It’s been a while since we went to Disney World. Over three years, in fact. And that means that it’s time to go again! People sometime ask me for tips on Disney planning when they’re looking at a visit in their future. I have some general ones, but each time I go myself, it feels like there are tons of new decisions to make and things to figure out.
Take this time. I’ve said before that the most economical way to do Disney is just that: to do Disney and nothing else. That means no trips to Universal or Sea World or anywhere else. Disney gets its money out of you in the first few days. The cost for a one day park hopper plus ticket in June is $215. The The cost for a four day is $568. cost for a six day is $615. The cost for an eight day is $653. See a trend there? Each extra day you add at a Disney park beyond the first few just ends up tacking on $20 or so, but the first day will set you back $200+.
So if you just want Disney fun, stick to Disney World and go nowhere else. However, this time around, we had decided we wanted to add Universal to the mix. Yes, it’s a bad decision from a budgetary standpoint. But Muggles need to Muggle, and the only place you can do Harry Potter stuff is at Universal Studios. So it was time to dive into Universal planning.
In order to get the full Harry Potter experience, you need park-to-park passes at Universal. Since we haven’t been in well over a decade, I knew we’d want to do both parks anyway. But I didn’t really want to stay too long at Universal, because doing three or four days at Universal and three or four days at Disney would be the absolute most expensive way of approaching things. Two days at Universal and six at Disney would be cheaper-ish. But let’s be real: adding Universal threw the budget out the window. The new question wasn’t “how can I go do Disney as cheaply as possible,” but rather, “How can I fit in Disney and Universal, go on the rides I want to go on, and do that as economically as I can?”
It would take me forever to go through all the steps I took to find the answer to that, so I’ll just fast forward to the end result:
- We’re starting off our trip staying on site at Universal. They’ve got a deal where you can stay at one of their nicer properties and get what amounts to a permanent fast pass at their theme parks, reducing all lines to something like 5-10 minutes. This way, we should be able to do everything we want to at both Universal parks and not have to worry about crowd sizes. Yes, the hotel costs more than what we’re paying for the rest of the trip, but I was able to buy it with Chase points, which gave me a 33% discount, and was essentially free, since I already have the points.
- I also bought the Universal tickets with Chase points. Again, that gave me the 33% off deal. (This is because I have the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which lets my points count for 150% of their value when I buy through the Chase portal. Typically this isn’t a great deal, as you can find better discounts elsewhere, but in this case, it turned out to be pretty sweet. I was going to pay the money anyway, and my points turned out to be worth about 1.5 cents per point. Not the best value, but far from the worst.
- For the Disney part, we bought six day park hopper plus tickets through officialticketcenter.com. Disney just raised their prices this week for these tickets, but you can still get them at the old reduced price through other dealers. (This is why I finally pulled the trigger on the tickets.) One of the days, we’re planning on doing a water park, but I still paid for the sixth day for actual theme park access. Why? Because of fast passes. My plan is to still go to one of the parks in the evening that day, and pick which park based on which fast passes I still want to use up. Going to Disney and waiting in lines is a huge no-no for me, and so I’m trying to use all the tricks I can to avoid it. Paying an extra $20 to be able to go on three of the best rides in a park? Seems like a deal to me.
- We’ll be staying at the Doubletree Suites at Disney Springs, not on property. Why not on property? Because the Doubletree is twice as big for cheaper. It has a fridge, free breakfast (since I’m a Hilton Diamond member, it gives Denisa and me free breakfast, and we can each bring a kid for free. Maybe we’ll switch off for which kid doesn’t eat free each morning. Not sure.) But yay for a place to store leftovers, since we won’t be doing free disney dining this time. (Tragically, we could have gotten free dining if I’d been more on the ball and bought the trip at the beginning of January. Alas, I was not, and we missed out. I’m not too choked up about it, though. Free dining is a LOT of food, and we’d have had to pay about $1,200 more than what we’re paying for tickets and the hotel, which means “free dining” was actually “eat a ton of food at Disney for six days for $1,200.” That might still end up being a deal, but it depends on how much food we ended up eating . . .
- Staying at the Doubletree also lets us get access to Fastpasses 60 days in advance, instead of the normal 30 day window you get just buy buying tickets. This increases the odds of getting the fastpasses of our choice, which is key to avoiding those pesky lines.
- I’ve signed up for Touringplans, a service that shows you which parks are least busy which days, and suggests which rides to go on when–all in an effort to avoid the long ones. I’ve done Ridemax before, but in the intervening years, it seemed like Touringplans has upped their game, while Ridemax stayed stagnant. It was all of $15, so why not?
- I got my tickets through Southwest, since there’s a direct route from Manchester, and Denisa still has the companion pass, meaning I get to fly for free. Yay for points!
All told, that means I paid out of pocket for the Disney hotel and the Disney tickets. The Universal tickets and hotel and airfare were all covered with points. If I had paid for the whole trip without points, it would have cost . . . around $9,000 plus food? That would have been a whole lot of money, and I would have felt quite bad for paying for all of it. By using points, I shaved $5,000 off that cost, which brings it to a much more manageable amount and makes me feel like all those hours figuring out which credit cards to use and get have paid off. (Even if it took almost all my Chase and Southwest points to do it . . .)
Anyway–that’s all I’ve got for you for now. If you have any questions on anything, I’m happy to answer them. I’ll let you know how the trip goes when I get back in July. The biggest questions I still have are how hot it’ll be, and how crowded it will get. It’s been a loooong time since I went to Orlando in summer. I’m hoping all my planning lets me avoid the worst of things, but you never know.
Wish me luck!
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