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We just got back from our weekend girl’s trip at Disney World Florida, and it was truly a magical experience. Never in a million years did I ever expect to have this opportunity! Between work, bills, and after school activities, I never thought we would have the time nor the extra cash to take a nice family trip like this. Not only was this my daughter’s very first Disney trip, but I haven’t been to Disney in over 12 years! So much has changed since I last visited, and I am so glad I did my research ahead of time. Don’t head over to Disney unprepared, take a few pointers from the girl who survived a weekend at Disney on a single mom’s budget!
Tip #1) Plan Ahead
Our Disney trip was scheduled for the weekend of January 12th- January 15th, however we started planning in March the year before. A whopping 306 days before our trip. Why? Well, that’s easy. Planning ahead can save you a ton of cash! If purchasing a 1-day ticket ahead of time, you can see Disney’s chart of value, regular, and peak day tickets. This will allow you to choose a day that would be cheaper overall. These value, regular, and peak days are simply Disney’s way of showing you which days are expected to be less crowded. Peak periods such as the winter holidays, are expected to be more crowded, which will cause ticket prices to be a bit more. You can also save $20 by purchasing 3-day or longer tickets online. Since we ordered in advance, we had the option of upgrading our tickets to the Park Hopper Plus option (same-day admission to all 4 theme parks on each day of your ticket, plus 2 visits to a water park) for $30 more. We decided to decline this offer, since we wanted to spend most of our time at Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom. We also had the option of purchasing a Memory Maker Package (unlimited array of photos taken by Disney PhotoPass photographers) for $169.00. Purchasing a Memory Maker Package in advance saved us $30. It may not sound like much, but imagine all of the wonderful things we got to do INSIDE of Disney with that extra cash in our pockets!
Tip #2) No Disney Resort? Stay Close By
We were unable to stay on Disney grounds for this trip, but staying at the nearby Staybridge Suites we saved a ton of money! Staybridge Suites offered us a shuttle bus to and from the parks which allowed us to avoid parking fees. The shuttle bus schedule allowed us to be as early as possible, and stay as late as we wanted. Staybridge Suite also offered complimentary breakfast which saved us a ton on meals! I do, however, want to state that by staying on Disney property you can save a lot of money by bundling tickets, rooms, dining packages, and more.
Tip #3) Pack Like You’ve Never Packed Before
There is nothing worse than spending 306 days planning for a trip, then showing up unprepared. 1500 miles away from home and you forgot the stroller? Yeah, don’t be “that” mom. Although Disney does offer stroller rentals, it is much cheaper to simply bring your own. Tie a balloon to the handle so that you can spot your stroller from far away. No matter what you read, there is no need to bring a bike lock to Disney. The stroller staff does an amazing job at making sure the stroller parking areas are nice and neat so that no one gets mixed up. Other than packing the obvious essentials like clothes and toothbrushes, there are tons of things you can pack to save a little cash while also making your trip much easier. Unlike most theme parks, Walt Disney World allows their guests to bring in a few drinks (non alcoholic of course) and snacks. We packed a small ice chest filled with juices, cokes, and small snacks. Our stroller happens to have a place for an ice chest, however you can always bring in a small stroller to carry food, snacks, and souvenirs. Trust me, it is worth it. Every time I turned around my daughter was asking for something to drink. It was much easier to hand her a juice box out of the stroller, than to stand in line 20 min waiting on a small coke. A few other small essentials include a stroller fan. Our trip ended up being fairly cool, but during the summer months Florida can reach 80-90 degrees! You won’t realize how hot it is until it is too late. Walking around in the Florida heat for 12+ hours can be exhausting. Make sure to pack comfortable clothing, as well as old sneakers. As surprising as it may sound, fanny packs are totally “in” when you’re at disney! There is nothing better than being able to keep your hands free at all times. I was able to keep my keys, my phone, and all of our money with me at all times (even on rides)! Last but not least, pack a few small Disney souvenirs such as light up wands, backpacks, and autograph books ahead of time. Products like these are much cheaper off of Disney grounds, and will save you about $50 while inside of the parks. Also, if you decide to get matching shirts or custom Minnie ears shopping small business tend to be a bit cheaper. For example, we purchased our matching shirts from places like Jill’s Custom Creations and LittleBsCustomTees while our custom ears came from SmileFromEar2Ear and EnchantedEarz! Not only are they decently priced, but they are cute and offer quick turnaround times.
Tip #4) Save A Little Cash & Use Disney Gift Cards
Another great reason I started planning 306 days in advance, is because there is no way I would have that kind of money all at once! By putting aside $10 every few weeks, I was able to save up $500 in spending cash! Of course we didn’t spend nearly that much on our trip, but better safe than sorry right? Right before our Disney trip, I used some of my cash and purchased a few Disney Gift Cards. By using Disney Gift Cards, I was able to set a limit for us to spend per day at Disney. Also, by purchasing Disney Gift Cards at our local Sam’s Club, we saved over $100! Sam’s Club often offers gift cards for a percentage off such as a $100 gift card for $75. $150 gift cards for $110, or a $500 gift card for $450! No matter what the deal is, you’re saving a bit of cash before ever arriving to Disney!
