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Showing posts with label Saturday Savers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Saturday Savers. Show all posts

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Saturday Savers - Saving While Onboard Ship

A cruise vacation can be a wonderful, relaxing, nearly all-inclusive experience (getting all of your onboard meals, accommodations, all onboard entertainment, and transportation to various ports of call included in your cruise fare) – but unless you have booked on a luxury line (a la Seabourn, Oceania or Regent Seven Seas), do keep in mind the key word NEARLY, as each of the other lines do charge for various experiences and add-ons that are not included in your cruise fare.  Today we’ll take a look at just a few of these items, and how you might save money with each one while onboard the ship.

Once onboard, you’ll find that ships today have a wide array of add-on or “plussing” that you can do to enhance your vacation experience.  Whether that includes shopping, dining in specialty restaurants vs. the traditional dining rooms, enjoying alcoholic beverages, shore excursions or playing your favorite games in the casino (for those ships that have one)… saving money onboard really boils down to what YOU deem to be necessary or not to the betterment of your vacation experience.  

Generally, the following categories, while nice enhancements to your fun – aren’t very good overall values onboard, and could save you a lot of money if you avoid them.  However, if you absolutely cannot skip them – there are a few tips in each one that might help you at least improve the overall value for you, and reduce your personal expense.

1. Onboard Photographers
In the days before digital cameras, onboard photography was a huge money maker for the cruise lines, as they would each staff their ships with multiple roaming photographers, capturing the crowds every night, and then printing out every decent image putting it on display in their photo galleries for all to see and peruse.  Many guests would then buy multiple shots to take home as souvenirs from their cruise experience.  But with the advent of digital photography, not as many guests are buying the photos any more, despite the cruise lines still printing them and putting them on display.  The cost of each print has risen through the years, with the average cost of an 8x10 image hovering around $10.  Nevermind that guests can take very similar shots of their own with their own cameras, and then print them at home at their local drug store or big box store for around $1 each – or less, depending on the size.  Guests can very easily take hundreds, if not thousands of their own photos.  The packages on board aren’t worth the extra cost, in my opinion.  Selecting one or two images from the onboard photographers can still make for a nice souvenir memory, without breaking the bank.

2.  Casinos
Playing a slot machine every now and again can be a fun way to spend a few dollars, but beware, onboard casinos generally do not pay out as handsomely as land-based casinos do (but then, Las Vegas doesn’t even pay out as much as it once did).  While it can be said that some people in the past have succeed in winning big jackpots onboard ships, most of the time it just doesn’t happen.  If you choose to partake of the gaming opportunities onboard, set a very strict limit for yourself, and do not exceed it.  Determine what you are willing to lose before you ever step foot onboard, and then if and when it happens, don’t let yourself be disappointed.  However, if you then decide it’s okay to exceed your pre-determined limit, you will a) be disappointed and b) start to rack up extra costs that you did not budget for in your vacation calculation, and you will be spending more than you bargained for.  The best way to save money onboard a ship with a casino, is simply to not enter the casino in the first place. 

3. Gratuities
Just as they are on land in table service restaurants and so many other places, gratuities and service charges are a part of cruising. You should pay the recommended daily amount and no more or less. Every single drink and specialty restaurant meal that you sign for already includes a service charge added to the price.  Unless you absolutely feel that an extra tip is warranted, don’t write in an extra amount in the space that you will see for an additional tip. You have already paid the service charge, so there is no reason to pay an additional tip.  If you do want to give a crewmember a special tip you should hand it to them in cash very discretely.  Any gratuities that you give by signing a tab or charge slip will most likely be put into a pool and shared by all the people in that department.  Even though pre-paying your gratuities is not saving money, in doing so, you are lessening the outlay that you must make while onboard ship.  Since all cruise lines require full payment about 60 days prior to departure (a few are 75-90 days),  your vacation is essentially paid in full months before you even leave port.  Anything that you do onboard then is extra and must be paid for prior to disembarking the ship.  It is easier to just pre-pay the gratuities, funding that cost with the overall cruise fare, and not having to worry about an additional outlay while onboard ship.

4. The Spa
The Spa is a wonderful place for an indulgence; however, we must recognize that cruise ships generally charge higher spa prices than many of the tony resorts and spas on land, and much higher prices than some of the newer massage franchises like Massage Envy. Expect to pay as much as $125 for a 60-minute massage, two to three times what a professional massage therapist will charge on land.

To get the most out of your spa appointment we suggest booking a morning appointment. Most masseuses onboard work all day, and they get tired. Because of their busy schedule they also do not work as hard as many land-based massage therapists. The standard massage treatment on a cruise ship is a "Swedish Massage," also known as "classic massage." You should know that Swedish is a style of massage that does not necessarily focus on deep tissue work. It involves long, flowing strokes, rubbing and kneading. But if you have a knot in your neck or under your shoulder blade what you need is deep tissue work.  If you want a therapeutic massage its suggested that you ask for a deep tissue massage.  A great way to save money is to schedule your massage for a day when the ship is in port, as many cruise lines discount the spa services on port days – sometimes as much as 50% vs. sea days. 

Another aspect of cruise ship massage sessions is the hard sell at the end of the session for additional products and services such as lotions, bath salts, and more.  There is no stopping this, so there’s not need to be upset by it.  Simply be polite and let them know that you understand it is their job to offer these products and services, but let them know that you won’t be purchasing them… you’ll just be enjoying the afterglow of your massage, and then be on your way. Then thank them and leave.  Also be sure to watch out for available services such as “fat burning wraps” that claim to take off inches from your body immediately, at very high prices.  They don’t work, and you’ll be burning the money in your pocket faster than the wraps claim they can take fat off your body. 

