in FS, Travel

My Great Disney World Adventure

Yesterday I wrote about my recent business trip to Orlando. This is the “rest of the story”, a behind-the-scenes look at how I spent way too much money for a one-day vacation.

When Kris and I agreed to fly to Orlando for the unveiling of The Great Piggy Bank Adventure, we hoped to have time to explore the rest of EPCOT Center. But when we received the itinerary, it was clear that all we’d actually be doing was attending the opening ceremony. We were scheduled to fly in at midnight, attend festivities from 10am until 1pm, and then fly home at 5pm.

“That’s a bummer,” Kris said. “You should ask the PR rep if there’s any way we can stay an extra day.” Since the public-relations firm was arranging the trip (and presumably paying for it), we were at their mercy. But as many GRS readers have noted in the past, it never hurts to ask. So I did.

“I can delay your return flight by a day,” the PR rep said. “That’s no problem. But you’ll have to pay your way for the extra stay, including the hotel and meals.” So, in essence, Kris and I had a 24-hour vacation in Florida and didn’t have to pay for airfare. (We also received a reduced rate at the hotel.) How expensive could it be?

Packing light
While preparing for our visit to Orlando, we decided to put to use all that we’ve learned about traveling economically. We packed light. I took one pair of nice shoes and one pair of nice pants, but three of everything else. We shared one piece of carry-on luggage between us, and we each took a small shoulder-bag as well.

The travel and the time-shift were uneventful but exhausting. Our plane arrived in Orlando at around midnight, and Disney’s Magical Express (aka The Bus) dropped us at our hotel an hour later. We awoke at the equivalent of 4am Pacific to prepare ourselves for the media event. Our introduction to The Great Piggy Bank Adventure concluded with a buffet lunch during which we spoke with two Disney Imagineers.

After lunch, we said good-bye to our host and to the representatives from Disney and T. Rowe Price. Under our original plan, we would have immediately returned to the hotel to catch the shuttle to the airport. But because we’d arranged for an extra night, we had 24 hours to explore the theme park. We stepped out of the restaurant and into…a torrential downpour!

A warm wet rain was falling on EPCOT. Tourists — most of whom were wearing identical $8 Mickey Mouse ponchos — waded through huge puddles or huddled together under the eaves of the buildings, trying to stay dry. Coming from the press event, Kris and I were not suitably dressed for that kind of weather. “Uh, what do we do now?” I asked. “I’m in my nice clothes. I don’t want to ruin these shoes.”

“I don’t want to ruin my shoes, either,” Kris said. “We need to get back to the hotel.”

We killed time until the rain let up a bit, and then scurried back to our room. Once there, we had a tough decision. Kris had a spare pair of shoes, but I did not. “I can’t wear these shoes if it’s going to rain,” I said.

“See if you can buy a pair of Crocs in the gift shop,” Kris suggested. “They were selling them in the park.”

I managed to find a pair of Mickey Mouse Crocs for $37. Though I had sworn never to own a pair of those hideous things, I bought them anyhow. They served me well for the rest of the trip. I also bought a $46 rain jacket. “So much for packing light,” I thought as I paid my $83. “But at least these will get lots of use back in Oregon.”

I changed into my rain gear (including a pair of shorts that Kris had packed for me) and returned to the park.

Living with the land
We spent the afternoon following tips from Get Rich Slowly readers. The highlight for us was the Living with the Land boat ride (it’s like Pirates of the Caribbean — with vegetables!), followed by the “behind the seeds” tour of EPCOT’s hydroponic gardens. The former was free, but the latter cost $32 for the two of us. It was well worth the cost, though, to see the amazing tomato tree (which produces over 1000 pounds of fruit in a season!) and to be snapped at by the baby alligators.

On YouTube, someone has posted a nice video of the greenhouse portion of the Living with the Land tour.

 

This tomato plant has been nurtured to be tree-like. It’s amazing!

 

In the late afternoon and evening, we sloshed around the wet sidewalks, wandering the 11 countries of the World Showcase, trying to find things to do that didn’t involve spending. There weren’t a lot of options. Much of EPCOT consists of places to eat and shop; it’s designed to part a tourist from his money.

We ate dinner at Edo, a Benihana-like restaurant in the Japan section of the park. (Benihana is Kris’ favorite.) Moments after we entered the restaurant, the rain began to fall in torrents. It was even literally falling sideways at one point. “I’m glad I have my Crocs,” I muttered. After our $85 dinner, we stayed in EPCOT to watch the raucous fireworks show before turning in for the night.

All wet
In the morning, I was pleased to see that the sun was shining. Or trying to. There were clouds, but there were also patches of blue sky. “My shorts are still soaked from yesterday,” I told Kris. “I’m going to wear my nice pants.”

“You do that little thing,” she said.

We ate breakfast in the hotel ($45!!!) before heading back to EPCOT ($160!!!). “Wow,” I said. “How can a family afford this? We’ve got the money, but can you imagine some of our friends with kids? To spend a week here would be ruinous.”

We spent our morning looking at the butterfly garden (lame!), observing families at The Great Piggy Bank Adventure, and riding Mission: SPACE (we chose the “intense” option, which was a mistake — we’re too old, and we felt nauseated for hours afterward).

“I’m glad it’s not raining today,” I said as we headed to lunch in Morocco. We enjoyed our kabobs and lemon chicken ($48) and then decided to return to the hotel. We stepped out of the restaurant into…a torrential downpour!

“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said. Kris laughed. She pulled out her $8 Mickey Mouse poncho and I zipped up my rain jacket. We sprinted through France to England, where we joined a group of tourists under an awning. We watched the water cascade down the sidewalks.

“My pants are soaked!” I said as the rain began to fall even harder. I was happy to at least be wearing my Crocs. My shoes really would have been ruined by the rain.

“This is unbelievable,” said a woman next to us. Lightning flashed and thunder rolled. Everyone was drenched.

“We need to get back to the hotel,” I said after a while. “The Disney Magical Express leaves in twenty minutes.” We darted over to the ferry, but the captain told us he couldn’t run the boat in the heavy weather. Instead, we ran down the sidewalk, exposed to the elements, sluicing through a couple of inches of standing water. We cut into the first hotel we saw (because all of them are basically interconnected). Disney employees were there to greet us and to hand out towels. We dried off as best we could, but we were both soaked to the bone.

“We’re from Oregon, but we’re not used to rain like this!” I told the hotel employee as I gave her my wet towel.

“This is unusual,” she said. “This is the kind of rain you’d expect with a tropical storm, but there just isn’t any wind.”

As we gathered our luggage, I realized I had another clothing-related problem. “I don’t have a dry pair of pants,” I said. “I can’t spent ten hours on planes in wet clothes. I need to buy a pair of shorts.”

“Hurry,” said Kris. “The Disney Magical Express will be here in just a couple of minutes.” Fortunately, Disney stores are ubiquitous at the resort, and I was able to pick up a pair of “surf shorts” ($40). We changed into dry clothes and were out front to meet the bus just as it arrived.

$20 per hour
“You know, I’ve spent over $100 on clothes here,” I said as the bus left for the airport. “I bought almost as much as I brought.” We laughed at the irony of the situation, but agreed that we couldn’t feel too bad about the clothing purchases. I chose practical items that I’ll use for a long time. (In fact, I’ve practically lived in the “surf shorts” since we returned. I’m wearing them right now!)

On the long flight home, I contemplated how much I’d spent for that extra 24 hours at EPCOT. If I’d stuck to the original itinerary, I wouldn’t have seen much (if any) of the park, but I also wouldn’t have spent anything. In the extra day we stayed, my non-business expenses totaled:

  • $160 for one night in the hotel
  • $160 for a day in EPCOT
  • $178 for food (oh, my frugal heart)
  • $32 for the “behind the seeds” tour (money well-spent!)
  • $123 for clothing

That last line-item is unfortunate, but acceptable. I’ll use the clothes for years to come. But in retrospect, I’m not sure it was such a smart choice to spend $530 to experience EPCOT for one day. That’s over $20 per hour! Plus, that’s $530 from my vacation fund that could have been saved for a trip to Europe.

