Do’s and Don’ts: Booking Disney Travel

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It’s time for another installment of do’s and don’ts, where we take a look at the things that the savvy people are doing right — and that otherwise well-intentioned people are unwittingly doing wrong — with respect to booking Disney travel. Today, we’re taking a look at the process of booking a Disney trip.


DO: Check for Hidden Fees and Terms

When budgeting for a trip, it’s common to budget for the total price for the hotel as you’re booking it, and more or less go about your business. It is increasingly the case, however, that there are additional fees and costs that are an unavoidable part of your trip that need to be accounted for if you want your budget to be accurate. They are incurred at the resort, and are not typically part of the price quoted when booking.

If you’re staying at a Disney hotel, the main thing to be alert for is the parking fee if you have a car. All Disney hotels now charge a fee on a per-night basis: self-parking at Value Resorts is $13, Moderate Resorts are $19, and Deluxe Resorts cost $24. Additionally, valet parking is available at certain Deluxe and Deluxe Villa properties for $33/night.

Many off-site resorts, and certain on-site resorts like the Walt Disney Swan and Dolphin resorts, also charge a resort fee on a per-night basis when staying there. For example, the Swan and Dolphin fee is $28/night, plus tax. These fees are at least nominally intended to cover your use of things like internet access, fitness centers, local phone calls, that newspaper they leave at your door, and other minor amenities that you’re accustomed to getting for free, regardless of whether you actually use those things or not. They are, ahem, not beloved, but they are a thing, and you need to be aware of them when mapping out what you are going to pay for lodging. A discussion of which off-site hotels have them and the amounts is beyond the scope of this article, but make sure you check before you book if cost is one of your primary driving factors, because they are very common and not de minimis, particularly at the larger resorts close to Disney World.

DON’T: Assume Package Deals Save You the Most Money

I remember once, I was at the pet store, and they were running a sale on rawhides: it was 1 for 99 cents, or 2 for $1.99. I remember talking to the clerk and saying, “Am I reading this wrong, or wouldn’t it save me a penny to buy these two rawhides separately?”

Now, we both kinda laughed and he said, “I hadn’t noticed that, but we obviously need to change that, thanks.” This same sort of thing happens when booking Disney trips more than you would expect. The natural thinking is to assume that if Disney offers something as a package, you’re going to get some sort of bundle discount or something, right?

Well, that’s not actually correct. Especially when there are multiple promotions running, it can absolutely be the case that booking your hotel and tickets a la carte will actually be cheaper than booking the exact same hotel and tickets through a package — and the difference can be way more than a penny. You absolutely need to check both ways to see which will be cheaper. This is especially true if it’s a special package that includes things that you might not care about, like water park tickets.

On a related note — and I’m a bit loathe to point this out, because any time I do, I get an avalanche of people telling me how wrong I am, but anyway — as a matter of objective fact, this same analysis applies to Disney’s Free Dining promotion. As we’ve covered before, taking advantage of Free Dining means that you’re paying full price for your hotel room at a time when Disney almost invariably has other promotions running that could have you spending far less for your hotel. Whether saving money on your food or saving money on your hotel works out better for you is entirely dependent upon how you eat, where you like to stay, and what sort of discounts are being offered at the time. If saving money is your concern, make sure you run some numbers comparing your options to figure out which promotion will work best for the way that you vacation.

DO: Make Sure You Check Priceline Express Deals

This is a topic we’ve covered a fair amount on the blog lately, starting with my post explaining how to use Hotel Canary to identify Priceline Express deals that offer deep discounts for Disney (and other area) hotels, and then John’s continuing series on how to really maximize your value with it. I’ve personally used this trick, and it allowed me to stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge for a fraction of the ordinary rate — $152 plus tax.

It does require a little bit of faith — Hotel Canary has a pretty good track record, but it is ultimately a prediction. It also requires some flexibility, in that the prediction will sometimes be that it will be one of two or more hotels, though typically in the same tier. For example, on a recent search, it told me that a deal would likely be either Animal Kingdom Lodge or Boardwalk, so you might need to be OK with it being one of a couple different options. For such a deep discount, however, you may well find it worth that little bit of uncertainty.

Once you’ve booked, assuming you do in fact end up a Disney hotel, just add your booking confirmation number to your My Disney Experience account just like any other reservation, and you’ll get MagicBands, Extra Magic Hours, and all of the other benefits that come from staying on property. The only difference is that you’ll be paying much, much less than most others staying there at the time. Moreover, even though by default you’ll go in a standard room, you can even ask about upgrading your room at check-in — I was able to land a Savannah View room at Animal Kingdom Lodge on a recent trip for several hundred dollars less per night than it would have been if I booked direct.

One final thought on this: while your mileage may vary depending upon your risk tolerance, I find the process of booking without knowing exactly where you’ll be staying to be, well, a lot of fun. There’s something really exhilarating about the moment you click the final button before you’re locked in, and that millisecond where you’re waiting for the page to load that tells you where you booked. NO WHAMMIES, NO WHAMMIES — annnnnnnd BEACH CLUB!!!

One quick caveat: the default deal assumes a room for two. If you have more than two people in your room, you may be asked to pay more for the additional people (though your total will still likely be far cheaper that a traditional booking). The best course is to contact the hotel directly after you book to make sure they are aware that you have more than two people. This will avoid surprises at check-in, and makes it more likely you’ll get a room with two beds rather than having to drag a cot in or something.

DON’T: Stop Paying Attention After You Book

Little-known fact: if you do book direct through Disney, you are free to re-book your trip as needed up until the cancellation date, and doing so can often save you a significant amount of money, or add benefits to your trip it wouldn’t have otherwise had. Too many travelers book their trips, wash their hands of the process, and then completely forget about their accommodations until it’s time to check in. Even those that continue to pay attention to Disney travel deals often forget to take advantage of this tip.

It works like this: suppose you know you’re going to be traveling to Disney 8 months from now, so you go ahead and book a vacation package for that time. A couple of months later, Disney announces a promotion for that same time that you’ll be there, and it would have saved you a bunch of money if you’d booked using that promotion instead. You don’t have to miss out on the savings, however: just call Disney (or your travel agent, if you booked that way) and have them re-book you using the new promotion.

What tips do you have for booking Disney travel? Are there mistakes you’ve made in the past, or do you know tricks to help people get the best deal? Let us know in the comments!

James Rosemergy

When not planning for or traveling to Walt Disney World with his beautiful wife and impossibly adorable daughter, James practices law in St. Louis. He also really likes cheese -- and loathes kale. He can be found on twitter at @jrtoastyman.

2 thoughts on “Do’s and Don’ts: Booking Disney Travel

  • December 18, 2018 at 3:36 pm

    I haven’t seen anything on this since the parking fees started, do visitors with a valid handicapped parking permit still get free valet parking? Just for visits or overnight? If overnight I assume you’d still have to pay the fee at value/moderates due to no valet?

    • December 18, 2018 at 5:00 pm

      We’ve been to Disney twice since the parking fees started. We have a handicap tag. We did not have to pay the parking fee at either the Contemporary or PO French Quarter.

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