5. Beverages – Both Alcoholic and Non-Alcoholic
While onboard ship, many people enjoy partaking of a few drinks, and the cruise lines certainly do make it easy with multiple bars and lounges scattered about, and wandering servers carrying trays of beverages just waiting to be purchased.  Add in the “drink of the day” that the ships offer, and wham, the availability is very prevalent.  But be warned…drinks onboard ship can be very expensive, and your bar bill can add up very quickly if you are not careful.

Some cruise lines do allow you to bring your own alcohol onboard – but you must know the rules in order to be successful with this.  For example, Royal Caribbean will allow you to bring one bottle of wine or other alcohol onboard to be consumed in your room.  Disney Cruise Line will also allow you to bring it onboard to be consumed in your room.  As will the ships owned by the Carnival Corporation – Carnival, Cunard, Princess, Holland America & Costa).  Each line will have a corkage fee if you take the bottle in to the dining room for dinner.  No lines allow you to consume alcohol that you bring onboard in public spaces (other than the dining room).

Many cruise lines offer drink packages where you can drink as much as you want for a set amount per day. Some of these packages are for alcoholic beverages, while others are for non-alcoholic beverages such as soft drinks.  Each line is different in what they offer, but if you consume multiple beverages in a day at a la carte pricing, you will very likely save money by going with the offered package.  With the exception of the luxury lines, Disney Cruise Line is the only one to provide soft drinks included in the cruise fare. 

Be advised that it is not wise to attempt to skirt the rules regarding bringing prohibited beverages onboard ship.  Luggage is x-rayed prior to embarkation, and the cruise lines will remove any contraband beverages that they find, holding it in the ship’s storage, until disembarkation when you will receive it back again. 

6. Internet Access
Internet access is by far the newest money maker for the cruise lines, as more and more people who go on vacation, are unable to completely disconnect from their lives at home.  From the vast array of electronic goodies that people use, and all of the demands from home, remaining connected is very important to a large number of travelers.  And the cruise lines know it, and charge handsomely for the luxury or remaining connected – often as much as 75-cents per minute of connectivity. Truly the only way to save money onboard is to simply log off.  However, if you cannot do so, here are a few tips regarding onboard electronics & connecting to the internet:

  •  iPads…you can use your iPad on a cruise ship, but keep in mind you do not want to stay logged onto your account while typing up an email. iPads are generally designed to be used only while connected to the Internet, using your webmail instead of an email program, for example. The same is true of workstations in a cruise ship's Internet center.
  • Laptops… these will give you the ability to sign on only long enough to pick up new email messages. You can then compose your replies offline and then sign on again long enough to send them. Laptops also give you a place to offload your digital camera pictures in memory so you can shoot more pictures.
  • Cell phones… if you take a cell phone onboard never use it to access the Internet. You will have to pay a data roaming charge that will generally cost about $5 per megabyte. Your cell phone should have an option to disable "data roaming" which you must use.  The best thing to do with your cell phone, is to turn it off once you set sail and don’t turn it back on again until you return to your home port.  Once you leave port, even before getting to international waters, you will be roaming, and international roaming is very expensive with the various cell providers.  If you must have cell phone access while onboard – it would be cheaper to invest in an international cell phone, and simply keep it for all trips that take you to international destinations than to use your regular cell phone. 
  • Texting… here is another warning regarding text messages. Even with data roaming turned off be very careful of incoming text messages. If someone sends you a picture by text message and you open it, you will be charged the data roaming rate even if you have data roaming turned off;  the cost of data roaming on a cruise ship is $25 per megabyte or higher.

Be sure to check with your individual cell phone provider regarding their charges and policies before setting sail.  Ask them specifically about the charges for the countries that your itinerary will be visiting, and what the charges are for roaming services.  Then you can make an informed decision and better understand what your costs will be when you return home once more. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Saturday Savers - Getting the Best Cruise Value

When planning your family's next big cruise vacation, finding the best values will make you a hero, especially if you have funds left over for some cool "extras" that you might not have thought possible when first putting your budget together.  The key is to finding the right money saving tricks.  Here are just a few to consider that can, when added together, provide some serious monetary value for your vacation:

