Where will the road take YOU?

Destination Diaries

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Disney... On A Dime

 wdwmickey

By Angela Ash

A Walt Disney World vacation may seem like a dream to some families, especially with tales of luxurious resorts and fine dining restaurants abound. When adding up the cost for such a vacation, the numbers seem to grow right before your very eyes... often reaching a final cost that sends you right back to the vacation drawing board.

However, while some may insist on staying at the Polynesian Resort, many just want to get a foot in the door, and ecstatically land on Disney soil. Expensive meal reservations are out the window, and mini vans load up with "Disney Or Bust" signs on the back windows.

Yes... a trek to Walt Disney World can still be the great American vacation, even without taking out a second mortgage. You just have to think with your head, and not your Mickey ears!

With gas prices in a "happier" range these days, many East Coast families are opting to drive to Florida, with the simple motto that "getting there is half the fun". And isn't this true? There's no batter way to build family untity than to pack everyone into one vehicle and try to find a Pandora station that they can all agree upon. Not only will this be an unforgettable experience, but you can save LOADS of cash! A family of four can cut their travel expenses in more than half by simply submitting to the fact that it's all about the journey. Plus, you can literally watch your budget shrink by making some sandwiches for the road trip, and bringing refillable water bottles for rest stops. Fruit is a great snack, and it is cheaper AND more healthy than that $30, soggy bag that is handed to you through a drive-thru window. See... you're watching the money go back into your kids' college funds already!

As you travel on... as if on a spiritual pilgrimage to all things Mouse, you may already be dreaming about finally laying your head on a pillow. While most visitors think that you must spend a fortune on accommodations, they are wrong yet again. While it is absolutely divine to stay at a premium resort right in the middle of the magic, like the Animal Kingdom Lodge or the Contemporary Resort, you DO have other options. In fact, Disney has an entire line of Value Resort hotels that will be much more pleasing to the wallet.

However, if you wish upon a star to make that dollar stretch even a bit more, Disney works with a variety of properties called Good Neighbor Hotels. They offer comfortable, affordable accommodations close to the theme parks, and with perks like shuttles to the park and ticket counters.  These properties are not elligible for Extra Magic Hours and may not be combined with park admission, but the savings will definitely evoke a bit of magic on all its own!

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I must admit that Destination Diaries has a favorite "go to" Disney area hotel. Let's just try to count the reasons why!

The Palms Hotel & Villas has absolutely EVERYTHING that you need to make your home base convenient, relaxing, and economical... all on one property. And don't worry... it is mere minutes from the magic!

This condo-style hotel offers one and two bedroom suites, with plenty of room for the entire family... and all without emptying your purse!  With separate living and sleeping areas, everyone can get a god night's sleep, or even hang out with the family recounting the day's activities.

But where these suites truly excel is with the full kitchen. We all know that dining at Disney can get a bit expensive, even when choosing the counter-style options. On the night's when the family opts for Animal Kingdom, which typically closes earlier than the other parks, why not enjoy a meal cooked in your very own kitchen? Not only will it save a few dollars, but it's wonderful to get away from the crowds at the end of the day to relax over a bowl of pasta.

Or perhaps you might opt for a hamburger (wait for it) grilled at the outdoor picnic area. Yes... this place is THAT amazing!

And after a long day, a relaxing swim or a nice soak in the outdoor pool and hot tub are definitely in order.  Beautifully landscaped in a tranquil setting, your island oasis awaits! 

To start off the day, the conveniences keep piling in! Feast away at the complimentary breakfast buffet in the lobby, serving fresh juices and fruit, scrambled eggs, a tasty breakfast meat, muffins, bagels, toast, cereal, and even favorites like pancakes or biscuits and gravy.  The menu even changes daily, so you won't be eating the same buffet each day, but have a new delectable surprise to awaken to each morning! If you are about to depart to a theme park, this breakfast is a life saver, freeing up time AND precious vacation dollars spent at an on-site restaurant. Really... this amenity alone could save a family of four up to $250 during a week's stay. How cool is THAT?

