Teresa’s Disney Vacation: $2500 Challenge

| August 26, 2010 | 3 Replies

Post by Teresa Echols

Well, we made it home from our Disney family vacation tired, happy and with money in the bank. I guess I should start at the beginning and tell you how this trip came to be. Way back in January, Pete announced that he was giving me a challenge to plan and take a family Disney vacation for a typical family of four. It was decided that $2500 was the average amount and I was given the task to start the planning.  Want to know how it went? Keep reading…

I knew from the beginning that Pop Century would be my resort. I have always been intrigued by the theme at Pop (being a child of the 60’s and early 70’s). Lucky for me it is a value resort and fit right in with my budget.

Dan Fronckowiak, my agent at Dreams Unlimited Travel, helped with question after stupid question I had along the way, like how the dining plan works. Picking the right dates for my family was our first major decision. I knew I wanted it to be when school was out, but living in Florida I also knew that summer would be so hot and humid. I submitted every possible date that we could travel (including Christmas break, spring break and long weekends when school would be out). Everything pointed back to the hot, hot summer as the best time for the family and my budget. And after they announced that free dining was starting Aug 15th it kind of set the date for me. With the dates picked and the resort picked, I just sat back and let Dan do all the work. I told him where we wanted to eat and he took care of the reservations. I told him how many days we would be in the parks and he took care of the tickets. He even sent me regular emails to count down the day and get us excited about our trip. A lot of my questions were about dining and how the dining plan works. I had no idea what to expect, I didn’t have a clue about the “Key to the World” cards or how to use them. Dan was very quick to answer my emails even though I think some days I sent way too many.  The plans turned into reality and $1,636.07 was quickly spent on our vacation package, which included our room, tickets and dining.

We arrived at Pop promptly at 3 pm on Sunday the 15th, and had a smooth check-in, (I had already done the online check-in). There was lots of activity going on with the music and hula hooping in the lobby. We headed off to the 60’s area to find our room and get settled. We found the building just fine. We also found about 50 construction workers hard at work on our building. So, ok, at first I was fine with this (they had to be working somewhere and as long as they didn’t mess with my week then I could deal with it.) 3rd floor here we come ……. We waited and waited and waited for the elevator, finally the doors opened and a large cart full of old carpet came out. I was still too happy and excited to be there to let this bother me.  So, we made it to our room, the door opened and we all stood there looking around for something, I don’t know what, maybe we thought if we stared long enough the beds would somehow  get bigger. I did my research, I knew they were double beds,  I knew the room would be small, but, somehow when we got there with our 4 pieces of luggage, a large cooler, various tote bags full of crap and hubby’s precious  full-size coffee pot, the room got very tiny. OK, everyone out of my way, while I get this room set up and organized.  This of course had to wait, because in our frenzy to get here we skipped lunch with my promise that we would eat the minute we arrived at Disney.

With our “Keys to the World” in hand we headed to the food court. We all ate well and a lot. The food selection was really very good (even though Grace ate Chicken and Fries every time).  During our stay we had pizza, sandwiches made to order, hamburgers, and a wonderful Greek salad. Stella even tried the famous Tie-dye cheesecake (it was hard to watch this as her mouth and tongue turned various shades of blue, purple, yellow and pink.)  Breakfast to me was disappointing with the nasty scrambled eggs and the overcooked biscuits.  As we walked back to our room, I thought to myself that maybe I should have packed the pants with the stretch in the fabric, and good lord, where is Kelvin going to sleep? The floor would have been an option if only we had a room that had been refurbished. Kelvin and Stella headed to the pool while Grace and I checked out the beds (nice and comfy for one).

For our first evening, we joined Pete and Walter for the Illuminations Cruise (Fireworks at Epcot from a nice boat with snacks and drinks). It was nice to see how the other half lives at the Beach Club before heading back to Pop.

I woke up on Day Two tired, stiff, puffy and aching all over from clinging to the side of the bed so I wouldn’t fall to the floor. Three hours of Stella repeating over and over for Grace to “stop it” drove Kelvin and I to the brink of smacking Grace and putting tape on Stella’s mouth. Kelvin must have complete silence, darkness and a still bed to go to sleep. Hate to tell you honey, but you ain’t getting your “perfect sleeping conditions” this week, so stop your flipping around in your vain attempt to throw me from the bed. My butt has staked out this tiny sliver of real-estate on this cot. I have my laptop, my Iphone, a tall glass of Dr. Pepper and my chocolate…. I’m good.

Monday was “Animal Kingdom” day, and we hit the park around 9. It was hot as you know what!! Stella and I don’t do well in the extreme heat, but we had a great day!   As we hit the park, I decided to do a few things I had never done before.  Dinosaur was great and not nearly as intense as I thought it would be.  Finding Nemo – The Musical was a show I had never seen and it didn’t disappoint. If it hadn’t been for the fact that I had sweated out every bit of moisture before seeing the show I know I would have cried. (I totally forgot that his mommy dies in the beginning). We took our time and rested often as we tried to stay cool. While we enjoyed our day at Animal Kingdom, the thought of the pool was never far off Stella’s mind. I was thinking of the Petal’s Pool Bar and a cool room alone while Kelvin took the girls for a swim. Back in our room, I tried to chill on the bed as the drilling and hammering noises drifted down through the ceiling.

