Although we have been to Florida many times and we love it there, the destination wasn't our idea this time. We are part of a group of adoptive families participating in a group reunion that is scheduled at Walt Disney World and on a 5-night Disney Cruise to the Bahamas. When we first heard about the plans, we started adding up the costs of the reunion to see if we could fit it into our travel budget.
Preliminary list of costs:
* Disney Cruise--around $7500 including tips (summer prices are significantly higher than when school is in session)
* 3 nights at Deluxe Disney Resort with a fantastic group discount-- $807
* Airfare for 5 people--$1000 is typical from Dallas to Orlando if we watch for sales
* Tickets and food at Disney World--at least $1000 depending on number of park days
Total: Easily over $10,000 for one week
My husband and I actually wavered on this trip a lot. Since I don't currently have a full-time job, a $10,000 vacation would be very difficult at this time. In order to go on the trip in its entirety, we would have to forgo our previously-scheduled trip to Hawaii on miles and points (which even though our airline tickets and hotel were mostly free, we still spent money on food and entertainment) and delay our future plans to visit Alaska.
But since I had such a great time at the last reunion 2 years ago, I started the process of travel hacking to see if I could come up with an alternative that would allow us to experience the reunion at a reduced cost.
The first decision we made was to not go on the cruise portion of the reunion. Summer prices on Disney Cruise Line are very high, especially for a family of 5. And since my whole family is nutty about Disney Cruises, there was no way I could just take part of my family. We have a longer Disney Cruise planned next winter during school for a fraction of the cost, and we were comfortable dropping the summer cruise knowing that we would go on one next year.
Airfare was easy to get for (almost) free using Southwest miles with the two companion passes that my husband and I both have right now. We just had to pay $5.60 in taxes for each one-way ticket and only needed miles for 3 people instead of 5 due to our companion passes. Total: 33,969 miles and $56 in cash round-trip.
Next we needed to figure out how to save money on our hotel. We had enough Chase Ultimate Rewards points to convert to hotel points to stay off-site near Disney for free. However, this is one of those cases where free isn't always better. From attending the last reunion, I knew that there were a lot of opportunities to spend time with families in between the organized events. Hanging out with other adoptive families at the pool and in the hotel lobby is priceless. Besides, the group organizers were able to negotiate a deeply discounted group rate at a deluxe resort on property, and this would give us a chance to try out a Disney resort that we would probably never get to stay at otherwise. So we opted to stay at the group hotel for 3 nights, with 1 free night at a hotel near the airport since our incoming flight arrives in the evening.
We opted to buy 1-day park tickets and spend the other 2 days at the reunion and enjoying the amenities of our resort (pool, camp fire, fire works viewing area). Our kids have been to Disney World before and they will go again, so we didn't feel the need to be in the parks for all 3 days. Plus, going to the parks in the heat of the summer is not our favorite time to visit.
We could have just flown back home after attending the reunion, but instead I started looking for other hotels in the area where we had points to stay for free so that we could venture outside of Disney World. I found one directly on the beach, so we booked it for 3 nights to make our entire vacation one week in length. We plan on relaxing on the beach, playing at a local science museum (free with our Dallas Perot Museum membership), touring a chocolate factory, climbing a lighthouse, visiting a marine science center and going on an air boat ride. I can't wait to try some new things in Florida!
So our hacked trip consists of airfare for 5, 7 nights of hotel (1 near the airport, 3 at Disney World and 3 on the beach), 1 day at a Disney park, a rental car and off-park entertainment including an air boat ride for less than $1600. Not too shabby!