July 02, 2020

Dealing with Disney Dollars and Details – Part 1 (Resources)

This post represents another installment in The Big Switcheroo series – tales from last spring’s epic journey from the northeast to the Florida Keys and back – involving family, friends and an extraordinary range of adventures.  It’s also the fourth post regarding our one week visit to Disney World with our daughter (Kyra), our son (Ryan), and our son’s girlfriend (Anya.)

I thought that this would be the last Disney-related post but, when I finished the rough draft, I knew it was too long for anyone to tackle in one sitting.  So, I’m splitting it into two parts – (1) Resources and (2) Tips & Tricks.  Please note that I’m not receiving any compensation in reference to the products, companies or web sites mentioned below; I’m simply sharing information with you that has proven helpful to our family.  The photos included with this post are of some of the delightful creations on exhibit during the International Flower & Garden Festival at Epcot being held at the time of our visit in May 2019.

Saving money is a game to me, and I play it with a great deal of enthusiasm.  (If the focus of this blog happened to be frugality, I’d happily recount my recent score of two plush, terry cloth bathrobes from Lands End for a grand total of $13.34.  Since it’s not, I won’t digress.)  After contemplating the way I feel about travel planning, I’d have to say that I consider it a sort of game, as well, the purpose of which is to glean as many details as possible about a future destination from a wide variety of sources.  With a little luck and a lot of research, the combination of saving some dollars and planning fun-filled activities leads to a vacation that’s memorable for all the right reasons.

Vacationing at Disney World is not cheap nor for the faint of heart.  With so much to see and do, it’s easy to watch the dollars dribble steadily from the invisible hole in your wallet, and I’m sure that many a VISA card has melted in Disney’s renowned (and expensive) restaurants and shops.  Add to the mix a seemingly endless supply of attractions and activities to entertain and exhaust (both inside Disney and out), and planning a relaxing, enjoyable vacation at a reasonable price is challenging, at best.

Over the years, I’ve collected a bunch of tidbits that made our visits to the House of Mouse extra special or a little less costly.  Some have been passed on from friends or relatives; others I’ve picked up from various web sites; and the remainder were discovered in travel guides or guidebooks.  The tiny smattering of resources and tips I’ve noted below is just a smidgen – a fraction of a smidgen - of the information that’s available to anyone wishing to plan a Disney trip.  Just type “how to plan a trip to Disney World” or “money-saving tips for Disney” into any search engine, and prepare to be amazed.  I know you don’t need this frugal and detail-oriented travel planner’s help to have a spectacular Disney vacation but, because these tidbits upped the trip satisfaction rating for our family, it makes me happy to pass them along.  So, here you go . . .

My go-to source for current and extremely detailed information about Disney World is “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World” written by Bob Sehlinger and his team of journalists.  I’m a sucker for the Unofficial Guide (UG) series because they’re thoroughly researched and provide gazillions of details.  (The 2019 UG to Walt Disney World has 828 pages.)  I’ve purchased the Disney World edition on at least two separate occasions, and I used the “Unofficial Guide to Las Vegas” to plan a brief visit there several years ago during our West Coast National Parks trip.  The UG covers every imaginable facet of a trip to Disney World, and I consider it an excellent – and essential – tool in my planning kit.

According to Amazon.com, Sehlinger “is credited with being the first to apply research techniques from the fields of operations research and statistics to travel guides. Among other projects, he was able to develop mathematical models that could save theme park patrons more than three hours of standing in queue in a single day.”   For anyone wanting to make the most of every single moment in the theme parks, the UG provides actual Touring Plans that detail which attraction to visit first, which one to visit second, and so on.  The plans are a little too structured even for me but, if you abhor waiting in line, they just might be up your alley.  There are plenty of testimonials indicating they work, and work well.

Just to share with you the lengths to which Sehlinger and his team go to ensure “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World” contains the best and most accurate information, I’ve copied of a few of their quotes from the Amazon web site (without permission; mea culpa):

"When we test counter-service restaurants, we order at least one of everything on the menu, and break up in to small teams to sample each thing. We've tried every counter-service food item in every American Disney theme park."

