Hi everyone! We are wrapping up our first ever Disney World family vacation and having an incredible time! I can’t wait to share photographs and some of the highlights of our trip. In the meantime, I’ve asked my friend and fellow Middle Tennessee blogger Sami Cone to share her tips for experiencing Disney on a dime. You may also want to read my Disney first timer tips which is an excellent resource for planning your Disney family vacation!
People are always asking me how to make their Disney dreams come true, but on a dime. Having lived in Florida for almost ten years, it’s safe to say my family and I became somewhat of a Disney connoisseur.
We realized we wouldn’t live there forever, so we decided early on that Disney was where we wanted to spend our family vacations. But after losing an income and a car right before having our second child, we had to get really creative if we still wanted to make that vacation dream a reality.
In fact, there have been times where we’ve never set foot in a Disney park, but our kids have still had just as magical of a stay at Disney World. A lot of that has to do with the ambiance of the hotels and the stellar attitudes of the cast members there, but you might be surprised at what else the property offers.
Over the years, we’ve learned a few tips that can help anyone with their dream Disney vacation, and I’d like to share just a few of our FREE Disney favorites:
1. Downtown Disney
DOWNTOWN DISNEY is a great way to see all things Mickey without spending a dime (that is, if you can get out of there without spending any money at the numerous shops and restaurants!). They have fountains for the kids to run in, a LEGO playland and play stations, a toy store complete with Mr. Potato Head and My Little Pony play stations, and so much more!
2. Disney Vacation Club
Of course the club itself isn’t free (Disney’s version of time share), but learning about it is. They transport you to their sales center, have a FREE Kids Clubhouse for your kids to play in (professionally supervised) while you’re there, offer you FREE refreshments in air conditioning (this alone is worth the trip after a hot day in Orlando!), and take you for a FREE Ice Cream Sundae in the Ice Cream Parlor before taking your picture and giving you a FREE copy before leaving! This presentation lasts about an hour an did I mention you also walk away with a $15 Gift Card for every person in attendance? That’s right! Even the kids got one! So for an hour’s worth of time, we walked away with $60 – which you can then use almost anywhere on property.
3. Character Dining
Again, this isn’t necessarily a freebie, but there are a lot of great character dining experiences around Disney World, many of which are in the hotels, which means you don’t have to pay for a park ticket to partake! As most of you with little ones know, all they really care about at Disney is seeing the characters, so one of my favorite tips to tell people is to book a character breakfast; it’s the least expensive meal and you have all the characters come to YOU at your table instead of waiting hours in lines with sweaty people inside the theme park. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Once we did our Vacation Club experience so we would have money to go to Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort the next morning and meet the Fab 5 (Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Donald, Goofy) for FREE!
4. Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground
This is a hidden jewel on the grounds. You can take a bus or a boat (from outside the Magic Kingdom) to the campgrounds where they not only have the famous “Hoop Dee Doo Musical Review” and one of our favorite restaurants, Trail’s End, but they also have a FREE petting zoo, great playground and beach volleyball courts.
Our new favorite freebie is Chip & Dale’s Campfire – a must see where you can meet the famous twosome, enjoy live music and even watch a Disney movie outside under the stars!
5. Animal Kingdom Lodge
When this hotel first opened, it was one of our favorite places to stay because no-one knew about it and it was SO reasonable for a “luxury” class hotel at Disney. They feature a 33-acre wildlife preserve that boasts over 30 species of wildlife that roam amidst 3 lush, tropical savannas. You can observe exotic animals from special viewing areas throughout the Resort as well as from the balconies of select Guest rooms. They also have great children’s activities all day, such as chalk rubbings in the lobby and stories by the fire pit outside. While it’s out of our price range now, it is one of the most unique places we’ve ever experienced.
If you’re looking for the best time of year to head to Walt Disney World, plan on February for great weather and no lines or October (when they typically offer their Disney Dining Plan for free!). They are always having special offers and if you know anyone who lives in Florida (like a grandparent), have them travel with you so you can take advantage of their Florida resident discounts…and of course make some new family memories 😉
If you have more questions, or want to book your own Disney planning seminar, please feel free to contact me!
Have a magical day!
With a passion for teaching and mentoring others as her inspiration, Sami Cone began blogging at SamiCone.com to encourage others to live their dream life and pursue their passions. A published author and seminar speaker, she draws on her experiences as a writer, editor, university professor, performer, professional athlete, and pageant winner to help women realize their full potential in life. She appears regularly on TV and nationally-syndicated morning radio as a Frugal Expert. Sami and her husband of eight years, Rick, thrive in Nashville with their two children.