Jarod and Dianna at Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival 2011
I'm beginning a series of posts on how we manage to go to Disney fairly often while maintaining a cheapskate status. I don't do nearly the job of Kristin from www.couponingtodisney.com when it comes to saving for the trip. A Disney vacation savings has become part of our annual budget. Currently, my goal is to make the most of the money we have saved, to do the most with the least amount of money.
We once spent 5 days at Disney's Old Key West Resort with not more than $20 in our pockets after buying groceries. We didn't go to the parks; we just relaxed at the resort, went to the pool every day, visited Downtown Disney, and toured the other resorts. It was probably the most relaxing Disney vacation we've ever had. I tell that story to say that it's totally possible to go to Disney World without breaking the bank.
One of the most expensive areas of Disney spending is lodging, or at least it can be. There are rooms available at or near Disney for nearly any budget. You can get a room for about $45 off-property, or you could spend over $1,000 per night for the most lavish Disney resort room. We've tried all sorts of methods, and we have definitely found what works for us. Here are just a few of the ways we have saved on Disney-area hotel rooms over the years:
1. Priceline. I think this website has changed their own methods somewhat in recent months, and we haven't used it in several years. We used it back when you picked the star-level of the room you wanted and gave the price you were willing to pay. If a hotel was willing to accept your offer, you were automatically booked and informed of where you were staying. We did this at least 2 times in my memory, and maybe more. Once we stayed at a Days Inn or Comfort Inn or something along those lines. Breakfast was provided. We weren't on-property, but we could get there rather quickly. Another time we were able to get a room in a Downtown Disney area hotel (Grosvenor), and we enjoyed that as well. The pros are that you can get a room through the website more cheaply than anywhere else. The con is that you can't (couldn't? maybe you can now) know exactly which resort you will get.
2. Expedia. We booked our honeymoon hotel through expedia and had very good results. Again, we were off-property; actually, we were at a Howard Johnson Inn and Suites that no longer exists. We had a very nice suite with a living room area and a small kitchenette and a bedroom with a balcony. We were within easy driving distance of the parks and very close to restaurants. Unlike priceline, you can see all kinds of pictures and maps on expedia. Unfortunately, not every place is as nice as it looks on line. (We had a pretty horrible experience at a hotel in the Atlanta, GA, area that we booked through expedia. Truly awful. But not related to Disney business at all, so back on-topic I go . . .) Even Disney resorts are available through expedia, sometimes at a cheaper rate than Disney is offering.
3. AAA. The AAA website offers all sorts of resort packages, room-only rates, and ticket choices. While I don't think we've ever purchased from the website, we have bought tickets through the local AAA office. (I don't think we've ever booked a room through them at all.) There are Florida resident rates available, as well as regional discounts. (So, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, you may be in luck!) Visit the website (aaasouth.com) or your local office for more info. You do have to be an AAA member to book or purchase; an annual membership costs about $60.
4. Disney. We do most of our booking directly with Disney these days. I have found that the Disney Florida resident discounts are about the best we can find. I feel very confident in working with Disney; any time I have a question, I can just call and get it answered. In September 2011, I booked on-line for our summer vacation: 8 nights at Disney's Pop Century Resort. Earlier this year, when the Florida resident rates were released, I called and had my booking changed to reflect those rates - a savings of about $20 per night. Then, when my mom and dad offered to share their 3-bedroom timeshare condo with us, I was able to call back and cancel 7 of the 8 nights, no problem. I also love the on-line check-in option that will be available 10 days before our official check in date. It makes checking in at the resort so much smoother. I don't think that option would be available to those staying at a Disney resort on an expedia booking, though.
5. Travel agent. For no extra money at all, you can talk with a knowledgeable Disney travel agent. They know all you need to know about booking a room at the best possible rate. You can find tons of Disney travel agents; just google "Disney travel agent" or search on Facebook. There's somebody out there with just what you need. I've never used a travel agent to book a Disney vacation; I've studied the guidebooks so much I don't really feel like I need to. I would recommend considering an agent though, if you're planning a trip for the first time. Also, check out www.couponingtodisney.com for LOADS of planning info.
Okay, all of that was just to discuss some of the various ways to book your vacation. I didn't even go in to the variety of room types available. Here's my bottom line up to this point:
After booking Disney trips through multiple websites, I've committed to booking through disneyworld.com. I get the discounts I need and the customer service I want.
In my next post, I'll discuss the different types of lodging available and how it can affect your budget.