Apr 30 2014

Some things we did to save on our Disney trip



Whew! We got back last night, at 3 a.m. after a delayed flight. Our family had a great time at Disney World. It was busy, intense and a physical workout if there ever was one. And it was fun! I feel like I put more time into planning this trip than I did my wedding, and I know we spent more money.

Here are a few things that we did to minimize our expenses:

We flew Southwest, but it was serviced by AirTran. Since I booked it through the Southwest website, the Southwest free baggage applied. Huge deal!

We packed a suitcase full of food. A few boxes of cereal, oatmeal, some of that shelf-stable bacon to heat up in the room microwave, popcorn, fruit leather, peanuts, almonds, raisins, crackers, granola bars, lollipops, cookies, etc.

Before we left, I divvied out some snacks into gallon-sized plastic bags. I bought the bags at the Dollar Tree. No need for freezer-worthy bags — the cheap ones suited my purposes fine. Since the snacks were pre-packed, I could just grab one gallon bag full of snacks to put in our backpack for each day we were at the parks. Saved time.

We ate all breakfasts in the room. Could have easily spent $30-40/day on breakfasts at the quick service places.

I booked our airport parking ahead of time. I knew the official airport place was pricey, so I chose the parking lot after comparing prices and reviews. I used a coupon code for 10% off, and had 8 days of parking for around $35 total. I guess we could have asked someone to drive us, but they’d have to take our van and deal with that hassle. I’d rather not inconvenience someone over $35. Indy folks, we used the Park Ride Fly USA service and we were happy with it.

Rather than buy t-shirts in the parks, we bought kids t-shirts ahead of time. I found Disney shirts on sale at Old Navy and Target. It was time to buy some summery shirts for my kids anyway, so it was part souvenir part wardrobe item.

The week before our trip, I cooked a double batch of spaghetti with meat sauce. I saved half of the meat sauce in a (not cheapo) freezer bag to eat when we got home. After a vacation, we’re always wanting a home-cooked meal, and this was an easy one to pull out of the freezer and reheat. I boiled noodles rather than freezing those.

We could have rented a stroller at Disney, or through a third party, but after seeing the price I figured we could just buy a stroller to have to use at the airport and on hotel grounds. We bought the First Years Ignite. Loved it! It was big enough for each of my children, one at a time. Has a five-point harness so my baby could sit in it. We used the storage basket and the handlebar storage, and I added this storage bag to the handles to hold our hats. This was a sturdy stroller and the handles were higher than our cheapo basic umbrella stroller. Highly recommend.

My original plan was to have my 3-year-old and 5-year-old take turns riding in it. My 3-year-old tuckered out fast and I think she felt safe in the stroller — there’s a lot of people everywhere and much to see. So she didn’t exactly share it well. Johnny had a limited amount of time in it, and Shane ended up carrying him some. I wanted to rent a stroller for a few days for him but the carrying worked out ok. He ended up walking a lot.

I wore Amelia pretty much the entire time. That’s a workout in itself.

Johnny and Vivie’s main souvenirs were pressed pennies. They loved finding the machines everywhere. It was like we were on a treasure hunt. At $0.51 each, it’s not terribly expensive but it was addictive and we got a lot. Still, a fun and small item and they enjoyed the hunt.

What I would do differently:

Bottled water at the parks sold for $2.50/20 ounce bottle. UGH. At our first hotel, the tap water tasted fine to me. But the second hotel and the park fountains had a strong sulfuric flavor and I just didn’t like it. We spent a lot of money on bottled water. You can get cups of ice water from quick service restaurants, and we did that too, but again that flavor. But dehydration? And 90+ degree days? Nope.

If I did it differently, I’d have a grocery delivery service deliver us water and food items. I’ve also heard of people ordering a case of water on Amazon or Staples. Would need to see how that priced out. I paid $2 something for a gallon of water, and if I had reusable water bottles with us I could have filled them for a little while. We just used the jug in the room.

Some people also like adding flavoring packets to the tap water to make it more palatable.

We also should have had a rest day on Saturday. I was just worn out and I think the rest of the family was, too. So instead, we had a rest day on Sunday. We still did a lot of fun things and even stopped in Magic Kingdom for a brief time.

Planning info

There is a method to the madness. If you haven’t been to Disney World before, or if it’s been awhile, I cannot stress this enough: You have got to plan ahead. A lot. More than you can even fathom. Table-service restaurant reservations typically need made at the 180-day mark for the most popular restaurants/times, though some can be had much later. We booked one table-service meal maybe a week in advance, and another a few hours prior.

You can’t walk into the parks without a touring plan (order of hitting the rides). Well, you can, but if you do you will likely be waiting in line much longer than you would if you had a good plan. And you have got to show up before the park opens to have the most success seeing a lot of attractions during the day. If you’re staying on-site, you’ll be able to book your FastPass+ reservations 60-days ahead. I think off-site folks can now book them 30-days ahead.

I would recommend The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2014 or the With Kids version (or 2015 version once it comes out), the Touring Plans site, blog and absolutely the app; and EasyWDW.com for the blog, forums, touring plan cheat sheets. I made our own touring plans using both sites, and put them in the Touring Plans app to see waits in real time. We rocked it on our first morning by being through bag check and the turnstiles 20 minutes before the park opened on a morning where on-site guests got in an hour early. We did something like 12 attractions before lunch, with no waits (basically walk through the queue and get on, or maybe a 5 minute wait, tops). We had a 15-minute wait meeting Minnie Mouse and Daisy because there were some in line ahead of us and the characters took a quick powder break while we were in line. No big deal.

