Category Archives: travel

Dallas Recap: History, Food and Gratitude

So excited to try out these dining options while we're in Texas! I'm loving the 40% off Dallas attractions savings tip, too.

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Dallas for a work conference. I was expecting cowboy hats and country music, to be honest with you.

The city wasn’t at all what I expected, and I mean that in a very positive way as I’m not a fan of country music. What I experienced was history, culture, great food, and a respect for others that was sometimes enshrined in public monuments.

CityPass Attractions in Dallas

The folks at Visit Dallas hooked me up with a free CityPass to explore their beautiful city. Here are the things it potentially allowed me to do:

If you’re headed to Dallas, I highly recommend the CityPass as a way to save a bunch of money on attractions. It’s only $48 for adults and $32 for kids, and gets you into the above places. That saves you 40% compared to the normal cost of admission.

I was initially super ambitious and thought I would hit all four of my potential options, but time constraints kept that number down to two. I was also downtown without a car, so distance was another thing that contributed to my choices with the limited time I had.

I would definitely go back to see what I missed, though, because what I saw was pretty impressive.

Dealy Plaza AKA The Grassy Knoll

The very first day we got into town, some friends and I headed to the Grassy Knoll and Sixth Floor Museum. JFK was a great leader who was taken far too soon, and learning more about the background behind that fateful day was at the top of our to-do list.

I made another 360 video for you guys at the Grassy Knoll so you could see what I did first hand. Before I show you that, I just want to orient you a little bit. Photos from this section are courtesy of Jana Says.

The street you’ll see directly in front of you is Elm Street–the road the motorcade was driving down when it happened. There’s an “X” where the fatal shot hit the president. You’ll be able to see this up close a bit over halfway through the video.

The x on the road where JFK was shot.

The white structure we walk through was there the day of the assassination. The one across the street outside the church was added later. Behind the church is the official JFK memorial. (I think it’s a church. That brown, castle-ish looking building.)

View from the grassy knoll.

At the very beginning of the video (and throughout,) the building behind you is the Book Depository. This is where Lee Harvey Oswald supposedly set up shop. He was an employee there. The story is he was on the sixth floor–hence The Sixth Floor Museum. We’ll get to that in a minute, though.

Here’s the Book Depository:

The Book Depository hosts the Sixth Floor Museum.

And here’s the video. You can click and drag to look around from your PC or phone, but it will be best viewed through a VR headset.

The Sixth Floor Museum

If you’re going to Dallas, I highly recommend checking out the Sixth Floor Museum–and actually doing the audio tour.

The audio tour takes you through the culture and politics–both national and local to Dallas–that surrounded JFK’s presidency. It gives you an appreciation for his policies and helps you understand why some people in Dallas weren’t too keen on them.

It also takes you through the whirlwind investigation into Lee Harvey Oswald, and even explores alternate theories. I was in Dallas when the JFK papers were released, and so far there hasn’t been any new huge revelation, so everything I learned was current even with the release.

jfk assassination museum

I didn’t really have a horse in the game when it came to the assassination before this trip. Maybe the conspiracy theories were right. Maybe they weren’t. I didn’t know enough to make an educated guess.

After visiting the Sixth Floor Museum, I’m convinced Oswald was set up in some way. That the events that happened that day didn’t unfurl the way the official story tells us.

But when you visit, you might walk away with a different conclusion. Definitely a must-see.

Reunion Tower GeO-Deck

Dallas skyline from Reunion Tower GeO-Deck

Our last day in town, we visited the GeO-Deck at Reunion Tower. It’s an observation deck. We expected to go up, look around, be like, “These are some beautiful views!” and then be on our way.

It was so much more. It really blew us away.

First, they take your picture when you arrive and green screen different skyline/tower backgrounds in. You get a free digital copy, which we were surprised by and took advantage of. You could also order upgrades.

The elevator to get to the top has a window, which was breathtaking on the way up, but I did start getting a little motion sickness on the way down.

Up at the top, the views outside are breathtaking. There is a sphere built around the GeO-deck, constructed of a bunch of triangle frames. Aim between those frames and you get some amazing shots. Because Dallas is so flat, you can see for what seems like forever.

