As a family, we had two big vacations this year, just the 5 of us, no Queenie. There was a stark difference between two trips. The first vacation was talked about, saved for, and planned ahead for years. This was the first time we travelled with only our kids, no extra family members. I wondered how it would be with only our family’s preferences to consider and no extra hands to help out. The second vacation was an attempt at a ‘cheap’ family vacation.
After it was over, I wondered how we actually did financially? How much did the kids think we spent? What did they prefer about each vacation? Which one did they want to repeat?
Doing Disney World
This wasn’t the first trip there for the twins and RU. We made the trip once before when RU was a baby, and we took Queenie along. We managed to do that trip economically: driving down to Florida;, sharing small rooms (all three kids were tiny and only counted as partial people really); and took advantage of complimentary motel breakfasts along the way. Once there we stayed off-site in a timeshare that had been loaned to us (very fancy for little money, very grateful), bought food in a grocery store and cooked in our kitchenette.
My biggest mistake on that trip, after 10 lovely days in the sun was on our way home. Ty, then only three, almost four years old, asked, “When can we come back to Disney again?”
I chuckled due to the fact that we had barely left Florida and said to him, “RU will have to at least be your age before we come back to Disney.”
There was a rare moment of silence as he worked this out in his head and declared, “So we get to come back in 2016!” Not only did he figure this out on his own, he also never forgot my “Promise” as he called it.
Our First Ever, Family-of-only-five, Vacation to Disney World.
So, with four years to plan and constant reminders prodding us, we started to save our vacation money in 2014. We were aiming for a once-in-a-lifetime dream Disney World vacation this time. Unfortunately, early 2016 I found myself without a job and suddenly our vacation savings became a comfy looking emergency nest egg and we had to delay the trip. I promised the family if we were careful during my stint of unemployment with no unexpected emergencies, the money would still be there once I was back at a full time job. And it was.
So we got our dream Disney vacation, a year late, going all-out this time. We travelled by plane to make the most of our limited time off and actually added a three-day weekend at Universal Studios to our trip as well. We stayed on-site at both locations, ate at the resorts and did nothing but amusement park fun! (We opted to not rent a car, so we were a bit stuck there). Even in the planning stage we went over our original budget, but it was cheaper to fly mid-week and to add Universal to this trip rather than do a whole separate trip later.
Our First Ever, Family-of-only-five, Camping Vacation
Due to our expensive vacation-adventure, we were now all out of vacation funds for the year, um—perhaps decade. We still had a week of vacation time to use up so we opted for a family camping adventure late in the summer as our second vacation. Though this trip ended up costing a bit more than planned due to rain days and trips into the closest city for a bit of touring.
We’ve gone family camping before, but only as part of the bigger scouting group, so usually we weren’t really in charge of all the planning and gear, just some of it. So this camping trip was a bit of a challenge for us to be responsible for all aspects of the trip for just the five of us. I opted to purchase a used, but never actually used dining tent off one of the local buy-and-sell Internet sites, saving us some money but no guarantee of the quality we were getting. It turned out to be an important addition to our basic camping gear given the rain and local mosquitos we were camping with.
Reviewing The Trips With BeBe
Now, a month and a half past our last vacation, I asked the kids what they thought of each trip, the quality of the trips, and what they think they cost.
I started the conversation, “So, of the two vacations we took this year, which one was your favorite?”
“Disney!” BeBe shouted. “Wait, what was the other vacation? ….Oh, Universal!” she chimed answering her own question.
“No, I’m counting those as the same vacation.” I responded.
“Oh. What was the other vacation then?” she asked tilting her head to the side.
“This summer…when dad and I took time off work…that is what I am counting as our vacation time…” I said, encouraging her to remember.
“Oh, when we went to our Aunt’s house?” she asked.
“Bebe! I wasn’t even there with you for that trip! Queenie took you.” I explained.
“Oh! I know! Was it when we went to the play and stayed in a hotel?” Her questions were now rapid fire.
“Well, that was a bit of a vacation, but it was just one weekend, one night, so I wasn’t really counting that either.“ I said calmly trying to slow her down.
“So our camp week with the YMCA doesn’t count either? Then what was our second vacation?” she asked.
“Oh,…right.” she said, as the memories dawned on her.
“Didn’t you enjoy camping with just the family? Remember the hikes, the rocks you got to look at, the canoeing…” I said, listing some of the things I know she enjoyed.
“Yes I remember, but that’s not a vacation.” she explained.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Well, we didn’t…stay in a hotel and do fun stuff…like the rides.” she said a little reluctantly, not wanting to hurt my feelings.
“OK! Now that you know which vacation trips we are talking about, do I even need to ask you which one was your favorite?”
