Walt Disney World Vacation: Our Budget Break Down

Ok, friends, it’s time to talk numbers about our upcoming Disney family vacation. If you missed my first post about planning a trip to Disney World, take a moment to read it, as it has some helpful tidbits!

walt disney world vacation budget
photo credit: Express Monorail via photopin cc

A Preface

Before I start talking dollars, there are a few key things I want you to keep in mind:

1. My budget may seem outrageously expensive to some of you. And that’s totally cool. I have no doubt that you can do Disney for far less than we are spending.

2. My budget may seem outrageously thrifty to others. That’s ok, too. I promise you can spend as much money as you want to at Disney, and they have MANY more expensive options that what we went with.

All this is to say that every budget is different, and it’s ok for my budget to look different than yours. It’s ok for you to plan the right trip for your family, whether that means sparing absolutely no expense, cutting fluff out of the budget as much as humanly possible, or somewhere in between. This post is not designed to suggest the RIGHT amount to spend on a Disney World vacation. 

3. My vacation is going to last a week. That’s a wee bit longer than the average family’s stay.

4. My family vacation is for 4 adults and 2 kids (though 1 of our kids is 2, and 2-year-olds are FREE!). Your vacation might be for 2 adults and 4 kids. Or 1 adult and 8 kids (bless you, if this is true!) or 2 adults and no kids. The budget is obviously going to change based on the number of people on the trip.

Ok, so are you ready for our initial Disney bill?

Drum roll, please….


What’s Included?

disney art of animation

photo credit: ohhector via photopin cc

  • 6 nights of hotel accommodations at the Disney Art of Animation Hotel

4 of those nights we will be in a themed family suite that is intended to house 6 people
2 of those nights we will be in 2 separate Little Mermaid rooms

  • Free dining plan for 4 days for 5 of the people on the trip. Since our 2 year old is free, she’s not included on the free dining offer. Everything I’ve read about the dining plan, though, seems to indicate that we’ll have no problem getting enough food to be able to share with her.
  • 6 days of park passes for 5 people (again…youngest child is free).
  • Magic Hours, which is a perk of staying on property. Each day 1 park opens 1 hour early for on property guests and 1 park closes 1 hour late. We will be taking full advantage of the early openings and getting in a few extra rides!

What Isn’t Included?

disney shopping

photo credit: tHis1tRik4U via photopin cc

  • Travel expenses to get to and from Disney World. The AAA fuel calculator thinks we’ll spend $82 on fuel. Obviously there’s no way to know what gas will cost in November, so we are going to budget $110 for fuel to be safe.
  • Two days of food in the park (I’ll explain why that is missing later). The days when we won’t have free dining are our last 2 days in the parks. We will have eaten LOTS of park food by that time, and should be able to get by on mostly food we can make in our rooms to take with (granola bars, pb&j sandwiches, water bottles, etc.). My budget for food to purchase for those days is $80 (which equals spending just under $7/person on food each day…this might not be practical, but we’ll aim for it!) . And I’m budgeting $60 for food while on the road.
  • Souvenirs. For the most part, we won’t be doing a lot of shopping in the parks. We’d rather spend our time doing the rides and seeing the shows. But obviously it is not realistic to imagine that you won’t buy anything. And Walt Disney World makes it SO DARN EASY to part ways with your money. I’m budgeting $150 for souvenirs, under the assumption that each girl will get to pick something out to bring back home, and that I’ll pick up something for each child to tuck away for Christmas.
  • New games/toys/apps for the drive down. I’ve got $20 budgeted for some new stuff to help the kids stay entertained on the 8 1/2 hour drive each way.
  • Disney-themed clothes for the girls. I’m budgeting $50 for a few cute Disney outfits for the trip. This is, obviously, completely unnecessary, but I’d be lying if I left it out of the budget.

Total for additional anticipated expenses: $470. I’m the type to just round that up to $500.