One of the first things I did when we returned home was to look up information on how to save money at Disney theme parks. It turns out that Nancy Benac has a recent article on this very subject that is making the rounds: “How to do Disney World on a Dime“. Benac says there’s not much you can do to get around the high cost of park entrance, but there are other things that can make a family vacation to Orlando more affordable, such as:

  • Use the web to find inexpensive lodging outside the Disney resort complex.
  • Eat as many meals as possible outside of the theme parks. And pack snacks so that you don’t have to buy expensive treats. (This is something Kris and I would have done under normal circumstances.)
  • Set a budget for souvenirs.

Though this trip depleted my vacation sub-account at ING Direct, I do not regret the expense. I consider it a learning experience. In general, Kris and I take frugal holidays. During our five-day vacation to the San Juan Islands last fall, for example, we didn’t spend much more than $530. Our EPCOT experience simply reinforces how much we prefer to take cheap vacations close to home. Disney may be fun, but it’s too expensive — and too wet — for my tastes!

Here I am, all tough in front of the hydroponic winter melon. Dig the new rain jacket!

 

I feel like I’ve been spending a lot of money lately. It’s money I’ve saved, true, but it still feels extravagant. It may be time to focus on frugality for a while.

Update: Several commenters have recommended MouseSavers.com as a great source of discount Disney ideas.

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109 Comments

  1. In my experience travelling there with my family, I’ve found it is much less expensive to stay outside the park.

    You could’ve purchased the clothes for cheap money at one of the ubiquitous tourist shops, or Walmart if you’ve rented a car. Lots of inexpensive food options, plus grocery stores where you can buy snacks. Taking the bus to/from the park is inconvenient, but free from most local hotels. The multi-day Disney passes are cheaper on a per-day basis than the single day pass. (I’m shocked at how much you paid for the single-day pass!) I’ve also learned to bring my Mickey rain poncho (recycled from the trip where I *had* to buy it) with me.

    I’m glad you had fun, even if it was expensive fun!

  2. My family has vacationed at Disney World plenty of times, and there are a lot of ways to save money.

    First of all, you don’t eat in the parks, and you don’t shop in the parks. There are tons of restaurants and stores within a very short drive of WDW, including a WalMart Supercenter which carries a bunch of Disney stuff for way less than you’d pay in the park!

    You can take water and snacks into the parks. There are also cheap tickets to be had, if you shop around. Don’t buy tickets at the park!

    There are entire books written on how to get the most out of a Disney trip for the least amount of money.

  3. It seems like a lot of your expenses were due to last minute decisions and a lack of planning. Even the food, there are less expensive options in the park if you know where to get them.

    I took the fam in Feb and for a 3 night, 4 day trip for 4 people we spent about $1800. This included airfare, the disney dining plan including daily character meals, on site resort for 3 nights (2 connecting rooms so it was like paying 6 nights) plus 3 day tickets to the parks.

    I am not a seasoned disney tripper and this was our first visit so I started out planning knowing nothing. I found mousesavers.com and the DIS forum (neither of which is sponsored by Disney)to be invaluable in planning our stay.

  4. While I admit that Disney can be incredibly expensive, some smart planning can make it much more affordable. We’re going to Disney World for two weeks (with side-outings elsewhere), and we’re paying about $230 per day for tickets, hotel, and our food included in that thanks to some research on typical discounts and realistic planning about what we can do in two weeks. We did splurge for a more expensive hotel, which is what drove our cost up, but I think it depends on what you’re expecting. I won’t be expecting to pay $100 on clothes when I get there, and thanks to some years living in Florida and a few subsequent trips to Disney, I’ll come prepared for unexpected rain.

    Then again, I grew up as a Disney kid so it’s one of my favorite vacation spots. Not everyone feels the same and I know that.

  5. Haha… love the gansta look in front of the melons. Priceless. Minus the clothes, that’s $407 for one extra night. That is slightly pricey but eh, it’s not an everyday thing and if it wont put you into a financial hardship then its a non-issue. One of the reason why I horde away money for things that I don’t feel are important is so that when some opportunity comes up that I’d enjoy doing (e.g., travel), I’ll have enough money laying around so that I can comfortably take advantage of the opportunity without worrying about breaking the bank.

  6. I sent this post to my friend Laura, who until recently worked full-time as an entertainer in EPCOT. (Economy-related pink slips have hit Disney, too…)

  7. I just wrote a bit about this (and a bit about my comment on your post yesterday). There ARE ways to keep the cost down. As you note, stay off-site; eat elsewhere; skip the souvenirs.

  8. Yeah, I know that there are ways to keep costs down within a short drive of the park. The key there is that “short drive” thing. That just wasn’t an option for us. Looking back, the one way we could have saved was to have been more selective about which restaurants we chose.

  9. LOL I think this sort of thing has happened to all of us one time or another. It confirms a decision we made yesterday too. My dh has to go to St Petersberg for a conference. We were contemplating driving down as a family and spending the week in FL. After figuring up all the extra expenses we decided against it. Things add up too quickly.

  10. Day trips to Disney are the most expensive if calculating cost/day. The Cost/per day drops when staying for more than 4 days. Look at mousesavers.com

    I am wondering how two people traveled to San Jaun Islands for $530.

  11. Ouch! I’ve had a few of these travel-related learning experiences. You can foresee most things, but not a monsoon!

    And you’re highlighting why we will take the kids to a Disney park only once during our time with them. The kids agitate to go, but they’re willing to wait until they’re both old enough to do all the rides.

  12. Back in April my wife and I took an 8 day 7 night trip to Disney, all in all it cost $3000, which is $7.82 per head.

    My wife had never been before and wanted to fully experience Disney by staying at a Disney resort. At the time we were looking, Disney was offering a seven night resort stay for the price of four nights if you purchased the 8 day park admission. We opted for this and added a park-hopper option to allow us access to any of the parks (Animal Kingdom and Epcot took most of our time). We ended up at the Coronado Springs Resort because the Animal Kingdom Lodge was full.

    One nice benefit of staying at a Disney Resort was the Extra Magic Hours. Each day one park opened an hour early or closed up to 3 hours later for resort guests only. This allowed my wife and I to have access to many of the big attractions without having to wait in lines. We also made use of the free fast-pass system, combining the two got us on the Rockin’ Rollercoaster three times in an an hour even with a 60 minute wait. We got passes first thing then waited in line, by the time the ride finished our pass was available and we were able to get another pass, so we did and then proceeded to use both with a stop at tower of terror between them.

    For food, we bought into the Disney meal plan ($39.99 per day per person for the standard option). This plan includes 1 snack, 1 quick service meal, and 1 table service meal for each day purchased. Just about everything but alcohol was covered by this plan. This would have been a good option to look into as opposed to paying for food in Disney.

    Weather wise, we had nothing but sun for eight days. Of course in our planning we made sure to squeeze in just before Florida’s rainy season (starts in May) kicks in.

    As for park admission, the standard rates for most of the parks (would say all, but I only recall seeing prices at Epcot and Magical Kingdom) was $75 for 1 day admission, though only $237 for 10 day admission. The park hopper was just another $50 per person. The park hopper option was useful in that we had many meals in Epcot and also made use of the extra magic hours, so we tended to jump from park to park on several occasions.

    The $3000 includes airfare and also some clothing my wife had to get before the trip and the large number of souvenirs that she picked up for everyone but us.

    Not the cheapest possible trip to Disney. The biggest one I could offer that would have helped you would be if you are eligible to get the Disney meal plan, do so. It may provide more food that you can eat, but many of the locations will allow you to use meals for additional snacks. Several of the snacks are very portable (especially most everything from the Goofy Candy Co.) and make good gifts for people at home with a sweet tooth.

  13. THe incredibly high cost you’ve quoted here is a great example of the biggest mistake people make when going to Disney…no PLANNING! I’m taking a family of 4 to Disney for $1600 (including airfare from Minnesota), and that includes staying on property and eating lunch and dinner on property (with dining plan.) Disney offers plenty of discounts on lodging (or in our case free dining.) And Disney’s high price for a one day ticket is because they don’t want or expect anyone to stay for a day…I can add on a 6 or 7th day to a ticket for about $5 a day! People do Disney on a budget all the time without going off property, but they do more planning and stay longer than a day.

  14. As a resident of Orlando, I can assure you that the pouring rain we’ve had for the last week and a half is abnormal. Sure it rains nearly every afternoon in the hot, hot summer too, but that can be refreshing (albeit further humidifying!), not like what you experienced.

