Already thinking of your next Disney vacation? You’re not alone! Science tells us that we think of doing a Disney vacation once every three minutes. (It also tells us that 90% of statistics on the internet are completely made up, so don’t quote me on that first fact.) However, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably had some thoughts about taking your family to enjoy the magic.
Disneyland, the original Disney destination in Southern California, has several financial advantages. For those on the West Coast, it usually can be a savings on airfare, or you can chose to drive. There are several non-Disney run hotels that can be substantially lower in cost. Disney slaps the price tag of tickets and hotels for some low rate of $79 (per person, per night in almost microscopic text). That low price seems reasonable and in reach. However, there are other costs to a vacation.
Taking a glance at how to save money on some of these other factors might make the best financial Disney vacation somewhere you haven’t even thought of yet.
Best Vacation To Save Money On Food
Food is often the last thing you think of when planning your vacation. For many, it isn’t until you get back home and review your bank statement that you do a final accounting of every entree, soda and dessert that was partaken of while on holiday. That final tally can be quite shocking for those who didn’t think ahead. Most Disney planning sites agree to think about $40 to $60 per person per day.
You can save a few dollars if your hotel offers a continental breakfast, you do a grocery run or eat outside of the parks. Personally, I always found I could let my kids order meals and then just finish what they inevitably wouldn’t want (I can now say definitively which restaurant in Disneyland serves the best plain hamburgers and/or half eaten mac & cheese).
Of course, many consider the variety of food offerings inside a park to be a major aspect to the vacation. This theme especially runs true at Walt Disney World where they have no less than three different seasonal events where food is a major draw (Food & Wine, Flower & Garden and the newly added Festival of the Arts).
For those who love a great meal, Walt Disney World occasionally runs “Free Dining” offers. Vacationers who book rooms and tickets at their park can get a set amount of meals included with the price. While wildly popular, the savings can be debatable depending on your particular family vacation for a variety of reasons.
If you really want to save money on food, there is a clear winner: the Disney Cruise Line has no rival. First off, your food is included with the price of your cabin on the ship. That means you can order as you please inside the main restaurants without worrying about the cost. So you can enjoy a light salad or a hearty steak (or both) without a second thought. Second, they are one of the only cruise lines that includes soda with their meals with no additional fee. Feel free to drink that Coke or, in my case, Arnold Palmer.
And here is where it gets really good: you can eat as much or as little as you would like. If your child doesn’t finish his meal, you don’t have to worry about somehow wasting money. If you decide you don’t like your entree, you can actually just get another with no eye rolling from anyone. Too busy having fun out at a tropical port and missed the meals altogether? Order from room service for no additional cost and eat when you are ready. And did I mention, the food is fabulous?! Even the grab and go food like a wrap or pizza is pretty good.
It is worth considering a Disney cruise if food is a major component of your vacations. Sometimes you can find cabin prices for much lower than you might see on a per day equivalent of going to a Disney park.
Best Vacation To Save On Hotel
For many, a hotel is merely just a place to lay their heads at night after a full day of activities. Often when folks consider a Disneyland vacation, they want to save as much money as possible when it comes to their lodging.
But Disneyland is an interesting beast when it comes to a place to stay: there are the three Disneyland Resort Hotels that come with a full range of perks including the highly coveted early entry into the parks. Then there are the more budget minded good neighbor hotels that still see a few Disney perks. And lastly there is everywhere else, with a wide range of prices and amenities.
Trying to figure out the best price is often a good reason to enlist in a Disney-centric travel agent (like myself). Most of the time, resort fees and taxes are not included in that special price seen on that third party website. Often they will say things indicating that they are “walking distance” to the park, only for you to find out that technically anything is walking distance with enough time and determination.
Items like parking fees, wifi fees, or shuttle fees all can be excluded to lure you in this highly competitive market for your lodging dollars. But even if you are to find the rock bottom price, you might regret your decision. Would spending $5 more a night be worth it to save 10 minutes of walking each way every day? Or to have gotten a free breakfast (or both)?