When you go inside, there’s a lot more to do, too. There are activity tables for kids. Then there are banks of touch screens along the edges so you can learn more about what you’re seeing.

For example, we had an amazing room the end of the hall at our hotel with sweeping views of the city out of panoramic windows. We did nothing special to get this room. We just lucked out.

Outside, I could see what looked like a Pegasus–a symbol I had grown up associating with Exxon-Mobile–leaping from the top of a building. I saw more of these Pegasuses (Pegasi?) throughout the city during our stay. I wondered if there was a connection.

At the GeO-deck, I learned the back story:

pegasus dallas

There was also a rotating restaurant above the observation deck that we heard rave reviews about, but we had already set up other dining plans.

Good Eats in Dallas

build your own grilled cheese

Custom grilled cheese.

While the rotating restaurant did sound amazingly cool, I’m glad we ended up sticking to our original plan. We went to RJ Mexican Cuisine, and it was so good. It had a higher-end vibe–especially with food presentation, but I went in with jeans and a hoodie at lunch time and felt perfectly comfortable.

I was insanely hungry, so I didn’t obsess over food prices like I usually do, which is really odd behavior on my part. I was kind of dreading the bill. But when it came, it was reasonable: somewhere between $20 and $30 for some of the best food and service ever.

Another not-crazy-expensive restaurant we tried out was Dallas Grilled Cheese Company. It was also great. This place felt like a hipster hangout, and encouraged you to get adventurous with your food. They had a ton of different grilled cheese menu options that essentially had a bunch of add-ons cooked into your sandwich. Crazy delicious!

Halloween Cocktails

Also, they had a Candy Corn Cocktail, which was as unbearably sweet as you’d expect it to be, but also awesome because it exists.

Fancier Restaurants

I got invited to a few dinners while I was at the conference, and they fed us so well!

CFSI took us to the Ritz-Carlton, which had an absolutely stunning private room with gorgeous views of the carefully curated courtyard. The food wasn’t half bad either. Understatement.

chocolate torte

I also got to meet up with my friends at CreditRepair.com at the dinner they hosted at Dallas Chop House. Everything from the bread to the steak to the dessert above was amazing! I definitely did not leave hungry.

Free Stuff to Do in Dallas: Thanks-Giving Square

Gratitude turns what we have into enough.

Before I went on this trip, I explored a lot of free things to do while I was there. Dallas has no shortage of them.

My absolute favorite, though, was Thanks-Giving Square. Located in the middle of downtown, it’s a nondenominational oasis where you can reflect and exercise gratitude.

This may sound silly, but the second I walked into the courtyard I felt this rush of peace. After an extremely hectic week, it was a more than welcome feeling.

There were multiple man-made waterfalls spilling over rocks or cement walls. There were gardens under the shade of trees where you could sit for a moment of meditation. There were quotes everywhere quoting various scripture from all kinds of world religions, encouraging visitors to demonstrate gratitude.

Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way.

There was this feeling that the undercurrent of religion–stripped of dogma and the stories that we choose to believe–was present. That undercurrent that helps us tap into what makes us human, helps us find peace even in moments of great conflict, and helps us figure out what is right and wrong when we’re faced with a difficult decision.

That was the undercurrent that was present. It’s a beautiful thing to experience.

The Chapel

stained glass ceiling thanksgiving square dallas

Perhaps the most impressive part of Thanksgiving Square was the Chapel. It spirals around like a nautilus–upwards towards the sky. Inside, the roof is made of stained glass windows, which are made accessible to the blind with a bold, tactile plaque on the wall.

thanksgiving sqaure ada

In the middle of the room, flanked by a few chairs, is a massive, marble cube that serves as a nondenominational altar of sorts. On the wall is a gratitude wall, where visitors can write something they’re thankful for.

nautilus building dallas texas

A ramp spirals up the inside of the building, but I’m not sure where it leads. It was closed when we visited.

