Thursday, May 28, 2015

How We Use Our Disney Visa to Help Pay for Our Vacation

By: Jenna, Lindsey, and Melissa


*This is our own personal experience, not an endorsement or promotion for a company.*


Melissa: We are always looking for ways to save money on trips, and if we can get something for free, it’s even better. We’ve earned $300 toward our Disney trip so far with our Chase Disney Visa.

Let me just say that my husband and I don’t like debt. We worked really hard to eliminate debt, and do not plan to take on more. I am not advocating going into debt for your vacation or in the process of saving for your vacation. I am well aware that there are some excellent financial advisors that teach not to use credit cards at all. If you follow that method and that’s what works for you, that’s awesome! We’ve found that using a credit card that we pay off each month works well for us, but it takes discipline and good bookkeeping. That being said….

Last summer (about 9 months ago), we opened a Chase Disney Visa with a promo code that gave us a $200 Disney gift card after we spent $500. We would also earn 1% in Disney Rewards Dollars on all purchases, with no annual fees. (They offer a card that gives you 2% in rewards, but there is an annual fee.) We decided to use this card for expenses we would normally use our debit card for – groceries, fuel, etc. These were things we would be buying anyway, and there would be very little risk of overspending. (I have a super number cruncher, pencil pusher, nerdy way to keep track of those expenses. Let’s just say I love spreadsheets.) We pay the card off each month while we earn free Disney Rewards Dollars. It works for us.

We immediately used the $200 promo gift card toward the Disney vacation we’d recently booked. (It was super easy – you can apply gift cards online in My Disney Experience.) Since then, we’ve just been using the Visa card for groceries, fuel, and things like that, and paying it off every month. In 9 months, we’ve earned a little over $100 in rewards. By the time we get ready for our trip in the fall, it will be even more. Sure, you can debate if $100 in 9 months is worth it. But it doesn’t take any more of my time than recording debit card transactions and balancing the checkbook. Even if it was a little more effort, it’s extra money for Disney. Totally worth it in my book.

I’ve read a lot of debate on the DISBoards as to if this card is the best way to earn rewards, because there are quite a few cards that offer up to 5% cash back or other rewards. If it’s only about cash back/rewards, it’s true that there are likely many others that will help you earn faster. However, there are perks with the Disney Visa that no other card can offer. See what Jenna has to say about those!

Lindsey:

We’ve had our Disney Visa for about three years now. My parents have had a Disney Visa since they were invented. No, seriously. Their card says “Charter Member” on the front. When we took our first trip to Disney in 2011, my parents were kind and gave us their rewards to use towards souvenirs and other purchases while we were there. When we returned, we got one of our own and we’ve been using it since.

I’m right there with Melissa on this one. We use our card each month for purchases such as extras, online purchases, bills, etc. and pay it off each month. I check the balance on the account several times a week to make sure we have not overspent for the month.

On our October 2013 trip, we had almost $300 dollars in Disney Rewards to put toward our trip. Between our 2013 and December 2014 trip, we had less time to use but we still had a decent amount of Disney Rewards built up. I believe it was around $150. We put those straight toward our balance.

Other than the Disney Reward Dollars, my favorite perk is the sales notifications. Typically, cardholders are notified of special Disney promotions up to three days in advance of the general public. There are times when this doesn’t happen, but more often than not, you get a three day notice. Which can be incredibly nice and help to avoid long phone waits.

And lastly, who doesn’t want a cute little Mickey, or other Disney character, on their credit card? Ha!

Jenna:

My take on the Disney Visa Card is a little bit different from my friends. We opened up two cards last year, prior to our trip, because we were both offered the $200 Disney gift card if we spent $500 deal.

Like Melissa and Lindsey, Chris and I don’t believe in debt, but we do believe in using credit cards simply for the perks. Every month, we pay it off in full. It does take discipline; in fact, we tried this at the beginning of our marriage and just couldn’t do it. Now, ten years later, we have it figured out!

We used the $400 in gift cards toward our trip last November. After that, we really haven’t used those cards because the perks we receive from our Barclay Arrival card are much better for our family (we use those points for travel and we cash them in every November for gift cards to buy Christmas gifts with).

However, we keep our account open because there are still some great perks to be had. Up until this year, Disney Visa cardholders have gotten to book their free dining packages three days before the general public (unfortunately, they didn’t do that this year - bummer!).

Some other cardmember perks are:

10% off at the Disney Store (online too!)
10% off select dining locations at Disney
Private character meet and greet at Epcot (comes with a free 5x7 photo!)
15% off some spa treatments and guided tours
Occasional discounts of hotel stays

Click here to see all of the year round perks.
Click here to see the limited time offers.

If you’re looking for a great way to save for your trip or want to be able to save while at Disney, this might be the perfect card for you!


(Sometimes Disney Visa cardholders are given special referral codes for the $200 gift card promo. Feel free to check with us via email to see if we have a promo code!)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

If I Had Only One Day at Disney...

