We just got back from an amazing family vacay to sunny Orlando! Our first visit was last year and we had such a great time we made it our family vacay again this year. This being our 2nd trip we learned a few things on how to save some $$$. Let’s be real, we’ve got 4 kids so a WDW and Universal trip is not cheap but we figured out some ways to keep it in the realm of reasonable!
First up let’s talk airfare. Most of us are not within a reasonable driving distance to Florida so you are most likely going to want to look for cheap-o tickets. Folks I got all 6 of us there roundtrip for $482 (that includes 1 checked bag!). That’s right less than $500 for 6 people roundtrip plus baggage. We flew Frontier airlines. Now Frontier is a bottom of the budget carrier, everything costs more money and I literally mean EVERYTHING. Carry on’s cost money, waffle cookies cost money, sprite costs money. And they pack you in like a sardine in a tin can. Every time we fly I wonder why I don’t spend a bit more for more room and a beverage but here’s the thing. When you have a large family like we do, the only way to make regular family vacays even a reality is to make some serious sacrifices to comfort, temporarily. Sure you’re packed in so tight you can’t even cross and uncross your legs, and you better spend that $3 for a bottle of water at the airport because the beverages on the flight are probably twice that. (remember for us everything is times 6 so it adds up fast!) But we accept the 3-4 hours of discomfort for the experiences when we’re at our destination.
Our crew as usual at Animal Kingdom
While we’re on the subject of cheap-o flying I consider us a bit on the savy side of having this whole travelling thing down pat. Here’s what we do to maximize our savings. 1. Carry on’s cost big $$, checked bags cost $$ BUT you get 1 personal bag right?! Each child packs their clothing in their backpacks via the roll up clothing nice and tight method and anything that doesn’t fit goes into the 1 checked bag (we take a big one). We pay 1 baggage fee for 6 people. 2. Pack your own snacks!!! Since Frontier does not offer ANY free snacks or beverages on their flights (this was a 3 1/2 to 4 hour flight) we knew our kids were going to get hungry. We packed in my hubs backpack clementines, chex mix and granola bars. Just make sure you take it out of the bag at security…..yep they searched our backpack because we didn’t take the snacks out and put them in a bin. 3. Parent survival tip: download movies onto your phones or tablets as well as games you can have 2 people play together. It lightens the load of what you are carrying around (phones and tablets don’t weight much), they watch 1-2 movies or a movie and some games and you’re there.
This is chillin in the pool at the house we rented
Where to stay! For Orlando you guys trust me on this and do NOT spend big $$$ on hotels/resorts. They are expensive and in my humble opinion not worth the cost. Our first visit we rented a house. It was ok but we learned that location is KEY! So this year we spent considerable time checking locations of houses we liked to the parks we were going too. (We like Home Away and of course AirBnB) Last year it was 30 min + drive each way, which doesn’t sound like much but after a LONG day at the parks feels like forever. We spent $1200 (plus a deposit which we got back) for 7 days. Can’t beat that with amenities like your own private swimming pool on your back patio, 4 bedrooms for all of your kids and a full kitchen? No parking hassles, no elevators, no hauling a bunch of stuff in and out. I’m tellin ya it’s the way to go. Just make sure location is on point! This year we stayed about 5 min from the parks and it was AMAZING.
Waitin for the boys
Not only does having a rental house make for a much more relaxing and homey environment but it saves a ton in giving you a full kitchen to make meals. We ate out maybe twice (think Chikfila and takeout Olive Garden) the rest were meals we made at the house. There was a grocery store and super target maybe 10 minutes away which made it quick and convenient.
Can you tell my youngest was star struck?! Mickey is the bomb in our house.
Disney tickets. They aren’t cheap folks and the park tickets are the one thing you can’t really get discounted. Here’s what I know based on our 2 trips. Your only real shot at any discount is probably Best of Orlando or from the Disney site itself. I checked everywhere but when I compared tickets from all the big sites they came in at the same or more in cost than directly from Disney. So feel free to do a search yourself but be prepared for it not to save you much. (Disney was doing a small % off promo when I bought ours!! So keep your eye on their site they were the cheapest!) Disney’s tickets online are cheaper than at the park box office windows so buy online!
This was a really cool public art project at Epcot, we all got little samples of paint and participated in the mural.
On top of the tickets you need to think about food. And when you have a large family (especially with any teenage boys) you know a meal is going to play into the day. We pack in the checked bag a large insulated cooler bag. Every morning before we head to the parks we load it up with sandwiches, chips, gatorade, water, snacks, etc. And take it with us. When we get hungry we just pick a spot to stop and eat. It saves SO much money!! Last year we didn’t bring our lunch to Universal the first day and ended up paying $50 for a large turkey leg, 2 hot dogs and a couple snack bags of chips. It didn’t fill anyone up, said teenager ate almost the entire turkey leg and was still hungry. Needless to say that was the ONLY day we made that mistake.