  • Book early.  When I say early, I mean up to a year or more in advance.  Yes, those last-minute "deals" might seem tempting and the way to go, but do realize that last minute also equals slim pickings in choice of category or room location, if there is any availability at all in your desired room type.  When planning your vacation, know that the best deals and the best selection goes to those who plan ahead... 8, 12 or even 15 months or more in advance.  For the cruise lines, the months of January - March are considered "Wave Season", providing the most significant discounts, upgrades and freebies for those guests who plan ahead.  October is another key month when additional discounts and offers are available for those who plan ahead.  
  • Book a package.  More and more many cruise lines are offering package deals on specialty dining, wine and excursions with discounts of up to 25% over a la carte pricing, effectively creating more of an all-inclusive atmosphere onboard.  As an example, Norwegian Cruise Line offers packages of 3 specialty restaurant dinners for just $47 per person, which is a great savings vs. buying them individually onboard. 
  • Go all-inclusive.  The larger mass-appeal cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Carnival, etc, will charge for beverages, shore excursions, specialty dining, gratuities and more all as add-on fees once on board.  Luxury lines such as Seabourn, Crystal, Silversea, etc, have become much more value-conscious in the past couple of years by offering an all-inclusive experience... one price gets it all included.  Regent Seven Seas goes even further, by bundling in guests' airfare and all shore excursions.  So even though the total price might be slightly higher when comparing the luxury lines to the mass lines, the overall experience and satisfaction is likely to be better thanks to a more rewarding experience with a higher staff-to-guest ratio, and more intimate ships.
  • Sail the off-season.  Many lines offer reduced fares for re-positioning cruises (i.e. moving ships from destination to destination, such as prior to or after the conclusion of the Alaska season, or moving through the Panama Canal from the Atlantic itineraries to Pacific itineraries, etc).  Another off-season time is early December, before the Christmas holidays and peak pricing.  
  • Use the services of an experienced cruise agent.  Choosing a cruise might seem simple - just look at the options and pick one, right?  Not necessarily, as even similar-looking itineraries can yield vastly different experiences. Cruise agents are experienced travelers and experts in their profession, helping to navigate the sometimes choppy waters of the vast array of options, lines, stateroom categories and so much more.  Experienced cruise agents work with each individual client to craft the best possible vacation experience for that client's needs and desires.  No one-size-fits-all website provider will do that!  Plus experienced cruise agents will be able to find the best value for their clients, even though the best value isn't always the lowest price.  Though they do often go hand in hand, remember that "value" and "price" are not one and the same.     What is a "great" value to you, might not be held in the same esteem to your friend or neighbor, even if you each paid the exact same amount of money.  While you might view the price paid as the most important aspect, your friend might view the intrinsic value of the overall experience(s) enjoyed as more important than the monetary value of the price paid.  Value and price are not one and the same, and experienced cruise agents work to match the client to the experience, whereas most websites simply offer cruises as products to be purchased for a set price, regardless of whether or not it is the best value for you, the individual.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Saturday Savers - More VALUE Found in the Travel Advisor Community

Again in researching information to provide for Saturday Savers, I found another great article to demonstrate the VALUE that a good Travel Agent can bring to the table for their clients.  Click the link and check out this article below and let me know what you think.  

Hurricane Sandy's Lessons to Travelers: Use a Travel Agent

Many of us plan out vacations to the nth degree, but ultimately life doesn't always happen the way that you plan. Things happen, especially when mother nature is concerned.  As this article from this past fall demonstrates, sometimes mother nature gets in the way and disrupts even the best laid plans.  Having a Travel Agent in your corner can truly be beneficial when things don't turn out the way that you imagined they would.  In the end, that can truly be translated... VALUE.  But only when you use the Travel Agent from the beginning to help you put together your fantastic plans.  When you trust them to help you plan things, and use their services to book your vacation, Travel Agents will be right there for you when things go a bit awry, and they just might end up saving you time and money and help you get home again instead of sitting in an overcrowded terminal for days as many people had to during the still recent events of Hurricane Sandy.  

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Saturday Savers - The Value of Using A Travel Agent

As I have been researching new savings tips to highlight in order to resurrect in 2013 this irregular feature from 2012, I came across this terrific article that really resounded with the overall concept of the Saturday Savers column.  Savings isn't always translated into "dollars off" (or "cents off").  Sure that is the general connotation, but very often the VALUE that you receive from a special is much more important than the reduction in the price you pay.  Personally, I always look for the total VALUE of a purchase before merely saving a few bucks off of something's price. Check out the article and let me know your thoughts by commenting below.  And quite honestly, Travel Agents, Consultants, Advisors... whatever they go by, do bring VALUE to their clientele. 

Why We Really Don't Want Travel Agents To Die

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Saturday Savers - Bikes

It’s time once again to take a look at inexpensive options in or around Walt Disney World to augment your vacation experience.  Things that you might do on your own or with your traveling companions that are FREE or close to being free. Today we'll take a look at fun and enjoyment to be found throughout the various Resort Hotels at Walt Disney World - while not free, it can be had for a nominal charge.

Rent a bike and explore the trails around one of the many resorts. Every Walt Disney World Resort hotel has some kind of trail, but the trails around Wilderness Lodge and Ft. Wilderness are especially nice. Bikes can be rented for around $10 per hour at most of the Deluxe and DVC resorts, as well as at Fort Wilderness whether you are a guest at the individual resort or not.  It's a great way to pass some time on a non-theme park day.  

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Saturday Savers - Resort Window Shopping

It’s time once again to take a look at inexpensive options in or around Walt Disney World to augment your vacation experience.  Things that you might do on your own or with your traveling companions that are FREE or close to being free. Today we'll take a look at some of the fun and enjoyment to be found throughout the various Resort Hotels at Walt Disney World.

Like the theme parks, Disney’s resort hotels are all highly themed and beautifully maintained.  Some of the resorts’ lobbies and public spaces are truly gorgeous.  Just as the price level differentiates the hotel offerings and amenities, it can separate the level of thematic elements and detail – BUT – that doesn’t mean that only the Deluxe or Moderate hotels are worth exploring! 

The Value Resorts (Disney’s All-Stars Movies, Music & Sports, Disney’s POP Century, and the newest value category resort Disney’s Art of Animation) all have their own unique stylings, and are well worth a visit.  The over-sized icons, graphics and elements that convey the overall theme of each resort are beautiful, and great for photo opportunities.  Some of my favorite design elements can be found at POP Century and All-Star Music! 