  15. I just realized something funny about those two photographs: You cannot see it, but the rain is coming down in buckets. We’re in the EPCOT greenhouses, though, and so are protected from the wet. If there were sound in the photos, you would hear the tremendous racket from the falling rain. It was all around, and made it difficult to hear the tour guide who was standing just a few feet away.

  16. I have no interest in theme parks or other Vegas-like attractions. Even as a kid, I preferred to go camping, and that still holds true.

    I think part of the reason is that I’m not a fan of manufactured vacation locales. Like the Venetian in Vegas–something seems so weird and “off” about it. I also like to vacation in places where there is deep history and a different culture, and certainly nowhere that I feel is constantly advertising or marketing to me.

    Maybe this is why I love to backpack in the desert, far from billboards and ads and TVs! I guess if I have kids and they are dying to go, I’d do it, but hopefully they will take after their parents!

  17. What does “economical packing” have to do with frugality? For a two day trip, I can carry about 4-5 days worth of clothing in my carry on bag. That usually includes nice outfits, extra shoes, and even workout clothes. I usually pack a full extra days worth of clothes just for these types of situations.

    On the other hand- Epcot is my favorite! A fun thing to do is an around the world pub crawl.

  18. No wonder you’re wearing a rain coat. I thought you were just trying to look cool because both picture came out rather sunny. All I was thinking was “What’s JD doing with a raincoat in Southern Florida?”

  19. Even though this was an unexpected expenditure, you still had free airfare, one free night/day in a nice hotel, free meal(s), and a free one-day admission–for TWO! The only downside was a downpour and the fact that you weren’t warned about the dangers of under-packing. Maybe you could’ve worn shorts and sandals to the business mtg.? It is Orlando after all. Great story!

  20. Looks like you were down during our week of rain. Even the seasoned Floridians like me were ready for it to end. When traveling to FL April – October, you should be prepared for heavy rain. While a week straight of rain for several hours is not common, afternoon thunderstorm are.

    Looking at your meal choices, I think you chose a lot of full service eateries. Those can get pricey fast. You need to stick with counter service to save on meals or purchase the meal plan.

    I’m not sure I’d go to Epcot 2 days in a row. Epcot is probably the most expensive park since, as you noted, the world tour is mostly resturants and gift shops.

  21. I have lived in Florida my whole life, and my family (with SIX kids) went to Disney a few times every year all growing up. Once we got in the park, we seldom spent more than about $20. It is not hard to do Disney cheap, but it does take a little planning.

    A few examples:
    Eat breakfast before you go in the park… read McDonalds.
    Pack sandwiches and snacks and even drinks. You are allowed to bring food in, and there are lockers near the main entrance so you don’t have to carry it around all day.
    We lived about 3 hours away, so most of the time we would just drive to and from the same day. When we did stay in a hotel, however, we would rent a 3 bedroom condo with a kitchen/living room for a night for about $100. There is incredible competition between hotels outside Disney, so you can easily get very cheap prices for decent hotels.
    While in the park, we might get a Mickey ice cream bar or something, but it was small and rare. I remember one time we bought matching sweatshirts since it got quite cold. Now we pack jackets and keep them in the locker until it gets cold.
    Also, if it is at all possible, go to Disney in the fall or early spring. It is hot, muggy, and packed in the summer. And like JD experienced, it thunderstorms nearly every afternoon through the summer.

  22. I thought of another reason that I was caught off-guard by the cost of this one-day vacation.

    Kris and I have been to Disneyland in California several times, and it usually doesn’t cost much. For one thing, she has extended family that lives near the park, so we can stay with them. For another, she has an uncle who works there and can get us in for free. Also, we’ve always been able to take in our own snacks. Because we save on everything else, we don’t mind eating in the park, but if we were trying to save, I’m familiar enough with the area that we could eat at Carl’s Jr. or some other fast-food place. NONE of these were options on this trip to Florida, and we were basically tied to all-Disney all-the-time.

  23. Another silver lining, Crocs are great to wear while gardening too; just hose them off!

    Nice to know that the “Behind the seeds” tour is worth it. I’ve never done that, but now it’s on my list.

  24. Mickey Mouse crocs: I love it.

    Now that you see how good they are at squeezing you, are you considering buying their stock? You can imagine how effectively even less-prepared families of five are separated from their money.

    This really is a well-written post, JD. I thoroughly enjoyed it. You’re good at this.

  25. Wait… the hydroponic thing was real? Woah. I’ve been there twice (ok, before I actually started gardening and the first time I was 10) and I thought the whole thing was fake!

    Stunned.

  26. Those garden photos are amazing. I love the tomato tree.

    We have four kids, and people often ask us when we’re going to take them to Disney, as if it’s something we HAVE to do. Give how expensive it is, it’s quite likely we’ll never go(and I think my children will be just fine in spite of that).

    We take yearly off-season vacations to the beach each year, which are far less expensive, far less crowded and, in my opinion, just as fun as Disney(I went when I was a teenager).

  27. There is no real savings from staying offsite unless you want a much nicer room at the expense of convenience and the cost of a rental car.

    A one-day trip to Disney is going to be expensive no matter how planned out you are, unless you bring your own food (which I wouldn’t recommend unless you prefer it to a restaurant).

    A week-long family vacation at Disney, with meal plan included, can be as inexpensive as $1300 if you do just a little research/shopping around. That includes all meals (plenty of food too), park tickets, transportation via magical express and resort buses, etc. Only other expense is airfare and the tip for the hotel maid. I have been to DisneyWorld twice in the past 3 years with my family of 4. The first time I went for the ‘Value’ hotel and did everything mentioned above, and paid $1350 for a 7 day stay. We had a blast.

    I went a couple of months ago with my family, this time to a “Moderate” priced hotel, and so we paid about double for the hotel costs but otherwise similar in costs. A one-day park ticket is just ridiculously priced. They get way cheap the longer you stay, to the point where it’s not even a debate whether to buy them for all days of a 7-day stay or not – you’d be saving less than $10 a day.

    Disney is expensive if you buy the crap/toys/souvenirs/snacks/pastries/etc. But with a little planning it is relatively a bargain for a family.

    If I didn’t have kids I wouldn’t go near the place. I just don’t get why young adults would choose Disney for a vacation without kids…but when my wife and I are old we’ll certainly go ourselves, to reminisce about our times there with our kids : )

  28. Forgot to mention one more thing….Epcot is way over-rated, unless you’re going there at night to eat a nice dinner (overpriced though) and then get drunk. There really is no other reason to go IMO.

    The other parks are much better for families.

  29. Do you know why they call it the Magic Kingdom? Because all your money disappears.

    My wife and daughter are Disney fanatics so we shower our money on the Mouse once per year. The only real way to save money on Disney is to just stay home. And Crocs are evil.

  30. I have three daughters – age 21,18 and 10. I’ve been to Disney more times than I can remember.

    I remember great times there with my kids…..and I’ve forgotten what it cost me. I guess that means it was worth it.

  31. Disney is definitely not cheap! Luckily as a Florida resident we were able to purchase season tickets for a family of 4 for almost as much as you spent for your additional day! It’s been a great year to be able to take the kids to Disney whenever the mood strikes us!

    The rain you experienced was not normal. We are still drying out from that and as a Floridian it was miserable. Afternoon thunderstorms are to be expected though during the summers due to daytime heating.

    Overall I’m glad you enjoyed your trip even with the additional expenses!

  32. I’m a seasoned Disney person (I live in MD, but have been um… an uncountable number of times, but let’s just say 50 times).

    Definitely mistake #1 was not checking the weather before you went. Florida has been getting horrible horrible rains. Admittedly, Disney isn’t a lot of fun in the rain, almost everything to do that is fun is outdoors, or requires you to be outdoors. If you had packed properly, it would have really lowered the expenses on your trip and you could have limited your souvenir purchasing to only what you really wanted. What’s the point of packing light if you end up having to buy everything there?

    We always stay in the park and not off property, and that is because it makes it so much better for us (you can see others have posted good reasons why). However, the resort you picked – Yacht Club – happens to be one of the most expensive on disney property. You could have stayed at an All Star Resort for a much better price (often $79 per night — that rivals a lot of off-property resorts). Doing so allows you to have free airport tranfers, free transportation and other perks that would cost more money outside the park.

    As far as your park tickets – Disney isn’t meant to be done for one day. Buying a single day park pass is the absolute most expensive way to go. A family of four can save money because they go in the parks many days on their trip. Personally, since we go down a lot, we buy the largest ticket available (10 days) and pay extra for the option to have it not expire. We end up paying about $40 per day that we go in the parks, save the tickets and use them over the course of years. Ticket prices have gone up since we purchased ours, so they might be more now.

