Disney Deconstructed | How to Spend Your Money in the Parks

One of the biggest hurdles for any vacation is money. Most of the time, you have a limited amount to spend on food, trinkets, experiences, etc. There is that rare vacation that you can splurge on anything, but I've only ever had two of those...and one happened to be at Disney World. This post will give tips on how to stretch your limited spending budget on your next visit to the parks. As always, these are my opinions and should be taken as recommendations, not hard and fast rules. If you're new around here, I must tell you that Disney is near and dear to my heart. I write about it from time to time and make no apologies about it. ;)

Things to buy:

  • Iconic food items. One of my favorite things to do during my visits is eat Disney-exclusive treats. A Mickey Ice Cream Bar, Dole Whip, Mickey Pretzel, or bag of Werther's Caramel Popcorn are my must-haves. You can get a hotdog anywhere. Their regular popcorn is good, but pretty much the same any movie theater in America has to offer. Pick things you can only get on Disney property.
  • Specialty jewelry. Call me crazy, but I love my Pandora charm bracelet. I love looking down at my Nemo, Mickey, and Cinderella charms. I don't always buy one while I'm there, but I always take time to browse the selection. And bonus: if you're a Pandora charm collector, Disney parks have an exclusive selection, but you have to get them before they sell out.
  • Visiting a water park. This was 100% from my husband. Let me be clear, I don't like water parks. I'm one of those weird people who hates walking around in a bathing suit with thousands of other people walking around in bathing suits. BUT since the standard park ticket or basic hopper pass does not include entry to the water parks, you should consider adding it to your trip. This is an especially good idea if the 4 main parks are estimated to reach peak crowds.
  • Resort refillable mugs. Seriously. Get one, but only get one if you'll be there longer than 3 or 4 days. If you stay on Disney property, you are eligible to purchase a mug that you can refill as much as you want for the length of your stay. Here's the catch: you can only refill them at the resorts, BUT you can refill them at ANY resort hotel. If you stay at Pop Century, but spend a day visiting other resorts, you can fill your mug up at any of them. Cal and I spent an afternoon at the Boardwalk once and filled our mugs at least 5 times that day.

Things not to buy:

  • Balloons. I've stopped a balloon cast member before to take a picture with one, then I handed it right back to him. Haha! Who wants to carry one of those around all day? You can't take them on rides, they are annoying in sit down restaurants, and at $10+ EACH, I promise there are better ways to spend your money. Please disregard if your child's one vacation wish is to get a balloon at Disney World. In that case, buy the stupid balloon.
  • Stuffed animals. PARENTS: Buy these ahead of time...from Walmart or Target. Stuffed animals are waaaay overpriced in the parks, at resorts, and in Disney Springs.
  • T-shirts. You know that drawer in your dresser at home? Yeah, the one that can't possibly house another t-shirt? It doesn't need more. Again, just my opinion. T-shirt collecting might be your thing. If it is, go on with your bad self.
  • Tours or guided experiences. Every time I visit Disney, I see a family being corralled around by a cast member. I don't think less of these people and I totally understand why it might be beneficial to take a behind-the-scenes tour. The thing is, I read a lot of Disney-inspired blogs where one can learn basically anything about the parks. Want to know all the ins and outs of how Cinderella's Castle came to be? Google! The one exception I might make is the Segway tour around EPCOT.
  • Parking. One way to save $20 per day is to stay in a resort hotel. You'll get a pass for your car, drive up to the booth, and the cast member will wave you on. Or you could take a bus from your hotel. Even non-Disney hotels have shuttles to the parks, though I can't comment on their reliability.

So there ya have it! I'd love to hear some of your additions to these lists. What is something you'd pass on? Or a favorite thing to splurge on while you're in the parks.

For more Disney posts:
Where to eat in the parks
How to plan your Disney vacation

Disney Deconstructed | How to Plan a Disney Vacation

One of my ABSOLUTE favorite things in the whole world is Disney World. Naturally, I love visiting as much as my wallet will allow (which isn't that often since buying a house!), but planning the trip is almost as fun. Recently, a few people asked for some tips in putting together a fun, complete Disney vacation experience. This installment in the Disney Deconstructed series will cover planning your trip.

You will be able to find any of these tips on Disney blogs everywhere. They aren't original to me or my experiences. However, I thought I'd add a little of my own personal flair! Enjoy!

  1. Use the Disney website for booking your trip. There are many excellent third parties out there, but I've found the best and easiest way to get hotel, park tickets, and more is directly through Disney's reservation service. This also includes calling their toll free number (407-939-5277). If you're paying extra for someone to help you do this, I would highly recommend saving that chunk of change and do it yourself.
  2. Stay on Disney property. Whether you have a small budget or an endless one, there is something for any price range. Disney hotels are always clean and well-maintained. It helps make keep you in the Disney frame of mind, even when you aren't at the parks. There are many benefits to staying on property, one being free parking at any Disney World park. Parking is $20 PER DAY. Compare your Disney room to that of another hotel and you'll need to include that $20 savings. Another perk is the option of free transportation to any park or Downtown Disney. I love this because I hate to drive, especially when I'm on vacation. In the end, it's usually just as affordable to stay on property, especially when you take advantage of seasonal discounts.
  3. Book during a promotion! Sometimes, you can get free dining with your room and tickets. Other times, you'll be able to save up to 30% on hotel or get free days added to your park tickets. Keep an eye on the Disney Parks website for the latest deals.
  4. Skip the meal plan. TRUST ME: YOU CANNOT EAT THAT MUCH FOOD! At upwards of $65 per day per person, you'll get a snack, quick service meal, and a sit down meal. Both times I've had the dining plan, I spent more time trying to use up all our credits than actually enjoying the food. Yes, it is easy to spend $60 per person per day on food, but if you're careful, you'll end up spending less AND eating only what you need. Side story: Cal and I once had 6 snack credits and 3 quick service meals left over at the end of our trip. On the last day, we ran around trying to use our credits and took food home for the car ride. Ha!
  5. Schedule meals and attractions before you leave home. Disney has this incredible app: My Disney Experience. On it, you are able to look for dining reservations and schedule FastPasses to attractions around the park. Planning ahead for some dining and rides will save you a lot of time standing in the hot sun. Or if you're like my family, you'll avoid the whole "so what do we do next" syndrome. That's the worst!

My advice is just advice. I am no Disney law-maker who demands you abide by my every rule. However, I have found that without a plan, any vacation will lead to large lumps of time wandering around. Use the tools Disney has provided! And BE FLEXIBLE. There are A LOT of people in the parks at all times. You might get tired. Your kids might get tired. Your feet WILL get tired. Take it all in stride and you're bound to have a great time!

Next time, I'll talk about my favorite thing: DISNEY FOOD!

Thanks to Caitlin Gerres for this fab photo!