Affording the Mouse

(Hint: We flew free)

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Hey there! I’m going to tell you about one of my favorite family activities….traveling. There is something about getting away that is just so refreshing for the soul. Even having something booked on the calendar in the future seems to lift my spirits and carry me through the harder moments of life. The only problem with my love of travel is that it is expensive.

When my baby girl was almost a year old I felt the itch, no the desperate need to get away. I wanted some family time that moved me out of the ordinary day in and day out routine. As any parent knows adjusting to parenthood is a lot even when you totally love it and wouldn’t have it any other way. I needed something fun to look forward to and to feel like I was working towards an exciting purpose other than the daily bills and life expenses.

    I let my mind wander about where to go. So many thoughts came to mind. Do we head for the Caribbean? How about the Grand Canyon? Maybe we could go to Europe? Yellowstone sounds cool….After many ideas of where to go my husband and I finally decided on Disney World. I know, you either love Disney or hate it. If you are a person that is not a Disney fan your probably thinking why on Earth would you choose to go there out of all places?  You may also be thinking your baby won’t even remember.

While I totally understand why you think my choice may be crazy just hear me out. Disney World has this amazing system called Disney’s Magical Express where they pick you and all of your bags up at the airport. I mean this alone is heaven to a new mom’s ears. Trying to travel with a one year old is enough work without having to deal with luggage and going from place to place. Disney’s transportation system and generally everything being in one area made things much easier for a mom with a little one. They also have lots of family rides that Ellie could enjoy right along side my husband and I.

I booked the trip knowing Ellie wouldn’t remember it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think it had value to her. One of the best things you can do for a child, even from birth, is to expose them to different things and different people. There were so many new experiences for Ellie to take in. Different noises, sights, smells, and people. The most brain development occurs from ages 0-5. Their little minds are making constant connections even though their long term memory may not be fully developed. Even though Ellie won’t remember this trip when she is older (I fully intend to bring her again) I truly believe the more we can expose kids to different experiences the better off they are.

Now anyone that know me knows I do not like to spend money. I tend to air on the side of caution with all things financial. This is a problem when it comes to loving travel. Travel and not spending money do not go hand in hand. So I am always looking for the best way to get the most out of my money. Disney is usually crazy expensive. However, one of the reasons I picked it was because it was one of the most affordable options for us. As a military family Disney offers great promotions. In addition I managed to get my families flights for free. Yes, you read that correct we flew down their for free. My total cost for a 9 night 10 day trip to Disney World was only about $2,000 (with spending money) for my husband, myself and my one year old.  Here is the breakdown of how we did that:

  • Flight Cost: $0- That’s right our flight was completely free. I signed up for the Southwest Credit Card knowing that I would be going to Disney in a couple of months. I received a large sign up bonus after spending $2,000 on the card. This was easy to do because I just used the card to pay for other trip expenses and used it to pay for my daughter’s daycare. The key here is planning to pay it off as soon as you use it because it has a high APR. However, if you are smart in the way you use it you can enjoy the travel perks without paying interest as long as you pay it off each month; that’s how I use it. My husband and I flew for free using some of my bonus points. My daughter also flew for free as a lap baby because she was under the age of 2. Even after booking our non-stop flights we still had over 20,000 points lefts for future travel.

  • Room Cost= About $500- We stayed at Disney’s All Stars Music Resort. The All Stars are Disney’s Value resorts. If you are a military family you can get a discount around 30% by calling Disney directly and asking for the military discount. Our room cost was also less expensive because we chose to share a room with my sister and her son. We split the cost and were able to share our discount with them. It was a win win for both of us and if you have someone that would be willing to split a room with you it can be a great way to save. If my sister didn’t come it would have still been very affordable but I would have gone for less nights to decrease the cost.

  • Ticket Cost= $286 per ticket for a total of $572: Only Omar (my husband) and I needed tickets to the park. Since Ellie was under two she is free everywhere in Disney even at the buffets or restaurants (as long as she shares a plate)!  We bought the five day park hopper plus military salute tickets. This package gave us 5 days worth of entries to the four theme parks and 5 days of entries to the water parks. If you are military family, I highly suggest this deal. Also, if you travel with a military family they can usually get extra tickets at this pricing (up to six people in a party). So I was able to get my sister and nephew tickets for the same price since they flew with us.
  • Food and Shopping: We spent about $100 a day on food and shopping. Over the time we were there our spending totaled to about $900. We were conservative but still enjoyed ourselves. We did a combination of quick service restaurants and sit down restaurants. Let me know in the comments if you want some suggestions for great restaurant deals in Disney.

I realize some of these deals are only helpful to you if you are a military family. However, I highly recommend going for a free flight. Anyone can take advantage of the Southwest Credit Card promotion and it will knock hundreds off of your vacation cost.

Have you been to Disney? Have you found ways to save? Do you have questions for me about my experience. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.