How We Saved $1500+ On Our Disney Vacation

We have officially been back from our Disney vacation for two weeks now and it already seems like we went a lifetime ago!

My husband and I both grew up going to the parks during family vacations. I have family in New Smyrna Beach which is about an hour outside of Orlando. Every year when my family and I would visit, we would choose one park from Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World to visit during our stay. We usually only went to one of the Disney World parks, not all 4 in one week. I wasn’t able to experience a 4 park vacation until I was a freshman in high school and we visited for a concert band trip and performed at Disney.

Before we left for this trip, I intended to write this post on tips that helped us save, so I am very excited to finally tell you guys how we saved so much on our Disney vacation.

I want to preface this post with a couple of things:

  1. For our Disney vacation, we did NOT stay on property, which also means we did not participate in the Disney dining plan. I will explain why below.
  2. I am not a savvy couponer, so if you implemented these simple strategies with other couponing methods out there, you could potentially save even more!

As you may know, we went to Orlando last summer, but we only went to one of the parks since we were planning on going to Universal and doing other things in town. Once we got back I started following a few Disney Instagram accounts which then led to Disney Youtube channels and my love for going back grew! I had “joked” with my husband about going back to Orlando but this time, making it a full-fledged, all 4 parks vacation. I knew it was going to take some convincing since we had just visited Orlando the summer before. I secretly started seeking out tips from Disney couponers. One of the tips, as I’m sure many of you know, is to use gift cards to then purchase Disney gift cards. That is my first tip!

Search weekly ads to see if you can earn gift cards on purchases you’re already making.
I’m a frequent Target shopper, so I started skimming ads for ways I could rack up those $5 and $10 gift cards. Well, in April I was looking and realized I could buy all of my laundry cleaning products and score a gift card and thought “that’s it, I’m onto something!”…. until I saw THE deal of the year. (like all the drama? haha)
Both my husband and I had iPhone 4s at the time and mine was still going strong but my husband had cracked his screen on a boat while on a fishing trip with friends. It was still usable, but almost to the point where it wasn’t functioning properly. He was holding out for the spring when Apple usually announces a new phone.
Target was giving away $300 gift cards if you upgraded to the iPhone 7. Yes, you read that correctly, $300 PER LINE. It was also supposed to be buy one, get one free through AT&T, but later we found out it was only if you were activating a new line, which in our case didn’t fit our scenario. My husband was a little bummed about not getting a newly released phone, but was game for putting the $600 gift cards towards Disney tickets and not using a cracked iPhone anymore. I was thrilled that we were able to take advantage of this deal. Not only were we in need of new phones, but we also had $600 to put towards tickets, just like that! We went back and forth for a while debating how many days to actually go to the parks, but we ended up deciding on 5 days. No park hopper passes, just 5 regular days. At the time of our vacation, that was a total of $740, so we only paid $188 out of pocket (with taxes) for our park tickets. *I have not seen the $300 deal for iPhones again since April, but I have seen some $250 offers, so hold out until you see those!

We purchased 6, $100 Disney gift cards (not Disney Store) and combined those onto one card which you can do online at www.disneygiftcard.com.

$600 Disney gift cards

 

Save other gift cards.
We didn’t start out by doing this intentionally, but we had a little bowl of gift cards in our home from birthdays and other holidays and occasions. I had an unused $100 hotels.com gift card my mother in law gave me for Christmas, and once we knew we were going to Florida I decided to save it and use it towards our weekly stay, or on our way back since we were planning on driving. Once we had $75 in our bowl of gift cards to use towards food and coffee, we figured why not save them for our trip? We also had a couple of opportunities to take surveys, in which we were rewarded Amazon gift cards. Those were mainly through my husband’s job. We put those Amazon gift cards towards Starbucks, the T-Rex Cafe (which is at Disney Springs, but is a bit pricey for what it is) and Yard House (which is by the Orlando Eye). By the time our trip came we had the following gift cards saved:

$245 gift cards for food & coffee
$100 hotels.com gift card
$20 Target gift card (we ended up using for road trip snacks before we left)

Even if you are not planning on getting gift cards as gifts or saving them, I would recommend that you purchase gift cards leading up to your trip, so that way some of your expenses are spread out among different pay periods rather than the pay period you’re in when you’re on vacation.

