How to Book an Affordable Vacation as a Single Father

January 24th, 2015

When you want to take the kids on vacation you have tons of things to plan for – including how to find the best prices. Unfortunately there are a few things you’ll need to look out for to ensure you’re not paying more than you have to.

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Watch out for double occupancy fees

Depending on where you’re staying or what type of trip you’re taking, you may run into double occupancy fees. Essentially these offer accommodations, food, etc. at a set rate, but the price per person requires at least two guests to take advantage of the deals. This shouldn’t be a problem for you – after all, you’re taking the kids along, right? Not always

You’ll need to check and see if the kids are included in this deal. Their price may be lower than normal, but some places require at least 2 people over a certain age. For example, a cruise may require at least two paying passengers over the age of 12. On some excursions, the age may be as young as 8. What does that mean for you? It means that even if you take four kids along with you, the company may require you to pay for an additional adult that’s not even traveling for you. The simple solution is to read the fine print and know what you’re getting into before you begin.

Make your accommodations a part of your destination

No matter where you go or what your plans are, it’s likely that your accommodations will take up a large portion of your budget. A great way to make the most of this money is to book your trip to a resort hotel or incredible vacation home. There are really affordable examples of both in Orlando and they provide a great way to enjoy all the attractions that Orlando has to offer, while also enjoying a day or two to relax in your vacation home or explore your resort.

Don’t miss out on obvious discounts

What do we mean by obvious discounts? Well, there are lots of discounts that people simply don’t know to ask for. For example, did you know that you can get discount theme park tickets simply by buying from a third party? These work the same way that tickets work if you buy them at the parks, but you’ll have the added bonus of having bought them in advance – plus you’ll save a pretty penny!

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Visit lesser known attractions

You’ll want to check out the places everyone raves about, but don’t forget that there are often great places to visit that are off the beaten path – and are much less expensive than the more popular tourist destinations.

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5 Unique Ideas for Saving Money on Orlando Travel

January 23rd, 2015

It’s common for travelers to Orlando to assume that any trip to Orlando involves spending a ton of money but the truth is that you can do it more affordably than you may think. Check out this article from the Family Travel Network on 10 Money-Saving Secrets for Orlando Family Vacations, or review our favorite 5 tips below.

1.         Timing is everything

Any veteran of getting great deals in Orlando will tell you that the holy grail of savings is picking the right time to visit. If at all possible, travel during the off-season for the best deals. This essentially translates to any time that most schools are in session.

2.         Keep your accommodations affordable

Keeping the cost of your accommodations down doesn’t mean staying in a flea bag motel. In fact, you’ll find tons of resorts and vacation homes for prices much lower than you’re likely imagining. The key is to not fall into the trap of assuming the best option is to stay on Disney property. You’ll pay at least twice as much for minimal benefits and convenience.

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3.         Don’t waste money on food

Do you need to eat? Sure you do! Do you want to enjoy a few delicious, unique meals in the Disney or Universal parks? Probably. But that doesn’t mean you have to eat every meal in the parks. Instead, focus on making breakfast in your hotel room or vacation home. You can also bring lunch into the parks for added savings.

4.         Save money on your park tickets

It’s true that the prices for the tickets themselves can be high, but you can always find discounted Orlando theme park tickets to keep your costs down. You can also skip added costs like park hoppers for even more savings.

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5.         Pack wisely!

One of the best ways to save money is to simply be wise about packing. It’s likely no surprise to you that some of the items most often left behind end up being the most expensive items to purchase when you’re in Orlando. Don’t forget your sunscreen, medications, sunglasses, and other must-haves. Check out an online packing list to ensure you’re not forgetting the essentials.

3 Ways to Make Your Anniversary Special in Orlando

January 22nd, 2015

orlandovacation_mystic-dunes-coupleIs there any better place in the world to celebrate your anniversary than Orlando? We don’t think so! No matter what kinds of exciting things you have planned, you’ll want to take the extra step to make it a little extra special. Here are three ways you can do just that.

