We just returned from a wonderful week at Disney World. We had to be careful with our spending, though, which can sometimes put a damper on enjoying the magic. Here are a few things we did to help us get the most out of our trip while spending as little as possible:
1. We bought a cooler ($30) on wheels so we could keep food in our standard room. It has a drain spout near the bottom, and the wheels made transporting to the ice machine easy.
2. We bought groceries to last the week. ($60) We bought lunch meat from the deli, chips, bread, snacks, drinks, you name it. We also delved into our stock pile for lots of needed items. We had a limited menu: bagels and instant oatmeal for breakfast; sandwiches, chips, cookies for lunch and dinner; granola bars and muffins for snacks.
3. We "splurged" occasionally. If we had never been able to buy a treat, I think the magic would have been sapped right out of our vacation. We tried to splurge smart, though. One day at Epcot, we bought ONE chicken meal at Sunshine Seasons. It came with potatoes and barbeque beans. We each ate a little of it, plus our sandwiches and chips. We had a feast! It was delicious! We got to try something we'd never had before and didn't break the bank to do it. Cost: $10 for a meal and a drink. (Thanks to a 30% off coupon Disney was offering at many places.) Another time, we bought 3 snacks at the Germany pavilion in Epcot (not the same day as the lunch at Sunshine Seasons). We spent about $12, but enjoyed the snack immensely. Again, something new. We revisited a favorite at Animal Kingdom: Yak and Yeti local cafes. One lunch of sandwiches was supplemented with a couple orders of fried rice and a side of egg rolls. We spent around $12 or $13 there. (We LOVE the chicken fried rice there!) While our splurges were more than we would normally spend around town for a snack, it was so worth it! We felt like we feasted all week long, without spending like we were feasting at Disney! We spent, I'm guessing, less than 25% of what we would normally have spent at Disney for meals and snacks.
4. We took advantage of a special deal at a favorite restaurant -- We went for dinner at Panda Express, a favorite Chinese fast-food joint that we don't have here in Pensacola. They were offering a free meal with a purchase of a $25 gift card. I bought the gift card and got my meal for free. Talani, then, used the card -- and the free-entree-for-taking-a-survey thing that printed out on my reciept -- to purchase his dinner and dinner for the kids. We still have about $10 left on that gift card for later use. Without the gift card promotion and free entree, we figure we would have spent $27 to get the same amount of food.
5. We planned ahead for spending money and gas money. When Publix does their gas card or gift card promotions near Christmas, we try to snatch some up to offset our vacation costs. We got $150 in American Express gift cards and $100 in BP gas cards for around $200 -- that's a savings of 20%! (That made it a little easier to pull up to the BP station to pay $3.03 per gallon. We knew that we paid only $40 for the $50 in gas, making our actual cost for the gas just $2.42 per gallon.)
Our trip was amazing. We can't wait to go back, although it will be a while before vacation plans allow us to go. There are so many ways to do Disney cheap . . . it's almost always possible to work a trip into your budget!