So the grand total for the trip: $3969.46. So our 6 night/7 day Disney vacation for 6 (just 5 that we have to pay for) is kissing $4,000. Not gonna lie, it’s a little unsettling to type all that out. That’s a lot of money in my world. Good thing we have been saving for so long! My in-laws, who are coming with us, are also covering 2/5 of the Disney bill, itself, which is pretty much like the world’s best gift to us. Having them on hand to help out with the kids and to just enjoy the experience is SO tremendous. I wish we could afford to pay their way, and I’m SO grateful that they agreed to come. But for those of you crunching numbers who aren’t bringing this many adults, that does knock a chunk off of our own family’s bill, just FYI.

Why Our Bill Might Seem Low(ish) to Some

We are going to Disney World in November, during a lower demand time. We tried to take advantage of a special fall promotion which offered free dining during our stay. Unfortunately, we booked kind of late, and we weren’t able to secure the rooms we wanted for the length of the stay that we wanted with the dining promotion. LEARN FROM OUR MISTAKE! Planning a Disney vacation 6 months out is NOT overkill. In fact, if you wait much longer, you might miss out on special promotions, altogether. In our case, we are missing out on 2 days of free dining and we are having to switch hotel rooms before the vacation is over. That sounds worse than it is, because our daughters are going to FLIP OUT when they realize that we are moving into Little Mermaid themed rooms (it’s going to be a surprise!). I decided to just let go of the missed promotional stuff and roll with it. I can eat school lunch type food for a few days and haul my suitcase into a different area of the hotel. No biggie.

Dining plans are offered at any time of year, but free dining offers are not super common, and usually happen during the periods when the crowds tend to be lower. We decided that we actually preferred to be at Disney World during a lower crowd time, even though it would mean pulling the girls out of school for a week and taking vacation at a seemingly random time. Our kids are young, so a week away isn’t going to ruin them. And we are TOTALLY pumped about NOT having to wait in lines that average 1 1/2 hours.

Why Our Bill Might Seem High(ish) to Some

As I mentioned earlier, we are staying at Disney World for an entire week. That’s a whole lot of Mickey! We are doing this for a few reasons:

1. Disney World is quite a hike from Chattanooga. We want to make the long drive really worth it.

2. We want to RELAX and HAVE FUN. Everyone has told us that trying to cram Disney isn’t 2 or 3 days is really tough and with little ones, especially, it is a recipe for lots of melt downs (from kids AND grownups). I know my kids…at some point, they are going to want to sit in the hotel room and watch Sponge Bob Square Pants for an hour or two. We don’t have cable, so this is a true indulgence for them. And I will need to be ready to take a note from Elsa and Let It Go. If we have a week there, I will be better able to handle a more relaxed schedule.

3. We are staying on property. There’s no doubt about it: you WILL save money if you stay off property. But you will also have a really hard time leaving the park for part of the day and coming back. Once again, we have little ones. The youngest still needs a nap. Heck, we all might need an afternoon nap after 5 hours of Disney fun and stimulation. Being able to get to our hotel very quickly and easily, and then back into the parks later is worth the extra money we are spending for that convenience. You may have a different situation and not need this set up.

4. Disney World is designed to encourage longer stays. Wanna know what the per day cost is for a WDW ticket if you go just 1 day? It’s $99. Your day 4 ticket costs just $20. Every day after that? Just $10. So you are going to pay a huge amount on tickets for your first 3 days in the park. After that? Park tickets are crazy cheap! We felt like it just made sense to stay for a few more days since the per day cost was substantially lower for the second half of the vacation.

disney monorail
photo credit: Express Monorail via photopin cc

Next Post: Flash Pass Strategies

Ok, so now the budget is worked out. Next on my list of things to do is to figure out this flash pass business. I’m allowed to start scheduling our flash passes in just a few weeks and I am SO lost! I welcome your tips for those of you who have been through this before. And if you have any questions about our particular budget, I welcome them. And it’s cool if you wouldn’t make the same choices we are making or have some alternative suggestions, but let’s keep it classy and not put each other down, ‘k? :-)


Beauty Tip: How to Keep Hair Dye Off Your Scalp

Thanks to Waxelene for sending along their product for a test drive. All thoughts and opinions are my own, as always.

