VIAGGI – FAMILY TRAVEL
A family vacation to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. is a dream for many people. That’s why parents spend much time and money on the trip. Magic ain’t cheap, people. But there are some add-ons that many get suckered into buying. It’s enough to bring on your worst case of buyer’s remorse, especially if you’re trying to stick to a travel budget. Since I’ve been to the “World” countless times and have some expertise in this area, here are the 7 tourist traps you should avoid like Mickey near a mouse trap:
This one parents should see coming from miles and miles away. Disney is an empire, and they lead the world in marketing. They know that if your kid sees his favorite characters and toys at every turn (and when you get off any ride), he’s going to beg you for something. You’re on vacation, and you don’t want to experience one of those fall-down tantrums. So, you are going to say, “Yes,” at least some of the time. Cha-ching. Of course, similar toys are half the price outside Disney.
Parents and Disney forums often suggest purchasing Disney character toys and souvenirs at the local dollar store or Walmart ahead of your trip. Some of the moms offer up a little surprise each morning of the vacation. They might even wrap them and include notes from Tinker Bell. Much like Santa, they tell kids that if they behave they’ll get something from Tink, who will sneak in and leave it for them while they sleep. Then, they bring the trinket from Tink to the parks and meals and whip it out whenever the temptation for another souvenir pops up. (I can tell you from firsthand experience that this worked well with toddler and pre-K kids.) Another option is to pick up souvenirs at an off-site Disney Store, outlet or discount shop, or mall in the Orlando area. Look for coupons if you go that route.
Back in the day, my parents would take us to Disney and we’d stay off property. We would have a rental car, and we almost always left the parks at meal times. It was cheaper and back then whatever we would get outside of the parks was usually better food. Times have changed. Now, there are many more resorts, and Disney makes it worth your time to stay “on property.” In addition, the food has gotten exponentially better. In fact, my husband and I often plan our travels there around our dining reservations.
Still, the food on property is expensive. They have you in jail, essentially, and they know that you’re not going to want to waste time (and miss out on rides and events, which cost a lot of money, too) by leaving the park. The good news is that there are some really delicious, vacation-worthy options. First step is to educate yourself on what’s worth the money. Disney’s Websites feature lengthy menus, and unaffiliated blogs, such as Disney Food Blog, can provide you with unbiased reviews. More importantly, you should set priorities about where you’d like to put your money, and decide exactly how much you’d like to spend. If you don’t want to go off property to eat, then you should consider staying at a Disney resort and buying into Disney dining, which allows you to pay ahead of time for your meals and snacks. Sometimes, there are even free dining deals, but Disney experts suggest those offers might have come to an end. It will come in handy when your kid sees and smells that Disney popcorn and starts begging.
5. Paying Full Price for the Resorts
Disney resorts are beautifully themed and come at different price points. There are value, moderate, and deluxe resorts. Parents, who want to give their kids the full flavor of the Disney magic, prefer staying on property. As mentioned, there are some perks, such as the ability to participate in the Disney dining plan and extra magic hours at the parks. You have no reason to pay full price for the hotels. At many times during the year, you can find discounts on the resorts. Going in the low season, if you’re willing, is a particularly effective way to stay in budget even if there is no discount. The thing is that there usually are discounts. What most people don’t realize is that even if you booked before the discount was available, if you call Disney reservations when the offer goes public, it will retroactively add the discount. You will get the money back if you had paid already. I’ve done it, and it’s seamless. Another option is to rent DVC points, which I’ve also done. This allows you to stay on property by renting points from a Disney Vacation Club member. The resorts in question are deluxe, and you can often get the price down to value or moderate prices. But you must be smart about it because there are some DVC renting scams out there. You can learn more about renting DVC points (and scoop on the DVC rentals at Polynesian Village Resort and Animal Kingdom Lodge) right on this site.
4. Unnecessarily Buying Park Hopper Tickets
I used to fall for this trick every time. I thought I had to buy park hopper tickets and jump from one park to another in a single day to have fun. The idea is to pack in as much as you can all trip long. Wrong! Parents, especially those with younger children, are usually better off buying a park ticket package that has them traveling to one park per day. For starters, this helps you better plan because you’re forced into one zone of Disney World each day, which can help you decide on fast passes and dining reservations ahead of time. Also, it prevents you from running around, which can make for overtired, cranky children and adults. It’s better for sneaking a nap into your day, too. Of course, the single park tickets are cheaper than park hoppers.
3. Stylists for Your Kids
All over Disney you will see little girls dressed as princesses and, to a lesser extent, little boys dressed as pirates. They will look like those kids whose moms force them into pageant life, replete with make-up and perfectly coiffed hair with a shiny tiara on top. Nine times out of 10 they have been to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique in Cinderella’s Castle. The swashbuckling pirates, replete with painted on beard and sword, have been to the Pirates League, also at Magic Kingdom. Professionals dress them up and make them all fancy at a price. The princess packages start at $60, and the pirates start at $40. No one I know has ever done this, but they have always brought their kids dressed to impress. You can purchase affordable costumes on Amazon, Target or Walmart, or in the Disney Store (when there’s a sale). Then, you can do hair and make-up. I dressed my son as a pirate for a princess breakfast when he was a year old, and we got beautiful pictures that I still cherish. My niece always wears her princess dresses to the parks, and she’s never done the boutique. A little glitter for the eyes is way cheaper than one of those packages. It also takes less time away from the rides and dining reservations.
2. Extra Events (after Park Hours)
Disney has done all it can to monetize its offerings. Why not? There’s certainly demand. Loyal readers of the unaffiliated Disney dining blogs know that in recent years there have been a number of ticketed dessert events and parties. Often, guests end up paying more than $50 per person for these events, on top of their park admission. Again, this is a budget issue. You should decide where you want to put your vacation money. But I would suggest, based on what I’ve seen of these events, that they are not necessary. Avoiding them is a good way to save a buck.
The two exceptions are Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (which actually costs between $72 and $105 per person) and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (which costs between $86 and $100 per person). Both are super expensive, and I’ve never invested in them. But some experts say these are worth it if you can afford them. Additional entertainment and treats create value. Kids really get to feel some of that Disney magic. The costumed characters at the Halloween party and fake falling snow at the Christmas party are among the examples. The smaller, lesser known events, however, are probably less valuable and not worth your time or money.
1. Specially Themed Rooms
Oh, this one in particular gets my goat. A few years back, Disney began theming rooms at the moderate resorts. Mind you, all the Disney resorts are already themed. But there was additional in-room theming designed to lure parents, who want to wow their kids. At Disney’s Port Orleans – Riverside resort, you can opt for a Royal Guest Room with gilded furniture, elaborate headboards, and bedazzled princess images. A late March package for these rooms with a standard view for a 7-day stay cost $326 more than the standard room with a standard view at the same resort. The pirate rooms package with a standard view for the same period at the Caribbean Beach Resort cost $404 more than the standard rooms, and they are located at the most remote part of the resort. They used to be cheaper rooms, according to the Disney Tourist Blog, until Disney added pirate ship beds and related decor.
Now, the Disney Tourist Blog recommends the Royal Guest rooms at Port Orleans over the pirate ones at Caribbean Beach Resort because many of those were cheaper rooms further away from the hotel’s lobby that are now at higher price point. The reason this is the top of the list is that people spend little time in the rooms at Disney World as it is. These were a little trick to charge people more for staying at a moderate resort. I prefer treats and no tricks when vacation planning at the happiest place on Earth.