Disney World Planning. We’re Less Than 2 Months Away

A few months back I wrote about how we had made the decision to take a family trip to Disney World later this year.  Well, most of the year has passed and we’re now less than two months away from taking our trip.  I’ve been bad with updates (a whirlwind summer with mostly great weather has a way of doing that), but wanted to check in with some updates and observations!

So, let’s take a look at how things are shaping up!

We Splurged

The first thing that I have to admit is that we made a change of plans that increased our budget and is a big splurge.

We decided to go with a deluxe resort which includes a ‘free’ dining plan.  This raises the cost of our total trip.  We’re OK with that, though.  Here’s why:

  • This is a rare trip for us. If you’ve been reading my blog you know that most of our trips are local.  A trip to Disney is something we’ve been thinking about for five years.  After, it’ll probably be another five years before we go again.  My wife knows people that go down there every year, sometimes multiple times!  Since we don’t do that, we felt OK with the extra costs.
  • Our kids LOVE animals. We are staying at the Animal Kingdom lodge, and we have a room where we’ll see animals right outside of our room.  Many reviews state that you walk out on your balcony and you can see zebras or giraffes or other animals.  Our kids could go to the zoo every day, so we know they will love this element as well as the cool themes within the room.
  • My wife;s  business supported the cost.– I mentioned in the original article that my wife had decided to fund the trip with money made from her Etsy shop, and even with the change we were able to do so, as her business did better than she’d projected at the end of the day.  So, while it certainly would have been great to have that extra money, we’re 100% fine with having the same amount of money at the end of the trip as we would have with the original projections, and getting what we hope is an awesome trip.

Travel

I’d been following airfares before the trip, and was happy that we got what appeared to be a great deal.  I’m mb-2015-02-disneysomewhat obsessive and have been tracking the fares ever since, and we appear to have booked with the single lowest fare available since we started tracking.  Our flight is the ideal flight for the time of day, and is about twice as expensive as what we paid for it.  The flights on either side of the time are still 20% higher.

We are also looking forward to avoiding having to pay for luggage costs as we paid for it with a Delta American Express card.

One thing of note, they did adjust the schedule a bit so that we’re leaving (and arriving) about one and a half hours earlier than when we’d booked.  We’re cool with that.

Planning Is Nearly Complete

Because we’re on the Disney meal plan, we had to plan out our schedule pretty tightly.  We had to pick what park we wanted to be at on which day, as we made reservations on certain days for different restaurants.  My wife did a lot of research on what restaurants have the best characters present and some of the ‘must see’ places, and we were lucky enough to get things planned almost exactly as she wanted.

We later were able to book many Fast Pass reservations, which also ties into our schedule, and allows you to get on rides with a lot less wait time versus standing in line.  You’re only allowed a certain number per day, so my wife did a lot of reading up on what rides and attractions would be the hardest to get into that our kids would enjoy, and so far, it looks like we have a good plan.

It’s Looking Busy…But That Could Be A Good Thing

We chose our time with one of the reasons that it is typically a less crowded time, as it happens to fall before Thanksgiving and Christmas, which is when things often pick up.  Because of the different promotions (including the meal plan), it appears that the crowds will be pretty heavy.

But, that could actually be a good thing.  Why?

Because one thing that often happens during less crowded weeks is that Disney will offer pretty short hours for many of the parks.  When reservations indicate higher crowd levels, they’ll expand the hours, which they have started doing. This will give us flexibility to either enjoy the parks longer, or take some time in the middle of the day to return to the hotel, rest, and head back out.  With much shorter hours, this wasn’t looking like a possibility, and this worried us, as our kids (and let’s face it, the grown ups) need their rest.

We Told The Kids

We’ve been planning this for a while, and this past weekend we finally told our kids about the trip!  My wife wanted to tell them far enough in advance that we could show them information about the park and start getting them used to the idea of rides, and really increase their excitement level.  We also want to make sure to prepare them for the idea of a plane ride, as my daughter has never been on one, and my son was on one when he a year old, so it’ll be a new adventure for him, as well.

My wife came up with some great ideas:

  • We got some balloons with Mickey on them.  We put them into a box that was taped shut.  When the kids opened the box the balloons floated out.
  • Mickey Mouse wrote them a letter telling them that they were coming down.  He wrote about some of the great things that have been lined up for them to do.  This includes the hotel, the parks, and some of the restaurants.
  • There is a ‘How Many More Days’ picture frame.  This has a piece of glass in front where we change the number each day with a dry erase pen.  Now the kids look every day to see how many days left!

