Last year we took our first family vacation in over five years! We decided we wanted to take the kids to Florida, because our oldest son was adopted from that area and we have a family history there. We wanted to visit the fun attractions like Disney World and Legoland, but we had the same problem as every other family: it’s so expensive!
We used a few tricks to make our vacation MUCH more affordable, so today I thought I would share them with you. This is how we were able to do Disney and so many other Florida attractions on a budget. We spent a week in the Kissimmee/Orlando area and ended up being able to go to Disney World, Legoland, and Clearwater beach, plus have a few days just relaxing poolside as a family. It was fabulous and we were able to get through the entire week for less than the cost of renting one regular priced hotel room!
Disclaimer: Because I am a blogger, I was able to receive discounted tickets and other perks at a few places. But even so, a vacation was still a big expense for our family! I hope these tips are helpful to you.
How We Swung Disney World on a Tight Budget. Our Top 7 Tips:
We drove. We lived in Pennsylvania and it was a very long drive to Florida, but flying our entire family was just out of our price range. We also did not want the added expense of stopping at a hotel room so we drove straight through the day and night. We left around 6:00am and we just kept driving until we got there, which happened around midnight. In total, after all of the pit stops and bathroom breaks, it was about 18 hours on the road. We felt like it was worth it because we only had to pay for gas and a few snacks. Otherwise, we packed quite a bit of our own food and drinks. We were surprised how well the kids did in the car!
Having our own car with us also gave us more freedom throughout the week to set our own schedule. We could come and go from anywhere as we pleased.
We stayed off-site. We stayed in a cottage on the Thousand Trails campground. They had a Groupon available at the time, which cut the already low price in half, although after we purchased the Groupon I ended up working with them to write a post on the blog. To be honest, we were a bit nervous about staying off Disney property, and on a campground no less, but we LOVED it. We had an entire small, 3 bedroom, air conditioned house all to ourselves. The cottages were great and we were able to stay an entire week for just a fraction of what one room on a Disney property would have cost. We were only about three miles from the attractions, and there was so much to do on the Thousand Trails campground, like a pool, mini golf, playgrounds, and planned family activities, that we were able to spend two days just hanging out there and not spending any additional money. We also had a full kitchen, which let us save so much money preparing our own meals! And having a house to ourselves was so much nicer than staying in a hotel, especially traveling with kids who have special needs. I wrote all about it here.
We set a schedule. We knew we wanted to go to Disney and Legoland, but we only planned one day in each of those parks. We planned in several other days where we weren’t spending any additional money at all. Two days we stayed at our campground resort and took advantage of the pool and other amenities and activities. One day we packed a cooler and drove to the beach. Knowing our schedule in advance gave us access to some sweet discounts as well. Legoland, for example, gives a $15 discount per ticket when you buy in advance. When you are purchasing tickets for a whole family, that can really add up!
Our schedule was very simple, and basically looked like this:
Day 1: Drive forever
Day 2: Rest by the pool and go to Disney Springs in the evening
Day 3: Magic Kingdom
Day 4: Beach
Day 5: Rest day: pool/mini golf
Day 6: Legoland
Day 7: Drive home
If you follow that schedule, I recommend leaving on a Sunday so that you won’t hit as much traffic while driving, and you will also have the following Sunday at home to rest and recuperate before returning to work on Monday.
We were frugal with food. Staying in a cottage allowed us to have a full kitchen. The first day we arrived, we went to a local grocery store and bought food for the week. We figured we would have needed groceries if we were at home anyway, so this didn’t add any additional cost to our budget. We planned for two dinners and two lunches out, but otherwise we ate fast and easy meals like cereal, sandwiches, or spaghetti in our cottage or packed a cooler to take in our car.
Credit Card perks: This may not be for everyone, but we use our credit card perks for Disney. We only have one credit card, which is a Disney Visa card. It gives us points for spending money on groceries and other things throughout the year that we can cash in for Disney dollars. It also gives us discounts at the park. We have used our credit card points to pay for tickets to Disney in the past, but this time we cashed in our points for a Disney gift card and used it to buy food in the park. Although Disney is actually great about letting you bring your own food!
We looked into free or affordable activities. Tropical Palms had an entire schedule of free or very affordable (as in a few dollars for equipment rental) family activities included in our stay. We played mini golf and corn hole, and spent a lot of time at the pools and playgrounds. We also spent an afternoon at Disney Springs (also known as Downtown Disney). The kids love looking at the LEGO sculptures, looking for hidden Mickeys, and playing at the Lego store, which are all free. You can also trade pins, if your family is into that. And I love visiting Erin McKenna’s bakery. Our day at the beach also didn’t cost us anything but a tank of gas and the small parking fee.
When you are on vacation, I recommend always looking on the Facebook pages for local parks, libraries, or mom’s groups as well. You might be able to find some fun activities like free movie nights in a park or open museum days that you can take advantage of during your stay.
We made some cuts. I wouldn’t call it a “sacrifice” because, seriously, we still got an amazing vacation, but we did need to cut a few things we wanted to do, which was a bit disappointing. We REALLY wanted to go to Universal Studios and visit the Harry Potter world and the super hero things that are there, but we just had to accept that it wasn’t in our budget this time. Instead, we decided to save that for another time and go to the two parks where we had discounts: Disney from our credit pard perks, and Legoland because they offered a discount for buying in advance. Cutting Universal stung a bit, but that’s okay. We still got to do two great parks and go to the beach! We can’t complain about that!
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