At 4 pm we headed to the food court for a great meet with a few of our podcast listeners (now they are friends).  We had a great time talking and comparing notes about our rooms. This is where I found out that the others had a flat screen TV and a nifty curtained area in their rooms, while my family watched TV on what I’m sure was an authentic 1960’s Zenith.  With this info and the memory of the construction noises, I headed to guest services to see what could be done. Within 30 minutes we had packed up and were on our way to the 50’s.  Opening the door, we stared about silently… both girls broke the silence with, “It’s the same room.”  No, no it’s not girls; look the border on the wall is different, and look there, the picture on the wall is different.  No time to think about it now, we had a reservation at Kona for 8:10 and Stella was already in melt down from the hunger. By the time we arrived at the Poly she was in tears from lack of food and I suspect just being overly tired.  After we were seated, I looked around and saw several small children in similar moods. I guess the tip here would be to eat earlier if you have small children. I ordered the Tuna Oscar and was not disappointed. Kelvin had steak, Stella had chicken and Grace just had a bowl of chicken noodle soup. We found the atmosphere to be a little loud for our taste. The service was good, our server was very quick in getting Stella taken care of (her tears stopped about 10 minutes after being seated, you would think she hadn’t eaten in days).

I woke early on Tuesday with the thought that I had left something in the old room. I sent Kelvin back with the old key in hopes that it would still work. It did!! He came back with the park passes I had put on the dresser for “safe keeping”.  “Epcot day” turned into “hang at the Resort day” for the girls and I.  Kelvin went back to Animal Kingdom to do the some of the things we missed the day before. Lunch at the resort followed by shopping at the resort and a swim turned the day into a nice leisurely time. Dinner at Yachtsman turned us into slow moving slugs as we came “home”.  The arcade at Pop is big and nice.  The girls spent a little money and came back happy with a handful of the usual crap.

By this time I realized that the room size was no longer bothering us and we were just having fun.  We had settled into a nightly routine and schedule for the bathroom and the fussing had stopped.

Our day in the Magic Kingdom was by far my favorite and Kelvin’s least.  “Classic Disney” always makes me happy…. Jungle Cruise, Tiki Room, Haunted Mansion, Pirates, and The PeopleMover all added up to a great day in the park.  The shopping on Main Street didn’t hurt either. We had started the day with the plans to stay all day in the park and take the boat over to Fort Wilderness for dinner. By 3 pm we were hot, sweaty and thinking about wanting to freshen up before dinner. We did end up going back to Pop for showers and clean clothes before driving over for dinner. Fort Wilderness has a great inner bus system to get you down to the settlement area where Trail’s End is located. I had actually allotted too much time for transportation and we arrived 30 minutes early. They have a playground right there and the girls hung out and chilled while we waited. Trail’s End is a wonderful buffet with down home cooking. It was the perfect relaxing way to end our busy day.

Hollywood Studios would be our last park for the week. Thursday dawned with Grace feeling tired and cranky. We left her to rest and shower while we headed over for lunch at 50’s Prime Time Cafe.  I have eaten here many times, but this meal stands out as the best! The interaction with “Cousin Joey” our server was great, nothing better than watching Kelvin get corn crammed down his throat. Truly, “good times!”

Dinner at Olivia’s at Old Key West would be our last Table service meal of the week. Total opposite experience with the server here. He was stressed, over extended with too many tables and didn’t have a clue what to do. I tipped him well for effort and the nice smile he gave us as he came by the table on his way somewhere else.

We squeezed in one last swim late Thursday night before packing up and getting ready to head home. Here is where I realized that we had 3 quick service credits and 13 snack credits remaining.  I always hear people saying that they have snack credits remaining and they would use them up on the morning they leave with snacks to take home.  I vowed this wouldn’t happen to me, but it did.

We had breakfast in the food court and walked out with a large bag of snacks for the drive home, (Ok, well maybe not the drive since it is only a 40 minute trip, but I do now have snacks for the next few days at home).  We drove home in virtual silence, only the soft singing of Stella as she played with her new Disney toys.

People are always saying to me, that we are lucky to live so close to Disney.  And I agree.  But you know what? Living here in Orlando is nothing compared to taking a Disney vacation and experiencing the “total package” of staying on property.   Our 5 nights at Pop with dining and park tickets came to $1,636.07.  After we arrived, we spent $376.73 on tips, food and shopping, for a grand total of $2,012.80.  I came home with $487.20 in my pocket. Could I have done it differently? Sure! But this challenge to me was to show how a family could experience Disney and still not go broke. I am here to tell you it can be done. I am ready for my next challenge… How about one to see how much money I can spend at Disney? I’m game……

Good Times,


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Category: Disney World

About the Author ()

Leah grew up in a little farming town in Illinois, right on the Mississippi River. Her Chicago-born husband, David, left the city for her, and they're now raising their three children (Jacob, Jonah and Lydia) just 12 miles from her hometown. As the Senior Editor of the DIS (wdwinfo.com), Leah spends a lot of time writing about, reading about, and discussing Disney. So, it should come as no surprise that one of her family's favorite ways to spend time is going to Walt Disney World and traveling on Disney Cruise Line. She also enjoys shopping, watching movies with her husband and doing crafts with and for her kids.