Last week I tried a little hack I just learned about and took a few photos for you to check out.

waxelene 1

This is Waxelene, and it is a petroleum jelly alternative that is 100% natural. It supposedly has over 100 uses (not bad for a product that retails for $3.99!). The use that really got my attention, though, was that it could be used to create a barrier on your scalp when dyeing your hair to keep the dye from staining your skin.

I veered away from my beloved Madison Reed and tried this new product from L’oreal. The end color was pretty but the smell during the process was HORRIBLE. I regretted cheating on Madison Reed, for the record, and will be buying from them when it is time to dye my hair again.

Anyway, Here’s how I applied Waxelene along my scalp. It doesn’t need to be terribly thick, but thick enough that you won’t just blow right past it.

waxelene 2


And here’s a shot I took after I applied all the hair dye. I could very easily see where the Waxelene did its job, and I could see a few places where I didn’t apply the Waxelene well enough.

waxelene 3


I think this is a fantastic little beauty hack and I would call it a success. I’ll be keeping my Waxelene on hand for future dye jobs!

Do you have a favorite hair dye brand? I’d love to hear about it! 

How Can I Keep from Singing? Letting Go, #Blogust-Style

During Shot@Life’s Blogust 2014—a month-long blog relay—some of North America’s most beloved online writers, photo and video bloggers and Shot@Life Champions will come together and share stories about Happy and Healthy Firsts. Every time you comment on this post and other Blogust contributions, or share them via social media on this website, Shot@Life and the United Nations Foundation pages, Walgreens will donate one vaccine (up to 60,000).

 Blogust is one part an overall commitment of Walgreens donating up to $1 million through its “Get a Shot. Give a Shot.” campaign. The campaign will help provide millions of vaccines for children in need around the world. Sign up here for a daily email so you can quickly and easily comment and share every day during Blogust! For more information, visit shotatlife.org or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

Yesterday was the first day of kindergarten for my oldest, Darah. Embarking on the 13-year ride of going to school for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, 9 months a year is a pretty big first. And it’s one I’ve been thinking about (and yeah, some days totally daydreaming about) for a really long time.

#blogust throwback kindergarten photo

When I was pregnant with Darah, I imagined her first day of kindergarten being pretty much the same as mine, though perhaps in a classroom that wasn’t quite so 1985 in its aesthetic. Little Darah, in my mind, was just a mini-me, and knowing how to take care of me was something I had some advanced training in by the time I was 29. Besides, I’d read at least 6 different books on birth and the first few years of life, so I was totally in the know about how to do this whole parenting thing.

#Blogust pregnancy

Understanding the earth-shattering, bring-you-to-your-knees love of a mother? That was all a bit new to me. I do remember getting hints of it, though, before little Darah was born. It would come in waves and it would scare me to death, to be perfectly honest. It was a love and a fear and a joy and a sorrow all squished together in a space much too small to possibly contain it. And in those moments of utter shock and awe, all I could do was rock the two of us back and forth and sing us a song or two to help us get through it.

And then, of course, my child was born and my heart was unexpectedly shattered when I had to return to work after my maternity leave. I spent every single lunch hour during my first year back at work with her at her daycare (it was just a 6 minute walk away…I was very lucky in that regard). Those lunch dates we had were sacred to me, and we would cuddle and coo and love on each other and sing happy songs. I used to think of those sessions together as my gift to her to help her get through the afternoon. But who am I kidding? They were for me. I needed a dose of Darah more than I needed air to breathe.