Save change the old-fashioned way.
This wasn’t a huge hit for us since we normally don’t keep a ton of cash on us, but we were still able to save $33 worth of change. That’s just shy of 2 Mickey pretzels w/ cheese, 2 churros w/ dipping sauces, and two Mickey ice cream bars! haha

$33 worth of change

 

Weigh out the pros and cons of staying on and off property. If staying off property, research how much hotels typically run, and then look on Groupon.
To be honest, when I first started researching prices for rooms on Disney property, I was a little disappointed. I felt like the prices for the most basic rooms were outrageous. We also wanted to bring Maximus along with us and we were booking our trip before Disney had implemented a new pet policy (which is still a little pricey). So, we decided to go for off-property. That meant no dining plan, and that we would have to pay for parking each day we went to the parks, which was a total of 6 separate times. (We decided to go to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party one night on top of our 5-day passes). I still think that staying off property and eating outside of the parks (for the most part) saved us money. Once we officially decided we wanted to stay off property, we researched and came across a couple of hotels we loved, but were waiting on vacation time to get approved. It ended up working out perfectly. When we got the okay from work, the hotel we were going to book was on Groupon for $200 less than we would have paid through a standard booking site. Unfortunately, the king rooms were all booked, but we were still able to book a room below our price range which actually ended up being a room upgrade! We were able to get a family suite (full kitchen, living room area, two twin beds, pull out sofa, king bed, free continental breakfast) for the price of the king room we originally wanted on Groupon. Plus there was a promo code and we saved an additional $50. It was only $850 with taxes for our hotel room for 8 nights! We could have saved money on parking by taking the free shuttle the hotel had offered, but we wanted to come back in the middle of our days to relax and let Max out to use the bathroom. Unfortunately, our hotel only had a few shuttles in the morning and at night, so that wasn’t possible, but I would stay at our hotel again in a heartbeat! We stayed at the Residence Inn Lake Buena Vista. They are also a Walt Disney World Good Neighbor hotel! This hotel was only 10-15 minutes from the Disney parks, so getting there was a breeze. They even serve fresh Mickey waffles for breakfast every morning! 🙂

$250 savings

 

Consider using the Disney Chase Credit Card.
I will admit that I feel funny recommending you to go get a credit card, but this actually did help us. I would suggest getting a card only if you have the money to pay off the card right away. When we signed up for this card, the welcome offer was that if you spent $500 within the first three months of opening the card, they would give you a $200 statement credit back. We didn’t apply for the card until we had our vacation time approved from work, and had an idea where we were going to be staying. This allowed us to stay in the three-month window. Once we saw the $200 statement credit get applied to our account, we paid off the amount we used for the hotel right away. Easy as that! If you decide to stay on property, this card is interest-free for Disney vacation packages. Another cool thing about this card is that you can earn 1% and even 2% on purchases. That is a saving tip in of itself. I have heard people put bills on their card and pay it off right away just so they can rack up those reward dollars (I am not suggesting that). You can use these reward dollars in the parks, towards food or merchandise and can even redeem a card the day you get there so you can accrue dollars up until you leave. I loaded/redeemed my card at Disney Springs and used it at the World of Disney towards my Alex and Ani bracelet.

$200 statement credit
$33 reward dollars

 

Start using Ebates when purchasing online.
I will admit that sometimes it seems like you need to spend a decent amount of money online to see a benefit from using cash back services. But ultimately, I think that it’s a no-brainer. If you are going to purchase something online anyway, why not get a few dollars back every time you shop? It will eventually add up and you can get cash back or a gift card towards a store you like to shop at. We used Ebates to get cash back on booking our hotel through Groupon, and that alone got us $21 cash back. I also was able to accrue a few extra dollars by shopping for vacation clothes online. If you are new to Ebates, you can sign up for free and get a $10 bonus by clicking on my link here!

$32 cash back


Total saved: $1513

I hope you have found some of these tips helpful! How do you save for your Disney trips? I’m really wanting another Disney vacation in my near future, whether that be Disney World, Disneyland Paris, Aulani or a Disney cruise! haha 🙂

Let me know if you found this post to be helpful, or if you have any other tips for saving!

