us). I've really been struggling with thinking about the cost. This information will help us immensely! I haven't read it all yet but I will, and will probably print it out. We are thinking about going in Feb or March 2016. Kids will be 11, 13, 14 at that point. Hope they will still think it's cool at that point!
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Old 02-04-2014, 08:28 PM   #3
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Thanks for posting all of this info. We have been to Disney World several times, but never did this detailed planning. My favorite time going was when we stayed at Disney World.

I have a 5 yr old granddaughter and we took her to Disneyland when she lived in California. She was probably 3 yrs old. She is now living in WV and I would like to take her to Disney World in the next year or two. I will make sure that I re-read this thread then!
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Old 02-04-2014, 11:38 PM   #4
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Food in the park can get expensive. Eating a bigger breakfast and then snacks for lunch does work out well. In addition Disney will let you take in drinks and food. Just no metal cans or alcohol. Plastic bottles are good, you can take them in no problem. We took some snack foods as well, so our only real expense was dinner and anything we bought like frozen stuff.

Also the park hopper tickets are not needed, as we just spent one full day at each park. My suggestion, save the money and skip the park hopper option.

Tickets are expensive no matter what, but the more days you have the less cost for each day. If you are not staying on property, the parking each day is another expense, I think it was $15 or $20 per day and that was about 4 years ago.

Best thing I can suggest is just realize the point of vacation is to have fun, and budget the money ahead to avoid credit card bill shock once you get home! Good idea taking advantage of the card paybacks and frequent flyer miles. We also used frequent flyer tickets to fly to Orlando, but I get mine from work travel. Using the SW card is a good idea. Going off-season does help the crowds and make it more enjoyable. Plus summer on Fl can be quite hot and humid, wait until it cools down and all the kids are back in school!
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Old 02-05-2014, 10:43 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by dontworry View Post
Thank-you for posting this!!! We really want to do a Disney World trip with our three kids (a once in a lifetime thing for us). I've really been struggling with thinking about the cost. This information will help us immensely! I haven't read it all yet but I will, and will probably print it out. We are thinking about going in Feb or March 2016. Kids will be 11, 13, 14 at that point. Hope they will still think it's cool at that point!

Don't worry they will love it! Disney does a good job of entertaining at all age levels! Now at that age they may not think that you are cool anymore but you are probably already finding that out.
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Old 02-05-2014, 10:57 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by 38Chevy454 View Post
Food in the park can get expensive. Eating a bigger breakfast and then snacks for lunch does work out well. In addition Disney will let you take in drinks and food. Just no metal cans or alcohol. Plastic bottles are good, you can take them in no problem.
!

Good call and you can always stop at any drinking fountain and refill them in the park for free.

Interesting on your take regarding the hopper passes. I am not sure if it was the lack of crowds or the itinerary we built to see each park but we visited multiple parks on 3 of the days we were in Disney using our hopper passes. On those occasions we were at park 1 at gate opening, came back to the room for a power nap and went to park 2 until close. However, I could see not having enough time for this strategy during the busy periods and an opportunity to reduce costs.
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Old 02-05-2014, 12:23 PM   #7
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Sounds like you had a very good time!

We've been to Disney World once, in 1992. The boys were 7 and 5 and we were heading to Ft. Pierce, FL for a family reunion vacation with DHs family. My FIL was in the hotel business at the time and knew someone who got us all one day free passes to any one park. We chose Epcot which we really enjoyed. I had read about the park in advance so we knew where to head and what attractions to aim for. For being one very long day at one park we got to see a lot and I was surprised at how reasonable the food prices were.

For having a 5yr old and 7yr old you may think Magic Kingdom would have been more appropriate but our kids were more into science and technology than classic Disney cartoons. They both loved all the interactive stuff. The 5 yr old did not appreciate the dinosaurs attraction (I don't remember the name but it was brought to you by one of the big oil/fossil fuel megacorps) and clung to me the whole time, afraid to look at the dinosaurs. His favorite was Journey Into Imagination with Figment (Kodak). We also did the Epcot ball thing and an undersea thing and the Journey Through the Body one. We were pleased to have very minimal wait times at most of the attractions.

I know a lot of adults who love the place and go there on their own, without kids. It's not my kind of vacation, but I'm glad we had the opportunity to enjoy a small part of it when our kids were young.

Of course, if we are ever lucky enough to have a grandchild........
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Old 02-05-2014, 01:18 PM   #8
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I know a lot of adults who love the place and go there on their own, without kids. It's not my kind of vacation, but I'm glad we had the opportunity to enjoy a small part of it when our kids were young.

........