#Blogust time with my baby

I left the full-time work force after that year so that I wouldn’t have to be away from my child so much, but you may be surprised to hear that Darah has been in a half-day school program since she was just over two. Darah was unbelievably amazing at Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star under my tutelage, but I did realize that my fierce love for my child did not necessarily make me her very best educator. Since she has been in a formal school environment for quite a while, now, kindergarten might seem a bit anti-climactic. And truth be told, I think from Darah’s perspective, it will be. She knows her teacher, she knows her classmates, she knows the songs for circle time, and she knows the school rules. She’s more than ready for this.

#blogust kindergarten first day

I always thought I would jump for joy the day kindergarten started. I’m a mama who needs her own personal time, and who works from home, so practically speaking, I need uninterrupted time to get some stuff done. Now I’m free to do those things. And that’s really great! And yet here I find myself, getting rocked to my core once again, blindsided by my heartache at watching my baby joyfully bound away from the car and practically leap into her first day of kindergarten, not even so much as glancing back at her mama.

I did a rather surprising thing on the drive back yesterday. I sang Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star all the way home, all by myself. Did I go off the deep end? It’s possible. But looking back on it, I have a different theory. You see, Darah and I have always spent our time together in the car singing. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star was one of the first songs she learned, and it has always been a favorite. I’ve used it to keep her awake when I need her not to nap in the car. I’ve used it to keep her entertained when she’s bored. And I’ve used it to connect with her when she’s feeling sad. Music does those things for people; it’s a common language in that way. Singing is a natural human response in times of fear and sadness as well as in times of joy. And let me tell you, I was feeling ALL the feelings on that drive home.

#blogust singing in the car

All of our singing together, from the very beginning, was as much for me as it was for her as it all turns out. All of the thousands of lessons on independence were for both of us, as well. And now I think back to my own first day of kindergarten and I’m able to paint my mother into the picture, over to the side, SO proud of her little girl for being so grown up. She was also probably crying a bit because in order for her little girl to do her part and stretch her wings, mama had to do her part and let go of them.

Give a Shot So Another Parent Can Experience Letting Go

blogust 14

This is just a painful reality of parenting: letting go. But we have to keep in mind that those painful moments of letting go are also opportunities to give thanks for the ability to get to see our children reach incredible milestones. Every 20 seconds a child in this world dies of a preventable disease before reaching their next big milestone. Polio, Measles, Rotavirus and Pneumococcal Disease are all treatable with vaccines. There is shockingly little that we can control for our kids, as it turns out. But one thing we can do is vaccinate them. Here in the United States, through the help of insurance (be it private or public), this is a rather easy thing to provide. But think for just a moment of all the parents out there who cannot access these life saving vaccines for their kids. Think of the anguish of not being able to provide one of the few measures of protection that actually exist.

That’s why the #Blogust team is pouring our hearts onto your screens this month. Because we can help. YOU can help. We are over halfway to our goal of providing 60,000 vaccinations for children all over the world who otherwise wouldn’t have them. You can forever change a child’s life RIGHT THIS SECOND by leaving a comment below. And then you can change the life of one more child by tweeting about this post. And then you can change a third child’s life by sharing this on Facebook. Got another minute or two? Then go for kids 4, 5, and 6 by posting on Pinterest, StumbleUpon, and Google+. Then multiply your work beyond your own reach by calling on your friends to do the same.

The music is playing, right here, right now, and our social media shares are the life-changing lyrics. How can we keep from singing? 


The First Lunch: What I Packed (And a FREE Photo Printing Offer!)

This shop is part of a social shopper marketing insight campaign with Pollinate Media Group® and Del Monte, but all my opinions are my own. #pmedia #DelMonteBTS  http://my-disclosur.es/OBsstV.

My baby girl is at her first day of Kindergarten at this very moment. I was all smiles dropping my Darah off this morning for her first of approximately 2,340 school days that stretch from 8-3 from now until she graduates from high school.

darah first day of kindergarten

I pretty much cried like a baby all the way back home. This is such a HUGE milestone. It feels much more monumental than her first day of preschool or her first time heading to a school program 5 days a week. Now we are fully in “the system” of American education. All day, 5 days a week, 9 months of the year. It’s like my baby has entered into the work force, only her job is to learn.

