Disney

The Mouse on Miles: Disney World for Business Travelers

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Dear business-traveler-friends who continue to ask me about how to plan a Walt Disney World vacation: this post is for you.

Because here’s the thing–you can do the mouse on miles and points. It’s actually really easy. You just have to know how. Fortunately for you, I’ve been business traveling my way to Walt Disney World for years. I do this in two ways:

  1. I use points, miles, free rental car days, and anything else I can earn by doing my regular, travel-requiring job to defray the cost of a Disney trip.
  2. I use my business-traveler smarts to further decrease costs and increase enjoyment. I realize that last bit sounds rather robot-esque. I’m ok with that. Beep boop. 

Here’s how….

Disney World for the Business Traveler: How To Do Disney On Points, Miles, and Business-Travel Knowhow

Lodging: Stay for Free 

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There are two hotels on Disney property which can be easily booked using points–The Disney Swan and the Disney Dolphin. Both are SPG properties; the Swan is a Westin and the Dolphin is a Sheraton. And now that Marriott has merged with Starwood, even Marriott people like myself can book awards nights at either property. One night at The Disney Dolphin is 10K SPG points, or 30K Marriott points; in my book, this is an excellent awards redemption rate for a property within the United States.

For my points, The Disney Swan and Dolphin are the best lodging choice for a Walt Disney World vacation. Here’s why:

-The Disney Swan and Dolphin are the only non-Disney hotel/resorts on actual Disney property. This is your only option for a points-redemption stay inside Walt Disney World proper.

mousonmilesgraphic-The Disney Swan an Dolphin are CRAZY WELL LOCATED. By ‘on property’ I do not mean ‘Disney-adjacent’. I mean ‘you can walk to two of the four parks and also enjoy three Disney resorts PLUS all that the actual Swan and Dolphin have to offer’. Located in between Disney’s Boardwalk and The Disney Yacht and Beach Club on the shores of the man-made lake that connects to both Epcot and Hollywood Studios, you really can not beat the location of The Swan and Dolphin. I timed it; it took 14 minutes to walk from inside my room at The Dolphin to the bag check at Hollywood Studios. The walk to Epcot is even shorter, at around 8 minutes. There is also boat service for those days when you just can not walk any more (those days will happen in Disney, I assure you.)

-The Disney Swan and Dolphin feature several world-class restaurants including Il Mulino at the Swan and Todd English’s BlueZoo at the Dolphin (all of which are featured at the Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic, which I attended last week and which I will be reviewing here in days to come.) As an added bonus, the Dolphin just revamped the lobby area, adding a quick service dining option and a snazzy lobby bar, Fuel and Phins respectively. Bonus tip: at Fuel, for the low, low price of $15, you can  purchase a six pack of Phins and Feathers, the rather good IPA brewed specifically for the Swan and Dolphin. And if $15 for a six pack sounds steep, please don’t attempt to buy a single beer at any bar on Disney property. You may pass out from sticker shock (you’ll pay at least $9/beer and $13/glass of wine.)

Have I convinced you to book The Swan or Dolphin as a points redemption yet? Good. Because honestly, I almost hesitate to write this post, because I don’t really want the world in general to know about this fantastic on-site option. But not that many people read this blog, so it’s fine. I’m sure there will still be last-minute availability the next time I require it. Because that’s the other thing–there’s almost always availability for rooms-booked-on-points. We stayed during the Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic last weekend and booked less than a week in advance. Have I mentioned I love the Disney Swan and Dolphin?

Oh and as an added bonus–and an added tip–Disney fans typically tire of constantly saying (or, in my case, writing) The Disney Swan and Dolphin. So they shortened the name of the two resorts to simply: The Swolphin. And we can all agree that’s a fun word to say. Say it with me now…Swolphin. See? You can’t not smile.

There are also several Hilton properties which offer great points redemption opportunities almost-on Disney property. Because when in Disney, location matters. Your two best Hilton options include:

Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace Disney Springs

Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista Disney Springs

And yes, I realize these two properties have maddeningly similar names. They are maddeningly similar, and are also basically next door to each other. Both are an easy walk to–you guessed it–Disney Springs, which is a shopping, dining, and entertainment area run by Disney World (and costs nothing to enter, so it’s a place you can enjoy for $0 if you don’t feel like going into the actual Disney parks on any given day or night.)

Dining: Character Meals 

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If you took my ‘stay at the Swan or Dolphin’ advice above and you have status with Marriott or SPG, one of your welcome gift options is a free breakfast voucher. For an additional $8, you can turn this into a hot breakfast voucher which can be used at The Garden Grove Character breakfast at the Swan, where your kids can meet Chip and Dale and Goofy and Pluto while they enjoy their free (ok, $8) breakfast. If this is not a steal, I do not know what is (character breakfasts in the parks begin at $50 per CHILD. For waffles and eggs and some college kid dressed up as a mouse.) According to many of my business-traveler parent friends, it’s ‘Disney’s best kept secret’. Sorry friends, the secret is out!

