I will be the first person to admit that Walt Disney World (WDW) is not a cheap place to take the family for vacation, but that doesn't mean that one can't maximize their value from the experience. Although I'm certainly FAR from being a local, and there are plenty of people that have been there more than we have, I thouth I would pass along a few tips that we've picked up from our WDW travels. Although I don't want to turn this post into a link extravaganza, there will be a few more links coming.
Some of you might be familiar with the DVC or Disney Vacation Club. It is Disney's version of a timeshare. Even though we have thought about buying into it, we haven't, but that doesn't mean that we can't take advantage of it to get a better deal. The way we take advantage of it is to rent points from a DVC member. There is a resource called DISboards that is a great place to find point rental opportunities. DVC members buy points that they can use each year for Disney trips. If they have more points than they can use in a particular time frame, they can rent out those point to third parties. While the points can be used at almost every Disney resort, there are specific properties that are DVC Properties. A DVC member, or point renter will get a lot more bang for the buck at these resorts. Generally, the DVC resorts are on par with Disney's Luxury Resorts. In fact, several are on the same properties. Those are: Animal Kingdom Villas, Beach Club Villas, Boardwalk Villas, Wilderness Lodge Villas. There are also Old Key West and Saratoga Springs, which are primarily DVC properties. You might also notice that these are listed by Disney Travel as "Home away from Home" resorts. All of the DVC properties have a kitchen or kitchenette. Some of the larger ones also have their own laundry facilities, too. There are Studio, One Bedroom, Two Bedroom and Three Bedroom villas available.
But, where is the deal?
On our last trip, we stayed at the Boardwalk Villas. We were in a studio. We went during the Adventure Season, so the room was 9 points per night Sun-Thurs, and 20 points for Fri-Sat. We arrived on Sunday, and left on Saturday, so we used 65 points. We were able to find points for $8 each, so the room for the week was $520 for 6 nights. That averages out to under $87/night. At that time, they were offering Value Resorts (the All-Star Resorts) for $89/night, and the Moderate Resorts were $119/night. Luxury Resorts were starting at $179/night. Had we booked our room through Disney, it would have been $349/night. I think we did OK. Here is a point chart. Last night I ran across points for August for $6ea. That means that one could stay in the same room for $66/night Sun-Thurs, and $156/night Fri or Sat. The only difference that you will notice is that the rooms do not get daily maid service. If you are there less than 4 days, you won't have any maid service. If you are there longer, you will get a maid visit after each four days.
The next strategy is with tickets. If you plan on going again, you might look at No Expiration Tickets. They are a little more, but they are good forever. Additional days don't cost that much, so the more you buy, the cheaper it is per day. I also recommend the Park Hopper Tickets. we like to visit different parks at different times of the day... like the Japanese Pavilion in Epcot for a Sushi Dinner.
Speaking of food... there is a fairly new dining plan available. It only became available for DVC stays since our last visit. Basically, it allows each person to get One Sit Down Meal, One Counter Meal and One Snack per night of stay. They don't have to be used each day. It costs under $40/night/person to add on. While it seems kind of pricey, it isn't that bad compared to paying Disney prices for food, and the Sit Down meal can often be a Character Dining experience. Make reservations and maximize your dining dollars. And remember, the Disney Calories are FREE. I keep telling myself that... and I tend to walk about 15 miles per day while we are there.
Another GREAT source for info is AllEars. Wander around the web, and see what sort of deals you can find. The AllEars Newsletter often has ticket discounts that aren't otherwise available.