    Since you were only there a day, if I had been sunny I would have just opted to not go in the parks and spend the day at the pool – yacht/beach club have a really awesome pool.

    Oh, and the dining plan. The disney dining plan is the way to go. It’s $39.99 per person per day and you get a table service meal and a counter service meal, along with a snack. I don’t buy food out of pocket in the parks anymore because of this. It would have really lowered your food costs.

  33. Disney really is never cheap. What hurts the most is paying so much for such mediocre food. The clothes at least you get to keep and the lodging really is convenient.

    On the hand, their theme parks really are far more fun and entertaining for people of all ages than other, almost as expensive, theme parks.

    And that tomato tree is awesome! I want to go back to EPCOT just to see that. 🙂

  34. I’m sorry, but the only reason it was so expensive was because of extremely poor planning. You just can’t go to WDW without a clue!

    1. Pack appropriately. Check the weather forecasts. Orlando can be unpredictable (except for the prediction that it will be warm/hot, humid, and likely to rain sometime while you’re there). Always bring at least one extra pair of park attire. Also know that there are laundry facilities and you could have tossed those shorts in a drier and not had to wear your nice pants. Also, I’m sorry – but who only brings nice shoes to WDW?? It’s a theme park!

    2. Hotel choice. While it was very nice for the PR folks to put you up in the Yacht Club (a deluxe WDW resort – “deluxe” = expensive – you are paying for closer proximity to the parks), you didn’t have to choose to stay there for the 2nd night on your own dime. You could have stayed at one of the Values (lots of kids), or the moderates (not as nice as deluxes, but better than the values). Those other options would have required bus transport to the parks though. You use Disney transportation for free and there’s no need for a rental car.

    3. Meals. You totally screwed up here. There are so many more affordable meals at Epcot and even at the resorts. Instead of a full breakfast, you can stop in one of the smaller shops. Yacht/Beach Club and Boardwalk all have some sort of cheaper option (like a bagel, donut, or a breakfast sandwich). You can also share larger meals (well, not at Teppan Edo). Not to mention all the counter service options, that while are expensive for what you get, are much cheaper choices given your options.

    In the end, all of your extra costs could have either been avoided or made less expensive had you spent a little time planning. Wonderful resources are allears.net, http://www.disboards.com, and http://www.mousesavers.com. NOBODY should go to WDW without checking out these sites. It’s just common sense to know what you’re getting into and have some basic knowledge of alternatives. You CAN do WDW affordably without ever getting in a car!

  35. We’re huge mouse fans. We go roughly every two years because we’re trying to hit each of our children’s birthdays (We have 5 kids.) Our last trip was in April, for one kid’s 8th and another’s 18th birthday. It cost roughly $9k for the seven of us for ten days and eleven nights, including all meals and airfare. We use the disney dining plan, so we can enjoy character meals and snacks to our heart’s content. Although it is possible to do it for less by staying off-park, you miss out on the Extra Magic Hours, which are a must during peak season.
    As far as EPCOT being mostly food, we always find plenty to do there – it’s all about learning!
    Don’t write off Disney based on a one-day experience. It can be an amazing, fun experience especially with kids.

  36. I have to argue though – that it is possible to do Epcot and Disney without breaking the bank…

    the first rule of Disney is… IT WILL RAIN.

    the second rule of Disney is…IT WILL RAIN AT LEAST ONCE A DAY.

    So packing appropriately (and packing enough clothing) would obviously have solved some of the expenses.

    Likewise – you prioritize what you’re going to do foodwise… at Epcot there ARE a few more budget consious (but still delicious) choices if you know where to look – plus we always spurge once on one of the middle priced restaurants somewhere that we can’t get at home… (Normally Germany or England)

    I always go with spending money for the gift shops too – but I’ve saved specifically for this, because you just can’t find the items in the Germany and the England/Wales gift shops just anywhere… I always buy welsh pewter jewelry when I go to Epcot – because my other option is to have to buy it online from somewhere… But I don’t buy “normal” “Disney” souvenirs – and the gift shops in Epcot (as opposed to the rest of Disney) are actually quite fun to window shop…

    Anyway – I would never say a vacation to Disney was cheap – but if you get a good deal on plane fair and a good deal on your park hopper pass – its really not a bad bang for your buck if you’re prepared for it properly…(and if you’re one to plan ahead properly on food, etc)

  37. MTL,@15 and Brian,@21 are right– that kind of rain is unusual. You hit the absurdly huge torrential rain that had come after a very long dry spell. In FL, the rainy season usually means around 2 and 4 p.m., the clouds roll in for flash rains that last maybe an hour. And yep, if you are headed to Disney- a poncho is highly recommended. There are not that many eaves to hide under built into those parks.

    I disagree with Mark, @29. Epcot can be really great. There’s some amazing food, some cool rides and many different areas where you can actually learn something for the inner geek in you. (Ex. I REALLY want to see that tomato tree now!) Choosing to eat at one nice place then eating cheaply for the rest of your meals can even save you some dough. Lastly, if you are not a “family”– it’s a nice place to get a break from the large groups of children and tour groups that seem to fill the other parks at Disney World.

  38. Too sad. I agree with the others that packing “light” is not a good thing. Besides the $ you had to spend buying clothes, you end up wasting your vacation time shopping. On the other hand, who’d have expected tropical rains at that time?

    Me, I probably would have just worn the wet clothes home–discomfort won’t kill you and they probably would have dried somewhat eventually. I’m also puzzled why you didn’t ask the hotel to dry your things for you overnight.

  39. Anyone planning a Disney vacation should look at mousesavers.com , hundreds of ways to save money on every aspect of a Disney vacation.
  40. File this one under $hit happens (notice the dollar sign – pun intended). I can’t blame you for wanting the extra day. It was still probably a good choice – you had fun and some good stories to tell. The only thing you did wrong was enter the state of Florida without a raincoat and proper rain shoes. But since you are from the other side of the country that’s forgivable. I’ve been to Fla enough times to know it rains almost daily.

  41. I hope it’s clear from this post that I’m NOT complaining. Kris and I had a fun 24 hours. It was an adventure. It was just expensive… I filed this under the “funny money” category because the whole thing makes me smile…

  42. My wife and I went to Disney in April ’08 and spent about $440 per day for a six day trip (including airfare). We were going in a big group so we were kind of subject to the whims of the person planning the trip, who insisted that we all stay in a Disney hotel and participate in the Disney meal plan. However, comparing the costs to our other vacations, it’s not the most (nor the least) we’ve ever spent on a per-day basis. On the other hand, it’s not something I would do on an annual basis. I might go back once when we have kids.

  43. JD, I’m a big fan of your site, but going to Disney World and not expecting to spend a ton of money is a little naive. Not only that, but if you’re intent on going to Disney, you just realize you’re going to spend a ton of money, quickly get over that fact, and be prepared to have a ton of fun!!! The rain was very unfortunate, I will give you that.

    There are a TON of things to do at Epcot that are included with your admission price. (We were there in 10/07 & had a blast!!) You completely missed Soarin’, Spaceship Earth, and Test Track (my favorite!!). Maelstrom (in Norway) was pretty fun, too. If the lines were too long, you could have used your admission ticket to get a FastPass to come back later. I also was not a big fan of Mission Space (and I went on the non-intense version!).

    PS I read your comment on your previous trips to Disney Land. I have never been there & have only experienced the fun & expensiveness that is Disney World.

  44. JD now you can start collecting the pins that go into the crocs lol!

    Glad you said you dont regret it. I live in Oregon and to be able to experience a Theme Park (hydroponic gardens) on the East Coast for $530 is cheap.

    Good for you and great planning to take advantage of an opportunity. Planning in that you had $$$ in and ING account.

  45. So, did JD intentionally not do his homework before heading to a Disney resort to give us all a cautionary tale? I find it hard to fathom a couple from Oregon not checking the weather report and not packing rain gear that I’m almost positive they would already have. I realize this may have been a last minute thing, but it would’ve saved you $100 easily that you ended up shelling out on overpriced crocs that you hate and some expensive tourist-bait rain gear.

