Disney on a Family Budget: planning ahead

August 7th, 2006

meeting minnie mouse

Disney World. The dream of every child and the nightmare of every parent who doesn’t enjoy bleeding their hard earned money. Suprisingly Disney can be an affordable vacation. There is not much variation in the price of tickets from place to place on the internet. I do not recommend waiting until you arrive at the gate to purchse them or you will be spending additional money per ticket.

When we went I bought Park Hopper tickets, which meant that we could go from park to park on any given day. There is an additional charge for this and we did not use this option once during our vacation. I am not sure that I would do it again, unless I were going to be doing Disney for a long vacation. As it was we did not see everything in any one of the parks and certainly did not feel like dealing with the hassle of leaving one park and going to a different one.

Also check out the prices of the tickets. The per day goes down the more days you buy tickets for. This means the admission price for 4 days is virtually identical to the admission price for 5 days. ($50.50 per day for a 4 day adult pass versus $41.20 per day for a 5 day adult pass*)

My first and most important piece of unsolicited yet often given advice: GO OFF SEASON.

Shall I repeat it? GO OFF SEASON.

Ignore this advice if:
1) You enjoy being inches away from the unwashed masses of humanity while waiting in line for hours on end, while your children beg you to leave Disney and take them back to the hotel to go swimming in the pool, because they do not have pools in your home state, and

2) you also enjoy 105 degree temperatures with 95% humidity which essentially means you will be stewing in your own sweat as well as that of other peoplew who think deodorant is optional.

If that scenario sounds like something you would really enjoy to have played out several times over just as many days, then by all means go during the summer vacation season. Also, get some professional help.

For everyone else, doing Disney off season means there will be less people, less crowds, and little to no waiting in lines. We were able to ride the “popular” rides numerous times without ever waiting in a line. Getting off the ride and getting right back on it. It was fabulous. Honestly I don’t think I could have enjoyed Disney world if I had to wait on line for more than five minutes.

Going off season also means that accomodations will be less expensive. I know many people swear by staying at the Disney run hotels. I, however, am not one of them.

We rented a three bedroom, 2 bathroom condo that had a full kitchen, laundry inside the condo, and a swimming pool. It was also in a gated community, if that is something that matters to you. (Being from New England where we don’t have anything like this I don’t quite get it’s appeal, but there ya go.) At $120 per night, it was considerably less a night than any of the Disney single hotel room options.*

One of the great things about going this route, is that you don’t have to eat out for every meal. As exciting as that seems while you are planning the trip from the comfort of your own home and internet connection, it gets old really quickly, especially when you have cranky, overtired, hot children whose idea of fun is not sitting quietly in a restaurant.

I used the kitchen to it’s fullest. As soon as we arrived in Orlando we drove right over to the Super Walmart and went grocery shopping. As we shopped we kept in mind:
1) what sort of foods did we want to make for breakfast,
2) what kinds if snacks to bring for during the day, and
3) what kind of dinner/late night snack foods for when we arrived home from a long day at the parks.

I also brought my crock pot with me. I know you are thinking that is crazy, enough with the crock pot, lady. But it was worth it to come home and have food that was done cooking.

One morning we went to a character breakfast, the other three we ate at home before leaving. I brought snacks with us to the park every day. I had a largish soft sided cooler which the children put their water bottles in and in there I put things like string cheese, turkey to be rolled up, oranges sliced up in a ziploc bag.

Then I had a small diaper bag type of bag where I put things like granola bars, raisins, little packages of peanuts, cookies, mickey mouse fruit snacks (keeping the Disney theme, you know). The plan we had was to snack all day on these small things, buying a special treat like a Mickey ice cream or something similar and then eating dinner out.

I also brought a small can of gatorade powder to make in the children’s water bottles. Do you know that you can still get water for free to refill you water bottles? Yes, you can. It is called a water fountain. And much better than spending $5 for a bottle of water.

Our goal was to prevent us from dropping hundreds of dollars every day on grazing foods and drinks. And it worked. We discovered that if we had enough snacks, combined with the heat and excessive water/gatorade consumption in an effort to stay well hydrated, we really weren’t all that hungry.

But how did you carry all that around with you, are you a pack mule? did you bring a sherpa?

Ah, the stroller is your friend. And bring your own stroller if at all possible. Even if you think your child is too old for a stroller, bring it anyway. The Disney ones are not comfortable and you can not take them out of the park to your car in the parking lot. Do you feel like carrying a whining, tired, cranky child out to your car, when you yourself are tired, cranky, and in desperate need of a stiff drink? Yeah, me neither.

We brought our double stroller and our cheapie $20 umbrella stroller. My 5 yr old had initially refused to ride in the baby stroller and how dare we even suggest such a thing since he clearly is NOT a baby, but after the first day he saw the error of his ways, embraced his babyhood, and happily rode in it. And frankly I encouraged it because he walked SO.SLOWLY. that we might still be wandering around Epcot had he not obliged.

