Adventure Awaits, Budget Tribe, California, Florida

Stretching your Disney dollars and the perks of sleeping at a Mouse House

By: Terry Gardner – check out Terry’s Custom Disney Guide

Whenever I’ve met families with kids under 15 at Disney World, they’ve told me that they swear by the Disney Dining Plan.

Whether you’re heading to Orlando, Florida for a holiday or summer vacation, a bit of planning can help you get more for less at Disney World, Epcot and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park.

Both and (a non-Disney site) list special offers and other useful info. On, click on the “Tickets & Packages” tab then scroll down to Special Offers for room deals and Magic Your Way vacation specials.


Disney World savings

  • Buy a Magic Your Way Pass for three days or more for lower daily admission ($77.33 per day for a 3-day ticket, including tax). You can visit one park per day using the pass.
  • Don’t buy Park Hopper unless one park a day won’t satisfy you.
  • Steer clear of the souvenir shops, especially those planted at the exits of most attractions.
  • Pack snacks — you can bring food and water inside (no cans or glass bottles).
  • Consider booking a Disney value-priced resort for less than $100 per night. Perks include free transportation and extra park hours. Disney has thousands of such rooms. You save $14 per day on parking and can easily leave for a meal or a nap, then return. (More on these advantages below under Sleeping at Mickey’s.)
  • Get a map at the entrance to guide you through your day.
  • Take advantage of the free FastPass option to avoid time in line.

Epcot freebies

  • Epcot’s nightly fireworks featuring music and a moving earth (IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth) are “Aaah”-inspiring. Best views of both the earth and fireworks are in the United Kingdom pavilion.
  • Hang-glide with Soarin‘.
  • Enjoy drummers in Japan and a band in Morocco.
  • See dinosaurs with Ellen DeGeneres (Universe of Energy).
  • Be a spy with Kim Possible (the World Showcase).
  • E-mail pictures of your future from Spaceship Earth and Mission Space (Future World).
  • Enjoy free Coca-Cola samples from around the world in Club Cool (Innovations Pavilion).

Animal Kingdom advice

  • Arrive in the morning, when the park opens, to see the most animals (animal attractions close at dusk).
  • Watch zebras, giraffes, wildebeests and more on the savannah before, during and after a meal at the Animal Kingdom Lodge (Jambo House and Kidani Village). Giraffes nibbled outside while I munched my Angus burger ($10.99) at Sanaa Restaurant.
  • Sleeping at Mickey’s

Once you’ve slept over at one of Mickey’s properties, there’s no going back. From free transportation to extended theme park hours, Disney makes checking into one of its resorts irresistible.

When my brother’s family and I stayed at a nearby Fairfield Inn, my sister-in-law got lost leaving the parks each day. When we drove ourselves around, it seemed that all roads led to Disney, but getting back to our hotel from Epcot, Animal Kingdom or the Magic Kingdom proved challenging.

My sister-in-law, Brenda, and I seem to lack any navigation gene, so we are genetically wired to easily lose our way. For the navigationally challenged, staying with Disney makes life so much easier. When I stayed at the Contemporary Resort last May, I could walk over to the Magic Kingdom or catch the Monorail to Epcot and then catch a bus to Animal Kingdom. (Complimentary ferryboats are another option.) There’s no hassle with parking and no stress of finding anything including my way back to an offsite hotel. But if you do want to drive, parking at the theme parks is complimentary for guests at Disney Resort hotels.

I stayed at the Contemporary for a Society of American Travel Writers meeting, and Disney pulled out all the stops. The Contemporary Hotel and more than 25 other Disney resorts in Lake Buena Vista, Florida (including The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort) offer free shuttle service from/to the Orlando Airport onboard Disney’s Magical Express. There is a Magical Express Welcome Center at the Orlando Airport in the Main Terminal on the B-side, level 1.
For guests arriving between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m., Disney will even handle your baggage from the airport to your hotel. (Luggage delivery can take up to three hours for delivery, so I opted to handle my own luggage rather than wait for them to reach my room.)

Our SATW Western Conference meeting opened with greetings from both Disney and Pixar characters including Donald Duck, Woody and Buzz Lightyear (from “Toy Story”), Monsters and Incredibles and even Star War’s characters. Everything was so well organized that I felt like I was on a cruise ship where all my needs were easily met.

Each day, one of the four Walt Disney World theme parks opens one hour early or remains open up to 3 hours after regular closing time for guests at several of its resorts.

Dining with Mickey

Whenever I’ve met families with kids under 15 at Disney World, they’ve told me that they swear by the Disney Dining Plan. A couple of families said their dining plan was an added bonus with their vacation package. There’s a current deal (that must be booked by May 18, 2012) for a free Disney Dining Plan when families purchase a non-discounted 5-night/6-day Magic Your Way room and ticket package for arrivals between August 25-Sept. 29, 2012 (based on availability).

For 2012, Disney added 10 new dining locations for the Dining Plan giving families more than 75 restaurants to choose from within Disney’s various resorts, Downtown Disney, Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Blizzard Beach Water Park and Hollywood Studios.

Generally, Disney reports its Dining Plan saves families approximately 20% per person on meals, not including alcohol or tips. To get the meal plan, travelers need to book a Magic Your Way vacation package; options range from value to luxury. The dining plan includes one quick service meal, a snack and one table service meal per person.

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1 Comment

  1. Steve

    Great article!

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