Showing posts with label saving money. Show all posts
Showing posts with label saving money. Show all posts

Disneyland Tickets - Beat the Price Increase!

In case you missed it, tickets for both Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resort increased overnight and those who have been thinking about planning a vacation may now be second guessing themselves.



But, have no fear - my friends at Get Away Today are here to save your vacation budgets!  For a limited time you can buy your Disneyland tickets at the old prices.  That's right. . .get your tickets by February 20th and you can beat the price increase.  That's up to a $75 savings PER TICKET.  Let's break it down:

Great Deals for Star Wars Fans at Disneyland Resort

The whole Star Wars fan universe has been waiting (with every ounce of patience we have!) for the exciting opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts this year.  While those of us on the East Coast still have a few more months to wait before experiencing the out-of-this-world excitement at Disney's Hollywood Studios, Southern California gets to enjoy what Black Spire Outpost has to offer beginning May 31.  Here's what you need to know in order to travel to a galaxy far, far away! Fuel up your Millennium Falcon, grab a Wookie, and let's go!

This post contains affiliate links. You save money and I earn a small commission - everyone wins!

From May 31 to June 23, guests wishing to enjoy Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at the Disneyland Resort will need a reservation at one of Disney's hotels to gain access.  My travel partner, Get Away Today, has a few reservations they can hook you up with if you're looking for a last minute opportunity to travel for the opening weeks:
If you can hold on to your lightsabers until June 24, more opportunities will open for locals and guests both on and off Disneyland Resort property to enter Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.  Disney is trying something out that is a great timesaver for guests, by allowing visitors to log into a virtual "queue" to wait to gain entrance for this popular land.  Once you enter Disneyland Park, you will be able to "get in line" while still enjoying all of the other great attractions at the park.  Get Away Today also has great deals going on throughout the summer months which you can learn more about by following the links below:
The Force is so strong with these deals, even the Dark Side can't resist joining in the fun! So what are you most excited about in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge?  Whether it's the rides, the food, the theming, or the character interactions, there will certainly be a lot to love!  I love the way that Disney immerses you in a story the moment you set foot in their parks and I'm sure Galaxy's Edge will not disappoint.  Don't miss out on your chance to experience it all!! Don't forget to use promo code PIXIEDUST when you visit Get Away Today to save even more money on your vacation package!


Magic Kingdom Fireworks - Without a Park Ticket!

One of my favorite attractions on any Walt Disney World trip is taking in the fireworks at Magic Kingdom.  Whether it's Wishes or one of the seasonal shows, there is nothing quite like watching this nighttime spectacular over Cinderella Castle.  The music and fireworks quite literally brings tears to my eyes each visit.  Of course, the best place to watch the fireworks is right in front of the castle inside the park, but many don't realize that there are other great options to experience fireworks that don't require you to have a park ticket.

Restaurants - Who doesn't love dinner and a show?  California Grill (Disney's Contemporary Resort),  'Ohana (Disney's Polynesian Resort), and Narcoossees's (Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa) all have views of the Magic Kingdom fireworks and dim the lights while piping in music to provide guests with a great experience.  Reservations around fireworks times are difficult to get so make sure that you are ready to book 180 days in advance.  Time your reservation about 90 minutes before fireworks are planned to start and you should be ready to enjoy your dessert while the fireworks display takes place.

Beaches - The beaches at Disney's Polynesian Resort and Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa both have beautiful views of the fireworks.  Recently, a new FREE (yes, you read that right, FREE) viewing party has been opened at the Grand Floridian.  The party features decorations and food and beverages for sale while you watch.  The best part - this isn't open to just guests of this resort!

Boats - There are two cruises on the Seven Seas Lagoon that also offer fireworks viewing.  The Ferrytale Wishes Dessert Party features sweets and beverages included in the price tag while you watch the fireworks and enjoy the music just like you were in the park.  For a more daring adventure on the high seas, there is also a Pirates and Pals Fireworks Cruise where you enjoy snacks and drinks at the Contemporary with Captain Hook and Mr. Smee before setting sail with some pirate friends around the lagoon to see the fireworks.  When you return back to land, Peter Pan is there to greet your party.  Each of these options do have a price tag attached, but feature more than just the viewing when you factor in the food and experience.

These non-park options are great if you don't have a park hopper option on your tickets and want to take in the fireworks on a night you were not in Magic Kingdom.  Or, those of you who are lucky enough to be locals might like to check out the fireworks without braving the Magic Kingdom evening crowds.  I'm excited to use some of these options on my upcoming trip for Princess Half Marathon weekend when my friend and I have opted to save some money and skip park tickets.  Whatever your reason, all of these viewing locations provide a wonderful alternative to watching the fireworks from inside the park.

Disney on a Dime

Walt Disney World is a vacation that some families see as a once in a lifetime trip.  When friends and acquaintances find out how often we travel to Disney, one of the first questions they ask is how can we afford it.  Disney doesn't have to break the bank.  Here are some of my favorite money saving tips we use when planning our Disney trips.

Buying Gift Cards at Target (or Costco, or Sam's Club, etc.) - There are a number of stores that offer Disney Gift Cards at a discounted price.  For example, you can save 5% off of Disney Gift Cards by using your Target Red Card.  That $1000 worth of gift cards will end up costing you only $950.  And if you purchase your gift cards online and use Ebates, you can earn $20 in cash back to your Ebates account.

Weigh the pros and cons of staying off property - Staying at a hotel off property can often be significantly cheaper then staying on property.  But remember to add in hidden costs when you consider this option - resort fees, parking costs, transportation to and from the airport and parks, etc.  Since we have a lot of Hilton points, we've been staying recently at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek for free.  And you can't beat free!

Book Character Breakfasts instead of Character Dinners - Character meals are a must do for most families in Walt Disney World.  Many character meals offer the same characters at all three meals, but breakfast can be significantly cheaper.  It's a great way to still get that enjoyable character experience without the extra strain on your wallet.

Skip the ticket extras - Park Hoppers and Water Park tickets can be fun, but really aren't necessary on your vacation.  You can easily plan your vacation and squeeze in lots of family fun without the need to hit multiple parks in one day.  And with resort pools boasting amazing water areas, you probably won't even miss the water parks.  Skipping these options will save you hundreds of dollars off of park tickets.

Pack your own snacks - Walt Disney World allows you to bring in your own food and drinks to use for the day.  We often pack an extra suitcase with food and snacks from home and then order some fresh fruit and drinks from an online grocery service like Garden Grocer.  Packing a bag with our own food is an easy way to save on the expense of eating in the parks.




A Whole New World of Ticket Prices

Rumors have been swirling for a while now about the annual ticket price increases that were coming to Walt Disney World and Disneyland.  Well, today was the day.  Disney Parks price increases went in effect today and feature something new to Disney - tiered pricing.  Let's break down the prices and how they may impact your next family vacation.

Tiered / Seasonal Pricing - This is nothing new in the world of entertainment and sports.  As Orioles fans, we have to pay more to see a Yankees game then we do to go to an Astros game.  The same thing is now true for Disney Parks.  Disneyland and Walt Disney World now have three distinct seasons - value, regular, and peak.  If you want to visit a Disney Park during the week between Christmas and New Year, it'll cost you more.  The swing in ticket prices for Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World goes from $105 during value season, $110 during regular season, and $124 during peak season.  The hope from Disney's point of view is that this will encourage visitors to come to the park during less busy times of the year.  An important note - seasonal / tiered pricing only impacts single day tickets, not multi-day ticket sales or annual passes.  This means that if you're planning a week long vacation to Walt Disney World, you won't need to worry about the seasonal pricing.

Ticket Price Increases - In addition to the introduction of tiered pricing, the annual ticket increases took effect.  It appears to be roughly an 8% hike in ticket prices.  As an example, the 6-day Magic Your Way ticket previously cost $325 for adults and now has increased to $355.  While this seems hefty, it is typical for Disney to increase their prices annually.  If the ticket increase has you down, don't forget one of my favorite tips.  You can use discount ticket sites like Undercover Tourist to purchase tickets at a slight discount or, if you have a  Target Red Card, you can purchase Disney gift cards at a 5% savings and then use those gift cards to pay for your tickets.  And if you're not in a hurry to get your Disney gift cards today, you can buy them online from Target at the 5% discount and earn 2% cash back on your purchase if you're an Ebates member.  Little ways to save add up!




The Magic of Disney's Magical Express

For guests staying on property at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel, your vacation begins as soon as you arrive at Orlando International Airport.  Each Disney vacation is filled with first-class customer service and it starts with Disney's Magical Express.  So what makes this such a magical part of your vacation?

Who doesn't love seeing this sign from your seat on the Magical Express?
Prior to your trip, you'll receive luggage tags in the mail that you will want to attach to your checked bags.  The first sprinkle of pixie dust occurs when you don't have to worry about retrieving your checked luggage in Orlando!  These yellow tags will make sure that Walt Disney World cast members will get your luggage from the plane to your hotel room without you needing to lift a finger.  When you're excited to get to the parks, not having to visit baggage claim is a great perk!  Just make sure that anything you need as soon as you arrive does not have one of those yellow tags as it may take a few hours to arrive in your hotel.

Disney's Magical Express also provides free roundtrip transportation between the airport and your resort hotel.  After you land in Orlando, follow the signs to B1 (Ground Transportation) and you'll find Disney's Magical Express fleet of busses located at the end.  These motor coaches allow you travel to the resort in comfort and style while enjoying some videos as well about all the fun awaiting at Walt Disney World.  There are a number of busses awaiting guests and each makes stops at several resorts.  But don't worry about finding the right one - cast members will ensure you get on the right bus!
Riding with Daddy on the Magical Express!
And when your vacation is ending, Disney's Magical Express will once again be there to provide a ride for you back to the airport.  The night before your scheduled departure, you'll get a notice on your hotel room door with information regarding what time your pick-up is at your hotel.  Make sure that you are on time for your bus as there is a tight schedule to get everyone to the airport and if you miss your bus time, you may end up having to find another way to the airport.  Even at departure you might be able to be "hands free" when it comes to your luggage as Walt Disney World has partnered with several airlines to off Resort Airline Check-In where you can print your boarding passes and check you bags for your flight.

Taking advantage of this free service is easy!  Just make sure to include your flight information on your vacation reservation and Disney magic will take care of the rest!

Last Minute Disney

"Sometimes it's fun to do the impossible." ~ Walt Disney

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a type A, perfectionist, super planner - especially when it comes to Disney.  I've always preached the importance of planning out your Disney trip well in advance to get the best resorts, dining, and FastPasses.  I don't think I've planned a Disney trip in under 6 months. . .until now.



Friends, I have done the impossible.  I have planned a Walt Disney World Resort vacation in just 12 hours only 33 days before we were set to leave.  How you ask?  Well, let me tell you!

We had our July vacation plans change and were now faced with both my husband and I having a week off a work, 2 kids, and looking for family fun.  *Cue the Disney music* I'm always up for a Disney trip, but all it took was one cute "I want to go Disney World, Dad" from our three year old and Dan was also convinced.  Once I had the green light to get planning, I wasted no time!

Step 1:  We really enjoyed using David's DVC Rentals on our last trip to get a Deluxe resort at non-deluxe pricing.  I went out on a limb to see if I could find any last minute availability through them.  While we couldn't get our first choice resort, we were able to find a Studio available at Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa.  In just three hours from my initial inquiry, we had secured our reservation and had a confirmation number - ready to keep the planning rolling!

Step 2:  Next, we went after our tickets and FastPass+ reservations.  You can't book FP+ reservations until you have purchased park tickets and linked them to your My Disney Experience account.  In the past, we have used Undercover Tourist to purchase tickets at a slight discount.  However, we felt more pressed for time on this trip so that we could book FP+ before even more experiences were gone.  With that in mind, we opted to purchase our tickets directly through Disney and they showed up in our My Disney Experience account immediately.  After a few hours of intermittent planning online, we had secured FP+ reservations for all of our top picks and I was pleasantly surprised how many experiences and how many good times were still available.

Step 3:  Last part of the initial planning rush was to look for dining reservations.  We opted to not do the Dining Plan again.  I'm not sold on the value of it, especially for our family with a three year old that is a really picky eater.  We were able to get dining reservations at three character breakfasts and a few good dinners.  Only 33 days out meant that we missed our chance for the most popular places and best times, but overall I'm pretty pleased with what we got and plan to check back each day to see if we can find any last minute cancellations.

So that's it - Disney trip planned in less than 12 hours.  While I was doing all of this, Dan had the job of booking flights so we are all set to go!  In the weeks ahead we have a few more details to iron out - like our Garden Grocer order - but we're in a great place and counting down the days to Disney!

Double Diaper Bag Strategy in WDW

After taking two Walt Disney World trips with a toddler, there are some "mom hacks" I've learned to make navigating long days in the hot Florida sun more manageable.  Today, I'm going to tell you about my double diaper bag strategy for the parks.  Even when traveling with just one child, I brought two diaper bags into the parks.  Each diaper bag had a distinct purpose and was used in a different way.

Diaper Bag #1 - The "Mini" Diaper Bag


Image from www.amazon.com

This diaper bag is one that will be with you all day, no matter what in the parks - inside restaurants, on rides, in shows, etc.  For that reason, you want this diaper bag to be relatively small and easy to carry.  We have a Columbia backpack diaper bag that is comfortable for both me and my husband to use (he's particular on what diaper bags he'll carry around).  This diaper bag should have a few diapers, wipes, some small toys to entertain little ones while waiting, small bag of snacks (or two!) and a drink.  You don't need to throw everything in here - that's what the second bag is for - but rather think about what you might need right away in a ride line in the case of a toddler meltdown.  In addition, any valuables that you want to keep with you in the park should stay in this bag too.

Diaper Bag #2 - The Big Daddy Diaper Bag
Image from www.amazon.com

Your second diaper bag should be larger and be well stocked to last throughout the day.  An extra change of clothes, more diapers and wipes, additional snacks and drinks, sunscreen, and maybe those layering pieces for when evening sets in and the sun goes down.  This diaper bag will remain with your stroller throughout the day - not always with you.  We have a Skip Hop Studio bag that we used for this purpose.  It hooked perfectly to our BOB stroller and was the ideal size to store all of those "extras" we may need during a long day in the park.  I was surprised on my first trip to Walt Disney World to find out how many places did not allow strollers inside.  Since this diaper bag will be staying with your stroller, make sure nothing valuable is inside of it in the off chance that the bag or stroller is taken while unattended in the park.  As the day wears on, you can replenish the supply in your smaller diaper bag from reserves in this larger diaper bag.

While packing two diaper bags may seem like a bit much, planning ahead and having what you need with you to survive for the day will make your visit more enjoyable.  In addition, it will also save you money.  Most of the things babies and toddlers will need while in the parks are available for sale, but at a premium price.  When packing your diaper bag, think like a scout and "always be prepared!"

Why I Love My Disney Visa

Saving money and earning rewards is always a great deal - especially when those rewards can help feed my Disney habit.  A few years ago, I signed up for a Disney Rewards Visa credit card from Chase and have really enjoyed some of the perks.  There are two different kinds of cards - the standard card and the premier card.  I have the standard card so I can't speak to the added benefits that come with the premier card. If you've ever wondered if the Disney Visa is right for you, here are some reasons why I've loved my card!

1. Earn Disney Rewards Dollars - Every purchase on my credit card earns me 1% back in Disney Rewards.  These reward dollars can be spent on Disney vacations and in Disney stores.  So whether I'm planning my next cruise, dreaming of a dole whip, going after the latest Pandora charm, or saving up for a new Disney Dooney and Bourke, the rewards can add up to make a big difference.

2. Discounts - Who doesn't love a discount?  And Disney offers a few special ones to their credit card holders.  You can always get 10% off a $50 or more purchase at The Disney Store and at most retail locations on Disney property.  In addition, credit card members will occasionally get a headstart on sales from The Disney Store and a few days jump start on vacation package discounts over the general public.  When you pay for you Disney vacation with your Disney card, you can also access special financing perks to make your vacation even more affordable.  And don't forget to check for restaurant discounts on Disney properties as well!

3. Epcot Character Spot - This exclusive character meet and greet is for Disney credit card holders only which means the lines are usually much shorter to meet some of the "Fab 5" as opposed to other park locations in Walt Disney World.  You can also get a free 5 x 7 picture of your family's visit!

4. Show Your Disney Side Everyday - While this is the only perk that doesn't have a financial side to it, I think this might be what I like best about my Disney credit card.  There are so many cute designs to choose from and I get comments almost every time I use my card on how adorable it is!  I'm always looking for ways to show my Disney Side and this is one small way I get to do that.

Image from www.disneyrewards.com
I love having a credit card that goes to work for me so I can have a little more Disney in my life!

Saving Pennies for Disney

I love being a Disney loving mom.  Planning Disney trips for my own family and talking about Disney with those who are just as passionate as I am or with those going for the first time brings me almost as much joy as the actual trips themselves.  In recent years, I've been successful in convincing my loving and supportive husband that annual Disney trips are essential for our family.  After all, "happy wife, happy life" right?

In order to go on a Disney vacation each year, I'm always looking for ways to save money.  In the past I've highlighted buying Disney gift cards at Target to get 5% off, using David's DVC rental store to book deluxe villas at moderate prices, and using Garden Grocer to save money on food while in Walt Disney World.  Today's tip is not Disney specific, but I plan to use my rewards towards a Disney vacation.

Back in the Fall, my sister-in-law began sharing her experiences using Ebates.  You may have seen commercials for this website, but if you're not familiar, here's the basics.  Ebates is a referral website. You create an account with them and log into their website before doing any of your online shopping.  They offer a percent cash back on purchases from A LOT of online retailers.  All you do is access the retailer through Ebates website and the cash back magically appears in your account.  Every few weeks, Ebates will transfer the cash back you've earned to your linked PayPal account and then it's yours to spend as you see fit.  

Are you going to pay for an annual Disney trip with the cash back you earn from Ebates?  Probably not.  I'm a "casual" online shopper.  I buy diapers for the baby, clothes for the kids, and some gifts online - by no means am I purchasing things everyday or spending large amounts of money.  Also, Ebates tends to offer between 1% - 5% cash back - not hundreds of dollars at a time.  I've had some purchases where I've earned less than $1 cash back, but others where I've earned $10.  You can also watch their website for double cash back specials and extra cash bonuses.  For example, my recent diaper purchase not only earned me the usual 2% back from my Diapers.com purchase, but Ebates was also running a special where you earned $5 extra cash back on any purchase from select kids retailers when you spent more than $25.  So the diapers I had to buy anyway ended up netting me over $6 back in easy money!

Ebates Coupons and Cash Back



I've been a member since December and have earned almost $60 in cash back so far.  If my trend continues, by our Disney trip in November I should have over $200 saved up that I'll withdraw and spend on Disney gift cards.  That's a couple quick service meals in the park, or maybe an AMAZING 4 course meal for hubby and I at Artist Point, or an awful lot of food and wine tastes at the Food and Wine Festival in Epcot.  And of course when I buy my Disney gift cards, I'll purchase them with 5% off using my Target Red Card online through Ebates where I'll earn about 2% in cash back :) 

Saving money on food in Disney!

When traveling to Walt Disney World, one very large (and oftentimes underestimated) cost of the trip is buying food.  Even if you choose to purchase the Disney Dining Plan, you will probably still need some snacks and staples throughout the day.  So how can you save money on food?  Easy, buy groceries!

Now, you may be thinking I'm nuts.  Nobody wants to grocery shop on vacation and a lot of resort guests don't rent a car to easily get out.  Orlando though is home to numerous online grocery shopping services that are worth considering on your next trip.  On our most recent trip, we used Garden Grocer and couldn't have been happier with their service.

Here's how it works.  We visited their site about a month before our trip.  I knew that in our Studio at Animal Kingdom Lodge - Kidani Village we would have a fridge, sink, and some cabinet space.  I ordered easy breakfast items (milk, bananas, grapes, yogurt, bakery fresh muffins, cereal) and drinks (Capri Sun, soda, juice, case of water) as well as a few healthy snacks to pack for the park (granola bars, apples, pretzels, etc).    We don't know exactly how much money we saved by taking advantage of this service, but I know it was substantial.  Think about just water alone.  Water is one snack credit on the Disney Dining Plan or $2.50 a bottle when you buy it out in the parks.  From Garden Grocer, we received a case of water for $6.99 (or just $0.29 a bottle). The case was more than enough for what our family of 3 needed to last for the 5 days we were in Disney.  Between the online grocery order and some snacks we packed from home, we had a lot of options that saved us a great deal of money in the parks.  Once you place your order on their website, you select the delivery date, time frame, and resort destination.  They will deliver the groceries to bell services at your hotel where Disney staff will keep cold stuff refrigerated for you until you are back in your room to receive them.  When you arrive at your hotel, simply call bell services and they'll deliver your groceries to your room.  Voila!    

Having some breakfast food in the room allowed us to enjoy some leisurely mornings watching the animals from our balcony.
So how do you know if online groceries are right for your next trip?  The biggest suggestion I have is to check out what kind of refrigerator your room has.  All Walt Disney World Resort hotels now feature a refrigerator, but they do vary in size from mini-fridges in the value resorts to full size refrigerators and kitchens in most Disney Vacation Club property villas.  You'll want an idea of how much space you have for cold things before you place your order.  Many park visitors aren't aware that you can bring food into the park (including soft-sided coolers), but this little trick can add up to big savings!

What other tips or tricks do you have to save money on food when visiting Walt Disney World Resort?

Renting DVC Points

Ever since I heard of the Disney Vacation Club (DVC), I've patiently dropped hints to my husband at how fabulous this sounds.  Unfortunately, as a young couple having kids, daycare bills, and purchasing a house, putting out the upfront cost to join DVC has not been in the cards.  I had previously read about renting DVC points, but had never taken the plunge before this year.  Dan and I enjoy staying at the Deluxe resorts but don't like paying the Deluxe price tag.  So, we decided back in May to try out David's DVC Request website.  Everything I read about them was positive and we were very pleased with our experience.

How it Works - DVC members who have points that they can't use or don't want to use connect with David's.  Guests who want to stay at DVC properties fill out a simple questionnaire with information about your family, requested dates, and requested resorts.  David's then goes to work seeing if they can match up your request to points that are available to them.  We were originally trying to book during October which happens to be Food and Wine Festival.  We were unable to find the original reservation we wanted 5 months out, but were able to find a vacation option that would work by tinkering with our dates just a little.  The whole booking process was completed in less than 48 hours from my initial inquiry with the team being extremely responsive and helpful.  Once booked, you receive your confirmation number which you can plug into your My Disney Experience account to begin planning your vacation!  You pay David's a significantly discounted price over what Disney rack rates are for the villa properties.  They in turn pay the original owner and keep some for themselves.  You can easily price out your trip with their price calculator.  Remember that David's availability depends on the points that they have.  If you're looking for a popular week, season, or resort, try to get your reservation in close to 11 months out when DVC rentals open up.

Tickets, Dining, and Magical Express - You have to purchase your tickets separately.  I would recommend either going directly through Disney (don't forget your Disney Gift Cards from Target to save 5% with your Red Card) or Undercover Tourist.  Don't worry - you can still link the tickets to your Magic Bands on the My Disney Experience site.  You can also take advantage of Disney Dining Plan and Magical Express through David's.  They request that you get them these details at least 30 days in advance of your trip.

We loved our experience with David's and can't wait to go back to another DVC property in the future!

What to Consider When Staying Off Property

Let's face it - Disney is an expensive trip for a family.  And staying on property can make the trip even more expensive then taking advantage of some of the cheaper hotels that are in Orlando.  But, is staying off property the right choice for you and your family?  Here are some things to consider before making that decision.

Transportation - When you stay on property, Disney provides free Magical Express transportation to and from the airport as well as free transportation to and from your resort to the parks and Downtown Disney.  If you stay off property, you'll have to think about how you will get to and from the airport and to the parks.  One of the options would be renting a car.  Car rental prices in Florida are among the most expensive in the nation and you'll also have to pay for parking at the parks and maybe at your resort.  A second option that may work for you if your hotel provides free transportation to the parks via their own shuttles, is to simply arrange for transportation through Mears or another private company to get to and from the airport.  There is a range of options that private companies provide from a communal van / bus (cheapest) to private cars / limos.  A word of caution about free transportation from your hotel to the parks though - most will likely take you to the Ticketing and Transportation Center, not directly to the parks.  From the TTC, you'll have to catch another bus to the park of your choosing.  This can make for long travel times so keep this in mind if you have small kids.  We stayed off property in 2011 with some friends at the Hilton on I-Drive and as a group of four adults it wasn't that bad to manage.  However, I don't know that I would feel the same way toting small children, strollers, and diaper bags through multiple transportation changes.

Extra Magic Hours / Disney Dining Plan - This perk is extended to guests staying on Disney property and to a few off-site hotels.  If you're a Disney novice and not familiar with it, on select days some parks will open an hour early and stay open later for guests.  It's worth checking into if you enjoy the EMH benefit.  For me, EMH are nice but would not be a deal breaker if I could save several hundred dollars staying off property.  The Disney Dining Plan is only offered to guests staying on property.  If this is something that is important to you, you won't be able to take advantage of it while off property.

FastPass+ - This is probably one of the biggest considerations right now if you are looking to score hard to get FastPass+ times.  Resort guests have the ability to begin booking 60 days in advance of their reservation while guests staying off-property can only start booking 30 days in advance.  For my upcoming trip, I began booking FP+ times at the 60 day mark and their were some I couldn't get.  I would imagine times and attractions may be limited for guests staying off property who are at a disadvantage.

The Disney Experience - This is a biggie for me.  I loved our Hilton hotel when we were there.  The pool was beautiful, food was great, room was wonderful and had a great view of Epcot.  On top of all of that, it was free with Hilton points we accumulated and we were upgraded to a suite since Dan travels so much for work and has Diamond status at Hilton properties.  However, I missed Mickey.  Again, I haven't stayed off property much so maybe other hotels have more Mickey touches then the Hilton, but it didn't "feel" like Disney.  Especially now that I'm traveling with a little mouseketeer in tow, I enjoy being immersed in pixie dust and it's not the same staying off site.

The pool at the Walt Disney World Hilton on I-Drive

So, is staying off site the right choice for you and your family?  It depends.  There are certainly plenty of options that are cheaper then staying on property if that is your number one concern.  Don't forget to calculate any extra transportation costs that you may incur though.  I'm sure we'll stay off property again in the future, but my preference is to be on property whenever possible.

Saving $$$ - Tip #1

Over years of traveling to WDW and after experiencing DCL for the first time last year, I can tell you a lot about restaurants, parks, resorts, etc.  In recent years though, I have also learned a lot about stretching those Disney dollars.  Of course you can almost always catch some special from Disney - whether it's free dining, 30% off rooms, etc. - but what about on top of that?  One of the newest secrets I've learned is quickly becoming one of my favorites.

The only requirement to access this deal is to have a Target Red Card.  As most of you probably know, Target offers 5% off all purchases in their stores when customers use their Target Red Card.  What you may not know (and it was news to me when I learned it in November) is that this includes most gift cards too - especially those Disney ones!

Disney Gift Cards can be used to pay for your room reservation, cruise reservations, restaurants in the parks, onboard accounts on the cruise ships, gift shops, Disneystore.com, etc.  So let's say that you have a reservation booked and the vacation will cost you $3000.  You can go to Target and buy $3000 worth of gift cards for $2850 then call Disney or login to their website and pay with your gift cards.  Magically you've paid $150 less for your vacation!  (And of course this savings is on top of any discounts that Disney is directly offering.)

This does take some dedication.  Target only sells gift cards in $50 increments so you will have to buy lots of them to pay for your vacation, but a little extra effort to save some money may be worth it to you!  I also like the idea of buying gift cards to pay for vacation and my on property Disney expenses because it allows me to do it a little at a time.  When I get a few extra dollars for extra hours at work, I can go to Target and buy some gift cards to stash away for later.

Keep your eyes open in the weeks to come - more ways to save on your next Disney trip will be posted soon!

Saving money makes me happier than a one-eyed monster!