ALL RIGHT!!! Here goes people. Here are my best tips. I don't think it's anything too revolutionary but I hope it helps. I will give you some tips and then spell out how we do our trips.
1. Always try to travel OFF season. If you go places during their main season it's expensive, over crowded and not NEAR as fun. Pick your time very carefully. If your kids miss a few days of school a year BIG DEAL. Of course that is as long as they are doing well and getting good grades... if they struggle then it's a perhaps a concern. In most circumstances your children will remember a special family time long after they will remember what they learned in school that day. Plus you can do their work with them in the car. Yes... I know your school might give you some crud. OH WELL! Perhaps they have forgotten that they are YOUR children. :0)
2. Rent a condo for long trips. You can rent people's vacation condos and timeshares at very low prices during off season. This makes it much more enjoyable and comfortable for everyone. You will have separate sleeping areas and a kitchen. Most of the time you will even have a washer and dryer. NICE!
3. For short trips use priceline.com to book your hotels. Just DON'T accept under 2 1/2 stars and you'll get nice places. Try to go for 3 or above. It will show you what kind of hotels you get for each rating.
4. DO NOT eat out. Before you go on your trip plan out a menu. Include items for the car and easy meals to take with you. Take one day and everyone cook and prep up a storm. Then pack up the ice chest and be ready. You can even do this if you have to fly. As long as you don't take uncooked fruits or veggies you are fine. Just use an ice chest as a suit case and make sure it's duct taped nicely! :0) Also make sure you pack all paper plates and plastic silverware. It takes some work but it's wonderful. There is very little prep work for meals. It costs no more than you usually spend on groceries. You might even LOSE weight on vacation and everyone is eating healthy yummy food!! If you are on a long trip you are in a condo with a kitchen. If you are on a short trip you will be fine using the ice chest with ice packs for a couple of days.
5. Try not to fly places. Choose a location close enough to drive or make it a road trip. When you fly somewhere it racks the price WAYYYYY up. Not only do you have plane tickets but you usually have to rent a car. Then it is also hard to bring every little convenient thing so you end up buying more stuff. Just spend your money on a car DVD player and some great head phones.
6. Don't buy stuff just cause you are somewhere. You know it's just going to end up in a drawer or the trash. If you must buy souvenirs (which we rarely do) give each person a small budget for their use on the entire trip.
7. If there is a great theme park nearby consider season passes. Season passes are usually only a fraction more expensive than a one day pass. Then you can make it a regular weekend getaway with very low expense. Consider making this a Christmas gift to the whole family. You could also have it be a birthday present for someone.
OK... Now I will give you our specific examples. These are a few of our favorite getaways.
We live about 3 hours away from Sea World. We know we like to always have season tickets for this one. So my mom has made this a yearly birthday gift for Kaitlyn. She gets us season passes for the girls as KK's gift. It's a wonderful gift and way better than getting more "stuff." :0) Then we get a season parking pass which is about $20.
Of course we always try to go on off season weekends. There are hardly ever long lines when we go and we get great seats at the shows. We will drive up on a Saturday morning with our meals in the ice chest and stay for one night in a hotel.
Nowwwww.... here's a trick. You have to use priceline.com. In that area of Sea World I happen to know that there are two resort level hotels. I also know I can bid once for each credit or debit card number I use. Soooo... I get our two debit cards and two emergency credit cards and sit in front of the computer. I say that I will only accept a resort level hotel in the Sea World Hill Country. Then I bid $55. In the off season I will usually get it because they have lots of extra rooms. If I don't I bid with another card for $65 and so on.
If that doesn't work I go down to one level lower and we still get a nice place. BUT almost every time we have stayed in a resort one mile from Sea World for $55.00.
We bring a smaller ice chest in the stroller into the park. They have always allowed this with no problem. I think you maybe can't bring glass or straws or throw away cup tops cause of the animals. Anyway, we bring lunch and snacks. We also each have our own large water bottles full of cold water. We hardly ever buy anything in the park unless someone wants to spend their own earned money.
So you can see we can do a weekend at Sea World for $100 to $150 over normal weekly budget including the extra gas. We can usually cover that by everyone contributing their budgeted clothes money, allowance and a little date money for a week or so.
So that is that one.... Does that make since?? If you live near here and need a priceline tutorial I will be glad to talk you through it on the phone. You can do that anywhere though. We always use priceline and have had great results.
Again... off season is very important. Find the place you want to stay. Try to find a great resort with lots of timeshares or privately owned condos. Now google "vacation rental" and the name of the resort. We stayed in Pointe West in Galveston. So you would google that. We just did our research and found a good match for us. Renting through private owners is almost always a much better deal. In our case we asked Wendi and Sam to split a bigger place to cut down the cost a little. (plus the beach is just more FUN with friends right?) It would probably be $50-$100 more to do it on our own in a smaller place.
