Everything Walt Disney World

Parks, Food, Resorts and More

Category: Saving Money (page 1 of 5)

How to Save an Extra 5% on Every Disney Vacation. UPDATED


I get so many questions from clients about this, I decided to write a quick post to give all of you the details.  Its easy to save an extra 5% on your next Disney vacation, whether it’s Disney World, Disneyland, or Disney Cruise Lines.  Here’s what you do:

Sign up for a Target Red Card. This is basically a debit card that’s attached to your financial institution and if you shop at Target already (and honestly, do you know someone in North America who doesn’t?), you should have one. Why? Because you’ll save 5% on just about everything you buy in the store and that includes Disney gift cards.  I tell my clients to buy one every time they go to Target and just stash them away and make payments when they’re ready.  Five percent off of a $3500 trip is a nice chunk of cash back to you.

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Spring 2016 Disney Discounts


Planning your next Disney vacation? You can now save up to 25% off on select Walt Disney World resort hotels this spring.  Here are the details:

  • Available April 14-June 11, 2016 when you book by March 31, 2016.
  • Other discounts are available for stays most nights Feb. 22-April 13, 2016.
  • Plus, you can receive 1 more ticket day FREE when you upgrade to a room and ticket package with a minimum 4-day Magic Your Way® Ticket.
  • This offer excludes the usual suspects:   campsites, 3-bedroom villas, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort – The Little Mermaid Standard Rooms and Bungalows at Disney’s Polynesian Villas and Bungalows.
  • Length of stay requirements may apply.

But wait, there’s more: Book your vacation with me and in addition to my expert travel planning advice and inside tips based on my monthly visits to Disney World and I’ll throw in a Disney gift card and an adorable monogrammed tote for use on your trip for all vacations valued at $1800 at the time of travel. Just mention this article when you email me at chrisw@pixievacations.com.  Gift card amounts are based on total trip value.

As always, there’s no charge to you for using my services. After your $200 deposit, you may make payments if you like or pay the final amount at 30-days prior to travel. Easy peasy!

About me:  I’ve been a Disney World travel planner for over five years, based out of the Atlanta area. The agency I work for, Pixie Vacations, has over 60 expert travel planners from across the United States.  I’m also a member of the Mouse Chat podcast team.  I can be reached via the email above or by calling 919-889-5281. Thanks!

The Future of Free Dining at Disney World.


You can’t predict a lot of things in life: I can’t tell you with any certainty if it will rain next week or who’s going to win the next presidential election. But since 2005, Disney fans could almost guarantee one thing: That Disney World would offer free dining in the fall.  And it wasn’t just travel agents who were looking at past dates and playing Nostradamus.  You could go to any Disney message board and see thread after thread about free dining rumors, speculation about dates, and what resorts it would cover.  The great thing was, they were almost always right. Sure they might be off by a day or two and maybe we would get a surprise about a certain resort being excluded, but you could plan your trip around it and budget accordingly.

For the last few years however, Disney has been saying they’re going to end free dining. It wasn’t just the occasional cast member you’d talk to while you were booking your room. No less than Tom Staggs, the COO of Walt Disney Resorts, said four years ago that Disney was going to do away with deep discounts and free dining in particular.  But then the next fall, it was back again and just as good as it had always been.

We didn’t see the first cracks until 2013. As a travel agent, if you’re lucky you book hundreds of rooms, but you quote ten times that number, if not more. And when you do a lot of quotes, you see patterns.  The thing we were seeing is that beyond outright exclusions of resorts like villas located on the monorail and the Little Mermaid rooms at Art of Animation, even some of the resorts that were offered lacked any real availability. This was particularly true with Port Orleans Riverside.  In 2013 I couldn’t get this resort for most of my clients, which puts families of five or more with nowhere to stay at the moderate level,  but when I made a reservation for a spur of the moment day trip thanksgiving week–literally the day I checked in–I had my choice of all room categories. I’ve seen this at the Little Mermaid rooms as well.  During free dining last year in December, the Little Mermaid section of Art of Animation was a ghost town.  Anecdotally, it appears to me that these rooms aren’t filled when they aren’t discounted. Obviously I don’t have access to Disney’s actual occupancy numbers, but it also seems that Disney is okay with it, at least to an extent.

Last year,  Disney offered free dining for the fall, much as it always had, save for the fact that they offered it for the entire fall period, which resulted in massive hold times on the phone and daily system outages for a week.  In addition to the usual resort exclusions, Port Orleans was basically off the table. Still, most people were able to get what they wanted if they were willing to switch resorts or play a little bit with their dates.

