Posts Tagged ‘money’

What You Get at Disney World for $500, $1,000, $1,500, and $2,000

by on January 21, 2015

Abuela Testa's gaspacho soup mix is an excellent money-saver

Abuela Testa’s gaspacho soup mix is an excellent money-saver

For the next edition of the Unofficial Guide, we interviewed dozens of families planning their first Disney trip, and Disney-specialist travel agents who talk to Orlando-bound families every day. Almost all of them said the cost of a Disney vacation was the biggest surprise, and more important to them than when to travel, where to stay, or how to beat the lines.

All money questions involve trade-offs, of course, and only you know what you’re willing to do to save a buck. For every person who thinks a $65 per day food allowance is malnourishment, there’s another who says they can feed a family of 5 on $10 and some budget gazpacho made with leftover Taco Bell sauce and hot water.

To give you a realistic idea of how much to budget, we’ve created the following set of charts showing the kind of Disney World vacation your family can get for $500, $1,000, $1,500, and $2,000. Each column represents a different family demographic, and each row represents a different budget amount. Our starting assumptions are at the bottom of the page.

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The More the Merrier?: Traveling to Disney with Another Family

by on December 8, 2011

You think a Walt Disney World vacation sounds like fabulous fun. Your next door neighbor thinks that a Walt Disney World vacation sounds like fabulous fun too. If you have enough of these conversations, inevitably your neighbor (or your sister and her kids, or your in-laws, or your college roommate and her family) will come up with the brilliant idea that if you’re both going to have amazing Disney vacations, then wouldn’t it be great to have those vacations together.

Whoa, hold it there partner. Traveling with another family could be a wonderful experience for all involved, or it could be a way to beat a perfectly nice relationship to death with a grotesquely over-sized turkey leg. Before you book those connecting rooms, take a minute to consider some thoughts about whether multi-family travel is right for you.

Do you have the same philosphy about souvenirs as your companions?

  • Do you actually like these people? All of them? Sure you love your sister like, well, a sister, but what about her overbearing husband or her bratty teenage daughter? While you may be a able to cope with these folks at a two-hour birthday party, will you actually remain sane if you have to listen to bro-in-law complain about his boss for five straight days of your precious vacation time. If you can’t honestly say that you enjoy spending time with every single person in the other family, then reconsider making the trip.
  • Do your kids actually like each other? Up until age seven or eight you can usually throw youngsters together and they’ll find a way to make it work. But once the kiddos get their own interests, all bets are off. Does a cheerleader cousin make your goth daughter’s skin crawl? Will throwing your children together with polar opposites ruin their vacation? (And thus yours.)
  • Do you have a similar financial situation? This may be difficult to assess, because most folks in the US would rather sleep on hot coals than have an honest discussion about money. Despite the discomfort, you’ve got to have the money talk before embarking on a vacation with someone. Do your friends think a vacation only a vacation if you’re staying in a five-star resort, while you’re clipping coupons to splurge on a moderate hotel? Do you want to eat table service for every meal, while your friends want to save their pennies by making oatmeal in the room for breakfast and bringing granola bars for snacks in the parks? Obviously, neither approach is right or wrong, but if you’re not on the same page then resentment is bound to happen. The “haves” will feel like they’re being held back. The “have nots” will feel over-extended or guilty. If your spending ability and philosophies are not not in sync, save your socializing for your home turf.
  • Are your bravery levels compatible? There are plenty of situations at the Disney parks which challenge the senses. Will you react to them in the same way as your companions? If they want to do Expedition Everest six times in a row, while you get dizzy during the rotations at Carousel of Progress, then resentment is likely to accumulate while one group cools their heels waiting for the other.
  • Are your circadian rhythms synchronized? Are you ready for rope drop and pooped by 9:00 pm, while your in-laws like to sleep until noon and close down the Magic Kingdom? It’s difficult to have a great time with someone if you’re never awake at the same time.
  • Do you enjoy the same types of rides?

  • Do you discipline the same way? In some families, the rules are the rules, no matter where you are. In other families, vacations are where rules are made to be broken. If one set of kids in having ice cream for breakfast, while the other gets no dessert unless they finish their green beans, tensions will arise.

Now before you start thinking that there is NEVER a situation where you’ll be comfortable traveling with another family, there are also some pros to group vacations that may outweigh any cons:

  • Date night is easy. Assuming that the other family is willing, you can trade evenings out with your spouse. You watch their kids while they watch yours. Enjoy big savings on sitting fees and feel safety in leaving your kids with a known supervisor.
  • Shared experiences can build bonds. If your son and his cousin simultaneously chicken out when attempting Space Mountain for the first time, that’s a story they’ll later laugh about for years to come.
  • Does everyone enjoy night-time activities?

  • There may be some economy-of-scale savings. This is particularly true if you decide to stay in off-site accommodations. Splitting the cost of an Orlando-area rental home may allow you substantially upgraded amenities for the same prices as staying on-site with a smaller party.

If you do decide to take the plunge, here are some guidelines you may want to set before you travel:

  • Everyone pays for their own food. Tell your server at the beginning of each meal that you want separate checks. This eliminates hard feelings when the sirloin and martini eater wants to go halvsies on a meal with a teetotaler vegetarian, for the third time this week.
  • Plan some time apart. Just because you’re vacationing together, that doesn’t mean you have to spend every waking minute together. If you plan to have some activities separately, that will give you more to talk about when meet up again.
  • Does everyone in your group agree that this is an acceptable breakfast?

  • Distribute tasks. Get everyone involved in the trip planning. This gives everyone ownership in making the vacation a success. This also ensures that no one person is overwhelmed with tasks like making dining reservations or planning itineraries.
  • Write out a list of expectations. Items covered may include items such as expected bedtimes, souvenir budgets, or disciplinary tactics for typical misbehavior situations. Share the list with children. The more everyone understands what the common goals are, the fewer opportunities there will be for hurt feelings.

