Christine Fiorelli has a custom-made Mickey Mouse engagement ring and a beagle named Pluto. She has been to Disney World more than 100 times, including her honeymoon in 2002 at the Grand Floridian resort.
If anyone should know a few tricks for saving money on a Disney vacation, it's Ms. Fiorelli, owner of Fairytale Dreams & Destinations in Bolton, Ont., and a graduate of the College of Disney Knowledge.
The first trick is finding promotions, Ms. Fiorelli says. Since the U.S. recession hit, Disney has been offering many incentives to lure tourists to the Magic Kingdom, including complimentary dining plans and discounts up to 40 per cent off its onsite accommodations. Promotions come and go, however, and Disney is expected to phase out discounts by next year as the economy recovers, Ms. Fiorelli says.
Choosing an off-peak travel time offers the biggest savings, says Ms. Fiorelli. The "value season" for Disney World is September to October and January to mid-February. If you can avoid travelling around U.S. holidays, you'll not only save on dining and accommodations, but the parks will be much less busy.
When you're booking your stay, it's important to know what's a deal and what isn't, Ms. Fiorelli says. If you're staying at a Disney resort, the dining plan is a good buy. "Even when you have to pay for it, it still saves you 20 per cent or more on the cost of food."
Andrea Hagman has visited Disney World five times and always buys the dining plan, which includes one counter-service meal, one sit-down meal, and one snack each day. The adult meals are so large, she says she and her husband can share their lunch with their two daughters and save the extra meal credits for the next day's breakfast. "If you don't use up the snacks, trade them in for snacks for the trip home," she says. "Make it go as far as you can."
One Disney deal that's not so good is the "park-hopper" option that lets you visit multiple parks in a day. It's just an added expense, Ms. Fiorelli says, and in a park that's 122 square kilometres, "you're not going to do it all."
Renting a Disney stroller for $15 (U.S.) a day is also a waste of money, says Ms. Hagman, considering she can buy a cheap collapsible stroller for $30 or less.
If you buy a Disney photo package ahead of your trip, you get a discount, Ms. Hagman says, but she's discovered that the Disney photographers are more than willing to snap a few pictures on her own camera, which she can print herself for much less.
Another place to save money is on your flight, says Ms. Fiorelli. Booking the flight separately from the Disney package is usually cheaper, as is flying from a U.S. airport.
Saida Mendez saved $1,000 recently by booking three tickets on a flight out of Buffalo, rather than Toronto, for her family's trip to Florida in October. It's well worth the two-hour drive, she says. Many Buffalo hotels offer free parking and free transportation to and from the local airport.
On their last Disney trip, Ms. Mendez saved money on souvenirs by buying them at an outlet mall rather than the park. She also packed her own rain gear to avoid the pricey gift shop ponchos.
Ms. Mendes also saved on meals by booking a room with a kitchen at a resort outside Disney. "We made our own breakfast. Some of the days we packed a lunch."
Another frugal option, says Ms. Fiorelli, is to order groceries through an online retailer such as GardenGrocery.com and have them delivered to your Disney resort. Just make sure your room has a refrigerator.