I will miss her, you guys. She’s one of my lunch buddies. But now it’s time for her to sit with her friends at lunch and form new relationships over soy butter sandwiches (peanut-free…that’s how our school rolls) and juice boxes. But lunch will also be an opportunity for her to feel connected to her mama, even if only for a brief moment while she inspects the contents of her lunch box. This is just one more reason why I want to have lots of ideas on hand so that I can offer her a fun variety that she will also love.

Del Monte

One of the brands I look for on the shelves to add to my lunch box supply arsenal is Del Monte. They have some great healthy products designed to give your kids the nutrition they need to stay focused in school. We regularly use Del Monte Fruit Cups as add-ins to our smoothies. For school lunches, though, we go with Fruit Burst Squeezers.

del monte fruit burst packaging

These are a HUGE hit with both of my girls and Darah in particular gets tickled any time she gets them as part of a meal or as a snack. So I knew it was the perfect thing to include in her very first school lunch box. I can promise you that it will be the very first thing she eats. I really love it because there’s NO high fructose corn syrup and no artificial flavors.

Lunch Box Breakdown

del monte fruit burst kindergarten lunch box

Here’s the complete breakdown of what I packed in Darah’s first lunch box. Maybe it will give you a few ideas to have on hand if you are a bout to launch into daily school lunch packing duty!

soy butter sandwich

1. Soy butter and jelly sandwich. We don’t have nut allergies at my house, but they are very prevalent in her classroom, such that we have been asked  not to send any food with nuts in it. I found soy butter at the store and it tastes quite similar to peanut butter, so we are going with that!

del monte celery sticks

2. Cream cheese and celery. Ordinarily I would go with peanut butter and raisins on a piece of celery, but that’s not an option, so I headed in another direction. Darah loves cream cheese, so she’ll go to town on this. The celery isn’t going to load her down with awesome nutrients, but it’s still a veggie, so that makes it a win. Plus it has an awesome crunch factor! Carrots would be another great “crunch-tastic” veggie to send.

del monte snack selection

3. Del Mont Fruit Burst Squeezers. I have complete and total success getting my kids to eat these. More so than if I send a piece of fruit. I think it has to do with how fun they are to eat, and how easy they are to eat. Darah is a very slow eater. She always has been. So she might not make even finish her lunch in time if some of it isn’t liquid. Totally serious about that. Fruit Burst Squeezers go from full to completely sucked dry in about 30 seconds. It’s quite amazing to watch, actually!

Free Photo Offer

Right now at select Walmart Super Store locations you will find a free back-to-school photo offer! You can take your first day of school photo (or really, any photo you want!) of your child to Walmart between now and September 13th (or while supplies last) and get a free 5×7 print with a back to school border (the photo will be 4×6 and with the border, it will be 5×7). I had one printed of Darah in her classroom so that I can see her in her element during the day.

But it gets even better! When you get your free print you will also receive a $1 off Del Monte products coupon in the photo envelope. I took mine and headed straight over to the aisle with the products I wanted and got stocked up for a great price. That was a total win/win! Prices vary by area, so I can’t guarantee that you’ll find the same prices at your store, but the Fruit Burst Squeezers for me were priced at $2 per pack of 4. So with my coupon, I only spent $3 (plus tax) for 8 individual squeezers. Woo hoo!

Do you have any great ideas for stuff to include in school lunch boxes? And have you tried Del Monte Fruit Burst Squeezers, yet? Did your kids love them as much as mine do? 

4 Tips to Make Healthier School Lunches Easy to Put Together

My family is on the road to eating clean. I always say that we are “in process” or “on the road to” rather than declaring that we 100% do something because as soon as I declare that we’ve arrived at that place we strive for, I can feel the itch to fall off the bandwagon. We try to keep things realistic around here, and don’t set the bar too high. I’m going to cave every once in a while and buy the Double Stuf Oreos. And then I’ll do my best to not eat half the bag in one night, and stick to healthier choices for the most part.

