Bakery, Barbells and Bargains I own a bakery, and I like to lift weights and shop

November 20, 2014

A Savvy Mom’s Guide to Disney

Filed under: Vacations — shuss @ 4:32 pm

Two weeks ago my family took a magical vacation to Walt Disney World. My first time as an adult, Daniel’s first time since college, and Samantha’s first time ever!  We had a great time looking at the beautiful parks, going on rides, eating yummy food and meeting characters.  I’ll share some favorite memories and photos on a later post.


Several people, especially with kids, have asked me for some Disney tips and since I am determined to post regularly, I decided to make a full post on it.  I am basing my advice today on what we did, I’ll add some suggestions for what might work better for others and also add what I would advise against.  This is a long posts because Disney is a big place with tons of options!  Please feel free to send me any questions!

-First off, book with a travel agent!  Your cost will be the same but they will help you out so much.  You may have a hotel selected, but they will show you some other options in your budget.  They will also let you know if any sales come up that you could take advantage of, even if you have already booked your trip.  They will also call in your payment to Disney.  It is much quicker to call your travel agent with your payment info than it is to wait on the phone for a Disney rep.  If you’re thinking of taking a vacation soon and want my travel agent’s contact info, please let me know.

-Stay at a Disney resort on property.  I often read advice to stay off property because the price is cheaper, but I have to disagree.  At Disney there are levels of resorts ranging from value to deluxe villas.  Pick one in your budget, I got a value level room in November for $108 a night, I have stayed in chain hotels for more money at way less exciting places with zero themes.  All Disney resorts have transportation to all the parks and guests can take advantage of Magic Hours.  They all have great themed pools and fun decor.  We stayed at the new Art of Animation Resort and I think that one is perfect for children.  The themes are Nemo, Cars, Lion King and Little Mermaid.  We stayed in the Little Mermaid area and our room was perfectly animated!  Even if you can get an off-property room cheaper, to me the convenience is worth the price.  No daily driving to the parks, no parking fees and it is so easy to go back to your resort for a mid-day break.  With young children this is especially important to be able to take breaks with ease.hotel

-Get a dining plan!  The food at Disney can be expensive and after adding up my receipts compared to what the dining plan cost, we saved money on food.  There are a few options to choose from and we went with the Plus Dining Plan which included one quick service meal, one table service meal and one snack per day.  Both the quick service and table service meals included your entree, drink and dessert.   Other options are a two quick services meals per day and one snack for a lower cost.  For a higher cost, you can select the Deluxe Plan with three meals per day (sit-down or table service, table service includes an appetizer) and two snacks.  There are further upgrades from here that include other options which can be viewed on Disney’s site.  There you can also look at the various restaurants along with the menus, location and what types of dining plans are accepted.  It was also tell you which restaurants are considered Signature Dining, meaning you may need to trade in two sit-down meals off your plan for one meal.  Gratuity is not included, except for Signature Dining.

While the Deluxe Dining Plan looked very tempting and delicious, and I may try it in the future, I think the Plus Dining Plan is the best way to go to both save money and have a fun experience.  With that plan, you are only paying out one meal gratuity per day (which get expensive due to the high food costs, 18% is recommended) due to only eating at one table service place.  The portions and selection for both quick service and table service are generous, the drinks are big and the desserts are good too.  I often got cookies or brownies for dessert because they were individually packaged so I would have them as a snack for later.  And oh the snack credits, you can really maximize snack credits at Disney, more on that later  Below is a breakdown of where and what we ate daily with the Plus Dining Plan:

Day One – Magic Kingdom all day

Breakfast – in room, rooms have a fridge!

Lunch – The Friars Nook (quick service) – yummy mac&cheese meals, I had mac&cheese topped with pot roast.  For dessert we had apple slices and chocolate chip cookies.  Due to a mix-up Samanthas meal was free so we had an extra meal credit.

Snack – Main Street Bakery – Large Starbucks drinks for Daniel and I, a special Frozen cupcake for Samantha (they even added a birthday message!)


Dinner – Cinderella’s Royal Table (signature dining – 2 meal “points” each) – even though we had to trade in two meals each for this experience, I would do it again.  It included some extras that are not included with other table service meals in our dining plan such as gratuity, appetizers for all three of us and prints of Samantha with Cinderella and a print of the castle at night….all packaged up in a cute Cinderella folder.  The Disney Princesses all came to visit us at our table and posed for pictures.  We were seated by a window with a fabulous view of the fireworks, the girls were all given a magic wand and boys were given a sword (adults too) and each table received a Wishing Star keepsake.   For dinner I enjoyed a cheese tray appetizer, steak and shrimp with veggies and a yummy chocolate dessert made to look like a clock striking 12.  Samantha was given a big birthday cupcake with candles in addition to her dessert.  Absolutely wonderful evening!

Day Two – Epcot and Downtown Disney

Breakfast – in room

Lunch – The Coral Reef (table service) – Cool place with huge windows to see right inside an aquarium.  Yummy seafood, pasta and steak dishes.  I think I had a steak with veggies and cheesecake for dessert

Dinner – Wolfgang Puck Express (quick service) – Hands down the absolute best quick service we had all week, the menu had the most variety and after ordering at the counter, you were waited on.  Daniel and Samantha had pizzas, I had spaghetti with meatballs.  Brownies to-go for dessert.

Snack – We skipped snack, too full!

