The last few years, I have been blessed with being able to take my children to Disney World for our family vacations. 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have even dreamed about taking my children to Disney World. We have also been able to travel to other drive-able locations without having to go into debt in order to do so.
I live in the Midwest so traveling to Disney World by car is what works best for my family. I can rent a vehicle for less than $200 rather than spend close to $1,000 on round trip plane tickets. By driving, we are also able to make it a fun road trip and stop at road side attractions, sing along to our favorite songs, and just create wonderful memories. I have this awesome travel size insulated cooler I purchased from the Disney store that is helpful for snacks and beverages so that we don’t spend a ton at fast food restaurants along the way.
We normally only stop for restroom breaks that are completely necessary. I don’t know anyone that is a fan of public restrooms so we prepare for those as well. I purchased these awesome toilet seat covers from Amazon that I carry with me everywhere now. Having daughters, these are a life saver.
Disney World is a 14-hour drive for me so we stop on the way there and back in Atlanta and stay overnight. I always try to book a hotel as far in advance as I can to save the most. I usually stay in a suburb of Atlanta, like Alpharetta, and end up paying less than $100/night. I try and book the same hotel there and back to make things easier. I would suggest finding one that includes free breakfast and free parking.
We normally stay about 4 days total in Orlando, with one or two days at the parks, one day at a beach, and another day to just hang around the hotel pool or travel the city. We don’t stay at a Disney World Hotel or Resort. Those are pretty costly and way out of my budget. I try to stay at any of the “Main Gate” hotels that are fairly close to Disney World and will save you drive time. Once again, this is where Groupon comes in handy. I booked a hotel for $160/night last year and was able to find the same hotel on Groupon for $50/night. The only issue is that you must pay Groupon for the full amount up front, but definitely well worth it. Be sure to book a hotel room that includes some sort of kitchen or kitchenette so that you can buy food at a grocery store rather than eating out all the time.
As far as food, with a hotel that includes free breakfast, you only have to worry about lunch, dinner, and snacks. For lunch, on days that we are visiting a park, we will go back to the hotel to eat lunch because lunch in Disney World can be expensive. This is why it’s important to book a hotel close to the main gate so that you don’t have to travel very far. I also use my travel cooler to carry snacks in the park because kids will ask for everything once you’re there. We have eaten in Disney World before but it came close to $150 for 6 of us at the Rain Forest Cafe. If you can splurge, by all means, but I like to keep my money. I do like to purchase some sort of souvenir for the kids each trip, but just try to keep it reasonable. Last year, we bought some handmade jewelry and little trinkets in one of the many gift shops in the park.
As mentioned before, we like to spend at least one full day at a beach. We prefer the Gulf side because the area is much nicer and the water is much clearer. Last year, we chose Clearwater and we’re planning to go back this year when we head down for spring break in April. Clearwater is a little over an hour drive from Orlando. We leave in the early afternoon and will spend hours there. Pack extra clothes, plenty of food, towels, anything you will need and just make a day of it. I do like to rent the beach tents because that Florida sun can do numbers on the skin.
I try to start planning my trip as early as possible in order to pay for things in installments so that I’m not going broke at the last minute. In December, I try and book the hotel. I like to have tickets for the park purchased in January or February. Rental car booked at least a month or two in advanced. I also like to do any beach or warm weather shopping right after Christmas because the sales are usually pretty good around that time. Last year for our trip, we went to Hobby Lobby and bought plain gray t-shirts and iron on letters and made shirts with our names on them. We also added a Mickey/Minnie Mouse decal. I purchased these neat little Disney lanyards from Amazon (can you tell I love Amazon?) that were able to hold our Magic Cards and spending cash for the kids.
Creating memories is a big part of life. We’ve created some wonderful ones by our Disney trips and I can’t wait to create more this coming April. As a single parent, it’s hard to make things like this happen, but I’ve been blessed to be able to do so. I think with proper planning, any budget can make trips like this possible. It takes hard work and research. I still do weekly checks on our hotel to watch out for any rate drops because they can happen at any time.
I’m not a travel agent or a Disney planning pro. I just hope that this information is helpful and will give someone the foundation for planning their own family trip they have always wanted to take. Personally, I never looked into a Disney trip because I just assumed it would be too much. But after thorough planning and the proper research, I saw that I was able to afford my kids a dream vacation after all. Disney World is where dreams come true!