1.         Upgrade your accommodations

If you’ve visited the Orlando area before and been the type of couple to focus on attractions rather than accommodations, your anniversary trip is the perfect opportunity to switch it up. Rent an incredible vacation home for much less than you might think, or try a resort that has tons of amenities and things to do. Sure, you’ll spend plenty of time out and about in the Orlando area, but why not take a night or two to relax at “home”, too?

When you rent a vacation home you can even prepare private, delicious meals. Each vacation home is equipped with a full kitchen plus the basics you’ll need for cooking. Whip up your beloved’s favorite meal, grab a couple of candles to make your dinner even more romantic, and then top it off with a dip in your private pool or a soak in your own Jacuzzi.

orlandovacation_couple-balloon-ride2.         Try something you’ve never tried before

Many couples who come to Orlando to celebrate are those who’ve been here many times before. If you’re in that camp, consider trying to mix it up a bit. Sure, you have your favorites, but it can be easy to get stuck in a rut. If your touring plans are so specific that you visit the same attractions and shows at every park every time, consider giving an overlooked attraction another shot, or try something you’ve never tried before.

If you always focus on Disney World, why not spend a day at Universal? If you’ve visited both of them many times, why not head out to Gatorland or Wet ‘n’ Wild? There’s plenty of time for you to visit your favorite spots but it’s great to create some brand new memories while you’re on your anniversary trip.

3.         Plan a unique romantic experience

You likely know all about the romantic options within the theme parks themselves, but there are tons of options outside the parks, too. For example, did you know that you don’t have to travel any further than Downtown Disney to take off on a hot air balloon ride? It’s true! It is recommended that you book this reservation in advance, but once you’ve got it set up you’ll be able to view Orlando like you’ve never seen before! Just be sure to have a backup plan because these rides only go up if the weather is cooperating.

The Best Wedding Dates in Walt Disney World

January 21st, 2015

Is there are a more magical place to get married in the entire world than Disney World? We think not! Yet as you begin to plan your big day you’ll soon see that even though Disney can take care of many of the details, there’s still a lot to consider! The first, and possibly most important, decision you’ll make will be the date. If you have plenty of flexibility then consider these possible options, each with their own unique advantages.

Plan during low crowds

If you’re looking to ensure your traveling guests can get the best deals on resort rooms or vacation homes then you’ll likely want to plan the wedding when crowds are lower. As an added bonus you’ll find low lines for your favorite rides! Generally speaking the lowest crowds are the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, January, February, September and October.

Note that there are busy periods within these low crowd periods. For example, the first week in January is one of the busiest all year while the following week will bring low crowds. Essentially you’ll be looking to avoid any week or weekend that has a break from school. Also note that these low crowd times can have either chilly or very hot weather so take that into consideration.

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Consider the advantages of summer

There are huge pros and cons to planning a wedding at Disney during the summer months. You should take them all into consideration as you decide what’s best for you.

  • Pros: If your wedding guests include families, they’ll have a much easier time traveling during the summer months when school is out, the hours at the parks will be significantly extended versus slower months, and you’ll be much more likely to enjoy plenty of sunshine on your big day.
  • Cons: The crowds can feel unmanageable, it’s a much more popular time to get married so you may have a more difficult time finding available vendors, prices can be significantly higher for virtually everything, and the heat and humidity can be extreme.

Take advantage of special holiday magic

If you’ve never been to Disney World during the winter holiday season then you’ll be delighted to see the many special touches all over the parks. A winter wedding paradise awaits you as you experience the Osborne Family Lights in Hollywood Studios, complete with fake snow, Cinderella Castle draped in incredible icicle lights, and much more. These special touches can help to make your wedding that much more special. Just be aware that visiting the parks on Christmas and New Year’s weeks can be quite difficult – these are the busiest weeks of the entire year. However, the holiday decorations come up right after Thanksgiving and stick around through the first week or two of January.

