A few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to take advantage of the 2018 Military Salute Disney tickets. We called it our belated honeymoon since we married the week after he graduated Coast Guard basic training. I hope this post will fill you in on a few military opportunities concerning Disney World and other Orlando theme parks. Feel free to view the table of contents below and scroll straight to the information you are searching for.
1. Disney Military Salute Tickets
2. When to Go
3. Eating at Disney
4. Disney Resort/ lodging
5. SeaWorld (free tickets)
6. Universal Studios/ Islands of Adventure
7. Cheaper Disney Swag for Great Pictures
Disney Military Salute Tickets
Although it changes every year, Disney has 5- day park hopper tickets available to active duty military for $246. They also offer 4-Day tickets for $226, but what’s $20 more at this point? That’s the price of a 2-day base ticket at the gate. 2018 is also the first year that Disney offers this deal to DOD civilians as well.
One military member or DOD civilian can activate 6 tickets. People accompanying the service member do not have to be dependents. You can purchase these tickets at the travel and leisure office at many of the military installations, although our base in Savannah only had 2 passes left when we bought ours. You purchase the vouchers on base and exchange them for a Disney pass at the ticket booth of the first park you visit.
The tickets will expire on December 19th of the year they were purchased. For example, we only bought our tickets a month ago, but they will expire this December 19, 2018. So, if you want to go next year, 2019, you have to wait until January to purchase them. There are no longer black-out dates for military salute tickets, so you can split up the days and use them however you want within the year.
When to Go
If you can, try to go during October, January, or February when most kids are in school. Weekdays are an amazing time to go because, 1. Resort stays are cheaper, and 2. The park is much less crowded. We went to Epcot on Friday, and it did not get crowded until 1pm. You may be able to ride everything in the park and explore every country by 2pm like we did.
Try to get to the park at least 30 minutes before it opens to go ahead and knock out your favorite rides while the lines are low. Even on Sunday, we were able to ride most attractions at Magic Kingdom before noon. I’m not sure why. I’m guessing because it’s tough to get out the door early with little ones, but I don’t have any yet so that’s just a guess.
Eating at Disney
Food prices are not terrible at Disney food kiosks. It’s the drinks that get you. Bring bottled water and refill it at fountains all over the park. In Magic Kingdom, go to Sleepy Hollow Refreshments in Liberty Square before 12:00 and enjoy a ham, egg, and cheese waffle sandwich for $8.99.
Here is an eating schedule option for you while at the Disney Parks:
Breakfast before the park (eggs, cereal, muffins, fruit, etc.)
Light Lunch in the park and a shared coffee for some extra energy
Snacks in our backpack (tuna pouches and crackers, trail mix, fruit, granola)
Late Dinner after we shut down the park at any restaurant still open on the way back to the hotel
It might be fun to splurge one night and reserve dinner in the park ($20-$40ish per plate). Bring something nice to change into that doesn’t wrinkle, enjoy a dinner-date at the happiest place on earth, and end the evening watching fireworks together.
Lodging for Disney Parks
Disney has several resorts to choose from. They vary from luxury resorts all the way to Fort Wilderness campgrounds. Shades of green is a resort especially for U.S. military and their families as well as DOD civilians. From the looks of their website, Shades of Green is pretty booked for the rest of the year so be sure to plan ahead if you want to go in 2019.
During the holidays, prices jump up to about double, except if you book nights during the week. Weekday prices are very affordable and worth it for the dining options, transportation, character fun, and no parking fees ($25/day)! Prices are different per night depending on your military rank. E-1 though E-6 is the cheapest and officers and DOD civilians have the highest rates.
They have a food package offered as a “special deal,” which can include breakfast and/or dinner at their Garden Buffet into your nightly rate. This seems to only be a deal if your nightly rate is higher than an enlisted rate. If you are E-1 to E-6, it is just about the same price as if you just bought the meals yourself. If Shades of Green is booked, the Disney Animation Resort, Movie Resort, and Sports Resort are often around the same price. But once again, plan ahead for next year.
Orlando does have hotels that are cheaper than staying on Disney’s property, but the convenience factor is a major benefit of lodging with Disney. Parking ads up for one thing. We spent $75 alone in parking while staying off the Disney property. Also, Disney resort visitors get the privilege of EMC (Extra Magic Hours) at certain parks. Check the days you are going and see which parks you can go early or state late in.
One military and DOD perk that many don’t know about is Armed Forces Vacation Club. They offer condos and hotels from well-known companies like Wyndham Resorts for a super low price. There are several hotels in Kissimmee, Florida for $349 for 7 nights. The only catch is that each stay is usually Friday-Friday or Sunday-Sunday, so you have to be willing to take a full week of leave or just forfeit a few nights. But for just $50 a night, you may just want to book the week and stay for 4 nights or so. This option is great if you are going to Orlando with a larger group as most of these resorts offer 2 bedrooms, a pullout couch, and a full kitchen.
You might even want to book a stay through Airbnb.com. I found a few apartments that are $70 per night, including the cleaning and service fees. I have a discount code that can get you $40 off your first stay with Airbnb, but I would honestly use it as a last resort option: 40% off Airbnb stay
Staying at Disney or at a hotel with breakfast and a Disney shuttle would be my first two recommendations, followed by Armed Forces Vacation Club.
While you’re in town… SeaWorld!
I know some people have issues with SeaWorld these days, but if you don’t, keep reading! Each year, SeaWorld gives one free ticket to active duty military and their dependents. You can choose to use your free tickets at SeaWorld (San Diego, CA or Orlando, FL) or Busch Gardens (Williamsburg, VA or Tampa, FL). My husband and I decided to spend Saturday at SeaWorld for half a day since Disney would be busy. If you decide to go while in town, you will only pay for parking, which is $22, and a locker if you bring a bag, which is $6 for all day. If I were you, I would just leave bags in the car. The lockers are a hassle if you don’t really need anything from your bag. SeaWorld has more rollercoasters than I expected, and their shows are incredible. We also discovered a helpful tip. Go ride rollercoasters during the Shamu shows. Half the park goes to the show and the rides are practically empty! Of course, watch one Shamu show because they are so fun! Getting the military tickets couldn’t be easier. All you do is go to SeaWorld.com and either enter your military ID number or log in using your USAA account. They will email you your ticket and you’re done!
Universal and Islands of Adventure
Universal Studios also offers a significant military discount on their tickets. Once again, you can purchase them at your Travel and Leisure office on base, but the cool thing about these tickets is that the sponsor does not have to be with you at the park entrance. The tickets are about $180 for a 4-day, 2- park voucher. That is the price you would pay for a 1-day, 2-park ticket at regular price.
I hope this helps with your Disney vacation planning! I also hope you have an amazing time with friends and family at the most magical place on earth! Who knows? Maybe I’ll see you in December!
Click here to see some of my favorite items to use while traveling and it will help keep this blog going as I am affiliated with Amazon!
For cute Disney Pictures:
I bought some Disney swag at Kohl’s the other day because they have a junior’s line of Disney apparel for Mickey’s 90th birthday. They also have 20% off your purchase right now both in-store and online. I’m not affiliated with Kohl’s, they just had cute items for pictures at Disney!