Thursday, April 10, 2014

Disney World- Military style

I grew up going to Walt Disney World. Some of my best memories are the yearly trips my mom and I would take while Daddy was on business trips to Orlando for a long weekend. We'd stay at a Disney hotel and hit the parks from opening until we were too pooped to carry on- usually just after the fireworks! I still remember my first time on Space Mountain at 3 years old and finding someone with Tylenol after I hit my head because I didn't stay seated at the end of the ride. I remember the fun of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and the disappointment when they closed it, the endless rides spinning ourselves as fast as we could on the Teacups, and watching as they built both Big Thunder Railroad and Splash Mountain. We stayed at various different hotels- the Polynesian, Port Orleans before there was a Riverside addition, and many times at the All Star Resorts after they were opened.

I never understood at the time the costs that went into all these memories, but I know now that it was there. And, despite costs, I want these same memories for my boys. So, every couple years we save and do what we can to get to Disney World. (Though, our last trip we headed out to Disneyland in California instead!) This is made much easier as they have great discounts for military. We aren't just a couple hours drive away, and we have three kids, so the travel is much more costly. So, when we decide its time to visit Disney, we do so in the cheapest way possible. Since we have family in Florida, and usually go down for Christmas every few years anyway, we usually time our trips to Disney around the holidays. This year, we are going down in June- the 'busy' season. And we'll be doing Disney, Universal, and Sea World for under $5,000, including gas and hotels during the 3 day each way drive. So, here is our breakdown staying in a Disney Moderate Resort:

Port Orleans French quarter + dining 7 days (2adults/2kids):                                        $2141
-          $306 PER DAY. Hotel, 4 snacks, 4 quick service meals, 4 sit down meals per day.
Disney Tickets: $169 each adult/ children >2. 4-day park hopper.                               $676
Sea World Tickets: Free military.                                                                                         $0
Universal Tickets: Will free, Adult 1-day $96, Child 3-6 $90.                                         $264
Space & Rocket Center: Will free, Adult $20, Child <5 Free                                           $20
Gas (Mapquest estimate):                                                                                                    $500
Hotels ($100/night, 2 nights each way):                                                                            $400
Total:                                                                                                                                        $4,001

·        Does not include food while travelling, in Clearwater, or Panama City.
·        Does not include dog boarding. (2 chocolate labs)
You will see recommendations for and against staying on Disney property and for and against the dining plans. For us, with small children, the resorts make life easier as we can hop the bus to and from the hotel and parks, as often as needed. Also, the monorail is free, and makes a lovely, air conditioned afternoon nap spot for little boys who are too excited in the parks to settle down for a nap in their stroller! (The older boys love riding it and can sit for an hour if we let them. We use it to get the little ones (s) to sleep and then get back off and go back into the park.)

The Dining plan is a must for us since at 5, 3, and 1 years old, our boys are not interested in standing in hour long lines to meet the characters. Instead we use our sit-down meals for character meals. We do Chef Mickey to meet the classic characters, the Disney Jr breakfast at Hollywood Studios to meet their favorite TV characters (this changes now and then to update to the most popular charaters), and this year because we'll have extra days where we won't be at Disney parks, we are using two days of sit-down meals to do the Luau at the Polynesian! Thankfully, we don't have little girls as Cinderella's Table, which I'm told is amazing, is 2 sit-down meals as well as the cookout show at the Wilderness Lodge! Why is this worth spending the extra money? Because our hotel, tickets, and dining plan equal out to $402 a day. Just the total for us all to do the Luau will cost around that if we had to pay for it separately! The character meals will add up to around $100 each without the dining plan. Are you seeing why its worth it!?!

Now for the breakdown without the military discounts. These are all taken off the parks website.
Disney, hotel, tickets, and dining online before taxes: $4212
Sea world tickets: $318 (2 adults, 2 kids, 1 under 3 free)
Universal:$ 372 (2 adults, 2 kids, 1 under 3 free) 1 day, 1 park
Space & Rocket Center: $40
Gas: $500
Hotels: $400
$5842  Non-military price  
That's a difference of $1841!!
Now, I tried to match it as close as possible to what we'll be getting. I was able to adjust the Disney side to perfectly match what we are getting. For Universal, we will only be doing one day at Islands of Adventure, even though Will will be getting Universal's Military ticket, which is, I think, a park hopper or 2-day, but as we'll only be going to the one park for one day, I chose that option for the general price. (So, its the price of what we'll be doing.)
Also, you'll notice mention of Clearwater and Panama City. We have family in those two cities, so we'll be spending a couple nights with family in both places as we make our way home. We'll also be stopping in Huntsville, AL to spend a couple hours at the Space & Rocket Center as my boys are space crazy.
Our drive to and from Florida will be about 3 days each way. We drive about 8 hours a day so we are able to stop for an hour at lunch and let the boys run around, and then are done each night at dinner time, allowing for more run around or pool time after eating. To minimize hotel cost, we usually stay at Best Westerns or Holiday Inn Expresses as they both offer military rates and have free continental breakfasts and internet! I average around $100 per night for hotels as it does change based on the location, but we've yet to spend more than $120 after taxes for a night at either chain.
If you are looking for more money saving tips for a trip to Disney, I highly suggest checking out Couponing to Disney. Not only does she have tons of great money saving tips for going to Orlando and California, but she has lots of good ideas and deals to help you save money everyday! And Behind the Mouse just recently put up a post full of free things to do while at Disney World. And did you know Disney World has two mini golf courses!? These are another fun and cheap way to spend some time outside the actual parks!
Other options to look into for the Orlando area is to stay at Shades of Green, which is a military resort on Disney property. The room rates are based on rank, and the rooms look to be well sized. They are not a Disney resort and therefore, you cannot get the Disney Dining Plan through them (which was our deal breaker). If you are looking at not doing the dining plan, this is definitely an option to look into. There is a way to save even more by getting a vacation rental through Armed Forces Vacation Club, which allows you to rent a suite at local resorts for a week for only a couple hundred dollars total. These often come with a kitchen, which allows you to cook your meals. As our kids get older, this is an option we'll be exploring more I think! I have not used them, but have a close friend who had an amazing experience through them. (also note, AFVC has rentals throughout the world- check them out for any vacation!!)
Maybe next month, as we get closer to vacation, I'll share my packing list, and some basic survival tips to get through a long car ride and Disney with little kiddos. Here's a preview- stroller etiquette is important! We take a double jogger with us that we have fondly named "The Cadillac." We take it on buses, on the monorail, and around the parks without any issues. Be respectful of others, you can run them over easier than you think! For buses, have the kids out and get that sucker folded while waiting in line, and don't let go of it while on the bus, it can and will fall over and hurt people while the buses are moving. And the double joggers go nicely onto the monorail to get those kiddos to sleep, just make sure you're getting into an empty, or almost empty space.