Free dining for fall 2015 has been an entirely different experience thus far.  Both the consumer and travel agent online systems were down and again, people spent hours and hours spent on hold waiting to talk to a Disney agent. But the worst of it was that there was simply no availability. While the usual resorts were excluded, and we expected that, the fact that I couldn’t get Pop Century, a resort I could usually book under a promotion right up until the day that promo closed, twelve hours after the discount was announced means they simply did not offer many rooms. Even at the value resorts, usually our go-to option for families.

And ultimately that’s fine. I mean, no one was promised a discount.  At least I don’t know any agents who did. And Disney certainly doesn’t.  But the problem with announcing a discount is that people’s expectations are, particularly given past experiences, pretty high. Instead, what guests found was a “black Friday” type of situation that none of them ever signed up for, where they camped out all night outside of their local Walmart, only to find that there were only three televisions available under the offer and those TVs were actually several times more expensive than the television they were actually going to buy. If that’s too oblique, what I mean is, the guest who booked a moderate room hoping for free dining could get free dining, if they moved their dates and upgraded to a concierge-level room at the Grand Floridian.

A brief word about how all of this works is probably called for. Free dining, just like any discount, is based in part on both actual and projected bookings. Think of each resort as a separate entity. That resort provides Disney’s bean counters with what they think their occupancy is going to look like for a certain time period. These bean counters weigh that information against a number of other less concrete factors, like the economy and consumer confidence, along with school holidays and last year’s projected numbers.   This is why free dining dates vary slightly from year to year and why certain resorts may be excluded. For example, villas at Bay Lake Tower. Disney knows, or at least hopes, that they can fill them at full price. Why offer a discount?

So did Disney offer considerably fewer rooms because bookings are up? I don’t think so.  I think Disney is willing to take a hit on occupancy this year. If that hit becomes too dramatic, I think they’ll offer another discount, sometime during the summer. I also think that Disney is moving toward “Stay Play & Dine” type of offers, which are almost as good as free dining, depending on where you stay and the configuration of your group.  Perhaps more interestingly, I think we will also see offers which don’t cost Disney actual money.

Offers that don’t cost Disney any money are brilliant.  Yes, the guest is still getting something tangible, but think about the park hopper that you had to add to get free dining this year:  a lot of guests don’t bother with the hopper, because at 70 per ticket, it’s just too much money on top of everything else.   When Disney gives a guest free dining, Disney is still shelling out money for food and services.  But when I require that same average family to purchase a park hopper just to get free dining, I just recouped almost $300. And I didn’t give them anything. In fact, just sent them to another park, extending their day, which equals more money for the Mouse. If you think that Fastpass+ is just a nice way for guests to organize their day, well that’s a lovely way to live. But it’s also an effective way to keep you in the parks. So is park hopping.

There’s a definite possibility that without free dining, guests wont’ stay on property or will cancel their vacations. And when guests don’t fill up rooms, they do more than just leave resort rooms unoccupied. They find out that there’s really good, cheap food off property. They head over to the outlet malls and shop there. And think about this: each person’s vacation time is finite. I’ve only got so many hours of the day that I can spend in a Disney park. But if I’m “commuting” back and forth from a hotel on 192, some of that precious vacation time–and the money I would otherwise spend–is being spent in a car.  Finally, if restaurants aren’t at capacity, what happens to Disney’s well-trained staff? Sure, Chef Mickey’s is always going to be full, but what about restaurants like the Wave or San Angel Inn, restaurants that already seem to struggle?  Does Disney shutter them during the traditionally slower fall months or reduce cast member hours?  It’s all interconnected and the effects are property-wide, not just at the resorts.

It’s far too bold to say that free dining is dead and in fact, I don’t think it is.  What I do think is that this is probably the start of some major changes made with regard to this particular discount. Going forward, I think any guest traveling in the fall with the expectation of free dining is not being entirely realistic.  Free dining is great, but the happiest clients I had on Monday night were the ones who viewed free dining as an nice bonus, not a given.  And I would suggest that for anyone reading here as well.

What are your thoughts? Did this latest promotion change how you felt about fall travel? I’d love to hear about it in the comments or on the Facebook page.

Should I Get a Park Hopper?


This is a question I get a lot: Should I get a parkhopper? After all, it adds an extra $70 per ticket to your family vacation. That can really add up.  Still, a hopper can add much needed flexibility to a trip that’s undoubtedly tightly scheduled already and make planning your trip a lot easier: No need to make sure your fastpasses and your dining are in the same park. It also extends your day. Spent the day in Animal Kingdom?  Feel free to hop over to the Magic Kingdom and close out the night.  Sometimes, that extra $70 gives you a lot of value, but if you don’t use it, it’s a huge waste. And I’ll be honest, I frequently hear from clients that they didn’t use it. It’s one of the reasons I don’t suggest adding it. So who should get a hopper? Here are some guidelines.