Have a great day! xoxo

Life Update

Hey there everyone!

This year has been an interesting one, and I have not been posting nearly as much as I thought I would be able to. Between having a full-time job, volunteering at church and trying to maintain a social life (and remain somewhat normal), blogging has sort of taken the back seat. My optimistic blogging schedule I set out to do may be getting a revision, but hopefully in the future I will be posting more regularly and consistently.

Not much has changed in our lives since my last post. We are going on vacation in a little over two weeks to none other than Disney World. 🙂 Some of you may know that last year we went to Orlando for a little over a week, but I couldn’t resist going back and spending more time at the parks. We had a blast going to Animal Kingdom last year so now we are doing 5 days this year. We had some amazing opportunities come our way that made a trip to Disney a no-brainer for us. I will explain all of that in a future post. 🙂

For those of you who are my TTC (trying to conceive) sisters, we are still in the same boat as we were earlier this year. We have not made any appointments to see any specialists or to run more tests, which is something I thought I wanted to do at the beginning of this year, but that sort of took a back seat to life and planning a vacation. I know that sounds strange, that planning a vacation has taken priority over TTC efforts. (And to some, a Disney vacation to a childless couple is sort of an oxymoron.) I noticed about a month ago that planning a vacation helped me stop stressing about expanding our family and allowed me to have fun and plan a getaway my husband and I haven’t been on since our honeymoon. That was 7 years ago this month. We have been on some vacations since then, but they have either been for weddings, or we have traveled with other people. Don’t get me wrong I have absolutely loved every trip we have taken, big or small, especially if it has been with my in-laws. We have a blast traveling with them because we have so much in common. BUT my husband and I haven’t been on a 7+ day vacation, out of the mid-west, by ourselves, for 7 years. I think it is long overdue. And yes we are bringing Maximus with us! 🙂

Although we wish we had a baby in our arms and a crib in that empty bedroom in our home, we aren’t going to stress ourselves out about it. (Remind me that I said that when I start stressing again, haha!) Life is short, and I like I have said before, I would rather enjoy the family I have now than always being stressed out about the family I wish I had. I would rather make memories with my husband, go on vacation, and have fun, than be thousands of dollars in debt, spending my weeks at the doctor’s office, hopped up on hormones and stressed about whether ‘this month’ it was going to work. Don’t get me wrong-we haven’t stopped trying, but we really are in the season of totally trusting and leaning on Him. I believe God has a plan for us, and this experience will not go in vain, but I’m going to have some fun in this season instead of focusing on what I don’t have. We may schedule a doctor visit at the beginning of next year after the holidays to get more answers and take it from there. We are continuing to pray about it every single day. One baby step at a time, no pun intended. 😉

I hope to post more before our trip in a couple of weeks, and I will definitely be posting more afterward! Be sure to follow me on Instagram for any updates until then!

Thanks for stopping by! Love you all! xoxo

New Favorite: Basin

I’m back today to tell you about one of my favorite new discoveries in beauty and personal care; the company Basin.
I discovered Basin when I went to Disney Springs on our vacation to Orlando in July. If you haven’t read about our vacation to Orlando, you can read about it here.

Basin sells luxury bath and beauty products such as bath bombs, handmade soaps, bath salts, body scrubs, among other products. Their products are paraben-free, alcohol-free, mineral oil free, and they are also a cruelty-free company.

Bath bombs are not a new concept to me, as I have previously been a frequent shopper at stores like Lush. What drew me to Basin was their beautiful displays of bath bombs and also their spa-like aesthetic in their store.