    Although, I can appreciate that if your previous disney trips have all been to Disneyland (DLR), that you may have been lured by our lack of weather in Socal to not pack your rain gear. Also, it must be quite the shock to learn the cost of a 1 day ticket to a Disney resort when you’ve not had to pay the $94 per entry at DLR.

    I’ll echo the call for anyone contemplating a trip to either Disney resort to look at mousesavers.com and mouseplanet.com to get the most out of their trips. It’s just as important to have even a rough budget for your vacation time as it is for your vacation money.

    Also, while this is definitely NOT a short-term frugal choice, if you’re planning on more travel, I’d recommend Tom Bihn’s bags. Over the long term, they will more than pay for themselves.

  46. You touched on a subject near and dear to my heart!
    Yes, you can go much cheaper to WDW, but there are other things to consider, like time and wear and tear on the kiddos.
    I would rather scrimp and save, and then blow it all at Disney, than to picnic in the park and stay at other hotels. The most important thing to do is research. Then you’ll spend your money (and you will spend money!) on things that you choose. For example, we spend very little money on souvenirs. Been there and done that too much.

  47. Ha! You spent more in a day for two people than we did for four people for five days!!!!

    Ok, it wasn’t that bad, but close! 😉

    The big difference: planning. We planned our trip out over a couple of months and you all did the spur-of-the-moment sort of thing.

  48. Love the comments about the rain. Welcome to the south!

    Been to Disney World about 5 times now…I’ve had my fill.

  49. Yes, as many of you have noticed, one of our sins here is that this was a last-minute adventure. We only knew about 48 hours before departing that we’d have an extra day in the park. And we did NO research.

    On my past Disneyland trips, I’ve actually used the library to get books that offer advice on how to do the park. They were invaluable. I didn’t do any of that here because I didn’t have time.

    LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES! 🙂

  50. BTW, the $94 is for a one-day adult park-hopper ticket at Disneyland. If you can avoid it, never buy one of these, unless your company or organization gets discounts on them.

  51. I went on a mostly paid for vacation in 2007. Myself and my dad took my then 4 yo to Magic Kingdom for one day. I went without a clue! I only spent about $150 for food/beverages and souveniers which I think is pretty good considering it was 2 adults a small (spoiled) child and we had a BLAST! I’m currently planning (over planning as I’m told) for our trip that is coming up in 168 days. We’re staying offsite, I’m buying our tickets early from undercovertourist.com and we’re setting a budget. My now 6 year old is saving his money (earned from chores, good deeds and grandparents) and will be surprised when he has breakfast with mickey on his 7th birthday. A total of 8 days (including drive time in our rental) will cost 3 adults (me, bf, & disabled mother) and 1 child no more than $5,500 and we’re not just doing disney, we’re visiting Universal Studios, Daytona, and family around the area. I’m allowing for lots of souveniers, food, and beverages but also trying to be frugal by bringing snacks and water with us from home so I don’t have to pay for them at the parks. I even have a small suitcase already packed with supplies bought on the cheap out of my strict budget. Disney can be done on the cheap but it takes some planning. I learned that we didn’t even cover half the park the first time I took my son, I plan on seeing most everything I want to when we go back.

  52. The cheapest lodging at Disney World is their campground, Fort Wilderness. It is very expensive for a campground, but inexpensive for Disney. Prices run $45 to $100 per night, depending on season. You get all the benefits of staying at a Disney property, including use of all the buses and Magic Hours. Ft. Wilderness has fun, free stuff to do right there, including playgrounds and swimming pool, and their restaurant is one of the cheaper ones. Lots of families bring their bicycles, too.

    Because of the nice landscaping, etc., you can plan to spend a few extra days there without being in one of the parks. This gives young kids a chance to rest from the often-overwhelming Disney experience.

    We’ve gone twice around Christmas time, and other campers go all out with the holiday decorations. We spent hours wandering around looking at the lights, also a free activity! A few photos are here on our blog:
    http://ourodyssey.blogspot.com/2008/12/disney-out-of-our-system.html

    Too bad Disney Land in CA doesn’t have something similar.

  53. Those numbers are kind of blowing my mind. I’ve been to WDW several times over the last few years and especially on food I’ve never spent anything close to that.

    I have found that staying on-property is worth the expense. Disney provides a lot of perks for resort guests — the transportation system and the ability to have any purchases delivered to your resort are two of the big ones. They also do such a good job with the landscaping and setting that the resorts really are an extension of the parks.

    If you manage to get a room in one of the Vacation Club properties (the time-shares; sometimes you can get a room there like any other hotel) you get all those perks plus a kitchen, so you can easily cut down on the food costs and save for things you want — like tea at the Floridian or the Luau or whatever.

    In addition to the other resources, the Unauthorized Guide to Disney is something worth checking out.

    If you and your wife were to go back, after doing your research and planning a trip out, I think you’d be pleasantly surprised (and have a lot of fun!) That’s a post I’d love to read someday. =)

  54. The torrential rains here in Florida turned my ripening tomatoes into slime! Actually, the sky was grey for so long I was starting to build an ark. But I digress…

    Never go to a Florida theme park in the summer (May to Early August) for these reasons:

    1. Its incredibly hot and humid, tempting you to buy those overpriced drinks. (Or bog yourself down with loads of bottled water, no fun.)

    2. It rains. HARD. Nearly every day. If you must go in the summer, consider a raincoat and rain boots.

    3. The parks are PACKED in the summer, this means you’ll be in line for HOURS, in the uncomfortable oppressive summer’s humid heat.

    4. The rain causes a lot of attractions to shut down.

    Good times to visit Florida theme parks:
    1. Right when school starts back up, Late August/Early September, week day.

    2. Early to mid December, the weather is still mild, there are fewer people, and the parks are resplendent with sparkling holiday decorations and fun.

    3. Any time off season, and early in the day- as soon as the park gates open. This gives you time to enjoy all of the attractions, go off-park for lunch, and return for the evening festivities.

  55. My take-away from the story was that since JD had money in his savings, he and his wife could do something totally last minute without getting worked up about the cost. If they hadn’t had the money, they would have headed home after the PR gig.
  56. We used the laundry at our hotel when we got wet (pretty sure all the resorts have them)… $.25 to dry your shorts would have been much cheaper.

    Also, I think much of enjoying anything is really about attitude… when we visted a few months ago, it rained much like you experienced. We could have whined and pouted about it, but instead we put on our $8 ponchos and had fun… at one point, my son and I were dancing in the rain.

  57. I think comments #58 and #59 are great. They get at the the points I’m trying to make here. In fact Nancy (#58) effectively summarizes my “thesis”. And Cate (#59) nails that attitude we had. We were laughing and enjoying the whole experience, delighting at the craziness of it all.

  58. “Like Pirates of the Caribbean–with vegetables!”

    That made my day! Now I’m trying to envision how they could make a movie out of that. Too funny, J.D.

  59. I hate to put salt in the wound, but by my calculations 160+160+178+32+123 = $653

    So you actually spent $653.

  60. Jennifer, I wasn’t including the clothes in my total. I figure those are long-term “investments”. The $530 was just the vacation stuff itself! 🙂

  61. We had a bizarre spend-way-to-much-money-in-Disneyland experience, just a few weeks ago.

    I should add up front, my wife likes things to be “nice” and that usually means spending tons of money. Here’s how it worked out:

    Someone at work sent around an email about a Jet Blue sale – prices as low as $15 to LA and NY. I forwarded it to my wife, since her company has an office in NY. She *immediately* put a large nonrefundable deposit a next-weekend stay (for the two of us and our daughter) at the Grand Californian Hotel at Disneyland – she’s wanted to stay there for some time, and thought since we could ‘save so much money’ on airfare this was our chance. When she told me, I immediately got online and found that the Jet Blue special had several conditions attached, which made it impossible to get the deal. Not only that, getting a flight for that weekend was incredibly expensive. I finally found acceptable – but still not cheap – airfare by picking dates another couple weeks away. My wife was able to shift the reservation.

    I was able to get some minor discounts on park tickets through work. But we also did all our meals at the hotel or in the park, and bought a couple items. It ended up costing us a LOT for the three of us for just two days in the park.

    What’s frustrating is that this whole thing was completely unnecessary. We could have skipped this trip and then had money available for savings, or for a much longer, better trip. We go to a Family Dance Camp (http://familydancecamp.org/) every year or so with on-site meals, lots of friends and music and dance (a family interest), for a whole week. It’s not a cheap week, but the money we spent for just two days in Disneyland would have covered it no problem.

