Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

Disney Week: Magic Kingdom on a budget, tips from FastPass Dad

Posted February 3
Updated February 4

Brian Bowman with wife Diana at Epcot in December

Editor's Note: It's Disney Week on Go Ask Mom. Today, we hear from Brian Bowman, a father of three and Disney lover, who goes by the handle FastPassDad on Twitter. (He also is a former WRAL-TV reporter). He offers some fantastic tips on visiting Magic Kingdom on a budget.

For many people, especially families with kids, Magic Kingdom is Walt Disney World. This park is home to Cinderella Castle and Space Mountain as well as iconic rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion. Each of the four parks has its own appeal, but Magic Kingdom is still a must-see.

Walt Disney World is expensive, but you can save significant money by planning ahead, and many of Magic Kingdom’s most memorable experiences are free.

Before you go, I encourage you to make an important decision: Acknowledge that there’s no way to do everything in one trip. Trying to do too much will just take away the fun. Being flexible with your time and attention allows for unexpected delights.

Timing

The time of year you visit strongly influences how much time you’ll spend waiting in line. For example, during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, it’s not unusual for paying guests to be turned away after late morning because the parks are full. Free online crowd calendars like this one from Undercover Tourist can help you avoid the most crowded days. If your kids are on a year-round calendar, you’re in great shape to avoid the crowds.

Food

With three kids, food is one of our family’s biggest costs. Magic Kingdom includes many dining options ranging from counter service to sit-down meals. Generally speaking, all of it costs more than what you pay here. Disney publishes its menus and approximate costs online, so you can budget before you go. It’s also a good idea to budget your time. Advanced reservations are available online, and many restaurants require them, especially during busy times.

Character dining is a sit-down meal with one or more Disney characters. If you have younger kids, this can be a real treat. The characters stroll from table to table and are happy to pose for pictures with you and the family. Expect to pay a little more for this experience, but in my opinion it’s worth doing at least once during a trip.

You can save big on snacks. Magic Kingdom and the other parks allow you to bring your own food (just be ready to let security inspect the bag as you walk in). This is also helpful for those who have food sensitivities. We always pack granola bars, gummi bears and bottles of water. Also, you can request a free cup of water from any Disney restaurant. Dehydration is a real danger in the Florida heat, and the cast members are always happy to oblige. Don’t be afraid to ask.

Merchandise

There are gift shops on every corner in Magic Kingdom. With this in mind, we recommend a simple budget technique that provides options to the kids while taking the pressure off of you. We buy prepaid Visa cards at our local credit union before each trip and pre-load them with a specific amount, then hand out the cards on the first day. Each child knows how much he/she can spend on nonessential items. We’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well they prioritize souvenirs when they have a set budget.

Cast Members

Disney cast members (the company’s name for employees) are trained to treat guests (that’s you) well. Generally speaking, they’re smart, friendly people, especially if they interact with the public. They are also happy to take your photo with your phone or camera.

One of our favorite activities, which costs nothing, is to spend a little time talking with them during each visit. If they’re from another country, their home country is listed on their name tag. Many are flattered if you ask about home, and your kids can learn about another culture. You don’t even have to stand in line to do it.

Brian Bowman is a public relations practitioner in the Raleigh area. He tweets often about Disney as @FastPassDad.

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