Disney World Prep: Stage One.

So you want to go to Disney World? Where do you begin? How do you start planning and saving while maintaining a full head of hair?

There are an overwhelming amount of options when you plan for Disney World. Do you stay on property at one of the Disney World Resort hotels? Do you stay off property and expand your options for visiting neighboring parks? Instead of bombarding you with all the options that are available these days, I am going to fill your heads with what we did, as a family of four — with 2 giddy adults and excited 4 & 7 year old girls… because it really did work so well, I’d do everything all over again in a heartbeat.

Take the time to price out Disney World.
Look, a trip to Disney World is not cheap. It is a family vacation, a splurge; but Disney World is an experience every child deserves, they grow up so fast… and there are so many ways to make it work.

Keep an eye on the specials, and if you have AAA like we do (along with a good friend of the family who works in a AAA office) have a second party keep tabs on deals like Disney World’s free-dining plan, 30% off rooms, etc; airline discounts should also be considered.

I took my time pricing things out over a few months, looking at different dates as well as different lengths of stay. Certain times of the year cost more than others, and park tickets go down in price significantly the more days you go. For example, it was only $50 more (total!!) for all 4 of us to have 5 days of park-hopper tickets instead of 4.

Our kids are young enough to be able to miss a week of school, so we felt it was important to avoid the crowded times of year. I also asked our AAA agent friend to look into multiple hotel options. We knew we wanted to stay on property so we wouldn’t need a car (Disney World transportation is free to/from the airport and within the park itself) and from our experience staying in a mid-range hotel last time, where we felt we wasted a lot of time waiting for the buses to take us everywhere, we wanted to see if we could swing the Polynesian this time. The monorail is such a great way to travel!

As the hubs & I looked at the budget, we knew what we could afford, and unless we stumbled into a pile of cash, our trip was probably going to echo our last trip: in one of the more affordable hotels.

Then… it happened.

The free-dining plan popped up and we looked into dates around Sedona’s 4th birthday. The planets aligned, and voila! A stay at the Polynesian ended up costing just a few hundred more than the cheap hotel if we booked the day before. Seriously. Patience actually does pay off!!

Book it.
Once you’ve done your research, book your trip confidently through your friendly AAA agent, or right online. All it took to book the trip to Disney World was a $250 down-payment through our AAA agent, and then we had to pay the remaining balance off within 45 days of our trip — for us, that meant about 6 months of saving. We tried to pay off about $100-200 every other week, and would take advantage of bonuses and throw a chunk of that $$ right at the trip as well. We were able to pay for most of our trip in cash — and by using our school’s Scrip program, meaning we got a bit of tuition reimbursement for buying a good portion of Disney gift cards through our school.

Flying vs. Driving.
I remember driving to Florida with my family back in the day… it’s a long trip from Michigan. We could’ve done it, and maybe even saved a few bucks doing so. But sanity? I highly doubt we would’ve saved on sanity.

We were lucky enough to have enough airline miles that covered our plane tickets. On top of that, a little research helped us discover a direct flight to Orlando right out of our local airport, 10 minutes from our house.

We live in a larger city that offers direct flights to Orlando, but I highly recommend booking a direct flight if you are flying with children. Our flight back home was delayed by one hour, and we were stuck in the Orlando airport for a little longer than we would’ve liked, but still managed to have 3 hours in the Magic Kingdom that morning before arriving at the airport via Disney’s Magical Express and arrived home, rested, since all 4 of us napped on the 2-hour flight home. We walked into our home just in time to have a home-cooked dinner, at our kitchen table… ok, ok, in front of the TV we hadn’t watched all week, and our kids went to bed at their normal 8:30p bedtime. If we had to deal with a connecting flight, I know my family’s anxiety would’ve gone through the roof.

Added bonus? Being close to the airport meant that we were able to have friends & family take us and drop us off, eliminating parking costs!

Cost Breakdown.
Because we booked through our AAA agent, and did the Magic Your Way + Dining, everything was covered: hotel, park tickets, transportation within the parks, and meals. Our meals = one table service + one counter-service meal + one snack for each of us for every night we stayed. Table service meals could be used for character meals — and every table-service bill I saw last week scared the crap out of me. I was so happy they were covered. Of course, gratuity wasn’t, but that was ok. We were able to use Disney gift cards (more tuition reimbursement!) for gratuity as well.

Other than gratuity, the only extras that weren’t covered were alcohol & souvenirs. More on alcohol in Disney World later this week…

Hope you’re enjoying my week of Disney World related posts!! There is so much to discuss, I couldn’t just write one single post about it. And I highly doubt you would want to read a 5,000 word post about Disney World. Yesterday, I kicked my Disney World series off by discussing our family’s motto: No Diapers in Disney World. If you missed it, take a second to check it out!

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