When my wife and I were planning our honeymoon in 2013, we floated quite a few different travel ideas, from hiking in the Grand Canyon to finally getting around to that tour of Hawaii to visiting all the places “Lost” was filmed. Nothing truly gripped us until she suggested Walt Disney World, and I couldn’t come up with a reason not to go.
Since then, we have been to Walt Disney World three more times, Disneyland three times, and on two Disney cruises. We have fully bought into the Mouse and and have no regrets. My wife has since picked up a part-time job as a travel agent specializing in Disney trips and does all our planning and booking. (She is also gleefully standing over my shoulder while I write this, giving me suggestions.)
But how, you may ask, does an E-6 reservist afford to constantly fly to Orlando and California to ride Space Mountain until he pukes Mickey waffles all over the place? Because Disney loves the troops. Here are five ways we cut downs on costs thanks to Disney discounts.
1. The Shades of Green resort is your home away from FOB.
Task & Purpose recently had a good write up about Shades of Green, the Defense Department’s resort at Walt Disney World in Orlando, which offers very reasonable rates to service members. While the deals are great, you can knock off another 20% from your room rates if you’re on R&R, which means you can spend all those hard-earned deployment dollars on Mickey Ear hats.
There are also various packages you can get that include a hot breakfast and dinner every day. Food in the parks isn’t terribly expensive, but why do all that traveling to the parks when you can fill up at the hotel before starting your day?
Shades of Green also offers package delivery services that lets you buy things at the park and have them delivered to your room free of charge. Very helpful when you don’t want to carry around a three-foot-tall Olaf the Snowman that your daughter insisted you buy at 10 in the morning. And then there’s the Extra Magic hours, for which various parks open early or stay open late, but only for people staying at Walt Disney World, Shades of Green, and Swan & Dolphin.
Finally, the resort provides buses that will run you out to all of the parks and back, making Mickey Mouse your designated driver for your entire vacation.
2. Don’t want to be surrounded by a bunch of E-4s? Check out Walt Disney World Resort hotel discounts.
If you decide that you don’t want to be surrounded by high-and-tight haircuts during your vacation, you can always stay at one of the Walt Disney World Resort hotels, which are owned by Walt Disney Company. All the hotels have different discounts for troops depending on the season and room availability. Historically, the discounts have been 40% off rooms at deluxe resorts, 35% off moderate resorts, and 30% off at the value resorts. (Side note: Walt Disney World resorts do have blackout dates where military discounts are not available, around Christmas and Spring Break. Shades of Green has no blackout dates and their prices are based on rank.)
There are also a couple extra amenities offered for those staying at a Disney resort and not Shades of Green, such as Magical Express, a bus service that picks you and your luggage up from the airport, takes you to your resort, and deposits your suitcases into your room. The service also takes you back to the airport when you’re done. You can also use your “magic bands” as your room key, which is not available at Shades of Green. The bands are customizable wristbands that hold your tickets and a credit card for purchases. No digging around for tickets when you’re standing in line to get in. And if you’re staying at a Disney resort hotel, it acts as your room key as well.
3. Don’t forget to get those discounted park ticket rates.
If you’re active duty, your base should have an Information, Tickets and Travel office. This is where your next savings comes in. If you haven’t been looking into the ITT office yet, you’re really doing yourself a disservice as they sell discounted tickets to lots of local events. For you part-timers, ITT will let you buy your tickets over the phone and mail them to you. If you’re staying at Shades of Green, there is a ticketing center available on-site for you to pick up your park tickets.
A one-day ticket to the Magic Kingdom costs $107 these days, and those prices aren’t dropping any time soon. But there are also four parks at Disney World to visit, as well as a couple water parks to splash around in, so why limit yourself to just the Magic Kingdom?
The military salute tickets are a steal. They have to be activated for the first time at the park ticket kiosk by active-duty, reserve, or retired troop, but after that, you don’t have to see your whining brother-in-law for the rest of the vacation, and you can still lord it over him that your service got him a sweet deal on a vacation.
A park-hopper ticket enables you to start your day in Epcot and have dinner in Magic Kingdom without buying extra tickets. These prices are the same across the board no matter which ITT you go to, so there’s no sticker shock between us humble Missourians and those of you serving in California. Add in the water parks for a bit more and you’re saving hundreds of dollars. A regular five-day park hopper for nonmilitary adults is just under $500.
4. Once you’re in the park, the Memory Maker will help you capture all those special moments that will embarrass your kids for years.
All over the parks are official photographers who take your picture at various points of interest. You can get as many as you want, and there are even some with “Extra Magic” added.
With the Memory Maker, you can take all the photos you want and download them for free at the end of your vacation. Without it, the photos cost about $10 each. The regular price for Memory Maker is $169, but for the military you can get it for $84 and it’s good for your entire vacation. You can pick it up at any Walt Disney World ticket window.
(Note: The Memory Maker deal is only available until Dec. 19, 2017, and may or may not be renewed next year.)
5. Finally, don’t miss out on some sweet wheels to avoid mobility issues.
If you’re traveling with a young one or someone with mobility issues, and don’t want to fly with your stroller or scooter, Amusement Park Rentals offers a military discount. But not only that, if you’re deciding to stay off property and need a pack and play or a crib for your room, they can provide that as well.