More Walt Disney World Tips

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First article in this series:  Walt Disneyworld on a Budget:

PART II:   TIPS

  • Photo Credit; Tom Bricker CC LIc.

    Many ask which park(s) to visit if  limited on time/days.  Obviously, if you’re taking young children, they will definitely have their own ideas. 🙂  Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom will probably get high votes.  🙂  However, as you’re planning, don’t be too quick to overlook Epcot – even for the young ones. Disney does ALL the parks ‘right’ and your kids WILL enjoy it!!  Epcot is by far our favorite park.  With a multi-day pass, we spend 2 days there and 1 day in each of the remaining parks.  Recently we made a trip there for reasons OTHER than Disney.  We only had 1 day and didn’t even have to discuss it.  We went to Epcot!!!

  • Disney”s Park Hopper pass allows visitors to ‘hop’ to different parks in a day, but we never chose that option.  Each park has MUCH more than you can possibly do in a day….and transporting between parks takes time that could be spent enjoying the park you’re in —and the ‘clincher’ is that they charge you for the privilege of having less time in the park….    🙂  Every park has something special…a parade in the afternoon or light parade or fireworks at night.  You really don’t want to miss that.   🙂
  • Fast Passes have changed… 😦 and that’s disappointing…  Prior to 2009, anyone could swipe their ticket at the busier attractions to get an assigned time to return and by-pass the line.  It seems to be a “change in progress” now, so consult the Disney website for current information….  :/
  • When you arrive in the park, immediately sit down and plan your day (performances, character meetings, et al) with the schedule brochure in hand.  There are special things happening all day long, but to not miss anything will require a “plan”.   Plan any “must do’s” early in the day so if something interrupts or distracts you away from your original plan, you can still get to them later…and you don’t end up with regrets at the end of the day.
  • When you enter the park, GO LEFT!  Most people are right-handed and  instinctively go right. Go where others are not going and the crowds will be lighter.  🙂  Another option is to immediately head to the BACK of the park and work your way to the front. An added advantage to this is that when the day is over and you’re tired, you’re AT the entrance — rather than at the back of the park and struggling to get a tired (and possibly grumpy) family to the front entrance. Either of these options will help you to avoid a portion of the heavy crowds early in the day.
  • Parades, Fireworks and Performances in the Park:  People start reserving spots for the parades/shows quite early.  If you secure your ‘spot’ early, you can use the wait time to browse the shops.  In our family, Dad usually stayed and held our spot while the kids and I looked through the shops, then we would trade places if we needed/wanted to.  We did the same for restroom runs….good use of time.

Photo Credit: Trey Ratcliff Flickr CC Lic

Photo Credit: Ryan Dingman Flicker CC LIc.

Photo Credit; Joe Penniston on Flickr CC Lic.

Photo Credit: Jeff Christiansen on Flicrk CC LIc.

Fireworks at Epcot Photo Credit: Jeff Krause CC Lic.

  • The best place to SEE all the characters is at the parades, but if you’re wanting photo opportunities, that’s NOT where you will get them – crowds and THOUSANDS wanting the same thing.  Check the park map/schedule for times and places where these characters will be.  Often you will get a few minutes to greet, talk, snap a photo  – all without very long lines.  Yes, the character meals will guarantee you’ll see characters, but those are very pricey. Don’t think that’s the only way to see them and have a photo.  They’re all over the park!!  Just read the schedule, plan your day and always be on the lookout for impromptu sightings.
  • Photo Credit: David Cobb on Flicrk CC Lic.

    Strollers:  If renting a stroller, bring something to tie to yours to identify it… The strollers are identical, especially after you remove your personal belongings to go onto the ride. Bring a ribbon, sash, or balloon to identify YOUR stroller, but bring something patterned or ‘unusual’.  Red is extremely popular.    🙂

  • The “Magical Beginnings” map gives locations of all the Baby care centers. These are great, not only as a place to change a diaper or nurse a baby, but also just a place to cool off and rest/relax with young ones (ages 0-2)
  • Arrive Early:  Not only does arriving early put you at the front of the line at the entrance, but sometimes, during the busy season, they open the park earlier than scheduled.  Kids are at their ‘best’ early in the day so the more you see ‘early in the day’ the better off (happier) you’ll be.  Note:  Main Street USA in Magic Kingdom opens before the park officially opens.  By arriving early, you can spend some time there and be ready to explore the park at the opening bell.  🙂
  • If you’re vacationing during the hottest times of the year (July/Aug) bring a bandana for everyone.  Wet them at the water fountains (The water is COLD) and use those around your neck to keep cool.  Cooling down the neck lowers body temperature and makes you ‘feel’ cooler.
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Walt DisneyWorld on a Budget

 

What family with young children doesn’t want to go to Disney World?  Doing Disney on a budget can be challenging, but NOT impossible.  (I’ve learned a few things on our trips there. )   Now, there’s really NO WAY to do Disney ‘cheap’, but it CAN be done for less than some people think…and for less than most people do it.

