Disney... on the cheap!

I am so excited to share with you a guest post my beautiful friend, Danielle, wrote about her family's trip to Disney World!  Danielle is the owner of  the From Milk To Meat blog and author of Table Talk: Family Dinner Devos.  Although Matt and I DEFINITELY plan to take our boys to Disney, we want to wait until they are old enough to really remember it, and that's exactly what Danielle and her husband did!  I think we all get intimidated about Disney because it can be SOOO expensive and doesn't really feel like "vacation" for us parents.  Well, Danielle found the perfect solution to make her family's Disney trip reasonably priced AND relaxing!  ❤

Vacation is what many people live and work for. People do the daily grind, nearly kill themselves working 40 + hours a week, just waiting for Friday night…or for their cruise around the Caribbean. I get it.

We all want a break… and need a break from the hustle and bustle. Life can get just way too stinking busy. The “break” often comes with a hefty price tag, though. The more luxurious, adventurous or fun, the bigger the cost.

Being in ministry, we don’t have the financial means to do regular big family trips. We haven’t been around the world, and we certainly don’t take our kids anywhere over the top. We did however, decide that last year was the year we take our boys to….Disney World.
I knew this would take some planning ahead, and some team work from the grandparents. We were going to have to figure out a way to do Disney on a shoe-string budget. I asked if they would consider giving us cash for Christmas, and the boys a smaller gift, and then some spending money – after all, they certainly didn’t need more toys in the house to clutter it up. They (mostly) obliged. Thanks to this, we were able to purchase flights for our entire family! Because we travel for work so much, I insisted that if we were doing this, we were flying. I didn’t want to be stuck in a car for two days, hearing “are we there yet!?” That’s no vacation to me! We also had some generous friends who helped in other ways, which kept a few other costs low. We decided to go four nights and five days, rather than a full week, and we only went to one – yup, that’s right – one theme park. Our desire was to feel like we were actually on vacation and not running a marathon. We also knew that would save some Benjamins. We figured that we would be wiped out after one long day at Disney, and boy were we ever right.
Another way we saved money was packing healthy snacks for our plane rides to avoid being stuck buying an $8 bagel when a little person decided they were hungry at an inopportune time. We also grocery shopped the first night we got to the condo we stayed at, and made sure that we brought a healthy breakfast and lunch into the theme park with us, which left us only eating one junky and expensive Disney meal. We treated the boys to some ice cream and a Mickey treat, and they were able to buy a toy with some money they received at Christmas.
The rest of our trip was spent pool side (with grocery store bought snacks, rather than $10 greasy french fries). For fun, we also wandered around Disney Springs, cruised around in the (free) convertible upgrade we got, checked out fun souvenir shops, played card games and hung out at our condo, and we only ate out twice the rest of the time we were there. We all had a blast, stayed on budget, and by the end of our trip, we were ready to go home. And, after having the following conversation with the kids, we were certainly thankful that we didn’t break our bank for this vacation…

When taking stock of our trip, we asked our boys their favorite parts of their time in Florida. When they each recounted their highlights, they were not what I expected…

“I loved all the Salamanders we saw on the patio! Oh, and when we went to that store and saw all those funny shirts!” (I barely remember now, but I’m pretty sure the sayings on the shirts involved Grandpas and farting.)

“And, that was so funny when Daddy saw the armadillo walk by our window, and he stood up and excitedly yelled “Armadillo!”, and then when Braden saw a bird fly by, and he stood up and excitedly yelled “bird!!”, as if he’d just seen one for the first time. (That was definitely a cute moment)
“And, remember when we got to make our own ice cream sundaes!? I, like, loaded mine with whipped cream and M&Ms. I was sooooo full after, I felt like I was gonna barf! It was awesome!” (This was our mega cheap buffet dinner out at Ponderosa – the kind of place you feel ok wearing your pajama pants and a ponytail…and I think I may have.)

“Yeah, that was awesome. And, I liked beating mommy at cards on the plane.”

“And, I liked playing ping pong with that British guy!” (free amenity)

After hearing all this, I asked, “What about Disney?”

“Oh, and the Disney day was awesome too!”

That’s right folks….those were my eight and four year old’s vacation highlights…the unplanned and free (or nearly free) stuff! ….and Disney was placed at the end as a side note.
I learned a lot from what they said to me that day.

I learned that my young boys wanted me. They didn’t know this ahead of time, but what they really wanted was their parent’s undivided attention more than a ride over Neverland. The wanted time with us, more than to be entertained by strangers. They preferred a game of cards with us over a picture with Aladdin. They loved when their daddy cranked the music in the car and we all jammed out together, more than the cool car itself. It was neat for them to see Salamanders and Armadillos wandering around – they had never been to a place with a different climate and different creatures. And, the “cherry on the top” of the trip came in the form of a greasy buffet restaurant, because they sure haven’t figured out how to be “classy” yet.

Boy, was I ever glad that I decided to forego another theme park (or three), and another chunk of our hard earned money. I was really relieved that we didn’t take them to another restaurant with animatronics, TV screens, and gimmicky waiters….because it turned out they were fine (more than fine) with a cheap meal while joking around with dad and mom. I guess dad and mom shouldn’t have been surprised, since our favorite childhood vacation memories were swimming and having a cherry throwing fight, and going to a no-frills camp, or overnight to a hotel where we could order pizza and rent a movie. It seriously is the little things, folks.

Parents, we do not need to re-finance the house to please our kids. As much as they say that they want the animatronics, the glitz, glam and fast pace, what they really want is time with you. Of course it’s wonderful to treat our children to fun things, but what makes them fun is doing them together – not the actual ride that took three hours to wait for and  thirty seconds to be over with. Don’t believe the notion that you’ll put a hush on the begging and satisfy them with saying yes to the big ticket item. You won’t. They’ll always want more, (especially if they aren’t getting you). We all want more.

And more, and more and more.

A man sat on a park bench looking so depressed, that a woman stopped to see if he was alight. “Something the matter”, the woman replied? “Yes, a few months ago my grandfather left me $500,000 and some oil wells”. The woman was confused. “That doesn’t sound like something to be upset over.” “Yes, but you haven’t heard the whole story. Last month my uncle left me $1,000,000. The woman became perplexed. “I don’t get it. Those are NOT things to be upset over!” The man replied, “So far, this month nobody has left me anything!”

If a grown man can become this spoiled, we know that children will be even more prone to insatiability. In fact, I have found that the more possessions and entertainment I give my children, the more entitled, ungrateful, whiny…and yes,  bratty they become! In many cases, less is more. I think this case is one of them!

Definitely splurge when and where you want – that’s absolutely your call. But, know that you don’t necessarily have to, in order to have a blast with your kids on vacation, or any time. Money doesn’t make memories. If you can, show them the world, but please just don’t give them the world, and everything in it in the process.

The Buzz Lightyear ride was cool, and the Disney parade was pure eye candy, but my two little men’s highlights were on point. Those free and priceless moments are among the most special we had together…and the ones we’re still talking about

Here we are, at “The Happiest Place on Earth”.  We paid big bucks for that smile on Braden’s face. I rest my case. :).


  1. Love this!!! Such a good reminder that our kids want US not stuff!!!

  2. I would love to know about more amazing travel experience.
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  3. What a wonderful place shared. My dream place. I always dream to visit this beautiful place.
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