Several years ago, my mom, sisters and I decided that we needed to start taking an annual “girls trip”. We’re all very close, but as we get older, life gets in the way of spending time together. It’s nice to have time to get away from everything else in the world, and just be together.
Originally we thought we’d alternate years: a longer, more expensive vacation one year, and a shorter, less expensive vacation the next. That way we could vacation together every year, yet keep the costs down overall, and not use up all of everyone’s vacation days together each year.
It started off well: Two years ago we had a fun, but somewhat haphazard trip to Disney World. But then 2015 rolled around, with one tragedy after the next. We jokingly referred to our trip to Louisiana for my sister’s fiance’s funeral as the “worst vacation ever”. But, my older sister wasn’t able to come, and all joking aside, there was nothing vacation about that trip.
We vowed to do better in 2016. But we couldn’t agree on where to go. Or whether this should be a big trip year, or small. My older sister couldn’t commit to going at all. Before we knew it, half the year had slipped away, and we were still no closer to having a plan.
When Bryan’s father passed away, I was reminded how quickly time passes, and that tomorrows are never promised. If we didn’t make a plan, we might never have the chance to vacation together again. And, even on our worst trips, those are some of the memories I cherish the most.
One sister threw out the idea of making it simple, and just going to Walt Disney World again this year. We’ve all been on multiple trips to Disney World, but only twice all together, and on one of those trips two other family members accompanied us. We always have a memorable time at Disney, so why not? At least it got the decision of where to go out of the way.
There’s no denying that a Walt Disney World Vacation isn’t cheap. Especially for four adult women. Making it worse, we insist on staying on property. In the Deluxe Villa Resorts. We eat at expensive restaurants. And drink alcoholic beverages. If we aren’t careful, costs can quickly get out of hand.
But, I do what I can to keep our costs down. I pay for the trip in cash, so I don’t have to go into debt. I’m realistic about what things are going to cost, and understanding that we’re not all in the same financial position. And from there? I let it go. It’s just money, and I’m spending it on what’s important to me.
One of the most important things to help minimize your costs when going to Walt Disney World, in my opinion, is understanding why you’re going. Contrary to most people’s assumptions, we don’t go to Disney for The Mouse. Or the Princesses. Or the countless rides. Don’t get me wrong, all those things are great, and do add something to the trip. But, if those are your priorities, you’re going to plan a very different trip than we are. If you’re focus is to spend as much time as possible at the parks, then you can spend less on accommodations. There are some inexpensive hotels on Disney property, which will save time and hassle with transportation, or you can stay off property for even more savings. If the attractions are your main focus, you can save a lot of money on food. It all depends on what type of vacation you are planning.
So, what is it about Walt Disney World that is worth the cost to us?
1) Accommodations: Every time I’ve been to Disney, I’ve stayed in a Deluxe Villa Resort. I feel snobby in saying so, but I wouldn’t do it any other way. Depending on the number in our group, we’ve stayed in 2 bedrooms, 1 bedroom, and studio rooms. 1 and 2 bedrooms have a full kitchen, whereas studios tend to just have a kitchenette, with a mini fridge, sink, and microwave. We’ve mainly stayed at Old Key West (OKW), but have also stayed at Saratoga Springs. If you’re planning to book a studio, and have more than 2 people, I would choose OKW over Saratoga; OKW studios have 2 Queen beds, whereas Saratoga have 1 Queen bed and a Double sleeper sofa. Call me old, but I prefer a real bed.
OKW and Saratoga are both older Disney World Resort properties. The buildings are more spread out, with more landscaping and winding roads. That means, even during the busier seasons, you don’t notice your neighbors as much. The rooms are bigger. You have a balcony or patio where you can relax and take in the scenery. They’re less expensive than the other Deluxe Villas, and it’s easier to book a room. Both OKW and Saratoga have at least 4 pools, so as long as you steer clear of the main pool, it tends to be quieter. On our last trip we hit the hot tub almost every night, and rarely saw another person.