First Things First:  For the most thorough and updated information on what’s going on at the parks, refer to the Disney World website. It’s VERY detailed!  There’s no need to re-write that information here.  This will be personal insights on things not on their website…

Some OTHER GGGGRRRREAT websites for discounts and the planning process:

  • MouseMisers:  GREAT sit for discounts on all things Disney (Disney World, Disney Land AND Disney Cruises.)
  • Allears: ditto above  AND contains menus AND PRICES to all the restaurants on Disney properties
  • Disney has created an excellent Planning Guide
  • My Disney Experience app:  This has helpful information on park activities, special events and wait times on more popular attractions.

No, I’m not advertising for or compensated by these sites….just fyi.  🙂

Buying Your Tickets Tickets are less per day the more days you purchase.  On our trip in 2009, we had originally planned to buy a 4 day ticket until I realized that we could add an extra day for only $3pp. The cost of an added day is more now, but then, for$12 plus the cost of 1 more hotel night and food, we had an extra day in the parks. If your schedule allows for this, it’s great!

AAA Members can get discount tickets to Disney parks, but they MUST be purchased from a AAA office. They are NOT available at the park.

Tickets can be purchased at all the parks, Disney Hotels, online at   http://disneyworld.disney.go.com  or by calling 1-407-W-Disney.   Note:  There is $5  S/H charge added for tickets mailed to your home.  There is no charge for the ‘Will Call’ option.

Food and Snacks:  Keeping tummies full can be a major expense in Disney World.  As would be expected, prices are “theme park” prices (i.e. grossly over-priced).  Now, that being said, the quality of food in Disney parks is EXTREMELY GOOD!  It is possible to eat with special or restricted diets or eat healthy fare if you wish.  You will find an abundance of grilled meats, vegetarian selections and WONDERFUL ethnic fare, as opposed to burgers, fries and ice cream as in most theme parks.  Perhaps that will make you feel a little better about paying more for the meals.

But….Is there a way to save money?

YES!!!  First, Snacks….  Disney now allows outside snacks to be brought into the park. (that’s a change)  I always bring high protein snacks (nuts, dried fruits, peanut butter)  to fill up little tummies so they aren’t begging for everything in sight.  We eat a BIG high protein breakfast then postpone lunch until early afternoon.  Then, dinner can either be a lighter meal or postponed to later in the evening (7 pm) — or we leave the park and run through a drive through for a more reasonably priced meal.  Though that’s less healthy, it’s also less expensive than a meal in the park.

In budgeting, plan to spend approx. $12-$15/adult per counter service meal in the park…..more for the upscale restaurants.  Children’s meals are priced $6-7. (2017) We found that our 2 children could split an adult meal and have the same amount of food for less than the cost of 2 children’s meals. If you’re able to switch things up a bit like that, it will save significant money over the course of your trip.

Probably the single BEST money saving tip concerning meals is to consider portion sizes in various venues.  Many of the full service restarants have meals that can easily feed 2 adults (CERTAINLY an adult and child….)  It’s cheaper to buy 1 meal even if that meal is a little pricier if you can feed TWO people with it.  For counter service, some of the sandwiches served are HUGE.  They can easily be split between 2 people….or 2 children.  Along these same lines, adults can order from the children’s menu… They offer some appetizing options, not just hotdogs or grilled cheese…and portions are plenty for most adults (unless you’re just a HUGE eater).

Eating at Downtown Disney is less expensive than eating in one of the theme parks.  It’s a 15 min. bus ride.  If you have time, that’s a good place to go at supper time.

If you simply MUST do a Character meals, breakfast and lunch are more economical than the evening meal.  The menu will be slightly different, but the characters are the same..and it’s the characters you were going for anyway, wasn’t it?  …and isn’t it great that the kids probable won’t even CARE about the menu!!!  🙂 🙂

Now….just a brief mention of the Disney Meal Plans.

Disney Meal Plans:  

These are only available to those staying on Disney property. When you purchase one of these plans, you receive ‘meal credits’ to use in the parks.  Yes, Disney advertises these as the “greatest deal since sliced bread”, but to make that determination for yourself, it’s important to know the ‘details’….the ‘fine print’.