Having said that, among Disney vacations, there is no way to deny Walt Disney World’s ability to save you money when it comes to hotels. For instance, in the upcoming Jan/Feb, you can find rooms starting at just $119 per night that can fit (snugly) a family of 4. Included in that price comes transportation to and from the airport as well as buses to the 4 parks, 2 water parks and their shopping district, Disney Springs.
And unlike most resorts in Anaheim for that price, they include fantastic pool areas and a variety of free resort activities like movies under the stars. Of course, it goes without saying the rooms are up to Disney standards of cleanliness and theme. No hidden fees that can damper check in, just a warm friendly staff. Much like Disneyland, resorts at Walt Disney World have specified early entry into parks but they occasionally can have extra hours in the evening exclusive to resort guests.
Finally, one major difference is the variety of lodging options at Walt Disney World. For those needing to save even more money, the Florida resort has camping options for those with tents or RVs. Vacationers who need a bit more space can book at the appropriately labeled “moderate” resorts that have a price tag that won’t give your southern grandma what she refers to as “the vapors.” They even offer cabins, suites, and grand villas for those with bigger groups traveling together. Those types of options can sometimes make up for any extra cost in airfare. You might end up saving more money heading to Walt Disney World when you consider the savings in transportation and your particular lodging needs.
Best Vacation To Save On Tickets/Entertainment
Easily, the most common question I answer is how to save money on tickets to Disney parks. The answer may surprise you: time travel! But for those who don’t own a TARDIS (Google it), there are few viable options.
One of the perks with buying Disney park tickets is that they get “cheaper” the more days you buy. Typically after three days there is a substantial savings to add 4 or more days. For instance, going from a 4-day ticket to a 5-day ticket at Walt Disney World is only an increase of $15 per adult. This is in contrast of going from a 2-day ticket to a 3-day ticket in which the increase is $88 per adult.
You might think I’ll mention how there is so much entertainment included on a Disney Cruise, making it the clear choice. Disney Cruise Line certainly does have many options for those budget-minded folks when it comes to entertainment. But for a real budget friendly Disney vacation when it comes to entertainment, I think Aulani is probably the best choice.
After paying the upfront cost for a room at Aulani Resort & Spa, you have dozens of activities available to you and your family at no additional cost. First off, there are swimming pools, spas, splash areas, lazy rivers and even water slides. If you need even more sun and water opportunities, there happens to be a beach steps away from the pools. Tucked nicely behind the resort, it makes for the closest thing to a private beach you will find in Oahu.
Aulani offers a variety of classes and activities for their resort guests. You could paint an animation cell (and bring home a free souvenir to boot!), learn how to take sunset photography, or take advantage of their interactive scavenger hunt finding elusive menehune throughout the resort. But one of the best parts of Aulani is the ability to take in the island of Oahu as you would like…a stroll through Waikiki, a visit to the North Beach, or taking time for a hike up Diamond Head. Even something as somber as the Pearl Harbor Memorial can be a special part of your vacation (and has no admission fee).
For Disney lovers, a relaxing trip to Aulani might be easier on your wallet than you might imagine. Special offers and discounts can be available even if they are not to be found in the theme parks. It’s hard to deny with the variety of activities available, that you’ll get the most of your entertainment dollars at Aulani.
Which Disney Vacation Spot do you see yourself visiting next? Which is your favorite that you have already traveled to?
For more tips on saving money in Disneyland, please see our Disney page.
Mike Rinehart is an independent travel agent affiliated with MEI & Mouse Fan Travel. Follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MikesTravelThoughts/ Or request your free no obligation quote on your next Disneyland, Disney World, Aulani, Disney Cruise (and any other cruise line) vacation by emailing him at [email protected]. Mention “The Coupon Project” and receive a free gift with your completed booking.