The intersection of a simple, minimalist lifestyle & personal finance

Can a Frugal Minimalist Enjoy Disney?

C saw Mickey dancing by himself and asked if he could join

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First, a disclaimer: We only took this vacation because my parents were incredibly eager to see their grandkids experience Disney. They paid for almost the entire trip. We, as a family, are very fortunate to have all of the things we do and to be able to experience trips like this. Thanks, Mom and Dad! We probably would have taken our kids eventually, but when they were a bit older and certainly at a different price point.

Should I Be Nervous?

Since we decided last summer that we would be going on a February trip to Disney World, I have been a bit apprehensive. The kids, on the other hand, are as excited as can be. They have been keeping a countdown that they run to every morning to rip off the next page. Ashley is excited as well, mostly to see all of her hard work come to fruition. She has been planning each Fast Pass, lunch break, and snack option for months. We’re both really looking forward to seeing the joy on C and B’s faces when they see one of the characters, or Cinderella’s castle or that first trip on Thunder Mountain.

But, for me, while I am eager to see their excitement, the commercialization and consumerism of the whole thing really makes me uncomfortable. It’s not just the cost of the tickets, but the long lines, the fast pass system that needs to be analyzed like an algebraic equation, and the meticulous planning of every meal so we don’t miss out on any of the fun. I prefer more simplistic fun. A trip to the beach, or a hike, or road trip to a national park is more of my thing. I enjoy being a tourist, but not always in the traditional touristy type of ways.

Disney will be an adjustment for me. I know my kids will enjoy it, they love experiences, but will I? And if I don’t enjoy it, will that still be okay because they are having so much fun? And if they are having so much fun, would a more relaxed, laid back type of trip have made them just as happy? These are the questions I was hoping to have a grip on by the end of the week.

An Expensive Start

We were delayed leaving for Orlando and had a stop in Indianapolis, but no plane change. So, we were at the airport at 6:00 am and not touching down in Orlando until after 1 pm. As a result, we needed some breakfast and snacks. I like to consider myself pretty frugal overall, but this was a bigtime frugal fail to start our Disney trip.

There were lots of avoidable mistakes here.

First, we put our reusable water bottles in the checked luggage, so they were unavailable to us. As a result, we ended up buying four bottles of water.

Second, we didn’t have any kids snacks prepacked so we had to buy them at the airport. We woke up at 4:00 am so it would have been way too early to eat breakfast then, but we were hungry by 6:30 am so we were forced to get ripped off at the airport. We ended up buying bagel sandwiches and bananas.

$50 unnecessary and avoidable dollars spent so far.

B was fascinated during the safari at Animal Kingdom

3 Things I Cringed at as a Frugal Minimalist at Disney

1. Wait…Wait…and…Wait…

Our first day got off to a tough start. We tried to leave early enough for rope drop at Epcot, but a delayed monorail and a few other glitches put us smack dab in the middle of a wave of early, but not early enough arrivers. We waited forever for baggage and security check followed by another long line to enter the park. When we finally got in, we headed to “Test Track” and proceeded to wait in that line for another hour before getting on. Can a frugal minimalist enjoy Disney? At this point, I was pretty positive the answer was no. As the day went on, however, we had a few fast passes which helped significantly and the lines that we did wait in were more manageable.

So why did the frugal minimalist in me cringe? I can be a pretty patient person, so it wasn’t the boredom of waiting in those lines. The kids were actually very patient as well. There were no “What’s taking so long?” complaints or “Are We There Yet?” whines. I was really just questioning if this was really what we should be using our time doing. Were this park and this ride going to be so much fun that the two hours we just spent were worthwhile?

C and B loved meeting the characters

2. The Crowds

Have you ever been at the grocery store the day before a big storm? The entire half of the state seems to be there with you as you slowly move your grocery cart up and down the crowded aisles, hoping that you can squeeze by the three people searching for salad dressing on one side and the two people reaching for pasta on the other. All the while, you’re hoping you don’t inadvertently flat tire the person in front of you. We’ve all been there.

Well, that’s Disney World in mid-February. I felt like Dale Earnhardt or Jeff Gordon maneuvering that stroller around all four parks. I swerved around the kid walking sideways across traffic, avoided the dad who decided to stop in the middle of the park to look at a map and narrowly missed the oblivious mom with her phone in her face. It was a nightmare at first, but I eventually just accepted the bumper cars mentality and just went with it.