Don’t get a hopper if:

  • You’re traveling in a large, multi-generational group, particularly if your group has different physical abilities.  Hopping can be physically taxing, especially during summer.
  • You don’t like spending valuable park time going from one park to the other.
  • You’re on a tight budget–your money can be spend elsewhere.
  • You’re a first-timer.  First-timers have the luxury of everything being new. You won’t see everything you want to see on this first trip anyway. No need to rush from one park to the other.

Get a park hopper if:

  • You’re not a planner and you prefer to stick to a more flexible schedule.
  • You are having difficulty meshing your dining reservations with your fastpass+ reservations. This can be an issue if you book your vacation closer to travel or make changes to an existing reservation after your fastpass+ window opens.
  • You want as much time in the parks as possible.
  • You like to leave the park you’re in if it gets too crowded and go to a less busy park or one that handles crowds better (say, for example Epcot).  This is especially useful during busy holiday periods.
  • You’re staying at a resort within walking distance of the parks (Epcot or Magic Kingdom). This is more of a personal one, but I find it really difficult if I’m staying at the Contemporary Resort, for example, on a night when Magic Kingdom is open late and not being able to walk over and hang out, even if I’ve spent the entire day in another park.

Unless a client is sure that they want to hop, I usually recommend waiting until you get on property just to see how your trip is going. After all, every trip is different, and a visit you take with a couple of toddlers where you wouldn’t consider hopping, might be different with a couple of kids in grade school. So play it by ear.

Another option, and I like this one a lot,  is to add it for just some members of your party. For example, I just told a client to consider adding the hopper for just him and his wife. They have three small children who will likely be in bed early. One parent is going to have to stay with the kids. But why should the other parent not enjoy a little bit of grown up park time? And the beauty of that is they can switch off, so each one gets a little free time (and a chance to ride the Haunted Mansion without scaring toddlers!).  If you do this, just do it at the parks. You can’t upgrade one ticket at your resort without upgrading all of them due to the different way each computer system (park vs. resort) views your tickets.

What’s your take on park hopping? Is it a must do or do you just skip it? I’d love to hear in the comments.


How the Disney World Price Increase Affects You.


Now that Disney has raised their ticket prices, you may be wondering how those of you already holding tickets, whether separately or as part of a package,  are affected.  Here’s everything you need to know:

  • Tickets attached to a package CURRENTLY booked will not change EXCEPT if you add a discount later. This means that if you’re booked now and you get free dining in the fall, you will pay the new ticket prices.  Most people don’t even notice because they get such a great discount, but price increases can be as high as $25 per ticket. That’s an extra $100 for the average family.
  • Tickets purchased prior to the increase are equal to the new ticket price. In other words, if you bought a ticket for $320 one day and the next day the ticket price goes up to $350, your ticket is worth $350, the value of the day you use it. This is true even if you use it ten years from now.
  • Annual passes purchased prior to the increase and kept as vouchers will be assessed at the value when you activate the pass, not the lower rate.

Even after ticket prices go up, some wholesale sites (there are only a few that are authorized by Disney to sell tickets, so be careful) will continue to honor the old prices for a few days.

New Disney Discounts for Winter and Spring 2015!

Disney2014Fallxmas 259

Call it a post-Christmas surprise:  Disney just announced two great offers for late winter through springtime travel. Here are the details:

Save up to 30%* on rooms at select Walt Disney World® Resort hotels when they book between Dec. 29, 2014 and Feb. 16, 2015 for stays most nights March 2-June 15, 2015.

Or, they can save up to 25%* on rooms at select Walt Disney World Resort hotels when they book between Feb. 17-March 28, 2015 for stays most nights March 2-June 15, 2015.

Great rates are also available for stays most nights Feb. 22-March 1, 2015.

Receive 1 more ticket day FREE when they upgrade to a room and ticket package with a minimum 4-dayMagic Your Way Ticket.

Booking Window:
Dec. 29, 2014 – Feb. 16, 2015
Feb. 17-March 28, 2015

Travel Window:
Feb. 22-June 15, 2015

Thinking about a trip? You’ll pay a refundable $200 deposit with the rest due 45-days prior to travel.  As a special bonus, all packages* booked under this offer with me will receive a $50 gift card. Referrals from you that book and travel will receive a $25 gift card. Email me at ChrisW@PixieVacations.com or call me at 919-889-5281 for more help in planning your next Disney vacation.

