Saturday, October 5, 2013

Vacation on the Cheap: Orlando 2013 - Tips & FREE things to do at Disney!

Welcome back to my series Vacation on the Cheap! You can find the first installment here where I shared my planned itinerary and menu.

I talked briefly about the hotel we got for a great price through a vacation club. If you're interested in the specifics, let me know. I supposed I shouldn't really call it a hotel because it is a resort that is comprised of 1-3 bedroom condos. The Polynesian Isles was a lovely resort that I hope we get to stay at again! I didn't take any pictures of the resort or our room, and can't get any pictures to transfer over, but you can check a bunch of them on TripAdvisor. We rented a 2 bedroom condo for the week because we were expecting another family to join us & split the cost, but they weren't able to come. This worked out just fine because the six of pretty much needed all the room! It had a full kitchen and an outdoor grill which were the secret to our saving money on food.

I highly recommend that if you will be vacationing for a week or longer, that you find accommodations that have a kitchen. There are many rentals within reasonable distances from popular tourist destinations that are probably cheaper than a hotel room and come with extra room & amenities. This is also a superb option for families larger than the standard "2 adults, 2 children". This is why we (sadly) don't stay on Disney property. There are very few rooms to accommodate families with more than 4 people & they are WAY too expensive. In the future we may rent point from Disney Vacation Club (DVC) Members which would allow us to stay in a Deluxe Disney Villa for less money than the rack rate. The DisBoards Forum has thread here that you can learn more about renting DVC points.

I'm sure that itineraries is a dirty word to some of you! That's okay. There's a lot to be said about flying by the seat of your pants! Remember when I packed up my 4 kids and drove for 2 1/2 days from Texas to California so I could see my husband? That led to my kids' first trip to Disneyland! :) See the pics here and here! Don't forget to read all the stories that go with the pics & all the other interesting things we did along the way!

Still, having an itinerary can save you time, money & headaches. No, really! Like I've already mentioned, we aren't a family that can go on vacation and lay around on the beach for a week. We need to DO things! I spend hours (okay, days!) researching our destination and what we can do there. In case you hadn't guessed, Disney is our big love! It doesn't matter how many times I have been there, I still plan. Especially at a theme park, this pre-planning can save you time. I know what attractions to visit at what time of the day, and which day is the best day to visit to have the shortest wait times. I hate standing in line, and so do my children!

*If you are going to Walt Disney World, the best planning site by far is ! Josh knows what he is talking about! For WDW food, visit *

On this trip we weren't going into a Disney park, so I obviously needed to find other things for us to do (besides our 2 days at Universal Studios) & since we were on a budget, FREE was the name of the game. I scoured the internet & here is what I came up with:

Swimming at our hotel
Disney's Boardwalk at night (pretty lights & entertainment)
My first every Dole Whip Float! 
Disney's Contemporary Resort (riding the monorail through the building, the butterfly garden & view from the roof)
Disney's Grand Floridian Resort (the Wedding Pavilion)
Disney's Polynesian Resort (hula lessons, DOLE WHIPS!, the Electric Water Pageant & Wishes Fireworks from the beach)
Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports
Downtown Disney (the Lego store & a FREE Lego build!, FREE chocolate from Ghirardelli)
Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge (animal watching by day & by night-vision goggles, and African storytelling)
Disney's Art of Animation Resort (Cars, Finding Nemo & Little Mermaid)
Disney's All-Star Movie Resort (Toy Story!)
Ride the boat from Disney's Port Orleans Resort to Downtown Disney & back
Disney's Wilderness Lodge (follow the river from the lodge to the beach & watch the geyser erupt)
Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort (butterfly garden, Tri-Circle D Ranch & petting zoo, Chip & Dale's Campfire Sing-Along & marshmallow roast, followed by an outdoor movie)

Then we needed to find a time to fit all these activities in while still being able to relax at our fantastic resort. I didn't know if this would be too many activities or not enough, but that's what the itinerary is for. Just remember that an itinerary is tool to help you, not restrict you. A guideline, if you will. If you looked at my schedule in the last post, you'll see that instead of times, I broke down the days into "morning", "afternoon", and "evening". This keeps things flexible. Plus, everyone in your group knows what is going on each day and YOU don't have to keep answering "What are we doing today?" over and over.

