Do’s and Don’ts: Booking Disney Travel
It’s time for another installment of do’s and don’ts, where we take a look at things that savvy people are doing right — and otherwise awesome people are unwittingly doing wrong — when booking Disney travel.
Right out of the gate, you have several options for how to get your trip on the books. Some offer the chance of larger savings, some offer less legwork, and you should take a moment to familiarize yourself with them. All done? OK, let’s jump into what you should and should not do!
DO: Check for Extra Fees and Terms
When budgeting for a trip, it’s common to budget 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 – and unavoidable – fees and costs. These are not typically part of the price quoted when booking, but you need to account for them if you want your budget to be accurate.
Disney has thankfully jettisoned parking fees for its resorts. But many non-Disney hotels like the Swan and Dolphin do charge for parking, and the cost can really add up. For example, at the Four Seasons Orlando you’ll pay $30 per night for parking (valet only). Add in tips every time you drop off or pick up your car, and it’s enough extra that you’ll really notice it; since these are per-day fees this is especially true over a longer trip.
That’s at the Four Seasons, of course. The Swan & Dolphin properties generally charge far less for rooms, but more for parking: $32 a night for self-parking and $42 for valet. Here are the parking fees for a selection of Disney Springs hotels, just to give you an idea of the going rates:
- Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista: $25 self parking, $35 valet
- B Resort & Spa: $23.95 self parking, $29.95 valet
- Doubletree Suites: $22 self parking (valet unavailable)
- Wyndham Lake Buena Vista: $22 self parking, $28 valet.
The Swan and Dolphin, and many off-site resorts like the Gaylord Palms, charge a per-night resort fee. And there is often tax on these fees too! These fees are nominally intended to cover internet access, fitness centers, local phone calls, etc. In other words, it covers amenities that you’re accustomed to getting for free. Resort fees are, ahem, not beloved, but they are a thing, and you need to be aware of them when making your lodging budget. A discussion of which hotels have them and the specific amounts is beyond the scope of this article, although we’ve included a sample below. But make sure you check before you book, because they are very common and not de minimis, particularly at the larger resorts close to Disney World. Here are a few examples:
- Swan and Dolphin: $40/night, plus tax
- Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista: $39/night, plus tax
- B Resort & Spa: $34/night, plus tax
- Wyndham Lake Buena Vista: $34/night, plus tax
- Gaylord Palms Orlando: $34.35/night (inclusive of tax, woo hoo!).
Cancellation and Change Fees
While no one wants to have to cancel a Disney trip, sometimes life gets in the way and you need to make adjustments. What happens then? If you’ve done your homework, you’ll know in advance. As a starting point, make sure you check out Erin’s article on what to do if you need to cancel your Disney vacation. A discussion of the various policies for off-site hotels, vacation rentals, and other lodging options is beyond the scope of this article, but the point is, make sure you know what the policies are before you book.
As a related aside, even changes to your booking can trigger cancellation policies in some instances, depending upon the resort, the booking method, and the timing of the change. Accordingly, it’s worth being aware of the policies in advance even if you’re 99% sure there will be no need to cancel.
DON’T: Assume Package Deals Are the Best Deal
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 asked the clerk: “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 calls it a package, you’re going to get some sort of bundle discount or something, right?
Well, that’s not actually correct. Especially when multiple promotions are running, booking your hotel and tickets a la carte can actually be cheaper than booking the exact same hotel and tickets as 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 the package includes things that you might not care about, like water park tickets.
While it’s unusual these days for an apples-to-apples Disney package to cost more than booking those same things directly through Disney, it’s a lot more common to find savings by cobbling together offers from third-party sites. For example:
- Booking a room through a site like Expedia or Priceline may save you money compared to Disney’s rate.
- Booking a la carte may be cheaper because you are able to buy discounted park tickets through a broker. (Do be aware that these tickets may not be refundable or may carry a restocking fee if you need to refund them).
In fact, we have a calculator that will help you determine the cheapest available Disney tickets for your trip. Make sure you take advantage of our ticket price comparison tool to make sure you’re getting the best deal on your tickets!
