OK, before you roll your eyes at me and tell me I sold out to the mouse, please understand that I have no intention of ever giving up our exciting frugal adventures. The wife and I decided that it was about time that we actually took a real family vacation together. So where does the family that practically goes on a frugal trip every weekend go for a vacation? Disney World of course! I can’t wait to tell everyone about our Frugal Disney Trip!
Over the past year we have scraped, pinched, and hoarded every single penny we could, knowing that we wanted to visit Mickey and Minnie Mouse in Orlando for a few days. Seeing as we have an almost three-year old, we figured the time itself would be a great way to save some money. Our oldest will be 3 in a few months, so we figured we would go now before we actually had to pay for him as well. We live about an hour and a half away, so we debated on wether or not to do a few day trips, over the course of a week, or actually stay somewhere locally. It turns out, we scraped together enough cash over the past year to not only pay for our week trip to Disney World, but to also pickup annual passes!
I plan on doing a whole series about a handful of Disney on A Dime related topics, but wanted to give a brief overview of our magical stay. For starters, we chose almost a year in advance that we wanted to have a frugal Disney trip, but didn’t really know how to plan, or even attempt to start the process. Luckily, the first steps were savings.. We knew it would probably cost thousands of dollars for a week-long stay at the mouse house, so we started early. Ages ago when the Mrs. and I were actually Cast Members, in our orientation class, called “Traditions”, we were told that it took an average family of 4, an average of four years to save for a week’s worth of the mouse. Gladly it didn’t take us that long. Every nickel, quarter, dime, and penny we had left over from a transaction practically went into the coffers for our vacation. We set a date and made sure we could both take off from work. After we had set the date, a huge, multi-year, very labor intensive project was scheduled with my employer, and we were fortunate that we could still manage to take a week off. The dates were set, now all we needed was a game plan.
About 6 months out from our stay, we started doing research on the Disney website to see what was available as far as hotels went. We had a very important choice to make. We could either drive back and forth from home each day, stay on Disney property, or say offsite but much closer to Disney World. Our frugal Disney trip would eventually turn into a stay on property for various reasons. It had been years since we actually went to a paid Disney attraction, (we generally have done quite a few “FREE Disney” things in the past though) so we were surprised to see that there were more options for lodging that could fit within out budget, and that almost everything was available for booking via their website or the Disney World app on our phones. We ultimately stayed at Disney’s Art of Animation resort. You may have recalled that we visited when our oldest was tiny just to see what it was all about. For the three months prior, we carefully plotted playing the Cars movies over and over again so he would make a real connection with the resort. The fact that he felt like he was walking through radiator springs was a real bonus!
Alright, great, we knew where we were staying for our frugal Disney trip, but what about extras? Disney EVERYTHING can rack up really quickly, but we had a strategy for reducing Disney dining expenses but one of the extras really stood out for us. You’ll probably think I’m crazy, but we opted for the Memory Maker package. It’s usually $200 if you purchase it during your vacation, but in advance, they offered around a $60 discount. Every time one of the Disney photographers sapped a picture of us during our Frugal Disney Trip, we knew that we would be able to download them and have them printed at a local drug store. Although I was more than welcome to take my own photos at all the scenic spots, the professional photographers were really able to capture some great shots of my little ones hugging and seeing the characters for the first time. These are shots that I would have never been able to capture with my photo skills.
What about meals? Theme park meals are notorious for being expensive! We went into this with a great strategy. We planned on eating one meal out each day. While this would ultimately save us a fortune, it also meant that we would need to pack quite a bit of food items with us. Our hotel room had a mini-fridge, so thankfully we could keep things cold. I swear the bellhop must have thought we were bring a grocery store with us, as we had cases of bottle water, bread, a cooler of meats, cheese, yogurt, and all sorts of single serve meals. Breakfast was easy for the young one, as he would have cereal and milk most of the days with some fresh fruit. I’m a happy camper with oatmeal and yogurt, and the Mrs. had a variety of breakfast items to choose from. All in all, breakfast wasn’t that bad. For lunches, we packed with us a few loaves of bread and some sandwich meats. We returned to the hotel room each day for lunch and a quick nap/quiet time, but they boys never actually took a nap. I mean can you blame them? There were at Disney World after all. WE could have easily brought the sandwiches with us as you can bring in food and drinks to the parks so long as there isn’t any glass containers. In fact I actually saw a guy with one of the cheap styrofoam one time use coolers hanging’ out at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, complete with cans of soda and a three course meal!
Since this is Florida after all, another great strategy for our frugal Disney trip was to bring bottled water with us. There are many ways you can do this but we opted to bring in multiple bottles in a backpack. We didn’t mind the extra weight, and loved the bottled water for the baby’s formula. We could have just as easily kept refilling a single bottle of water from fountains. The Disney water isn’t too bad taste, wise, but we had a supply of Mio liquid drink flavorings on hand in the event the water wasn’t up to par.
The last major component of our Frugal Disney trip was the actual ticket purchases. We considered purchasing a multiple day package, which would have bene a few hundred dollars each, but instead opted for one of the annual passes. Most of our friends and family have them, so it will be nice to go with them on future day trips. This also gave us quite a bit of liberty for the boy’s first Disney trip. We focused on rides and attractions that had short lines, and the character meet and greets since we purchased the memory maker package. Because we didn’t feel pressured to do everything all during our vacation, it was easy to skip a line that was 50 minutes long. We could have also done fast passes for certain rides and attractions, but we wanted to have the liberty of changing our plans as we went.
Overall, our Frugal Disney trip did wind up costing quite a bit of money, but considering it was the first time we had ever really been together on a family vacation, it wasn’t too bad. We were able to celebrate quite a few milestones, such as the first time my oldest met Mickey Mouse, and even some baby milestones such as seeing our littlest guy wave back at people and clap his hands. Looking back, I realize I could have gone on a slew of my other frugal adventures, but these memories were simply priceless. Please stay tuned for some great in-depth articles on various aspects of our Frugal Disney trip such as selecting the right tickets for your budget, as well as where to stay, and how to maximize your savings!