Many people retire in order to spend more time with family and traveling. This is a powerful goal because experiences shared with family on a good vacation are timeless and priceless. Loading up the family to visit Walt Disney World could help you create lasting memories with your grandchildren. Unfortunately, this magical vacation spot is also one of the most expensive places on earth, with opportunities to spend more around every corner. Here are some tips and tricks to stretch your wallet and maximize your time at Walt Disney World with your family.
Bring your character shirts and costumes with you. When you land in Orlando, an incredible peer pressure event occurs. It is completely reasonable to wear mouse ears, t-shirts with your favorite characters on them and more recently you can even flex your nerd cred with Star Wars and Marvel garb. You may feel that you will be immune to this phenomenon, but I warn you that this assumption may be very expensive. It is best to buy your park wear prior to entering Florida. This tip alone will save you hundreds of dollars.
Be prepared to book 180 days in advance. Beginning 180 days prior to your arrival date you are allowed to reserve restaurants and fast passes to the front of the line for attractions. Reservations at the best restaurants might be hard to come by if you don't reserve them when you are first eligible to do so. Do your homework on what you want to ride and where you want to eat prior to the 180 day mark. While this might seem like an unreasonable amount of advance planning, it will allow you to maximize the experience of your vacation.
Take advantage of free activities. Imagineers and artists have hidden Mickey Mouse in the design of buildings, restaurants, attractions and many other areas. This has been going on for decades, and it has turned into a phenomenon. It is a fun (and free) activity to see how many you can spot.
Get some magic bands and the mobile app. Magic bands are bracelets that are used to store your fast passes to avoid lines, record photos from professional photographers, track your dining plan and can be used to pay for items at restaurants and stores throughout the park. The magic band can be linked to the My Disney Experience mobile app, where you can also look up attraction wait times, park hours and a schedule of upcoming events to better plan your day. But try not to be tempted to overspend, since all a purchase requires is a wave of your wrist band.
Plan on eating well. If food is your passion, then Disney World is an ideal travel location. While you can trim the costs of your trip tremendously if you pack sandwiches every day for your family, for many people the food is a large portion of their entertainment and vacation. There are many themed dining experiences, but they are not cheap. It is not uncommon for a family of four to spend $60 to $80 per meal for quick service counter meals and $150 to $200 per meal for table service restaurants.
Calculate whether a meal plan will save you money. Disney offers a variety of dining plans, and it's certainly convenient to have everything but gratuity prepaid when you travel. However, if you crunch the numbers, you might not come out ahead financially unless you use the plan very carefully. For example, children age 10 and older must pay the adult price of $60.64 per day for the standard plan, instead of the children's price of $19.23. Imagine your heartbreak when your 11-year-old orders mac and cheese from the children's menu, and you are charged the same credit as if they ordered the filet. If you have a 10- to14-year-old who prefers children's meals, the savings of skipping the meal plan can be substantial, and the children's meal might include a free drink and dessert. Vegetarians might also overpay on a dining plan since there are fewer options and the meat-free choices tend to be on the lower side of entree costs.
Watch out for gratuities. When things are prepaid you might take care to order the most expensive items on the menu to get your money's worth. However, if you tip between 15 to 20 percent at table service restaurants you are working against your back pocket with the pricey picks.
Exploring Walt Disney World with your grandchildren can be a magical experience that they will treasure. But it will take a lot of cash to get you there, and there are extra temptations to spend throughout the experience. Some advance planning will help you save money and make the best of your time in the park.
Brian Preston and Bo Hanson are fee-only financial planners who host the podcast, "The Money-Guy Show".
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