Thanks To The Planner

If you’ve read through all this, by now you may have noticed a theme.  How many times have you read the words ‘ My wife’?  Answer: A lot.  She’s been amazing and has pretty much single handedly planned (and of course paid for) the entire trip.  She’s great at planning things that turn into wonderful memories.  Her attention to detail is amazing and will be so wonderful for our family.

So much love and thanks to her for all the work!

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Reducing Our Disney World Trip Budget

Recently, I wrote about how we are planning a trip to Disney World for our family later in the year.  I have been pretty happy about some things that have happened that are allowing us to reduce our budget by a pretty nice amount!

  • Waiting – When we first looked at tickets early in January, the tickets were $342 per person.  Since there are four of us that set our budget at $1,368.  We know people that travel regularly, and they told us that anything under $350 was a good deal.  Happily, the ticket prices declined several times.  We finally pulled the trigger at $268 per person, inclusive of all fees.  Total Savings: $296
  • Credit Card #1 – We don’t typically go much for reward based credit cards, but mb-2015-02-creditwhen I saw an offer while looking up flights, I couldn’t resist.  By signing up for the Delta Sky Miles American Express Card, and using it to pay for our tickets, we will get a $50 statement credit, 30,000 Sky miles (which is basically one free flight for the future), and we will each get one checked bag for free.  We had budgeted $200 for luggage ($25 per person per leg of the trip), which we can now knock off the list.  We just need to cancel the card after the trip, so that the $95 annual fee (waived for the first year) doesn’t kick in.  It’s already on my Google Calendar! Total Savings: $250+
  • Potential Credit Card #2 – My wife got an offer for a Disney based Master Card or Visa (I can’t remember which) that is no-cost, and once we make $500 in purchases, we will get a Disney gift card for $200.  We can simply transfer our grocery purchases for a couple of months to get to this amount.  We’d sacrifice 1% in cash back rewards, but the trade-off seems well within our favor.  We know we will buy souvenirs and clothing and other items, so this seems like a great way to save on some budgeted spending.  Savings: $200

So far, we are already at savings of $746 from our original budget, without downgrading anything!

The Only Concern

My only concern with this strategy is taking out two additional credit cards.  I think we’re OK, but I’d be interested in your thoughts.  Here’s my reasoning:

  • We are each taking out one card and not listing the other person on the card.  So, our credit report will each show one new card and one rise in available credit.
  • I plan on requesting a lowering of the credit limit on the American Express Card.
  • My wife will cancel the Disney based card as soon as we make the $500 in purchases and collect the $200 gift card.
  • We are not planning any re-financing or taking out of any new loans within one year, and within one year both cards should be closed.
  • At present, we each have a Master Card and we share another American Express Card, so the number of cards outstanding and our total credit limit seems well capable of handling these additions.

Readers, what do you think of our savings so far?  Any considerations or concerns in taking out two cards to collect the associated rewards?

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Planning A Trip To Disney World

We have been talking for a couple of years about planning a trip to Disney World when our kids were old enough to enjoy it, and we have finally set a date and put the plans in motion.

Here are some updates:

When: Fall 2015

We are planning a trip for later in the fall.  It’s hard to imagine that we are planning something so far out, but honestly, that’s often what you have to do.

Where: Disney Property

We looked at a few options in terms of where we wanted to stay.  Our goal was to stay on Disney property.  I know many people say that renting a condo is a good way to go, but our plans are to avoid renting a car, and use the Disney transportation

Hotel: Disney or Not Disney

My wife and I took a Disney World trip in 2008, and we stayed at one of the value resorts, which is very simple.  It’s just a hotel room and not much more.  For our trip now, with two little ones, we wanted something a little bit more spacious and accommodating.  We did research and looked at two options:

  • Moderate Resort – It’s the next step up from a value resort, but not quite as luxurious (and not as pricey) as the aptly named Deluxe Resorts.  The advantages are that the transportation is included to and from the airport, the rooms are Disney themed, and they integrate within the Disney Meal Plan (more on that later).
  • Non-Disney Hotel on Disney Property – Costco offers a deal at the Swan and Dolphin hotels.  These are hotels located on Disney property, but not managed or operated by Disney.  I believe it’s run by Sheraton.  The pricing was better, but we would have to arrange our own airport transportation, the rooms weren’t Disney themed, and many people via travel site reviews indicated that the hotels are worn down.