"Our crowd prediction models take into account everything from the day of week and time of year, to the vacation schedules of the 50 largest school districts east of the Mississippi, to weather phenomena including temperature, rainfall, and humidity.

And my personal favorite:

"We once logged more than 700 miles in one week on buses to test Disney's transportation system, and never left Disney property. The bus drivers got so used to us being on board that one forgot we were there and took us back to the bus garage when his shift ended."

“The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2020” is currently selling for $17.49 on Amazon.com.  The 2021 edition is scheduled to be released in November and is poised to sell for $24.99.  Under normal circumstances, either would represent an excellent value.  However, the 2020 edition can no longer be considered current, and I can’t even begin to imagine how the 2021 issue could go to press by this fall with the COVID-19 situation being so fluid.  That being said, I do believe that if anyone can succeed in herding this bunch of cats, it would be Bob Sehlinger and his team.  Enough said about my favorite guide book, and on to what I consider to be the most useful web sites – Mousesavers.com, AllEars.net and UndercoverTourist.com.

Mousesavers.com (link HERE) is my go-to site for cost savings.  This site maintains a current list of all Disney-related special offers (Disney World, Disney Land, Disney Cruise Line), as well as Universal Orlando and other Florida and California attractions.  I’d go so far as to recommend signing up for their free newsletter as soon as you even think you may be planning a future Disney trip.  If you subscribe over time, you’ll recognize an especially valuable deal when you see it.  In fact, it was through Mousesavers.com that I connected to UndercoverTourist.com (an authorized seller of Disney tickets) and purchased tickets for our group of five ahead of time and at a discount.  Plus, as a subscriber to the Mousesavers.com newsletter, I had access to exclusive discounts, including a valuable one for Hertz car rentals.

In addition to reviews and trip reports submitted by other travelers, Mousesavers.com also provides a list of Disney freebies, guidelines for planning a Disney vacation and, currently, COVID-19 updates for Disneyland, Disney World, the Disney Cruise Line, Universal Hollywood and Universal Orlando.  I do believe that all of you frugal trip planners would be delighted with the massive amount of money-saving information on Mousesavers.com.

If Mousesavers.com is known for its endless list of discounts, then AllEars.net (link HERE) must be known for its never-ending news feed.  Here are just a few news flashes that I spotted when I was drafting this post: (1) “News and PHOTOS!  The Monorails Will Have Distancing Barriers When Disney World Re-Opens.” (2) “NEWS! Disney Releases Updates About Construction for Attractions and Lands in the Theme Parks!” (3) “NEWS! Disneyland Comes to Agreement with 20 Unions About Bringing Cast Members Back Soon!”  Whether you’re a big Disney fan or simply an occasional visitor to the House of Mouse, AllEars.net is a wonderful source of extremely helpful information.

While the news items on AllEars.net are frequent and fabulous, it’s the dining section that really shines, at least as far as I’m concerned.  AllEars.net posts menus for every restaurant, dining location and snack bar in Disneyland and Disney World.  The menus, which are updated regularly, include descriptions of available items, as well as the cost.  I absolutely love this feature!  Anyone dealing with a food budget or a picky eater – see me raising my hand for both – will be ever so grateful to have access to such detailed information.  The dining info, alone, puts AllEars.net near the top of my list of Disney resources.

Earlier in this post, I had mentioned UndercoverTourist.com (link HERE) as a source of discounted Disney tickets.  The discounts were nothing to sneeze at and very much appreciated.  While some people may be reluctant to deal with an authorized ticket seller rather than Disney itself, I had no qualms about buying tickets through Undercover Tourist.  I figured that Mousesavers.com, a well-respected source of Disney info that’s been around for ages, wouldn’t recommend UndercoverTourist.com unless complete trust and confidence existed between the two.  In fact, we had no trouble with our purchase of tickets through UndercoverTourist.com, and I’d buy from them again in the future without hesitation – as long as they are still recommended by Mousesavers.com.