What I’d Do Differently

I really enjoyed this city–even more than I thought I would. If I were to do it again, I’d probably do Reunion Tower the first day instead of the last. It really helped you orient yourself and get an idea of all the different things you could do while you were in town.

I’d also dedicate even more time to adventures around the city. So many interesting things to see, and so little time.

Have you ever been to Dallas? What were your favorite parts? Would love to hear your stories in the comments!

 

How to Have a Budget Vacation in Gokarna

Very cool way to do budget travel while still staying at luxe resorts. Adding Gokarna, India to the achievable part of my bucket list!

Famous for its beach and resorts, Gokarna is a town in Karnataka, India where you can head when you find Goa overcrowded. Offering many tourist activities, beach views, and more, Gokarna has secured its place as a beach holiday destination. It is the perfect place to rejuvenate yourself and escape the monotony of life.

Gokarna is one of those beach destinations where you can take part in all activities and have a comfortable stay even if you have a small budget.

Gokarna Resort Options

Gokarna Resorts are an incredible solution for a budget-friendly vacation. These resorts offer  relaxation, luxury, and a plethora of activities to take part in. So, if you are a budget-minded traveler, go ahead and explore these cheap Gokarna hotels:

Namaste Sanjeevini

Spanning over an area of 4 acres, Namaste Sanjeevini is a resort where you can get a room for INR 2,500 (currently equivalent to $38.57 USD) per night.

Considered as the best resort near the beach, it is quite spacious and has elegantly designed rooms and suites. Here you’ll be able to get a room with a perfect Kudle beach view.

Also, as the name suggests, the resort also houses two Yoga decks. The large deck is under a tree and is extremely peaceful. For a marginal amount of money, you get facilities like a swimming pool, yoga decks, internet access, and more.

Gokarna International Beach Resort

Offering rates as low as INR 2,500 (currently equivalent to $38.57 USD) per night, Gokarna International Beach Resort is situated to the south of Kudle Beach. Due to its location, all its rooms are sea and beach facing.

The resort has so much to offer to its visitors including a bar, international cuisine, a lounge and many fun activities. The activities here provide you optimum comfort and enjoyment, making your vacation more exciting and comfortable.

Om Beach Resort

Om Beach Resort is a great choice for your stay as it offers beautiful views of rustic-style cottages. The resort boasts of its spacious, comfortable rooms.

This resort makes it easy to adhere to your budget. It offers rooms for your stay from INR 2,953 (currently $45.53 USD) and up. With 12 cottages in total, the resort offers an Ayurvedic Spa without burning a hole in your pocket.

Sanskruti Resort

Close to nature, Sanskruti Resort consists of 10 valley view rooms, cottages and top-class amenities. The resort also boasts of two swimming pools, Ayurvedic massage facilities, and other activities.

The level of luxury here doesn’t obfuscate the fact that you are sitting in the lap of Mother Nature. The resort is quite eco-friendly and has a beautiful installation of tropical trees with heavy usage of woodcraft.

Offering all this for just INR 6,000 (currently $92.57 USD) and up, Sanskruti Resort has it going on.

Lotus Beach Resort

Among the best resorts in Gokarna, Lotus Beach Resort has a rugged ambience with okra-hued interior sparkle. The roofs of the cottages here are thatched which beautifully represents the local heritage, but they still have modern furniture.

Though it is located beside the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea, it still has rooms from INR 3,000 (currently $42.39 USD) and up. The resort also has a special kids’ area which will keep them occupied, and a bonfire setup for all.

Find Your Resort

All these resorts in Gokarna have their own beauty and individuality. Where you stay will depend on what you want out of the services, location, views, and facilities.These cheap hotels in Gokarna make perfect beach holiday resorts.

There are many other resorts in Gokarna that offer a comfortable stay for a more-than-reasonable amount of money. On top of affordable resorts, the transportation in Gokarna is also not expensive. You can take a rickshaw or an auto, and it will take you to your destination.

 

 

This post is brought to you and contributed by Audrey Hobbs.