Disney Springs Basin

Basin Store at Disney Springs

I’m not here to bash Lush in any way, as they are a great company who stands for a lot of great things such as being a big part of the cruelty-free movement. I love love love their bath bombs and soaps, but as with most things, there are always cons.
I’ve been to many Lush stores in the past, and no matter where I am at the atmosphere is very cramped and overwhelming. Now I get it, everyone loves Lush so, of course, it is going to be extra crowded at all times. But when I’m standing behind a group of teenagers who are crowding around the bath bombs and I’m obviously trying to reach for something I know I want and can’t get to it and all I hear from an associate is “Do you want to see a bath bomb demo?” it can be frustrating. What I love about Basin is when I walked into their store it felt like I was walking into a spa. Everyone had their own shopping space (and personal space) and you were free to test things yourself, and there were plenty of associates around to help. The only con about Basin though is they only have two locations: Disney Springs in Orlando and Las Vegas, so you more than likely have to shop online.

Another ‘con’ about Lush is although I love their bath bombs and soaps, in my opinion, they can get pricey. Some bath bombs can run you upwards of almost $9. However, their bath bombs can be pretty massive for that price and I sometimes split them in half. Basin bath bombs can run you almost $5 for the largest size and my wallet loves that!

Also, another difference with Lush and Basin bath bombs is that Basin’s scents seem fresher but at the same time they have less fragrance if that makes sense at all. Whenever I have used a Lush bath bomb I have had the scent of the fragrance burned in my nose for the rest of the night. That is a personal preference of mine, and I do realize that some people love the super potent fragrance. Basin is just slightly less fragrant.

One of my favorite discoveries at Basin was their bath salts. I usually am not a huge bath salt person since I either opt for bath bombs or bubble baths, but it seemed like a no-brainer to try the salts at Basin. They have a station in the store where you can fill containers of clear tubes up with any scent bath salt you would like. If you wanted to even mix and match salts in your tube you can totally go for it. The best part: when I was in the store the girl who checked me out at the register knocked my container against the counter to pack down my salts more and told me I could go fill it up more. Um, yes, please!

Please don’t judge my sand-art looking bath salts. I wanted to try everything and it was our last day in Orlando. 🙂
Another thing that I loved about Basin are the bath bomb tubes you can buy. You can customize a tube of bath bombs with whatever fragrances you would like, you just need to pick a size of small, medium or large. They are $19.99 for a tube. One tube fits either seven smalls, five mediums, or four larges. If you aren’t sure what fragrances to choose, you can pick fan favorites online to test out the most popular. My favorite scent is called “lovely”.

If you are going to the Disney Springs store, you can pick out fun Mickey themed bath bombs that have Mickey-eared confetti that fly out and dissolve in your bath. They also have handmade Mickey themed soaps. These are great gifts to bring home to someone or to bring home with you while you are on vacation to make your vacation last another week or two. 🙂 The Mickey Mouse themed products are not for sale on the website, but I heard that you could call the store directly and they can ship directly to your house. Definitely worth calling and giving it a try if you can’t get to Orlando anytime soon!

These are two soaps that we purchased. The Mickey Mouse soap smelled like watermelon.

Last but certainly not least is that when you shop at Basin you can enroll in a rewards program for free. You have to download an app and then link a credit/debit card so it can automatically know when you purchase something. If you sign up now for their rewards program you get $5 just for signing up, which means you could practically get a bath bomb fo’ free! Do I really need to give you any other reasons to sign up? Once you are signed up you can get more offers sent to you, which is why we went back to Disney Springs after our first trip to stock up before we came home! Ryan did not care either. Usually, when we go into Lush or other beauty stores he is ready to leave as soon as possible mainly because the environment is uncomfortable. When we were in Basin he was over by the sink the entire time trying out their body scrubs on his hands. Their body scrubs are something I have been dying to try but haven’t yet. Everyone who uses them though swears by them so I am definitely eager to try.

Have you tried Lush or Basin before? What are some of your favorite products?

 

 

I did not receive any compensation for this post. I purchased these products and 100% of this post is my honest opinion.

Our Orlando Vacation

I can’t believe summer is almost over with! I cringe at the very thought of it. It has flown by so fast, and I’m so disappointed that I am just now posting about our vacation in July. I promise you’ll be hearing more from me in the upcoming weeks!
Now I’m sure almost every single person reading this post has probably been to Orlando at least once in their lifetime. I grew up going to Orlando practically every year because my grandparents and aunt live in New Smyrna Beach which is about an hour away from Orlando. We would stay with my family for a week and get to experience what it was like to be a local and then we would venture to the theme parks once or twice during our stay.
I was particularly excited to go to Florida this year because I hadn’t really been since 2008-2009 and it was not at a good time because my grandfather had just passed away. We went with Ryan’s parents this time and brought Max along with us. Aren’t you surprised?
We decided to make the hefty drive from Illinois to Florida rather tan fly, and we did it like champs. We took turns driving (excluding me) and we arrived late Friday evening. This was perfect because we practically had gained an extra day by leaving Thursday night.

