Saving Money

Shocking Savings of a Universal Orlando Annual Pass

by on July 23, 2014

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Universal Annual Passes are a great way for even infrequent guests to save money.

We have been vacationing to Florida for the past seventeen years; visiting Universal Orlando Resort on each trip. During this time, it had never occurred to me to purchase an annual pass. After all, annual passes are more for those people who live close and can visit many times in the same year, right? I couldn’t have been more wrong.

It wasn’t until recently that I discovered the potential savings of purchasing an annual pass for Universal. The annual passes can be a money saving option for people visiting as few as two days. Not only do you get unlimited day passes to the parks, but you also get free parking, discounts on food, merchandise, admission and special event tickets, and onsite hotel discounts.

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Seven Disney Souvenir Buying Mistakes

by on July 8, 2014

The 1,200 Vinylmation figurines staring at me from the shelves of my home office right now will tell you that I am a veteran Disney parks shopper. I truly understand the desire to troll the theme park shops for the perfect souvenir. But as satisfying as it can be to come home with just the right thing, there are plenty of pitfalls to Disney parks shopping. Here are seven potential Disney souvenir shopping mistakes and how you can avoid them.

Some Disney take-home items can be had for free.

Some Disney take-home items can be had for free.

1. Thinking that you have to pay for souvenirs.

Believe it or not, you can score many items for free at Walt Disney World. They practically throw Mickey stickers at kids during resort check in and there’s always a reason to grab a free celebration button. You can also get free bookmarks by participating in the Enchanted Tales with Belle attraction at the Magic Kingdom, free stick puppets at the Epcot Kidcot Fun Stops, or a lei at the Polynesian resort. These free items can go a long way toward scratching that “but I MUST bring something home” itch, with no additional outlay of cash.

And don’t forget that the best Disney souvenir is usually a memory. “Remember when Cousin Billy spilled his milk on Goofy’s shoe at Chef Mickeys?” “Remember when Baby Sally hugged Cinderella for the first time?” “Remember when we finally got Grandma to go on the Teacups and she actually had a blast?” Assuming that you’ve got a digital camera or a camera-equipped phone, these memories can all be captured gratis. Disney PhotoPass photographers will even take group shots using your camera, at no charge. Isn’t a photo of Mom wearing Mickey ears a better souvenir than a snow globe?

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Theme Park Ticketless Options: The Animal Kingdom Lodge Savannah

by on June 22, 2014

One of my favorite parts of any Walt Disney World trip is riding Simba-1 to view the animals on the savannah at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park. Unfortunately, with the combination of its reputation as a “half-day park,” and the limited park-hopping abilities of FastPass+, some travellers may avoid it. Thankfully, Disney has provided an alternative location to get a good look at some of the animals: the savannah at Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Giraffe strolling at the Animal Kingdom Lodge Savannah

Giraffe strolling at the Animal Kingdom Lodge Savannah – © John Kivus

Animal Kingdom Lodge is composed of two separate buildings: Jambo House and Kidani Village. In the space between these buildings, there is a substantial savannah (which is technically broken up into three distinct areas—the Arusha, Uzima, and Sunset Savannahs) that is home to a variety of animals, including giraffes, zebras, and Thomson’s gazelles. Though this savannah is not connected to the one at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park, it has more than enough residents to make a visit worthwhile.

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What Each Disney Dining Plan Component Costs For 2014

by on June 1, 2014

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[Update: Our statistician Fred Hazelton suggested we post the computed costs of dining plan components from previous years, to show how prices have gone up. Prices from 2012 are now included in the Results section.]

Last week we did a presentation to Furman University math students on the math and science behind a Walt Disney World vacation. (You can see my presentation to the class here.)

One of the things we discussed was how you could use a system of linear equations to determine the value of each component in Disney’s dining plans. And then I realized that I hadn’t run the numbers for 2014. So here they are. (If you want to follow along in Excel, here’s the spreadsheet. You’ll need to load Excel’s Solver add-in.)

Disney has 3 versions of its dining plan:

  • The Standard Plan, with 1 quick-service meal, 1 table-service meal, and 1 snack per person per night of your stay, plus a refillable mug good for the length of your stay, for $60.64 per night
  • The Quick Service Plan, with 2 quick-service meals and 1 snack per person per night, plus a refillable mug, for $41.99 per night
  • The Deluxe Dining Plan, with 3 meals at any combination of quick-service and table-service locations, 2 snacks, and 1 refillable mug, for $109.53 per night

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Be Our Guest: Prices Up Across the Dinner Menu at the Magic Kingdom’s Newest Restaurant

by on May 23, 2014

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The Be Our Guest Entrance

One of the things we do best here at TouringPlans.com is help you get the best value for your vacation dollar by providing you with all kinds of data about Walt Disney World and helping you make sense of it. Recently, while doing accuracy checks on menus at Be Our Guest Restaurant, we noticed that the prices on various items at dinner had climbed, some significantly, since April.

Three appetizers, the popular (and excellent) Potato Leek Soup as well as the Garden Salad and Salad Trio, have seen increases of fifty cents per dish. In the entrees category, nearly every entree on the menu increased in price by at least fifty cents, with some like the Pan-Seared Salmon and Sauteed Shrimp and Scallops getting price hikes of a dollar per dish. Additionally, every beer that Be Our Guest offers increased in price by twenty-five cents per serving, with Chimay Blue going up seventy-five cents. The desserts have also gone up a dollar each, and while this change may have actually occurred before the others, it has been fairly recent as well.

