The Boomerater™ Report, our weekly collaboration with online baby boomer resource Boomerater, this week features tips from other travelers on cost-conscious ways to enjoy Disney theme parks on a budget.
Here is the question from a Boomerater member: “What is the best way to visit Disney in Orlando without breaking the bank? We promised our grandchildren we’d take them this year but have to keep the costs down without spoiling the magic. We want to visit at least two parks and would like a good deal on the hotel for two adults and three children. Our timing is pretty flexible.”
Discount offers. Disney has a free dining offer that usually runs from the end of August to the end of September. They just extended it and I believe it will be available again in early December. If you book a room at regular rate and get at least a one-day ticket for each member of your party you get the Disney dining plan free. The basic dining plan includes one counter-service meal, one table-service meal and one snack per person per night you're staying. The meals include entree, dessert, soft drink and tax. If you book a discounted package through Disney you usually need to book your room, tickets and meal plan all together. If you want to go a la carte and book things separately, the best place I have found to get park tickets is undercovertourist.com. I used this site last year and again this year to buy my tickets. They are the same tickets as you would get at Disney but they cost less. It's not a big savings per person, but it does add up. Other good "unofficial" Disney Web sites are: allearsnet.com, mousesavers.com (good information on saving money), wdwinfo.com and the disboards.com forum.
Getting Around. A great benefit is the free airport shuttle "Disney's Magical Express" and the monorail, buses, and ferries that eliminate the need to rent a car. If you do rent a car, AAA offers special VIP parking for its customers. One discount Web site that's been providing great hotel deals for me lately, and shows a lot for Disney, is travelzoo.com.
[See For Active Travelers, Summer Beckons.]
Avoiding Lines. Depending on when you go, lines can be a killer, and if you don't plan accordingly, you can end up with a cranky, disappointed crew. With "Extra Magic Hours" a different park opens each day an hour earlier and stays open later for on-site guests—-key to getting your money's worth. A great tip is to book character breakfasts (part of the free dining offer) for the first seating, before the park opens. Once you're done eating, you're already inside the park, with a head start on the rest of the crowds. Book those 90 days out for best availability. We love "The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World" and its associated Web site, touringplans.com. We went in April during the busiest week of the year. They actually shut down the Magic Kingdom two afternoons we were there because it was too crowded. But we never waited more than 15 minutes for anything, and saw everything we wanted to see thanks to careful planning.
Rent a house or condo. Each time we’ve been to Disney we rented a house within 10 minutes of the parks for less than a room at Disney. Each came with three bedrooms, a full kitchen and a private pool. One even had a foosball table. Even with children and grandparents there was plenty of room. Two sites I use are VRBO.com (vacation rental by owner) and Rentalo.com. We went to a few parks each trip, but because we had a car we were able to find other inexpensive things to do, plus we were able to cook meals at home. We still talk about our marathon foosball tournament! The miniature golf courses throughout Florida are amazing and great for grandparents who may not be up to Space Mountain. And everyone loved Sea World. Though it is tempting to buy souvenirs for your grandchildren at the parks they are much cheaper at area drug and grocery stores. In 2009 everyone gets in free at a Disney theme park on their birthdays. Grandma celebrated hers at the Magic Kingdom, and we heard the birthday offer may continue into 2010.
Boomerater is an online resource for baby boomers, with local directories to help you find everything from a financial advisor to assisted living facilities. The site also contains forums where boomers can post questions and swap first-hand experiences. If there are questions on your mind that you would like answered by other people who have faced similar situations, or you have advice of your own to share, go to Boomerater.com and participate in the forums. Say that The Best Life sent you.
[Also see Top Travel Trends, Tips, and Destinations for 2009.]