If you are someone who loves Disney and visits frequently, this article is probably not for you. (In fact, you may find it blasphemous.) If you are someone with teenage boys who like to ride big roller coasters and haven’t been to Disney in recent memory, and you are trying to decide whether it is worth the cost, and how you might save some money along the way, read on.
My boys have been raised on Carowinds, Kings Dominion, and Busch Gardens. We visit one theme park each summer, always on a weekday when short lines give us the biggest bang for our buck. Jack and Henry grew up becoming more and more daring each year, and have ridden all of The Big Ones for the last few years. In discussing future vacation plans with them, Disney often showed up in the mix. Early last December, I found RT nonstop Hacker Fares to Orlando on Kayak for about $275 each, and scheduled the trip during our 4-day weekend in January. The trip was on!
If you like to book your own travel and save money as I do, a Google search about Disney can be daunting. After doing a lot of reading and consulting with friends and experts, our trip began to take shape. My decisions were guided by the following principles:
- Spend money on options that would give us the most flexibility and convenience.
- Find sleeping accommodations that would give us a little bit of breathing room.
- Being in the Disney Bubble was not a necessity.
The first big decision was whether or not to stay “On Resort.” Being guided by the first principle (flexibility and convenience), I decided we were either going to stay at one of the hotels on the Disney monorail line (and thus super-easy access to Magic Kingdom and Epcot) or we were going to stay off of the Resort and rent a car. Properties that are on the Disney campus but aren’t served by monorail are served by the Disney buses, and most experts agree the buses generally take more time than using your own car. A price check on hotel rooms, keeping in mind my second guiding principle (think big!), made my decision very easy. For our dates, one room for one night in a Hotel served by the Monorail was more than 2 rooms for 3 nights at a nearby off-resort property that included breakfast and WiFi. Comfort Inn, here we come!
Second decision was on the type and number of days of tickets we would purchase. Our flight arrived in Orlando on Saturday at 3pm and left on Tuesday at 4pm, giving us a maximum of 4 days we would need tickets. Because there aren’t as many big roller coasters at Disney as there are at some of the other theme parks we have visited, I decided on splurging for the Park-Hopper pass because:
- It would allow us to hit the big rides in one park, and then move on to another park in the same day.
- I anticipated revisiting Magic Kingdom over our 4-day stint, which would mean we would completely miss a park if we didn’t do Park-Hopper, and
- I wasn’t sure how much time we would spend in Animal Kingdom and didn’t want to “waste” a day of tickets on just a few hours.
I ordered a 4-day Park-Hopper pass for each of us through Undercover Tourist. I saved a little bit of money versus the gate price, but more importantly, I was able to book our FastPass+ online weeks in advance, giving us the convenience the boys* being able to ride at least three big rides a day without waiting in line. (Regardless of your budget, make sure you purchase tickets ahead of time and book your FastPass+ before your visit!)
The rest of the decisions fell into place after I decided on lodging, transportation and tickets. The trip was a success, and I came away with the following thoughts:
- I was very glad we stayed off-Resort and had a car. I didn’t anticipate the extent to which my boys would surgically seek out the thrill rides at each park, ignoring all other things Disney, and then be ready to move on. One night we went to Epcot, and they literally rode 2 rides and were ready to leave. Not interested AT ALL in World Showcase. Their favorites from all of the parks? Tower of Terror and Expedition Everest.
- My guys have aged back into wanting a nap or chill time in the afternoon (YES!), so we would go back to the hotel after our morning park visit. The extra room at the hotel kept us sane, and the option of eating lunch and/or dinner outside of Disney saved money.
- I think if we had gone in the summer we could have done without the Park-Hopper option. We would have spent the extra time at the pool and just covered Magic Kingdom in one day.
- On our third night, we ate dinner at a Brazilian Steakhouse near our hotel and went to The Escape Game. They were pretty much done with Disney by then, and this turned out to be one of the best nights of the trip.
So, now my boys have fun memories of Disney and a “Been There, Done That” attitude. We had a good time and are glad we went, but also glad we can check it off the list!
*Jeff will ride The Big Ones, but not me, not anymore. I did, however, become familiar with the Chicken Exits at many rides, which allowed me the pleasure of standing in line without the torture of riding the ride. I’m sure some of you can relate.