Abuela Testa’s gaspacho soup mix is an excellent money-saver
For the next edition of the Unofficial Guide, we interviewed dozens of families planning their first Disney trip, and Disney-specialist travel agents who talk to Orlando-bound families every day. Almost all of them said the cost of a Disney vacation was the biggest surprise, and more important to them than when to travel, where to stay, or how to beat the lines.
All money questions involve trade-offs, of course, and only you know what you’re willing to do to save a buck. For every person who thinks a $65 per day food allowance is malnourishment, there’s another who says they can feed a family of 5 on $10 and some budget gazpacho made with leftover Taco Bell sauce and hot water.
To give you a realistic idea of how much to budget, we’ve created the following set of charts showing the kind of Disney World vacation your family can get for $500, $1,000, $1,500, and $2,000. Each column represents a different family demographic, and each row represents a different budget amount. Our starting assumptions are at the bottom of the page.
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You think a Walt Disney World vacation sounds like fabulous fun. Your next door neighbor thinks that a Walt Disney World vacation sounds like fabulous fun too. If you have enough of these conversations, inevitably your neighbor (or your sister and her kids, or your in-laws, or your college roommate and her family) will come up with the brilliant idea that if you’re both going to have amazing Disney vacations, then wouldn’t it be great to have those vacations together.
Whoa, hold it there partner. Traveling with another family could be a wonderful experience for all involved, or it could be a way to beat a perfectly nice relationship to death with a grotesquely over-sized turkey leg. Before you book those connecting rooms, take a minute to consider some thoughts about whether multi-family travel is right for you.
Do you have the same philosphy about souvenirs as your companions?
Now before you start thinking that there is NEVER a situation where you’ll be comfortable traveling with another family, there are also some pros to group vacations that may outweigh any cons:
If you do decide to take the plunge, here are some guidelines you may want to set before you travel:
Over the years, I personally have traveled to Walt Disney World with neighbors, my parents, my sister-in-law and her family, my Moms Panel buddies, and even some unrelated babysitters. There have been great successes (priceless photos of the extended clan) and some frustrating challenges. Meeting at 8:00 does actually mean meeting at 8:00, why don’t some people understand that? What have your experiences been? Have you enjoyed your journeys to the World with others, or are you going nuclear-family-only from now on because of a negative situation? Give us your tips in the comments below.
Roller coasters, shopping, fireworks, swimming, dancing, laughing. These are some of the things that teens love about Disney World. Notice the omission of the phrase “sit-down-dinner-ing?” True, Disney has some amazing restaurants, but a teenager would much prefer to be in the parks, riding rides, than scarfing down a fancy meal. Though there are some family-friendly restaurants, I don’t know of any that involve being thrown upside-down and pulling 5-Gs. Ever since Disney got into the thrill business, it’s been hard for calamari to compete.
Solution? I call it “snacking your way through the parks.” There are no restaurant meals on a snacking vacation. Instead, buy your food at eateries and from vendors. That way, you spend more time watching shows and experiencing rides than waiting for a dish to arrive. Forget your grandmother’s rules about walking and eating! Who says you can’t savor a soft pretzel while darting to the Jungle Cruise?
But if you’re like many Disney World guests, you might have a few concerns: 1) fast food isn’t remotely healthy, and 2) Disney World restaurants serve such fabulous food that you don’t want to miss out. Not to worry. I’m going to teach you to snack in a way that solves these problems, plus saves you a Goofy-sized bundle. So read on, Grasshopper (or rather, Jiminy Cricket).
First: healthiness. You may be worried that eating burgers and cheap pizza for a week will ruin your waistline. You ought to know that on an average day at Epcot, a guest walks over 12 miles, not to mention time standing upright in lines. I promise, you will burn calories. In fact, I usually lose a couple pounds in Disney. However, if you can’t stand food loaded with cholesterol and fat, or rather lacking good stuff like vitamins, below is a list of counter-service places at each park with options for the health-conscious diner. (Remember that Disney has been making an effort to provide healthier choices, so there can be a fruit side with almost any meal.)
Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe, Tomorrowland (soups and Kosher items)
Columbia Harbour House, Liberty Square (vegetarian chili and seafood)
Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn, Frontierland (vegetarian wraps)
Sunshine Seasons, The Land (fresh fruits and veggies, and good stuff for breakfast too)
Lotus Blossom Cafe, China Pavilion (vegetable dishes)
Liberty Inn, America Pavilion (come only if you’re desperate for a salad)
Backlot Express (vegetarian sandwiches and multiple salads)
ABC Commissary (curry and salads)
Flame Tree Barbeque, Discovery Island (salads)
Kusafiri Coffee Shop, Africa (light pastries for breakfast)
What about missing out on the world-class food at WDW? Some of the country’s top chefs have restaurants there; it seems a shame to skip. It’s true you won’t sample many culinary masterpieces in my “snacking through” strategy because it’s geared towards downing calories for energy. Then again, there are some counter-service versions of the high-end restaurants. Exhibit A: Wolfgang Puck Express at Downtown Disney. It’s more casual and faster, but the pizza is as much gourmet as that of Wolfgang Puck Cafe up the road. The Yak & Yeti Restaurant at Animal Kingdom has a cafeteria-style alternative. You get the picture.
I hope by now it’s clear that you hardly have to sacrifice anything to snack through Disney World. It gets better, too! Here’s the major upside: a family will save an average of $90 for every sit-down meal they forego! Another example: stock up on bagels and cereal from the Buena Vista Winn-Dixie to eat at the turnstiles to save a castle-load. (Get it? Castle sounds like cash. And it’s Disney-themed. Get it? Never mind.)
What are my awesomest money-saving tips for food? OK I’ll tell, but let’s hope my mom doesn’t find out that I shared the family silver! The drinks at Disney are huge, so splitting them saves you about $3 every time. That may not seem like much, but considering how hot Florida gets, staying hydrated is important; it adds up. The ultimate cheap(er) dining secret is: get kids’ meals for adults. Like I said, portions at WDW are huge. Kids’ meals are often big enough to satisfy an adult stomach, and are up to $7 less for the exact same food.
If you still cannot give up eating at a restaurant, you and the other adults can have a sit-down dinner. Meanwhile, the teens and preteens can continue touring, making all of you happier than Snow White singing to beavers. Just make sure the pubescents have a little cash and a cell-phone with them in case of an emergency.
I should mention one other major worry about snacking before I go: not experiencing a character breakfast. Luckily – with the notable exception of Cinderella – almost any character your munchkin would meet at a character breakfast can be found somewhere else in the theme parks, for free.
That’s all for now, though I may return to this topic later. If you have any questions about a Disney World vacation with teenagers, feel free to ask them in the Comments. I might just turn the answer into my next post. In the meantime, have a magical day!