Money MattersWalt Disney World (FL)

Affordable Alternatives

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If you’re anything like me, you like to save money where you can. Anytime I travel to Disney World, I’m always thinking about how I can cut costs while still satisfying my wants and needs. Sure, I want to stay at the Polynesian Resort every trip, but can I? No. That being said, it’s a challenge for me personally to accept that I’m not made of money. I’m only 24 and I don’t have a high paying job to afford everything I really desire to do on each trip. Plus, I like to go to Disney World often versus doing one big trip every three years.

There are plenty of opportunities to pinch pennies on a Disney trip. Let’s take a look at some satisfying substitutes that might work for you.

Polynesian Resort lovers are fierce and they know that they’re going to pay top dollar to be transported to the South Pacific. Instead of paying $400 a night, try a cost-cutting alternative. If you want to experience the Polynesian vibe, book a dinner at the popular restaurant, ‘Ohana. Time your reservation right and you go down to the beach and watch Wishes. You’ll be able to spend a solid amount of time at the Polynesian and really soak up what it’s all about. If that idea doesn’t interest you, give Caribbean Beach Resort a shot. The tropical environment is abundant there as well. While the on-site dining isn’t as wonderful and the rooms aren’t as luxurious as at the Polynesian, Caribbean Beach Resort maintains lush grounds and one of the most impressive pools on property.

Another resort that is so insanely costly and also very desired is Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort. The resort is a breathtaking display of Victorian architecture. The elegance simply cannot be matched. However, not everyone can swing the cost to stay there. A comparable option would be Port Orleans Riverside Resort. The classic “mansion” section, Magnolia Bend, has a traditional and elegant feel that is similar to the Grand Floridian. At about half the cost of the Grand Floridian, it’s worth considering Port Orleans Riverside if you’re looking for regal accomodations.

While signature dining on Disney property is desired by many travelers, it’s not always in the budget. A reservation at the Chef’s Table at Victoria and Albert’s is highly reviewed because of the multiple courses and truly personal dining experience. While this meal starts at $200 per guest, there are many other fine dining restaurants on Disney property that would cost you less than half of that price. I personally will recommend heading over to Animal Kingdom Lodge and dining at Jiko. For an engaging experience, ask to be seated at “The Cooking Place” where you can watch chefs prepare the restaurant’s signature flatbreads. The wine list is also absolutely incredible. The higher priced entrees run about $40, which is definitely more budget-friendly than Victoria and Albert’s. A similar “Chef’s Counter” can be found at the Boardwalk Inn’s signature restaurant, Flying Fish Cafe, where dining at the counter means watching the action in the open kitchen. At both of these restaurants, it’s not uncommon to be served samples of appetizers or desserts just for sitting at the counter. Check out my review on Jiko that I wrote from earlier this year on my personal experience with chef’s counter dining.

Another popular dining experience is Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue. The rowdy, energetic dinner show is a hit with most Disney guests but it certainly does come at a price to get great entertainment while you dine. Currently, the price for one adult is about $68.  However, you can enjoy Oktoberfest-style entertainment and a decent meal at Biergarten Restaurant in Epcot for under $40. The atmosphere at Biergarten is one of the best in all of Walt Disney World, in my opinion. The show at Biergarten is also guest interactive, much like Hoop Dee Doo, but without all the embarrassing costumes.

Many years ago when I was a young child, I remember seeing the building for DisneyQuest in pictures and thinking, “I have to go there!” Well, I eventually went. It wasn’t at all what I expected. Honestly, with the crowded atmosphere and kids running around like unsupervised loons, I was glad that I didn’t pay the $43 out of my own pocket. However, if you think your family is interested in this type of activity but can’t swing the cost, be sure to check out the arcade in your resort if you are staying on Disney property. While it may not be as innovative as DisneyQuest, you can still have just as much fun. Try giving $10 to every family member and see who comes out with the most points or maybe, start an air hockey tournament.

I’m very curious what YOUR substitutes might be. Have any of you regretted not paying for the more expensive option? Let us know in the comment section!

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Stacey Lantz

Born and raised in Southwest Michigan, Stacey believes she lives far too many miles away from Walt Disney World. In her spare time she enjoys singing/dancing, spending time with her nieces, and of course, talking about Walt Disney World to anyone that is willing to listen. She's been blogging about all things Disney since 2008. Follow her on Twitter @Stacey87.