So why did the frugal minimalist in me cringe? I tend to enjoy the more quiet, laid back things in life. I’m not an anxious person at all, except when I enter into these sorts of situations with big crowds. I noticed my shoulders relaxing their tension once I made it through an especially crowded area. This same feeling hits me each time I’m going through security at the airport. I catch myself taking off my watch and removing things from my pockets almost as soon as I walk into the airport, well before I’m even in line for security.

3. The Prices

We were fortunate enough to be on a meal plan, so most of the meals were included. However, the pricing was outrageous. I guess it’s the going rate for any entertainment venue these days, but quick lunch meals costing anywhere from $15 to $25 and over paying $10 for just about anything with alcohol was still hard to accept. We tried to bring as many snacks as possible with us to avoid paying.

So why did the frugal minimalist in me cringe? This is the obvious one. It hurts, a lot, to pay that much for something you know would cost you half of the price anywhere else. Disney knows you have no other options, just like when you’re in a stadium for a concert or in an arena for a basketball game.

A great view of the fireworks from our balcony

4 Things I Enjoyed at Disney as a Frugal Minimalist

1. Amazon Now

We decided to get Amazon Now to deliver some snacks and other food to our hotel. If you’ve never heard of the program, it’s great! Basically, you just put in your hotel’s address, shop online, and submit your order. We picked up some fruit, a few granola bars, and some other snacks. You can even order beer and wine! This saved us a good amount of money. Disney allows you to bring in your own food, so we just packed up some snacks and kept the kids happy. Any parent knows that a full stomach is sometimes the best deterrent for a major temper tantrum.

2. The Rides, Shows, and Attractions

The rides were great, for adults and kids alike. I had so much fun on so many of the rides. The shows and attractions were so realistic and the technology was truly amazing. I came into this fairly skeptical, but left pretty impressed by the way Disney does everything.

3. Time with Family

This trip was wonderful in the fact that we were able to spend so much time together as a family. We were all together to see my niece’s first trip on “It’s a Small World“, my parents got to witness the jubilation from C and B as we got off “Soarin‘” and we all there to experience the “Happily Ever After” Fireworks Show at the Magic Kingdom on our final night.

C and B loved holding their cousin’s hand

4. Great Memories

The kids are all young, and probably won’t remember too many details of this trip as they get older, but I don’t think they’ll ever forget how much fun they had. They will have fond memories of Disney, even if they can’t remember going on a specific ride or eating at a specific restaurant. Additionally, this is a trip that I know my wife and I will never forget. We loved seeing the excitement on our kids faces everyday, but we also loved being able to share those memories with my parents and my sister and brother-in-law. We are so incredibly fortunate to have such a great family.

C and B with their Grandpa

Final Verdict – Can a Frugal Minimalist Enjoy Disney?

Yes!

Ultimately, C and B really did have the time of their lives. I was originally convinced that they could have just as much fun anywhere else. We could be at a pool resort or a beach house or even touring a family-friendly city. However, after seeing their faces and the random, involuntary leaps of excitement, I really have to admit that there is no place like Disney. The cost is outrageous. The sheer amount of people everywhere we went was exhausting and frustrating at times. So, Disney was neither frugal nor minimal. But those kids were as happy as they have ever been, and that lasted throughout the whole trip. It’s really tough to question that. To top it off, our entire family was together, and there are only so many times that we will be lucky enough to have that.

Disney is done, now I need a drink and a vacation!

What about you? What were your Disney World experiences? Any suggestions for the readers on how to keep Disney as frugal and simple as possible? Please comment below.

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5 Comments

  1. Jon Guerzon

    You can bring in your own alcohol if you place it inside your reusable water bottle. Security is not likely to check the contents. My drink of choice at the park is a margarita so I can ask for a cup of ice and pour.

  2. Geneviève R.

    Hi,

    I’m 45 and I don’t have kids, so my experience is a bit different, but last summer (in 2019), with no major and expensive project looming on the horizon, I told my best friend, who had always wanted to go to Disney, that maybe we could do that. We set an appointment at the travel agency to discuss prices and decided we were willing to spend 2-3 days in Disney, total, shared between Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom.