*For the purposes of this gift card offer, a package is defined as having a 3-day or more park ticket. 

Let’s Talk about Free Dining for September.

This time of year, you can’t read a Disney message board without seeing rumors about free dining being released for September. There are even “free dining prognosticators” who are minor celebrities on these boards, people who seem to know when it’s coming out long before anyone else. Whether they have an inside edge or they’re just good at utilizing past data and making predictions, these posters are great at whipping their fellow posters into a frenzy. And you know what? Some of them get it right.  Right now, the vibes, as it were, are really good for free dining. Of course there’s been no real indication from Disney yet. Here’s why I think the rumors are true.

1. September is a slow month. Even adding an extra week to Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival won’t bring in enough guests to counter that. 

2.  Historically, Disney has offered free dining in September for the last decade.

3.  In the last two years, Disney has added two new resorts, Art of Animation and the Disney Vacation Club Villas at the Grand Floridian. This translates to roughly 11,000 pillows that need heads on them every night without also bringing a corresponding number of guests from off property to hotels to on property.  In fact, the number of guests traveling to Orlando each year remains fairly static.  The real goal is to get those off site guests on property–and Disney does that pretty well with promotions like free dining.

4.  Free dining keeps lesser known Disney restaurants running during slow times, ensuring that the staff stays trained and gainfully employed–which includes making tips. 

And here’s the big one:

5.  Competition from Universal Orlando. In the last few years, theme park fans have been the beneficiaries of the competition between Disney and Universal: Universal opens up Harry Potter, Disney opens up the Fantasyland Expansion. And back and forth with minor attractions since then. Disney, of course, is set to debut the much-anticipated (you don’t know the half of it) Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride in just a few weeks (perhaps even days), but Universal is opening up an entirely new section of  Harry Potter.

Now, for me, Universal will never beat Disney. The theming isn’t the same and the resorts aren’t as nice (and they’re all pretty uniformly expensive). Really, it just misses that certain something that Disney delivers time and time again. But I’m a diehard Disney fan so I’m quite biased. However, even I can see the allure of heading over to Universal. This new Harry Potter addition is going to be quite impressive.

Given that more theme park dollars are going to be lured over the Universal, Disney is going to have to make staying on property more attraction. And they’re going to do that by offering free dining.

Let me just say this: No one really knows if free dining is coming out for September. That’s my nice way of adding the caveat “please don’t come yelling at me if it’s not offered!”  But I would be really surprised if it didn’t happen, so get ready!  If you’re one of the many who are waiting for free dining, my suggestion is that  you jump on it the first day it’s offered. Last year, the pickings were awfully slim, especially for resorts like Port Orleans, although this was a bigger issue for the October thru December time frame than December.

Good luck!

Want a quote when free dining comes out? I’m only doing holds for free dining this time since the first day is so busy and rooms go quickly. A hold doesn’t commit you to anything, it just ensures that you get your room. For a hold I need the following information:

Everyone’s names plus the kids’ ages
Your travel dates
Resort choice(s)
Type of tickets

We can change everything later as we work out the details, but this at least gets you started with a guaranteed spot. Feel free to contact me prior to the release so I can have all your paperwork ready to go, then I’ll just email you the confirmation on the day of.  Just use the quote request form on the right or email me at ChrisW@PixieVacations.com or call 919-889-5281. As always, most clients qualify for a Disney tote and gift card.

Fall Free Dining Rumor Hits the Internet Like a House on Fire.

Why yes, don’t mind if I do. 

By now you’ve probably heard that there’s a pin code out for free dining in the fall. Here are the details:

  • For arrivals most nights 9/30–10/4/12; 10/19–11/1/12; 11/9–11/15/12; 11/23–11/29/12; 12/10–12/13/12.
  • Book now through 7/28/12.
  • Excludes 3-bedroom villas and the All Star Music Suites; the Art of Animation Suites are included.

So far it doesn’t look like this email contains an actual “pin code” with numbers. Rather, you’ll just call Disney or your travel agent and they’ll verify that you are the holder of this promotion. We’re not sure why there are no actual codes and there’s no word on why things are a little different this time.

I think you’ll see this offered “soon” to the general public, but I don’t think it will happen until packages come out in June. It’s also possible that when it is released, it will include dates up through March 2013.  Last year’s massive free dining offer came out in early August but we’ve seen it offered as early as July 5th in the past, so expect it any time.

I do think that it’s possible that when the general public offer is released, Thanksgiving weekend will be completely blocked out (you’ll notice that it’s available under the pin offer), so just be wary when you make your plans.  If you’ve seen the 2013 bounce back offer, it should look a lot like it.

