By Mary Kuffa
This article was originally published on August 7, 2018.
Anyone that knows me will tell you that I have a true love for Disney. It’s not like a little girl obsession either with fairies and princesses. It’s a true passion, love, and appreciation for everything Disney! From the business side of it to the Imagineers that create such masterpieces, to the fact that every time I go, it’s different, but always exactly the same.
Growing up, Disney World was a very happy and exciting place for me and my family. We were frequent travelers, and I always knew that when I had a family, the Disney fun would never stop! My divorce kind of put a wrench in things because I never thought in a million years I would be able to afford to take my son on my own. But, fortunately, when there’s a will, there’s a way and we’ve made some great Disney memories so far!
I realistically try to plan a trip every other year. I know people that go once a week (those lucky annual pass holders!!) and some that have only been once in a lifetime, and the conclusion is always the same: It’s truly magical!
I’ve only met a handful of people that don’t like Disney World, and to me, you go in the same category as people who don’t like dogs. Are you even human?
Everyone that goes to Disney does it differently. There truly is no “right” way to do it. I’d say that the mood and vibe of your trip will revolve around what kind of company you keep. Who are you traveling with? Young kids? Teenagers? Adults? In my case, it is always young kids. My parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews always try to make the trip together!
My son just turned four, and we had planned his 3rd trip to Disney this August. He went when he was only 3 months old, and then again when he was 3. We had some family medical emergencies, so the trip is actually postponed until next year, but that just gives me an extra twelve months to save!
There is nothing cheap about Disney and I refuse to put myself in debt trying to pay for the trip. Being a single income household and single mom, I cut a lot of corners in my daily life so I have some wiggle room for a Disney trip.
The last trip I took, I didn’t swipe my debit card once or pull any cash out of pocket for ten days. Let me share some of my favorite Disney saving tips!
• Kids under the age of 3 are FREE! People couldn’t understand how I could swing taking my 3-month-old to Disney World when I wasn’t working full time yet due to my maternity leave. Well, his flight and ticket into the parks were free. It was a no-brainer. I just had to pay for myself.
• Disney gift cards! If I had an extra $25 burning a hole in my pocket, I’m buying a Disney gift card and stashing it away. If someone asks what to get me or my son for a holiday or birthday, I ask for a Disney gift card. The gift cards can be used ANYWHERE on Disney property for ANYTHING. You can pay for your room reservation with them. You can tip your servers with them. You can buy some sugary treats. Hop on the bandwagon and get yourself some nice ears! I found the only thing I couldn’t buy with it was a balloon on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. But irregardless, get the gift cards! I had just over $600 in gift cards on my last trip, and I couldn’t even spend it all! I didn’t dip into my pocket once the entire trip. After I got home, I realized I had $125 left, and I went to ShopDisney.com and loaded up on Christmas presents for my son!
• Disney Chase credit card – If you’re not afraid of credit cards, get in on this deal if you see it floating around. If you open a Disney Chase credit card and spend more than $500 on it on it in the first three months, then you get a $200 Disney gift card! I actually paid for my reservation on the credit card, and then paid the card off immediately and got myself a $200 gift card for it! This promotion isn’t always available, but they usually are running some sort of deal!
• Cash in your meals – If you go on the dining plan and don’t use all your meals, you can cash them in at the store for treats like suckers, Pez-dispensers, cookies, cotton candy! Just ask a friendly cast member how many meals you have left, and ask what you can buy with them! This really worked out in our favor because we got the free dining as a promotion on our last trip. We ended up not using a lot of our meals, and had nearly 100 treats to take home as souvenirs for nieces, nephews, and friends for free!
• Budget souvenirs – The best thing my mom ever did was give me, my sister and brother an envelope for our trips when we were kids. In the envelope was money from our personal savings account (this was before gift cards were even a thing). We never asked for a treat or a souvenir unless we planned on paying for it ourselves. Sometimes I went to Disney with $200 and sometimes I only had $50. I found that “less is more” and one special present from the trip means so much more than ten. It also takes the heat off of you as the parent so you don’t overspend or always have to say “no!”
• Buy food off-site – The resort we stay at has a full kitchen and BBQ pit, so we don’t typically get the meal plan (unless they are giving the meal plans away during a promotional period). With that being said, we cook all of our meals in. We pack lunches. We pack tons of snacks. We will obviously splurge every now and again on a meal on Disney property. We also always have a vehicle with us, so we can grocery shop. However, if you don’t have these luxuries, order your food from Amazon or Shipt and have it shipped to your resort. The friendly cast members at the desk will have it all delivered to your room for you.
• If you’re ever lost, confused or overwhelmed in your planning process, consult with a Magical Vacation Planner! I used Karyn Alley, Magical Vacation Planner, and she was FANTASTIC! They are free to you, and they work directly with Disney. They are a travel agent specifically for Disney World. I used Karyn last year and loved the service. She was available to answer all my questions (yes, I had questions even after being to Disney 20+ times! Things are always changing and she’s up to date on all of the changes). She also rescheduled my trip that had to be postponed because of a hurricane (she spent HOURS on the phone), set up my transportation to and from the airport and made sure I wasn’t missing out on any promotions!
Disney is such a unique adventure. There will be tears! (You will cry happy ones. Your kids will cry tired ones). There will be whining and hunger pains and sore feet and sunburns. It will rain, lines will be long, and you’re going to be completely exhausted. But there is just something magical that wraps you up and makes you think, “Gosh, I can’t wait to do this again!”
Mary Kuffa was born and raised in St. Clair where she now raises her wonderful son. She attended college St. Clair County Community College in 2004 and played on the Skipper’s softball team while she earned her Associates Degree in Marketing. She then transferred over to Oakland University and obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in Integrative Studies with a minor in Communications in 2009. For the last 10 years, she has worked for a local Farm Bureau Insurance agent in her community, and has obtained her insurance license in both Property & Casualty and Life & Health. In her free time she enjoys spending as much time as possible with her son, camping, Disney World vacations, crafting, event planning, cooking, and spending time with her parents, siblings and 7 nieces and nephews who all live in St. Clair as well.