Hamrick shows off Cinderella's Castle at the Magic Kingdom. Photo by Emma Hamrick.

Making dreams come true on a college budget

Emma Hamrick


Conveniently located in the heart of the I-4 corridor, Florida Southern College and Lakeland, FL fall in the middle of the action between Tampa and Orlando. A brief 45 minute drive from campus allows students to create memories and embrace magical experiences only found at the Walt Disney World Resort. While the world class theme parks may appeal to some, the price  of park visits often puts a damper on the vacation. When high ticket prices meet extreme heat and bustling crowds commonly found at the parks, disappointment confounds the experience. Nevertheless, by employing a few tips and tricks, college students can stretch their dollar and enjoy Walt Disney World to the fullest potential.

Tip 1: Pick the perfect date

Disney tends to experience large crowds near holidays and grade school break periods. Early September through Mid-October often experience lower attendance due to grade schools in session. Touringplans.com offers crowd calendars for free for dates one month in advanced of park visits to predict crowd levels and wait times.

Tip 2: Evaluate ticket options

Frequent Disney visitors often opt for an Annual Pass. Pricing for weekday only passes with blackout dates start at $259 for Florida residents. Although the most expensive pass starts at $729 for Florida residents, considering ticket prices and discounts exclusive to pass holders, an Annual Pass could pay for itself in as little as six visits.

More casual Disney fans should consider purchasing tickets through the FSC Business Office for tickets at student prices regardless of residency. That said, blackout dates apply and tickets must be purchased two to three weeks in advanced.

While Park Hopper tickets may raise the ticket price, these tickets that allow visits to multiple parks in one day are ideal for casual fans looking to visit once each year.

Tip 3: Maximize your Fastpass+ options

Disney enables park guests to essentially make appointments to skip the lines for certain attractions through Fastpass+ as part of the My Disney Experience website and app. Scheduling for Fastpass+ opens up one month prior to a desired visit date. The website enables guests to book up to three Fastpasses for a single park. Once those Fastpasses are used or expired, guests may make additional reservations one-at-a-time for different parks through the app or at in-park kiosks.

To make the most of Fastpass+, consider attractions that tend to create long wait times (Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train, Soarin’ and Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster, etc) and reserve ride times for those first. Also keep in mind park crowds. Disney’s Hollywood Studios, for example, has experienced large crowds recently due to in-park construction. Also, keep in mind that wait times tend to be the highest between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Scheduling Fastpasses for this time of day ensures that the longest lines will be averted.

Tip 4: Utilize discount opportunities

Annual Passholders often receive discounts for hotels, dining, and merchandise. In addition, Disney Visa holders collect Disney Dream Reward Dollars which function as gift cards in the parks. These rewards may be redeemed by anyone (even if the user does not have a Disney Visa) as long as the card holder requests the Disney Rewards redemption card and passes it along. Additionally, with global economy woes in Europe and South America, Disney hotels have offered exceptionally inexpensive accommodations. While campus may be nearby, guests looking to stay late at the parks may enjoy staying overnight to avoid the late night drive back to Lakeland.

The main goal of every weekend getaway is to create lasting memories, enjoy the company of others and have fun. By employing these best practices, financial stresses and crowd complaints may be minimized.