Things To Note:

  • To get your money’s worth, it’s necessary to eat ALL your meals on Disney property. (especially with the larger plans)  With the larger plans, this can possibly ‘control’ your vacation…
  • Every person over the age of 3 in the room is required to purchase the plan (to eliminate the possibility of ‘sharing’)
  • Beverages are included with meals.  You also get a refillable cup, however, it can only be used at the HOTEL…not in the parks.
  • Daily meal credits expire at the end of the day.  No carry-over
  • Table service and character meals take a lot of time…  If you do many of these, it may be necessary to add a day or two to your vacation to see and do all you want to in the parks.
  • Character meals require advance reservations (made up to 180 days in advance) especially at the more popular venues/times.

There are several different plans to choose from.  The smallest plan, Quick Service Plan, includes 2 counter service meals and 2 snacks.  The mid level plan covers 1 table service meal and 1 counter service meal along with the 2 snacks.  The Deluxe Plan will provide you with 3 meals per day.  Character Dining meals will ‘cost’ TWO table service meal credits…

Check the Disney website https://disneyworld.disney.go.com for meal prices to see if you’re really saving anything with these pkgs… To me, it seems to be a small savings…but not by much. Confirm that with your own research though 🙂

All of this….and that fact that we stay off property (nice places, but less expensive) means these plans are not part of OUR plan.   🙂

Character Meals:  These require advance reservations – which can be made up to 180 days in advance.  Because they take a chunk of time out of your day, you may want to add an additional day in the parks to see/do all you want to.

A Word About Eating at Epcot :  Epcot dining is a truly wonderful experience.  The World Showcase offers a variety of ethnic foods…my favorite is the Quiche  (and pastries) in France  🙂   The chocolate in Germany makes wonderful gifts but it’s necessary to buy some for yourself – to make sure that ‘gift’ is still there when you get home.   🙂

….and Drinks:  Bring empty water bottles to fill at water fountains. (Though they allow you to bring in full water bottles, they’re heavy to carry!)  🙂

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Timeshare Presentations are a Dime a Dozen in Orlando:   Orlando is FULL of timeshare companies. Though I would NEVER suggest purchasing a time share, (MANY reasons which I’ve detailed in Timeshares)  the presentations can work to your advantage if you have the time.  They offer many incentives (WDW tickets, free meals, local tourist activities)  if you give them 2 hours of your time for their sales pitch.  (Don’t fall for the ’90 min. promise…. It NEVER works that way)  Especially in Orlando, they will have a room for childcare with caretakers, toys and/or movies.  Parents may not enjoy the experience, but the kids will have a blast!!!!  🙂  We’ve attended our share of these and they ARE REAL and LEGITIMATE!  You WILL receive what you are promised….  but it will cost you in “time”.   It’s a decision you have to make – but don’t worry that they are scams.  They aren’t.

Next Post:  More Walt Disney World Tips

Branson, Missouri Part 1 – Planning Your Trip

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Photo Credit: Missouri Division of Tourism CC Lic.

Perhaps I am more familiar with this destination than any other.  By my best estimate, we have been there probably 35-40 times.  (No Exaggeration)   We’ve stayed in many of the hotels, gone to a significant number of the shows and attractions, and shopped the outlet malls until we know them like the back of our hand.  🙂

Branson has fast become a ‘year-round’ destination though Summer is definitely the busiest time.  (We rarely go then as we don’t like crowds and lines…and bottle-neck traffic.)  OUR favorite time to visit is during the Fall. (It’s our weekend getaway of choice).  The weather is mild, the leaf color palette is absolutely MAGNIFICENT…and the outlet mall isn’t crowded.  ‘Back to school’ shoppers have left and the Christmas shoppers haven’t yet arrived (I start my Christmas shopping early) At any time of year though, it’s a great family vacation – or getaway if you live close enough.

Branson is very family friendly.  Our family would often split up while shopping, then meet back at a designated time and place.  Shopping in Branson has changed over the years though.  There is now only one outlet mall open – Tanger.  Branson Landing (Great shopping but NOT outlet shopping) is the new ‘in’ place go.

When To Visit The busiest times in Branson are the summer months (June-Aug) and Christmas season with the shows & shoppers. This is when traffic on “76” creeps.  NOTE:  Christmas season and Christmas shows begin the first week of November and continue through Christmas though exact schedules vary as each performer or family determines their own break for the Holiday.)   🙂

The Fall (Sept/Oct) is probably the second busiest time with the fall festival at Silver Dollar City.

Other than our visits in the Fall and Christmas seasons  we actually enjoy visits in Jan/Feb. (or March).  There aren’t a lot of shows during this time, but the shopping is GREAT, and the restaurants are open as well as things like miniature golf and museums such as The Titanic and Hollywood Wax Museum.  We’ve never been bored on a visit during Jan or Feb.  Just be aware that during this time, there are not as many options for entertainment/shows.  You WILL, however, find GREAT rates on accommodations.

