When I started blogging for TouringPlans, oh those many years ago, I asked our fearless leader Len Testa what kinds of things I should write about. His response was, “Stick with our goal – help people save time and money on their vacations.” While that mission is fantastic, I sometimes struggle with the interplay between the two halves of the statement. Sometimes the things you might do to save time are diametrically opposed to the things you would do to save money, and vice versa. Let’s look at some of the tradeoffs.
PRIORITIZING SAVING TIME, EXTREME VERSION
If you have unlimited funds, there are plenty of things you can do to save time. First among them is hiring a VIP guide. For $400-$600, (price varies seasonally) per hour (with a six hour minimum), plus park tickets, for a group of up to ten people, you can have your very own cast member guide escort you around the parks in whatever manner you wish. They’ll pick you up at your hotel and bring you into the parks via a back door entrance (no pesky waiting for the bus or walking from the parking lot to the entrance gate). They’ll scoot you through the FastPass line for attractions, even if you don’t have a FastPass reservation. They’ll take you to a reserved area for parades and shows, so you don’t have to waste time staking out your spot in advance. In short, if you want to throw four or five thousand bucks extra bucks at the “saving time” problem, Disney has you covered.
A similar argument could be made that the new Magic Kingdom
shanties cabanas at $650 per day are a way to obviate the need to go back to your resort for a nap. Why waste time shlepping back and forth to the hotel when you can sleep in privacy right in the middle of Tomorrowland.
PRIORITIZING SAVING MONEY, EXTREME VERSION
On the other end of the spectrum, if you want to save money, you can stay at a bargain-basement off-site hotel. A quick peek on Expedia will show several Orlando area options in the $50 range per night, or about half the price of the Disney World value level resorts. I was even able to find a deal for a $29 per night — at the M Hotel near Universal. (Let’s ignore the fact that the hotel’s reviews are, um, less than stellar. A fairly typical Expedia review said, “The only nice thing I can say about this hotel is that I’m still alive.”) You’ll certainly save money staying there, but you’ll have to factor in at least 30 minutes a day of extra travel time to and from the parks, and significantly more if you want to take a mid-day nap break. There are definitely more palatable bargain hotels that are closer to Walt Disney World, but they all involve time trade-offs. For example, if you’re using an off-site hotel’s shuttle service to the parks, you’ll be dropped off at the farthest bus zone, adding walk time. More obliquely, you may end up spending more time waiting for a meal or a ride because you did not have access to Disney resort guest early access to Dining or FastPass+ reservations.
If you want to save money on food, you can bring your own meals to the parks, but then you’re spending time on shopping, prep, and clean-up.
And one of the most common ways to save money is to alter your mode of transportation to get to Walt Disney World. Flying my family of five back and forth from our home in New York to Walt Disney World costs somewhere around $2,000 to $3,500, depending on the season and what type of transportation we use to get to the airport. We could drive for just the price of a few tanks of gas and some tolls, assuming that we take shifts with the driving. However, flying takes about five hours each way (including transport time to/from the airport), while driving takes about 20 hours each way. If we drive we save cash, but we lose two days of vacation.
SMALLER SCALE VARIATIONS
There are small scale time/money tradeoffs throughout every Disney vacation. Booking a character meal saves time waiting in line for meet & greets, but costs more than standard dining. Using Disney’s Magical Express saves money over renting a car, but it may take longer to get to your hotel. Staying on the monorail line can reduce travel time to the Magic Kingdom, but costs more than staying in a moderate resort.
Even during a brief visit, you may need to make a dozen or more decisions about whether you’re prioritizing time saving or money saving.
HOW DO YOU DECIDE?
Most people will make the time vs. money call using instinct or gut feeling. The decisions feel easy with larger scale items. For example, getting an in-park cabana just seems like too much money. Driving from New York to Orlando just seems like it would take too much time. (For me, at this stage of my life. Your personal choices might be entirely different.)
But with the many smaller choices you must make, using your internal barometer may not be the most logical way to go. Instead, you might want to do some pre-trip soul searching and decide how much your time and money are worth to you. For example, you might decide that it’s worth spending $20 to save an hour of time, making the new express bus service a no-brainer. Or you might decide that you have a hard cap on expenditures that you won’t violate no matter how much time you save.
If you want a real numerical evaluation of time vs. money, take a look at Brian’s excellent post on whether the a princess character meal is worth the money.
If you’re not up for all the math, try testing yourself with logical extremes. For example, if the park-to-park express bus works for you at $15 price, does it work at $30? At $50? At $100? At some point you’ll know what doesn’t make sense for you. Or do this in reverse … if the in-park cabana is too expensive at $650 per day, would you do it for $500? For $400? For $300. During these exercises, you’ll get a good feel for your personal value of time vs. money on vacation. As you encounter decision points, use your personal value ratio to evaluate the options.
Knowing your personal time/money threshold can help inform many of the your trip planning decisions. For example, if your personal set point is that it makes sense to spend $30 to save an hour of time, this might sway your decision to rent a car during your visit. Or you might even consider that spending $30 more per night to stay at an on-site All Star resort could save you an hour of worry or planning before your trip because it allows you to book FastPass+ selections 30 days earlier.
SAVING TIME CAN SAVE MONEY
A middle ground strategy could look like what happens when you use a good touring plan. Saving a few hours a day of waiting in line for attractions might mean that you can do everything you want in less overall time, allowing you to make you trip a day shorter and save the money you would have spent on a hotel, dining out, and an extra day of park tickets. But then the downside of that is you’re possibly having one less day of fun with your family on vacation. This bring up another topic about where you value having fun in the time/money equation. I’ll tackle that in another post.
WHAT’S YOUR STRATEGY?
How do you make your personal choices about time vs. money? Do you do lots of math? Do you decide on the fly? Do you consult with other family members? Has the time/money balance ever caused conflict in your family?
Let us know in the comments below.