We stayed in Orlando, which I was super excited about, because like I had stated before, I had always stayed about an hour out of the city so it was a new experience for me to be able to drive 5 minutes to a park and explore new areas of Orlando.

Day 1

We were able to sleep in the first morning and take a little adventure around our resort. There were plenty of things to do there and we didn’t even take full advantage of everything during our stay. It was beautiful to say the very least!

Orlando Resort1Orlando Resort 2Orlando Resort5Orlando ResortOrlando Resort 6Orlando Resort 3

We then decided to drive to Disney Springs (formerly known as Downtown Disney). We were only five minutes away from the Disney area so it was super convenient to come and go whenever we wanted. I had only been to Downtown Disney once or twice before and it has changed so much! I’m sure if I lived in Orlando I would visit Disney Springs all of the time! There is so much shopping and dining you could do there, it’s crazy! They also, of course, have a HUGE Disney store which is a must if you are there. The best part about Disney Springs? It’s free! It’s even free to park there in one of their easily accessible parking garages as well.

Disney Springs1Disney Springs2Disney Springs 5Disney Store Window Display Disney Store Window DisplayDisney Springs 4Disney Springs3

One of my favorite things about Disney Springs was the store Basin. My mother in law had told me about the store when they went for New Years this past year. They sell bath items such as bath bombs, bath salts, body scrubs, etc. Think Lush, but more spa-like and more sophisticated. I plan on writing a blog post dedicated to my trip there!

Disney Springs Basin

Another thing I loved about Disney Springs is all of the fun Disney related bakeries and such they have there. Ryan and I split this delicious apple pie flavored caramel apple from Goofy’s Candy Company.

Goofy's Candy Company

Day 2

Our second day we decided to go to the World of Chocolate Museum & Cafe. I am obsessed with chocolate, so this was definitely something I’m glad we did! We learned about the origins of cocoa and how it came about, and we also saw statues made out of chocolate. Talk about major drool-fest. It was fun to learn about cocoa and of course taste all of the different types from around the world.

World of Chocolate Museum & Cafe

After stuffing our faces at the museum and then having lunch at Loudmouth Burgers we decided to go to the pool back at our resort, which was perfect timing because for a whole five seconds we had the entire pool to ourselves.

Loudmouth BurgerOrlando Resort 4

After we went swimming we decided to go back to the Disney side of town and go to Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf Course. This is by far the best miniature golf course I have ever been to! There are two courses you can decide from.
We went at night closer to when the course closes and it was lit up beautifully and we could even watch the fireworks from one of the parks while we were playing. You could also see the Tower of Terror lit up over at Hollywood Studios. After we were finished we walked over to the Boardwalk which is just a short walk from the golf course, right next to the Swan and Dolphin hotel. This part of the Disney Resort is accessible even if you are not staying in one of their resorts, like us.

Fantasia GardensFantasia Gardens 2Fantasia Gardens Fantasia Gardens Swan Hotel Disney Boardwalk

Day 3

On the third day, we traveled to St. Augustine which was about two hours from Orlando. My in-laws have been there before and loved the small town charm and things to do there and told us it was a very dog-friendly place, which it was! We had planned a day out of our week to bring Max with us since we had been leaving him in our resort most of the time we were in Orlando. St. Augustine was beautiful! We went to the Lighthouse and gift shop, and you can have dogs there on the grounds except the actual lighthouse itself.

St. Augustine Lighthouse
After climbing a million stairs (ha) we went to one of St. Augustine’s dog-friendly beaches. This was Max’s first time at a beach and he didn’t seem too enthused about it. After the beach, we decided to walk around the older downtown area and have a late lunch/dinner. After dinner, we walked around for the rest of the evening until we stopped for ice cream. We went to a cute little shop right off the beach and walked down to a gorgeous secluded beach.
I plan on writing a separate blog post about all of our stops in St. Augustine in more detail in the next week.