As you move up the price chain, the level of landscaping and overall building design increases.  All of the Moderate and Deluxe resorts, especially, have extraordinary theming and are well worth a visit.  In the Moderate realm, Disney’s Port Orleans and Disney’s Coronado Springs resorts, and in the Deluxe realm Disney’s Boardwalk Inn, Disney’s Polynesian and Disney’s Grand Floridian resorts do an exceptional job of utilizing theme appropriate-landscaping to augment and convey and evoke the locale and time period represented.  Personally I feel that two of the Deluxe level resorts go well above and beyond exceptional in creating evocative environments, and fully immerse the guests into the environment being conveyed – Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.  Both of these resorts are absolutely breathtaking. 

The pools the various resorts are delightful:  at Coronado Springs the pool looks like a Mayan ruin; Stormalong Bay at the Yacht & Beach Club includes a huge "shipwreck" containing a water slide, and is one of the largest sand bottomed pools in the United States; at the Wilderness Lodge follow the “spring” in the lobby and watch as it passes under a bridge, then cascades down a waterfall passing under another bridge, appearing to go into the pool and then down into the adjacent Bay Lake!; at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge-Kidani Village, there is an entire pool / water play complex known as Uwanja Camp where fanciful fountains, flowers and other devices spring to life dousing guests; at Disney’s Polynesian guests can slide down through a volcano!   There are so many terrific designs just in the pools alone, that you’ll want to explore each one.  (Note that pools are for use of the registered hotel guests
Each of the resorts offers an array of free or nominal-fee activities.  Check the lobby upon your arrival to see if anything appeals to you.  Some resorts even offer free tours, whether you are a guest of that resort or not, such as Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, Disney’s Grand Floridian and others (usually in the mornings, so get there early if you are interested).

If you are staying on property and don’t have your own transportation, simply use the FREE Disney transportation to get to your chosen destination.  You won’t be able to get to a resort directly, but the journey is part of the fun, right?  Take a bus (or boat, or monorail) from your resort to the nearest theme park, water park, or Downtown Disney, and then transfer to a bus going to the resort you’re looking for.  Or if you do have your own wheels to get around, simply drive to your resort of choice and you can get a FREE 3-hour parking permit from the gate attendant.  Now go out and enjoy looking around! 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Saturday Savers - Campfire Fun at the Fort!

It’s time once again to take a look at inexpensive options in or around Walt Disney World to augment your vacation experience.  Things that you might do on your own or with your traveling companions that are FREE or close to being free. Today we'll take a look at some campfire fun to be found at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground.

The campfire program at Ft. Wilderness is open to all Walt Disney World resort guests.  There you can sing around the campfire and watch a FREE Disney movie, in a rustic, wooded environment, which is quite fitting to the campfire experience!

The campfire is held every evening near the Meadow Trading Post.  It starts at about 7:00 pm in the fall and winter, and at about 8:00 pm in the spring and summer.  It starts with an old fashioned sing-a-long and marshmallow roast.  Guests are welcome to bring their own food or they can purchase supplies from the Chuckwagon, which offers S'mores kits for around $9-10.  These kits have enough supplies to make s’mores for about 4 people, so plan accordingly if you don’t bring your own supplies.  The Chuckwagon also offers other food items such as hot dogs, pizza and soft drinks.

Chip and Dale will come out and meet the guests and sign their autograph albums – and of course let you take a picture. Following the campfire program, a Disney movie is shown on a large outdoor screen., similar to the poolside movies shown at other resorts.  The Fort does offer some seating on bleachers and benches, but many guests prefer to lay out a blanket on the grass.  

There are no reservations for this program – simply show up and enjoy.  The best part of it all is that it is FREE to attend, and only a nominal charge if you want to make s’mores. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Saturday Savers - Transportation Fun

It’s time once again to take a look at inexpensive options in or around Walt Disney World to augment your vacation experience.  Things that you might do on your own or with your traveling companions that are FREE or close to being free. Today we'll take a look at finding adventure and enjoyment in the Disney Transportation network.

As the Walt Disney World Resort is a vast tract of land – nearly 43 square miles of fun – getting around is not quite as easy as simply walking to your favorite destinations.  And since the Resort is a vacation destination for many visitors from around the country, as well as around the world, personal cars often are not involved in a Walt Disney World vacation.  Many visitors to the resort choose to or have to fly just to get there.  So the Resort offers an array of FREE transportation options.  Buses, boats and Monorails are the opportunities provided for getting around within the Resort. All of these options are available to any guest, even if just a day guest visiting a theme park, but looking to move between locations (say for moving between theme park and non-theme park based dinner or dinner show). 

But the transportation network does not simply need to be viewed as transportation.  On many visits that I have made to “the world”, I like to sit back and use the available modes as part of the fun.  Hop on a bus and just go along for the ride.  People-watching can be an interesting way to pass the time.  On solo trips that I have made, when I have no set agenda, I love to play “bus roulette”, and just hop on the first available bus, and go until a destination appeals to me.  It’s true there is a sense of “need” to plan elements of your vacation, but that same vacation just becomes a chore when you are slave to a set, pre-planned to the nth detail schedule. 