As usual, if you want to be included in our mailout when free dining comes is released, send me an email at ChrisW@PixieVacations.com. We promise not to use your email address for anything other than the purpose of informing you of the promotion.

Picking a Disney Resort that Fits Your Budget.

Yacht and Beach Club Pool.
Copyright Disney.

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype when it comes to picking a Disney resort, especially if you’re planning far in advance and you spend time on Disney message boards.  There’s a lot of information out there, but at some point it all comes down to your wallet: What can you afford?  Here are five tips for staying within your budget while

1. Pick the resort you can afford right now, no matter what happens.

Here’s why this is so important:  Disney value and moderate resorts fill up faster than deluxe resorts, so they’re harder to get closer to travel. This is particularly true for certain discounted rooms, such as those under free dining.  If you feel that a value most fits your budget, go for it even though you have months to save for that deluxe room.  Chances are good that if you have the extra money a couple of months prior to your trip, you can easily switch to a more expensive room, even keeping your discount in the process.

Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.

2. If you’re worried about cost, you’re probably spending too much. 

Everyone feels a little bad spending money on a hotel room. After all, it’s just a place where you rest when you’re not having fun. That’s normal. But if you’re starting to feel really uncomfortable with the cost, you’re spending too much.

You’re probably thinking to yourself “Chris, why do you sound so cranky about this issue?”  Okay, maybe you didn’t think that at all, but let me explain anyway.  In my experience, the clients who are the most likely to cancel are those who book deluxe resorts.  I’ve often wondered if those clients would have gone to Disney World if they’d had a less daunting $2200 price tag facing them at the 3-month mark than a trip that costs $5800.  It seems to me that the worry over cost takes a lot of fun out of the planning experience and leads some guests to just cancel entirely.

3.  If you get in over your head, let your travel agent or Disney know as soon as possible. 

This can save your deposit or, as noted above, make it easier to find an alternative resort, but just as importantly it can also help you avoid Disney’s $50 change fee.  What, you haven’t heard about that?  Well, whenever you lower the amount of your package 45-days or less prior to travel, Disney can charge you a $50 change fee, so try to make any changes to your resort reservation prior to that time.

Disney’s Pop Century Resort.
Copyright Disney.

4. Don’t believe the hype.

The right resort for you is the one you can afford. It’s that simple. Yes, staying at a deluxe is amazing and often times, it’s more convenient as far as location to the parks is concerned. But if you’re so worried about cost that you can’t relax, what kind of vacation is that?

5.  All Disney resorts are clean and offer the same level of service.

I think this is actually one of the biggest fears guests have about staying at the values.  If this is your concern, put those worries away:  I’ve never noticed a difference between the different resort levels.  In fact, I secretly think cast members at the values try a little harder.

Bottom line, pick what you can afford and avoid all the hype. Planning should be about the fun anticipation of your trip, not worrying about the cost. If your circumstances allow it later, by all means, upgrade if that’s what you want. But you’re going to be a lot happier and a lot more likely to travel if you stay within your budget in the first place.

Free Dining for September Ends May 18th Plus a New Gift Card Offer.

Just a quick reminder that free dining for August 25th through September 29th ends on May 18th.  We’re not sure if Disney will offer another free dining discount for those dates although past history indicates a smaller number of rooms will be released again for this time period, along with a broader offer through March of the following year (with black out dates, of course).  Expect that offer to come out sometime after mid-July.

As usual, we’re offering a FREE Disney gift card when you book with us, but since it’s the last week, we’re going to bump up those offers a bit. Book now for free dining for those dates only and receive: 

  • A $35 Disney gift card and tote for bookings $2500 to $3000.
  • A $50 Disney gift card and tote for bookings $3001 to $5000.
  • A $75 Disney gift card and tote for bookings over $5000.  
  • Clients who book a package worth $1200 to $2499 aren’t out of luck. 

We’re also offering $25 gift card for client referrals you send us worth $2200 and up. Here are the rules:

  • Gift cards do not apply to Pixie exclusive offers.
  • Package totals do not include airfare.
  • Gift cards are based on a per package price, so if you book two $2500 packages, you’ll receive two $25 gift cards.
  • Gift cards are for new bookings and must be booked by May 18th.
  • You must mention this gift card offer at the time of booking (although we’ll probably remind you because we’re nice that way).
  • These gift card offers are exclusive to us and not part of an offer by Pixie Vacations or the Walt Disney Company.
Package amounts are based on the final amount at travel, not on the day you book. Applying a discount can change you gift card amount.

Contact me, Christina Wood, at ChrisW@PixieVacations.com or call 919-889-5281.


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