I went by myself just before Christmas, 2012. I did quite a bit of planning before I left too. I'm sure that my planning was much simpler with only planning for myself tho. I made my reservation thru my travel agent only about a month before I left. I did get the park hopper and the dining plan. I only had one reservation for dinner in advance and that was the special lobster dinner that took more points. I picked a few places that I thought I might like each day from the park I was visiting and tried getting in right as they opened for lunch. I had fun, even by myself..rode lots of rides, ate good food, saw some fun shows, walked 'til my feet screamed, enjoyed a little sun and exercised my brain cells just by getting away for awhile. All transportation was provided and I always felt safe. Had a good time.
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Old 02-05-2014, 05:20 PM   #9
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I have been to Disney World several times but my favorite was when I went with my daughter & son . They were 23 & 30 at the time and we had a ball . My favorite hotels in Disney are the affiliate hotels near Downtown Disney . They have great transportation and are usually closer to reasonable dining then being inside Disney plus they are less expensive .
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Old 02-05-2014, 05:40 PM   #10
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Thank-you for posting this!!! We really want to do a Disney World trip with our three kids (a once in a lifetime thing for us). I've really been struggling with thinking about the cost. This information will help us immensely! I haven't read it all yet but I will, and will probably print it out. We are thinking about going in Feb or March 2016. Kids will be 11, 13, 14 at that point. Hope they will still think it's cool at that point!
Crowds and costs seem to ramp quickly as soon as Spring Break season begins and I think that's in March. We are FL annual pass holders and usually go about once a month. I would stick to January or February, if possible.
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Old 02-05-2014, 06:00 PM   #11
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I know it is not Disney World, but at Disneyland Calif Adventure, the new Cars Land is incredible. Very well done and it feels like you are in the movie set almost. We visited the CA parks and there are a lot of hotels right across the street or very nearby and within walking distance, so no parking required.

Disney has stuff for all ages, but it does seem more fun with kids when they are younger, but still old enough to be able to go on most of the rides. Real little toddlers can't do a lot of the rides or appreciate the shows or activities.
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Old 02-05-2014, 09:08 PM   #12
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Curious how much of a savings was the Greengrocer vs the Disney dining plan? Got to say we stayed for a week and were really happy with the Disney plan.
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Old 02-06-2014, 08:05 AM   #13
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Crowds and costs seem to ramp quickly as soon as Spring Break season begins and I think that's in March. We are FL annual pass holders and usually go about once a month. I would stick to January or February, if possible.

Thanks Buckeye! Maybe we will try for January 2016.
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Old 02-06-2014, 08:13 AM   #14
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We haven't gone for 12 years but we used to go a lot before that.

Didn't have the grocery delivery option then so one of my first tasks upon day of arrival was to hit a grocery store to stock up on breakfast, snacks, drinks & beer. Every store sells cheap $3 styrofoam coolers that you can use to keep food cold and just leave in your room upon departure.

For me the biggest thing was always getting to the parks early (as in right when it opens). If staying on Disney property go to the park with the early access option. Many families like to sleep in so you can have 2-3 hours of much shorter lines if you can get up an out. Having breakfast in your room helps make that happen.
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Old 02-06-2014, 10:40 AM   #15
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Be sure to read up on the new FastPass+ system before you go. A pretty big change in how Fast Passes are planned and managed.

You could be in for some less than ideal weather in Jan but I think it's one of the slowest months of the year. Disney just posted a 33% increase in profits so the 'slowest month' might still be busy!

An option for accommodations is to purchase Disney Vacation Club points from DVC members who want to rent them out. We had a very nice stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge in December for probably less than 1/2 of rack rate. There is a very reputable forum at the WDWINFO website (which also has tons of info).
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Old 02-06-2014, 06:30 PM   #16
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Curious how much of a savings was the Greengrocer vs the Disney dining plan? Got to say we stayed for a week and were really happy with the Disney plan.
This is really dependent on your family and why you have to make the call based on their eating habits. If you have a couple young children or if your family eats like a pack of rabid dogs then well the dinning plan might make sense. For my family it didn't make sense as we are light eaters, would rather have appetizers over desserts and enjoy cold adult beverages with dinner. The last two items would not have been covered with the dinning plan and we would have had to pay extra. During a couple of the dinners we ordered big appetizers to start and then split dinners as we knew we would be too full to finish entire entrees. Anyway we saved about $500 over using the Dinning plan. But again..... your family might be different than mine.
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Old 02-06-2014, 09:01 PM   #17
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Great job with the planning!

While we don't have Disney on our travel list, we do most of what you did with the exception of the detailed restaurant planning and the use of gift cards.

For hotels, we use hotwire.com and priceline quite extensively. We are trying airbnb on our next trip though we've rented people's home before using vrbo.

We use gasbuddy.com to get good deals on gas, but the savings are usually minor unless you are traveling through a state with high gas prices. Then, a little planning can save a bit.

I also research state parks and little towns on our route to see if there is something interesting for a short break from driving.
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Old 02-12-2014, 04:48 AM   #18
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What's the weather usually like in June in Disney area? Just hesitating about taking kids out of school for a week so considering an early summer trip. But I know we would not enjoy too much heat!

Also, has anybody camped near Disney? Leaning heavily towards flying but if we could take 2 weeks off we have thought about driving down and camping (from Minnesota). Thoughts?
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Old 02-12-2014, 06:01 AM   #19
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What's the weather usually like in June in Disney area? Just hesitating about taking kids out of school for a week so considering an early summer trip. But I know we would not enjoy too much heat!

Also, has anybody camped near Disney? Leaning heavily towards flying but if we could take 2 weeks off we have thought about driving down and camping (from Minnesota). Thoughts?
Fort Wilderness is Disney's campground. It has a pool and both bus and water transportation AFAIK. We went to the Hoop De Doo review dinner theatre over there and every night they have a free outdoor movie with Chip-n-Dale (campfire, smores). I thought it was a fantastic alternative to a hotel stay!
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Old 02-25-2014, 07:54 PM   #20
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Weather in early June is very hot and humid. When we went then, I remember saying so many times "this weather is brutal!"
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