For those of you who are heading to the theme parks next week, the very busiest time of year, we’ve put together our top 10 tips for saving during the holidays. The good news is that most of these tips are good anytime of year.
1. Identify in advance what you're willing to splurge on and what you want to save on. This is the key to a memorable and guilt-free Disney experience. For the Frog Family, eating a big sit-down breakfast isn't that important because we always try to get to the park by rope drop, but we like to indulge in a treat later in the day. I am not ashamed to admit that we sometimes eat breakfast bars I've brought from home so then later we can enjoy a yummy snack -- like the wonderfully decorated caramel apples at Big Top Treats.
2. Allot a souvenir budget. Plan ahead and set an allowance for the kids (I have to do this for myself as well). You can also purchase Disney souvenirs for the kids before you leave. We give ours to Tad and Lily after we we arrive but before we hit the first park, because inevitably they will ask for something at the first shop we arrive at. On our last trip, we let Lily take her miniature stuffed Donald and Minnie into the park with her, so we could gently remind her that she already had her “friends” with her.
3. Do your holiday shopping in advance. I know this sounds a little Scrougish, but resist the temptation to do your Christmas shopping in the parks. If you must, set a budget and make a list of who you are shopping for in advance. Try not to deviate from the plan. Yes, I know, this is sometimes easier said than done.
4. Catch Santa at Downtown Disney. This entertainment and shopping mecca is a great place to take in the Disney experience without the price of admission. During Christmas, you can catch Santa (or Santa Goofy) at his ice chalet at Downtown Disney® Marketplace. Now, for those of you who are shopping fanatics (I'm including myself in this category), Downtown Disney presents all sorts of temptations. Know this in advance.
5. Visit the Disney Boardwalk. Like Downtown Disney, this is another great place to take in the Disney experience for free. There are shops and restaurants along this boardwalk that takes you back to turn-of-the-20th-century Coney Island. Take in the holiday decorations inside the Disney’s BoardWalk Entertainment District Inn and the Beach and Yacht Club resorts a stroll across the way.
6. Watch the fireworks outside of the park. You can catch some of Epcot®’s Illuminations from the bridge connecting the Beach Club and the Disney Boardwalk. There are a number of good places to watch Magic Kingdom® Park’s Wishes show, along the beach at the Disney’s Polynesian Resort and from the observation deck at the California Grill on the rooftop of the Disney’s Contemporary Resort. You can also catch the Electrical Water Pageant at the Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, Contemporary, Polynesian and Grand Floridian resorts.
7. Set a dining budget in advance. Assuming you’ve bought your tickets already (from us of course), this is your single biggest expense in the park and your single biggest opportunity for saving money. If you have a kitchen where you are staying, use it for most of your meals and you will save a bundle. It's not as glamorous as the Crystal Palace, but if you have a car with you, pack lunch in a cooler and eat in the parking lot. You can also buy snacks ahead of time to pack into the parks. Don’t wait for hunger to kick in, especially if you are traveling with small children -- this will save you money as well as meltdowns!
8. Pack your own water bottles. Fill them up at the water fountains inside the park. If you or your little ones are picky about the taste of your water, make sure to bring a powdered drink to mix in.
9. Spend a day visiting the Disney deluxe resorts. All of the resorts are decked out for the holidays, and each has different theming to match the hotels. Take in the gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian and the gingerbread tree at the Contemporary. The Frog Family’s favorite is the Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, with its super tall tree adorned with drums and teepees.
10. Visit the parks that have holiday events included in the price of admission. Epcot®’s Holidays Around the World and Candlelight Processional, and the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios® are included with regular park admission and not to be missed!
How do you save money in the parks? Share your tips below.