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Ask a Disney Expert: Budget Tips for Families

For Fodor’s recent “Ask a Disney Expert” Contest, travelers submitted their toughest Disney questions for Kim Wright Wiley, author of Walt Disney World with Kids 2009. Kim will answer questions from the contest’s 8 winners, along with several others, in a four-part series on Winners will receive a complimentary copy of the guide. Thank you to everyone who sent a question in!

View all of Kim’s tips: Dining at Disney | Touring Tips | Where to Stay

Today Kim answers questions related to saving and spending smartly at Disney.


“There has been a lot of talk recently about staying on or off property. What value or price do you put on staying on property? Does waking up in the middle of the magic warrant the extra cost?” — submitted by Angelo721 (winner)

Kim’s Answer
The main advantages to staying on Disney property are:

1. “Extra magic hours” which allow you to either enter one park early each day or stay in a park after the official closing hours. Since tickets are so expensive, this is the probably the most significant perk.
2. Free transportation from the airport to your resort and from your resort all around Disney property. This means most families staying on-site can save the cost of a rental car.
3. The ability to charge everything to your room. It beats carrying cash and credit cars all around the park and, if lost, a room key card is much easier to replace than a credit card.
4. Friendly, fun, family-oriented environment at all the Disney hotels.
5. Since the Disney resorts are on Disney property it is generally a faster commute, meaning it’s often possible for families to return to their hotels for a midday break.

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The main disadvantage? You’re already guessed it: Cost. Not just for the room but for the food at the resorts.

So…is it worth it? If you’re looking to save time, stay on property. If you’re looking to save money, stay off property. (You say you want to save both time and money? Where do you think you are…Fantasyland?)


“Is the Disney Dining Plan a better option (money and flexibility-wise) than getting meals on your own?” — submitted by islandsnoopy (winner)

Kim’s Answer
The Disney Dining Plan has been tremendously popular and most of my mail indicates that the majority of families who opt for the plan find it to be a good value. Two caveats: Portions are huge, so in order to really make the plan pay off you need to be a family of big eaters, i.e., the plan is a better bargain for a family with ravenous preteens than for a family with preschoolers who pick at their food. The second thing to keep in mind is that it’s smart to make reservations for your sit-down dining in advance, preferably before you leave home. This requires a little advance planning – or at least knowing what park you’ll be visiting on each day of your trip – but if you show up in Orlando with no reservations you risk being frozen out of the most popular restaurants at peak dining hours.


“We will staying in Kissimmee with our daughter and her family for 11 days in April. We can not afford to go to Disney World every day. Do you have any suggestions for things to do for children and/or adults in the area on a budget?” — submitted by booklover

Kim’s Answer
The Orlando Science Center gets high marks with our readers as does the water park Wet’n’Wild, which is cheaper than the Disney or Sea World water parks. A great planning tool is the Orlando Visitors Bureau. Their site tells you how to get a Orlando Preferred Visitor Magicard®—which entitles you to discounts on food, hotels, and attractions—and also directs you to special online offers. Some of those offers are only for Florida residents, so your daughter might qualify, or senior citizens, in case anyone in the party is 62 or older. Check it out for ideas that won’t break the bank.


“We won a $3,000 voucher to be used on any Disney trip: a Disney cruise, Adventures in Disney, Disney World, or Disneyland. We chose Disney World and must go in November. If you had won this voucher how would you be spending it? (Bearing in mind we want it to cover all of our costs, including meals.)” — submitted by travelbuff127

Kim’s Answer
Congrats! I’m sure all our readers agree that the best trip to Disney is a free trip to Disney! November is a great time to visit—not too crowded and the weather is usually fine. I’d stay in a mid-priced resort such as Port Orleans, purchase park hopper tickets for as many days as you’ll need, and spend the rest of the money on food. If you’re a family of big eaters, you’ll probably come out ahead choosing a meal plan; if you have young kids in the party or don’t want to spend the time and money on sit-down dining, you’ll come out ahead paying for your meals one at a time and spending the rest of the money on the little “extras” that always seem to pop up in even the best-planned vacation.


“We (two grandparents with a 10 year old granddaughter) want to use our time to the fullest and are concerned that the free transportation from the Value Resorts will take a long time. We’re concerned with the wait times at the airport and between the resorts & Disney. We will definitely want to go back to the hotel during the day for a nap. Maybe it would be better to rent a car and stay at a cheaper hotel in Lake Buena Vista?” — submitted by deelyon

Kim’s Answer
It sounds like in your case it really might make more sense to rent a car and stay off-site. While Disney does offer free transportation to everyone staying in a Disney resort it won’t surprise you to learn that the more expensive resorts have the most transportation options. Buses for the Value resorts tend to run every 20 minutes—not a problem if you happen to hit the cycles right but if you don’t, there can be a bit of a wait and you say your group is trying to squeeze out every minute. With a car you have total control over when you come and go; keep in mind, however, that it costs $11 a day to park in any of the Disney lots.

Ask Your Disney Questions: You’ll find more advice from fellow travelers on our Forums, where there are plenty of experts, including Fodor’s Walt Disney World editor Paul Eisenberg. Paul recently asked travelers there for their favorite Disney picks and tips and shared some of his own.

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