The food is the same idea. Have it all prepared in an ice chest.
This was $350 this last time with everything.
NOW FOR DISNEY WORLD-
As you all know we LOOOOVE us some Disney World. However, my rules are NEVER more important than at the happiest place on Earth.
Go off season if AT ALL possible. We went this last summer for 2 days just cause we happened to be there at KKs birthday but I would not do that otherwise. It's not NEAR as fun during the school holidays.
GETTING THERE- We drive. This next time we will leave on a Thursday right after school. We will drive as far as we can. I will book a priceline hotel in the same way I mentioned in the Sea World portion. Then we will drive the rest of the way on Friday. We will be there Friday through the following Sunday... so 9 nights. Then Sunday we will drive part way pack and stay at a priceline hotel. Then we will get home that Monday. It's a long drive but the girls watch their DVD's and play their video games. I also bring lots of colored pencils and coloring books. We also bring magnet dress up dolls and all that good stuff.
WHEN TO GO- Here are the best times to go to Disney World in my opinion. The first two weeks of December it is decorated for Christmas and a virtual ghost town. That is an AWESOME time to go. They also have Mickey's Christmas Party. DO NOT go the two weeks of Christmas break unless you are ready to be mobbed. They actually often have to close the gates because they reach capacity at those times. The second week of January through end of February are great times to go. It is the second slowest time of year and nice and cool. March is BAD- Spring Break. April and May are iffy but not AWFUL... June through August are AAAAACCCCCKKKKKK!! CRAZY!! September is so so. October is pretty awesome. It's warm and not super busy. Plus you can do Mickey's not so scary Halloween party. November is good except for Thanksgiving which is NUTS!
To do more research just google "best time to visit Disney World."
TICKETS- Here's the thing about Disney... It's better to go for a LONGER amount of time. A ten day ticket costs only a little more than a three day ticket. They want you to stay longer cause they THINK you will spend more money but HA HA!!! We will trick them!:0) So here's the deal... for a family of four the base tickets for 3 days is a total of $748.00. For ten days it is $824.00!!!! SO SEVEN MORE DAYS FOR $76.00!!!! WOW!
ALSO staying longer is better cause it's a LOT more fun and more relaxing. This ticket is the base ticket. It means you get to go to one park a day. You can use it over 14 days total. So if you stay longer you can take off days. Plus really one park a day is PLENTY!! There is so much to do at each park that you could go for days in a row and not do everything. So if one day you only go for 3 hours WHO CARES! Just go with what you want to do and have fun.
We don't buy the park hopper option to go to more than one park a day. We don't see the need. It's $50 more per ticket.
We aren't going to get the parks and more option this time either. We got it last trip. It's a cool option. You just have to decide if it works for your age kids and time of year. It gets you 6 passes into the water parks and Disney Quest. Disney Quest is a GARGANTIOUS arcade. It's truly so cool. It's all included and has every game and fun electronic toy. There are virtual roller coasters and light sabers. There is skee ball and pac man. It's so fun and like 5 stories high. BUT I think it's more fun when your kids are older and everyone can go there own way. We took the girls last time and they like the little kid games. It was just not quite as great as when Russ and I could run around alone. So in a couple years we'll go again. Plus we are going in the winter so the water parks are not a draw for us. That is also $50 more per ticket.
So for us the base tickets will do this time around. :0)
WHERE TO STAY- We DO NOT stay on site. Now remember we drive so we have a car. There are TONS of awesome condo resorts within minutes of Disney. You can find a wonderful 1-3 bedroom condo with full kitchen and washer/dryer during the off season for $300-500 for a week!!! Just google "vacation condo Disney" or "vacation condo Orlando". You can also stay in Kissimmee. It's really close. Condo living is MUCH better. Mom and Dad get sanity time and a kitchen. WAYYYY better.
For just a little more you can get a rental house with it's own heated pool!!! So if you want to go in winter but need to swim TA DA! :0)
WHAT TO EAT- Remember that all your snacks and food is already prepped. All you need is your microwave in your condo at night!! :0) You CAN take food into Disney. We do the SAME thing at Disney as at Sea World. Just take your small cooler and put it in the stroller. Then make sure everyone has a water bottle. I will do our usual menu at the bottom.
SPECIAL ACTIVITIES- We have to do a princess dinner. We have done Cinderella's castle and I thought it was OK. It's in the Magic Kingdom. The one that is the BEST is the one at Epcot. It's a BUNCH of the princesses. It's called Akershus Royal Banquet Hall dinner. It was around $25 a meal. We will pop for this one! It's worth every penny if you have your own little princesses.
