One of the most fun trips we’ve had as a family was when we were moving back from Australia to Canada five years ago and we decided to do a two day lay over in Los Angeles, California. We decided to get a hotel next to Disneyland and go there for a day. Our son was only 2.5 years old but we had an amazing time.
The memories from that great day made us want to make a trip down to Disney World one day and we decided that it would be great to escape a week of the bitter Canadian February and drive down.
But when I started researching the trip it hit me that Disney World is EXPENSIVE and the costs can quickly get out of control. So I wanted to make sure that I did all I could to keep those costs in check (though, but I also learned some additional things that I could have done better along the way.
1. Consider driving. As a family of 4, flying is starting to get expensive. Flight from Toronto to Orland would have cost us over $2,200 plus taxis to and from the airport. Also, while the hotel we stayed at had a shuttle to the parks, it wasn’t very frequent and having a car gave us the freedom to go to the parks at our leisure.
Meanwhile, driving down cost us about $300 in gas (yay for the drop in oil prices!), about $20 in tolls and $68 in parking (parking at Disney World is $17 per day). We also had a “Peace of Mind” service done on our car ($75) and because we were driving down to the US, we bumped up our liability insurance coverage amount (though I actually ended up with a credit to my account because it turns out that having winter tires saved us 5% off our premium and that offset the additional liability costs).
The drive took us two days each way requiring two extra nights at a hotel, however we had a free night voucher to Marriott when we signed up for a Marriott Visa points card and we picked smaller cities where hotels were just cheaper (for example, on our way back we stayed at a Marriott in Louisville, Kentucky for only $89 with breakfast included) as our stopping points.
2. Consider staying outside of the park. Don’t get me wrong, staying at a Disney resort in the park must be awesome. But we learned the hard way on a trip to the east coast of Canada last year that we NEED two rooms in order to keep our sanity on these family trips (the kids would crash at 8PM and we would be stuck with nothing to do and nowhere to go) and a Family Suite at a Disney resort (which was a room with a separate bedroom) would have cost us over $3,800 for just 5 nights. Note this was the price I was quoted only a month before our intended travel time – perhaps it would have been cheaper if I’d planned it earlier.
However, Marriott (and other chains) has a line of hotels that have apartment style hotel rooms with a bedroom, living room and kitchenette for a fraction of the price (about $1,000 for 6 days) but because my husband travels a bit for work and he always stays at Marriott hotels and accumulates points, we had enough for 3 free nights by the time we left for our trip so that really helped us save money (we paid $600 in total for the 6 nights we stayed there). Plus breakfast was included, so that was another savings.
One thing that I DID learn though, is that if you stay on the resort you are entitled to a discount on the park tickets (up to 50% off!) but the $500 (yes, tickets for 4 days at the park for 2 adults and one child cost us $1,000 USD!) I would have saved didn’t make up for the higher cost of the room. This may be something to consider though, if you are going with just one child or are totally ok with sharing a room as a family.
3. Buy your park tickets in advance – but be careful where you buy them! I was under the impression that I could get some awesome deals on the park tickets online somewhere. However, there are only a few legitimate sites (here is one I checked out) where you can buy tickets but I wasn’t able to get better deals than from the official Disney site at the time I was buying them. I also discovered the best deals on tickets are for those people who stay at one of the Disney resorts (though you don’t get the automatically – you need to arrange this yourself).
My mistake was that I started looking to buy them way too close to our trip date – I should have started looking several months in advance. Also, prices for tickets go up in February – so buy them before to ensure additional savings! But do be careful where you buy your tickets – there are a lot of scams out there.
4. Make a budget for souvenirs – and stick to it! One thing that struck me about Disney World and Orlando is that its half stores and restaurants. And boy, do people spend their money – and its not just for the kids! I’d say more than half the people (adults included!) I saw were decked out in full Disney clothing, hats, drink containers and clutching some sort of Disney toy/accessory. The boutiques and restaurants were packed every day (note: if you want to eat in a restaurant at the park, make reservations in advance) and we were there during the off season! Its easy to spend a fortune, so I definitely recommend a budget. I told myself that I’d budget $100 for souvenirs and told my oldest son that he could pick two things that were $20 or under each. We also decided only to get lunch at the parks and that we would eat breakfast (free) at our hotel and go off the resort for dinner (much cheaper).
5. Bring your own camera. Disney has photographers everywhere (and set up at great picture locations) and can take your picture for you with their camera AND yours. All the photographers took pictures with our camera and when I compared them to the “official” ones, they were very comparable. Which is great because an “official” Disney picture costs $15 (to download or to have printed).
6. Take a day off. Even though we stayed in Florida for six nights, we only bought park tickets for four days. This saved us almost $300 (though the more days passes you buy, the cheaper the price per day) but my main reasoning was that it would get overwhelming to go to the parks every day and that it would be nice to have a day off to just relax at the hotel, hit the pool with the kids and see what else Orlando had to offer. This ended up being a great idea because one day that we were in Florida the forecast was for rain – so we spent the morning by the pool and then in the afternoon (when it rained) we caught a movie.
We had a great trip but there are definitely things that I would do differently in the future – namely, start planning WAAYYY earlier! It can be very overwhelming and leaving things to the last minute can make the trip more stressful and not allow you to get as much out of it as possible.
If you are planning of visiting Disney any time soon, check out this other great blog I found when I was researching.