Even if you absolutely must stay in an “official” Disney resort, there are still many ways to reduce the cost. The easiest way is to stay during the Value Seasons. Notice how I use the plural, because there are several times throughout the year that Disney considers to be the Value season. Generally, these are January and early February, late August through September, and the week after Thanksgiving until the week before Christmas. But to make it even more complicated, the Value season varies between resort categories. For example, the first week of August, when we’ve been forced to take our vacations the last couple of years, is in the Value Season for Deluxe resorts, but not for the Value and Moderate resorts.
If you can time your trip to coincide with a Value season, that would work great. The Value seasons also tend to have lower crowds. However, many people have to take their vacations when work and school permit. But by taking a few minutes to check out the different seasons at the different resorts (you can find a chart for each resort at www.mousesavers.com, you might be able to enjoy significant savings by picking one possible week over another. Even if you can’t plan your vacation around Disney’s Value season, by noting that a Deluxe Resort is in Value season at the same time a Moderate is in Summer season, you might decide that the reduced price difference makes “upgrading” doable.
Disney offers a variety of different lodging categories to fit different budgets. Least expensive are the Partial Hook-up campsites at Ft. Wilderness. These are designed for tents and pop-up campers and start at only $44 a night during the Value season. The most expensive sites at Ft. Wilderness are the Premium sites, with water, cable, sewer, and internet connections. These are designed for RVs and are $74 a weeknight during Value seasons.
For those who aren’t outdoorsy, Disney’s Value resorts start at $82 a weeknight during the Value seasons. I’ve spent more than that on many hotels in the middle of nowhere that weren’t nearly as nice. Although basic motel-type rooms, these resorts are full of Disney theming and enjoy all of the perks of staying on-property, including Magical Express, Disney transportation to and from the parks, and delivery of your theme park purchases. We’ve stayed at All-Star Movies and Music and enjoyed both of our stays. Yes, the rooms were small, but we were only in them to sleep and shower. The kids liked the pools as much as they did the ones at the Deluxe resorts.
Disney’s Moderate resorts are a step up from the Values and start at $149 a weeknight in the Value seasons. These resorts have slightly bigger rooms than the Values, table service restaurants on-site, and more theming. I’ve not stayed in one yet, although I’ve walked around the lobby and grounds of Coronado Springs. It has an amazing pool, with a Mayan pyramid. Returning briefly to Ft. Wilderness campground, there are cabins there that Disney classifies as Moderate resorts. These sleep six and start at $270 a night in Value season. They have a full kitchen, so you could save some money there if you were willing to cook some of your own meals.
Disney’s Deluxe resorts have the largest rooms, best locations, most amenities, and most expensive prices. Within the Deluxe category are several tiers of resorts. The least expensive Deluxes are the Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge. These are $240 a night during Value seasons. Their rooms are the smallest of any Deluxe but they stand up to any Deluxe resort in terms of theming. Wilderness Lodge is a favorite of ours and Animal Kingdom Lodge is high on our list of places we need to stay.
In order of ascending prices are the Epcot resorts (Beach and Yacht Club, Boardwalk Inn), the Polynesian, the Contemporary, and finally, Disney’s premier resort, the Grand Floridian. These last three resorts are located on the monorail loop to the Magic Kingdom and you’re paying for the location as well as the amenities.
Finally, Disney has its Deluxe Villa resorts, the Disney Vacation Club timeshares. You don’t have to belong to the DVC in order to stay at these resorts, however. These rooms, essentially condos, range from studios that sleep 4 to three bedroom “Grand Villas” that sleep 12. Their prices vary widely, depending on how many rooms you get and in what resort, but range from $255 (for a Value Studio in Animal Kingdom Villas) to $1,755 (for a 3-bedroom, Magic Kingdom view Grand Villa at Bay Lake Tower) per night in Value season.
If paying the premium prices to stay at a Disney resort, you should take a serious look at how much time you’ll be staying at your resort. For example, a family of theme park commandos with small children, who arrive at park opening and stay until park closing, might not want to spend lots of money on a Deluxe resort, if all they’re going to do is sleep and shower there. On the other hand, for a couple of “empty-nesters” who plan to spend a couple of days outside the parks, it may well be worth the extra money to stay in a Deluxe.
One of my favorite ways to enjoy the amenities of the Deluxe properties without breaking the bank is to split my stay. This year, for example, we’re spending four nights at Pop Century, then moving up to the Contemporary Tower, Magic Kingdom view for the last three nights. There’s no way I could afford a week of the Contemporary’s luxury, but by staying part of the time at a Value resort, I can save enough to afford a few nights in a Deluxe. We’ll have to check out and check back in on the day of the move, but with express checkout, it’s not really a big hassle. Disney will take care of moving our luggage while we’re enjoying the parks. If doing this, though, I’d advise that you always move from the lower resort category up to the higher one. It’s much easier, psychologically.
Another way to save on lodging, though not guaranteed, is to ask for a complimentary upgrade (emphasizing the word “complimentary”). I do this every time I go to the World, with varying success. In 2007, we got upgraded from a standard view room to concierge-level, water view at the Beach Club. We felt like we were royalty. Last year, we were upgraded from a standard view at the Wilderness Lodge to a woods view. It’s not a sure thing, but you never know unless you ask.
Finally, take advantage of any and all discounts. Check websites like www.mousesavers.com or www.themouseforless.com to see what discounts Disney’s offering. It seems like that for most of the year (except for a few holiday weeks), Disney has one or more discount promotions. AAA membership can get you a 15-20% discount at a Disney resort most any night of the year, as well as discounts on your hotels on the trip to and from the World, if you take a couple of days to drive. Make use of a Disney travel agent, and they can check for discounts for you. If you’ve already booked your room at one rate and a better one comes along, your travel agent (or you, if you’re doing it yourself) can usually apply the new rate to your existing reservation. Sometimes, this may involve making a new reservation and then cancelling your old one. If you have to do this, make sure you do it in that order—new reservation in hand before cancelling old one. You’d hate to cancel your existing reservation, then find out you can’t get a room in the resort of your choice.
Sign up for anything Disney-related that you can—the vacation planning DVD, for example, and register at the Disney website and Disneystore.com. The idea is to get your name in Disney’s system as much as possible. Sometimes, Disney sends out pin codes targeted at specific individuals. No one seems to know how these people are chosen. But these pin codes can be a great way to get a discount on Disney lodging. I’ve received a handful of pin codes in my inbox this way.
Whatever you do, remember: There’s no excuse for paying full price!
Contributed by: Mark (NDD #102). Mark is our resident “how to save money while living the Disney Driven Life” expert.