11 thoughts on “Affordable Alternatives

  • A big money and time saver is to do some counter service or food court dining instead of sit down. I used to always book an ADR, but now that I have dined pretty much everywhere, I can be honest with myself and realize that counter service can be almost as good. The time savings is enormous. Also, my kids prefer counter service due to it’s quickness and convenience

  • Great tips, though I have to admit that these kinds of articles always make me a little sad. In our upcoming September trip, we are going to Jiko and California Grill, but not V&A this time because we just can’t afford it every time. However, I don’t see Jiko as a substitute for V&A; Jiko is great in it’s own right. I know you weren’t saying otherwise, but I guess, just psychologically, it’s hard to make choice B BECAUSE I can’t afford choice A. I love POR and go there every time because it’s awesome, not becuase it’s almost as good as The Grand Floridian. Just a thought.

    • My wife and I stayed at POR on our honeymoon…so it will always be special to us.

      I will say though that if you have small kids it’s hard to beat BLT or the Contemporary. We stayed at BLT before having our little boy and it definitely spoiled us being able to walk to MK for rope drop.

  • I am an EPCOT resort lover and I stay at the Beach Club each year. If I ever have to cut back, I will stay at the Dolphin instead. It is half the price and I can still stay in a familiar area and get to DHS and EPCOT without taking a bus.

  • On our last trip in April ’12 I booked the Akershush breakfast and the Cinderella Royal Table breakfast. We are returning in April ’13, and we will ONLY be booking the Akershush meal. The food was just as good and more of it (buffet), as was the princess interaction. My girls were thrilled to join a real live princess in a parade around the restaurant, twice! My girls spent so much time with each princess in the Akershush meal, but at the CRT it all felt rushed, and they certainly didn’t encourage parades or other great interaction. Instead, some man over a speaker instructed my girls to raise their wands, hold a star to their heads, and make a wish. Even my 5 and 3 year olds were like, ‘yeah, I’m not doing that’. We do still have the plastic wands that CRT gave us, but we lost the plastic stars before the end of the night. I hope the stars weren’t what cost us the extra $100… Anyway, Akershush is a GREAT (if not better) option if CRT is not in the budget.

  • Split meals, split meals, split meals! Disney gives you SO much food that it is often feasible to share meals, especially at lunch. Even if you are on the DDP, it can still help to split meals. The DDP gives each person one sit-down, one quick-service, and one snack credit per person PER NIGHT, not per day. If you arrive early on your first day and stay late on your last day, you would have to pay out-of-pocket for an entire day of meals. However, if you split a quick-service meal for lunch once in a while during your stay, you’ll easily be able to stretch your dining credits to cover your whole stay.

    • Some of the entrees at the counter service restaurants are so big that two people can easily split it. One example is the chilled chicken wrap from Pecos Bill’s. That plus a large drink and fries can easily feed two people. Throw in a dessert (especially if you are on the DDP) and you’re both full. This is also a great idea if you know you have a big meal coming up and don’t want to be too non-hungry (is that a word?) to fully enjoy it.

  • For us, it’s about picking our battles in terms of where we want to devote our cash, and food is where we find we can really cut down on cost. Particularly when I’m on vacation, I like to splurge and really blow it out, but it doesn’t follow from that that I have to do it for every single meal. There is a wide spectrum of quality and the sort of experience you get when it comes to Disney’s sit down restaurants, but the one thing they have in common is that they are expensive.

    With that in mind, rather than feeling obligated to have an expensive sit down meal every day (or even multiple times a day, as some people do), we do a lot of counter service and have a couple of evenings where we’ll splurge at a signature place and really do it up right. I think we enjoy it more because it seems more special, the food tends to be better at sig places anyway, and it is unquestionably cheaper than doing a TS place every single day. At the end of the trip, those few great meals are a lot more memorable — and less expensive — than a nightly parade of places that are pretty good, and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything at all.

  • On our last trip, my wife and I rented DVC and stayed at Old Key West and Bay Lake Tower. This saved us a good amount of money while getting to stay in fantastic resorts.

    We also spent one evening resort hopping via the Monorail. We started at the Grand Floridian, got drinks at the Mizner’s Lounge, and walked around the resort until the drinks were gone. Then we hopped on the Monorail and headed to the Contemporary where we had drinks and dinner at The Wave. After that we hopped back on the Monorail and headed to the Poly. We got dessert at the Kona Cafe and after that grabbed drinks at the Tambu Lounge before heading to the Poly beaches to watch Wishes. Besides being fun to do, it gave us the experience of staying at each of the MK resorts without actually staying there. I highly suggest doing this, or something similar with the Epcot resorts, if you want to save a few dollars but still get the Deluxe resort feel.

  • One of our favourites is to use Food and Wine as a substitute for eating sit-down at most of the countries in the showcase.

  • My husband loved the Carribean Beach Resort. And the kids had so much fun at the water play area. We stayed at the Polynesian last year, but if the rooms at CBR slept five we would have probably stayed there instead. I wish they would get the trundle beds or murphy beds at CBR. Then it would be a great alternative to the Deluxe resorts for larger families. 🙂


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