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Staying Thrifty at the Walt Disney World Resort

This is another entry dedicated to my thrifty comrades.

As a follow up to my last entry, Saving for your Walt Disney World® Resort Vacation, this one primarily focuses on money saving measures once you arrive at the Walt Disney World® Resort. But before we get to that, let me expand on the main two places to save I mentioned last time: the Disney Dining Plan and Park Hopper options.

The Disney Dining Plan is a great way to prepay for your meals and to make sure you get to experience some of the exciting Table-Service meal options that Walt Disney World® Resort has to offer. But is it a must? No, not really. When you select the PLUS Dining Plan, you are allotted one Table-Service meal, one Quick-Service meal, and one snack per person per nights stay, which you may use in any order. (Want to use 3 Table-Service meals all in one day? Go ahead!) It is extremely convenient and you can be assured, you will never be hungry! But if you opt to pass on the Disney Dining Plan, you can still book Table-Service meals and just pay out of pocket. So, if you would like to experience just one or two Table-Service meals, you can do that without committing to the Disney Dining Plan for your whole stay.

On the Disney Dining Plan, both the Quick and Table-Service meals come with a free dessert. If you are paying a la carte, you can opt to skip dessert and save yourself both money and calories! Also a possibility, when you are not on the dining plan, is sharing meals. Often times, portions are so large that you can get by ordering one meal and two drinks, and be plenty full. If you are only staying a few days, you may want more time at the theme parks and not want to stop for a Table-Service meal which can easily gobble up two hours of your day. The Quick-Service meals are much faster, and again, you can share meals, keep the price down, and opt to skip dessert. One last word about eating- you ARE permitted to bring your own food into the parks. There is nothing stopping you from bringing a small insulated bag for lunch meat sandwiches, chips or drinks, etc. I also tend to pack easily portable items such as Slim Jims, Goldfish crackers, and fruit snacks to hold us over until we are ready for a real meal. There are picnic tables, located on Tom Sawyer Island in Magic Kingdom, which are a very nice, quiet spot to enjoy a packed lunch. We also bring a refillable water bottle and flavor packets rather than purchasing beverages; since, bottled water and soda are $3 in the parks. That adds up for a thirsty family over the course of your stay. Water fountains are plentiful and all Quick-Service locations will give you a cup of ice water for free when you ask.

The Park Hopper, like the Dining Plan, is a very convenient way to enhance your vacation. It’s nice to be able to spend half of your day at one park, leave, and go to another park in the evening. But with some advanced planning, you can have an equally enjoyable vacation without it. The down side to not having the Park Hopper is that you have to make sure your dining reservations align with the park you plan to be in on a given day (assuming you selected a restaurant within one of the theme parks as you need park admission to eat at those restaurants.) For example, if you have your heart set on dining at “Be Our Guest” in Magic Kingdom, you will have to commit to and stay in Magic Kingdom for this day of your vacation, whether it’s crowded, raining, or does not have Extra Magic Hours that day. As you probably inferred, if you did not opt for the Dining Plan, and do not plan to book any Table-Service meals, this is a non-issue. Without the Park Hopper, you may still leave your selected park and return to the same park later in the day. This means you are still able to take a pool break, or dine at one of Walt Disney World® Resort’s Table-Service meals at the resorts or Disney Springs locations. Also, if you get to the parks and decide you wish you had opted for the Park Hopper, you are in luck! You can easily upgrade your tickets once you get there, or even part way through your vacation.

With those big two covered, let’s look at other ways to stay thrifty. If you drove to Walt Disney World® Resort, be sure to make a pit stop at a grocery store. All resort rooms have a small refrigerator so you can store drinks/lunchmeats, etc in your room. This saves a lot of money over eating all your meals in the parks. If you traveled via airlines, you can take advantage of a grocery delivery option such as Garden Grocer. With a minimum order of $40 plus a $15 delivery fee, you can shop online for your all your needs including perishables and have it sent right to your resort with no hassle! Shopping in advance also comes with discounts. Overall prices may be higher than you find locally, yet less than convenience stores and definitely less than park prices. For more information visit www.GardenGrocer.com. Another option, especially if you are a Prime member, is to use Amazon and ship your groceries through there. Though there aren’t many perishable options, you can load up on some staples at a shipping rate of $5.99 for a Prime Pantry box, then just purchase milk etc. from the resort gift shop. See amazon.com for details.

