How my Military family travels to Disney on a budget ~ By Debbie Qualls

July 19, 2014 ,


Guest Blog by Debbie Qualls

My first trip to the House of Mouse was in August 2000. I had to come to Kissimmee for a convention for work and I nor our teenagers had ever been to Disney before. My husband had as a child but not since then. I was 37 years old and was as excited as a kid on Christmas Day. We were there mostly for the convention but we wanted to go to magic kingdom so we got a one day ticket at the gate for myself, my husband George, our 13 year old daughter Amanda, our 16 year old son Josh and his 16 year old friend Jason that came with us.

I was hooked as soon as I saw the castle! I’d always loved everything Disney but had never been able to come to WDW. For the next few years we came for the convention every August and bought a one day ticket to magic kingdom for each of us that came on the trip. But it just wasn’t enough to get to come one day a year to one park. But with finances we just couldn’t swing more.

In 2005 our first granddaughter came along and in 2006 she came to magic kingdom for the first time. In 2008/2009 George was deployed to Afghanistan and when he got back we made our first trip to Orlando by ourselves. By the time we got ready to start planning our trip for 2010 we found out about the military salute tickets so we were very excited to finally get to go to all 4 parks! So we bought 3 military tickets and brought our granddaughter Lexie, who was then 5 and just the three of us came to Disney world. Now we have three grand babies and we’ve been able to bring two of the three and will be bringing the third one on our trip for 2015.

When we travel to Orlando we come for two weeks so we need to cut corners to save money. For us the most important part of our Disney trip is visiting with family and friends that live in the area and THE PARKS!

I hear people say you can’t do a Disney trip under $5000 or $10,000. Well I’m here to say that you can if you want to. (Unless you have to travel from another country then these tips will be hard to do) I will say that not everyone likes to travel the way I do and that’s fine. Every family has their own ways of doing things and their favorite places to stay or favorite places to eat. But this is what works for us. And if you’ve been hoping for that first trip and just aren’t sure you can do it, this may help.

First off we set our vacation dates. We do have to come while school is out and we normally come when my convention is so we can do two things at once but we did skip the convention this year and came in June instead of August. Then we look for a place to stay. I know for some of you this is a BIG no no but we stay off site (for now) and we save a lot. This trip we stayed for 16 nights in a nice suite and paid $600. We pay for our room about 2-3 months before our trip so that expense is paid for.

Then we buy our Disney park tickets. Now this savings won’t work for all of you since we are military but we get a 4 day park hopper ticket for $169 each. So about 2 months before our trip we buy those at our local military installation. So there’s another big expense out of the way. This trip we needed 4 and we can buy up to 6 once a year.

We live in Kentucky and we drive, mostly because I’m terrified to fly but it saves us a ton of money too. We can drive round trip plus our gas for the two weeks were in Orlando for under $500 (depending on gas prices at the time) we have a local gas station that gives you points for spending money there so our first fill up before we leave is usually free or very discounted so if you have a gas station close to you that does that there’s another way to save. You can also buy visa gift cards thru the year to use for gas along the way.

Now were packed and ready to go. We pack a cooler with lots of snacks and sandwich items so we can eat on the go and have some for the room. It takes us on average about 15 hours to drive it which includes gas and rest area stops.

By the time we get to Orlando our only expenses we need to worry about is any souvenirs and a few restaurant meals. The kids usually bring birthday money they’ve gotten since our last trip so we don’t have to spend much on anything they want to buy. We may give them $50 each to add to it. You can also buy Disney gift cards thru the year to use in the parks too. We let them buy something small at the parks then we do the rest of our shopping at the local discount gift shops. Then we pack snacks and drinks for the parks and only eat one meal a day at the park. The 4 of us spent maybe a total of $40 for each meal. So that was $40 times 4 parks plus a few snacks so we spent about $200 on food in the parks for 4 people for 4 days. For now were just not into doing character meals or nicer sit down meals. There’s nothing wrong with doing them, they just aren’t for my family of very picky eaters.

We visit with family in the area and make a trip over to cocoa beach and we love to go to the Florida mall for a food court meal and to just window shop. Another favorite of ours in Pointe Orlando on International Drive. We park in the parking garage and eat at Johnny Rockets then we walk down one side of I Drive and back up the other just to look around Being military we also get to take advantage of the free day at sea world so we take advantage of that too.

So we do a two week trip with 4 days of Disney parks, sea world, cocoa beach, the mall, I Drive, visit with family and friends, relax at the pool, and a few other things thru the vacation and can do this on a budget of under $3000.

My husband can retire from the army in about a year and we plan to purchase annual passes and at that time we do plan some stays on Disney property Were looking at buying an older used RV and staying at fort wilderness but that’s another blog in itself.

So, if you think a Disney trip just isn’t in your budget, sit down and see what’s the most important things at Disney to your family. If it’s just the time with family in the parks like it is with us, then make that the main expense, if you’re all about the food then save on other things and focus on the food. Then decide on how important staying on site is vs off and if staying off site is an option do your research on places close by. There’s LOTS of nice places that’s extremely affordable that’s within a few minutes drive. If you prefer to stay on site then weigh your options of camping, value, moderate or deluxe accommodations.

In the end its all about what’s important to your family. Were able to come for two weeks every summer by traveling the way we do.

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