In the end we decided to stay with the Moderate Resort.  Since this is a special family vacation that we won’t be likely doing but once every few years, we wanted to go for the Disney experience, and not just stay at what would likely amount to be ‘a regular old hotel’.

Where To Eat

Disney offers a meal plan that integrates with your hotel stay.  You get a sit down meal with many restaurants across all the parks and properties, you get a  counter meal, and you get a ‘snack’.  When my wife and I used this in 2008, we loved it.  Those who seem to have the greatest success are the ones who do their homework, line up where they want to stay, and make reservations as soon as possible, which we did last time and will be doing this time as well.  People who give it unfavorable reviews are often those who don’t make reservations, and then are unable to get in where they want to go, or face long lines if they just ‘show up’.  That won’t be us.

The plan isn’t cheap, but it’s nice to know that pretty much everything except alcohol and tips will be already paid for, and we want to do restaurants that the kids will enjoy.

Visiting The Disney Parks

mb-2015-02-disneyWe will be getting a park pass for a few days, and will be planning our trips to spend time at each park (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Adventures, and Animal Kingdom).  Disney offers a park hopper option where you can go to multiple parks on the same day, but it’s pretty expensive (it would work out to be $216 for our family of four).  We are not buying that up front, but the nice thing is that should we desire it, you can add it on for no additional cost at any time during your stay.

By booking early, we’ll be able to start looking at parks we want to go to, and on what day, and actually getting fast passes for various rides and attractions, I think 60 or 90 days in advance.  It’s amazing to me the amount of up front planning that you have to do, but they really seem to have streamlined the process and made it so that if you do the planning up front, you can spend more time enjoying the time while you’re there, versus having to worry about what you’re going to do next.

All Of This Is Already In Motion

We were referred to a travel agent who specializes in Disney World trips, and have put a deposit down to work with her.  The great thing is that the deposit is minimal ($200), and if we change our mind up until a few weeks before, all we lose is the deposit.

One thing we learned is that with Disney World, travel agents don’t get any real breaks in pricing.  This is different than when we used one during our 2007 Hawaii honeymoon planning, and the prices we got for many of the attractions and activities were cheaper than if we’d booked them ourselves.  But, there are advantages to using an agent:

  • The aforementioned ability to put a smaller deposit down
  • One-stop shopping.
  • Discount opportunities.  We are purposefully going during a slower time of the year.  As such, the parks and resorts are typically less booked, so Disney will often offer specials to attract more visitors. Sometimes they’ll discount or throw in the meal plan, or offer a particular resort type for a lower cost.  Our travel agent doesn’t get discounts, but they do get all notifications of such specials as they are announced, and if she sees any that would be advantageous to us, she will immediately make changes on our behalf, the same morning that she gets the discount information.

Travel

One thing that we aren’t using the travel agent for is travel.  We are planning on flying, and are pretty close to booking our tickets. The round trip tickets, as of the most recent check, are around $320 each. Price research shows that this is about the best we can expect to pay.  We just need to finalize the dates and book the tickets.  We will also have to factor in costs for luggage, currently at $50 per bag round trip, but you can pay for this at any time up to the trip.

Budget

I’ve mentioned in the past that my wife started an etsy shop a little over a year ago, and she’s been doing very well.  She designs digital invitations, wall art, and other material that can then be printed by the customer.  She’s been dedicating a majority of her income toward our family trip, so when we last crunched the numbers, the money is there for our trip.  This is great that paying for it is one less thing to worry about!

Overall

So far we are very satisfied with the planning we’ve accomplished.  There are still many details to go through, but committing to the dates and the park, and the travel are really big milestones that we’ve hit well in advance.  Hopefully the rest of our planning continues to be as smooth, and I’m confident that we will have a great trip!

Readers, have you planned a Disney vacation over the last couple of years?  Did you find that more planning up front led to less worries and more fun while there?

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Very Early Planning For Disney World Trip

My wife and I went to Disney World in 2008.  We planned that trip specifically so the two of us could go by ourselves, as we knew that we wanted to start trying to start a family shortly thereafter, and if that worked out, our future trips would be much different.

We had a great time, and as it happened, we started our family in 2009 by welcoming our son, and added to it with the 2011 birth of our daughter.