Seven Free or Inexpensive Activities in Toronto

I’m happy to introduce you to Lisa Goodmurphy from Gone With the Family. I absolutely love her blog where I learn about great, family-friendly activities in all the amazing places she goes—with the kids! Make sure to check out her full bio below to see all the different places she writes and the best ways to follow her.

Totally taking my kids to the fourth one on this list of free/inexpensive things to do in Toronto!



Toronto is a wonderful, family-friendly city, but like most cities it can also be a very expensive place to visit.  This is especially true for families who have to multiply the costs of admissions, meals etc. by the number of members.  Fortunately, there are a number of things to do in Toronto that are fun for families but won’t break the bank.

1.  Parks/Green Spaces

The municipal government, which would like Toronto to be known as “the City within a Park”, is responsible for nearly 1500 parks within the city.  There’s no charge to take the kids to some of the cities great parks to run around and blow off steam.  One of the best in the city is High Park, a 161 hectare park located in the city’s west end which boasts hiking trails, playgrounds, picnic areas, gardens and a zoo.  The park is easily accessible by transit and is the perfect place to entertain kids for an hour or more with little expense.

2.  Ferry to Centre Island

Just a short ferry ride from downtown, visitors can escape the hustle and bustle of the city on the car-free Centre Island.  The ferry ride isn’t free but it is relatively inexpensive ($4-8) and for many kids the boat ride is an adventure in and of itself.  Parents will also enjoy the fantastic views of Toronto’s skyline on the boat ride to and from the island.  Once on the island, families can enjoy bicycle paths, a petting zoo, wading pools, swimming and other activities which are free or inexpensive.  Parents should be aware though that there is an amusement park on the island as well so they will want to steer clear if they wish to avoid the kids begging for rides.

art gallery of toronto sculpture

3.  The Art Gallery of Ontario

The Art Gallery of Ontario (“the AGO”) is located in downtown Toronto and is one of the largest art museums in North America.  The AGO has a large Canadian collection as well as many masterpieces of European art, contemporary art and photography.  It’s a world-class art museum and it’s one of the most family-friendly galleries we have visited.  Families on a budget will also appreciate that entry to the permanent collections is FREE on Wednesday evenings from 6pm – 8:30pm.

4.  Riverdale Farm

Riverdale Farm is located in a park-like setting in the downtown Toronto neighbourhood of Cabbagetown and represents what a rural Ontario farm would have been like in the late 19th/early 20th century.  Visitors can tour the 7.5 acre farm property, observe the animals and chat with the farmers as they do their daily chores.  Homemade refreshments are also available in the Farm Kitchen.  Admission is always free at Riverdale Farm which is open year round and hosts a number of special seasonal events.

5.  Explore Neighbourhoods

Toronto is one of the world’s most multicultural cities and its neighbourhoods can be a lot of fun to explore with kids.  The best known are probably Chinatown, Greektown, Little Italy and Little India and a couple of hours in any of these neighbourhoods can feel like a day trip to another country.  Families can stroll the neighbourhoods and soak up the sights and sounds, browse the shops and sample authentic foods while spending far less than they would in malls or mainstream restaurants.

6.  Harbourfront Centre

Harbourfront Centre is a not-for-profit cultural centre located on Toronto’s waterfront which provides year-round programming as well as outdoor shows and events during the summer season.  Some of the offerings have an associated fee (particularly crafts workshops), however, there are many free events and activities as well.  For example, during the upcoming winter season, the Harbourfront Centre will have free skating all winter, free concerts, free holiday movies, a winter scavenger hunt, and a holiday market with free admission, free storytelling and crafts for kids in Miss Lou’s Room.  There are numerous festivals and events during the course of the year that will appeal to families as well.

St Lawrence Market in Toronto, Canada

7.  St. Lawrence Market

St. Lawrence Market has been thriving in downtown Toronto since 1803 and has recently been recognized by National Geographic as the number one food market in the world.  Anyone who enjoys food markets simply must make it a priority when visiting Toronto.  It’s absolutely free to walk around and enjoy the atmosphere of delicious sights, sounds and smells and it’s an ideal place to purchase an inexpensive lunch.  If you’re lucky then you might even find entertainment there too as it’s a popular place for buskers.

