Christine A Howard

Tips For A Big Family Disney Vacation

mickey-road-tripAs I sit here beginning to plan our next big family Disney vacation to Orlando, I realized that many of you may feel that this is an impossible task to undertake.  I am here to tell you that it is actually very possible!  In fact, we are taking 14 of us to Disney World this fall.

Disney, like all successful businesses, caters to its target market, two parents and two kids.  Since this is the average family size in America, that makes sense.  You can’t really fault them for knowing who their major consumers are.  Because of this, most packages offered by Disney are for the typical family of four, the rooms are set up to comfortably accommodate four people, and it is the easiest to maneuver the parks in a group of about four.  So it would seem that this is not the vacation spot for large families or even a family reunion, right?  Well not necessarily so.  Disney can be a wonderful and affordable place to visit with a large group.

Disney, as I mentioned before, is in the business of making money, so Disney really wants everyone to visit their parks and vacation destinations.  And what many people don’t realize, is that Disney will go out of its way to make sure that happens.  They have options and packages that can fit most families and budgets.  I am not going to lie to you and tell you that Disney is a cheap vacation, because it is not.  There are ways to make Disney more affordable though.

In fact, this may be something that you need to budget over a few years in order to do.  Our family has been travelling to Orlando about every two years for the last several years now.  Why every other year?  Well it takes us that long to put away enough money to make it happen. I know lots of families that save for this for years, tucking a few hundred dollars away in a fund whenever they can.

The saying goes something like this, “You get what you pay for,” and at Disney, this is completely true.  If you were to calculate everything Disney offers its guests once they enter the parks, the price per item becomes amazingly economical.  Each day there are fireworks displays, parades, performances, character meet and greets, and of course rides.  I mean they don’t call if “The Happiest Place on Earth” for nothing, right?  So the money that is spent is well worth it if you really look at what you are getting.

With that being said, large groups can find ways to make a family Disney vacation possible.  But, I bet you have some very good questions about how that can logistically happen, right?  Well I have been planning big family Disney vacations for many years now, and I have some strategies to share.  The best way to travel to Disney is of course via a travel agent, and if you would like this option I can help you as well!  Contact me and I can plan your next big family Disney vacation.  In the meantime, here are some great tips to get you started.

disney-castledisney-castledisney-castle

How will we get there?

How you choose to get to Disney has a lot to do with your budget, the number of people travelling, and how far you happen to be from Orlando. This expense will be one of the largest on your budget.  There are advantages and disadvantages for all the transportation options, which makes this a very personal decision.  You really need to take a look at your family’s situation to determine what is right.

Our family travels to Disney from Wisconsin, so we have a two day drive each way.  For us, there are two very important factors to consider.  One is time lost because of travel, and the other is of course the cost.  We have friends who visited Disney a couple of years ago, and they chose to drive.  They had two weeks to spend on vacation, so the added four days of driving did not bother them. They also had the vehicle to hold them and all of their luggage.  However, we generally can only bring our entire family together for one week, so driving would take half of our vacation, and for us, this does not make sense.  For our friends, money was a huge factor, and paying for flights was out of the question.  No matter how you choose to get there, there are ways to save some money.

Tips:  If you choose to fly:

  1. Book your flights 45 days prior to get the best rates.
  2. Use a rate tracker like  Air Fare Watch Dog to help catch flash sales.
  3. If your group is large enough, you may qualify for a group discount, check with your airline directly.
  4. Pack one checked bag with groceries:  flat bread, tortillas, peanut butter, jelly, pop tarts, granola bars, drink packets, cereal bars, etc.

Tips:  If you choose to drive:

  1. Drive in shifts so that you can drive straight through.
  2. Pack a cooler and groceries
  3. Save gas money over time on a VISA gift card, which are re-loadable and can be used at most locations.
  4. Pack rolls of quarters and pennies, and pay your children in quarters and pennies each time you catch them being patient and behaving.  They will enjoy having the frequent rewards, as well as the extra spending money.  The coins can be stored in old candy containers and used for simple souvenirs in the parks.

Where will we stay?

As I mentioned, Disney tends to cater to families of four, which presents a huge problem for large families or groups.  Disney has tried to address this issue by making some rooms that hold 6 in both their value and moderate resorts, but this does not help those with 12 plus people in their group.  Disney will allow families and groups to book up to three rooms on one reservation which helps some, but if you are travelling with more kids than adults, this still presents a problem.  For most large families, staying off property tends to make the most sense.