Dining: All Other Food 

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This section falls under the category of ‘using business travel smarts to make a Disney trip cheaper and more magical’. When I travel for work, I use GrubHub a lot. I’ve found GrubHub to be a bit limited on Disney Property, but fear not! Uber Eats is there for you.

On our most recent trip, I was sick. Like really, really sick. And it was raining. And I didn’t want to spend $50 on a fancy dinner in a fancy restaurant because a. I wouldn’t have been able to taste it anyway and b. I didn’t want to be all sick around other happy diners. So we downloaded the Uber Eats app and 45 minutes and $46 later, had a Mexican feast fit for a king (and fit for breakfasts and snacks for the rest of the week, because we really ordered too much.)

For those of you who don’t know, Uber Eats works kind of like Uber–you use the app to order food from the restaurants listed, and an Uber driver goes to that restaurant, picks up your food for you, and brings it to you. God, I love living in the 21st century.

Transportation: Land

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Remember how I said that you can’t use the super-slow, not-magical-at-all Magical Express bus from the airport if you choose to stay at The Swan and Dolphin? Well, worry not! Because National Rental Car has an on-airport site at MCO (Orlando International) which is as convenient as any other National Rental Car on-airport site (I LOVE THE EMERALD AISLE). And National Rental Car ALSO has a site at….the Disney Dolphin.

What this means for you is this: you can pick up a car at the airport–using your free rental days you’ve earned being a business traveler–drive yourself to a Wal Mart, pick up things like food and boxes of wine (ok, maybe that second thing is just me) continue on to your room at the Disney Dolphin, pull up to the valet, hand them your keys, and walk away having returned your rental car. You won’t pay for parking, and you’ll only use one of your free rental days. Oh, and you won’t have to spend $13/glass on wine. I don’t mean to sound full of myself, but this is some seriously good advice here. You’re welcome.

You may also choose to keep your rental car for the duration of your trip for whatever reason. But unless you have a really, really good reason, I’m going to encourage you to not keep your rental car and instead do the #1 Absolute Best Thing You Can Do To Have A Magical Time In Walt Disney World. And that thing is: use Uber.

Because here’s the thing: even using points and miles and saving on food, it’s never actually cheap to do Disney. At the very least, you will pay in the area of $80 per day per person just to enter the parks; for a family of four, you’re looking at $320/day just on admission alone. Why would you spend $320/day and waste an hour of that day waiting for super slow bus service when you can spend an additional $6-$8 on an Uber and be ushered directly to the park entrance at three* of the four parks? You wouldn’t do that. Because you are a smart business traveler, and you embrace Uber. Embrace it! Do it! DO IT NOW!

Are you embracing it yet? Good.

*Uber is not ideal when visiting The Magic Kingdom, because you’d be dropped off at the Ticket and Transportation Center and would still need to board a boat or a monorail to get to the park. So for the Magic Kingdom, you’ll likely need to take the bus. Sorry.

Transportation: Air

I’m including this category here because I suppose it’s required. I mean, you have to get to Disney World, right? Except that if you’ve read this far, you are a frequent business traveler and thus understand how to best use your air miles. So I can only tell you that it’s almost never a good value to use said air miles on a flight to Orlando. Because flights to Orlando are CHEAP. I’ve never paid more than $150 round trip to get to Orlando from Philadelphia; I’ve occasionally used budget airlines and have flown from alternate airports (ABE and TTN, for example, on Allegiant and Frontier respectively.) However, if you insist on using miles, Delta and American fly into MCO more then ten times per day, and you can likely score a fairly low-miles awards redemption on either airline. Please do not spend more than 25K AA miles round trip in coach. Thanks.

All of the Other Stuff

There are credit cards you can use for work-travel expenses which will earn you cash-back rewards. I don’t know which ones are the best because I’m not The Points Guy. I highly recommend you check out his site for info on that.

You also can’t save money on park tickets, which will run you anywhere from $60-$110/day, depending upon how long you visit. I recommend staying for a while, as the per-day cost decreases with every day. Also, you saved so much money on lodging, food, and transportation, you deserve a longer Disney trip. Yes, you do. You’re welcome.

And that’s it, folks. Those are all of my best tips and tricks for how to do Disney on a business traveler dime. I’m certain I’ve missed something, so business traveler friends–what do you have to add to this? Please share in the comments section below. And have a magical day!

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