Tip #5) Download The Disney World App
This was a bit new to me, since it has been years since I last visited the park. By downloading the free Disney World App on my phone, our trip went 10X smoother than I could have expected. When I downloaded the Disney App, I simply entered my information and scanned our MagicBands (you can also scan tickets and enter order numbers). Once I did that, I was able to link my FastPasses as well as my Memory Maker Package, reservations, and so much more! The Disney World App allowed me to see current wait times, as well as check out future showtimes, get directions, and add attractions to my plans. The Disney World App was a complete game changer. By having access to wait times, I was able to carefully select FastPasses and schedule our day so that we didn’t miss any of the action! We used the app to locate bathrooms, find characters, order meals in advance, and so much more! I was also able to find Memory Maker photographers and access my photos! PARENTS (yes moms, I am talking to you), please please please don’t pass up the Memory Maker Package! This package allows Disney photographers to capture GROUP photos of you and your family no matter where you are in the park! Don’t depend on selfies, and don’t opt out of the photo because you think you look bad. Your kids will appreciate it later I promise! With the Memory Maker Package you can download your own Disney PhotoPass photos from the Disney World App, share them on social media, and print them out later down the road.
Tip #6) Upgrade To A MagicBand
When staying off of Disney grounds, MagicBands aren’t automatically included in your ticket order. Instead you will either get an electronic ticket emailed to you, or a physical ticket card at the gate. Both the electronic ticket and the physical card will allow you to enter the park, but MagicBands are easier overall. Definitely purchase MagicBands ahead of time, and link them to your tickets! Instead of having to pull out your phone or ticket to collect your ride photos, simply scan your MagicBand and you’re good to go! No searching for misplaced tickets! MagicBands also allow you to travel lighter and allow you to buy food and merchandise in the park! Anything you link to your MagicBand can be accessed by just a swipe of the wrist! MagicBands never expire, which means that you can use them for several different Disney vacations! Simply update your vacation information on the Disney World App and reuse your MagicBands! If you lose a MagicBand, you can deactivate it on My Disney Experience, and it will no longer be linked to your tickets and other entitlements.
Tip #7) Take Advantage Of Your FastPasses
I can’t stress this enough. Lines are long and you can expect at least a 45 min wait on most rides or meet and greets (longer for more popular attractions like Splash Mountain). By utilizing your FastPasses you can skip the standby line for select attractions, shows and character meetings. Before you head over to the park, check availability for the things you want to do most that day. You can lock in 1, 2 or 3 FastPasses before your day even starts! You can use your MagicBand or card any time during your 1-hour arrival window to skip the standby line and enjoy your attraction faster! After you use all three of your FastPasses, you can use your mobile device to log into your Disney account and select ANOTHER FastPass option, then repeat until your day is over! This will save you tons of time since you have more time to explore the park instead of sitting in line for an hour! We chose to use our FastPasses for meet and greets, since the wait lines for toddler rides weren’t very long to begin with. BEST DECISION EVER! Whatever you do, don’t waste your FastPasses on attractions that have 30-45min wait lines. Save those line-skippers for the longer 2-3 hour waits. I mean, that’s only common sense right?
Tip #8) Know Where To Find Your Characters
Let’s face it, you and your family mostly likely have a “must-see” character at Disney. Nine times out of ten, you are looking for 1-2 specific characters, which is why it is super important to know exactly where to find them. Of course one of the best ways to meet your favorite characters is by booking character dining meals, however that may not always be possible. In my opinion, Magic Kingdom is the best place to go for meeting characters. In Magic Kingdom you can find Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Ariel, Belle, Buzz Lightyear, Cinderella, Flynn Rider, Jack Sparrow, Princess Jasmine, and many others! Remember to use your FastPasses for meet and greets because some of the more popular characters have extremely long wait times. Since Mickey and Minnie can be found at numerous parks, we didn’t stress meeting them at Magic Kingdom. We had shorter wait times for them at Animal Kingdom. We also had short wait times for Ariel and Tinkerbell, while Cinderella (for obvious reasons) had the longest wait time. You can also use the Disney World App to locate Characters on the map so that you don’t waste your time wandering around the park for hours trying to find everyone.This trip couldn’t have gone any better. I even returned home with $200 still in my pocket! Like I said earlier, better safe than sorry right? My daughter got to enjoy her weekend by meeting her favorite characters and riding all of the rides, while I enjoyed watching her have such an amazing time. So to all of you single parents out there, don’t think that a magical vacation will never be possible. By planning ahead and a bit of saving tips, you to could have an amazing family vacation!
*If you have been to Disney lately and have a great tip you’d like to share, let us know in the comments! *
*I RECEIVED THE PRODUCTS MENTIONED ABOVE FOR FREE IN RETURN FOR AN UNBIASED REVIEW. I ONLY REVIEW AND RECOMMEND PRODUCTS OR SERVICES THAT I HAVE USED PERSONALLY. I AM DISCLOSING THIS IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION’S 16 CFR, PART 255: “GUIDES CONCERNING THE USE OF ENDORSEMENTS AND TESTIMONIALS IN ADVERTISING”. THE OPINIONS EXPRESSED IN THIS POST ARE ENTIRELY MY OWN*