Making Disney Work for You: Spend Less and Do More

Hello Dear Readers!

So, I promised last post that I’d tell you guys some of the different tricks I used in order to save money at Disneyworld. Now, I’ve already gone over using points to pay for a hotel stay here, but to summarize, it goes like this:

Disney’s Dolphin and Swan Hotels

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There are two resorts on Disneyworld property that are not owned by Disney. These two, the Dolphin and the Swan, are actually part of the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program, which means you can use points to stay there for free.

The Disney Dolphin is a category 4 hotel, which costs 10,000 points/night.

The Disney Swan is a category 5 hotel, which costs 12,000 points/night.

However, the SPG program also offers the 5th night free on any award redemption, meaning that you can score five nights at the Dolphin for 40,000 points and five nights at the Swan for 48,000 points.

In addition to this, last year Marriott bought Starwood, meaning that the two points programs have become interchangeable. Marriott points transfer to Starwood at a 3:1 ratio, so if you’ve got points to use in Marriott, you could always transfer them over and redeem a stay in that way. Transfers are instantaneous.

Ok!

There’s one other thing I did in order to *really* get my money’s worth while I was out there. (Aside from the normal bring your own snacks/water, etc)

Booking an Official Disney Hotel

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My hotel

I booked a one night stay in an official Disney hotel. This was the first night of my vacation, and I did this for a number of reasons:

1. I was flying in and didn’t want to rent a car. Disney’s Magical Express offered me free transportation from the airport to the hotel.

2. Disney sends its resort guests MagicBands for free, and I wanted to get my hands on one of the new versions without paying for one.

3. Booking a package with Disney meant I qualified for special ticket offers. In this case, I received two free days on my ticket for booking a Magic Your Way package. In total, I got a five day park hopper for the price of a three day ticket.

4. Since you’re a resort guest, you get first pick on booking Disney’s Fastpasses online- a full 30 day head start over anyone else. This important when trying to get those elusive, really busy rides like Frozen Ever After and Seven Dwarves Mine Train.

5. I had reservations at a *very* expensive restaurant, and used the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan to score a discount on my eating costs for the day.

California Grill Restaurant

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This last one requires some explanation. You see, Disney recently came out with a new brunch at one of its hotels. The restaurant, called the California Grill, is located in Disney’s Contemporary Resort and holds the distinction of costing $80/ person to enjoy.

Yes, that is expensive.

However, the California Grill is one of the best restaurants on property, and after reading EasyWDW’s review on the brunch, I felt like I had to go there. This is for a couple reasons:

First, eating brunch at the restaurant allows you to return at night and show your receipt, scoring premium seating for watching Magic Kingdom’s fireworks without the crowds.

Second, this brunch also features freshly made sushi, which you can watch the chefs prepare in front of you. Considering California Grill is known for its sushi (and its rolls can cost upwards of $24+ each), I figured getting to eat as much as I wanted was pretty great.

Finally, (and most importantly) this is the only meal on the entire dining plan that also includes alcohol. That’s right, this brunch includes bottomless mimosas in the cost of your meal. Disney specifically excludes drinks from their program, so getting to do this was really cool.

So, the California Grill costs two “table-service” credits on the dining plan. A regular dining plan only includes one “table service” and one “quick service” meal per day.

However, the deluxe dining plan comes with three “table service” credits. The current cost for the plan is $106/adult/day. I wouldn’t normally spend that much on food for myself in one day, but considering my breakfast alone was going to run me $96 with tax, I went ahead and got the plan.

What did this mean? It meant that my brunch was paid for. The deluxe dining plan also comes with three snacks per day. Since one of the major reasons I was going to Disney was for the Epcot Flower and Garden festival, and its main features are pavilions offering different snacks, I was really stoked about having three different ones freely available. I ended up using them on snack that ran about $6 each, which isn’t the *most* value you can get from them, but I ate whatever I wanted.

Finally, it meant that my dinner was also included at another table service restaurant. I ate at Tutto Italia Ristorante, a meal which included an appetizer, entree, dessert, and drink, and whose total hovered at around $71.

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So, I paid $106 for food for the day.

In turn, I had:
$96 breakfast
$18 in snacks
$71 at dinner

= $185 in food, were I to pay out of pocket. And again, I can’t emphasize this enough, drinks were included at brunch. This is important because prices for alcoholic drinks at Disney will usually run you about $10 a pop, so getting it in the cost of my meal represented a fantastic deal.

Ok, now let me break down the costs of doing the Disney hotel for you, versus what I would have spent staying at a different hotel.

Costs

Costs With a Stay at Disney (Using the Magic Your Way Package):

1 night at Disney’s Coronado Springs: $273
5 day park hopper ticket to Disneyworld: $350 (two days free)
Transportation to Disneyworld from airport: $0
MagicBand: $0
1 day Deluxe Disney dining plan: $106
= $729

Costs at an Offsite Hotel:

1 night stay elsewhere: $150 (hotels can range anywhere from $50-$500, but I would fall around here)
5 day park hopper ticket to Disneyworld: $473
Transportation to Disneyworld from airport: $30
MagicBand: $12
Out-of-pocket dining: $185
= $850

So you see, staying at a Disney resort actually saved me money in comparison to doing it all on my own. Of course the longer you stay at their resorts, the more that hotel price piles on, which is why I switched over to the Disney Dolphin for the next five nights. On the other hand, bringing more than one person along to share a hotel room brings down your per person costs significantly. (Obviously).

The Dolphin does continue to charge a nightly “resort fee” (the bane of my existence), so the total cost of my hotel for those five nights was $140 and 40,000 SPG points.

Compare that to the $2200 it would cost were I to pay out of pocket.

Ok, one more price breakdown for you all, so you can really see the difference in costs:

Actual Costs

My Costs:

1 Magic Your Way package as detailed above: $729
5 nights at the Disney Dolphin hotel: $140 and 40,000 SPG points

= 6 night stay at Disneyworld: $869 (including food for a day and all park tickets)

Out of Pocket Costs:

Individual pricing as detailed above: $850
5 nights at the Disney Dolphin hotel: $2257

= 6 night stay at Disneyworld: $3107 (including food for a day and all park tickets)

Ta-da! Just like that, we’ve paid less than a third of the cost for the whole trip!

I’d like to note (brag) again that since I have elite status with Starwood, they gave me a free upgrade to a newly refurbished corner room with two balconies and two separate fireworks views. (My elite status comes free with the American Express Platinum card).

That room upgrade alone was worth over a hundred dollars/night (compared to the room I booked).

Disney doesn’t have a(n) (official) loyalty program, so upgrades are at the whims of the people working there.

So there you have it! This is how I did Disney this time around, and how anyone can save when taking this budget-busting vacation.

Until next time!

-Carissa “Disney Nerd” Ragland

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One thought on “Making Disney Work for You: Spend Less and Do More

  1. This post is fantastic! And has so much information I wanted to include on my own post for saving at Disney. Now I’ve got some rethinking to do. ☺

    Liked by 1 person

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