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Top 3 Reasons Vacation Home Rentals Are Great for Small Families

January 20th, 2015

When you think about Orlando vacation home rentals you may think they’re uniquely suited for larger families. While they are a great choice for big families, they’re also an ideal choice for smaller ones. Even if it’s just you, your spouse, and your child, you’ll find many great benefits to these vacation rental homes. Let’s take a look at the top three reasons you should consider them.

1.         Everyone gets their own space

The most obvious reason to rent an Orlando vacation home is the fact that everyone has access to their own bedroom. These homes are available with 3 – 7 bedrooms. While it’s great for the parents to have a space to themselves while the kiddos are sleeping, you could also use one bedroom as an office space, a separate play area, or anything else you can imagine. Having this extra space is easily preferable to the entire family cramming into a single hotel room where you have no choice to but to stay silent once the kids are sleeping.

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2.         You can save money in some unexpected ways

If you’ve taken a look at the costs of renting a vacation home then you’ve already noticed that it’s more affordable than many people think. While it’s great to save money right out of the gate, there are actually a number of potentially surprising ways that you can save extra money.

One great example is luggage fees. With access to your own washer and dryer in your rental home, you can bring much less luggage – which can save you hundreds versus bringing several extra suitcases. With a full kitchen in your unit you can also make some or all of your meals. Once again, this can save you hundreds by just skipping one meal every day.

3.         Time = Money

This simple formula has been proven time and time again – and you can easily prove it on your vacation. The reality is that having a private vacation home gives you an incredible amount of flexibility. Do you want to hit the parks first thing in the morning and head back for a mid-day break? You won’t have to worry about noise from fellow guests if you do this.

Do you want to swim in your own private pool at your convenience? Not a problem! Say goodbye to waiting in line to get seated for lunch at an overpriced restaurant – just make your own and take it to the parks. Find a quiet bench, sit down, take a break, and be comforted by the money you’re saving on your magical vacation.

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Traveling With an Autistic Child in Disney World: Quiet Places

January 19th, 2015

orlandovacation_adventure-americaOne of the biggest challenges when traveling with an autistic child to Disney World is finding quiet places to take a break and decompress. While the best advice is to travel during lower crowd times, regardless of the time of year you’re visiting you can find quiet areas to get away. Let’s take a look at the top spots in each of the four Disney World parks.

Epcot

Generally speaking, you’ll find plenty of quiet places to relax and recharge in Epcot’s World Showcase. This is especially true when the area first opens because it won’t be crowded. One great spot not to miss is the fountain in front of the American Adventure. You can head inside to the American Heritage Gallery to take a break from the heat. This pavilion is about halfway through the World Showcase so it’s a great place to take a break as you make your way through all the countries.

Magic Kingdom

One of the absolute best places to decompress in all of the Disney parks is Tom Sawyer Island in the Magic Kingdom. Note that you’ll have to take a short ferry ride over to this area, so it’s best for planned breaks and not last-minute meltdown prevention, but there are plenty of quiet, cozy alcoves on this island.

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Animal Kingdom

Sometimes it feels like Disney’s Animal Kingdom was built specifically for those who need a quiet respite from the crowds. There are animal trails throughout the park, all of which are meandering, shaded, and have plenty of benches. These areas do get foot traffic but the crowds are generally very calm and low, which make them a great place to sit down and take a breather for those who have special needs.

orlandovacation_streets_of_americaHollywood Studios

The Streets of America are an area of Hollywood Studios set to look like streets from around the world. Though they lead to a loud stunt show, there are no other rides in the area. As a result, you’ll find these streets virtually deserted on even the busiest days. There are numerous stoops to take a seat on and there’s plenty of non-overwhelming scenery to take in.

A note about all the parks

These quiet spots are a great choice for meltdowns, but there are also relatively quiet and relaxing attractions throughout the parks. For example, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover is a slow moving quiet ride that is a great break from the crowds. Your family will get its own car to meander through Tomorrowland in, and much of the ride takes place in the comforting dark. Look for rides like these in each park as a way to decompress throughout the day.