I see packing school lunches as a very easy way to fall off the clean eating bandwagon in a major way. Most pre-packaged foods are full of additives, preservatives, enriched grains and high fructose corn syrup. Making everything from scratch every day isn’t realistic for us, so relying on packaged products, at least to some extent, is going to need to happen. Fortunately, there are some TERRIFIC options out there that can help you put together kick-butt lunches for your kids without having to yield to the nutritionally devoid stuff that fills most of the middle aisles in grocery stores.


naturebox set

NatureBox  is one such company that I recently discovered, and that I highly recommend. NatureBox is a curated collection of carefully sourced and nutritionist-approved foods that make for some seriously yummy snacking. Everything is free of artifical sweeteners, colors and flavors.

When you are a NatureBox member, you are sent 5 different snacks in a box each month. You can choose your own snacks from a list of over 100 options (check out the snack catalog!), or you can let NatureBox surprise you, which could be a really fun way to try something new. As much as I love surprises, I also appreciate that I can pick and choose, as Darah’s school requests nut-free lunch offerings for all the kids due to the severity of nut allergies in the classroom.

4 Tips for Easier, Healthier School Lunches

naturebox hero

Here are some strategies I’m using to help me get the school lunches made faster and to increase the odds that my child will actually eat what I send!

naturebox snack bin

1. Keep the lunch snack bin full. I’ve got box in my pantry that is exclusively for school lunch snacks. I try to add something to it every time I shop for groceries, but I also love knowing that NatureBox can deliver to my house every month to help me stay stocked up on quality options that are healthier choices, but still feel like special treats.

naturebox lentil chips

2. Sneak in some superfoods. I’m not really a big fan of “tricking” my kids into eating healthy foods. I want them to understand that giving your body good fuel is something that we need to do to be our best selves. But sometimes you just have to get your kids to try something that they think they won’t like by trying it in a different way (for example, adding pumpkin to a bagel spread, or having lentil chips). Look for opportunities to present great choices in unique ways so that your kids will realize that they really like the good stuff, after all!

naturebox sweet treats

3. Rethink the sweet treats. I have a HUGE sweet tooth. It turned out to be my Achilles heel as I tried the whole Paleo diet thing (which I loved in pretty much every other aspect!). So I’m not really one to give my kid a banana and call it dessert.  But that doesn’t mean that I can’t offer them better choices that are free of HFCS and food dyes. NatureBox has some great offerings in this department, and they make it easy for me to have some good choices, even when my options still seem a bit limited at my local grocery store.

naturebox dried pears

4. Give fruit a new look. For my child, at this point sending in an entire piece of fruit is overkill. She won’t eat the whole thing even if she likes it, and in many cases, she won’t even make the attempt (apple = entirely too much effort, in her opinion)So I make it a point to have fruit for her, but to have it presented in a more interesting (and more serving-size appropriate) way. Examples include fruit squeeze pouches (her very favorite!) and dried fruit so she can get a lot of nutrition packed into just a handful of bites. We’ve all been munching on the NatureBox dried pears. They are super yum!

Promo Code!

Ready to try NatureBox and make school lunch packing a bit easier? Click here to get 50% off your first month’s NatureBox delivery! ($10 value) using promo code: SNACKTOSCHOOL. The same code can also be used for $10 off your first box if you are signing up for a prepaid subscription (such as the 6 month plan or the 12 month plan). The price for the boxes, not including the promo code, is as follows:

  • 1 month: $20/box
  • 6 months: $17.95/box
  • 12 months: $15.95/box

Each box contains 5 packages containing 15-20 servings and weighing 2-3 pounds! In addition, with every box sold, NatureBox donates 1 meal to FeedingAmerica to help with the very real problem of hunger that affects millions of people right here at home.

Do you have any tips for keeping lunches healthy AND easy? And have you tried NatureBox yet? As someone mulling over the 12 month subscription, I’d love to hear about your experience! 

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.