Other days, we arrived slightly after park opening and we got less accomplished, but it was still doable and fun. Arriving early is so key.

When making FastPass+ reservations for each day, you can take a screenshot with your phone and save that as your lock screen for the day. That way, you can see your time reservations by peeking at your phone’s lock screen, rather than having to log in. Saves battery life and time.


Awhile back, I shared how we used credit card rewards to pay for more than $900 of our trip expenses

The day after vacation is a bummer. Looking forward to saving up for our next one, whenever that may be!


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Jan 30 2014

Flight, hotels and tickets booked and cash back update


ETA: I decided to buy a flight ticket for our baby, Amelia. I know she can technically fly free, and there’s also a chance we could luck out and have an empty seat for her, but after thinking about it some more I want to have her car seat and her in it for takeoff/landing/turbulence/the whole time if possible. I’d be very sad if she got bonked around during a rough landing just because I was trying to save some money.

Squee! We have our flight, hotels and park tickets booked for Disney World! We’re going  this spring.

  • Flight: Southwest “Wanna Get Away” rates, with free baggage. Total for four people: $952
  • Hotel: Two on-site Disney resorts. We couldn’t decide between two, so we picked both and will stay three nights at Art of Animation and four nights at the Wilderness Lodge. Total $1,953
  • Tickets: 7-day base tickets. Two adults and two children (Amelia is free). $1,214
  • Trip insurance: $79

Kacie’s Barclaycard: I redeemed 45,000 points good for a $450 statement credit against the plane tickets. Barclaycard has a neat deal where if I redeem for travel, I get a 10% bonus back instantly, so they put 4,500 points back in my account right away.

I won’t have other redeemable travel purchases on this card, but I’ll be able to redeem the leftover points for cash at a lower payout. Right now, I have 5,166 points (about $25 worth) and that’s probably all it will be.

Total benefit from this card: around $475 in statement credits

Shane’s Barclaycard: We put both hotels on this card, and after I hit the $1,000 minimum on my own card, we put all purchases on Shane’s. I redeemed 45,000 points against one of the hotels, good for a $450 statement credit and once again got 4,500 bonus points back. That brought the total remaining to 5,834. I put 5,000 toward the second hotel (must be redeemed in increments of 2,500 for travel).

That was good for a $50 statement credit, and wouldn’t you know it, they gave me 10% back on that, for 500 more points. This card now has 1,334 points left, but I need to hit 2,500 on it to be able to swap that for a $12.50 statement credit. That = spending $583 more on the card to get to that threshold.

So, I bought the kids’ two park tickets ($588) with this card to hit the minimum threshold and will redeem it once it posts. I bought the adult tickets ($626) on my 1.75% cash back card. I ran our ticket selection through this calculator and OfficialTicketCenter.com came up the best for those tickets.



Total benefit from this card: around $512 statement credits

We have money waiting to be redeemed at our 1.75% back PNC card, and will move spending to that one to increase the balance. It’s at $94.63 and growing.

How we saved on the hotel stay

We could have taken a few approaches — stay off-site (and much cheaper per night), but rent a car and have those associated fees. Admittedly, the hotel cost is way high and we definitely could have gone for cheaper accommodations to save money. But for this trip, paying rock-bottom wasn’t our primary concern.

We wanted to stay on-site for the extra park benefits, we didn’t want to mess with car rental (car big enough for 5 car seats, gas, parking at $15/day), and for us a fun hotel is a big factor in our overall vacation — the pools, the activities and themeing. We could have saved more than $1,000 in this category with different choices, and we are splurging here.

I realize it’s not frugal and we still could have chosen cheaper on-site hotels, or a fun off-site hotel, but it is what it is.

We did save money with the hotel by booking during a Disney promotion, stacking it with a 20% off promo code through Cheaptickets.com, clicking through Ebates for 1% cash back, and of course paying for it with the Barclaycard (which we pay in full every month of course).

The 20% off promo code was worth $417 off, and the Ebates cash back was $20.

I found out about that promo through the MouseSavers newsletter. Definitely get on that list!

Our remaining expenses are parking fees at our airport, tips, souvenirs, food and pre-trip purchases. Park food prices are huge. We’ll eat breakfasts in the room with food we brought from home (thank you, free baggage!), take snacks and stick with counter service restaurants vs. table service. That will still be several hundred in food.


Total earned in statement credits and pending cash back: $1,101

With that in mind, that brings the total for flight, hotel, insurance and park tickets to $3,018 for eight days, seven nights and seven days in the parks for our family.

I wanted to mention a site that has helped with trip planning: EasyWDW.com. Love the reviews and analysis for best park to visit each day. Helpful stuff!

For the payout benefit, doing the credit card rewards have absolutely been worth the effort. If we had more time before the trip, we’d be able to get even more in rewards.

Time to start training for walking miles and miles every day! A fun exercise motivator if I ever had one.

photo credit: Brett Kiger via photopin cc

photo credit: insidethemagic via photopin cc

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Hey! I'm Kacie, wife and mother of 3. I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

I hope I can inspire and encourage you to improve your situation. See disclosure.

I'm adopting a much slower-paced posting schedule, and treating this as a hobby blog now.

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