Accommodations:   Though chain hotels now line the landscape in Branson, for years, the only establishments in town were the privately owned ‘mom-n-pop’ motels  (restriction from the City of Branson).  Honestly, though,  many of these locally and privately owned places (I’m referring to the ones that look nice on the outside, not the ones that are run down) are simple motel rooms, clean, safe and meet the needs of the frugal traveler, with rates WAY below the chains as they compete for business.  Over the last 20 years, we’ve stayed at a number of these and have no bad stories to tell.  There is usually a swimming pool and a continental breakfast in the morning.  Don’t be afraid of them.  🙂

Though reservations are a good idea 99% of the time in order to ‘shop’ for bargains, Branson is the ONE location where that is not necessarily the case.  In fact, you can often find VERY good rates by driving into town and looking at the signs outside the ‘mom-n-pop’ motels.  Many offer 2 nights for 79.99 or specials of a room for 1 night and 2 show tickets for $99.  I don’t know if those require attendance at a time share presentation or not…but those signs were outside multiple locally owned motels recently.  🙂

Photo Credit: Valerie on Flickr CC Lic.

Getting There:  Branson now sports its own airport, however, I’m not really familiar with it. It’s very small.  🙂  If you find fares to Branson too expensive, there is the option of flying into Springfield, MO.  It’s about 45 min. north – not a bad drive at all.  Traffic can be heavy on Hwy 65-S during the busy summer months, but it moves along without stopping.  Larger airports further away include Tulsa, St. Louis or Kansas City but they’re all over 200 miles away….

Getting Around:  Walking is the favored mode of transportation down “76” (the main highway with shows, hotels, restaurants, etc…)  as traffic is extremely heavy – especially at dinnertime and before/after shows.  While most visitors have a car, many find it easier to leave it parked and just walk to shows, activities, etc…  That’s where it becomes advantageous to KNOW what shows you’re interested in – and choose a hotel fairly close.  Weather is pleasant and temps tend to go down in the summer evenings (advantage of the mountains) so walking is actually quite pleasant.

Photo Courtesy of Branson Chamber of Commerce

Now…for those days of things were you MUST drive, Branson has planned the city in such a way that you can avoid “76” especially during the ‘busy times’.  “Busy times” are from the dinner hour through the opening of shows (typically 5 – 8 pm).  Allow 30-45 min. to drive that 1 mile section during these times.  Of course, restaurants are also very busy during this time so if we want to eat out on a night when we’re NOT seeing a show, (we usually eat in our condo….), we don’t even attempt to enter a restaurant until after 7:00.

Branson has built ‘traffic relief’ routes to help with the traffic….The map above shows the yellow, blue and red routes – They’re true ‘life-savers’!!  🙂

Shows:  They’re all good…and family friendly.  You will have NO concerns about taking  children to any Branson show.  Coupons are available for some shows in the the magazines or brochures located in the lobbies of hotels, mall lounges or the entrance to most restaurants or shopping areas. There are also Family Passes available that will save some money over individual ticket prices.  However, even with these, plan to spend $75-100 to take a family of four to an evening show.  Matinee performances are a little less expensive.

 

 

PHoto Credit:  Shane Adams- Flickr  https://www.flickr.com/photos/ishane/443537406

Silver Dollar City: www.SilverDollarCity.com   LOVE IT!!!  There are discounts for admission to SDC;  just look for them.   If you enter the park after 3 pm, the next day is free.  Not only is that a great deal, but with small children, it’s a wonderful way to enjoy your time in the park…2 ‘partial’ days.   The added advantage to a day in Silver Dollar City is the number of shows there in the park – all as part of your admission ticket.

 

Branson Landing Photo Credit Louis CR Artist CC Lic.

Outlet Shopping:  Shopping is a big attraction in Branson. There are several places–Tanger Outlet Mall and Branson Landing.  Branson Landing is the newest location – built along the river front with shops on the ground floor and hotel rooms and apartments for residents on the upper floors –  It’s quite beautiful – especially at night or during the Christmas season.  Both of these areas can be very busy (parking at a premium) during the back to school shopping season and Christmas.

Time Share Presentations:  These are a dime a dozen in Branson.  You can earn free show tickets, IMAX tickets, accommodations (sometimes in a condo), free meals, and sometimes Silver Dollar City tickets (if you bargain for them).  Of course, it requires your attendance at a 90-120 min. TimeShare presentation.  For more information on this read here: TimeShares    but NOTE:  ONLY attend if you have the will power to say an emphatic NO!!  (imho)   Purchasing a timeshare is only a good idea for those with money to burn.   🙂   However, if you can say ‘no’ and you have the time for it, the Timeshare PRESENTATION is a way to save some money on your Branson trip.

Next: Branson Part 2: What To Do – Shows Shopping and More