Splurge or Save? Here's How to Build the Perfect Walt Disney World Vacation for Your Budget
Whether money is no object or you've been saving every penny, there are lots of ways to ensure maximum bang for your buck when planning a Walt Disney World vacation. Disney has more than two dozen hotels, hundreds of dining options, various ticket combinations, and extra-special add-ons that run the budgetary gamut from super-saver to super-spender. Keep reading to plan a perfect theme park vacation with our lineup of splurge and save options at Walt Disney World.
How to Splurge at Walt Disney World
Disney's Polynesian Village Resort
If there were superlatives for Disney World hotels, Disney's Polynesian Village Resort would be voted "most likely to make you feel like you've been transported to paradise." The South Pacific theming extends from the lush landscaping to the South Seas-influenced cuisine and the floral lei placed around your neck during check-in. Many guest rooms recently received a "Moana"-inspired makeover that celebrates the spirit of the film in a tasteful, playful way rather than plastering the space with cutesy characters. This opening day hotel is also one of the closest to Magic Kingdom. It's a quick walk, Monorail ride, or water taxi trip to Disney World's original park, and you can view the nightly fireworks and Electrical Water Pageant from the beach area near the pool or, in some cases, your balcony.
Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort
Four Seasons Resort Orlando is tucked away in a secluded area right in the middle of Walt Disney World, but not so far that you can't enjoy impressive theme park views. If you find sophisticated luxury more alluring than Disney theming, the stylish, subdued guest room decor, resort-style pool and water park, golf course, world-class spa, and elegant dining options will make this property the ideal retreat after a day at the park. On-site activities range from yoga and tennis lessons to breakfast with your favorite Disney characters and more. Complimentary luxury motor coach transportation to Disney World's theme parks is also included in the stay.
Dining and Lounges
California Grill is named for its menu of fresh, flavorful California cuisine, be it hand-rolled sushi, juicy steaks, or savory seafood. The drink list boasts a large selection of whiskey, bourbon, and wine, the latter of which comes mostly from California's vineyards. Thanks to its location on the 15th floor of Disney's Contemporary Resort, you'll enjoy panoramic views of Magic Kingdom and the surrounding waterways, including the park's nightly fireworks show. If you are dining before the fireworks and want to come back for the show, save your receipt and show it at the check-in desk for entry to the California Grill Lounge or the outdoor observation deck. Advance reservations are highly recommended.
Located in Disney's Animal Kingdom, Nomad Lounge pays homage to worldly delights and wanderlust in everything from its food and drink menus to its furnishings and decor. The food menu consists of a limited selection of small plates (try the Tiffins Bread Service and the churros), but the drink list is as robust as they come. Among the beverages is an an African-inspired beer — the Kungaloosh Spiced Excursion Ale — that is brewed especially for Walt Disney World. Reservations are not necessary to visit.
Park Hopper Plus Tickets
Walt Disney World's standard tickets allow you to visit only one of four theme parks per day. The Park Hopper Plus option, on the other hand, lets you "hop" to multiple theme parks each day of your visit (subject to current park rules and capacity limitations). But that's not all. Your ticket also includes access to on-site activities like water parks, golf, foot golf, and miniature golf. For each day on your ticket, you can try one of these leisurely activities when you need a break from the theme parks.
Private VIP Tour
If you want to skip the line on some of your favorite attractions and learn little-known Disney trivia from a bonafide theme park expert along the way, opt for a private VIP tour. Your VIP tour guide (affectionately called "plaids" for the distinct pattern on their uniforms) will help you customize your perfect Disney day and transport your party of up to 10 from your resort and between the theme parks via a private vehicle. Advance reservations are highly recommended, and theme park tickets are not included in the tour cost.
Blizzard Beach Water Park Polar Patio
There are plenty of complimentary loungers at Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park, but renting a Polar Patio (i.e. cabana) for the day gets you privacy, shade, and a slew of premium perks. Each one is outfitted with cushioned seating, tables, and a locker for valuables. You'll also get complimentary ice water and refillable drink mugs to use throughout the day, as well as an attendant to take your food and drink orders. Advance reservations are highly recommended.
