Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Driving to Disney (and all the joy that goes with it!)

As a frugal family going on vacation to Walt Disney World, we found the least expensive way to go for our family of four is to drive. We live in central North Carolina and the drive takes anywhere from 10-12 hours depending on how we break the trip up.

The first time we drove down, we stayed with friends before hand (1998 trip). Other times that we went, we've gone and stayed with my in-laws who live about an hour North of Orlando - we'd visit with them for a few days and then on our first Disney day, we'd leave their home at around 7:30 in the morning, drive to Disney and be able to get a full day in at the parks.

Now I know that we are fortunate because we are a one-day drive there. We prefer to do the drive in one day. On our 2001 trip we left here at around 8 in the morning (we had family members traveling with us so we were 7 in the van!). The adults all shared driving duty and we switched it up in each state so no one was driving for more than 3 hours at a shot. We had made reservations for an inexpensive motel right outside of the entrance to Disney and paid only $29.99 for the night! The number was great, the hotel? Not so much.

Our thoughts in doing it this was was so that we would get the big drive out of the way, get a good night's sleep and then get up refreshed the next morning and ready to enjoy a full day at whatever park we chose. Our reservation at the on-site Disney hotel is good no matter what time you arrive on your first day and even if your room is not ready for you, they will store your luggage and give you your passes in to the parks and you are on your way. So again, on that 2001 trip, we were checking in to the All-Star Movie Resort at 8:30 in the morning and there was one room ready (we were a large group and needed 4) so we stored our luggage in the one room and headed out to Hollywood Studios where by lunchtime, we met up with the other 6 people we were vacationing with.

Now I have friends who prefer to do the drive in two days - but with the bulk of it done in one. So from North Carolina they'd drive in to Northern Florida, stop for the night and maybe only have a 2-3 hour drive the next day and then they are in the parks either by lunchtime or right after lunch.

So okay, you can drive there but how do you survive the drive?? On our first trip, my son was 6. We packed him up everything that we could find that would entertain him - books, games, walkman's (it was 1998!), a Gameboy, etc. We listened to the radio, we talked about all of the things that we were going to do. He was an AWESOME traveler. We packed up a big cooler of sandwiches, snacks and drinks and really, we only stopped for gas and the bathroom. In 2001 when we did the drive with my sister-in-law and her husband and 6 year old daughter, my older son was 10 and I had an almost 2 year old. We were crammed in the minivan and the kids essentially entertained themselves with books, games, and the like. We stopped a bit more often but again, had a huge cooler full of sandwiches, snacks and drinks and everyone seemed happy. The kids even napped a bit.

As my boys got older, we invested in the portable TV's and DVD players for the car and it became a ritual where they would - in the days leading up to the trip - each pick out 4-6 DVD's that they would bring with them and we even had one of those plug in type games that had all kinds of Sponge Bob video games to play. We load up the cooler and really, I think I have a harder time with the drive than they do! I wish I could sit in the back and watch the TV for a little while!

The key to a smooth car ride on a long-distance drive is to be well prepared; have more stuff than you'll need and think of every possible scenario so that you won't be surprised. I pack a very intensive first aid kit so that should anyone have any issues - cuts, nose bleeds, splinters, rash, heartburn, headache, cough...I've got it covered. I pack enough food for at least two full meals plus 3 snacks per person and at least 4 drinks per person (I limit how much they can drink otherwise we'd be pulling over every 30 minutes!).

As a frugal mom, I buy a lot of my supplies at the Walmart or on sale so that packing my cooler is a way cheaper alternative to stopping for fast food. Plan as far in advance as you can so that when your local grocery store is offering buy one-get one deals on juice boxes, snacks or soda, you can start stocking up for your trip.

Also, it is important to make sure that your car is in good condition and that your tires are in good shape otherwise you risk breaking down on the road. That happened to us once and that took almost $300 out of our vacation fund. True, it was a water pump and we had no way of knowing it was going to go, but if you know a good mechanic, let him check your car out before you go.

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