While fifty cents here or there isn’t such a big deal, if you look at a meal we ate in February with a group of four, you can see a huge impact on what our meal cost would be now. Three of the four in our party had the Shrimp and Scallops, which adds $3.00 to the overall total. The other adult had the Salmon, adding $1.00 more. Three of the adults drank beer, adding another $2.25. Two bowls of Potato Leek Soup were eaten which would now cost $1.00 more than it did that night. Finally, all four of us got dessert (look, we’d just run 13 miles, okay?), which tacks on another $4.00 to the total we would pay if we had the same meal today. In all, the price of our meal for four adults has increased $11.25 in less than two months’ time. We could have added a kid to our party, had another round of dessert for a few of us, or tossed back a couple more drinks for that, especially given the increase in tip this requires at the end of the meal.

While these increases make sense in light of the Disney Dining Plan price increases, they may not make sense to your party’s budget. Be sure to check out the full Be Our Guest menu before you dine there, and be prepared rather than surprised.

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Good Deals on 3- to 6-Day Disney World Park Hopper Tickets

by on May 9, 2014

Our Least Expensive Ticket Calculator is a free online search tool for finding the best discounts on Disney World tickets. Earlier this week we added ParkSavers.com to the list of authorized Disney ticket wholesalers, which includes Disney.com, Undercover Tourist, The Official Ticket Center, Kissimmee Guest Services, Maple Leaf Tickets, and Orlando Fun Tickets.

Every ticket vendor has a “sweet spot,” where they try to be the cheapest vendor for a particular kind of ticket.  For example, Disney is the cheapest place to find 1- and 2-day tickets, while The Official Ticket Center goes after 4- to 6-day Magic Your Way base tickets.

From their prices, it looks like ParkSavers is trying to be super competitive on 3- to 6-day Magic Your Way park hoppers.  Their 5-day hoppers are currently priced around $47 per person less than Disney, including shipping. That’s a good deal, if you don’t already have tickets.

FYI: We’re not affiliates of ParkSavers.com and don’t have a business relationship of any kind with any vendor listed in the ticket calculator. 

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Yacht and Beach Club’s Ship Shape Salon – A Pedicure Review

by on May 6, 2014

Ship Shape

Just about right there under the blue pointer.

A couple of weeks ago during a stay at Yacht and Beach Club, I looked down and was slightly aghast at the state of my toenail polish. A few days in a sand-bottomed pool can do some damage. I have been to the Senses Spa at Saratoga Springs, and, while the treatment I got there was amazing, upwards of $80 for a pedicure is a little much. I considered Mandara Spa at the Swan & Dolphin, but, again, at prices starting at $65, it was more than I wanted to commit to just being presentable. Just after a great burger at Beaches & Cream, I walked past the Ship Shape Fitness Center and realized there was an extra door there.

As it turns out, Yacht and Beach Club has a lovely little spa and salon right next to the fitness center that offers a wide range of services at much more reasonable prices. My pedicure was listed at $55, which was inclusive of gratuity, but after my Annual Passholder discount, it was just under $50. While that’s more than I normally pay for a pedicure, I was able to get a same-day appointment for less than any other location on property.

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Disney Gift Cards 101

by on April 30, 2014

Disney gift card

The classic Disney gift card design

As a frequent traveler to Disney parks and the Disney Cruise Line, I’m a huge fan of Disney gift cards. They reduce my need for cash on hand, allow me to sock away money for trips, and make great gifts for people who will be in the parks. As this type of card becomes more and more ubiquitous, you may think you know all there is to know about Disney gift cards. But maybe not. Read on.

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Disney Money Saving Tips from Liners

by on April 19, 2014

TouringPlans logoAs we write our updates for the 2015 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, I find myself reaching out to Liners for their best quotes and tips.  First, you many ask yourself, “what’s a Liner?” Well, you know Lines? The highest rated Disney free or paid app on iTunes or Google Play? The one that comes with your TouringPlans subscription? In it is a feature called Chat. Subscribers can even access it on their desktop computers by going to http://m.touringplans.com and logging in. It’s a lively unstructured discussion of all things Disney, and there are some pretty knowledgeable users online who can answer all kinds of questions in 255 characters or less. This week I asked, “What are your Disney money saving tips?

 

Chat

A preview of the conversations you’re missing

 

Disney Money Saving Tips from Liners

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How to Pick the Best Disney Cruise Line Port Adventures

by on April 10, 2014

t_logo_fbWith so many options offered, many cruisers are frustrated trying to find the best Disney Cruise Line port adventures. Because no one person would ever have the time or money to try them all, we’d like to offer up some tips to help you sort through your options.

What are you actually getting for your money?

Take a hard look at the description of your excursion. It is just transportation to a destination and back? Is there a meal included? Many Caribbean beach excursions are simply putting you on a bus and driving you to the sand. You’ll return to the ship with everyone else, regardless of when you’re ready to go. For parties of more than 2 people, you may be better off taking a taxi to your destination (don’t forget to budget for the round trip and gratuity). As an example, the St. Martin Beach Bash Tour consists of transportation to the beach and fruit punch, and will run a family of four nearly $150 for two hours on the beach. We suggest taking a taxi to Maho Beach to see something truly extraordinary and saving your real beach time for Castaway Cay.

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