Money Matters

Testing Budget Hotels Near Walt Disney World

by on February 5, 2016

We’re often asked to recommend an inexpensive hotel room for one night near Walt Disney World. If your family is staying at at Disney resort for most of your visit, for example, and you need a place to crash on your arrival night before their vacation begins, you may not want to spent hundreds of dollars on a Disney hotel for just a few hours of sleep. Or if you’ve just finished your Disney vacation and need a bed for the night before your early-morning flight, you could save a lot of money by moving to a budget hotel.

Finding cheap, clean, safe hotel rooms is part of the basic research we do for the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. There’s even a section titled “Top 30 Hotel Deals” that takes price, amenities, and location into account. It’s one of my favorite research projects, and I’ve stayed at more than 100 Disney-area hotels over the years. Only once did I wake up covered in bugs.

My “Holy Grail” of hotels is one that’s $50 or less per night (with tax), clean, safe, and where everything in the room works. From what I’ve seen over the past week, though, that room might not exist. Here’s a summary of the 6 hotels I checked over the past 5 nights, along with their pros and cons.

Laurel says: I’ll be adding my own asides in this article. You should read them in your head in the voice of your significant other. For perspective, I was perfectly happy with a room I stayed in in New York City once where the sink was IN the shower. 

Hotel #1: Motel 6 at 5909 American Way, just off International Drive

Pros: Very clean. Great layout. Best night’s sleep I had the entire trip. $49.49 with taxes. Feels safe.

Cons: Sink and toilet didn’t drain properly. Wi-fi didn’t work. Low water pressure in shower.

I’ve wanted to stay at this Motel 6 for a long time (“Dream big, Len”, I know). It was one of the first to introduce a new room design across Motel 6’s properties, with triangular bathrooms, hardwood floors, and vertical storage cubbies. Plus it’s really close to Universal Orlando.  I was ready to like this hotel.

Then I saw this sign at the check-in desk:hotels-motel6-1

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The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! January 2016 Photo Report of the Disney Outlet Store

by on January 31, 2016

MMM positiveWelcome to the latest edition of The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! the longest running monthly look at the Disney Outlet Stores in Orlando. The new year has started off exactly where the old one left us: with Walt Disney World closing attractions. It has been a pretty cool month though, including a cool Star Wars runDisney race out in California (and Star Wars fans owe it to themselves to watch a great parody of Undercover Boss featuring Kylo Ren). Erin Foster took us inside Vanellope’s on the Disney Dream, and for those who don’t know, this is a complete Wreck-It-Ralph themed sweet shop (pinch us, we’re dreaming). And Guy Selga introduced us to Four Glorious New Ways to Kill Time at Disneyland, including the am I dreaming this, or is this real Jungle Cruise Skipper School. 2016 is shaping up to be an incredible year.

Now while all of you were off taking your kids to see Donald Trump, Outlet Intern Julia Mascardo and I were hard at work to bring you the quality Outlet coverage you expect deserve!

Enough jibber jabber! Who is ready to hit the Outlets? Remember that clicking on any picture will open a full size version of it (don’t say we didn’t warn you).

The first item this month made my heart grow three sizes (after double checking, that enlargement of the heart was actually due to eating the Pop-Tart Sandwich at Pop Century). Behold the Luigi’s Flying Tires hat! Anyone who has visited the Disney Dump has seen the remnants of this attraction, which opened with the debut of Cars Land in the summer of 2012 and was already closed by the ending of February 2015. Believe it or not, despite only being open for only 976 days, Luigi’s doesn’t even rank in the Top Five of Short Lived Disney Attractions. Originally $24.95, this baby could be sitting on your head for just $6.99. VIVA LA DISNEY OUTLETS!

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After seeing this, I know how Indiana Jones felt seeing the Fertility Idol.  (photo by Julia Mascardo)

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Tsum Tsums returned this month! However it was mostly the ones we have seen in the past (including all seven of the dwarfs), but one that was new was this crying duck. I had literally no idea who this was, but found out it was the Ugly Duckling from a quick scene in Lilo & Stitch. That’s what we call a deep dive, and I love it. I actually dropped Loot Crate this month and started up the Disney Tsum Tsum Monthly Subscription Program, so starting in February I too will annoy you with unboxing videos (although my last one didn’t go so well).

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Ugly Duckling Tsum.

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Ugly Duckling sequence from Lilo & Stitch.

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SATURDAY SIX: The Six Best Pressed Pennies at the Universal Orlando Resort

by on January 23, 2016

This week’s  SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Best Pressed Pennies at the Universal Orlando Resort. Regular readers of this fine blog know that we have extolled the virtue of pressed pennies in our article on The Best Souvenirs at Walt Disney World and anyone who follows Your Humble Author on social media knows I am pretty much obsessed with them. Today we are going to head over to the Universal Orlando Resort and check out the best pressed coin designs they have to offer. So sit back, drive yourself crazy looking through all your change to find two quarters and a penny, and let’s start off with…

# 6 – Jurassic Park

The Jurassic Park logo is just as awesome today as it was when it made its debut over twenty years ago, and in the gift shop of the Jurassic Park River Adventure (way in the back) you can find a pressed penny design with this very image.

