Sunday, April 05, 2009

Disney World Money Saving Hacks

Well, we're back to Disney. Their birthday offer was too good to pass up.  Here are some cost-cutting hacks for Walt Disney World - of varying ethics.

  1. Ask for water. Every food service that's equipped to serve fountain drinks will give you large cups of ice water for free if you ask. Some Crystal Light mix packets can easily turn that into lemonade, iced tea, or grape drink. Making free lemonade feels like straying into a grey area ethically but isn't too bad.
  2. Bring your own food and drinks. Yes, Disney allows this. They don't allow big coolers, glass bottles, or outside alcoholic beverages, but you can certainly bring your own sandwiches, bottled water, and sodas. This is all quite ethical and allowed by Disney.
  3. Free salad. I've read about this and have been surprised to see it happen. At 'counter service' burger places (Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe or Pecos Bill's), there is a 'toppings bar' with lettuce, tomato, onions, mushrooms, etc. It's possible to walk right up and make a decent salad for free. Doing it to go with your hamburger or other food purchase isn't so bad, but doing that without purchasing anything is really shady. Yet I've seen it done.
  4. Drink refills. In Hollywood Studios, the Backlot Express restaurant provides free drink refills. I think it's the only 'counter service' restaurant in the parks that does. Just drinking a couple refills seems perfectly ethical, but you could clearly abuse it to refill drink bottles for free.
  5. Resort mugs. The Disney resorts have refillable mugs. It appears that the official stance is that you are supposed to buy new mugs with each stay at Disney. As frequent guests, we buy new mugs each time the design changes or about once every year or so. But I've seen many guests refilling mugs of designs that are from previous years. So there are varying degrees of ethics there.
  6. Outside souvenirs. It never fails that the kids will want to buy some Disney-priced item that should be in a dollar store. Before a trip you can stock up on easily packed snacks, glowing necklaces/bracelets, light-up toys, and even Disney items for a lot cheaper than in-park impulse purchases. No real ethical problem there unless you start selling them to other guests.
  7. Photo Pass. Photo Pass is a system where Disney photographers at many park locations will take your photo and link it to an account - based on your Photo Pass card - so you can purchase prints later. These prints and downloads can be quite expensive. You can get nearly the same thing for free by asking the photographer to take a shot with your own camera. We've gotten many excellent family photos at Disney this way - for essentially free. It might feel a bit unethical, but this appears to be normal Disney World policy and is well-known.
  8. Park for free. There are two easy ways to park for free at Disney World. Resorts will let you park for free if you're there to "eat lunch". Then a quick bus/monorail/boat ride takes you to the park. Parking at Downtown Disney is free, but requires two legs of Disney transportation (to a resort, then to a park). Getting a bus or boat from there to a resort may require showing resort key cards but I've never seen them ask. Both are clearly dipping into unethical behavior.
  9. Resort hopping. When you stay at any on-property Disney resort, I believe that you are free to 'hang out' at other resorts and use any of their facilities including dining and any recreation activities they have, except the pool. We've done this quite often - heading over to Wilderness Lodge to eat lunch, doing a kids' activity at Animal Kingdom Lodge, or taking the boat from Downtown Disney to eat some beignets at Port Orleans. Doing this while staying on property sounds perfectly allowed and ethical, but it's quite easy for anyone to do this no matter where they're staying, which may be a grey area.
  10. Pool crashing. The official stance is apparently that you can only use your resort's pool. There are exceptions for construction and I think all the All-Stars pools are fair game for any guest in All-Stars resorts. I believe that the only pool that really enforces this is the Beach Club Resort. Supposedly the Wilderness Lodge has started actually checking IDs - because it's a small pool and is very convenient for a quick pool trip by any Magic Kingdom guest. We've never crashed a pool, but have never once been asked for a room key or ID at any pool. Crashing a pool that's mostly empty and unused is probably a lot safer than one that's really busy. This is somewhat unethical at best.


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