The Frugal Girl’s Disney Thoughts

by Kristen on June 9, 2014 · 24 comments

in Vacations

First, congrats to Stephanie S., winner of the Amazon gift card. Stephanie, you’ve been emailed! And thanks to ecoATM for the giveaway. Don’t forget to look for an ecoATM when you need to sell/recycle a mobile device!
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The Frugal Girl's Disney Tips

As you all know, the family FG took a trip to Disney World in Florida in May.

We don’t normally do such splurge-y vacations, but I had $1500 to spend thanks to Glad’s SaveItSunday campaign ($1500 is a year’s worth of average food waste!), and we decided to spend it at Disney.

I’m not anywhere near a Disney expert after just one trip, but we did manage to do Disney without completely breaking the bank, so I thought I’d share what worked for us.

Transportation

We opted to drive instead of flying, since the gas expenditure was going to be far less than round trip tickets for six. Plus, we weren’t staying on the resort, so we’d have had to rent a car to get around if we flew. So, this was definitely our most practical, inexpensive option.

On the way down, we got to visit some friends who live in north Florida, near the beach.

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Zoe was pleased with a chance to jump in the waves.

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Accommodations

We stayed off-resort, in a condo (at Orbit One Vacation Villas) with two bedrooms, a kitchen, and washer and dryer.  We rented it as an extra vacation through my parents’ timeshare, and the whole week cost us $500, which is a great deal.

Staying off-resort was less expensive to begin with, and having a full kitchen meant we could avoid eating out almost entirely.  We ate breakfast at the condo every day, packed lunches, and cooked dinner most evenings as well.

Eating out for six people even once a day ends up costing a LOT of money, so accommodations with a kitchen are really important to me.

Orbit One was in Kissimee, and was only about a 5-10 minute drive from all of the Disney parks.  The rooms were clean and updated, the resort was quiet, and it had two pools, one with waterslides.  I’d definitely stay there again!

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Tickets

We bought our tickets ahead of time through Undercover Tourist.  They do offer a small discount on Disney ticket prices, but Disney tickets are expensive no matter how you slice it.

We discovered, though, that tickets are significantly cheaper per day once you get past three days.  So while we were initially going to buy 3-day passes, when we saw that 5-day passes were only about $60-80 more total, we opted for that.

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Since we bought our tickets early, we had time to have them shipped to us, which meant we didn’t have to stand in the will-call line at the park.

Because we had 5 days’ worth of tickets, we didn’t get the park hopper option.  If we’d had fewer days to spend at Disney, that might have been a good idea, but we had enough time to get to all of the parks without doing multiple parks in a day.  Plus, to be very honest, the idea of hopping around to multiple parks seems a little bit tiring to me. I’d rather just get to a park and stay there.

Food

As I mentioned earlier, we managed to do very little in the way of eating out.  Yay!

Breakfast was easy to eat before we left for the park each day, and every day, I filled my backpack with things like beef jerky, peanuts, fruit leather, and granola bars so that we had something to snack on.  We also brought water bottles for all six of us (we usually had three backpacks between us.)

fg family at Disney

We usually drained our water bottles before the day was over, but thanks to a tip from you guys, we just stopped at snack stands and asked for ice water.  They won’t fill your water bottle directly, but they give you big paper cups of ice water, and it’s free and filtered and cold, and we just used them to fill up our bottles.

I packed a lunch in the cooler every day and left it in the car.  Some days we made it out to eat lunch and other days we didn’t.

At Epcot, where the parking lot is right by the car, it was easy to just walk out, grab the cooler, and eat lunch in a grassy, shaded area.  At Magic Kingdom, where you have to ride a tram and then a monorail to get into the park, it just wasn’t practical to go and get the cooler.

Magic Kingdom popsicle

We did buy a little bit of food at the parks.  We tried Dole Whip (thanks for the tip!), and one day at Magic Kingdom, we bought ice cream novelties and popsicles.

Mickey Mouse ice cream

They were much more expensive than grocery store novelties, but oh, they tasted so good on that hot day!

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Fast Passes, Wait Times, and Park Apps

We spent a surprisingly short amount of time waiting in lines at Disney.  Granted, we went in early May, but the park was nowhere near empty, despite it being slightly off-season.

Disney does a really, really great job of efficiently handling huge groups of people.  They have good waiting areas (many in shade!), and tons of employees to keep things running smoothly.

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Also, the Fast Pass system helped us a lot.  Each ticket comes with three fast passes, which we selected ahead of time online. It’s so awesome to be able to go right to the front of the line!

Also, sometimes when we arrived for our FastPass time slot, the line was very short, so we’d go through the regular line, and then come back around and use the FastPass as the line got bigger.

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We used the free Undercover Tourist app to help us decide which park to visit .  It forecasts crowds each day, so we planned our week to hit each park on an optimal day.  It’s also got a realtime wait-length list for each ride, but we found that to be not completely accurate.

(It was really handy to have our smartphones with us, and Disney has free wi-fi at all the parks, so we didn’t even have to use any of our Ting data!)

