I’m writing today from 30,000 feet, in the dark at 6:30 AM EST. Dave, Mason, and I are on our way home from another awesome family vacation. This adventure was one more for the Partak Book of Epic Vacations. We traveled to Orlando and spent four days playing in the Universal Studios parks; Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios, and their newest park, Volcano Bay, an amazing water park. October seems to be the month we typically travel as we also celebrate Mason’s birthday. Mason is a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan and it just so happened that on Sunday, the Bucs were playing the Carolina Panthers, who happen to be Dave’s team. It all worked out so nicely, after our time in Orlando, we headed to Tampa Bay where Rod and Cat live, so we stayed with them for a few days. Mason, Rod and Dave went to the game on Sunday, and it made for the perfect family vacation.
|Volcano Bay at Universal Orlando|
If you haven’t been to the Universal parks, they are worth your time and money. Keeping in mind, none of the big theme parks are cheap, there are ways to make your dollar stretch. We were able to get 4 day park hopper tickets for $218 each through the military. We typically take advantage of free breakfasts, we pick up snacks at a local grocery store to keep from paying the higher prices at the hotel, and refilling water bottles at drinking fountains saves dollars, not pennies over the course of a week. In the park, we invest in the refillable cup that later serves as a souvenir. The cup at Universal was $15 the first day and it was good for unlimited Icee’s and the very cool fountain Coke machines that have a gazillion drink combinations to choose from. We only bought one cup and we took turns choosing what to fill it with and we shared. The following days, it cost $8.50 to reactivate the cup, but understanding that drinks were $6-7 each, you can easily see the value of that initial $15 and then the $8.50. We spent $40.50 total but Mason alone refilled that cup more than 12 times alone over the course of the four days, at the lower price of $6, that would have been $72, each in a smaller serving size, and without Dave and I having had anything at all to drink. We didn’t worry too much about eating in the park, the fact of the matter is we planned to be on vacation so we budgeted to be able to get what we wanted even though the prices are stupid high. We also tend to have a day or two that we eat a little lighter in our room after a trip the grocery store. Cheese, crackers, salami, and some fruit will often be a nice break from all the go, go, go that a theme park vacation brings. We are a family of only three so it’s not as difficult to make these kinds of vacations happen, if we were a bigger brood, I’m sure they would be a little more challenging. My tips for saving money while still feeling like we are getting all the perks and fun out of our vacation are:
- Reuse your water bottles, refill them at drinking fountains.
- Pick up snacks at a local grocery store.
- Eat at least one smaller meal from the grocery trip in your room.
- Buy the refillable cup at the park and share one or two depending on the size of your family.
- If you can, make that grocery shopping trip to a WalMart as they typically carry licensed apparel for the theme parks. In our case in Orlando, they had a very extensive selection of Disney, Harry Potter, and Star Wars apparel and gifts at a fraction of the cost of the items in the parks.
- The shopping trip to WalMart was equally fruitful in Tampa Bay as well, we were able to get Buccaneers, NFL licensed apparel and hats for more than half the cost at the stadium. Mason purchased a hat at the game and spent $25, there were two or three styles of official licensed Bucs ball caps at WalMart for just $9.47 each.
Finally, I know kids get caught up in the excitement of the park and want to make a purchase, every family will handle that their own way. I’ve been able to help Mason see that so much of the stuff that is for sale is schlock that is an impulse purchase because we are all caught up and feeling stimulated by the sights and sounds of the park. The $15+ dollar thingy-mabob will very likely end up going to Goodwill or in the garbage within a few months. It simply won’t have the same appeal at home as it does in this moment at the park. The photos we take will be the souvenirs that will provide the most lasting and meaningful memories of our trip and time together. We try to have fun with our photos, getting creative, being silly, and not simply smiling for the camera.
Today is Halloween and we will be home in time to get the rest of the decorations up, pumpkins carved, and some more candy bagged for our little ghosts and goblins who will be knocking on our door tonight. We are even more excited to see Spencer and Gunner, they really missed us, but I think we missed them more! Happy Halloween and remember, it’s not about the stuff in life, it’s about the experiences and the people we get to share them with. Now get ready, because tomorrow the holidays are officially here!