Our family just returned from our first trip to Disney World and we had a wonderful time! We learned a ton and I researched for hours before we left. Over the next few posts, I want to share what I learned for any other newbie families out there. The Disney experts in my life are Kathy and Debra, so check in with them if you're looking for info that I don't have here.

We are a family that is willing to spend a little money on things that are important to us. Most people probably would not characterize us as "frugal." We like a certain brand of paper towels and won't buy other brands, even if they're on sale. But I do watch for coupons on that brand of paper towel and will buy extras when they're on sale. So we like to save money when we can and on the things that don't matter as much to us. And that's the way we approached our Disney trip.

We knew that, for our first trip, we wanted to stay in a moderate resor
t—not the cheapest, not the most expensive. And we decided it was worth it to upgrade to a pirate-themed room with a water view. So we were willing to spend a little more there. (Fortunately, though, we were able to get a discount on that room thanks to a friend who lives in Orlando. That's my first tip: make friends with people who live in Orlando.)

We also knew we wanted to have a handful of really good meals. We are a family of eaters, and we like to eat good food. Plus, we wanted the boys to experience some of the character meals. Those do not come super cheap and there are no coupons. You just have to bite the bullet.

So how did we save money? Read below, and please comment with any savings tips of your own.

  • Eat breakfast in your room. We have a tradition where the kids get to pick out a sugar cereal to eat on vacation. This is something they look forward to. Plus, everyone's so anxious to get the park, they don't eat a lot anyway. And days with early Extra Magic Hours, you'll leave for the park so early, you might eat in the car on the way. We did Poptarts and bananas that morning. Pack some plastic spoons, put some milk in your room fridge, and use the coffee cups provided, and you've got breakfast.
  • Brown bag one meal at the park. We packed bread and peanut butter, chips, carrot sticks, and some Oreo's in a gallon-sized baggie for lunch every day. Any counter service place that serves breakfast will have jelly packets with the condiments. And if they serve salads they'll have ranch dressing for you to dip your carrots, but you'll have to ask. You'll be able to put together a nice lunch at no substantial cost.
  • Ask for cups of ice water. Pretty much everyplace in Disney will give you free cups of ice water. For variety, pack some individual drink mixes and use your straw to stir the mix in. We did Kool-Aid and Propel. You'll avoid drinking too much soda, stay hydrated, and save cash.
  • Pick up t-shirts and ponchos before you go. We got t-shirts on sale at the Disney Store and Mickey Mouse ponchos on for significantly less than the same items cost at the parks.
  • Buy a lot of trading pins on eBay. At the parks, these pins can cost $7-15 each. We got a lot of 50 for $30 and lanyards for $4 each on eBay. Most of them were pins we did not want, but we had so much fun trading them at the parks. The boys collected most of the Club Penguin puffles. Matt collected sports-themed pins. And I found lots of Minnie Mouse. We did each buy a pirate and Star Wars pin to remember the events of our trip.
  • Give the kids spending money on a gift card. I mentioned this a couple of days ago. The boys have been doing chores to save up money for months. Before we left, we went to the Disney Store and got Disney World gift cards for that amount they'd saved (plus a little from Mom and Dad). This was their free money to spend however they wanted. Our only rule was they couldn't buy something you can get in Target. They kept a list of things they wanted throughout the week, and Matt helped them narrow down and make choices at the end of the week.
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