We’re used to being up fairly early, so we opted to rise and shine and get to the parks when they opened, and that probably helped us avoid some wait times as well.

Favorite Parks

We had five days of tickets, so we visited all four parks once and Magic Kingdom twice.

Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios were our top two parks for sure.  They’re big parks and they’ve got so many great rides.

FG family at Magic Kingdom castle

We did like Epcot a lot, but it just didn’t have quite as many thrilling rides as Magic Kingdom and Hollywood (Soarin and Test Track were really great, though, and so was Mission Space!)

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And although we have lots of animal lovers in our family, Animal Kingdom was definitely at the bottom of the list for all of us.  It has some great rides (Kali River Rapids and Everest!), but we felt like it would be a much more awesome park with more rides.  It feels kind of like visiting a really expensive zoo, with some rides thrown in.  However, we really wanted to ride the river rapids and Everest, so we’re still glad that we visited for one day.

A Few Random Things

-Our kids are at a really great age for this.  No one was in strollers, no one needed naps, no one had meltdowns, everyone was able to walk, and everyone was tall enough for all the rides (Sonia and Zoe went on every single scary thing in all the parks, actually!)

space mountain disney world

-Disney has gift shops positioned at the end of pretty much every ride (Cha-ching!).  Fortunately, our kiddos did a great job of cheerfully walking right by.  The only souvenirs we bought were four smashed pennies from Splash Mountain (cheap, fun, and not hard to lug around the park after you buy ‘em!)

-We bought a pack of cheap ponchos from Amazon, but it didn’t rain a single drop the whole week, so we returned them when we got home.

-We applied sunscreen each morning and even the burn-prone among us didn’t get burnt.

-We didn’t spend any time meeting characters because our kids just aren’t into that.  Bring on the thrill rides!

-Since we had five days of passes, we pretty much spent our whole week at Disney.  However, one day we ventured out to Clearwater on the Gulf Coast just to see the beach.

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This post has gotten awfully long, so I’ll stop with the Disney talk.  Hopefully I covered all the important stuff.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t say thank you! for all of the helpful tips you gave us before we left.  You guys are great!

(If you’re in need of Disney advice, check out the comments on this post.)
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Joshua’s 52 Project Post: Monarch
(I believe he took this in the butterfly garden at Epcot, actually!)

Leave a Comment

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Battra92 June 9, 2014 at 8:51 am

Glad you got a chance to try Dole Whip. I make mine at home (since the closest place to get some here is about an hour away.) It’s artificial and fake but it tastes so good!

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2 Kristen June 9, 2014 at 9:01 am

Yeah, I’ve seen recipes for it, but we figured we should try the real deal while we were there! Then we can figure out if the home recipes are anywhere close. ;)

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3 Julia Mary June 15, 2014 at 10:58 pm

Here is a recipe we just used today! http://detoxinista.com/2013/02/pineapple-whip/

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4 Diane June 9, 2014 at 9:12 am

Some of my best memories with my children and my granddaughter are at Disney World. It was always a frugal trip for us, but so much fun.

Your children are growing. I looked at your family photo and Joshua and Lisey are adult size now!

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5 Katie in WI June 9, 2014 at 9:57 am

I was also surprised to see that Joshua and Lisey are almost as tall as their parents. When did that happen?

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6 Kristen June 9, 2014 at 11:31 am

I know. I think Joshua may have inched on by me now, even not counting the height of his hair!

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7 Amy O June 9, 2014 at 9:46 am

Disney – not a frugal trip for anybody, no matter how you slice it – but totally worth the money, in my opinion!

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8 Jessica June 9, 2014 at 10:12 am

I wish I had known about Animal Kingdom before we spent one of our days there. It was pretty disappointing in terms of things to see/do. I wish we had gone to EPCOT instead. I feel like our one badly planned trip will make it much better when we go again! My niece really enjoyed it, and we want to take her again in a few years. But I fear she is outgrowing the rides quite quickly, she is little but wants bigger, faster, scarier!

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9 Molly F.C. June 9, 2014 at 10:18 am

Kristen, on those nights you had dinner at the condo, did you return to a park afterward?

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10 Kristen June 9, 2014 at 11:30 am

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. We did go back for Fantasmic one night, and our very last night, we went back and stayed until the park closed at midnight.

(We WERE a little cranky the next day. Ha.)

Some days, though, we were just all very worn out by dinnertime and we just wanted to go swim in the pool and go to bed! If we hadn’t gotten there when the parks opened every day, we might have wanted to stay late more often.

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11 Jen June 9, 2014 at 1:35 pm

So did you not go to Universal? I’m 46 years old, my husband is 49. Neither one of us has ever been to Disney and, actually, neither one of us cares to go. Gives me hives just thinking about it! HAHA But, we are going to visit his parents in Florida this summer and so we are thinking about doing JUST Universal. To our boys, 16 and 14, this is the most interesting park. Just wondered what you thought.

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12 Kristen June 9, 2014 at 3:38 pm

Universal Studios is actually not a Disney park, and since our passes were for Disney and we had enough to last the whole week, we didn’t consider Universal.

