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

Dog-Friendly St. Augustine

As promised, I am back today to tell you about our day in St. Augustine. It is a super dog-friendly town, and if you are ever in Florida you should definitely make a stop.

We stayed in Orlando for a week with Max and decided to take a trip to St. Augustine for a day. You can read more about our stay in Orlando here.

Our first stop was going to the lighthouse. The actual lighthouse isn’t pet-friendly but the grounds and gift shop I believe are. There is a little walking path with shade and benches where your dog can hang out while people in your party can go up to the lighthouse if they’d like. We went on vacation with Ryan’s parents, so while we went up they watched Max and vice versa.
Inside lighthouse

So many stairs!

St. Augustine Lighthouse

View at the top of lighthouse

Such a pretty view at the top of the lighthouse! My hubby is holding my clutch while I take this photo 🙂

After we spent some time at the lighthouse we went to the St. Augustine Beach by the St. Johns County Ocean Pier. All of the beaches in St. Augustine are dog-friendly except for the Anastasia State Park I believe. We enjoyed our time at the beach, but I can’t say that Max necessarily did. It was his first time at the beach so it was a bit for him to take in. He was afraid of the waves rolling in, so he decided to hang out in the shade under an umbrella on his beach towel. I had known that he would need something to keep him occupied in case this happened, so I brought a toy for him to play with.

Max at beach with hippo His face says it all haha 🙂

Max at Beach

Me trying to lure Max into the water

After we spent some time in the sun, we decided to walk around the older downtown area and take a look around. We made a pit stop at a shop called Faux Paws where they sell gourmet treats and other items for pets. We bought a bag of apple pie treats and a container of ice cream for Max. I assume it was the owner who was working at the time we decided to stop in, and he offered a baked treat in every available flavor for Max to try. I guess that makes up for him not liking the beach so much.

wanderlust

Such a cute and unique town. I loved the different colored buildings.Downtown St. Augustind

I wish we would have stopped at this cute little popsicle shop. Next time for sure.

After we walked around for a bit we stopped at O.C. White’s Seafood & Spirits and sat on the patio since it was dog-friendly. It was great to sit on the patio since the restaurant sort of has a road on each side and you can even see the ocean from your seat. Our food was good, but I was a little bummed that our waitress didn’t offer Max any water. I don’t necessarily except every dog-friendly patio to offer a dog menu, but we were in Florida, it was summer and boy was it hot. And it was just water. We used an extra bowl that you usually get with your appetizer or meal and put some of our bottled water we already had into a bowl for him to cool down.

O.C. White's O.C. White's

I ordered yummy coconut shrimp and sweet potato fries.

After our late lunch, we walked around some more and ended up walking around Castillo de San Marcos which is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States. By the time we were done eating and walking around the fort was closed but we could still walk the perimeter. This is also a dog-friendly attraction in St. Augustine.

We saw so many turtles by the docks.

Castillo de San Marcos

Castillo de San Marcos

Our day soon came to an end when we tried to go to the Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth but realized that we had an hour until they closed. Luckily the tickets that we bought were good for any time so we decided to make a trip back to St. Augustine on our way back home since it was in that general direction.

We stopped for ice cream on our way back to Orlando at a shop called Cone Heads and then noticed there was a beach access not too far from the shop so we went and had one last look at the beach as the evening rolled in. It was calm and quiet and we were so glad that we stopped.

St. Augustine2016-07-11_234020337_7C039_iOS

At the end of our stay that week we set out to make one last stop in Florida at the Fountain of Youth. Right outside of Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth is a street called Magnolia Ave. It was one of the prettiest things I have ever seen. My iPhone photo does not do it justice by any means.

Magnolia Ave

The Fountain of Youth is also another dog-friendly attraction in St. Augustine. Dogs are allowed pretty much everywhere on the grounds. If your dogs are likely to chase or bark at peacocks maybe think twice about it. There are a few dozen peacocks roaming the grounds. They were even up in the trees which I have never seen before. Another thing to note, like most dogs, Max got a little startled when they shot off cannons (they have specific times when they do this) but we tried to make sure that we were far enough away from where they were. Just a little FYI before you plan your visit here with your dog.

Right at the beginning of our stay. We bought water and brought in one for Max. Definitely a necessity.

One of the many beautiful peacocks on the grounds.

There is an actual spring you can drink from inside.

Hanging out with Ponce de Leon himself.

I thought this Fountain of Pooch was a super cute touch, however, there was no flowing water when we arrived and yes, whatever was in there was brown. Good thing we bought waters while we were there, and I brought Max’s collapsible water bottle with us.

I am not sure how true this story is, but it touched my little dog-loving heart. Please excuse the chipped nail polish. It was at the end of our vacation 🙂

That’s a wrap! I would definitely recommend going to St. Augustine if you are ever in the area. Especially if you have a dog. As I mentioned earlier, everything that we did for the most part was dog-friendly with the assumption that you clean up after your dog and they are leashed. I would suggest that you always carry around water for you and your pooch, although most shops and restaurants have water bowls outside if it’s an emergency.

As I mentioned before, I would also suggest that if you do go to Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth that you are aware of the peacocks there and that they shoot off cannons frequently.

Have you been to St. Augustine with your dog before? Did you do anything that you would recommend to other dog owners? I am very curious because I would love to go back!

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.