It’s been a while since I wrote about our time in Florida, but I did want to make sure I wrote the post I promised I would – namely the why behind our vacation choices. I hope you enjoy reading about that, and that it helps you make some smart vacation choices, too.
First, the tiniest bit of background: Kyle and I went to Florida in April/May of 2011 for a week, to celebrate our 1st anniversary and to celebrate me graduating from college! I hadn’t been back to Florida since I moved when I was 1, so it was fun to go, experience some theme parks, see my dad, and do a little sight-seeing. We knew that we’d eventually want to go again, probably once we had kids.
Why we flew Southwest: We’ve had a Southwest credit card for most of our marriage, since we love to travel! Because we knew we would want to travel back to Florida again some day, we’ve basically been saving our Southwest credit card points for this big trip. We were able to use our points to book our flights for free (plus fees, which I think were about $20/person, so we paid $60 total for our fights – since we paid for tickets for Kyle, Abe and myself – Eliza flew for free as a lap infant). Is Southwest the greatest airline ever? No. But they generally have good prices, and it’s easy to earn/spend points with their credit card. Also, bags fly free, as do baby items (car seats, etc), which makes for a happy family when traveling. They don’t have assigned seating, but they offer “family boarding” for families flying with small children, which usually guarantees you’ll be able to sit by each other. All in all, we’ve generally enjoyed flying with them.
Why we chose to go in March: We booked our trip back in September, after we found out that Kyle had been accepted for the student loan repayment program. We decided to go in March, during what was supposed to be before the spring break craze (ha Disney was crazy as you may remember from this post), before Abe turned 3 (so he was still free at theme parks!) and during a time my dad and Steven could spend a majority of time with us (Steven’s spring break, since he’s a high school teacher). Plus it would be good weather, too.
We originally were planning on going for a Tuesday-Tuesday, but when we booked our flights Mondays flights were cheaper, so we said heck with it, and booked Monday through the next Tuesday. Knowing that our full week (Monday-Friday) was Steve’s spring break (as mentioned above).
Where we stayed: We’ve stayed in VRBOs and Air BnBs before, and we knew they were good options, especially with kids. My dad lives on the west side of Florida, about 1-2 hours away from Orlando, so we thought that if we split that cost, it would give us more time to be together, and save them (and us!) money/time on gas and driving. Plus, in general, renting a home/condo ends up being cheaper than a hotel room, which we are all about! I spent a few days looking at different properties and ended up booking this one (which we loved!) in November, since we knew that if we waited much longer properties would start filling up their spring break schedules. We booked the home for Monday-Saturday. We knew that Steve and my dad had to be back at work that Monday, so we opted to just stay in a hotel in Orlando our last 3 nights.
I’ll talk a little bit more about why we ended up with the hotel we did below, but we stayed those three nights at Holiday Inn & Suites across from Universal Studios. One reason we chose it was because it was so close to the theme park, literally across the street from the parking structure! We walked to the park on Sunday and Monday, which saved us money on parking! It only took about 10 minutes to get to the entrance, and then about another 10 or so to get through security and walk through the Boardwalk to actually get to a theme park entrance. I’m not joking when I tell you it was literally the same amount of time as if we had parked in the structure, because when we did park on Saturday, we ended up being directed to the very furthest part of the parking structure — the one across from our hotel. Ha!
Why we choose the theme parks we did: The last time we went to Florida we did one day each at Busch Gardens Tampa, Sea World Orlando, Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and a full day (park-to-park passes) at Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure. Phew, just typing that out makes me tired, it was a crazy trip!
This time, we knew we wanted to take it a little slower, our kids were only 1 and 2! We knew right away we wouldn’t go to Epcot and Hollywood Studios this time around, as they’re just not as kid friendly, Hollywood Studios would probably be mostly under construction anyway, and Disney is not — ahem — cheap (even though we were only paying for K and I). Magic Kingdom was a must though, of course!
We went back and forth between Busch Gardens, Sea World, and Animal Kingdom for a few weeks. All of them are animal focused (which our kids love!) and Busch Gardens and Sea World have awesome roller coasters (which the adults love!). We decided to nix Animal Kingdom (again Disney rates are expensive!) and thought about doing the dual pass for one day at Busch Gardens and one day at Sea World (only $120/person for the two days) but in the end, we decided to have a “rest day” (which we are so glad about!) and just do Sea World, since it’s closer (the drive to Busch Gardens would have been about an hour each way).
And then we have Universal. I told Kyle I was forcing us to do at least one day there, because only Hogsmeade had been open when we went in 2011, but now they have Diagon Alley, too! (Major Harry Potter nerd/fan over here!!!). This was going to be a huge expense, because even one day, park-to-park tickets (which we obviously needed so we could ride the Hogwarts Express!) are ridiculously priced. So at first, we thought we’d just do one day. However, we decided to check out what Costco Travel has to offer — and guys, it’s A LOT. (Not sponsored, just genuinely loved our experience. We did a little price checking (extending our VRBO rental the rest of our trip, doing one day at Universal, etc) and ultimately staying at the hotel I mentioned above for those last 3 nights, along with 2 three day park-to-park passes was going to cost us around the same amount as any other option, so we decided to go for it! And you know from this post that it was so, so worth it, and a great decision!
So in case you couldn’t pick it out of all that mumble jumble, we ended up doing one day at Sea World, one day at Magic Kingdom, and 3 days at Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure. Obviously we spent a lot of time planning out our vacation, and this is worked best for our family regarding our kids ages, our finances, etc. We’re so happy with the choices we made!
Other activities: When I realized that we were going to be in Orlando during MLB spring training I knew we had to go to a Braves game. The Braves are Kyle’s favorite MLB team, and they train at the Wide World of Sports (owned by Disney, part of the Disney World compound). I surprised Kyle with the idea for tickets, and he was so excited! We grabbed tickets and had a great time. You can see this post for our experience there, and what else we did during our down days.
What we drove: Costco Travel again for the win, seriously! They encourage you to make a rental car reservation, and then keep checking back to see if prices go down. If they do, make a new reservation, and cancel your old one. We did this multiple times (like 6, I think) before grabbing our mini van for $200 less than our original reservation. We knew we wanted a mini van so we could all travel to our activities together, and it worked out so great for us!
So there you have it, a little information about the whys behind our Disney trip. We had an amazing time and don’t regret any of our decisions. We do wish that Disney would have been a little more fun (see this post to see what I’m talking about) but we’re still glad we took our kids there. We’ve decided that next time we go (probably in another 5 years or so) we’ll do more Disney parks, and nix Universal. Then when we go again (in like another 5 or 10 years, ha) we’ll do Universal again. But Kyle did tell me I could go on a girls trip with my Harry Potter lovin’ bestie Sarah in the next couple of years, so we can experience the Wizarding World together. Perfect! 🙂
Let me know if you have any more questions! Or want any tips on theme parks! I wouldn’t say I’m an expert, but I’m getting there 😉