Last week the Sally J family had its first experience with the Mouse. I knew it was going to be exhausting. I knew it was going to be expensive. I knew it was going to be a day we wouldn’t soon forget.
Much like rosasparks mentioned in her trip summary, I’ve never seen cleaner bathrooms, or happier employees.
But wow, that was the most expensive day of our vacation. Actually, it was more expensive than all the food and activities we did for the rest of vacation. And I’m pretty sure we spent much less than your average park guest.
Here are a few ways we cut costs, and if you’ve experienced the Mouse, please feel free to chime in with your favorite tips.
Get a Guide Book
A friend lent me Pauline Frommer’s Walt Disney World and Orlando, Spend Less, Do More. It’s full of details about everything Orlando, and her own opinions as a traveler and mother. She shares how she navigates the park and saves a buck, which set my wheels turning.
Go Before Your Kid Looks Like He’s Three
Kids two and under are free at all the Walt Disney Parks. We chose to go this year partially because our younger child hasn’t turned three yet. According to what I’ve read, Disney never asks for child ID, and will only question a child’s age if it’s incredibly clear the child is more than “just a little big for his age.” No one blinked at my 38 lb, 3′ 3″ two-year-old (it’s true, his birthday’s next month). We figured he’s not going to remember much, whether he’s nearly three or nearly four, so why not save the $75 on his admission? To be fair, the daily cost of the park goes down the more days that you buy at one time. But I didn’t want to spend my entire vacation there, nor did I want to buy admissions to use in future years. So we paid the daily rate.
Bring Your Own Snacks and Water
I was going to have to bring a tote bag or backpack anyway, so I made sure I brought an insulated one. I packed bottled water, fruit snacks, and graham crackers. The water bottles we refilled for most of the day, and then we recycled them toward evening. I was careful to dole out the small snacks one at a time, while we were waiting in assorted lines.
Bring Your Own Sunscreen
You can’t be outside long without it, and why ruin a magical day by buying marked up sunscreen? Bring a bottle and a stick, and kids can reapply, again, while waiting in line.
Time It To Eat Only One Meal at The Park
We were hoping to be at the park from open to close to really get our money’s worth, but wow, that’s a long day. We made reservations at a sit-down restaurant for 1:30, which served two purposes. The first purpose was that we were guaranteed a cool place during the heat of the day. The second purpose was that we ate late enough we were able to forgo stopping for dinner. You can make reservations in advance, or you can stop at City Hall at the park entrance to do so when you arrive. We went during a low attendance time, so we probably could have gotten away without a reservation. But having the reservation was a good way to have a structure for the day (I’m a planner, can you tell?). The meal really wasn’t that much more expensive that any other casual dining place we encountered during our trip, and the kids meals are served on Mouse Ear plates (the kids meals were nearly $9, but that included a drink and dessert)!
Buy Your Autograph Book Before You Get There
If your kids are of the age where meeting the characters are important, bring an autograph book along. It’s “the thing” to do, along with getting your picture taken at each character meet & greet. You can buy an official book on the Disney property, or um, you can just bring any notebook. The characters will sign whatever you put in front of them. I saw on a message board that someone was going to bring a storybook for the main character to sign, which I think is a really fun idea (and your kid will probably read the book more than look through an autograph book).
Walk Past or Through the Gift Shops
Of course there are a multitude of shopping opportunities at the Magic Kingdom. Some you can walk right by, like the shops on Main Street as you head toward Cinderella’s castle. Others are impossible to avoid, like the the gift shop that you must exit through on the Winnie the Pooh ride. Keep your kid focused on the next big attraction, and hustle them through. My daughter (who’s 5) has a few princess accessories, so when I told her we could look for something like what she saw in the shop, she agreed and was eager to ride the next ride.
Buy the Mouse Ears
There are eleventy billion types of hats and mouse ears for sale throughout the Magic Kingdom. I’d say that at least 25% of all visitors must be wearing mouse ears at some point during their visit. Just be sure your kid has browsed a few stands (there are free-standing carts all over the place) before deciding on which ones he wants. I was happy to spend the money on a souvenir that was uniquely Disney and that reflected my kids at the time of our visit (pink princess mouse ears for the girl, Mater-dressed-as-Goofy for the boy).
Buy or Bring the $3 Lollipop
I know you’ve seen them before — the lollipops that are nearly as big as a child’s head. Only bad parents who don’t care about their kids’ teeth buy those, right? That’s what I thought, right up until I was handing over my $6 to the cashier. Here’s the thing about the Magic Kingdom: the days are long and the days are HOT. Like 95-degrees-in-May hot. Ice cream was an option, but it was a drippy, melty option that would have just made the kids thirsty. The $3, big-as-your-head lollipop, on the other hand, lasted well past the two hours I was hoping for at the end of the day. The $3 lollipop was seen as a HUGE treat, and it pacified the kids until the fireworks were ready to start. Next time though, I’m stashing a couple in the bag with the snacks.
Feeling overwhelmed and poorer already?
Honestly, it was a great day. It was a day that generated a lot of smiles, a lot of not-soon-to-be-forgotten-moments, and pictures we’ll treasure forever. We wanted to take the children while they were young enough to be “wowed” and they were. And I have to say, that for pretty much 12 hours straight, we were wowed too.
(For more money saving tips, see mousesavers.com)