St. Augustine St. Augustine

Day 4

We decided to go to Disney’s Animal Kingdom on Day 4 of our stay. It was a lot of fun, but it was one of the hottest days of the week. One of the things I really liked about our visit was the “fast passes” you could reserve on your phone. I’m not even sure that most people even knew about it, so listen up! If you are going to Disney you automatically get free (keyword free) reservations to 3 attractions with the purchase of your admission ticket. All you have to do is download the My Disney Experience app and you can make three selections. Then, after you use the three you are able to make reservations, one at a time until the park closes. This is an amazing deal, considering if you go to a theme park like Six Flags, for example, you have to pay a ridiculous amount (in my opinion) on a fast pass.
We enjoyed our time at Disney even though I felt like the KFC extra crispy Colonel by the time the day was done. The only thing that made me sad was that we had exerted so much energy that day because of the heat that we left early with the hopes of coming back for the night shows but it ended up raining and lighting so that we decided it wasn’t worth it to go back to the park for the shows. Especially if they could potentially get canceled. This summer was the first season for Animal Kingdom to be open until 11pm. The Tree of Life lights up and there is a Jungle Book show, as well as the River of Lights show that wasn’t quite open the time we went.

Animal KingdomAnimal KingdomAnimal KingdomAnimal Kingdom

Day 5
Much needed day of rest by the pool! In the evening we went to a newly built up part of Orlando by the Orlando Eye ferris wheel. We went to the Madame Tussauds wax museum and to the Sea Life Aquarium. These smaller attractions were definitely worth it and I’m sure they get overlooked by most tourists in the area. We then had dinner at Yard House, which I have always been dying to try. Best fish tacos ever! I have been craving them so bad since we have been home. My birthday is next week and all I have been telling my husband I’ve been wanting to do is go and get fish tacos at a Yard House.

Madame Tussauds OrlandoMadame Tussauds OrlandoSea Life Orlando AquariumYard House Fish Tacos

Day 6
We had strategically planned a day of rest between two park days because we also planned on going to Universal Studios during our stay. The company I work for does a lot of work for them, and I actually work on a lot of stationary and gift items that are in the gift shops. I was able to go into the shops and look at things I’ve worked on, and of course, I had to take pictures like a nerd. We had tickets to go to the Islands of Adventure as well, and so we hustled our way through the park that day. The park was insanely busy, but the majority of the people were in the Harry Potter portion of the parks, as well as the Skull Island: Reign of Kong ride that had opened the day before we went. We were able to ride a ton of rides and go over to the other park, but unfortunately, we didn’t have time to go on Reign of Kong, bummer! We haven’t seen any of the Harry Potter movies so we were a bit in the dark when it came to that part of the park and the Hogwarts Express train, but everyone else seemed to be enjoying it. And by everyone else I mean like a million bajillion people.

Universal Studios OrlandoUniversal Studios2016-07-14_155814416_7D242_iOSUniversal StudiosHarry Potter at UniversalJurassic WorldUniversal

Day 7
Our last full day in Orlando! We spent the day relaxing and of course going back to our favorite spot: Disney Springs. We went back to the Disney store to buy the Chip mug I had been eyeing the first time we went, and of course to go back to Basin to buy everything we hadn’t bought the first time. We treated our former 9-year-old selves and ate at T-Rex which I would suggest for any of you who have kids who are into dinosaurs.

T Rex CafeT Rex Cafe

Day 8
We weren’t able to visit one of the things we wanted to do in St. Augustine earlier that week, so on our way back home we decided to make a pit stop and visit the Fountain of Youth which is another dog-friendly attraction in the city.

The Fountain of Youth The Fountain of Youth

Day 9
Pit stop in Nashville for a little bit of sight-seeing and lunch! Tennessee has alway been a favorite of mine.

Grand Ol Opry

I had a blast in Orlando, and I’ve been to the city a dozen times. It definitely was different going as an adult but it still has the same charm that I remember as a kid.