Ride a Bus!  Buses make up the largest portion of the Walt Disney World transportation network.  The Disney fleet is vast, with buses transporting guests between every resort and the theme parks, water parks and the Downtown Disney area.  Routes are often combined as very few buses offer a single-purpose route (the Animal Kingdom Lodge to the Magic Kingdom is a single-purpose route), since many buses are shared between resorts and their primary destination (i.e. a bus might leave Old Key West, and make a stop at Blizzard Beach before going on to Animal Kingdom Theme Park; while others might leave the Wilderness Lodge, and make stops at the Polynesian, and Grand Floridian before proceeding along to Downtown Disney and Typhoon Lagoon).  While the buses go just about everywhere, they do NOT go between Downtown Disney and the theme parks.  If a guest wants to go to a theme park from Downtown Disney (or from a theme park to Downtown Disney), they need to get on the bus that will take them to a resort… typically the closest resort to the theme park in question, and transfer to either another bus or another form of transportation that will get them to the theme park.  (i.e. a guest going to the Magic Kingdom could ride a bus to the Wilderness Lodge and them ride a boat to the park; or a guest going to Animal Kingdom Theme Park could ride a bus to the Animal Kingdom Lodge and then transfer to an Animal Kingdom Theme Park bus). 

Ride the Monorail!   What was once thought to be the “transportation system of the future” still is a very cool way to ride in style.  Sure during the early morning hours and the end of day times the Monorail will be very, very full with excited or tired guests – but throughout the day, it is just a fun way to explore.  From the Transportation & Ticket Center you can take the “Epcot” Monorail, and enjoy a few miles of high in the sky fun on the way to Epcot, with an inside the park overview of both Future World and World Showcase.  Or take the "Resort" Monorail which circles the Seven Seas Lagoon making stops at the Polynesian, Grand Floridian and Contemporary resorts.  You can get off and on at each of these resorts and explore if you choose, as well as at the Magic Kingdom, where if you aren’t entering the Magic Kingdom, you could explore the lagoon walk. It’s an easy way to orient yourself and get a look at the resorts and an overview of the Magic Kingdom.

Enjoy a Boat Ride!  There are a number of boating opportunities throughout the Walt Disney World Resort, which can be enjoyable any time of day, but particularly beautiful at night.  They can be a bit romantic as well. 

From the Magic Kingdom area, there are boats that connect the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, Contemporary, Wilderness Lodge and Ft Wilderness resorts with the Magic Kingdom.  Any of these are available to you, and you could easily cruise the Seven Seas Lagoon and adjoining Bay Lake.  The boats operate continuously throughout the day from shortly before the Magic Kingdom opens until shortly after it closes.

From the Epcot area resorts, the Friendship Boats cruise Crescent Lake and the adjoining canals making stops at Epcot, the Boardwalk, Yacht & Beach Club, Swan & Dolphin and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  The loop is continuous throughout the day from shortly before the theme parks open until shortly after the theme parks close.  Get on and off as you please, exploring the resorts along the way. 

From the Downtown Disney area, boats cruise Lake Buena Vista visiting Old Key West, Port Orleans and Saratoga Springs resorts.  Each is a separate line, but all provide beautiful vistas and the opportunity to visit and explore the resorts.  There’s also a West Side to Marketplace boat that operates strictly within Lake Buena Vista taking guests from one end of Downtown Disney to the other.  These boats operate continuously throughout the day, typically from about 10 am until 11pm at night. 

While it’s true the Walt Disney World Resort is vast, and getting between destinations can and does take time, getting around doesn’t have to be considered a chore.  It can be a fun part of the adventure!!  The best part about the above options is that they are all FREE, and if you are a resort guest visiting theme parks - will help you skip the theme park parking charges!  

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Saturday Savers - Downtown Disney

It’s time once again to take a look at inexpensive options in or around Walt Disney World to augment your vacation experience.  Things that you might do on your own or with your traveling companions that are FREE or close to being free. Today we'll take a look at what's going on at Downtown Disney.

Downtown Disney includes three distinct sections:  Marketplace, Pleasure Island and the West Side, and is filled throughout with fanciful shops, restaurants, a marina, 24 screen movie theatre, small pay-to-play attractions for the young or young-at-heart such as the small carousel and train ride, or for the more-adventurous at heart the "Characters in Flight" balloon ride.

If you like to shop (or are more like my lovely bride and prefer to window shop), you'll enjoy this festive,  fun, and attractively designed outdoor mall-like area situated along the shores of Lake Buena Vista, across from Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort.  There a number of FREE entertainment offerings, plus several of the locations give out samples or provide free things to do while there.  If you are staying on property in one of the many Disney-owned hotels and resorts, or even at the other “official” Walt Disney World hotels not owned or operated by Disney (Swan, Dolphin, Shades of Green, or the 7 Downtown Disney Hotels along Hotel Plaza Blvd, you can use Disney transportation to get to Downtown Disney.  If you are staying at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort or one of the 7 Downtown Disney hotels, you can even walk from your hotel.  Disney’s Old Key West, Disney’s Port Orleans and Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resorts all also offer boat transportation to and from Downtown Disney, which is of course, free to use.  If you stay elsewhere, then you’ll probably need to drive or take a taxi, although there is a bus stop for the local Lynx bus service, route #111, which does make a stop at Downtown Disney on it’s way from Orlando International Airport (with outbound service as well). Parking at Downtown Disney is FREE.

Here are some of the FREE and inexpensive things you can do at Downtown Disney:

The Lego Imagination Center has a FREE 3,000-square-foot play area filled with thousands of LEGO blocks, plus some absolutely amazing and huge Lego sculptures for you to admire! Also, it normally participates in the Monthly Mini Model Build (usually first Tuesday of the month, starting at 5:00 pm), where kids ages 6-14 can build and take home a FREE mini model! Click here to see upcoming events at the store.

The stage along the waterfront, near the World of Disney store is often filled with guest performances of the musical variety, as this stage is one of the primary stages used by the Disney Magic Music Days program – part of the Disney Youth Program.  High school performance groups can often be found on this stage singing or playing their hearts out.  Stop in and enjoy some FREE entertainment for a while.

