This is a reprint of an article I wrote for Helium in August of 2007.
Since determining what you want to do so closely correlates with how much money you can spend, we start each trip by planning a budget. You could also reverse-engineer the trip and start with a list of what you want to do while on vacation. Add up all the costs and determine the figure from there. We enjoy the challenge of squeezing as much fun out of every dollar so we typically aim for a total budget of $2000 and accomplish everything we want within that budget.
For a family of six (Papa, Momma and four daughters), we find it is an enjoyable challenge to stay within the $2000 limit. We include room & board, food, memorabilia, and travel expenses. Now that we've completed our fifth trip to Disneyland, we have a great handle on how to achieve our vacation goals.
On our last road trip (we prefer to drive from Phoenix to Anaheim), we started to joke about how much research we've done on creating the perfect Disney trip. So much research that we wondered if an eBook on the subject would help us fund our next trip. Fundraising is one of our subcategories when it comes to budgeting and every little fundraiser helps make the trip that much more enjoyable. More on that later.
So let's get into the subject of budgeting for the trip.
The basic necessities of a Disney trip fall into the following main categories:
2. Food (after arriving at your destination)
3. Travel (gas, tolls, food on the road, etc)
4. Entertainment (shows, events, etc)
5. Memorabilia (stuff you keep)
6. Park Tickets
7. Miscellaneous (rainjackets for river ride etc)
I'll start with lodging. We are big fans of timeshares. We own a week in Sedona and bank it every year to use in Anaheim. "Banking" simply means we tell our timeshare (Sunterra) that we do not want to use our timeshare in Sedona for the current year. In turn, they allow others to use our week and we, in turn, can use a week that belongs to someone else at another location. We subscribe to RCI International which is a company that handles the vacation exchanges of timeshares worldwide. We typically bank our week in Sedona and call RCI as early in the year as possible to book our vacation request. We ask for a timeshare closest to the Disneyland Park for a week that we specify. We like October for both temperature and Halloween.
Our timeshare, before we paid it off, cost us $79 per month for five years. We pay about $350 a year in maintenance fees. The property is owned by us and deedable to our children upon our death.
At that point, our girls can continue using the timeshare week indefinitely while only being responsible for the annual maintenance fee. We are so happy with the timeshare concept that we are currently looking for a second timeshare. This time around we're looking into Marriott rather than a second Sunterra property. More on that as it develops. Oh, and we pay $150 to RCI to make the vacation exchange. So once they call us and say they have a resort we like, we pay $150 to complete the deal. I'll blog about the different places we've stayed and let you know which ones we recommend and which ones we will avoid like the plague.
Lodging being taken care of, we have to estimate the cost of getting to the lodging. We use MapQuest or Google Maps to determine the route. We've also used the Google SMS text feature to get directions on one trip when we lost our printout. That tells us the mileage and hours of travel. From those figures, we can calculate gasoline usage and the amount of stops for food and restroom breaks. Typically for us, the trip is around six hours and about 320 miles. In our Oldsmobile Silhouette, that is roughly one full tank of gas (one way) and three meal breaks with an extra bathroom stop here and there.
We typically get our gas from a frugal location (CostCo, Diamond Shamrock, etc) or for larger trips we use 80/20 cards (link). 80/20 cards are offers whereby you purchase a certain amount of gift cards and get reimbursed 20%. DealPass will sell a $100 gas card and refund you $20 at the beginning of the month following your purchase. We've packed food onboard for earlier trips to save money but we find that getting out and stretching at a local restaurant (and walking around a bit) does a lot more good than eating in the car and staying cooped up. Taco Bell and A&W are regular stops for us on our trip across the I-10. This also helps curb the tendency for the girls to leave their trash in the van for future parental cleanings :-)
We've settled on a mixture of road-ready snacks (beef jerky, chips, water, Gatorade, etc) to pacify us between stops. With all luggage strapped to the top of the van, an iced down cooler fits easily behind the back seat. Fruit also helps with sugar cravings and gives the mandible a good workout (apples etc). A good pre-trip grocery run costs us around $50 at our local Wal-Mart Neighborhood Marketplace.
We always get Hopper passes to double our fun. Hopper passes allow us to visit both the Disneyland.
Park and California Adventure. Usually we buy them from AAA at their discounted rate but we always watch out for better deals. This past year we found a link on one of our favorite deal sites FatWallet that discussed discounted tickets during the Gay Days celebration. Using a link provided, we scored hugely discounted Hopper passes that were valid for almost two months. Gay Days, turns out, happens every year during the same week. So we'll be watching out for those again but be warned, they sell out fast. If you have any unused tickets at the end of your trip, make sure you sell them either on eBay, CraigsList, or Amazon.
This section refers to all food consumed once we arrive at the destination. Our annual trip wouldn't be complete without a dinner (booked in advance because they only seat people with reservations) at the Blue Bayou. Enjoying a delicious Monte Cristo sandwich while watching and listening to the sounds of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride are so relaxing. A truly unique experience.
We've used coupons from Restaurant.com to enjoy local food outside the park at a 60% discount. Plug in zip code 92801 for Anaheim listings. Target's $1.50 hotdogs usually come into play at least one day while we gather miscellaneous items for the park (batteries, film, rain jackets, etc). Our AAA affiliation usually nets us some deals at the ESPN Zone in Downtown Disney. I can't say enough about how terrific that place is for the whole family. Continental breakfasts are usually provided at hour resorts / hotels. Fruit and protein bars are easily stowed on our pack mule (double stroller). With breakfast eaten at the resort and dinner outside the park once we're out, that usually only leaves lunch in the park. A few days we'll eat Disney food but usually stick to our snacks we bring.