If you haven’t already followed my blog, you may not know this about me, but I LOVE a theme. I was always drawn to Disney and the characters as a young child (see below). My parents took us there a few times, but it wasn’t until I worked for their College Program that I saw Disney from a teen perspective and STILL felt the magic. I knew then it was a place I would be visiting for years and years to come.
My husband and I took our first family trip to Orlando when our daughters were two and our sons were three and four. We were a little nervous being outnumbered by the small army of toddlers we created, so we enlisted my parents help. We all agreed it was the most magical experience ever. Since then, we have taken our kids to Disney every other year and it never gets old. But this year, I have to admit, I was a little nervous. My boys (now 13 and 15) thought they were too old to feel the Disney magic and my husband and I were hesitant to spend so much money on something they may not enjoy.
We all know, Disney, while fun, is not cheap…especially since teen tickets are no longer valid for child fare. In order to plan this vacation with everything we wanted to do, I had to make every attempt to save money along the way. Preparation is key, because once you step inside a park, there is never a sale.
For our trip, I took full advantage of our AAA card, along with benefits from their partners.
- Sprint: Because we have Sprint as a provider for our cell phones, we received a free AAA membership. With AAA, there are a slew of additional discounts. More on that below.
- Shell Gas Fuel Rewards Program: Yes, we always drive down to Orlando. The gas to airline-ticket ratio makes it a no-brainer for us. Being members of the Fuel Rewards program, automatically saves $0.05 per gallon as long as you enter your membership number (usually your mobile number). We saved over $7 on this trip alone just for typing in my number.
- Best Western Rewards: AAA members save up to 15% on room rates at Best Western branded hotels and earn points per dollar spent to earn free nights. We used our BWR points and were able to stay for FREE at the Best Western Premiere in Jacksonville, Florida. It is always nice to break up the drive and check out new areas. Fun Fact: There is a Dave and Busters arcade right across the street from this hotel. Win #1 for my teens on this trip.
- AAA Retail Store: I recently learned that the best savings you can get through AAA for the theme parks is typically in the actual store. They can have better discounts than online. I purchased my tickets in our local store and received them on the spot.
- Ticket Monster: I saved a ton using this site on a previous NYC trip (blogged about here) . Of course I had to check it out again and that’s how I found Discovery Cove. It’s an all-inclusive day resort. This was a huge hit and I was so happy to have saved some money using my AAA card again.
So were my fears valid? Is Disney more for toddlers or will teens enjoy it too? I fully admit my biggest worry was for Magic Kingdom. The castle, the characters…I thought it might be the most “immature” of the parks, but it proved to be two of my kids favorite day! The park rides are evolving and each park has attractions that appeal to people of all ages Not to mention, it’s going to get a whole lot cooler when the new roller coaster, Tron, opens this spring. Tron is going to be the fastest roller coaster in all of the Disney parks AND my boys actually said they can’t wait to go back and ride it. Woo hoo. Win #2 for the trip.
Win #3 was definitely Discovery Cove. Normally when think of a vacation to Orlando, I go straight to Disney/Universal/Sea World, but let me tell you, Discovery Cove is a gem!! You can add-on experiences, but it’s not necessary to enjoy this resort. My daughters have always wanted to swim with the dolphins, and my children were lucky enough to receive that experience as part of their Christmas gift from my parents. I LOVE memory-making gifts! Not only was everyone obsessed with the dolphins, but we had the best time being disconnected from our phones and spending the day eating delicious meals, unlimited snacks (my son may have had 28 slushies), fed the birds in the aviary, floated around a lazy river, snorkeled with over 8,000 fish and sting rays, and peeked into the area where people were diving with sharks. There were more activities within the resort, but that’s what took up most of our day. My 15 year old said this was definitely his favorite place…and that’s HUGE.
Here we are. Just a few pictures from our wonderful trip. Full of real smiles and themed clothing. We managed to save some money and made amazing memories. That right there folks, is the MAGIC.
All you need is faith, and trust, and a little bit of Pixie Dust.