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Iconic Jurassic Park logo.

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# 5 – The Simpsons

There are a good amount of Simpsons pressed penny designs found throughout the entire Universal resort (not just in Springfield USA), and in fact our favorite design is located over at Islands of Adventure in front of the Islands Trading Post. One of the biggest strength of the Simpsons TV show is its huge cast of characters, however almost all of the pressed penny designs at Universal feature the actual Simpson family of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie. One design features Homer, Moe, and Barney Gumble at Moe’s Tavern. Until we can get a pressed penny featuring Comic Book Guy (Worst. Penny. Ever.), Cletus the slack jawed yokel, Duffman, or even Poochie, the Moe’s Tavern penny is going to be  #1 in our book.

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Moe’s Tavern.

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The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! December 2015 Photo Report of the Disney Outlet Store

by on December 31, 2015

MMM positiveWelcome to the latest edition of The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! the longest running monthly look at the Disney Outlet Stores in Orlando. In fact, with this edition of MMM Your Humble Author is completing the greatest month in the history of theme park blogging. In December we had the 25 Drinks of Christmas countdown (featuring the Nautilus at Grog Grotto, Deathly Hallows at WWOHP, Candy Apple Cotton-Tini at T-Rex Cafe and more), SATURDAY SIXES on the best souvenir cups at WDW along with Indiana Jones references in Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, our annual IN MEMORIAM – Six Things We Lost From the Theme Park World, and the inaugural 12 Days of a Theme Park Christmas. Of course readers of this fine column will enjoy Six Gifts Santa Can Bring BACK to the North Pole (AKA The Best of the Disney Outlet Stores 2015)

Now while all of you were out buying the wrong gift for your loved ones, Outlet Intern Julia Mascardo and I were hard at work to bring you the Outlet coverage you expect deserve!

Enough jibber jabber! Who is ready to hit the Outlets? Remember that clicking on any picture will open a full size version of it (don’t say we didn’t warn you)

We are going to start off this month’s report with a story so uplifting that, if it was made into a movie, it could only star Kirk Cameron. When the Disney Outlet Store off of International Drive was shut down in June for a “refurbishment,” we were told it would be closed for three months and reopen in September. Well, September came and went and it still wasn’t open. October came and went and it still wasn’t open. November came and went and it still wasn’t open

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I made many trips past this closed Outlet Store during the Summer and Fall, not unlike Ralphie Parker hoping to find his Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring in the mail.

A funny thing happened in early December. I had bought tickets to go to a private event in Diagon Alley at the Universal Orlando Resort, which is close to the International Drive Outlets. I walked by the Disney Outlet, and found it still closed, but this time there was a sign on the door…

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Wait, is that a sign on the door?!

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10 Possible Extra Costs Onboard a Disney Cruise

by on December 18, 2015

It’s that time of year when we are all thinking about money!  Oops, I mean gift giving!  But money is usually a part of that right?  So let’s talk money onboard a Disney Cruise.

I am often asked how much money you should budget to spend onboard.  My answer is – that totally depends.  I’ve been on cruises where my final bill was over $1000, and I’ve been on cruises where my final bill was $11.  How much you spend onboard will truly be up to you.

Note that I am not including gratuities in this discussion.  Gratuities are an unavoidable expense (unless you are truly channeling the spirit of Scrooge), but you can prepay them before you board.  See my Tips on Tipping blog post for some clarification there.

So let me try to help you plan!  Here are 10 ways Disney Cruise Lines tries to tempt you into spending even more onboard!

x1001. Excursions – The first chance to spend money onboard actually starts before you even get onboard! You can book excursions online as soon as your booking window opens, and they will be charged to your onboard account. You can cancel your excursions up until 3 days prior to your cruise departure date.  If you change your mind onboard, Disney will often let you change excursions as long as the price stays the same or goes up. Depending on the ports you are visiting, you could drop a lot of dough here.  The operative word there is “could”.  Excursions are in no way mandatory and there are other options.  Many ports have nearby beaches you could take a taxi to and/or fun towns to walk around in.  You could also book excursions directly with the tour operators and save money that way.  Finally, you could just stay onboard!  You’re on a beautiful ship with plenty to do!  Nobody is making you get off!  Well not until the end anyway.  Sadly, I can promise you that they will make you get off on the end.