There are a couple of different playful and fun, interactive fountains at Downtown Disney where children (and playful adults) may enjoy playing and getting wet. This is especially nice on those hot summer days.

While most of the restaurants are pricey to very expensive, it is entirely possible to enjoy a meal for about $10 per person (sandwich, side and drink) at Earl of Sandwich in the Marketplace section, near Once Upon a Toy.  You could also enjoy making a meal of a pretzel dog and drink for about the same amount of money at Wetzel’s Pretzels in the West Side section.  

Visit the Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop and they’ll give you a FREE chocolate sample (this is a must-do on our family’s list each visit!).  Or if you prefer an actual ice cream treat, go to the Soda Fountain side and you can get a sundae or shake for about $7 or less (you could spend more – but there’s no need to).    We have also found that Ghiradelli offers a multi-person sundae – the “Family Favorite” (similar to the “Kitchen Sink” at Beaches and Cream over at Disney’s Beach Club) for about $4 less than the Kitchen Sink, with about the same quantity of ice cream.

House of Blues frequently offers free live music at its Front Porch Bar - enjoy for the cost of a drink! (21 and over)

Raglan Road often has free live music in the bar, particularly on weekends - enjoy for the cost of a drink! (21 and over)

Other wandering performers do show up from time to time, though don’t plan on this as there’s no officially published schedule for it.  If you happen to be there when someone or something shows up to entertain – just relax and enjoy it!

Each fall, Downtown Disney hosts the “Festival of the Masters”, which features award-winning artists and entertaining experiences, and it is a highly anticipated annual event for art lovers.  The festival offers FREE fun for the entire family, with hands-on activities, live musical performances, and all of the various beautifully displayed artwork – many of which are one-of-a-kind and limited-edition painting, photography, sculpture, jewelry and more.  This year’s festival takes place November 9-12, 2012.

Going to a movie isn’t all that inexpensive any more, but the AMC 24 Pleasure Island does provide some alternative fun that doesn’t have to break the bank. 

Every person is different, but there's bound to be something of interest for you at Downtown Disney!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Saturday Savers - Nighttime Fun at Disney's Boardwalk Resort

It’s time once again to take a look at inexpensive options in or around Walt Disney World to augment your vacation experience.  Things that you might do on your own or with your traveling companions that are FREE or close to being free. Today we'll take a look at what's going on at Disney's Boardwalk Resort.

Disney's Boardwalk is built around Crescent Lake, just to the west of the International Gateway at Epcot, and a little to the north of Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  Its design is reminiscent of Atlantic boardwalk resorts of the 1930’s & ‘40’s. The resort itself has many fun things to see and do, and really “comes alive” at sunset and on throughout the evening hours with numerous FREE and inexpensive entertainment offerings.  It's a fun place to just walking around and enjoy the atmosphere! While some of the restaurants are open at lunchtime, the best time to visit the BoardWalk is after sunset. It's beautifully lit up, and really “comes alive” after dark.

Some of the FREE and relatively inexpensive things you can do at Disney's BoardWalk include:  
  • Rent an old-fashioned fringe-topped surrey (for up to 6 guests) and ride around Crescent Lake.
  • Watch the various street performers (jugglers, comedians, sword swallowers, fire-eaters, musicians, etc.)
  • Get some delicious, relatively inexpensive treats at the various food vendors, shops & restaurants around the water’s edge.  Seashore Sweets includes both candy and ice cream treats, including hand-dipped cones, and shakes. 
  • Try your luck at carnival-style games – these aren’t free, but can be great fun.
  • Sit and watch the Friendship Boats come and go - or sit and watch the upper parts of Illuminations from Epcot (much of the show is lower level pyrotechnics, but many do go over the tops of the Boardwalk Inn and are quite visible).
  • Visit Jellyroll's (a dueling piano bar featuring sing-a-longs to pop tunes). There is a cover charge of about $10 per person cover charge – and everyone must be 21 or over to enter.
  • Check out Atlantic Dance Hall, which has dancing, usually with no cover charge. Everyone must be 21 or over to enter.

If you drive to the Boardwalk, you can get a FREE 3-hour parking permit from the lot attendant.  If you are staying on Disney property, you can use Disney transportation to get to the BoardWalk – either by bus or by boat.  By bus you will need to get there from one of the theme parks, water parks or Downtown Disney – as there are no resort to resort buses.  So if you are going straight from your resort – hop on any theme park bus and then transfer  over to a Boardwalk bus.  By boat, you can get there from either Disney Hollywood Studios or Epcot’s International Gateway (you could walk from either of these locations in a short amount of time).

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Saturday Savers - The Disney Wilderness Preserve

It’s time once again to take a look at inexpensive options in or around Walt Disney World to augment your vacation experience.  Things that you might do on your own or with your traveling companions that are FREE or close to being free.

Today we look at the Disney Wilderness Preserve.  No, I’m not referring to the recreated African savannahs at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge or Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park – but rather, an actual wilderness preserve (vs. an Imagineered one) at the far southern end of Walt Disney World, at the headwaters of the Everglades ecosystem, or about 20 miles south of Orlando – it’s The Nature Conservancy's Disney Wilderness Preserve, a 12,000 acre wildlife preserve that has been left in its’ natural state, where flora and fauna abound in nearly complete undeveloped beauty along the shores of Lake Russell.  It is home to more than 1,000 species of plants and animals, and here you can observe native plants and animals by hiking a 2 1/2-mile trail.