Now, one concern when staying off property is... how exactly will I get to the theme parks?  It would be a shame to see the dollars saved spent away on cab or shuttle service.  However, at the Palms Hotel & Villas, FREE scheduled shuttle service runs to and from Walt Disney World. And for those of you having a "cheat day" from all things Disney, the shuttle even runs to Universal Studios and Sea World. (Don't worry. They won't even tell Mickey Mouse!)

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Just to show show off a little bit, the Palms Hotel & Villas also offers complimentary Wi-Fi, a fitness center, a game room, a basketball court, laundry facilities, and free parking.

Items of note that deserve their own special round of applause are the computers and printers available in the hotel lobby. You can make your itieneray for the next day, and print it out, or even set up your FastPasses and print off copies for the entire family so that you all stay one the same page. (You see what I did there, right?) And save valuable time at the airport by printing off your boarding passes. It's THAT simple!

And just to make sure that you keep to that budget, the front desk staff is fantastic at pointing out the closest McDonalds or the best discount store for all of your Disney "take home" gifts.

Convenient to absolutely EVERYTHING, the Palms Hotel & Villas is your obvious choice for your next Orlando getaway! 

For additional information, visit the Palms Hotel & Villas online, or call (407) 396-2229.

Now, there is really no way to get around what some may consider high prices for park admission. Is it expensive to just walk into the Magic Kingdom? Sure. But is it worth it? Mere words can not describe the absolute joy of experiencing a visit to Walt DIsney World.

The good news is that active members of the military and Florida residents get a fantastic price break. For those who do not fall into one of those catergories, there are still ways to experience it all for less. Undercover Tourist offers discounted tickets to WDW, even sometimes adding in an extra day. While you should always be wary of purchasing tickets online, these are legitimate, and they will save you money. Some local Walmarts near the theme parks also sell tickets at a few bucks off the gate price. Trust me, every little bit helps. 

Once inside of the parks, it is possible to have memorable meals without spending a fortune or precious vacation minutes waiting for table service. All of the different parks have tons of delicious, counter service restaurants that are quite significantly cheaper than the table service locales.

When in the Magic Kingdom, try the Columbia Harbour House in Liberty Square. Reminsicent of a quaint seafood shop in an old village, they serve up fish and chicken at very reasonable prices. If you'd like a little show with your meal, visit Cosmic Ray's, where the friendly alien plays the keyboard and entertains the diners, feasting on hamburgers, salads, chicken tenders and more.

While in Epcot, head to the World Showcase and try the English-style fish and chips at the Yorkshire County Fish Shop. Walk down to the lower level and enjoy your meal with a nice view of the lake, as well. If you  are in Future world, the Electric Umbrella serves burgers, flatbreads and more.

In Hollywood Studios, the place to be is the Toy Story Pizza Planet, serving up pizza, subs and salads. Downstairs there is a fun arcade, but if you'd like a little more of a quiet atmosphere, choose to dine upstairs.

Once in Animal Kingdom, head to the counter service of Yak & Yeti. Expect Asian fare with a twist, offering familiar dishes like Beef Lo Mein and Egg Rolls.

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Now, when you find yourself in Disney Springs, you will want to splurge a bit at Planet Hollywood, which will soon undergo a transformation into the PH Observatory. Stay tuned for more exciting details, but expect the same level of delectable dining, with a brand new theme!

Disney World also offers plenty of free "extras" that you may be eligible for. For example, if you have a Diney Rewards Visa card, then you should check your program perks for offers like a free family photo or special viewing areas for "Illuminations" at Epcot. Also be sure to get your free "First Visit", "Happy Birthday" or "Happy Anniversary" pins.

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Kendyl Rae with Minnie Mouse and Pluto at the Disney Visa photo station

When you visit the Walt Disney World Resort, even families on a budget can have a truly magical experience. Just knowing a few tricks can really make a Disney vacation fun and affordable, throwing it back up on the vacation board a lot more often than one might think. When your Disney vacation planning starts breaking out of the budget, just tighten the reigns a bit and realize that it IS possible to have a fantastic getaway without spending more than anticipated. Walt DIsney was definitely right. It IS fun to do the impossible!

For more information on the Walt Disney World Resort, please visit them online or call (407) 939-2273.