I’ve had a one year Disney world pass now for two years now, and I’ve sort of gotten it down.
Where to stay:
Pretty much all of the areas that are just off of the DW campus, where the hotels are, are also ‘cheek to jowl’ with Airbnb rentals that are often nicer, and for less money than what the hotels have to offer. ALSO, if you’re someone who cares about a good reliable wifi connection, the reality is that I’ve NEVER found Wifi at a hotel to be anywhere as good as the wifi in a private home, particularly if it’s one where they’re renting you a room in their own home — rather than a property they rent out entirely.
When I first got to Orlando this year I was renting an Airbnb space from a perfectly nice divorced elderly guy. The “home” was actually a double wide/trailer (but from the inside you can’t REALLY tell that) located just south west of the park. I was paying about $34/night for a HUGE air conditioned bedroom with a ceiling fan, that has a walk in closet, an ensuite bathroom that has a shower and a jacuzzi tub, free parking in his driveway, full usage of the kitchen, and located in a gated development with a guard that has a pool and a weight room. My host offers up free coffee from his Keurig (most Airbnb hosts do). Now granted, I could stay at a flea bag motel for around $45 a night, but why would I want to?
For Thanksgiving I drove up to Georgia to stay with my friends up in Dalton, and then came back to Orlando a 2nd time, and am now staying at a different Airbnb in the newly developing (I remember 20 years ago when this whole area was NOTHING but orange groves) west side of campus… in a home that can’t be more than a year or so old. I have a beautiful and comfortable room in the home of a young Brazilian couple again for about $34/night.
Additionally, if wifi is important to you, my experience is the wifi at Airbnb’s where the owner is living in the same space with you are almost always way better than what is offered from the hotels. (AVOID the ones where the owner seems to have 4 or 5 spaces to rent in different locations… I want my owner living IN my house, this may mean a bit less privacy but it USUALLY, emphasis on the usually, assures a much higher standard of customer service, in my experience.)
This year, I’m going to be headed to my friend in GA for Thanksgiving holidays, and then moving to a different Airbnb that’s again just at the edge of the park, but this time a bit north west of it in an area that was all orange groves in 2002 (the first time I came to Disney for an extended stay) but is now housing developments and strip malls … again for about $34/night. And around Disney there’s very little new home building that isn’t part of a development, and all of those include pools and weight rooms, some of the more expensive ones even have golf courses — but those Airbnb’s in those, when they exist, are much pricer as a result, although still less than at a hotel resort with a golf course.
I think Disney is aware of the problem (for them) and is as such upping their hotel game. Currently the ONLY Disney hotels that call to me ‘enough’ for me to be willing to pay their rates, is 1) the infinitely long Wilderness Lodge next to animal kingdom, where every single room overlooks a sort of zoo like area, so you can look out of your bedroom window and see giraffes and wildebeests; and 2) the currently in development star wars themed hotel where apparently the “windows” will make you feel like your on a space ship, your assigned a story line upon arrival that you’re supposed to play out, and all the staff are in costume and character at all times (including some aliens) … THAT would be worth $300/night — but even then I would want to find friends to share the room with.
Disney is impressively expensive. As a rule, I do NOT BUY ANYTHING on campus until I have had a chance to visit the two (and you should go to both) outlet shops that sell discontinued Disney merchandise, and Disney discontinues stuff every few weeks. These shops ONLY carry things that were either available ONLY at DisneyWorld shops (not the Disney stores in malls), or are left over from various Disney Cruises. To give you an idea of the prices, T-shirts that sold for $36.99 on campus are $12.99 at these stores, stuff that was $39.99 sell for $14.99, and items that were $14.99 are marked down to $2.99…. and unless marked “as is” or “all sales final” (in which case the discounts will be steeper, because the merchandise is damaged), all items come with a full refund 30 day guarantee. SO, you can grab that Mickey Mouse jacket that they only had one size too large for you at one store, and then return it to the other one if that branch has it in your size.
While the selection is much smaller, odds are you’ll find at least a handful of items you like, and at those prices, well, the items seem to get cuter. So where allow yourself only one item, (because if you look the prices are essentially 1/3 of what they’d be in the park) here you can get three items for the same price. AND if you think about how much you’d have paid for that “reasonably priced” hotel room located equidistant from DW as your Airbnb — which would currently be between between $70 and $150 night… (although there are flea bag places going for $45 a night just a bit father off) well…
Like I said there are TWO of these stores, both are in outlet malls in shops adjacent to the food courts (so ask folks where the food court is, as to my experience the teenagers working in those places often don’t know the Disney stores are even there):
One is in the ‘Premium Outlet on Vineland Ave’, located just a bit east of DisneyWorld:
while the other is about 20 minutes north in the ‘Orlando International Premium Outlets’ that are just east of the Universal Amusement parks Campus:
Once I have “satiated” my need for cute Disney stuff…. I currently have six new really cute Disney T-shirts that I picked up last night, as well as some new luggage tags (star wars themed), that’s when I start shopping the parks in earnest…. usually finding I can’t justify their prices, especially having just purchased six new T-shirts.
Firstly, you CAN of course always bring your own snacks to the park, or eat a good breakfast at home, limit yourself to a light lunch, and then wait to get off campus to eat dinner… There’s no shortage of Denny’s, Ihops, etc., not to mention there are a few Bahama Breeze restaurants scattered just outside the edges of the park, that offer a late night happy hour from 9pm to midnight where they have really good/tasty half price appetizers, where the calorie hit is listed on the menu (I like the fresh crab, shrimp, mango and avocado stack, for about $7.50 @300 calories ).
BUT assuming you don’t want to… one of the best held food secrets of Disney world is that firstly, there are Macdonald’s scattered around the parks, but of course this means getting in your car and driving over there because none of the DW rapid transit goes there.
AND the gas station food: You know that gas station that’s one right near Magic Kingdom? Pretty much every park has one not TOO far outside the parking area, if you willing to walk it. The one next to the Magic Kingdom is the one where they have actual mechanics available to fix flat tires, or swap out dead batteries so that you can at least get home. It, and all the other ones, actually have REALLY tasty hot food for sale, not kidding. These stations on the Disney property (all of them) are NOT offering up your normal gas station food, which you’d have to be a little desperate to eat… nope, these are the same sort of fare at the same sort of prices, but at MUCH higher quality. The wings for instance, are REALLY good, and their nice big pieces of chicken like at a restaurant (my mouth is actually watering as I write this). So, don’t be surprised to see Disney staffers at these places, dressed up in the outfits they wear working for on site restaurants, all of them buying pizza, subs and wings from these places during their lunch and dinner breaks.
While Disney’s sit down restaurants won’t let you do this, the fact of the matter is that if you approach a fast food location and as an adult ask for the child’s portion, the staff will never question you about it… they’ll just assume the child is with a different adult already seated at a table. Even at Hollywood’s canteen, where waiters bring the food to the table, no one has ever made an issue that I opted for the child’s $7 half portion of grilled salmon rather than paying $15 for the adult sized portion.