Cirque de Soliel La Nuba- This is at Downtown Disney. It is pretty durn expensive. I don't remember exactly. It depends on what seats you get. BUT it's VERY cool. We liked it a LOT but we will probably just wait and see if the funds permit this time.
Downtown Disney- Downtown Disney is just FUN!! It's beautiful at night with all it's lights. There are tons of fun stores to look at and yummy treats. We usually go one night to get ice cream and window shop. It's also fun to maybe let everyone choose a special hat pin of their favorite Disney character for each trip. They have all kinds of fun pins that are very inexpensive.
FAST PASSES- You gotta know about these. For almost all popular rides you can get a "fast pass." That means you have a "reservation" to go on that ride at a certain time. During off season there will rarely be lines but you will hardly EVER wait in line with this plan. You go into the park and decide which ride you just HAVE to go on. Go straight there and if there is a wait put each of your tickets in the fast pass machine. It will then give you a time frame that you can return and ride. When you return you can skip the whole line and get right on!!! :0) While you wait for your reservation time you can go on the less busy rides. Then after a certain amount of time you can get another fast pass for another popular ride and do the whole process again. Does that make sense?
PARENT SWAP- Parents! Never fear... you can ride the big kid rides even if you have a little bitty one. Here's what you do. Assuming you have two adults- you go through the line with your children. Let's say this is my family. Zoe wants to go on "Test Track" but Kaitlyn is too scared. I can go with Zoe while Russ waits with KK at the front of the line. When we finish we can swap and he can go with Zoe while I wait with KK. See ??? Cool!
TIP BOARDS- At some of the parks you will see lit "tip boards" all over the park. They will tell you how long the wait is at the popular rides. Pay attention to those times. It can really help you to know when you should head to those favorites!
CHARACTER VISITS- Each of the parks now has character visiting areas. Epcot has a huge indoor one with the classic characters. You can usually catch Mickey and a lot of the gang. The Magic Kingdom has a huge indoor one too. You can either visit the princesses or classic characters. They are in separate tents. You get to speak to 3 princesses and pose for pictures. It's in the little kids area of the Magic Kingdom.
PLAN AHEAD FOR RIDES- Before you go look at the Disney website. They have lots of great info on which rides are age appropriate for your kids. You have to be careful. Some of the 3-d stuff can be scary. Disney appeals to many ages. Disney will also send you a free planning kit with a DVD. It's great.
NOT TO BE MISSED-
Spectro magic- The night time parade at Disney is my absolute favorite. It is absolutely gorgeous. Don't miss it.
Soaring- This ride is at Epcot and it's our favorite ride. The WHOLE family.
The safari- At The Animal Kingdom- LOTS more animals in the morning so "fast pass" it as soon as you get to the park in the morning.
The Lion King Show- At the Animal Kingdom. SOOOO AWESOME!
Turtle Talk With Crush- Epcot
Philharmagic Show-Magic Kingdom- beware it is 4-d... not SCARY just IN YOUR FACE. KK sometimes has to shut her eyes and put in her ear plugs but still likes it.
Belle's Story Time- Magic Kingdom
The Ariel Show- MGM Studios- can be a little scary for tiny ones cause it has the evil URSULA!!!
Buzz Lightyear- Magic Kingdom
Disney Playhouse- MGM Studios- has Bear in the Big Blue House and Jo Jo and much more
THINGS TO BRING-
BUY YOUR DISNEY DRESSES AND PIRATE GEAR BEFORE YOU GO!!! If you want princesses dresses get them on clearance after Halloween the year you want to go or at least go to Target before the trip. Dresses in the park are CRAZY expensive. We pack our special outfits to bring with us.
ear plugs- Kaitlyn is sensitive to some of the loud noises so we put ear plugs in her ears if things get too "intense". It really seems to help.
Sunglasses, suntan lotion, water bottles, food, chapstick,a map with your favorite rides circled
SOOOO THAT is how you do an less expensive Disney trip. :0) Our last trip cost $1,500.00 over our normal budget money including everything.
OKAY ONE MORE THING.... Here are some foods I have found are easy to transport for travel. When we go on trips with a kitchen I bring lots of the things. If we are on a short trip with no frig I bring only foods that are good cold. For the car I bring a smaller cooler with car snacks and lunches packed. I guess I might need to put my recipes on later if you guys want them. Do you want them?
Sliced turkey meat
Salad with chicken, golden organic raisins, walnuts, and Parmesan with honey mustard dressing
crock potted brisket meat
yogurt and granola
LOTS OF FRUIT
carrots and dip
bean and cheese tacos
gluten free brownies
Brita water filter for the condoWell there you go friends. Those are my best tips. I hope it helps you ALL have awesome family memories that don't have you reaching for your credit card. :0) Love to my blogger buddies~Angel