Four parks in two days, some of our friends thought we wouldn’t be able to do it…but we did and it was EPIC. The Hubby and I had a set budget for this family ‘bucket list’ trip and were able to stick to it thanks to my months of research, strategic planning and some valuable advice from some savvy mommy friends. My motto is and will always be ‘memories over money’ when it comes to spending quality time with my family, but I always assumed a family trip to Walt Disneyworld would be really expensive and not worth the money… I was wrong on both ends. I’m happy to share the budget savvy tips that I’ve found because this trip was so worth it just for the memories we made alone.
Some tragic events occurred in Orlando during the week we were out there that put a damper on our excitement in the beginning. There are so many horrific things going on in the world and we can’t shield our kids from hearing about some of them. Every television in the Orlando airport and in the restaurants had the news channels on, so we talked to our kids about it and prayed for the lives that were lost and for our own safety out there.
This was Boston and Lexi’s first plane ride, so in order to prepare them for the trip I ordered a children’s book on Amazon called My First Airplane Ride. They loved the book and read it every night before bed the week before we left. This made out airport experience easier because the kids were somewhat familiar with the security checkpoint procedures.
I started researching and prepping for our June 12-17th trip in October 2015. The first thing I did was go to Pinterest to find Disney world pins which took me to some great mommy blogs with lots of information on the best rides to go on, restaurants, etc.
I found out how important it was to sign up for a free account at WaltDisneyworld.com so that you can link your passes, make restaurant reservations and more. They also have tons of attractions info and maps for each park. I downloaded their app too which helped make our park hopping experience run smoothly.
You can reserve fast passes up to 30 days in advance for their most popular attractions and shows for free on their website and on the app. You are only allowed 3 fast passes per park until you use them all, after that you can schedule 3 more . With the app I was able to reserve new passes right away without having to find a kiosk, so we kept it moving which was crucial because it was HOT out there!
I reserved our resort stay using our timeshare points which helped save us some money. We stayed at the Mystic Dunes Resort in Celebration, FL which was only 6 minutes away from the parks. The resort was beautiful and had it’s own restaurant, large two-bedroom suites w/full kitchens, multiple pools with waterfalls and slides, miniature golf course, and activity center.
The kids only knew that we were taking a trip to Orlando, Fl. We wanted to surprise them with the Disneyworld news once we got out there. Check out their sleepyhead reactions:
Our resort also had free scheduled shuttles to take us to the parks. We decided to rent a car instead because of how many parks we were visiting and the hubby found a super cheap weekly rate through the Sixt Rental Car company which he found on Hotwire.com. You can also find good deals on flights and hotels on this site. The free shuttle picked us up from MCO airport, took us right to check-in and had us in our mid-size SUV within thirty minutes.
I found roundtrip fares for $230.00 each on my favorite site to find the best rates orbitz.com. Once I find an airline rate that I like on this site, I go directly to the airline’s website to find out if the tickets are even cheaper which 70% of the time they are after you add in your baggage fees.
The next step was to buy our park hopper passes. I bought discounted passes at floridaticketstation.com, a website that has year-round tickets to all of the Florida theme parks. I had to wait two weeks for our tickets to come in the mail so that I could add them to my Disneyworld.com account but it was worth it. As soon as they arrived I got the numbers off the back of each ticket and created an online profile for each family member.
One of my friends told me to invest in magicbands especially since we were park hopping. This was such a great tip because our bands were so much more convenient than pulling out tickets every time we wanted to get on a ride.
I purchased them on the Disneyworld website and linked them to our profiles. We never had to pull out our tickets, all we did was hold our bands up to the kiosks at the entrance of the park and all of the rides then watch Mickey’s silhouette turn green indicating that we were good to go. My friend also suggested we buy cheap ponchos to throw on while in the ride lines because it rained around 5pm for an about an hour every day that we were out there. We had fast passes for almost all of the rides and shows so we never had to use them, but I’m glad we were prepared.