The Preserve is open 9:00 am - 5:00 pm Monday-Friday and is closed on most major holidays. Admission is FREE, though donations are appreciated. Due to potential flooding or restoration activities, access can be limited, so make sure you call the preserve at (407) 935-0002 before driving out to it.  For more information on the preserve visit

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Saturday Savers - Disney's Photopass

It's time for another tip to cut your costs on your Walt Disney World® Resort or Disneyland® Resort vacation.  Many of you are aware of the photography service that is offered at both resorts, Disney's PhotoPass® - I mean, those photographers are just about everywhere you turn around.  It's a great way to be able to get everyone in the same shot, and to capture many of the wonderful iconic attractions and locales in the parks, at some of the best photo spots available. 

But ordering the photos individually are not going to save you money - the individual images and the packages that they offer are expensive, starting around $14.95 each and only going one way from there - up.  There is however, a good way to save some money on the PhotoPass photos, particularly if you are prone to taking a lot of pictures on your vacation. How you say?  The way to save money is to purchase the PhotoPass CD that they offer.  There is no limit to the number of photos you can include on the CD, so go ahead, grab a PhotoPass card and start having them shoot away!  One price pays for the whole deal, whether you upload a hundred images or thousands; and the best part is that with the CD you'll receive a copyright release, so that you can print whatever you want from the CD at your local photo counter (we take ours to Costco - and one time we had over 2,000 images on our CDs - yes, that was plural... as many CDs as are needed will be included to make sure all of the photos on your order are there), and you'll pay a lot less for whatever images you print up.  At Costco we pay something like $0.14 per 4x6 image, and something around $0.49 for larger ones. It might be more, or less, but you get the point... it sure beats $14.95!  

The Photo CD is currently $149.95, but did you know that you could potentially save $50 off the purchase of that CD?  You didn't?!?  Well here's your Saturday Saver tip for the day... simply visit this link, and be sure to purchase your Photo CD before you go on vacation, and voila, you can get the same PhotoCD for just $99.95.  Now you can better enjoy taking all those pictures, knowing that you'll be saving money on your PhotoCD, and saving money on printing out the images you truly like the best.  

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Saturday Savers - Same Item, Lower Price!

Dining options at Walt Disney World  Resort can be a bit expensive, as we’ve discussed previously.  Today we’ll look at ways to get the same item at a lower price!   When coupled with other suggestions highlighted in previous Saturday Savers posts, you could save some serious cash on your next Walt Disney World vacation.

Throughout the theme parks, and even the resorts, there are several expensive table-service restaurants with very popular items that can be found nearby in less expensive counter-service locations.   The same items are offered at a lower price, just without any garnishes or sides, and often served on a paper plate or carrying box.
Let’s take a look at a few of these situations in the theme parks.  Please know that prices can change at any time without prior notice:

  • Inside Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, you have Yak & Yeti, serving many delicious, and pricey, Pan-Asian dishes, including Sweet & Sour Chicken just to name one example for around $16 (not including tax & gratuity) as an entree.  This same item is available right next door at the Yak & Yeti Local Foods Café, as a combo meal for about $10 plus tax.
  • Inside Disney’s Hollywood Studios, The Brown Derby serves its’ Flourless Chocolate Cake, with sorbet on the side, for around $8 (not including tax & gratuity).  Just down the sidewalk at Starring Rolls bakery you can find a slice of the exact same cake, without the sorbet on the side, for around $3 plus tax.
  • Inside Epcot you’re welcome to pay around $11 (not including tax & gratuity) at Chefs de France for a plate of Quiche Lorraine with salad, that you could easily pay around $5 for without the salad at the Boulangerie Pattiserie further up in the pavilion.  You could also treat yourself to a Crème Brulee at the Boulangerie Pattiserie for around $4 plus tax, which would cost you around $7 (not including tax & gratuity) at the Chefs de France.
  • Not up to French food?  You’d rather try some fish & chips instead?  Ok, you can get those in Epcot as well.  Why not try an entrée of them, including a side of peas at the Rose & Crown for around $16 (not including tax and gratuity).  But for the more frugal minded, or those who simply don’t care for the side of peas, take a few steps to the right of the Rose & Crown and you’ll find the Yorkshire County Fish Shop offering the same fish & chips, less the peas and in a smaller portion, for just about $8 plus tax.
  • Inside the Magic Kingdom, a bowl of New England Clam Chowder at the Liberty Tree Tavern is around $7 (not including tax & gratuity) at lunchtime; or simply head over to the Columbia Harbor House on the other side of Liberty Square and buy the same chowder for around $4.50 a bowl.

For further examination, here are a couple of examples from the resorts as well.  Again remember that prices can change at any time without prior notice.
  • At Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, BOMA is a very popular buffet restaurant, with a number of highly sought after entrees and desserts - specifically the Zebra Domes.  The dinner buffet is around $28 per adult (not including tax&  gratuity).  Did you know that you could skip the buffet and just get the Zebra Domes a la carte at the resort’s quick service restaurant, The Mara, just outside and down the walkpath, for around $3 plus tax?
  • Or at Disney’s Polynesian Resort, the extremely popular Tonga Toast served at the Kona Café, is served with a side of breakfast meat for around $9 (plus tax & gratuity);  but just around the bend on the lower level of the Polynesian is Captain Cook's Snack Company, which also serves the famous toast, a la carte, for around $4.50 plus tax. 