Hollywood Studios is probably the Disney park that is most like Universal, though. I’ve never been to Universal, so I’m not sure how they compare. I’ve heard that Universal is not as well-managed as Disney parks, though, which I believe, because Disney parks are crazy clean and well-staffed and maintained.

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13 Amy O June 9, 2014 at 4:56 pm

Jen – Your boys would totally enjoy Universal. (It is actually two theme parks, Island of Adventures and Universal Studios, whereas Disney World is four combined parks – but all of it is located in Orlando.) It is perfect for teenage boys. Especially if either of them were ever into Harry Potter. It has bigger, scarier roller coasters that would appeal to teenage boys. It is not in any way better than Disney – Disney in my opinion is the best theme park experience bar none. But Universal would definitely appeal to your boys.

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14 Jen June 9, 2014 at 7:07 pm

Thanks Amy! That’s exactly what I wanted to know! They both LOVED Harry Potter! :-)

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15 Erin June 9, 2014 at 2:39 pm

Looks like y’all had an amazing trip! I really look forward to my children being old enough to travel well. I was wondering about the day trip to Clearwater. I have looked at vacationing there because I love the ocean. Was the water clear and beaches nice? Thanks for your help!!!

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16 Kristen June 9, 2014 at 3:36 pm

Yes! The water was much clearer than the Atlantic beaches I’m used to, and the sand was superfine, soft, and white. It was a lot more like, say, the Florida Keys than like Myrtle Beach.

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17 Heather @ My Overflowing Cup June 9, 2014 at 6:25 pm

Love the pics of Zoe jumping in waves & the smiling ice cream faces! We choose to drive rather than fly, as well. Like you said, you need to rent a car when you fly. Also, it leaves a little extra spending money for those Dole Whips!

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18 Kim June 9, 2014 at 9:08 pm

We took our 4kids ages 8,12,15 and 17 to Disney World For the first time in March. I did so much research and it really paid off. You can never be too prepared for Disney. My best advice was too purchase gift cards for each child to use for spending money. They really thought about their purchases this way but I felt it gave them the flexibility to spend it on what they really wanted. Also, since we started planning the trip about 8 months in advance, we purchased the gift cards when we had extra cash on hand so it didn’t effect us budget wise. So glad we got to experience Disney!

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19 Carla June 9, 2014 at 9:18 pm

So did you figure out a total cost for the trip? How much past the $1500 did you go? Just curious – sorry if I am too nosy. :)

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20 Kristen June 10, 2014 at 7:01 am

Oh yeah, we spent more than the $1500! Tickets alone for 6 people for five days were $1700.

However, we do save all year for vacations, so we had money in our vacation account for the condo rental and such.

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21 be June 10, 2014 at 5:24 pm

1 suggestion I have is when I go to Disney w/ my family, we fill our cargo pants pockets full of snacks. Think beef jerkey, crackers, carrots, granola bars, fruit leathers, and rice crispy treats. Anything that won’t melt. As we wait in line or even walk to the next place, we can munch. I’m always asking if anyone wants to eat some of the snacks I’m carrying. (My theory is if everyone eats all the snacks I’m carrying, the I won’t have to carry them any more! But shh, don’t tell them. Hopefully they just think I’m being kind and generous.)

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22 Laura Vanderkam June 11, 2014 at 1:18 pm

Sounds fun! And good to know that Disney can also be fun with older kids. We went twice, once when kids were 4, 2, 6 months, and once when they were 5, 3, 1.5. First time we did the whole package deal: food, stayed in Animal Kingdom lodge and took the Disney buses. It was pricey, but the kids loved being in a hotel with GIRAFFES out their windows. The Animal Kingdom park in general is great for little kids, probably since they do like zoos. The second time we stayed in a rental house with extended family. It was an entirely different experience, but also fun. I’d like to go to Epcot sometime without children — or at least when they’re like older than 12. I personally would like to sit and drink wine flights in France and then move immediately to a beer in Germany. It’s like Europe without the train hassle or jet lag!

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23 Super_E June 22, 2014 at 6:38 pm

I just booked our flight + hotel + car rental to Orlando for this September. That seems to have been the cheap part. Looking at the prices for the parks, I’m starting to get discouraged.

I have a few questions I hope you or your readers can help answer about Disney parks…

– Is parking free at the Disney parks?
– You wrote that you carried snacks in your backpack, so I guess you’re allowed to bring in outside food. Are you allowed to bring a cooler into the park?

Thanks!

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24 Kristen June 23, 2014 at 7:04 am

Parking is not free, sadly! It’s $17 a day, BUT it’s good for all day and you can leave and come back as you please without paying again.

You’re allowed to bring in a cooler, yes. If you don’t have a stroller, though, a cooler would be very inconvenient to carry around the park! We left ours in our car and walked out midday to retrieve it. (This is a good strategy at any park except Magic Kingdom, where you have to ride a tram and a trolley to get back to your car, which makes it pretty inconvenient to go get a cooler.)

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