By: Lindsey





Orlando has a huge conference and event center. So, it’s not too absurd to think that I might one day end up in Orlando with just one day to experience all of Disney. What would I do with my one day?

Well, let’s assume a few things in my dream Disney day. 1) There are no crowds and I can walk on to any ride I want without a wait time. Same with eating, I don’t have to wait. I walk in, I eat, I enjoy, and I leave. 2) I have a park hopper pass. I can go to whatever parks I want, whenever I want. 3) I’m not worried about time limitations. 4) I never get full. Ever. Remember, this is my dream Disney day. I make the rules. 

Here goes, if I had only one day at Disney….



I’d start out at Magic Kingdom. I’d get there early enough for the rope drop ceremony. I’d head straight to Fantasyland and hop on Seven Dwarfs’ Mine Train. From there, I’d walk over to Gaston’s. While there, I’d eat a cinnamon roll and not share it with anyone.

Next comes, It’s a Small Word, because let’s face it, I’m sentimental and I can’t not ride that ride. I would stick around in Fantasyland for a little while longer making sure to ride the tea cups, Peter Pan, and Dumbo. Before I left, Fantasyland, I’d ride Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train one last time.

What comes next? A late breakfast at Be Our Guest. Why? Because the breakfast food just looks good, plus I want to eat inside the Beast’s Castle at least once while I’m there. From there, I would make my way over to Frontierland. On the way, I’d stop at Haunted Mansion and ride it at least once. Then, I’d ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad as many times in a row as my stomach could stand it. Next up, I’d walk across the boardwalk into Adventureland and ride Pirates of the Caribbean.

I’d make my way across Adventureland to the front of the castle. I’d get a prime spot for watching the parade. Once the parade ended, I’d eat a late lunch at Cinderella’s Royal Table. A girl is never too old for princesses. When I left CRT, I’d make my way towards Tomorrowland. There aren’t any rides, I’d stop for here, but I’d like to at least see it on my way out.

We’ll call it about two, maybe three, in the afternoon. Hollywood Studios would be my next stop. Again, there isn’t much I’d ride here but I would catch The Little Mermaid (yes, it needs to be updated in a major way but it’s still a classic) and Beauty and the Beast. I’d just take a walk around the streets before I headed to my next destination, Animal Kingdom.

Why would I go to Animal Kingdom you wonder? For one reason and one reason only – The Lion King. It’s the best show at Disney in my opinion. I absolutely love it every time. I’d walk in, catch this show, and then make my way to Epcot.

At Epcot, I’d ride Soarin’ and Test Track before making my way down to the World Showcase. I’d spend as much time as I wanted roaming around each country. There are so many hidden gems within the countries. So many! They are definitely underrated. Again, that’s my opinion.

By this point in the day, it would probably be pretty late in the evening. I’d head on over to the Polynesian Resort where I would have a late reservation at ‘Ohana at a table with a few of the fireworks at Magic Kingdom. I’d eat until I couldn’t move all while enjoying the fireworks without the crowds.

That, my friends, would be my perfect Disney day. 

Now for reality. If I really and truly only had one day, I’d do a three quarters day at Magic Kingdom, trying to fit in as much as I could. From there, I’d head to Epcot and spend the rest of the day/evening there. I’d finish my day with dinner at ‘Ohana. Realistically that’s probably all I’d be able to fit. If I did happen to find myself with extra time, I’d do as much of the above as I could. 

If you only had one day at Disney, what would you do?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Planning: 10 Steps to a Great Disney Trip

By: Melissa

When you’re planning a Disney trip, the details can get overwhelming. There are a lot of details, but you don’t have to let them make you crazy. Here are 10 basic steps to help you have a great trip. And great news – you don’t have to do them all at once! Some of them you will work on simultaneously, but others are more spread out. Take a deep breath and dive in!


1. Set a budget and start saving. Costs vary widely depending on season. So once you have a date and decide on your transportation method, you can nail down some numbers. Check out prices on the Disney World website to get a good idea of what you will need to save for your trip. Decide a strategy (or three) and start saving! And keep your eyes open for deals and discounts. It might make a big difference to your trip!

Best time to do this: NOW! It’s never too early to start saving for your Disney trip. Check out some of our budgeting posts to see how the Real Moms like to save for our trips.


2. Decide when you want to go. Check out crowd calendars, consult work and school schedules, and pick a date! You’ll need to figure out how many park days you will have during your trip so you can finalize your budget, make reservations, purchase tickets, and make a touring plan later. Don’t underestimate the change in prices by season. Adjusting your trip dates by a week or two can make a huge difference in price. You can find some interesting information on pricing for 2015 here, here, and here. If you’re planning for 2016, check out this page at MouseSavers. It lists each resort and their prices per "season".

Best time to do this: 180+ days from your trip; or honestly, as soon as you are ready to tackle it! Check out what Lindsey says about when to go to Disney.

