What’s the first word you think of when you read the word, Disney? Was your word expensive? You wouldn’t be the only one. Visiting Disney World as a military family (or any family for that matter) is considered a once-in-a-lifetime event, and expense is one of the reasons why. Tickets for one day, one park (not the coveted park hoppers that most families prefer for flexibility) at Disney World are around $100 or more depending on which park you go to. So, tickets for a week-long vacation for a family of four are upward of $1,600 or more! And that’s just tickets. To stay at a Disney resort hotel, you’re looking at $5,000 for a week! So, most people opt for a cheaper option and just spend $2,000.
OK, so with just tickets and a bargain hotel, your total is roughly $4,000…and that doesn’t include food, souvenirs, or flights (if you’re not close enough to drive)!
So, how can you visit Disney World as a military family without spending a month’s salary or more?
Since 2001, Disney has offered amazing deals on tickets for active-duty and retired military, activated reservist, and Guard members. Every year, the ticket prices slightly increase, and the blackout dates vary. Most recently, the blackout dates were only Christmastime for Disney World. Salute tickets are currently less than a two-day park hopper.
Most base Information, Tickets, and Travel (ITT) offices stock these tickets before the spring and summer breaks, but it’s worth calling ahead to make sure they don’t need to order them.
If you stay at Shades of Green, you can order your tickets, and they will email you the ticket information (to link to your app), and you simply pick up your tickets at the front desk when you arrive. If you’re staying anywhere else, Shades of Green will ship the tickets to your home for a flat rate of $10.
The Disney World App
Disney has entered a new age — the digital age, where there really is an app for that. It’s convenient to have a map of the parks, the ability to search for the closest bathrooms, menus for restaurants, and wait times for rides all at your fingertips. The app is free for anyone to download.
In order to make FASTPASSES at Disney World, you need the app. When you get your tickets, you need to link them to your app. If you are staying on Disney property — a resort or Shades of Green — you can book FASTPASSES 60 days in advance of your stay. If you are staying off property, you can book your FASTPASSES 30 days in advance. This helps streamline your ride experience. Get familiar with the app and what levels of FASTPASSES there are for each park before you go.
You can purchase Memory Maker (the complete package of digital pictures and videos from rides over a 30-day period per Disney at the time of publishing) at a guest relations window at the park for $98 (as of 2018). The Memory Maker’s regular price is $169 if bought in the park. So, save yourself some money and spend the savings on ice cream instead! It’s worth mentioning that in order to get videos from rides, you will need a Magic Band which is neither discounted nor included unless you stay at a resort hotel. So, just purchase one and share it with your family if you want ride videos.
Shades of Green
Three words: Shades of Green — this Armed Forces Resort Center is the only military hotel on Disney World property. It was the golf-themed hotel that Disney owned until the early 1990s, but it wasn’t making the expected revenue, so in came Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR)! A deal was made that would save military-connected patrons thousands on hotel accommodations on the coveted Disney grounds! It is within walking distance to the Polynesian Hotel (a deluxe resort hotel — the highest level of resort hotel rankings) and the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC) where you can catch the Monorail to Epcot or the boat to the Magic Kingdom.
The rooms are larger than those at Disney resort hotels. In addition to the two beds and sleep-in couch, rooms can accommodate a portable crib with plenty of room leftover to walk around. There is a mini-fridge in every room and a microwave in the laundry room if needed. There are regularly scheduled buses to the TTC, the parks, and Disney Springs that are not nearly as crowded as resort hotel buses.
Similar to Disney resort hotels, Shades of Green offers meal packages, kind and knowledgeable staff, themed dinners, and activities for kids. During previous stays, $130 per night covered the hotel room and breakfast for two adults (and breakfast for two kids because they’re free with a paid adult). There is no comparable rate for a hotel within walking distance to the Monorail. Rates are prorated to three rank groups to help make this affordable for all service members and their families. The Army rents this hotel from Disney, and their lease is only 99 years, so don’t expect this deal to last forever!
Disney World Hotels
There are military rates at Disney World resort hotels if you call 407-939-5684. There are three levels of hotels: deluxe, moderate, and value resorts. The higher the level, the higher the reported discount. There are a limited number of rooms, so when they release the military block of rooms (typically early fall), call and book your best guess of when you will stay. Book a couple of weeks if you have to. You can always amend your stay, but those military rates go fast at Disney World!
Armed Forces Vacation Club
This perk isn’t just for the Disney vacations, but you can score week-long deals at a home-sized vacation refuge for just a few hundred bucks (depending on the property). If you are looking for space or have a family size over six (the max for most hotel rooms), this is the way to go. Visit the Armed Forces Vacation Club website, search your destination and travel dates, and book! You can score
You can bring food that doesn’t require heating into Disney parks, just mention it to security cast members. If you have a little one who will need whole milk, you may want to bring that along because Starbucks may be the only place to find it in the park. If you want, you can visit the small AAFES store at the Shades of Green Hotel. You do not have to be a guest there to buy items, but you do have to have a valid Department of Defense ID card.
Disney Springs boasts several restaurants that offer military discounts. Military Disney Tips updates their discount page often, so check it before you make your trip!
To avoid going broke on Mickey swag, you have three options:
- Buy souvenirs ahead of time. There are big sales twice a year at the Disney Store and online where you can buy the same items you would buy in the park — pins, apparel, ornaments, etc. Some people buy items before their trip and bring with them along, so they do not feel tempted to purchase them at parks. Did you know that Disney Stores nationwide offer a military discount when you purchase in-store? They do! Just ask!
- Set a limit. This is what most people on a budget do, but the vacation fog can change this. If you bring a set amount on a gift card, you are more likely to stick to your budget. Be aware that some things, like balloons, are cash-only, so you will not be able to pay for that with a gift card or credit card.
- Shop the outlets. The Orlando Premium Outlets has a store called the Disney Character Warehouse which houses Disney wares from the parks at discounted prices. If you are able to get a ride there and have the time to do it, this would be an awesome place to gather great Disney deals.
Your trip to Disney won’t be cheap. But it will be full of memories and, hopefully, lots of photos to help you remember those fun and crazy moments. Enjoy the family time together — and remember, it is a vacation! Save and budget ahead of time, and relax while you’re there!
Ready to take on Disneyland with your military family? Don’t miss our tips for Doing Disneyland as a Military Family.
Photo Credits: Eastern Sky Photography NC