Strollers. Our 8 and 5 year old rode in the double stroller probably 80% of the time we were at the parks. And it gave us somewhere to stash our lunch bag so we didn’t have to carry it around. Disney charges $31/day for a double stroller at every park. This is pricey but I found some ways around it. If you’re staying at a rental house most of them have things like car seats, strollers, pool toys, etc stashed in the garage. We had 1 small stroller in the house this time. So if you had 1 kiddo for a stroller just bring that one with you to the parks each day and you have no stroller fee! Since we had 2 plus the lunch bag we still needed to pay the extra $$. I did see stroller rental shops around but I never got a chance to check out prices so give them a call to find out pricing! If you are going to rent from Disney they give you a discount if you pay for multiple days up front. Since we were visiting 3 Disney parks this go round we paid for them up front the first day and saved $12, not much but every bit counts. (I noticed the stroller rental shops AFTER we paid for our 3 days upfront, ugh lesson learned!)
Hogwarts light show, definitely a must see it was beautiful!
Universal. Last year we did one park (there are 2) a day for 2 days. We were able to visit Wizarding World of Harry Potter there but something I didn’t know was that it’s split between the 2 parks. So if you want to see the whole thing you need to visit both or you can ride the Hogwarts Express between parks (but for our family of 6 the cost is around $400 more). We didn’t do it last year, we decided it wasn’t worth the additional cost since we were already visiting both parks anyway. This year we did. We opted to do a 1 day park hopper ticket with a ride on the Hogwarts Express (park hopper means you can go back and forth between parks in one day). We figured since we had already done both parks we knew which rides we wanted to go on and could pinpoint those while bypassing the rest and save the difference of 2 separate day tickets. (I do NOT recommend doing both in 1 day unless you have a serious plan and account for waiting in lines! Even though we had already been there it ended up being a LONG and tiring day for everyone. Not for the faint of heart)
Riding on the Hogwarts Express was the one thing we hadn’t done before. Was it worth the cost? Well it’s a train that goes back and forth from Diagon Alley to Hogwarts and it was cool but it’s more of a waiting in line for a ride kind of thing. It took an hour to get on the train and the ride is maybe 5 minutes. We did it once but probably won’t again (given the cost).
This was last year at Discovery Cove, our youngest was too little so we watched the dolphin encounter.
Discovery Cove. This is a MUST. It’s an all inclusive day (food, beverages, snacks, snorkeling gear, wetsuits, etc) where you feel like you’re in Mexico but you’re not. Sand beaches a massive lazy river and swimming with tropical fish and sting rays all around you. They offer dolphin encounters (6+) which is optional but with or without it Discovery Cove makes for a fantastic day. Restful, relaxing and all around incredibly enjoyable. They also have an aviary you can walk through which is really fun too, our kids loved it. They only take in a certain # of people per day so it doesn’t get overly crowded like the parks. They are spendy anywhere from $180-200 a person (depending on time of year and date) but you get the full day, tickets to Seaworld and tickets to Aquatica (a water park) are included. So you get 3 park visits for this price. Not a bad deal if you want to do all 3!
Cocoa Beach. Discovery cove was our visit last year since we knew we also wanted to visit Seaworld. But given the cost and not really interested in going back to Seaworld this year we opted to hit up the coast and visit Cocoa Beach. It was about an hour’s drive out there but it was SO worth it. (And it was FREEEE!!!!) Our kids had never seen the ocean and although it was breezy and only partly sunny they had a blast for an entire afternoon playing in the surf, boogy boarding, building sandcastles and looking for seashells. We packed our own lunch too. An all around awesome day for free!
Everyone LOVED the beach and the ocean, although less than impressed with the “flavor” of the water. haha
Lastly I strongly recommend planning a down day in your trip. Last year we had a full day of parks or activities for every day we were there and while we had an amazing time we were all exhausted! This year we planned 4 days of parks (3 Disney’s we hadn’t been to yet) a day at Cocoa beach and a down day (it was supposed to rain anyway that day). A down day was just hanging out at the house, resting, relaxing and swimming in the pool. We set up our schedule like this: 2 park days, beach day, 1 park day, down day and park day. We were worried we would be bored but it turned out to be a perfect balance between crazy parks and relaxing fun.
We came home from this trip relaxed, rejuvenated and ready for the craziness! It was a much needed vacay that’s for sure. There were crowds, waiting in lines, riding a “train,” our kids first ever visit to the ocean, meeting Mickey and chillin by the pool. Can’t ask for much more!
Have you been to WDW? Do you have any travel or budget tips? I always love to hear from ya so shoot me an email or jot it on down in the comments!
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