Updated October 2021
True Disneyphiles will tell you never to stay off property. You never “leave the magic” they say, and they offer nice perks. True, staying on property offers some bonuses like easy transportation, Disney package deals. There are positives and negatives to each.
Ease of arrival
Disney offers free transportation from Orlando International Airport only, an approximate $200 roundtrip value. They will also pick up and deliver your checked luggage to your resort. Disney World is cancelling the Magical Express Service in 2022, with no replacement announced. (Sad trombone.)
- CON: No transportation provided from the Sanford Airport. Baggage takes on average three hours to arrive at your hotel. You will be requested to leave on a bus for your return flight 2-3 hours before flight takeoff, despite only being thirty minutes from the airport.
- PRO: Come and go as you please on your schedule without waiting for a shuttle.
- CON: Airport transfer is on your own dime – approximately $200. Continue reading
Character Palooza is something I would think only exists in rumor, had I not seen photos of it myself. It’s so secret that Cast Members (Disney Employees) may say it doesn’t exit.
What is it? It’s a seemingly random mass appearance of usually rare characters in Hollywood Studios. It is, in fact a scheduled thing that if you subscribe to via Kenny the Pirate, character expert extraordinaire, you can work into your Walt Disney World touring plans.
Memory Maker photographers are NOT on hand, and it only lasts 15-20 minutes adding to it’s reclusive nature. It typically takes place at the Main Entrance of Hollywood Studios or in the Animation Courtyard near Disney Jr.
My best guess is that these characters are the same characters that appear in Fantasmic!. Since they are there already, why not parade them around for a short while and make some Disney magic?
For more information check out this post.
Nothing is worse than showing up on a Walt Disney World vacation and finding out your favorite ride or restaurant is closed. Get one step ahead by reviewing this thorough list of park closures first.
Update: Disney Dining plans are on hiatus due to the pandemic. I expect them to make their triumphant return in 2022.
For anyone staying on property at Disney World, it’s the million dollar question, “Is the dining plan right for me?” Although much debate has gone on about it, and it is personal preference, I would in general say “No.”
The idea of a prepaid plan is appealing. It provides an all-inclusive feel to your vacation, and who doesn’t love that? I would argue, the convenience of the plan ends there. Continue reading
Edit: Sadly, Disney cancelled the Disney Vacation Account Program in September 2017.
So you have a small or rather large pile of Disney gift cards, or a good little savings. Now what? Bank them for free in a Disney Vacation Account.
A Disney Vacation Account, run by Disney, allows you to save a little at a time, as well as combine your Disney gift cards into one place. Why do this? Besides seeing your progress in one, convenient place, there is an incentive. For ever $1,000 you pay out of the account, you will receive a bonus $20 Disney gift card, with a maximum of $500. It’s not much, but it’s something. For a typical trip you can expect to earn $40-60.
The account must be open for 180 days before you are eligible for this deal, so open it today. It only takes $10 and if you decide not to go the funds that you put into the account remain liquid and can be extracted at any time in the form of which they were received.
So of course you can buy Disney gift cards with your hard earned money, but why bother when you can get them for free? Sounds too good to be true? Hang in there young Padawan, you have much to learn.
There are a number of ways to do this – and every little bit helps. At writing I have nearly $1,000 in free Disney gift cards to help pay for my upcoming trip. Continue reading
So you have your savings growing for your Disney vacation. Put that money to the best use and buy Disney gift cards. Buying Disney gift cards is one great way to save at least 5% off your trip. How? I’ll show you.
- Buy gift cards at Target. If you get a Target Red Card, in credit card or debit card form, you get 5% off on most purchases at Target. Guess what they sell there? Disney gift cards! That means you can get 5% off Disney gift card purchases. (Please note this only works because Disney gift cards are categorized as “entertainment” rather than a gift card.) You can actually get these gift cards even cheaper if you follow the steps below. Note: It is best to do this online – in store your mileage may vary.
- Buy gift cards at a warehouse store. Both Sam’s Club and Bj’s Wholesale offer Disney gift cards in store at 5% discount.
- Buy gift cards at grocery and drug stores during promotional periods. Many have taken advantage of sales at both grocery stores and drug stores wherein you purchase X amount in gift cards, and get gas points, store credit or some other bonus. These opportunities are usually pretty rare and sporadic so if it pops up, take advantage. Many times they occur during the holiday shopping season, so keep your eyes peeled.
One of the biggest (ok THE biggest) hurdle to get over when planning for a Disney trip is paying for it. How much you need to save really depends on your family, what kind of activities you want to do, and what kind of accommodations you are looking for. In general, for a family of four I would suggest saving around $3000 plus travel expenses.
There are various ways to save on your Disney trip. I’m going to start out with very traditional ways and then we will get a little more advanced. Continue reading
As if there isn’t enough to do in the parks, Disney offers a world of activities to do outside of them in their various hotels, restaurants, Disney Springs and many recreational activities. I list my favorites below. Best of all, most are free or very reasonable.