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The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! November 2015 Photo Report of the Disney Outlet Store

by on November 30, 2015

MMM positiveWelcome to the latest edition of The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! the longest running monthly look at the Disney Outlet Stores in Orlando. November means we say goodbye to EPCOT’s Food & Wine – and surprisingly the “Burgy” Award winning Canadian Lumberjacks – but hello to the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights and Mickey’s Very Mery Christmas Party. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving, and while you were digesting all that turkey (or Tofurky) did you happen to notice there was a special edition of the SATURDAY SIX looking at what we theme park fans should give thanks for? Even better, this past weekend was also time for the Second Annual Theme Park Turkeys of the Year. Did your favorite make the list? 

Fear not, while you were out on Black Friday ripping items out of the hands of kids , Outlet Intern Julia Mascardo and I were hard at work to bring you the Outlet coverage you expect deserve!

Enough jibber jabber! Who is ready to hit the Outlets? Remember that clicking on any picture will open a full size version of it (don’t say we didn’t warn you).

First up is a Goofy’s Candy Company Gumball Machine. Who doesn’t like a gumball machine? It’s unAmerican not to!

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Gumball.

For the first time EVER, Disney Infinity items were reduced for clearance at the Outlet. There had occasionally been a Disney Infinity figure here or there for sale, but always at full price. This month had a slew of  figures marked down, including everyone’s favorite Frozen sisters reduced to $14.99.

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Disney Infinity.

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The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! October 2015 Photo Report of the Disney Outlet Store

by on October 30, 2015

MMM positiveWelcome to the latest edition of The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! the longest running monthly look at the Disney Outlet Stores in Orlando. Let’s face it, October is hands down the greatest month in the theme park calendar. Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is our favorite Hard Ticket event at WDW, with the new Hocus Pocus Spelltacular show as a fantastic addition. Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights is having perhaps its strongest year ever during its silver anniversary. Food & Wine continues its popular fall run. But maybe the reason October was the greatest month ever this year was the simple fact that Duffy the Disney Bear was removed from Epcot (just kidding, it’s because of the new Force Awakens trailer.)

Don’t worry, while all of you were having the time of your lives enjoying the parks during this wonderful month, Outlet Intern Julia Mascardo and I threw caution to the wind to bring you the Outlet coverage you deserve!

Enough jibber jabber! Who is ready to hit the Outlets? Remember that clicking on any picture will open a full size version of it (don’t say we didn’t warn you).

First up is one of our all-time favorite finds at the Outlet, this Little Orange Bird ceramic figure. I first saw this a while back at Centerpiece in Disney Spring’s Marketplace Co-op and was happy to see it here. Originally $21.95, reduced to $6.99, you better believe I bought one of these.

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Little Orange Bird.

Another thing I enjoyed seeing at Centerpiece were these Jungle Cruise Elephant figurines. Didn’t like them enough to pick them up, but if one was painted gray I think I may have gotten that one.

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Jungle Cruise Elephant figurine.

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Breakeven Point for Disneyland Annual Passes

by on October 19, 2015

This post is about Annual Passes at the Disneyland Resort, for Walt Disney World please read my previous post: Breakeven Point for WDW Annual Passes.

Let’s start by looking at the value of an annual pass compared to purchasing regular tickets. Disney has two Southern California passes — regular and select — but the Southern California pass is only available to renewing users as is the Disneyland parking pass. For new annual passholders, that leaves the Deluxe, Signature, and Signature Plus. There are several differences: parking and PhotoPass downloads are included with the Signature and Signature Plus passes, but the biggest difference between the passes are the block out dates. To see the specific block out dates, visit the Disneyland Calendar, for other differences here’s an basic table:

Disneyland Annual Passes

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Disney Hacks #2: Cheap PhotoPass and Packing Tips

by on October 14, 2015

disney hacksOK folks, time for another installment of the little tips and tricks I like to call Disney hacks! In this edition, a trick for current Annual Passholders to save a ton on PhotoPass photos, and a way to streamline your packing. Let’s get to it!

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Breakeven Point for WDW Annual Passes

by on October 8, 2015

Now that the shock of the price increase on annual passes has set in, let’s look at the updated value of an annual pass. Besides the price, the biggest change to the annual pass is that Memory Maker photo downloads are now included. An advance purchase of Memory Maker currently costs $169. If you are a fan of Memory Maker, this is an awesome addition; if you’re not, it is just lipstick on a pig.

To keep things simple, I’m just going to compare the price of Magic Your Way tickets*, Memory Maker, and annual passes. Free parking, dining discounts, shopping discounts, and other benefits will be ignored in the calculations to keep things as simple as possible. (These are nice benefits, but they will end up being a small portion of your vacation budget.) To find the break-even point, we are going to look at how many trips would you have to take in order to make purchasing an annual pass less expensive than purchasing individual Magic Your Way tickets. Below are all the options for annual passes.

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