3.  Determine if you want to pay out of pocket for food, or if a Dining Plan is right for you.  You can find information on Disney’s dining plans, and to individually compare dining plan vs. paying out of pocket, my favorite tool is distripplanner.com. Keep in mind that most resort rooms have a mini fridge, and you can have grocery items delivered to your resort from somewhere like Garden Grocer. Jenna recently wrote about their first experience with the Dining Plan here, and here’s what we thought about the Quick Service Dining Plan.

Best time to do this: 180+ days from your trip, or when you’re looking at your budget.

4. Decide if you want to stay onsite or offsite, and how you’ll get to Disney. Cruise around the Disney World website and choose a place that accommodates your family and budget. Driving and flying can make a huge difference in how many days you get to spend in the parks and in your budget. Decide what works best for your family.

Best time to do this: 180+ days from your trip.

5. Book your reservation and flights (if you’re flying)! You can book your Disney reservations online through the Disney World website, by calling, or even through a certified Disney Vacation Planner. Disney typically requires a $200 deposit to hold your package reservation, and your balance must be paid 45 days before your trip. (Now 30 days for 2016 packages!) (Room only reservations are required to pay a deposit on a different calculation.) Disney doesn’t book flights, but you can book through the airlines’ website, or a DVP can do it for you. If you decide not to book a room & ticket package through Disney, look for discounts on park tickets at places like Undercover Tourist, through AAA, or ask for a military discount if that applies to you.

Best time to do this: At least 180 days before your trip for Disney reservations, though they can actually be made up to 500 days ahead of time, or much closer to the trip, depending on availability. Flights vary depending on your needs & location.

If you need a planning calendar to help you keep your details together, check out our free printable calendar!

Parts of #6 & #7 have to happen together…

6. After you decide which parks you’ll be in on which day {#7}, choose where you want to eat and make your ADRs. (A little more on that here.) I know, it sounds a little crazy to pick your restaurants up to 180 days before your vacation, but you will be glad you did. ADRs are not necessary for Quick Service locations (except for Be Our Guest), but are recommended for Table Service restaurants. At the 180-day mark, make your reservations and get ready for some yummy food! Of course, these can be made later depending on availability, but your best bet is to make them as soon as possible. Take advantage of our free printable ADR Planner to help you keep the details in order.

Best time to do this: 200+ days from your trip, so you’re ready to book your ADRs 180 days from your trip.

7. Determine your touring plan and what rides you’ll want to FP+. Go back to your crowd calendars and decide which day you’ll go to which park. Then, check out some touring plans for each park here, here, and here. {Insert #6 here!} Choose the three most important attractions for your family as your FP+ attractions. Be ready to make those selections 60 days from your trip. Also, now’s a good time to decide if you’ll need to rent a stroller. There’s a lot of walking at Disney, and little legs tire more quickly than you think. Check out Simple Stroller Rental – they’ll deliver to the resort for you!

Best time to do this: 80+ days from your trip – ready to book FP+ 60 days from your trip.

8. Customize your Magic Bands (if you’re staying on site). You have until 10 days before your trip to customize your Magic Bands in My Disney Experience and have them arrive at your home before you leave. If you customize them up to 3 days from your trip, you can pick them up at your resort.

Best time to do this: 10+ days from your trip.

9. Pack your stuff. As fun as Disney is, you still have to have stuff. We each pack differently, so check out some of our best packing advice here and here.

Best time to do this: 1 week up to 1 month from your trip, depending on what you’re packing and your family’s needs. We have a great last minute packing list printable to help you get out the door with everything on your departure day.

10. Go have fun! You’ve done the hard part – making all the decisions and plans. Now, just work your plan and enjoy the trip!


There are all kinds of other details you can add – like autograph books, daily surprises, earning Disney Dollars for souvenirs, and movie nights. All of those things are fun extras to add, and should not be something that overwhelms you. Do what works best for you and your family and have fun!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Gaston's Tavern

by: Jenna

One of the places on my "Snacks" list this past trip was Gaston's Tavern. Located in FantasyLand, Gaston's is the place to go for a unique snack item. We were going to use a snack credit for breakfast one day and indulge in one of their HUGE cinnamon rolls, but we never got around to it.


Besides the rolls, Gaston's is known for their signature drink, LeFou's Brew. Some say this answered Universal Studios own version of Butterbeer (which of course is the non-alcoholic drink made famous in the Harry Potter series). Having sampled both, I personally prefer Butterbeer, but LeFou's is great too!


Some of the other snack choices include roasted pork shanks and hummus with chips. Note that you cannot use a snack credit on the pork shanks. It's the only item (besides souvenir mugs) that you cannot use a credit on.

The full menu can be seen below or by visiting Disney's website

Gaston's is an adorable place to pop into for a quick snack. You'll be glad you stopped by!

 Have you been to Gaston's? What did you think of it?
 
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