    I’m still mad about it!

  62. Hey J.D. – it sounds like you had a great time in Florida. The bad weather just makes it more of an adventure and an entertaining story to share. The free airfare and night’s stay is a plus.

    I find it interesting that Disney can produce an EPCOT exhibit designed to teach families about smart saving and spending choices and then charge their exorbitant entrance prices and inflated costs for all the Disney accoutrements like clothes and food, but the corporation sure has done a great job of selling the idea of the whole “Disney” experience.

  63. And if their copyright lawyers have anything to say about it, we’ll be enjoying their beloved characters for another hundred years. Boo innovation. Yay corporations.

  64. Alright, a little off topic but just had to comment on the rain on vacation! (I am, however, a huge Disney fan – hubby and I even took our honeymoon there)

    Hubby and I took a 10 day vacation to Hawaii with a short stop in Anaheim (read: Disneyland) on the way. He earned the trip from work for his 10 year anniversary. It rained EVERYDAY almost ALL day!!!! No beach time (beaches were closed), no surfing lessons (again, beaches closed), not even a luau (resort canceled: too rainy). We only got to sit by the pool for about two hours total during a 10 day trip.

    We laugh about it, but it does totally stink since it was a once in a lifetime trip (probably).

    I feel your pain about the rainy vacations 🙂 And if you ever want nice weather – don’t bring us along!!

  65. There are so many economical decisions that go into staying and vacationing at Disney. If you stay in the budget All-Star Resorts, which are still very nice by-the-way, you end up having to wait 3-4 buses (mainly due to scooters, jazzies, ECVs, or SCVs..whatever) to fill when your waiting in line at the end of the night. Some people may be completely fine with this, other people may be very irritated. If you stay in a moderate, this effect begins to go away and you may only need to wait for 1-2 buses. My wife and I have been to Disney so many times that we end up having to stop and think about when we went since all the experiences kind of blend together now.

    When it comes to food, the meal plan makes the most sense since it pays for your lunch, 1-credit dinner, and a snack. If you don’t use the meal plan, it can easily cost you more than what the meal plan costs per day, unless you plan on eating counter service just about every day. Again, this is something some families may be fine with while other may be against.

    Even though it can get expensive, we still stay within budget and buy very little in terms of clothing and souvenirs. Basically, the budget is don’t by s**t we don’t need…which again means we buy very little.

    By the way, we don’t have kids let. We prefer going to Disney, rather than say a cruise, because there are so many things you can do while your there. We are to the point that we are fine with experiencing each of the main attractions only a few times while just enjoying being there and turning off all the cares of the world for a short amount of time.

  66. My wife and I are going in August for 8 days and seven nights. Total cost $1570 including tickets, meals and airfare. The only additional will be gratuities and spending money. That is less than $200 per day and only 37% of what you spent for a day.

    We go close to every year and you can do it on a budget if you watch what you are doing.

  67. I’m glad you thought of packing light but it sounds like you brought the wrong things.

    As a traveler, I carry 3 fundamental items. One is a dual-purpose raincoat/jacket. Example is the REI Ultra Lite Jacket. Good for 3 seasons but light enough. Mine is made by “The North Face”. Second is a quick dry pair of pants. They are all-weather and comfortable. It may lack style but just spend more and you can get a cool pair. Again REI sells a ton of them. Last is a waterproof (gore-tex) all around walking shoes. Not the funny high top hiking boots. Stylish “Merrel” brand that are all-purpose. No I’m not promoting these brands. I just have had good experience with them.

    These 3 things will cover you in most situations. If you decided to take an extra day, the quik-dry pants can be washed and dried overnight.

    -Charlotte

  68. I don’t think you were a very smart consumer during your Disney vacation, and you made it much more expensive than it should have been. Choosing to stay at the resort, eat at the expensive restaurants, buy souvenir-intended clothing for everyday use and pay a premium for the EPCOT excursion is not being a savvy vacationer. You may have spent less on your vacation to San Juan, but I bet you were much smarter in your packing, shopping, eating and all-around planning.

    My opinion is that Disney World is as expensive as you want it to be. I have been there many times, and there’s no way I would spend as much as you did!

  69. Sorry J.D. I should have warned you that in Orlando, it usually pours for about 1/2 hour (usually between 12-3pm). You get pretty used to it if you live there.

  70. We were at Disney about the same time. That was an insane amount of rain. It did feel very much like a tropical storm. I’m glad I brought 4 pairs of shoes and lots of spare socks.

    We’re from Tampa and have young kids, so Disney is a common vacation for us. It’s hard to pass up the value and we have to force ourselves to vacation anywhere else.

    Since we’re local, annual or seasonal passes make admission cheap if we make multiple trips. We homeschool the kids and have fairly flexible work schedules, so we can go during the less busy dates which also have cheaper accomodations. With access to a car, we can bring and replenish cheap groceries. Unlike some attractions, Disney allows outside food and drinks into the parks, so we often pack snacks or even lunches.

    I’ve learned to over-pack for trips that could be open-ended. I pack spare clothes (and shoes) and other things that I don’t expect to use, but I might. If I’m in a car, I put the spare stuff in a second bag so I can leave it in the car unless I need it. Even when I travel for work, I pack snacks or stop at a store as soon as I can, so I’m not stuck with hotel prices.

  71. Enjoyed reading about this experience and all the comments. Reminded me fondly of our family trips to Disneyland and how I made peanut butter sandwiches with sporks in our hotel room before we hit the park.

  72. From your later comment, I guess you must have had fun and don’t really mind the cost.

    But from the frown in the photo, and the focus on cost in your original post, forgive us for thinking you were generally grumpy about the whole thing!

    Sometimes, it’s better to pack a little heavier (though it is unfashionable to do so), and have the items you need, rather than buy them locally and be at the mercy of vendors near hotels and attractions.

  73. Haha, that’s Florida … it rains all the time there. The “Sunshine State” … someone was being ironic. Or lying.

  74. This blog entry (& most of the comments) read like a case study in “Why you should not stay in the USA for a vacation”. My mouth is agape at the prices being quoted. For $530 you can live like a king for a week in Latin America, Africa, or Asia. Or merely comfortably for a month. Even after tacking on the $1000 plane ticket (which you really should not be paying for, but instead getting for free using miles), for just one week, your total vacation cost is 1/3’rd. Plus instead of going to a banal, manufactured tourist trap maybe you get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself & your beliefs a little bit, and learn something about the world. Spending $530 out of your VACATION fund to be in Florida strikes me as pissing away valuable cash which could have been used to arrange a far richer experience in much more interesting and rewarding locales of the planet.

  75. Spoken like a bachelor #79:>)
    Never have ventured to DW. Did Disneyland yearly from the time I graduated from hish school (remember tickets?) until our kids got out of HS. We all love it. We will start again when the grandbaby turns three.Thanks to all of the tips here- I know where to begin planning!

  76. Yeah, some rains we’ve been having! Pretty typical, though. Sunshine State = It’s even sunny when it’s pouring.

    I’m up here in Gainesville, but my husband works a lot in Orlando. He was there for those storms, trying to get outside work done before the rain especially as he does some work up on roof tops. And lightning is a real danger as my mom found out — her living room was recently filled with flames after a hit.

  77. Yay for click-able comments at the top! I didn’t want to complain about it before, but I like it at the top for when I revisit the article to read updated comments.

  78. In a twist of irony, it looks like you and Kris had your own “Great Piggy Bank Adventure.” I guess if you really like Disney and are willing to spend $500+ on an “overnight daytrip,” then you’ve had a nice, atypical experience of fun, frivolity, and spontaneity. But gosh, for far less than that you could have explored a bit of the real Florida–its coastal charm, its interior wetlands, the funky fruit stands and down-home cafeterias off the interstate…. Or as others have said, that $500 might have bankrolled an entire trip in some places, or might have made a dent in a visit to the “real” Japan, England, and France!

    But sometimes the beauty of an adventure is indeed the fun, the frivolity, and the spontaneity. I simply couldn’t even imagine paying so much for certain things–$45 for breakfast? Really???–but this trip was like a time-warp, and the adventure involved and memories generated were probably worth more than $500+ in comic books, restaurant meals, and other such expenses.