What I really liked about UndercoverTourist.com was the Crowd Calendar.  This calendar projects the busiest days for the various theme parks (Disney and others) in both Orlando and Los Angeles right through the next 12 months - as in, every single day.  Based on historical information and differentiated via color-coding, predictions for days with the lowest, average and highest crowds are noted on the calendar.  Also included is historical weather information for each day (the high and low temperatures), plus recommendations from UndercoverTourist.com regarding which theme park to visit and which to avoid on any given day based on the projected number of visitors for each park.  The compilation of this information has to be a statistician’s dream job!

Of course, Walt Disney World has its own very helpful web site (link HERE) that includes everything you would expect plus a panel of parents who are true Disney pros.  They will cheerfully and enthusiastically respond to any query you throw at them and, believe me, they all know their subject inside and out.

That wraps up Part 1 of Dealing with Disney Dollars and Details.  Next time around, I’ll share the tips and tricks that paved the way for good times and smooth sailing throughout the Disney Empire.  Thanks for stopping by today!


  1. Since we've been knocking around the idea of taking the three grandsons on a Disney cruise when (if) things get back to normal, your recommended resources--none of which were known to me--should be most helpful. Thank you! By the way, it should please you to know that the quotes you included from the Amazon website included four unneeded commas in just two paragraphs. Note: Back-handed compliment follows: It would require much more writing by you to include that many unnecessary commas. (Tacky, I know, but I'll bet you smiled. Regardless, you should know that Mrs. Reid would have loved you and thought you a godsend.) Seriously, this was an awesome post with great information; you're very generous to share.

    1. I'm happy to hear that the info might be of use to you in the future, Mike. I'm imagining the boys' delight in sharing such an exceptional adventure with you and Sandy, and have no doubt that a Disney cruise with them would be a memorable highlight in your travels for the two of you, as well.

      It's funny - I didn't really proof the quotes because it wasn't my writing, but I did take the liberty of changing "in to" to "into." It was such a glaring error, I couldn't convince myself to ignore it. I think this "Excellence in Grammar Syndrome" has afflicted both of us!

    2. P. S. I almost forgot to tell you . . . Bob Sehlinger and his team also publish "The Unofficial Guide to the Disney Cruise Line." I can't say for sure because I've not read it, but I'll bet it would be an excellent first step in any research you do down the road.

  2. What a wonderful trove of information. I wish I had had all of this when my husband and I made our first (and probably) last trip to DW in 1999--we were 49 and 66 at the time. The trip was just for us, no grandkids even on the horizon. Now, with Covid, numerous health issues, etc., we will not be traveling much anymore. I used to preplan the heck out of any trip, even to the point of making a spreadsheet of clothes to take so I would not pack too much. I also had another spreadsheet of all of the items I took along each time--specific meds, handicap devices needed, basic clothing like socks and undies, etc. I probably would have remembered most of these, but it was great to have a checklist to go by. Invariably, I would almost forget an item, but then I would see it was something I had yet to check off. (Is the bad that I still have those lists, and I haven't been any place since 2014?)

    I think it is a shame that you don't have more comments. This is valuable stuff you have provided. I can't wait until the next installment!

    1. Aw, how sweet you are, Beth - thanks for your kinds words! It's always a pleasure to meet another super-planner! We work off of a six page checklist for each camping trip, and Alan has a separate one for the rare occasions we travel by boat. Those six pages are individual spreadsheets - three are for packing, two are "breaking camp" lists that we use before we leave home and the campground (wouldn't want to forget to put the steps up!) and the last contains things to do or buy before we head out on the trip. Staying that organized provides me with a wonderful sense of security. Maybe your spreadsheets do the same for you, and that's why you've held onto them? Thanks for your comments - so glad you enjoyed the post!

  3. Good morning, Mary,
    I haven't been to Disney since my boys were in elementary school. Nevertheless, I'm still a kid at heart and, since you've taken some of the work out of a trip there, perhaps it's time to return. We're planning a trip to Florida this winter and, from what I'm learning, Disney may be the only thing still open! Thanks for doing this for all of us. Have a great week and stay safe out there. Joe

    1. Well, Joe, I must admit, you're braver than I am. I don't think I could get up the nerve to tackle Disney any time soon. That being said, I have no doubt you'd have a delightful time. Disney World appeals to all ages, and can provide a fun-filled adventure whether you're two or ninety-two! Please say hi to Helen for me, and travel safely!


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