    The prices that we were quoted were just ridiculous, especially with the airfare, from Montréal, Canada to Florida! For the same price, we could have spent one week in Europe!

    So, I decided to get creative. I asked my best friend to tell which experiences she was most looking for at Disney. She replied the shows and seeing the “characters in the flesh”. As for me, I was mostly looking forward to the animals of Animal Kingdom. I was also interested in experiencing the “stepping into a fantasy world” thing. I then started researching how to duplicate these experiences, after a fashion, by doing other, cheaper and local activities.

    Here’s what we came up with :

    Shows and “characters in the flesh” : We traveled by train to Toronto for a day to see the Broadway production of The Lion King (we splurged on good tickets!). After the show, we even went on a little excursion to a Disney Store and each brought a small Lion King souvenir to take home. On another day, we drove over to Montréal (from Ottawa), to see Disney on Ice. Finally, another time, we also went to an outside movie theater and saw both Toy Story and Aladdin.

    Animals : We make reservations to spend one night at the wolves’s cabin at Omega Park (https://www.parcomega.ca/en/) and got to spend an entire evening, night and early morning observing wolves right outside our window. Ok, that was rather expensive, but still worth it compared with Disney! We heard the whole pack of wolves howl at the moon, several times in fact. It was one of the most incredible experience ever! We also got to spend an entire day visiting the rest of the park the next day. So, animals : check! And those were actually living in humane, decent lives in their own natural environment.

    Fantasy ambiance : I found out about a small place called Prehistoric World, about one hour outside of Ottawa. A eccentric retiree built, by hand, over 20 real-size dinosaurs sculptures and set them all up in his large country backyard. For a very small entrance fee, anyone can go there and spend the day. I haven’t been a kid for a while and don’t even care that much about dinosaurs, but the feeling of sheer amazement and glee that I felt when I first stepped out into that man’s backyard was something that I had not experienced in a really long time and that will stay with me forever.

    We even decided to add some amusement rides to our “Disney-inspired vacation” and travelled to Toronto by train for another day, which we spent taking rides at the amusement park of Toronto Islands. And at the end of the summer, we went to our local fair.

    In conclusion, we had 5-6 days worth of fun (instead of just 3) and really memorable experiences, we didn’t have to suffer crowds (which I hate with a passion!) or long wait times, didn’t have to pay ridiculous prices for food, and ended up paying, in total, about a third of what 3 days at Disney would have costed us! It was a much better use of both our time and our money, not to mention the much lesser ecological impact, and we were proud of being so smart and creative about it!

  3. Cindy

    We went to Disney this time last year(mid-January). I’m so grateful we took that trip looking back now after being holed up at home for almost a year now! It was our third straight year going, and only because I found ways to make a Disney trip for 5 very reasonable. The first two times we went our youngest flew free, entered the parks fee, and dined for free. That last trip we took we did need to pay for his flight since he was 2 years of age. Since he was under 3, he entered/are free at Disney. My parents helped out by gifting us a week long condo time share in orlando. I bought our tickets months before to take advantage of fast passes as well as making reservations to character meals that the kids enjoy. I love the morning breakfast buffet character meals because the kids are hungry for lunch by then, and they stay full for most of the day so no need for another “meal”. Breakfast options are switched out for lunch options by the end of the meal so everyone is happy. I bring water bottles/snacks/fruits galore so we only splurged on icecream novelty items or popcorn. The older kids have Disney gift cards(usually given at Xmas) at hand to buy whatever they want that they can afford:). They tend to make better choices when they’re spending their own money lol! We only spend two days at the parks, the rest of the trip we spend relaxing at the pool or exploring places like Disney springs. The condo allows us to cook most of our meals, which saves us a ton of $. Airfare is partly covered by my southwest credit card points-so even flying down is cost effective. We rent a minivan which is not all that expensive in Orlando on mid January. We paid around $2k(disney tickets, car, meals, flights, etc) all in for that trip we took last year. We’ll be skipping Disney this year-but I’m so glad we have the memories!

    • minimalismandmoney

      Sounds like you have it all figured out! Disney for a family of 5 for $2000 is a great deal! I really like the idea of giving the older kids gift cards. They’re less likely to waste their money and they’re learning some valuable lessons about how to use their money wisely. Thanks for the comment!

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