    ….Just don’t make a habit of it, okay? 😉

  79. I understand other people’s concerns about how J.D. could have had a more “authentic” vacation for the same (or less) money by going somewhere other than Disney, but the purpose of a vacation isn’t necessarily to experience other cultures or natural beauty or historic locations. It’s to enjoy yourself, whether it’s doing one of those things I just mentioned, or hanging out at Disneyworld. Sure, it’s not as “real” as a vacation to a tropical rainforest or a 2,000 year-old castle, but maybe it’s just as much fun. (To be quite honest, I don’t see how it could be — but everyone has his own preferences.)

  80. I agree, Tyler, though the money did come from a fund that was presumably established for a much more “predictable” vacation. And I find it interesting that it all came at the heels of a work-related task connected to financial literacy! But, as pointed out, part of the moral of the story is that saving and planning allowed J.D. and Kris to do what they wanted with the money, though perhaps not quite what they originally intended. Perhaps this one-day gig full of adventure really was more worthwhile than a pre-planned trip elsewhere.

  81. Frugal Bachelor (79), you’re missing the point of a WDW vacation. It’s all about leaving the real world behind for a while and submitting to your imagination.

    J.D., I hate that you missed Soarin’. There’s nothing like (virtual) hang gliding over the Golden Gate Bridge.

  82. I found this blog because one of my facebook friends has been posting updates every 20 minutes or so for the past week from Disney World… I’m just trying to understand the fascination that it has for adults… I can understand for kids, but when I go to theme parks, I’m usually ready to get away from the commercialism and crowds and money drains after 4 or 5 hours, let alone spend days going from one theme park to another non-stop… I wouldn’t wanna do that even if it was free. Was expecting to see more people who didn’t “get it” either, but it seems we are a rare breed, and people are pretty suspicous of people who claim not to enjoy things like this (based on 15 mins of web browsing). Don’t get me wrong, I love cartoons, and grew up with Disney and Looney Tunes (another brand I know) but I probably spent less on my recent trip to Ireland with my wife than some people are spending on trips to Disney.

  83. I have to laugh at your experiences. Knowing how frugal you have become, to spend that much on impromptu purchases must have been difficult.

    But it provided great fodder for a post and frankly, I’ve been curious for a long time how much a typical day like that would cost for someone staying in the resorts.

    I used to live in FL and visited Disney several times. We didn’t have to spend the night on site since we just drove home, always hit Burger King in Lakeland, on our way home, and ate one time about 2 pm at some place “on site”–a counter place. We figured, for us, it wasn’t about the food, but about the rides and shows. The food was just to give us energy to get to those rides and shows. 🙂

    But, I’m grateful for the breakdown. I’ve been curious what it might cost for some of the people who are there and have obviously bought all sorts of things for their kids….

    We have a saying about the price of things in Disney…”Think high and double it” and that’s about what you will pay for a drink, an ice cream bar, etc.

  84. I think this is actually a pretty interesting post. Having the money put aside in a vacation fund gave JD the same freedom to spend as Gary had towards buying the boat. It’s frivolous spending, in that it’s going towards a “want” vs. a “need”, but it’s responsibly frivolous in that JD had planned out how to cover vacation spending, and stuck to that plan even when indulging himself.

    I’m sorry that there is some “buyer’s remorse” looking back at how much money was spent in a short time. Personally, I think it was great that your savings enabled you to be spontaneous and take advantage of the opportunity you had. Yes, it may delay the European trip that you want to take, but it sounds like it was a lot of fun for both of you.

    Oh, and I just have to add that the one time I took my husband to Disney, we were there during similar rains. I felt like we’d never dry out, lol!

  85. I loved that part of Epcot, so cool.

    I must say, I agree with you when you say you feel like you’ve been spending a lot of money lately and need to be frugal for a while. That’s the way we feel when we spend money we’ve saved for something. We just went to D.C. on vacation and it was a bit pricey for us, we’re used to camping vacations. We always feel the same way when we go to Disney as well. We kept thinking when we were on our vacation, hm, I kind of wish we had put this money toward our cruise.

    Perhaps it’s an excessive expectations problem. You feel like your enjoyment should equal what you spend, but often it seems like the things we spend the least on are the most joyous.

  86. you griped about the disney trip like it was supposed to be an economical tourist outing. come on, man…if you didn’t want to spend money like you do at Disney, go camping. i haven’t been to Disney since I was 10 and even I could tell you everything in the park is pricey as hell.

    come to think about it – why DID you pick Disney? kind of an odd choice for grown people to go outa their way to go to Disney of all places. i mean, there are other cheaper alternatives that would have been a better choice given the nature of this website. if you didn’t want to spend why go to an amusement park like Disney?

  87. Wow, Disney sounds quite expensive! Although most theme parks are a bit of a rip-off if you are trapped there. I am surprised though JD that you didn’t do the research beforehand. It seems really out of character for someone who is careful with money.

    But then on the other hand you said this: “Though this trip depleted my vacation sub-account at ING Direct, I do not regret the expense.”

    You said a similar thing when you bought the mini. You said you could have bargained better and you SHOULD have got a mechanic to check it beforehand but you didn’t. But you didn’t regret it either.

    This concerns me a bit because it sounds like you’re justifying overspending, and if you can do it a couple of times you can start sliding back into doing it all the time. What you should be saying is, “Dammit, that $123 on clothes was a waste. Sure I’ll wear the shorts for years to come but I didn’t NEED them and they were WAY more expensive than if I’d bought them elsewhere. And why did I need ANOTHER raincoat when an $8 poncho is cheaper, even if I do chuck it out afterwards? I am going to learn from this and be careful next time.”

  88. … sorry, just to clarify, when I said you didn’t NEED the shorts, yes, you needed them at that moment because you didn’t pack enough. But you didn’t NEED them in real life, so it’s hard to justify spending $40 on shorts that you could have happily lived without.

  89. I’ve probably been to Disney World 10 times or so in my 22 years (we would always go there for family vacations) but it was always on the dime of my parents. And even though I really enjoy Disney I don’t know if I could bring myself to go there now and pay the exorbitant prices myself. My sister and her husband have 3 kids and they go to Disney with them at least once a year and I have no idea how they can afford it. If I had to guess I’d say they’re drowning in debt. He’s a junior officer in the military, but she’s a stay at home mom so their income isn’t anything higher than middle class.

  90. But just think of all the money you saved! Since you toured the European countries of Epcot, there is no reason to vacation in Europe now 🙂

  91. I’m of the opinion that the reason you do all the right things most of the time is because things like this happen occasionally. I chuckled over the Mickey Mouse clogs and the fact you had to buy some clothes because we know how resistant you are to that in general. 😉

    Shirley

  92. Anything Disney related is a mass rip-off. I went to Disney World with a boyfriend for Spring Break (’86!) and couldn’t believe how expensive it was back then! We stayed at a hotel off-site but still!

    Learned my lesson and have never gone near anything Disney related since then.

    Although I did buy DVD version of Aristocats a few years back; but that’s it! 🙂

  93. What a waste of time and money. Disney and all these type of theme parks suck, nothing but fat people and long lines.

  94. Oh, Peter, you’re not doing it right!

    I didn’t get to go to Disney World for the first time until I was 24 and all I can say was that it was well worth the wait.

    We bought a copy of PassPorters Walt Disney World Planner and it was super helpful for planning what we wanted to do, help us stay within our budget, and even had a little journal where you could keep notes and track stuff. In the 5 days that I spent in the park I pretty much got to ride everything and see everything that I had planned. All 4 of the major parks were hit, some more than once.

    We went in October, you risk some rain but the hotel prices are cheaper. We stayed at one of the park hotels for $115/night and never left park property once. Yes, you can find cheaper hotels outside the park, but the staff was amazing, the hotel was very nice, and the bus service and early entrance into the parks was well worth it! Another bonus was that any souvenirs you purchased could be delivered to your hotel room so you wouldn’t have to carry them around the park all day!

    Even with our very strict budget we had no problems finding reasonable places to eat. There are a ton of expensive restaurants where you can spend lots of money but we found the smaller cafes just as good and usually they had healthier food: muffins, fruit, juice, etc. We ate one “nice” meal a day, usually dinner, and even then we found great deals. We ate one dinner at one of the restaurants in the African Lodge, Boma, and it was spectacular! Great food and a new liking of Kenyan beer.