Over the years, I personally have traveled to Walt Disney World with neighbors, my parents, my sister-in-law and her family, my Moms Panel buddies, and even some unrelated babysitters. There have been great successes (priceless photos of the extended clan) and some frustrating challenges. Meeting at 8:00 does actually mean meeting at 8:00, why don’t some people understand that? ūüôā What have your experiences been? Have you enjoyed your journeys to the World with others, or are you going nuclear-family-only from now on because of a negative situation? Give us your tips in the comments below.

Dining the Teen Way: Fast, Cheap, and Greasy

by on November 18, 2009

Roller coasters, shopping, fireworks,¬†swimming,¬†dancing, laughing. These are some of the things that teens love about Disney World. Notice the omission¬†of the¬†phrase “sit-down-dinner-ing?”¬†True, Disney has some¬†amazing restaurants, but¬†a teenager would much prefer to be in the parks, riding rides, than¬†scarfing down a fancy meal. Though there are some¬†family-friendly restaurants, I don’t know of any that involve being thrown upside-down and pulling 5-Gs. Ever since Disney got into the thrill business, it’s been hard for calamari¬†to compete.

Solution? I call it “snacking your way¬†through the parks.”¬†There¬†are no restaurant meals on¬†a snacking¬†vacation. Instead,¬†buy¬†your food at eateries and from vendors. That way,¬†you¬†spend more¬†time watching shows and experiencing rides than waiting for¬†a¬†dish to arrive. Forget your grandmother’s rules about walking and eating! Who says you can’t savor a soft pretzel while darting to¬†the Jungle Cruise?

But if you’re like many Disney World¬†guests, you might have a few¬†concerns: 1) fast food isn’t remotely¬†healthy, and 2)¬†Disney World restaurants¬†serve such fabulous food that you don’t want to miss out. Not to worry.¬†I’m going to¬†teach you¬†to snack in a way that¬†solves these problems, plus saves you a¬†Goofy-sized¬†bundle. So read on, Grasshopper (or rather, Jiminy Cricket).

First: healthiness.¬†You may be¬†worried that eating burgers and cheap pizza for a week will ruin¬†your waistline. You ought to know that on an average day at Epcot, a guest walks over 12 miles, not to mention time standing upright in lines. I promise,¬†you will burn calories. In fact, I¬†usually lose a¬†couple pounds in Disney. However, if¬†you¬†can’t stand¬†food loaded with cholesterol and fat, or rather lacking good stuff like vitamins, below is a list of counter-service places at each park with options for the health-conscious diner. (Remember that Disney has been making an effort to provide healthier choices, so there can be a fruit side with almost any meal.)

Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe, Tomorrowland (soups and Kosher items)
Columbia Harbour House, Liberty Square (vegetarian chili and seafood)
Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn, Frontierland (vegetarian wraps)

Sunshine Seasons, The Land (fresh fruits and veggies, and good stuff for breakfast too)
Lotus Blossom Cafe, China Pavilion (vegetable dishes)
Liberty Inn, America Pavilion (come only if you’re desperate for a salad)

Backlot Express (vegetarian sandwiches and multiple salads)
ABC Commissary (curry and salads)

Flame Tree Barbeque, Discovery Island (salads)
Kusafiri Coffee Shop, Africa (light pastries for breakfast)

What about missing out on the world-class food at WDW? Some of the country’s top chefs have restaurants there; it seems a shame to skip. It’s true you won’t sample¬†many culinary masterpieces¬†in my “snacking through” strategy because it’s¬†geared towards downing calories for energy.¬†Then again, there are some counter-service versions of the high-end restaurants. Exhibit A: Wolfgang Puck Express at Downtown Disney. It’s¬†more casual and¬†faster, but the pizza is as much gourmet as that of¬†Wolfgang Puck Cafe up the road. The Yak & Yeti Restaurant at Animal¬†Kingdom has a cafeteria-style alternative. You get the picture.

I hope by now¬†it’s clear that you hardly have to sacrifice anything to snack through Disney World. It gets better, too!¬†Here’s the major upside:¬†a¬†family¬†will save an average of $90 for every sit-down meal they forego! Another example: stock up on¬†bagels and cereal¬†from¬†the Buena Vista Winn-Dixie to eat¬†at the turnstiles to¬†save a castle-load. (Get it? Castle sounds like cash. And it’s Disney-themed. Get it?¬†Never mind.)

What¬†are my¬†awesomest money-saving¬†tips for food?¬†OK I’ll tell, but¬†let’s hope my mom doesn’t find out that I shared¬†the family silver! The drinks at Disney are huge, so splitting them saves you about $3 every time. That may not seem like much, but considering how hot Florida gets, staying hydrated is important; it adds up. The ultimate cheap(er) dining secret is: get kids’ meals for adults. Like I said, portions at WDW are huge. Kids’ meals are often big enough to satisfy an adult stomach,¬†and are¬†up to¬†$7¬†less for the exact same food.

If you still cannot give up eating at a restaurant, you and the other adults can have a sit-down dinner. Meanwhile, the teens and preteens can continue touring, making all of you happier than Snow White singing to beavers. Just make sure the pubescents have a little cash and a cell-phone with them in case of an emergency.

I should mention one other major worry about snacking before I go: not experiencing a character breakfast. Luckily Рwith the notable exception of Cinderella Рalmost any character your munchkin would meet at a character breakfast can be found somewhere else in the theme parks, for free.

That’s¬†all for now, though I may return to this topic later. If you have any questions about a Disney World vacation with teenagers, feel free to ask them in the Comments. I might just turn the answer into my next post. In the meantime, have a magical day!