I spent $149.00 on the memory maker pass and it was definitely worth it because of the memories captured for ourselves and for my blog. I was able to purchase it on their site and link it to my band as well. Whenever we saw a Disney certified photographer (they’re all over the parks) we would pose for our pics and they would scan my band. I also scanned my band after all the rides to get the pics and/or video footage sent to my online account. Once you pay the money you can pose for as many pics as you want at no additional charge. This also helped make out trip more seamless and made my photographer hubby very happy because he was able to just enjoy our time together without lugging his Canon around all day. The pics and footage were automatically uploaded to my account and available for download the next day. Disney also emailed me a release form to sign stating that I paid for the pics and could legally post them online. They even added in some extra pics of some of their attractions.
Some of my favorite budget savvy tips came from one of my mommy friends who is also an event planner, so she knows a thing or two about finding deals. Since we were park hopping, we didn’t want to put any bags in lockers because it would slow us down. She recommended my husband and I carry a backpack each with frozen bottles of water in large ziplock bags, snacks and fruit. She also suggested a water bottle mister which is something I already had from the year before. I went to the dollar store to buy mini fan necklaces for the kids to help keep them cool as well. We packed sunscreen, bug spray and a change of clothes for all of us which came in handy each day because of how much we sweated due to the humidity out there.
We saved a lot of money on water and food. We also saved on souvenirs because of her suggestion to go to a Disney outlet store where I was able to buy Lexi’s princess dress, kids t-shirts, and light up accessories for under $100. These items are triple the price at the parks. She also picked up a pack of adorable Minnie ear headbands in different colors for me from the downtown LA toy district so my daughter and I were able to coordinate headbands with each outfit. If you’re in Southern California and in need of a super creative event planner look her up on Facebook at Cairo’s Customs Events.
I became a fan of the Star Wars Series as a kid and introduced the series to my kids who are now Star Wars fans too . We didn’t own too many Disney items other than the movies and a few toys so I admit to going a little overboard with the souvies in anticipation of the trip, but I was really happy about my purchases once we got to the parks. Even though we’ve never been a fanatical Disney family and had only been to Disneyland twice before, we were immediately swept up in the magic and excitement of it all once we got to the parks. It was awesome being able to explore and enjoy our time together without stopping to shop at every park because the kids wanted to buy something too.
I bought a few more souvenirs from Target and the dollar store, we ended up only buying refrigerator magnets and light sabers at the parks.
We took a red eye from LAX Airport on Saturday and arrived in Florida Sunday morning. The kids were able to get some sleep on our non-stop flight and wake up excited to be in a new State. They’re both at an age where their level of awareness is heightened and so is their endurance level. Boston is 8 and Lexi is 4 1/2 and they are always up for an adventure, which is why I knew they would be able to last through two parks a day without complaining.
Even though the parks are designed for kids of all ages, I definitely think you get more for your money when you wait until they’re old enough to really enjoy and remember the trip, at least for out- of- state residents. There were a lot of hot, irritable babies in strollers and disgruntled parents at Magic Kingdom which was the most crowded park.
We headed out to Magic Kingdom early Monday morning with our linked fast passes that I had scheduled 30 days in advance. My daughter is no longer all about Disney princesses…that’s so last year for her. She will still don a dress and pose with one but her new faves are Ninja Turtles, so I knew that she wouldn’t care to get fast passes to meet them. She’s always been pretty fearless unlike myself as a little girl, so I got passes for some of the best big rides because she was also tall enough to get on most of them. We started off with the classic It’s A Small World ride because we all enjoy watching the adorable International children sing and dance, plus it’s a great way to beat the heat.
One of my favorite rides of all time is Space Mountain. I will never forget how my dad had to rush my brothers and I through the long line to the exit because I was too afraid to get on. I was seven years old then and scared of everything, my 4 year old is the total opposite…she loves roller coasters. I was holding onto her more for my own peace of mind than hers because she was just fine.
Taking little breaks in between rides to cool down and have a snack was essential out there!
It also gave us a chance to watch the parade where the steel fire breathing dragon was by far the coolest float.
Disneyland in Anaheim, Ca is very similar to the Magic Kingdom so we didn’t mind leaving the crowded park at 5:20pm to head over to the Epcot Center. As soon as we stepped into the park we were all very happy to see that there were a lot less people there. The kids were able to run, jump and even do cartwheels if they wanted to around the park. There was no chance of that happening at the Magic Kingdom.