Tomorrow the topic will be: Disney on a Family Budget: stopping the gimmees. Because we have all had the experience of going some where and having a child beg you to buy something at every single store, kiosk, or vendor you happen to pass.

* this figure comes from the official Disney website

**this condo is no longer available for rent through this rental agency. But there are many many others.

Going on Vacation

August 7th, 2006

This week I am going to be writing about vacationing with a lots of children, on a budget.

Many times I read things about travelling on a budget that sound great, but they don’t apply to me because I have many children or because their idea of a budget doesn’t include things that I consider important or vice versa.

Did you know that I can’t stay in a hotel room with my children? There are too many of us.

Can’t rent a car or minivan either at my destination. Why? Too many of us to fit into one of them.

Does that stop us from going on vacation? No, not at all.

Our goal when we go on vacation is to have fun. Not to be stressed or upset or deal with tantrums, whether the grown-up or child variety. When we find those things happening it is time to take stock in what a vaction is supposed to be and readjust our expectations.

Later today I am going kick off this topic by posting about Disney World, the mecca of family vacations. And if my family can do it on a budget, so can yours. But most important of all… we had a GREAT time.

I went into the vacation feeling that it would be something I would silently(or maybe not so silently) suffer through for the enjoyment of my children. One of those I am happy because they are happy type things, but the truth of the matter is that we had fun. And I was six months pregnant with my son and had 6 children who were 9, 8, 7, 5, 3 and 1. If there was ever a recipe for disaster and UN-fun this could have been the ingredients right here.

I will have the first part of the vacation series up later today, called Disney on a Family Budget (I had it all ready to go but it suffered an unfortunate computer accident, also known as leaving a toddler unsupervised with the computer.) I’ll share the things that we did to keep it fun and affordable for our family. Things that will work for your family, no matter if there are two or twenty of you.

Our Free and Not-So-Free Books

August 4th, 2006

Today the heat was oppressive and so I thought it was the perfect time to go to Barnes and Noble and redeem the children’s summer reading lists for their free books.

Finished Their Summer Reading List

It wasn’t an easy decision to make from the limited free selection.

Tough decisions

Looking at books, which I refuse to buy. I hate those character books more than the shows themselves.

Looking at books

Of course we couldn’t leave the book store without spending money on more books. The 5000 books we already own are not enough. I love books just as much as my children do so I never put up much of an argument, though I did veto buying 6 Boxcar children books. Because those are the sort of books I think are perfect for taking out of the library.

I am sure that most of you know already, but homeschooling parents are eligible for a 20% educator discount. You just need to apply in the store to get your card.

Homeschool Porn

August 2nd, 2006

For those who are unintiated in the world of homeschooling, this is the time of year when all the catalogs come in the mail. I love them all. I have a stack of them on my bedside table, which I peruse nightly.

The hefty catalogs are my porn. I sit down with the catalogs, various colored highlighters, those sticky post it notes, and my fanatsies. Oh and what fanatsies they are. When the enormous Rainbow Resource catalog comes in the mail, all life as we know it in my house stops for several days while I drool over each and every one of it’s 1200+ pages.

“Ooooooh, I’d love this,” I say. I imagine my children and I making an authentic mummy out of a roaster chicken, various spices, and some salt. What a great learning experience that would be, I muse. And I am sure I can find a place to store that in my house for a few months. NOT.

“Oooooooh, look at this,” I say. I imagine constructing the entire war of 1812 out of paper mache, dryer lint, and pipe cleaners. Who would NOT want to do that? Uh, me.

Luckily I am not crazy enough to have lost all rational thought and reasoning. Usually I can pass these types of things over. Not that these types of projects are inherently bad things to do, if you enjoy them and more importantly your children do.

It’s the smaller types of things now that I have trouble with. They promise great things and I have trouble not falling for their insidious promises. The things that promise to help your child “see math in a new exciting way” or promise to make your child love studying grammar, without them even knowing they are studying it. Or the huge magnetic wall chart where we can track our daily weather for the year and feed the budding meteorologist in us all. When really, how many ways are there to make memorizing your multiplication tables exciting? And a notebook, pen, wall thermometer and eyes are all you really need to track the weather daily.

At this point though, seven years into my homeschooling journey, I realize where my strengths and weaknesses lie. I realize that everything that sounds cool and educational to me, might very well not be to the children. And that lots of these so called educational projects are a huge pain in the ass and time suck.

People ask me all the time, “How do you make your kids do _____?” (fill in the blank) The thing is I don’t make my children do anything. I don’t think you can. Their education is very much theirs, not mine. There are things that I want them to accomplish, obviously, but I consider it my job to make it interesting enough that they do not balk at doing it. If there is a concept or a subject that my children are bored with, the onus is on me to change that. It means that I am not doing my job properly and need to approach the topic in a new way.

That doesn’t mean I do not embark on projects that I really should know better than attempting by now.

cough building an egyptian pyramid out of sugar cubes cough

It’s just that now I can usually distinguish between the things that would be beneficial for my children, and those things that are better left to my bedroom, my highlighter, and my active imagination.