If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen some pictures from our recent trip to Disney World.
It was the very first Disney trip for our twins, and we absolutely loved taking them.
There’s nothing better than seeing your kids so excited to ride on It’s a Small World at the Magic Kingdom or see a giraffe for the first time in the flesh at the Animal Kingdom.
But, let’s get real here, people. Disney World is expensive. Ridiculously so. And I didn’t want to pay $10,000 on this trip because that, my friends, would be over the top.
However, I imagine that is what many families spend once you factor in food, lodging, Mickey Mouse themed outfits, and the actual park tickets.
Spending that much was just not something I wanted to do, though. Plus, our kids are only 2 years old, and I know the only memories of this trip will be the photos we show them.
Expensive and fabulous Disney trips might be in their future someday, but for now, I just wanted to give them a little taste of it and spend time together as a family.
Traveling on a Budget
I always thought a Disney trip would be completely out of reach for us for many years. However, once I realized that I could choose to have a relaxed Disney vacation, I decided I could take my family on an enjoyable vacation to Orlando without going overboard.
The very first step for planning this trip on a budget was to scale way back from the average family’s Disney trip. Here are some tips on how I made that happen:
Tip #1: Don’t Feel Like You Have to Do Everything
Did I want to book my daughter a session at the Bibbidi Boppidi Boutique and see her turned into a princess? Absolutely. Did I want to have an expensive breakfast and have my kids meet all the Disney characters in existence? Sure.
The thing is, the only Disney characters my kids really know are Mickey, Minnie, and the characters from Frozen. If Snow White walked up to them, they would have no clue who she is. I realized that while there are some incredible options for having a top notch Disney vacation, it is possible to have a great one without all the extras.
As I said, once the kids are older and our discretionary income is higher, I’m sure they’ll have the opportunity to do these things, but for now, it would be a waste of money. (A little girl has to be at least 3 to book a reservation at the Boutique anyway.)
The reason Disney vacations get expensive and exhausting is because parents feel like if they are going to spend a lot of money to travel to Disney, they need to squeeze out every single experience imaginable.
While I completely understand wanting to give your family the greatest vacation ever, this is what causes people to buy tickets to every park and push their kids to the point of exhaustion and tantrums.
It’s what makes parents get mad because they spent so much money and their kids are being ungrateful. Everyone gets stressed, annoyed, tired, and then they go home needing another break.
What kind of vacation is that!?
I wanted to like my trip. I wanted to reconnect with my husband and kids. I didn’t want to resent the kids for being in a bad mood or over-tired, so I decided that the kids were totally going to nap every day in a bed like they always do and that I wouldn’t push them to nap in their stroller while walking through a crowded park.
We also decided that we were only going to get a one day park hopper pass and spend the other days of our trip relaxing at our hotel pool.
Luckily, Disney was kind enough to give me a press pass for my one day park hopper pass once I told them I booked a trip and wanted to write about it. However, even if you don’t have a press pass, my next tip for a relaxed and frugal vacation would be this:
Tip #2: Only Book 1-2 Park Days
This might seem shocking but you don’t have to go to every single Disney park on your trip, nor do you have to go to parks 4-5 days in a row.
Here’s what we did: We flew to Orlando on a Monday, and we planned to enjoy the pool at our hotel on Tuesday, go to two parks with a park hopper pass on Wednesday, enjoy the hotel pool again on Thursday, and fly back on Friday.
I estimated that with direct flights from Detroit to Orlando, our hotel, food, rental car, etc. would be $1,500. I found our hotel on Groupon with a full kitchen, separate bedroom, and a pull out couch for the kids for around $80 per night. I found very inexpensive, direct flights that were only 2.5 hours from Detroit to Orlando.
Because our hotel room had a kitchen, we went to a grocery store right when got there and got enough food to make Mickey Mouse pancakes (an Alford family tradition when at Disney) and hamburgers and a few other things.
We really enjoyed our stay, and our kids loved playing in the pool at the hotel, but unfortunately our plans were completely thwarted by Hurricane Matthew.
Tip #3: Protect Your Hard Earned Money
When we left for Orlando, I knew that Hurricane Matthew was out in the Atlantic, but it never even crossed my mind that we would have to deal with it while in Orlando. I’ve been through Category 5 hurricanes before, and there was no way I was going to risk my kids’ safety just to have one more day in Orlando.
Once we saw that Hurricane Matthew’s storm track was coming towards Orlando and got notification that the airline cancelled our return flights, we decided to take action.
My husband had to be back for work on Monday and our Friday flights were cancelled with no prospect for Saturday or Sunday flights. So, we made the tough decision to get another rental car and drive all the way back to Michigan from Florida. It wasn’t something we were looking forward to with two two-year-olds in the car, especially because we had to give up one night of our vacation.
We were happy that we had travel insurance for this trip, though. It’s not something we always buy for traveling but since I was really regretting not having it when we traveled in Europe last May, we got it for this trip.
We saved our receipts from the extra rental car, the food we had to buy along the way from Florida to Michigan, gas, the night our hotel refused to refund us despite the hurricane, and more. We submitted a claim to Allianz Travel Insurance for a little over $700, and I had a check in my mailbox within 10 days.
Of course, I wish we didn’t have to take the extra long way home, but I am happy that we kept our kids safe during a hurricane and that all the extra expenses we incurred didn’t come out of our pocket. Like I said, I regretted not having travel insurance on our last trip, and I’m definitely going to get it for every trip moving forward.
Ultimately, taking a trip to Disney is an awesome experience for a family. It’s almost a rite of passage, and we’re so happy that we were able to do it, even on a small scale. I think if you’re willing to think outside the box and willing to forgo the extras to give your young kids just a taste of Disney, you can absolutely take them even on a small budget.
When is the last time you took a trip to Disney? Do you have any cost saving travel tips?
Disclaimer: This post is brought to you by Allianz Travel Insurance. I received financial compensation from Allianz Global Assistance (AGA Service Company) for this post. When I agreed to write the post, I had no idea I would actually have to file a travel insurance claim, and I’m glad I got to witness how easy the process was and how quickly the claim was paid so the post truly reflects the customer experience.