Feeding Your Teenagers: The Best Disney World Restaurants for Big Appetites

January 18th, 2015

One of the largest costs of your trip to Disney World is the food. It can be an even bigger issue when you’re trying to feed your teen kids who have seemingly endless appetites. Let’s take a look at some of the best places for you to chow down to make sure that you’re not getting your wallet out for a snack 20 minutes after dinner.

Find the buffets

There are numerous buffets in Disney World and they’re a great choice to let your teen load up on carbs and protein before a long day in the parks – or after a long day in the parks. Note that these buffets can seem pricey, but when you consider that your teen really can eat as much as they want, and that there’s something at these buffets for everyone, you’ll see that it can be a great value after all.

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Crystal Palace is a popular buffet in Magic Kingdom. There you can have breakfast, lunch, or dinner served up and even meet the characters from Winnie the Pooh. Animal Kingdom’s Tusker House is another popular buffet where you can meet Mickey, Minnie and friends all dressed for a safari while you sample some interesting African dishes. Don’t worry though – there’s plenty of kid-friendly food on the menu including chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, and more.

Head out for all-you-can-eat delights

Similar to buffets, there are numerous all-you-can eat dining options. O’hana, located at the Poly Resort near the Magic Kingdom, offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner in all-you-can-eat family style portions. Garden Grill in Epcot is another great choice, though you can only stop by that popular spot for dinner. Both choices provide plenty of options for both adventurous and picky eaters, and both allow your teens to get their fill.

Find the best value at counter service meals

Of course you don’t always want to take the time to sit down for a table service meal. In that case, check out some great values at counter service restaurants. If you’re in Animal Kingdom head straight for Flame Tree BBQ where you can get a combo that includes half a slab of ribs, half a chicken, beans, coleslaw, bread, and a drink for just over $11. If you’re in Epcot, check out Tangerine Café where an enormous platter with hummus, meats, and all sorts of goodies will set you back just over $10.

At Magic Kingdom Cosmic Ray’s is a great choice. There you can get the same deal described above that you’ll find at Flame Tree BBQ. There’s also Peco’s Bills, where you can get a hamburger and then take advantage of the free toppings bar to add plenty of good eats.

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Group Travel: When to Split Up and When to Stick Together

January 17th, 2015

As you plan your group trip, remember that it’s unlikely you’ll be able to stick together the entire time you’re in Disney World. Some travelers will want to take advantage of all the thrill rides while others will want to spend their time on more subdued rides. The key is to find the right balance where your group does get to spend time together, yet everyone gets to do what they’re most excited about. Let’s take a look at some ways you can accomplish this difficult balancing act.

Meet up first thing in the morning

If you’re renting a block of rooms at a resort hotel, or you’re renting several Orlando vacation homes, then you should make a point to meet up every morning to go over the itinerary for the day. This may be at a breakfast spot, it may be in a parking lot – what’s important is that everyone gets together to form a game plan for the day.

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Pick a point person in each group

Once you decide which group is going where, pick one person in each group to be the point person. This means that if you, as the organizer, needs to get ahold of everyone, you’ll simply reach out to the point person in each group and they can then relay the messages to the rest of the group. This makes it easy for you and everyone else to know exactly who to contact if the need arises.

Look for attractions that can hold large groups

There are many attractions at the various parks that simply can’t hold a large group of people. For example, Dinosaur only seats 12 people per car. However, there are some attractions that may be able to accommodate your entire group. Carousel of Progress can hold more than a hundred in each theater and rarely has a wait. You may be able to get numerous safari vehicles in a row to have your group travel near each other. Look for options like this and consider trying these attractions as a group.

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Be flexible!

One of the biggest challenges of planning group travel is finding the right balance between having the right plan and being flexible. When you put hours into planning every aspect of your trip it’s understandable that you’ll want it to all work out exactly the way you’ve envisioned it. However, the reality is once you’re surrounded by the magic you may find your group has other ideas. Try to be flexible as much as your plan allows and remember why you’re there – to have an incredible time!