And now you find yourself in the Parks and surrounded by merchandise - wonderful, colorful, soft, fluffy, shiny merchandise! Browsing is fun but a bit overwhelming with all the choices (and price tags)! My daughter, like many children, wants everything she sees. A good rule of thumb is to not buy ANYTHING your first couple of days. Give it time to see what is out there and what you find you like the best. Here’s a good trick to store up your parental sleeve- almost ALL merchandise you can find in Disney Parks is now available online. This takes off the pressure of having to have it RIGHT NOW just because you are there and won’t be back anytime soon. Now you know you can always get it at a later time. Alternatively, you can visit it online at www.disneystore.com before you even leave from home to have an idea of what you might like to get, and what you are definitively saying “NO WAY!” to in advance. Our method for combating the “I WANT IT” mentality of our daughter is to give her a Disney gift card with a set amount of money. She can spend it as she wishes, but when it’s gone - that’s it! We try to guide her into good decisions but ultimately it’s up to her. Typically we wait until the last couple days, after she’s had time to think about it. On our last trip, newly offered were the personalized Star Wars Magic Bands. I admit, they were super cool! But outside of our few annual days at Walt Disney World® Resort, it would serve no use, so we (barely) managed talked her out of that one. We also have a rule that any excessive snacks she wants comes off of her gift card. Mickey pretzels are delicious, but it’s still just a soft pretzel. We usually share one at some point during our visit, but beyond that, hey, I packed a sandwich bag full of pretzels. If you want another soft one shaped like Mickey, you have to pay for it! (I know - no mom of the year award for me!)

Now that you have for the most part avoided spending all your money at the stores, you say, “but I want something to remember my vacation.” My recommendations for souvenirs on the cheap are the following.

- First, go ahead and purchase an autograph book on your first day. We prefer the ones that have

a spot for a photograph next to the character signature. For around $12 you have a wonderful

keepsake, with photos that capture how you looked and felt at the time of your trip. I love reviewing

these books as my daughter has aged.

- Second, collect pressed pennies. These machines

are located ALL OVER the Parks and Resorts. They

commemorate many aspects of your trip. For a 51 cent

investment, each you have a shiny collection of your

favorite attractions, the year you were there, the

parks and resorts you visited, and characters you met.

We actually bring a roll of quarters and extra shiny

pennies with us exclusively for collecting these.

- Third, a traditional purchase we make each trip is a Christmas ornament. The choices offered

seem endless, but we confer as a family and decide on one that we feel represents our trip. Enjoying

it each year as we set up the tree and the memories it invokes make the $15-$20 a wise investment.

If you celebrate Christmas, I encourage this as a souvenir.

- Forth, save all of your times guides and park maps.

Disney Parks are ever changing. Saving these guides is a

window into the parks at the time you visited, and they

are free!

- Lastly, there are free stickers, cards and buttons you

can collect on your trip. All you have to do is ask! Cast

members often carry stickers, and they range from the

commonplace (Mickey head or whole Mickey) to ones

specific to attractions or cast member roles. The nurse

station has a sticker with Minnie with a nurse hat, Pinocchio’s Haus Restaurant has one with

Pinnochio, etc. The security guards often have a security sticker and Custodians have special

stickers too! And it is fun to talk to cast members. Every once in a while you get lucky and can score

an extra fast pass! “Scoop” is a Main Street character who often doles these out when you take the

time to talk to him. Ask a cast member when he may be out and about! Riding the Tomorrowland

Speedway may get your child a special Driver’s License from a cast member.

Another park freebie is the Spell cards for playing Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. This is a fun interactive way to spend some free time in Magic Kingdom. You can sign up at the Firehouse on Main Street where you will get a map, a key card, and 5 spell cards. Once you complete a mission, you can get more cards (limit of one pack of cards per person per day). The map directs you to Magic Portals within Magic Kingdom that come to life once activated. I’ll save explaining the game for another blog entry, but for now, just know it’s a fun and FREE thing to do and collect on your visit to the Magic Kingdom. Lastly, ask for a FREE button to remember your trip as well. What are you celebrating? Your First Visit? Someone’s Birthday? Your anniversary? Or just Celebrating in general? They have a button for that! Just ask for one when you check in to your resort or at any of the merchandise locations. They will also have Sharpies available to add your name and customize. I’ve gotten them and worn them for my 40th birthday, for completing a runDisney race, and for celebrating my completion of chemotherapy. There’s always a reason to celebrate when you are at the Walt Disney World® Resort!

Wrapping up this lengthy blog entry of advice is encouraging you to enjoy all the free extra entertainment within the Disney Theme Parks. The times guide list most of them and they shouldn’t be overlooked. The obvious ones are the parades and fireworks. But there are also fabulous street performances that are equally as impressive, and a bit more personal as well. When you need to give your feet a break, stop and watch the Dapper Dans Barbershop Quartet on Main Street in Magic Kingdom, or enjoy the comedic street performers in Hollywood Studios. In Animal Kingdom, you can try to find DeVine, a performer so perfectly blended with the scenery; it is mesmerizing to watch her! There are drumming janitors in Epcot (JAMMitors) that put on a fantastic rhythmic crowd pleasing show. These touch on only a few of the magical offerings. Basically, if you are passing by and you see a crowd gathering – it is a good time to slow down and see what it is all about. All these little extras are what the Walt Disney World® Resort does best, and honestly makes the cost of admission totally worth every dollar!

Don’t delay- call UNIGLOBE at (304) 232-5171 or (800) 825-7314 for your free, no obligation quote for your Walt Disney World® Resort Vacation! :)

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