Epcot seemed to cater more to adults and we saw a lot of older couples sitting around and relaxing by the big lake in the center of the park. We were able to get on Mission Space and check out the Advanced Training Lab before dinner which were more interactive and educational than the rides/attractions at the last park which I thought was really cool.
I scheduled 6pm dinner reservations on the app for the Nine Dragons Restaurant and we hopped on the monorail. You can find out which restaurants have the highest ratings on the Disneyworld website and the app. You have to leave your credit card info to reserve a table online which is best for some of the more popular restaurants. I wasn’t sure when we’d be eating or where so I waited to reserve so that I wouldn’t forget and get charged a non-cancellation fee. We caught a couple of quick acrobatic shows before changing into our fresh clothes for dinner. There was something for everyone at this restaurant and the Asian cuisine was great.
We continued walking through some of the International Pavilions and hopped on a few more fun rides like Spaceship Earth which was like a time machine ride. We would have liked to get on more rides but this was one of the earlier closing parks. Everyone we talked to suggested seeing the fireworks show at Magic Kingdom but it was almost 9pm so we decided to stay and watch the fireworks at Epcot. I found that you really can’t go wrong with any of the fireworks shows because they are all big with great theme music.
We took Tuesday off to hang out by the pool and relax at our resort. We didn’t realize how much we had walked until we woke up with sore legs, so a day to relax and re-energize was very necessary.
We woke up early again on Wednesday, packed up our backpacks and headed to our third park the Animal Kingdom. We had so much fun on the rides, and exploring their International pavilions! The live animals combined with the attractions definitely set this park apart from the others. It was like the L.A. Zoo on steroids.
The photographers had more fun with the pics at this park and so did we.
The rides were exciting and the shows were a lot of fun too. Lexi was able to get on every ride except Expedition Everest and I found out why once I got on! This ride was a lot of fun but very fast with a lot of sharp turns and dips that aren’t so kind to little ones with weaker neck muscles. Boston lucked out and got to go on twice after we got a rider switch pass.
Another favorite ride that I got a fast pass for was Dinosaur , a time machine ride going back centuries to the days when dinosaurs walked the earth. The kids loved this ride, the dinosaurs were pretty cool and realistic too.
We went to some of the animal encounter exhibits while we waited for our new fast pass times to start, then took a little shade break and watched a bird show that introduced the kids to all kinds of different migratory birds.
After the bird show we took a water and snack break at the Asia pavilion where Lexi busted some Bollywood moves with the dancers.
I highly recommend checking out the Finding Nemo Musical while at the park. The cool air conditioned theater combined with the music and theatrical puppets made for an unbeatable 30 minute hot weather reprieve. The kids were fascinated by the puppets, the talented puppeteers and the bubbles that dropped on the audience at the end of the show which was the perfect grande finale for the kiddos. Maybe not so much for the Hubby, lol.
Another show I highly recommend is the 3D film and live show It’s tough to be a Bug. The show is super cute and interactive with real water spray and even some fun surprises right beneath you. There’s more but that’s all I’ll say about it since I don’t to ruin all of the surprises. They do warn that some younger kids might be afraid of the loud sounds and dark theater.
The Kali River Rapids ride was fun but not as exciting as the roaring rapids ride at Magic Mountain in California. They have free one hour lockers for you to store your stuff right outside the entrance so we stored our backpacks, even though we didn’t end up getting that wet.
We changed clothes for our 5pm dinner reservations at Yak & Yeti restaurant in the Asia pavilion. This was one of the popular restaurants amongst bloggers and had high ratings on the website, so I reserved a time the day before. I’m glad I did because the walk-in reservations had over an hour wait time. Their menu had something for everybody, the Kobe beef burger I had was delicious! We also had their fried wontons for dessert, my pic does not do them justice..they were so good.
Saving money on souvenirs and waters made us that much happier to splurge on dinners during our stay out there. We would have liked to have gone on the Kilimanjaro Safari ride and watched The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic show but we had to head over to our last park before it closed.