We’ve talked about the right age to take another trip down.  I think that many early childhood memories are lost, and since Disney World is such a magical place, it’d be a shame to have a child ‘forget’ essentially all of the experience.   I proposed, and my wife reluctantly agreed that four years old would be the earliest age.  I think my wife was reluctant just because she really has been looking forward to going back!

So, our current plan is to take the family down in Fall 2015.  That’s nearly 18 months away, but as we learned last time, you can never start to plan early enough!

While we’re not planning any specific details, we are trying to throw together a preliminary plan including a high level budget, what we’d like to do, where we’d like to stay, and how we plan on getting there, around, and back.  Oh, and how to pay for it, of course!

Let’s start with that

How We Plan On Paying

I’ve written a couple of times promoting my wife’s design service.  She runs it through Etsy, and designs digital wall art, invitations, thank you cards, and other graphical items.  She started less than a year ago and she is doing great!  She ranks very high on many searches within Etsy for invitations and the like.  She’s currently averaging 2-3 orders per day.  From the day she started the shop, she said that she would contribute what she earned toward our family trip.   Business has been much better than she had expected, and given the popularity of Etsy, it should be a slam dunk to have the trip fully funded, as long as she’s motivated to continue the work and as long as she’s cool with funding the trip.  At last check, both of these are a thumbs up!

How Long We Plan On Staying And When

We would like to stay for a week.  I haven’t figured out if that means six nights or seven nights, but a week is the general timeline and seems fine for how far out we’re looking.  We do want to go in the fall, as this seems a good time to have slightly lower costs, lower temperatures, and smaller crowds.  We would be pulling our kids out of school (1st grade and preschool is where they’ll be), but for us, the pros seem to outweigh the cons here.

How We Plan On Getting There

We’re planning on flying.  There are nonstop flights available from Detroit to Orlando, and while prices could change, the four of us will hopefully be able to fly round trip for around $1,200 total if prices stay somewhere around where they are.  Since this is a pretty common flight path with pretty steady demand, I’m hoping that this doesn’t vary too much.

Where We Plan On Staying

My wife and I really enjoyed staying at a Disney property.  We stayed at the Pop Century value resort, and while the accommodations were minimal at best, they were fine for us.  I know that many people advocate staying off site, I’m not sure we’re ready for that, especially since then we’d likely have to rent a car, pay for parking, deal with parking lots, driving around, etc.  We’re definitely taking the approach that we’d like to stay at a Disney property again.  We would probably try to shoot for somewhat of a bigger room to accommodate having two extra bodies.  Still, I’m hoping that we can keep accommodations around the $1,000 – $1,200 range.

What We Plan On Doing

We’d like to focus on the parks, so we would look at what parks we want to do and try to mb-201403disneymap out what day we would want to go.  Knowing that our kids will be young and that this is exhausting, we would definitely leave at least a day or two for non-theme park activities.  Maybe a water park, maybe just a day at the hotel pool, or just walking around Downtown Disney.  We plan on getting our tickets and such through AAA, which we used last time and provided great pricing.

What We Plan On Eating

When my wife and I went in 2008, we participated in a meal plan, which was a really good value.  We got each got a full meal at a sit down restaurant (dinner), a meal at a snack stand (lunch), a snack (breakfast) and a couple of drinks.  My wife did a lot of research, made reservations, and we had a great set of dining experiences and the price was great.  Rumor has it that they’ve taken a lot of the value out of the meal plan, making it more a la carte.  We need to do our homework here and figure out the best way to go.

How We Plan On Getting Around

When we stayed on the Disney property, one of the great things was that they had buses running all around.  They picked us up and dropped us off at the airport, they took us to what parks we need to go to, and back.  They were great, though there really isn’t a schedule, you do have to wait if buses are full, and leaving from the park to go back to the hotel can have some long wait times.  It’s a great service and we plan on using it again, but we’ll really try to figure out any tips and tricks to make it easier as we’ll have small children, who probably won’t be as patient if there are long wait times.

All In All

That’s about all the planning we’ve done, but this has allowed us to put a figure of around $5,000 toward the trip.  This will obviously get refined as we get closer and as we start doing some more detailed planning.  My parents have expressed interest in joining us, so there could be economies of scale with lodging, dining, etc.  That’s just one of the many things we’ll have to take into account.  It’ll be a fun trip to take and a fun trip to plan.

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