3 Disney World Changes Grandparents need to be Aware Of

January 16th, 2015

If you took your own kids to Disney World 20 years ago, you may think you know all you need to know to take the grandkids, but the truth is there have been incredible changes in the parks and in the ways you tour them. Use these three tips to go out armed with all the info you need to make it a magical trip.

1.         There are more parks than you remember!

If your last trip to Disney World was 20 years ago, then you may not even know that Disney’s Animal Kingdom exists. This park covers 500 acres and is themed entirely around animal conservation. There you can go on a safari, ride thrill rides, and learn how the animal keepers ensure the health and safety of their animals.

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You may also remember a park called MGM Studios and note that it’s no longer at Disney World. Well, you’re half right! MGM is no longer in name only – it’s now Disney’s Hollywood Studios. You’ll notice a ton of changes in this park, including the fact that it’s no longer a working movie production facility. Luckily there are still many rides and attractions for those both young and old. Keep an eye on this park in the years to come as incredible changes are on the way – including a rumored Star Wars Land.

2.         FastPass+ can save you from lines

There are now more ways than ever to avoid spending a good portion of your day in lines. It used to be that your only option was to show up as soon as the park opened and ride as many headliners as possible before the parks started filling up and lines started getting well into the 60+ minutes per ride range.

These days you can take advantage of FastPass+, which essentially allows you to make reservations for three rides per day. The rules can get a little complicated but if you use this option wisely you can skip the lines on the most popular attractions and character meet and greets.

3.         Your accommodation options have greatly expanded

20 years ago you likely stayed either on property at an expensive Disney resort or at one of the generic, but much more affordable, hotels nearby. These days you have tons of options – many of them surprisingly affordable. Orlando vacation homes start at just $99 a night and give everyone their own private space. There are also numerous resort hotels within 15 minutes of the Disney World parks, each with their own fabulous theming – but at a fraction of the price you’d pay to stay on Disney property.

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Bringing Your Own Food to SeaWorld Orlando: A Guide for Special Needs

January 16th, 2015

All of the Orlando theme parks do their best to accommodate dietary restrictions but those with severe allergies or unique needs can’t always be accommodated. While the Disney World and Universal theme parks allow guests to bring in food and non-alcoholic drinks, SeaWorld Orlando has a much stricter policy that doesn’t allow for said outside food and drink. But what about those who have a medical need to bring their own eats? We set out to get the answers.

orlandovacation_seaworld-outside-foodThere are exceptions to the rule

If you have a medical reason for bringing your own food or drink, SeaWorld Orlando, and their sister park Busch Gardens, will allow you to bring in your own food. They require that coolers be soft-sided and no larger than 15” x 15”. Glass items are not allowed. Many guests have also said that food and drink in wheelchair bags is never questioned.

How to get your exception

It’s likely that if you show up to the parks with the food and drink you need and simply explain your situation at the gate, they’ll let you in. However, why risk the worry and deal with the hassle when you don’t have to? Instead, email Guest Information ahead of time. Simply explain your situation and get the clearance you need. Other guests have reported that Guest Information gives approval, specifies what can be brought in, and asks guests to bring a copy of the email to the gate to avoid any issues on the day of your visit.

Some items are always excluded

Note that just because some items are allowed that doesn’t mean you can bring absolutely anything you want. One common example is straws. These are potential choking hazards for the animals, and as a result SeaWorld doesn’t allow them in. Are there any exceptions for this exclusion? We don’t know for sure. If there is a reason that you must absolutely bring in a straw then you’ll want to email Guest Information with your specific straw situation. They may allow for the type of hard plastic straws that come with water bottles and wouldn’t pose the same choking hazard.

Preparation is the key

No matter what your special needs are, the best option is to email the park you hope to visit ahead of time to assure your needs can be met. Not only will give you the peace of mind to actually look forward to your trip instead of worrying about it, but it’ll clue you in to any special rules you may need to prepare for.