These examples really are just the tip of the iceberg.  With a bit of planning and preparation, you truly could save a good amount of money on your next Walt Disney World vacation by simply making a few dining substitutions here and there.  

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Saturday Savers - Only Buying the Size or Item You Need

We all know that going to Disneyland or Walt Disney World is not going to be an inexpensive venture, but it doesn't have to completely break the bank and cost an arm and a leg either.  My wife grew up with a very frugal father, who instilled in her the value of a dollar. To this day she is always looking for a bargain everywhere we go.  She doesn’t like to pay for things that she doesn’t really want or need, and isn’t afraid to say so when she feels a price is too much for what she’s getting, especially if a price is jacked up because of some “value-add” that really is of no value to us.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but many times we’ve enjoyed reduced pricing simply because she’s spoken up, without diminishing the overall perceived value of our trip.

Using that mindset, we have successfully applied some of those tactics to our Disney vacations.  Many counter-service locations at both resorts on both coasts offer menus full of those “value” meals so common throughout the restaurant world these days – an entrée item with fries, fruit, a vegetable or other side dish.  And most of those same menu boards show nothing else.  But did you know that you can order anything you want a la carte!  Don’t be afraid to say that you only want the sandwich or entrée item, because many times the sandwich or entrée alone will be $2-$3 less than the complete meal.  This does only apply to regular, adult menu items – not the kids’ menu – so don’t think to save money you simply need to order off of the kids’ menu.  Sometimes you could combine one complete meal with one a la carte item and then split the whole thing with someone else and still have enough food for you both to enjoy, and come out ahead vs buying kids’ meals. 

One way to save on the kid’s meal is if it comes with one of those fancy souvenir boxes.  If you don’t want the box, say so!  Oftentimes the same meal without the box is $1-$1.50 less.  Again – don’t pay for what you don’t want. Take that same savings and put it towards a treat later in the day such as an ice cream cone or Mickey Premium Bar.  

Another way to save on those ice cream treats is forego the individually packaged treats (i.e. the Mickey Premium Bar) and go to the walk-up/in ice cream counters where you order a double scoop in a dish, but be sure to ask for a cone on top (they'll gladly give it to you). Grab your spoon(s) and share!  Simply use the cone for one scoop for one of you, and the other enjoys the second scoop in the dish!  The scoops are always generous, and in sharing a single order, you've just saved yourself between about $4-$5. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Saturday Savers - Club Cool

It's been a while since the last time I posted a Saturday Savers, which is about ways to enjoy yourselves or your dining experiences at Walt Disney World a little bit on the cheap side, or sometimes even for free.  Today we'll take a peek at Club Cool, which if you find yourself thirsty in the Future World section of Epcot, is a great way to enjoy a soft drink for FREE

Club Cool, which is sponsored by Coca-Cola, provides unlimited FREE samples of soft drinks from other countries around the world. It's nice and cool inside too. The options to sample include:
  • Smart Watermelon - China
  • Fanta Kolita - Costa Rica
  • Mezzo Mix - Germany
  • Kinley Lemon - Israel
  • Beverly - Italy
  • Vegeta Beta - Japan
  • Lift Apple  - Mexico
  • Krest Ginger Ale  - Mozambique

Of these options, I really like the Watermelon from China.  It is my favorite.  But as my fellow DISDads are fully aware, the Beverly is, shall we say... um... interesting.  It is definitely worth a try once - but after that -whether you try it again is up to you!  Just know, the cups at Club Cool are small.  Don't expect to get a normally sized soft drink - but if you drink enough of them, you'll enjoy a normal serving or more.  

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Saturday Savers - Saving on Meals

Dining in the Disney Parks can be an expensive proposition, especially if you are a larger family, but it doesn't HAVE to break the bank! One way to save money is to simply avoid table service restaurants altogether. Sure you might not have as large a variety or selection by only eating at counter service locations, but it doesn't mean you'll be stuck with a selection of only hot dogs or hamburgers either. One of my favorite counter service locations at Walt Disney World is inside Disney's Animal Kingdom Park - the Yak & Yeti Counter Service just to the right of the entrace of Yak & Yeti itself. The menu is nowhere near as extensive (or expensive) as the table service restaurant just next door - but the menu items at the counter service location are all based on their table service counterparts. One of my favorite counter service locations at Disneyland is inside Disney California Adventure Park - the Paradise Garden Grill near Goofy's Sky School & Silly Symphony Swings. It serves up meditteranean style skewers, and the portion is terrific - you can get quite full from a meal there.   If you check the maps, you'll see that there actually is a wide array of choices in the counter service category at both resorts. A typical counter service meal will run between $10-15 per person whereas the typical table service meal will start at around $20 per person and only go up from there. 

Something to consider too, about many of the entrees and combo meals served at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland restaurants, is that they typically include a large portion - often too large. If you aren't big eaters, you could easily share the meal between two people.  My wife and daughter have done this numerous times, and other times my wife and I, or my son and I have too.  If perhaps you think that that might not satisfy both people, order an appetizer or a side dish to share between you. You can do this at both counter service and table service locations.  If you do so at table service locations, sometimes the server will bring it out to you already split on individual plates.  If you do avoid all table service locations, but don't want to split a meal, or you're traveling alone and don't want all that food - simply order from the Kids' Menu at counter service locations.  The cost will be considerably less, and the portion will still satisfy. 

The point of your vacation is to have fun, relax and enjoy yourself. If you are fretting about the cost the entire time, you won't be able to enjoy yourself. There are many ways to enjoy the magic of it all, without spending it all on food!