    Our tickets were park hopper so we were allowed to leave and go to to another park if we wanted and it saved a ton of money. The biggest time saver of everything was that I took the time to check out the maps of the different parks (included in our book) and planned out what I wanted to see/ride and made a pseudo itinerary. I would get a fast track pass for a big ride, go ride a smaller ride with little wait and come back for my scheduled ride time. I think the longest we had to wait in line for any one ride was maybe 20 minutes and that was for a ride that did not have a fast track option. The same thing can be done for Disneyland and California Adventure as well.

    As for weather, it rained for at least 20 minutes every day we were there. We would use that time to do something indoors (like the aquarium or one of the 3-D shows) and had made sure that we had clothes that could get wet and dry quick (visit REI for best options). It’s Disney World and nobody cares what you look like. You’re all going to be sweaty, sunburned, and gross by the end of the day so you might as well be comfortable.

    Glad you and Kris had fun on your trip. I would highly recommend MGM Studios and Pleasure Island on your next trip if you’re looking for fun stuff that is more geared for adults. 😉

    My week in Disney World was one of the best weeks of my life and well worth the cost, including airfare from California it was just over $1500. I’m already looking forward to going back again!

  95. I was able to go to Disneyworld last October with the “grandparents” springing for it. Even though everything was paid for we still ended up spending $500 on miscellaneous stuff while there and on the travels there and back, so don’t feel too bad. I’d love to do it again, and when I do I am planning on waiting until both our kids are old enough saving up so we can stay on-site and get the meal plan because to tell the truth that was a big part of the fun of it.

  96. Enjoyed the post. Disney is a corporation that has perfected the art of separating you from your money! I try to hide every time a relative or friend says, “we are going to Disney can you come over there and visit us!”

    It would be cheaper for me to pay them to stay in a hotel at the beach in my hometown for a night than go over to spend the day at Disney!

  97. This is Lauren’s “Disney Employee Friend!”

    There are a lot of GREAT money saving tips in the comments here! Your readers really know their Disney Stuff!! Still, the one and only tip/comment about EPCOT missing from all of them is the one that is closest to my heart, the LIVE ENTERTAINMENT!!

    At EPCOT, especially in the World Showcase but also in Future World, some of the very best attractions that carry no additional cost are the live performers. In Mexico there is a brilliant mariachi band, in China, AMAZING acrobats, in Italy, a mime and juggler and the ever-amusing World Showcase Players comedy troupe (I am completely biased, as I am one of them!). In Japan there is an amazing Taiko drum band, a brilliant candy artist, and a story teller, in Morocco, a Morrocan band with a belly dancer! In France, acrobats! In UK, a very very good Beatles cover band and, again, the genius comedy troupe World Showcase Players! In Canada you can see Off Kilter, a fantastic rock band that plays celtic rock music.

    UNFORTUNATELY – the reason you missed most of these things was probably due to that torrential rain! All of these live performances happen outside and do not go out in the rain (for safety reasons as well as practical ones). Normally, the summer storms will interrupt one or MAYBE two performances a day, but during that week and a half we hardly performed at all!!

    I felt terrible for our guests. Without the live performers, there isn’t much else to do in the World Showcase besides sit in shops and restaurants. Interesting, but costly!

  98. This story is exactly why I have never been to Disney resort and never will.

    They sound predatory.

    Katy Wolk-Stanley
    “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

  99. I haven’t waded through all the comments so this may already be there…

    I could go on for hours about Walt Disney World, but I’ll offer three comments based on your experience:
    1)Park tickets are an economy of scale. One day = $80. You can get a 10-day ticket for $25 per day…or less if you go to a Disney-certified discount ticket seller. The big discounts start showing up at around day 4.
    2) Meals are expensive at the sit-down restaurants. But Epcot has some fabulous counter-service eateries. You could have easily had good dinner for under $10 each. Also, you could have had counter service breakfast for under $8 each rather than going to the sit-down restaurant.
    3) There are many great movies and hidden gems at World Showcase that you could easily kill almost a full day just in that area of the park. Mexico=Boat Ride and Museum area; Norway=Boat Ride and Movie; China=Movie and Museum area; American Adventure=Movie, Voices of Liberty (incredible indoor live vocal performance), and museum-type area; Japan=Museum area; Morocco=Museum area; France=Movie; Canada=Movie. Plus the shops are fun to walk around just to get a flavor of some of the items/clothing/food/etc. local to each country.

    If you don’t do any research, WDW can be a very expensive and stressful vacation. But with a bit of planning, it can be rather economical and a fabulous, entertaining and learning experience.

  100. JD,

    Sorry you had to experience Florida rain for two days. I live down the road from WDW and I feel your pain. My niece was visiting from Michigan during the same time as your visit. She kept asking when the rain would end. I told her, when you go home, of course. However, her day at Disney was free of rain and free of charge (I know a few Disney employees). Not to rub it in, but that is just how it works here in Orlando. We put up with a lot here and I’ll be darned if I have to pay for Disney too.

    I agree with others about planning out your Disney trip in order to save funds. I’ve been to WDW more times than I can count. As a kid, my frugal parents would drive from Michigan to Florida (22 hours straight down I-75 South) to avoid airfare/car rental. We would stay in a nice offsite hotel, usually an Embassy Suites with a breakfast buffet. We would buy at least a 4 or 5 day parkhoppper. One good thing about Disney tix, they never expire. We usually ended up paying admission every other visit. Since our main expenses were gas, hotel and food, we could afford to go more often. Also, we didn’t feel pressured to see everything in 5 days. There is no way to see everything at Disney in one visit. It’s designed to bring you back for more. Our family found it fun to plan our visits to see unique things each time. New attractions are always being added so the experience changes each visit.

    We rarely ate in the parks. Usually stopped at a Walgreens for water, snacks and filled our backpacks before entering. Some years, my father would treat us to a lunch at one of the Epcot restaurants. France and Mexico were favorites. However, I’ve enjoyed Germany and Japan too. I never felt cheated doing Disney on the cheap. As a frugal adult, I’m pretty proud to say my parents worked really hard to provide enjoyable experiences. Whether they came with a Disney price tag or not. Some of the best times were spent on the long trip to/from Disney, lounging around the hotel pool or exploring other parts of Florida.

    One of the biggest mistakes parents make is trying to do it all. A day or two at the parks is all most kids can handle. Plan to give your kids plenty of downtime outside of the parks. Nothing is worse than seeing tired, whiny, kids forced to get on one more ride because their parents have spent a small fortune and they are going to enjoy every last minute. If you are going during peak season (May thru October) you have to know your kids’ tolerance for heat, 100% humidity, torrential rain and long lines filled with screaming babies. Plan a day to relax on one of Florida’s beautiful beaches or heck even the hotel pool. It might save more than dollars, it might just save your sanity.

  101. cleaning up my Inbox & stumbled across this…

    I used to travel with my kid a great deal (three part time jobs during a recession made it easy for me to take time off & make up the hours before & after I returned).
    One tip I’d like to give is I always put one cheap rain poncho per person (about a buck a peice) in the baggage.
    Also, I try to budget 1 pair of pants a day since there’s no laundry facilities at most places like this – pants are a magnet for accidents during trips. I don’t know why.
    Oh & I usually put 1 box of granola bars in my bag as emergency budget food – dunno if airlines would allow that though.

    My Aunt mails herself a small box of things before she flies to my house just to avoid bag restrictions & security being weird about her beauty products – don’t know how feasible that would be for a hotel scenario but I’m going to try it the next time I go to Chicago by plane.
    Yes, I have to sit on the suit case to get it shut but I haven’t had to make an exspensive emergency purchase since my son was two 🙂

    Look like you had a great trip regardless & thats really, really cool. I envy you – I can’t remember the last trip I had with out “Hey, Mom” every 5 minutes.

  102. Hi, J.D,

    I’m always looking to save money. Heck I bought my shoes at Costco for $14 forever. My wife and I worked at Walt Disney World as castmembers and LOVE everything Disney. I wanted to share two resources we have with you. For the latest Disney Fan news we have a weekly Disney Podcast that’s going on 9 years 🙂 Mouse Chat https://MouseChat.net

    We would love to have you on Mouse Chat to talk about ways to save on a Disney vacation.

    For booking the latest Disney World, Disneyland and Disney Cruise offers we are happy to help anyone plan a Disney vacation at no charge. Our Disney vacation package site is Pixie Vacations https://PixieVacations.com

    Have a Magical Day,
    Steve & Lisa