Being that we are Star Wars Fans, Hollywood Studios had to be our final park. We took one of their buses over from Animal Kingdom. It wasn’t too crowded once we got there because people were already heading over to the Magic Kingdom for the fireworks show. Epcot Center and Hollywood Studios both close at 9pm, Magic Kingdom stays open until 12am and the Animal Kingdom until 11pm. We headed over to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror first with the same momentum we had all day because the kids were still excited and ready for more adventures. This ride was a true test of my daughter’s fearlessness because it was pretty scary. She was full speed ahead until we were strapped into our moving elevator and the holographic movie started to play. She never cried, even when the elevator abruptly started dropping down flights but she was quite adamant about getting off of the ride as soon as possible. Unfortunately we couldn’t get off so I held her tighter, and she made sure to let us know afterwards that she did not ever want to get on that ride again.
The kids would have loved to have been in the Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple show but we didn’t find out until it was too late that we needed to register them first thing in the morning because all of the lists fill up within an hour. We wanted to check out The Great Movie Ride too but only had time for that or Star Tours which was no contest.
Star Tours is an all time favorite and one that we already had a fast pass time for so we rushed passed the long line of people and right to the front. Fast passes are the best! We walked off of the ride and right into their store where they have a line for young Jedi’s who want to custom build their own store…they got us.
The light sabers were our one major souvenir purchase, and a worthy one because the kids had a lot of fun building their own.
We weren’t able to get anymore fast passes after this ride because the park was going to be closing soon so we chose Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith as our final ride…a great choice I might add. The ride is a stretch limo that takes you on a whirlwind tour of our native city of Los Angeles. We are very familiar with L.A. traffic and wild drivers, but this was on another level. It was an extremely fast paced ride which is why we had to get another rider switch pass because Lexi couldn’t get on. Boston was more than happy to take her place and ride twice. I wasn’t prepared for the limo to go upside down, it was pitch dark at that point and I almost lost my backpack. I would definitely suggest putting your bigger bags in a locker before this ride.
We knew that the fireworks show here would be our favorite because of the Star Wars music. We had to rush off to the Aerosmith ride before it closed so we didn’t have the best view but we still weren’t disappointed.
We didn’t get to see everything at each park but we were still extremely satisfied, albeit exhausted from our park hopping adventures. The Hubby and I agreed that we got our money’s worth from the trip and made some unforgettable memories with our little ones.
I made reservations for ‘Ohana Hawaiian style restaurant for our last night in Florida together because it was another blogger fave with high ratings.
The food was delicious and plentiful because the skewers of meat, noodles and veggies kept making rounds. The restaurant is located inside of Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and had a perfect view of Magic Kingdom’s fireworks show. They even had the Disney music playing through their speakers which made the show that much more special. There was a great live band singing Hawaiian hits that got Lexi in the mood to sing along.
Their ‘Ohana Bread Pudding a la’ mode with Bananas-Caramel Sauce was everything people said it would be too.
We checked out Friday morning and had hours to spare before our early evening flight so we decided to hit the Florida Mall which is the closest mall to the airport. Our resort concierge recommended we check out the Crayola Experience inside the mall since we had some extra time. You would never know there is a huge play area in the Crayola store when you first walk in. We kept walking to the the back of the store and were surprised by the size of the place.
We were told that we could get discounted tickets on their site so we bought four tickets online and they scanned the receipts on our phones. The first thing the kids wanted to do was make their own personalized crayons which the Hubby and I both thought was pretty cool so we all made our own.
They had different stations with interactive activities, an indoor playground and restaurant. I could see why it was a popular birthday party destination. The mini and I enjoyed coloring our own fashion attire and seeing it come to life on the big screen. Lexi put her own twist on her color block dress design and I loved it.
We all got into the interactive computer stations that let us put our crayola masterpieces on the mat and watch it come to life on the screen.
My eldest was a little bummed because he had to miss out on this trip due to his College Summer school schedule, so we will definitely all have to visit Orlando again.
This trip will definitely go down in the Horne Family book as one of the best trips ever and I’m looking forward to many more memorable family trips in our Country and Internationally. My passion for travel has only heightened since my Grandmother passed away last year. She traveled the world and always told me life is short so live, love and travel often. Priceless words that I will forever cherish and continue to live by as long as I am able.