Here’s an example: I went on Disney’s site and priced out a trip for 4 from August 20-26 staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Disney’s standard package price, including 7 days of park hopper passes, was $5,605.88. Can I save money by booking the parts separately from third-party vendors? Let’s do the math:
- Standard room at Animal Kingdom Lodge via Priceline: $391/night (10% off) for a total of $2752 including taxes.
- Four 7 Day Park Hopper Passes via Boardwalk Ticketing (recommended by our tool): $2440.24
- Total DIY Package Price: $5192.24
- Savings vs. Disney: $423.64
The point is, by combining offers you find on third party sites, you could very well be able to beat Disney’s package price. If you’re booking the trip yourself, make sure you check all available options!
Another more common scenario with package deals is that they include things you wouldn’t actually be purchasing otherwise, or that might require a length of stay that is different from what you had planned. Simply stated, if a package forces you to change the way you would travel to save money, are you really saving compared to what you would have spent? This leads to our next tip, which is…
DO: Think About How You’ll Spend Your Time Before You Book
Would you believe that I’ve had visits to Disney where I never set foot in the parks? One remarkable thing about Disney World is that it can be so many different things to different people. Every day, thousands of people with wildly differing travel styles visit Disney World and have a great time, because it is such a versatile destination. For example, your trip might feature:
- Waking up at dawn and churning through the parks doing as many attractions as possible.
- Relaxing at the pool during the day and heading to Disney Springs for dinner in the evenings.
- Spending time at the parks, but coming back to the resort every day to swim and/or take a break.
- Doing a combination of these things.
And so on, and so forth.
The point is, the type of trip you’re envisioning can have a huge impact on where you stay and the length of your tickets. Even with a big budget, it might make sense to stay at a Value if you expect to spend all your waking time in the parks. Resort amenities don’t matter as much if you really just need a place to sleep and get cleaned up. On the other hand, if you plan to spend a lot of time at the hotel, you might find paying for the extra amenities at a Deluxe resort worthwhile.
The same can be said about ticket add-ons. The Park Hopper and Water Park add-ons are great to have, but only if you use them. Whether it’s resort amenities or extra privileges, make sure what you purchase lines up with your plans.
Finally, if you’re choosing between two promotions, make sure you think about which one is best for you. Disney recently announced a Dining Promo Card offer that comes with certain reservations of 4 nights or more. Will it save you money? Maybe, and maybe not — it depends upon how you travel, and how you would be eating otherwise. Maybe a room discount would actually save you more money. We often do analysis here to help you decide, but the takeaway for this and everything at Disney is that one size does not fit all. Make sure the choices you make when booking are tailored to the way you actually vacation.
To revisit our Animal Kingdom Lodge example from above, taking advantage of this promotion would change the price of the package to $5,564.26, which is still more than the $5192.24 you would pay booking a la carte. It would also entitle you to $150 per night in dining credits, however, and that extra $900 adds real value if you eat your meals at Disney restaurants. With that said, if you were staying at a Value resort, where the dining credit is only $50 per night, the math might not be as favorable. Every situation is unique, and if saving money is a high priority then you really just need to dig in and do the math.
DON’T: Stop Paying Attention After You Book
Little-known fact: when you book your trip with Disney, you are free to re-book as needed up until the cancellation date. Doing so can often save you a significant amount of money, or add benefits to your trip. Too many travelers book their trips, wash their hands of the task, and then completely forget about their arrangements until it’s time to check in. Even those that continue to pay attention to travel deals often forget to take advantage of this tip.
It works like this: suppose you know you’re going to Disney World 8 months from now, so you go ahead and book a vacation package. A couple of months later, Disney announces a promotion for that same time that you’ll be there. You do the math, 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, just re-book your trip using the new promotion.
Worth noting: you can eliminate this step entirely if you book with a travel agent. Agents are dialed into Disney’s promotions and actively search for better deals; they’ll let you know when a discount is available. It’ll come as no surprise that we heartily recommend TouringPlans travel, but if you have a favorite Disney-specialist travel agent they can certainly help you out as well.
Even if you are the sort of person that just likes to book directly with Disney, you need not handle the post-booking monitoring yourself. Within 30 days of booking, you can transfer your booking to one of our travel agents and still take advantage of their monitoring skills!
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!
This article was originally posted December 18, 2018. Most recent update: March 6, 2023.