Which brings me to my next point: Get your family involved in the planning. In my house, I'm in charge of the planning. All the kids and the hubs can offer up their advice & I will try to include things that each person wants to do. My fantastic hubby gets the final say. Luckily, he usually only makes changes if I've made a stupid mistake somewhere!

When I'm going to a theme park, I have a list (at least in my head) of what attraction we need to visit first, based on popularity and capacity. If you really don't care about getting everything done in a day, you can go to whatever you want first, but you may end up waiting in ridiculously long lines. I say do your homework before you go!

Packing for a full day of touring requires some thought. We've perfected our packing skills a little more on each trip we take to the parks. Here are some of our essentials:

A Stroller: Yup. My youngest child is 5 & we still push a stroller around the park! My children aren't allowed in it though! LOL You can rent a locker at most parks, but they cost money & usually aren't anywhere near you when you need them. There is always stroller parking near attractions. A stroller can be loaded down with tons of weight and no one will complain about having to carry it all. If your children are responsible enough, they can help push it. Mine fight over who gets to push it. Go figure.

A Backpack: A good sturdy backpack is a must. We just acquired a new to us (FREE) backpack which was miraculous since both straps had finally broken on our old one and we weren't going to fork out money for a new one. Stuff this puppy with all your non-perishable snacks, napkins, wet wipes, sunscreen, diapers, change of clothes, whatever you need!

An adorable child & all our stuff!
Coolers/Lunchboxes: For us, we have a soft-sided cooler (the only kind allowed in WDW) measuring  10.5" x 10.5" x 9" (which is also within WDW regulations). This holds four of these Ziploc divided containers with room for plenty of ice & maybe an extra water bottle or two.

These containers are fantastic! They are leak-proof and sturdy. We have had several for years and not had problems with them.

We also used a small soft-sided lunchbox (leftover from the kids public school days) that sort of holds two more lunch containers and a small baggie of flat ice. This is not ideal as the ice melts quickly. We've spotted some lunch bags that will fit two Ziploc containers with plenty of room for ice at Target's Back to School clearance section. We're just waiting for the price to drop past 30% off, then we'll most likely pick up two. Otherwise, we will need to get another large cooler. Update: The price dropped & we scored 2 (with water bottles) for less than $10!

Coolers are essential for avoiding costly (and not always so tasty) vacation food! This is especially helpful if you are eating a special diet. I know many of you are here from 100 Days of Real Food, which means you're probably trying to eat a real food diet. Although Disney is very good at offering healthier options at many of their restaurants, this is not the case everywhere. By bringing your own food into the parks, which is totally within the rules, you can control what you are eating!

Water Bottles: This seems like a no-brainer to me, but maybe it isn't obvious to everyone. Each member of our family carries their own refillable water bottle. This trip our kids had lanyards to carry them across one shoulder so they didn't always have to hold on to it. It was big help! The hubs and I usually just keep ours in the outside pockets of the backpack. There are also as many extra frozen bottles that we can fit stuffed into the cooler. At Disney any food service place will give you cups of ice water that you can then refill your bottle with. Unfortunately, I think most of their water tastes funny, so I just pack as much of my own as I can.

Lanyard with a pocket attached: Keep your money and park passes on you at all times with this handy dandy invention. You will have to leave bags and loose articles when you board most rides, and you don't want to leave your money behind! The plastic pocket should help to keep your items dry in case of a sudden downpour or an especially wet water ride.

Well, I think that about covers it! I would love to hear any tips and ideas that you guys have for vacationing on the cheap!

In the next post I will talk more about the food and menu planning.

Any questions I can answer? Or at least attempt to??

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