Day 3 – Hollywood Studios

Breakfast – in room

Lunch – ABC  Commissary (quick service) – Burgers and fries type place, I think we all had burgers.  I had chocolate mousse for dessert, Daniel had cheesecake and Samantha had cookies to-go.  Kid’s meal also came with grapes.

Dinner – Sci-Fi Drive In (table service) – We paid out-of-pocket for this meal, as it had the lowest price menu of all the reservations we had made.  We needed to pay for one meal out-of-pocket since we used two credits each on Day 1.  We had a simple meal without dessert.  The restaurant looks like your outside at a drive-in and the jumbo screen plays old movies.  The tables are cars from the 1950s.  Lots of shakes, burgers and salads on the menu.  I had a big salad with chopped apples and sunflower seeds.

Snack – The ice cream shop on Magic Kingdom’s Main Street.  Daniel and I had the ice cream sandwiches which were two enormous fresh baked cookies with dipped ice cream of choice in between, I could not finish mine.  Samantha had an adorable big scoop of ice cream on a cone with two little chocolate cookies for Mickey ears.  We enjoyed our snacks while watching the castle being transformed into an ice palace by Elsa, followed by the night parade.

Day 4 – Animal Kingdom

Breakfast – Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort. (table service)  Full buffet with characters.  Any breakfast food you can think of, all the Mickey Mouse characters visit your table to sign autographs and pose for photos.


Lunch – I do not remember the name, but it was a quick service pizza/pasta/salad place in Animal Kingdom

Snack – Samantha had a popsicle from a cart, Daniel and I later got custom dipped Mickey rice crispie treats from Goofy’s Candy Company in Downtown Disney.

Dinner – Since we used a meal credit for breakfast and we had returned to our resort for swimming early, we opted to eat off-site.  We had Chick-fil-a about 5 minutes away then went to Downtown Disney for the evening.  I normally do not suggest eating off-site but since we were finished in the parks for the day, it worked the best.

Day 5 – Magic Kingdom

Breakfast – Main Street Bakery (snack credit for Daniel and I, quick service credit for Sammie).  Since Samantha had an extra meal credit, and we all had an extra snack credit we had breakfast out.  Large frappuccinos for Daniel and I, a breakfast sandwich and milk for Samantha.

Snack – Popsicle for Samantha

Lunch – (quick service) Do not remember the name, but we had bbq sandwiches and cake at a place in Frontierland

Dinner – The Crystal Palace (table service) – full buffet with Pooh characters.  The selection was good, yummy food and excellent service.  You could see the castle from the porch while waiting to be seated.

Snack – Starbucks drinks at Epcot while watching the fireworks show

Whew, so that is what we did to give you an example of what you get for the dining plan.  Remember to maximize your dining plan by getting the good snacks, look at the bakeries and candy shops to get the best bang for your buck.  You can also take food into Disney, so take in your crackers, granola bars, apples, ect.  Because while you can use a snack credit to buy a banana, you can also take one in from the room and use that snack credit for a Starbucks drink or ice cream sundae big enough to share….I think those big turkey legs are considered snacks as well.  Our package also came with a refillable resort mug for each person that could be filled at our resort.  We filled those each morning and didn’t need to buy any extra drinks in the park.  They are nice insulated hot or cold cups with lids and Mickey characters, I still use mine.

-Next topic – If you have a smartphone, use it to your advantage.  You can download the Disney app and link it to your account to show you your entire itinerary for the day.  You can also search for places to eat, look at menus, gps attraction locations, find characters, check wait times and change fastpass selections.  We changed several fastpass options after comparing wait times to make the best of our time as possible.

-The Disney Credit Card – I know many try to avoid credit cards and I do not believe in carrying credit card debt, but I do believe in using a credit card like cash, paying it off in full monthly to avoid interest, and taking advantage of the rewards!  We had the Disney card for less than a year and the rewards were still very noticeable.  We paid for everything including the trip and gas to get to Florida on the card.  Onced at Disney, we just popped into Guest Relations and traded in our points for a giftcard, easy!  We used the card to pay gratuities all week, a sit-down meal for 3, a teddy bear, an autograph book, a Christmas ornament and a Christmas gift for Samantha.  In fact, for the entire time, we only paid cash for a pair of Mickey ears, an autograph pen and a dinner off-site.  I have also made purchases at the Disney Store with a discount when using my card.  I’m really excited to continue to use this card so I can rack up enough points to help pay for my next Disney vacation.  Just remember, it is a credit card, so spend responsibly and use it to purchase what you are spending money on anyways.

-Drive or Fly?  Daniel drives a Prius and we were visiting with his family near Disney for the weekend prior to our trip, so driving was the best choice for us.  We are also at a distance where we can make the drive in one day with being able to wake up and go to bed at normal times.  Also, when we left we had so much luggage, I was relieved we didn’t have to pay those luggage fees.  We also only have a regional airport near us that tends to be expensive, and has stops.  We would need to drive 3 hours to a big airport in Charlotte or Atlanta, wait around another few hours at the airport, then fly for about 1-2 hours….by the time that is all said and done, we could be there by car.  However, if I could ever score one of those last minute Asheville to Orlando cheap flights, I’ll take it!  So this component of your trip just depends on you and where you’re coming from.

-Pack for any weather if you go in the fall or winter.  Warm days, cold evenings and just warm enough to swim.  Be prepared and maybe schedule some time to run back to your room for warmer clothes before dinner.

So those are my tips based on my most recent trip, my first as an adult!  I would like to give a big thanks to my parents for taking me to Disney so many times, it is a fun vacation, but its a lot of work too!  Next year we may have to take a relaxing Disney cruise.



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