And, because it’s Disney, the service is impeccable. You can call down to the front desk to request a wine key, or blender, and someone will be there in a flash, no questions asked. Not that we’ve ever done either of those things. The grounds are kept clean. Any issues are dealt with promptly, and the “cast” is always friendly.
2) Safety: We’re the type of people who like to relax and “let our hair down” on vacation. Not exactly wild and crazy, but we definitely have a good time. Drinking is definitely involved. Since Disney is made for families, safety is a priority. Yes, accidents do happen, and you should always be on your guard and take responsibility for yourself and your group. But it’s nice to know that Disney is keeping a close watch on things while we vacation. Disney does a great job of keeping security and cast members on hand, without making it too obvious that they’re there.
3) Transportation: If you’re staying on Disney property, there’s no reason to ever have to sit behind the wheel. The Magic Express will pick you up at the airport and shuttle you to your resort, free of charge. Buses will transport you to the parks, or Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney), or The Boardwalk, from early morning till into the night. You can even get from one resort to another by transferring buses, which is nice if you decide to dine at one of the excellent restaurants at the resorts.
We know that drinking will be involved, so it’s great knowing that we never have to plan for a DD while on vacation. We don’t have the added expense of taxis, although we do occasionally take one to the grocery or some other place off-property. There’s no concern over directions and getting lost, or the extra expense of gas, or finding parking. The buses drop you practically at the park entrance, which cuts out a huge amount of walking. We could even split up and go to different places at the same time. And, if we want to change up the transportation options, there are ferries and monorails between the resorts and parks.
4) Dining: One of my favorite things about vacation is trying a variety of food. A lot of people seems to think Disney has terrible food. And yes, there are a lot of kid-friendly restaurants, and “theme park style” places to eat. But there are also some great places to eat, both in the parks, and on the resort properties. You just have to know where to look!
Epcot tends to be one of our favorite places to go. Throughout the year, you can try food and beverages from around the world in the World Showcase. There are a variety of restaurants, with a variety of price ranges, from quick-service to sit down meals. In the Fall, Food and Wine Fest gives you even more opportunities to sample a variety of cuisines. Disney Springs has grown over the years to include a huge assortment of places to eat.
There are also a variety of dining places you can go for an “experience”. We tend to avoid the character meals, although eating with Cinderella can be great fun if you have a little one. The Luau at the Polynesian Resort is also a lot of fun as well, although the food isn’t all that fabulous. This trip, we’ve already made a reservation at Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom, mainly out of wanting to see the Castle based on Beauty and the Beast. And we’ll definitely be booking Afternoon Tea again at The Grand Floridian.
I’m really hoping to go back to Kona Cafe at the Polynesian Resort for breakfast this year. We’re scoping out Morimoto Asia and AristoCrepes in Disney Springs. Le Cellier Steakhouse and Tokyo are definite contenders for dinner in Epcot. If we stay long enough at the Magic Kingdom, we may consider eating at the Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen. And, if we go to Hollywood Studios, we’ll definitely hit the Hollywood Brown Derby.
5) Entertainment: Disney is definitely a great place to go for entertainment. There are rides. There are characters. Around every corner is something interesting to see, and beautiful landscaping. No detail is forgotten. And the people watching!
We’ve always gone to Disney during the Spring or Fall, when there is Live Entertainment at Epcot. We’ve seen some epic bands over the years, from the Pointer Sisters and The Grass Roots, to Hanson and Jo Dee Messina, at no extra charge. This year there won’t be any bands at Epcot during our stay, which should make it a different experience.
Those are just some of the reasons that going to Walt Disney World is worth it to us. Sure, many of those things we could get on other vacations. Honestly, we didn’t “grow up” traveling, so this is something relatively new for all of us. Disney makes it easy to book a trip, and almost ensure it won’t be a failure. I’ve booked more than a few hotels that ended up being nothing like they were advertised, or gone places I was sure I’d love, only for it to be nothing like what I thought. It’s nice to know that I’m not wasting my money when I book a trip. I’m sure as the years pass, we’ll branch out more and more. After all, anyplace starts to get boring if you go enough times. But for now?