- Experience the Dole Whip. Dole Whip is a legendary Disney World food. It’s a frozen pineapple dessert, sort of a sorbet, and it’s AMAZING. So amazing, in fact, that Disney opened up a new restaurant that serves Dole Whip and only Dole Whip at the Polynesian Resort called the Pineapple Lanai. Sign me up!
- Watch the Electrical Water Parade. Reminiscent of the Magic Kingdom’s Electrical Parade, this water version was supposed to be a temporary thing but has continued nightly for years. For best viewing check it out from the Polynesian Resort (with your Dole Whip of course).
- Take in the Wishes fireworks from Magic Kingdom. You can view the Magic Kingdom fireworks from various locations, or even pull over to the side of the road. However, the best viewing is at the Polynesian Resort as they pump in the music from the park.
- Eat at the Whispering Canyon Cafe at the Wilderness Lodge. Go for the fun and food, stay for a tour of this amazing property. We ate at this restaurant at last visit because it was listed as one of the best values and they were right. You are served a TON of food, which is delicious by the way, in a casual atmosphere. The Cowpolks that serve you here are a rootin’ tootin’ good time, and your kids will love the occasional hobby horse races they hold. Just too fun. Ask for the ketchup and see what happens. Free property tours are available – just ask the front desk. And be sure to see the geyser that goes off occasionally.
- Visit Tri-Circle-D Ranch at Fort Wilderness. Visiting the ranch is absolutely free and you can see all the horses that make the Disney properties tick. Your child can get a pony ride for only $8 – no reservation necessary. Trail rides are also available.
- Join Chip N Dale for a campfire singalong. One of many campfire activities at Disney resorts this one gets extra bonus for character appearance and it’s FREE. Located at Fort Wilderness. Picnicing is permitted at campfire activities, and snacks as well as s’more kits are available for purchase.
- Take in a movie under the stars. Perhaps there are few things more magical than taking in a Disney movie in the great outdoors. Offered at several resorts for FREE, Fort Wilderness gets my vote because if you’re there already for Chip N Dale, you can just stay for the movie.
- Listen to some fireside storytelling. At the Animal Kingdom Lodge their take on the campfire activities is African folktales. So cool.
- Visit a playground. If you don’t have small children, move along. If you do, visiting the various playgrounds at many resorts is a great way to see many of the properties and blow off some steam. I hear the playground at the new Art of Animation Resort is particularly awesome with a lot of character. Photo opp!
- Eat while enjoying a safari view. A visit to Animal Kingdom Lodge will give you a free view of the various African animals, but why not stay and enjoy them over an exotic meal? Sanaa, an Indian buffet available there, gets rave reviews and is a good value.
- Visit Disney Springs. At writing this area is undergoing a complete renovation and expansion to be sure to call first before heading there for something specific. On our last visit we were only steps away from Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) and spent a lot of time there. There’s lots to do, and with the expansion there is sure to be more. Be sure to visit World of Disney which has the largest selection of Disney merchandise in one place – some of which is parks exclusive. Check out the live shows on the outdoor stage, and the 7pm DJ dance party for kids. There is also a splash pad/fountains for kids too cool off.
- Have a roar of a good time at T-Rex Cafe. If you have kids, visit the TRex restaurant to encounter “live” animatronic dinosaurs. The food was surprisingly good, and not insanely overpriced. Located in Downtown Disney.
Better eat your dinner before the dinos eat you!
- Build some fun at the LEGO store in Disney Springs. Check out the LEGO store and see all the awesome lifesize LEGO sculptures. On certain days there is even a free build set given away – call for details.
- Rent a surrey and drive it down the Boardwalk. Out of all the places in Disney, this area is probably the least kid friendly, and therefore skippable, but surreys are just too much fun. Also, if memory serves I believe there is a lot of sand there the kiddos can play in.
- Do the Disney Food Blog Cupcake Crawl. A few of the cupcakes are located in the parks, but most of them can be enjoyed by anyone with a sweet tooth.
It goes without saying, that getting to all of these places is half the fun. Whether taking a bus, the monorail or a boat, taking advantage of Disney’s free transportation can be just as thrilling as the destination. Be sure to ask a cast member about free Disney transportation trading cards!
Disney is something that is intertwined with American culture since birth, and for me it’s no different. Growing up I was fortunate to take three separate trips to Walt Disney World with my family. Each experience – years apart – was completely different as the parks and my interests changed, but one thing remained the same a top notch vacation experience. On my last visit, my husband and I did a fully adult adventure, and once again, the mouse house delivered with a fantastic trip.
A trip to any of the Walt Disney World resorts may seem out of reach for many Americans with skyrocketing ticket costs, and a shrinking middle class, but through this blog I hope to show you that a Disney experience is attainable to just about anyone with the right planning.
Once a closeted Disney fan, I now wave my nerd flag high. I hope to share my enthusiasm, and money saving tips, so that you can have a little Disney magic in your life.