I'm a frugal mom, and I'm totally unwilling to give up my Disney World vacations. Given the state of the economy, I'll bet I'm not the only one looking carefully at expenses, trying to figure out where costs can be shaved down a bit in order to make a vacation possible.
Over the years, I've done some crazy stuff to save a couple bucks. Some of it has absolutely been worth it, some hasn't. Here's my personal experience with a few money-saving strategies.
- Limiting the number of table service meals is a fairly reliable way to cut costs. After shelling out all that money for park tickets, I'm not particularly in the mood to pay high prices for sit-down meals, unless the food, service, or experience is truly exceptional. If I'm considering a restaurant I haven't tried before, I'll often head over to AllEarsNet to check out the prices on the menu before deciding if it's worth the splurge, along with reading reviews from the Unofficial Guide.
- Carrying a water bottle can save a lot of money, especially in the summer. Plus, you get to feel more enviromentally friendly. Trouble is, the water fountains in the parks have inexplicably nasty-tasting water. I tend to carry single-serving Gatorade or other powdered drink mixes to make it a little more tolerable, even though any positive environmental impact of the water bottle must be entirely negated by whatever awful process they must use to make those drink mixes (and never mind the non-recyclable wrappers).
- Both counter-service and table-service restaurants will always give you ice water for free. Way cheaper than soda. Healthier, too. And somehow doesn't taste like those awful water fountains, maybe because it's actually cold.
- If there's much chance of rain, I try to pack my own rain gear instead of paying inflated prices in the parks. Ditto for sunscreen. (You really, really don't want to know how much I ended up paying for 2 ounces of sunscreen at Disneyland Paris last summer. The bottle still sits in my medicine cabinet, shaming me.)
- Always do the math about admissions tickets. And yes, I know it's painful. If you're borderling on whether an Annual Pass might make sense, check out the discounts it entitles you to. Plus, remember that if you're staying off-site, you'll enjoy the fact that the $14/day parking fee is waived for Annual Passholders. Don't forget to include that in your break-even calculations! It adds up fast.
- Breakfast in my room has always worked out really well. Sometimes I've been offsite with a kitchen, eating many meals offsite. Sometimes I've been onsite without so much as a mini-fridge, and packed nonperishable breakfast foods in my carry-on. Either way, I'm just as happy having a quick and easy meal while watching Stacy on TV before I head out. Every now and then I might treat myself to a Mickey waffle from the food court, too.
- I don't buy a lot of PhotoPass pictures. I've been known to pick up a few here and there, but honestly I've been pretty darn happy with the pictures those same photographers are willing to take with my own digital camera.
- I can't imagine forgoing the Park Hopper option on my admissions tickets. Mind you, this is a moot point these days, since I've been making just enough Disney trips to justify an Annual Pass for a few years now. But even if it costs extra to park-hop, I've gotta do it, especially on days with long park hours.
- I've got a mean pin-trading addiction. I try to feed it with bargain pins purchased *carefully* online, especially during Disney Store semi-annual pin sales. But honestly, I still spend more on pins than can be reasonably justified, given that there's only a handful of them I actually wear on a regular basis.
- Don't try to convince a teenager to split a meal with you, even if it's a huge double-cheeseburger combo meal. Enough said.
- I never, ever, ever skimp on tips for housekeeping. I tip a minimum of $5/day, and I leave it every morning, to make sure the money gets to the right person. If I can afford to be at Disney at all, I can afford to share a little magic with those who are paid very little, working behind the scenes to make my stay more enjoyable. Sometimes they even leave me lovely little towel animals.
And finally, I've got to tip my hat to MouseSavers, which always has the scoop on discount codes and specials at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland.