Disney Thrift for UK Travelers
Walt Disney World is my family’s Achilles heel, financially speaking. By hook or by crook we have got ourselves there a total of six times in the last 12 years, and for us it truly is the happiest place on earth.
Inconveniently, it’s also one of the more expensive. As a teacher (albeit a self-employed, instrumental one) I’m largely bound to school breaks these days, and besides, local education authorities over here now fine you if you take your kids out of school for any more than a couple of days.
So what to do, in order to feed the Disney addiction of five individuals ages four to 43?
Firstly, I’ll confess hands down that I’ve never had the nerve to gamble for free theme park tickets using the time share pitch option. You know the type of thing: you listen to a presentation for 90 minutes, at the end of which you are given tickets, whether or not you agree to sign up for the deal. Sounds straightforward in principle, but I’ve heard too many horror stories. I’m just too much of a pushover and would probably end up buying shares in a condo I absolutely could not afford.
I’ve saved money – quite a few thousands of pounds/dollars over the years – by tackling other elements of the outlay; namely flights, accommodation and food. There are significant savings to be had here for UK travelers, particularly through these two gems:
The Tesco Clubcard
Putting to one side the fact that many people in the UK regard the supermarket chain Tesco as an evil corporate giant, its club card is both generous and incredibly diverse in its choice of rewards if used to best effect. Most users, however, are completely unaware that it can be used to accrue Virgin Atlantic Flying Club air miles, to the tune of 625 miles for every £2.50/$1.94 voucher earned. To automatically convert your club card points to miles, all you have to do is join the Flying Club, sign in to your Tesco club card account and tick the ‘opt in’ box on the ‘My Preferences’ page. It’s worth doing even if you only use Tesco for fuel. https://secure.tesco.com/clubcard/boost/search-results/virgin?search=Virgin
My family and I once saved an estimated £1500/$1935 on transatlantic flights by doing this. Quite simply, it made that vacation possible. I saved our points for almost three years (careful, as they expire after three years!) and we booked early. Always book early. The pros of this system speak for themselves, but the cons include limited seat allocation, and we were trying to travel during peak season. It also pays to persevere – it may be a bit fiddly and require a few phone calls to secure the right flights for you and your family, but it’s worth it; and to be flexible – in our particular case, Orlando flights were booked up so we flew to New York first. An amazing experience, and we continued to Orlando with dirt cheap internal flights a couple of days later. Bonus!
For more on the unsung benefits of this nifty little card, click here. http://www.skintminimumma.com/the-evil-corporate-giant-tesco-how-i-hate-to-love-you/
Free Disney Dining
Forget shopping around for cheaper accommodations off the World. If you are a UK traveler, I’m recommending you walk straight into the eye of the storm for this one. Head to the mothership http://www.disneyholidays.co.uk/walt-disney-world/?utm_medium=referral&utm_source=disneyworld.co.uk&utm_campaign=generic&utm_content=resorts-book, have a quick scan for dates that include free quick service Disney dining (they include school breaks – it’s incredible!) and go from there. One tip, however – don’t book the flights as part of the package; you can get far cheaper elsewhere.
I kid you not, the monetary value of the food and drink that five of us consumed through this free perk during our recent 15 day vacation totaled more than $3000/£2326. That is not a misprint! It’s worth knowing that a quick service meal for one person, with drink, costs upwards of $15/£11.63.
The dining plan differs slightly for UK and US travelers. Each of us had a daily allowance of two quick service meals (each including a soft drink) and two snacks. We also had our refillable Disney mugs which we could use at any Disney hotel, though not in the parks.
I must admit we became a little obsessed with getting the most for Disney’s money: if there was a $20 option my husband would choose it over the $15 option on principle, and my older daughter compiled an exhaustive list of snacks to avoid ‘wasting’ tokens on $1.99 options when you could get something worth $5 instead. But it was all part of the fun!
An extra, and considerable, bonus is that the free dining comes with booking a moderate resort, rather than a budget one. We stayed at the Port Orleans Resort, Riverside, and it was heavenly. For 2018 – not that we can afford to go next year – the Caribbean Beach Resort is offering the best deal.
Our entire vacation, for a family of five, cost £6000/$7740. This included flights (which we booked separately – see https://www.skyscanner.net and again, book as early as you can, which is usually 11 months), beautiful accommodation, fabulous and plentiful food, and all the perks of staying at a Disney resort (magic hours, magic bands, $200 dollars’ spending money, free bus service – no car parking fees to worry about – discounts all over the place, to name but a few). We would have spent as much if we’d sought out budget accommodation, hired a car and had to buy food in the parks. Disney World is not picnic-friendly, and besides, lugging around a food hamper in that heat and with all that walking would have been miserable. This way we were able to enjoy the VIP experience.
For extra savings
- Use American Express points (or similar) for car hire if you do need a car for a few days.
- Consider indirect flights; they can save you serious amounts of money.
- If you have the dining plan, use your refillable mug for your drinks at breakfast and pick up a bottle of water or soda – the ‘included’ drink – to take with you into the parks.
- If you have a car, you can park at the Boardwalk for free – just say you have a dining reservation, or are going shopping – and stroll along the river to Epcot.
- Whether or not you have free dining, book a lunch reservation, well in advance, at Be Our Guest in the Magic Kingdom: incredible setting and excellent food at quick service prices (or free!)
- Left over snack and meal tokens can be exchanged for all kinds of goodies to take home – just look for the snack emblem on boxes of cookies, candy etc in gift shops. We brought home around $200 dollars’ worth in April for grateful family and friends.