“Disney! …which place was it that had that Mummy ride?
“That was Universal Studios”
“Oh, OK. Universal!” she shouted gleefully, remembering her favorite ride.
Reviewing The Trips With Ty and RU
When I asked RU and TY the same question they too struggled to remember the second vacation camping as a family.
RU piped in with her favorite more recent trips, “Pirate camp! Where I got the pop and the chips!” she recalled from a recent camping weekend with the Scouts.
Ty also recalled Disney and Universal as two vacations and when I told him I meant family camping his response was, “Really?”
So I could wrap this up right here and tell you all that you should not bother with camping if you hope to plan an impressive vacation, but really our family does love the outdoors and they did enjoy the trip and complained when it had to end, but I guess comparing it against Disney may not have been fair.
My next question for them was which vacation did they think cost more? We discussed the different parts of a vacation and which part might cost the most.
Reviewing The Costs With The Kids
BeBe thought the Disney trip cost more money because she remembers saving money for it for over a year. She thought Disney must have cost $1,000. As for camping, “It was probably only $100,” she said. I asked if she remembered how much our last grocery trip was, she gave it some thought, “Oh, camping must be $500 then.”
Ty said, “Disney cost more because we had to get the passes for the park, you know the bracelets they gave us, and we stayed in expensive hotels instead of motels, those aren’t expensive. We ate cheap food though.” he said authoritatively. Then he saw the look on my face, “Maybe not.” he added. Ty thought the trip likely cost us $1,000 each and $200 each for our camping trip.
“What was the most expensive part of our camping trip?” I asked Ty.
“Going to the outlet for ice cream! …and flashlights, …remember that? We had no flashlights.”
He was right. Our most expensive, unnecessary costs included a fairly expensive trip for flashlights to that handy little store close to the campground. I managed to pack exactly zero flashlights from the house! Of course the ice cream was an unavoidable add-on.
RU thought Disney must have been the more expensive trip, “Why?” I asked.
“My Mickey Mouse sunglasses, …you bought me those, …remember? And our new luggage.” She thought the trip must have cost about $150.
“How much do you think the camping trip cost, RU?” She replied $160. “So you think it cost $10 more to go camping, why?”
“Because, mommy, you had to get a car wash.” Of course, I thought.
“But when we were camping we slept in a tent, don’t you think that would make the trip cheaper? How much do you think the hotel at Disney World would cost?”
“Ten hundred and fifty!” (I think that must mean $1,050 of course, I decided not to dig into the fact that the price of our hotel is significantly more than she thought our whole trip cost.)
Summing It Up
It was obvious that the Disney World-Universal trip was their favourite, although for different reasons. BeBe claimed to not remember camping, but remembered the rides and fun at Universal. RU enjoyed the cotton candy, the ferris wheel (which I don’t recall), and sleeping in the same bed as me. Ty enjoyed Universal and the airplane ride there and back. Ty and BeBe also agreed that the passes were likely the most expensive part of the trip.
RU and I took the time to break down the different parts of the trip. “Sleeping, eating, playing and getting there!” she determined. Not the formal names of my budget categories, but very close. She thought getting there cost the most.“That light-up bouncy ball cost money too.”she said as she remembered her favourite souvenir.
My final question was asking them what they thought our next vacation should be. Ty says we should go to Hershey, Pennsylvania. I think he knows I am already thinking of this option and thinks his opinion might help me commit to it. RU wants to go to Jamaica, so she can get a new rainbow (tie-dye) shirt. Queenie brought one home for her as a souvenir from her last trip. BeBe is consistent with her goals and thinks we should go somewhere where “…there is rock climbing and a giant mountain—maybe Banff” she added.
Now to fill them in on the real costs of the trips!
Our one-week camping trip cost $228/person or $162/day.
That included: gas for two vehicles, camp site fees, groceries, eating out and museum entrance on our day trip, ice cream every day and of course flashlights!
The Disney trip cost $2,750 per person or $1,247/day
That included: flight, taxis, onsite hotel and tickets for Universal for 4 days, meals at onsite restaurants (not meal plan though); hotel, meal plan and tickets for Disney World for 6 days, gifts and souvenirs. Our most expensive mistake for this trip was thinking I could save money by buying Harry Potter wands ahead of time off the internet. Once we got there, the price on site at Universal was very comparable, but the ones there were interactive with fun magic in the theme park…we couldn’t pass that up.
Disney: Some incidentals + all-inclusive room, food and passes for 6 days $6,236.88
Universal: Passes $1,704.61; hotel $1,282.88; food and photopass $1,169.95
Harry Potter gifts: $631.31
Other souvenirs: $500
Disney World and Universal Trip Total: $13,726.27
Family Camping Trip Total: $1,140.26