Right now I bet many of you are in the middle of planning yet another trip to Orlando. The question you are probably facing is whether you should splurge on Disney park tickets… again.
Let’s face it, those can add up to a small fortune when you have a family of four or more. I’m not a Disney lover in any way, shape or form. Still, I do think everyone who has kids should visit Magic Kingdom park at least once. You may not enjoy it, but it will be a “veni vidi vici” type deal.
My husband and I just went with our daughter on her school field trip to Animal Kingdom, a close second to Magic Kingdom IMO, at least when it comes to kids. While the new Pandora section is indeed incredible, and “Flight of Avatar” ride is super-duper cool, I have no desire to ever step foot in the park again. Veni vidi vici.
Spending six hours standing in slow-moving lines and battling crowds in muggy Florida weather will do that to you. And we went on a weekday! I imagine this place is a zoo on weekends, no pun intended.
Floating mountains of Pandora
If, like me, you’ve been to Disney parks several times and are not itching to go through the madness again, you have options. It’s possible to have a Disney-esque experience on a shoestring-ish budget. That’s what I decided to do when my European parents were visiting us in Florida few months ago.
I took them to Magic Kingdom before, so didn’t feel the pressure to do it again. I’m sure they would enjoy Epcot, but not enough to justify close to a $700 price tag for six of us.
For list of complimentary things you can do on Disney property, check out this DISboards discussion. Many folks recommend parking at Disney Springs and taking advantage of free transportation between resorts. You can use this WDW Prep Navigator Tool to get an idea on what options are best.
Let’s say you want to get to Animal Kingdom area:
If you park at Disney Springs, you will be able to reach most resorts by bus. I think Grand Floridian, Fort Wilderness lodge, Polynesian and Animal Kingdom lodge are all worth visiting, so it just depends on your preferences. I like Polynesian the best, but that’s my personal opinion.
Whatever you decide, don’t cram too much into your day because it takes awhile to get between the resorts unless you use Uber (which costs money, obviously). On the day we went, it ended up raining, so I scrapped Polynesian and Fort Wilderness. We did go to Animal Kingdom lodge because it’s the only resort we haven’t toured before.
We also had breakfast at Rainforest Cafe, located by the entrance to Animal Kingdom. We had to pay for parking, but I didn’t mind since we planned to utilize complimentary Disney buses. Plus, the resort we stayed at is a bit far from Disney Springs, and time is money when you are on vacation.
Few thoughts on Rainforest Cafe and Animal Kingdom Lodge
I made reservations for 9:30 AM breakfast, but the place was mostly empty at that point. If you plan to go during lunch, you may want to reserve a table ahead of time. The price was a bit higher compared to what you will find at IHOP, but you are paying for experience here. We ended up spending $100 (with tip) on six of us, which certainly isn’t cheap. Lunch and dinner will cost even more.
Still, I thought it was a fun thing to do as a family, and I would definitely consider going again if we are in the area.
The elephant is fake, but it sure looks real
Little children may get scared by all the noises, so keep that in mind. My kids really enjoyed this place, so I felt it was money well spent. And I’m cheap! My parents also thought it was quite neat. See TripAdvisor reviews here
After breakfast at Rainforest Cafe, we took a bus to Animal Kingdom Lodge. This resort is truly stunning! Disney definitely spared no expense in order to make this place look like a fancy African lodge.
They even had traditional crafts (made in Africa) displayed in the lobby. I was very impressed and recommend visiting the lodge if you are in the area. On a cool day you can sit by a fireplace and enjoy the surroundings.
There is a walk-through outside where you can view the animals grazing in the “savannah.” There was even a ranger there (a one-year contract worker from Zimbabwe) who was telling folks about the animals and their natural habitat. He was very friendly and eager to share his knowledge.
To stay at this resort will set you back around $500 per night, not something I would ever consider doing. But I will happily hang out here for free again.
Disney World Character Dining
Another way you can have a Disney experience without a super expensive price tag is partaking in character dining. Of course, this only applies to on-site resorts where no park admisssion is required.
Sure, it will cost you more than a regular restaurant, but it will still be a bargain compared to the cost of park tickets. And your kids will probably enjoy it just as much. Advance reservations are a must, unless you get lucky and someone cancels at the last minute.
Disney character dining is something we haven’t yet done as a family, but I’m definitely intrigued. Even though I’m a regular Disney basher, seeing the smiles on my kids’ faces is worth the cost. I’m hoping to make reservations for ‘Ohana breakfast at Polynesian Resort next time we vacation in Orlando.
Miles and points angle
I was able to find a $50 “Rainforest Cafe” gift card at a 15% discount by checking Giftcardgranny This retailer rarely shows up on reselling sites, but it doesn’t hurt to check.
If you have at least $40 cashback in your Discover credit card account, you can redeem it towards a $45 “Rainforest Cafe” gift card. A word of caution! While you can probably easily resell a Disney gift card to a family member or a friend, “Rainforest Cafe” card may be tough to liquidate if your plans fall through.
I also bought a $100 Disney gift card from BestBuy.com via “Amex Offers for you” promo where you could get $20 off $100 purchase, including third-party gift cards. You can actually use Disney gift cards at a Rainforest Cafe, but only at the restaurant that is located by the entrance to Animal Kingdom. That’s what I did for the rest of my bill.
Aside from special promos, it’s quite hard to find a significant discount on Disney gift cards. I recommend this post written by Nancy awhile back, though be aware that some methods no longer work.
One of the things I’ve done in the past is buy Disney gift cards from a grocery store when it was a bonus category on Chase Freedom (my personal referral link), like it is right now. Getting 5 UR points per dollar is the silver lining to the outrageously expensive Disney experience, don’t you agree?
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.