How to Save at Walt Disney World
Disney's Pop Century Resort
Pop Century falls under Disney's Value Resort category, but its budget-friendly price tag doesn't mean you're getting an inferior product. Guest rooms are spread out over five areas, each themed to a different decade between the 1950s and 1990s and anchored by the Classic Hall lobby area, which houses guest services, a quick-service food hall, an arcade, and a gift shop. While walking around the '90s area, you might happen upon an oversized computer, and in the '70s section, you'll encounter a larger-than-life Mickey phone (cord and all). Rooms have been updated in recent years with hardwood flooring, elevated beds with storage underneath, and subtle Disney touches like Mickey Mouse pop art. One of Pop Century's biggest perks is that it's one of only five hotels with direct access to the Disney Skyliner, a gondola system that offers complimentary transportation to Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Gran Destino Tower at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort
For about $100 more per night, you can bump up to the Gran Destino Tower at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort. As part of Disney's Moderate Resort hotel category, you'll enjoy upgraded amenities like sit-down dining, cozy lounges, and a coffee shop. The resort's main Dig Site pool also has features like a waterslide and hot tub. Gran Destino Tower is Coronado's newest addition and happens to be influenced by a surrealistic animated short that Disney worked on with Salvador Dali. If you watch the film before your visit, you'll notice how its artistry carries through to the resort's modern decor, along with the Spanish, Mexican, and American Southwest influences seen throughout.
Dining and Lounges
Satu'li Canteen, a quick-service restaurant in Disney's Animal Kingdom, is located in Pandora – The World of Avatar, a land themed to James Cameron's 2009 film, "Avatar." Both the menu and decor have an otherworldly ambience inspired by the Na'vi. Entrees come with curious touches like boba balls and colorful vegetable chips. Even the specialty drinks and desserts feel somewhat alien (in a good way). If you're looking for something stronger than an exotic fruit punch, the green-hued Hawkes' Grog Ale may be more your style.
When life presents you with an opportunity to dive deep into the Star Wars universe for the cost of only a drink or two, you take it. When stepping inside Oga's Cantina in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Disney's Hollywood Studios, you're immediately transported to an Outer Rim watering hole where a droid named DJ R-3X spins out-of-this-world tunes and the menu has concoctions featuring names like Jedi Mind Trick and Carbon Freeze. Like any good cantina, Oga's is a small establishment without a ton of seating. If you're planning to visit, advance reservations are highly recommended.
Standard Theme Park Ticket
Disney World's standard theme park ticket gets you access to one park per day, and the cost per day goes down as the number of days on your ticket goes up. It may seem like a con to only be allowed to visit one park per day, but slowing down to look for hidden gems, ride your favorite attraction multiple times, or find a bench and really cherish that Mickey ice cream bar is a luxury many Disney World visitors miss out on. Use the money you save to purchase Memory Maker so you can get digital access to all those awesome vacation photos.
Capture Your Moment Photo Session
Disney's Capture Your Moment service goes one step beyond the on-ride and around-the-park photos taken by Disney PhotoPass photographers. Choose from Magic Kingdom or Animal Kingdom, where a Disney PhotoPass photographer will snap away to help you celebrate your special day. From family portraits to first visits and even engagements, your photographer will capture Disney memories that you'll cherish for years to come. If 20 minutes isn't quite enough time, Disney also offers the option to book two back-to-back sessions.
Free Activities (Yes, Really)
It may come as a surprise that there are actually quite a few free activities at Disney World, but it's true — you just need to know where (and when) to find them. For example, local musical acts play for free at Disney Springs every week and on-site resort hotels host pool parties, outdoor movies, and campfires (check with guest services for an up-to-date activities calendar). If you're visit during one of Epcot's annual festivals, Halloween (which starts in August if you're at Disney), or Christmas (which begins just days after Halloween), you can take advantage of the fun, festive atmosphere and entertainment, even if you don't pay extra to attend the special events.