There is one time per year when staying on property can make sense for some larger groups, and that is during free dining season.  This usually happens in the Fall each year. During this time, each person receives a meal plan for free for each night booked.  For value resorts this means two counter service meals, and two snacks per day, and for moderate resorts this means one sit down meal, one counter service meal, and two snacks per day.  Both the value and moderate plans come with a free refillable drink mug good for the entire stay as well.  This usually equates to a huge savings for those groups that can afford the fee to stay on property, and the value resorts can be as cheap as $87 per day per person for the room, tickets and in this case food.

Renting a Large Home

For most large families, the cost of staying on property is still too great to make use of the free dining offer.  In this case, renting a house is usually the best and most economical way to go. There are many rental agencies who cater to large groups and families, and often times, the properties are minutes from the parks and offer similar amenities to the onsite properties. A great booking site is the VRBO.  We have used them in the past, and they are fast, friendly and can be trusted.  The VRBO works with property owners who want to rent their vacation home, and offers renters the piece of mind knowing the the property will be as described.

vrbo-booking-site
Screen print taken from the VRBO website to show the many wonderful properties available!

They have homes that will sleep as many as 24 people and have up to 15 bedrooms.  Each of the properties have a pool, and usually there is a communal recreation area on site as well. The nice thing about renting a house is that your meals can be more cost effective as well, especially if you drive and bring your groceries with you to Orlando.   As you can see from the photo above, there are houses as inexpensive as $1000 for the week, so if you have a full house with 18 people, this comes to less than $10 per person per day. Most of these properties are Disney themed and offer game and theater rooms.  The homes are almost a vacation in and of themselves.

Renting a Large Hotel Suite

A second option would be to rent a hotel room, or hotel rooms for your family Disney vacation.  We have found that the Homewood Suites by Hilton is a wonderful option for larger families.  While they do not have a single room that can accommodate up to 20 people at once, they do have what they call a “double double suite” that can comfortably sleep ten.  So in the event that you would prefer the comforts of a hotel, it is possible your group could rent two of the “double double” rooms.

Taken from the Hilton website. The Double Double room has four queen beds. The picture above shows the three queen bed suite.

Each of these suites has two bedrooms, each with two queen sized beds, two full bathrooms and a living area with a full kitchen.  The best part of about this hotel is that they offer a free hot breakfast daily. They also include a complementary supper Monday through Thursday evenings.  This means that most days your family will only have to cover lunch.  They also have scheduled transportation to and from the parks as well as Disney Springs. If you watch closely, there are even times of the year that these rooms are as little as $199 per night.  At that price, your room,  up to two meals per day, and transportation to and from the parks would be less than $2o per person per day.


What will we do?

Please be careful to watch out for scammers who tell you they are the best deal for Disney World tickets!  There are so many of them out there that it is very easy to fall victim to this.  I am here to tell you that Disney does not just let anyone sell their tickets or other vacation products.  Disney must approve anyone wishing to sell their tickets.

The other way that scammers will get you, is to try to sell you half used tickets.  Please don’t fall victim to this scam either.  Disney does not allow anyone to transfer unused portions of tickets to others.  In fact, your Magicband ticket is linked to your fingerprint upon entering your first park.  This ensures that people cannot share tickets or make money on any unused days.  If you are being presented with this as an offer, run as fast as you can.

Purchasing Discounted Disney World Tickets

The best two places I am aware of for true Disney World discounts are Mousesaver.com  and Undercover Tourist.  These two websites are dedicated to helping anyone and everyone travel to Disney World on a budget they can afford.  Undercover Tourist has the cheapest Disney approved tickets out there, they will ship the tickets to your door for free, and they do not even charge sales tax.

Taken from the WDWMagic site

Visiting Mickey Without Visiting the Parks

Is the cost of a Disney World ticket is out of budget? Are the kids are longing for a trip to meet the actual Minnie and Mickey? Disney has an option that just may fit the bill.  Disney Springs opened its doors in 2015, and there is no entrance fee. There is a character meet and greet at the World of Disney Store featuring all the of the beloved characters at no cost.

There is also a train ride for the littles and a carousel ride for the whole family.  Each ride costs just $2 per child and parents are free.  Disney Springs also offers a stage with free entertainment throughout the day, and numerous paid activities. There are quite a lot of dining options including the New York style food truck to please your stomach also.  If your child is a Lego fan, there is a large Lego store, and a very impressive Loch Ness Monster made out of Legos in the river bordering Disney Springs.


If your family is dreaming a big family Disney vacation but you think that your family is too big to ever make that happen, you may be pleasantly surprised.  No, Disney is not the cheapest place on Earth, but your family can go there without breaking the budget.  And let’s face it, what child wouldn’t like to be able to meet Mickey face-to-face, right?

 

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