 

 

Lisa Goodmurphy is a lawyer living near Toronto, Canada. She left the corporate world to stay home with her two daughters, Katie and Emma (now aged 16 and 9). Badly bitten by the travel bug years ago, Lisa considers herself fortunate that her husband and kids are equally enthusiastic about exploring the world.

As well as writing about her family’s travel adventures on her blog Gone With The Family, Lisa has written for a number of travel websites and is a regular contributor at Travel Mamas as The Spunky Travel Mama. You can also follow her on Facebook, on Twitter as @GoneWithFamily and on Pinterest.

Toronto has amazing things to do for free as Lisa outlines.  If you’re looking to do more of the tourist-y things, CityPass offers a steep discount. Visit Toronto’s CN Tower plus 4 other attractions for up to 45% off with CityPASS!

Free Things to Do in Dallas

Dang, Dallas has some cool stuff to do for free!

As conference season inches closer, I’m realizing that I really need to start planning my travel itinerary now. While I have flights and hotels booked, I haven’t cemented what, exactly, I’ll be doing once I hit the ground at FinCon this year.

So I started planning a couple of lunches. I blocked off time for specific events I know I have to participate in.

I also started planning exploratory trips into the city. Last year I got to see some amazing things in San Diego, and I’m excited to learn more about Dallas.

As I do my research, I thought it would be fun to share some of the free things the city has to offer. Whether you’re headed there for business or pleasure, here are 12 FREE things to do in Dallas:

Historical Dallas

I’m a huge history nerd. I get super psyched when I see that a city offers more than just a glimpse into its past for free. Dallas is one of those cities.

1. Dealey Plaza

This is where JFK was assassinated 54 years ago. There is no admission price to go to Dealey Plaza itself, but if you’d like to go to get a little background at The Sixth Floor Museum, you’ll pay $16 per adult.

You can also score a sweet deal by picking up a CityPass.

2. John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza

While you’re at Dealey Plaza, you’ll see the JFK Memorial. It’s simple, but in a move of genius, secluded in a very public place. The structure allows for a moment of silence, contemplation or meditation, and was built in hopes that it would help celebrate JFK’s life rather than serve as a place of mourning for his death.

3. Fair Park

Art deco was huge in the 1930s, and Dallas went big with it. Fair Park is home of the largest collection of art deco buildings in North America. The largest is the Hall of State, which houses some impressive murals and regularly hosts events like weddings. You can tour the building for free.

4. Juanita Craft House

Juanita Craft was an NAACP champion. She joined in her hometown of Dallas, but went on to establish nearly 200 more chapters in rural Texas. She integrated colleges, theaters, restaurants, and even the Texas State Fair. She was such an important player in the Civil Rights movement that Martin Luther King, Jr. and Lyndon Johnson paid visits to her home in attempts to coordinate their efforts.

That home is now open to the public. If you want to go, just make sure you call ahead to make an appointment.

Arts & Culture in Dallas

Stained glass spiral at Thanks-Giving Square in Dallas

Thanks-Giving Square

5. Thanks-Giving Square

Gratitude makes our life better. It helps us feel at peace and gives us some perspective–hopefully inspiring us to do good for other people.

Thanks-Giving Square stands in honor of that sentiment. The art collection and nautilus-shaped roof serve to inspire peace to every human being–regardless of religion or ethnicity. There are also outdoor meditation gardens.

There are a ton of time slots for this one. Check out the hours as you plan your visit.

6. Dallas Arts District

At 68 acres, Dallas boasts the largest urban arts district in the United States. Klyde Warren Park sits at the center, hosting free muscial performances every Thursday and additional family-friendly fun throughout the week.

While in the Dallas Arts District, you’ll also come across the Dallas Museum of Art and the Crow Collection of Asian Art–two museums that offer F-R-E-E admission.

7. African-American Museum

Located in Fair Park with the Hall of State, the African-American Museum houses one of the largest collections of art and historical documents in its niche. It also regularly hosts lectures and workshops.

Open from 10a-5p everyday except for Sunday.

8. The Samurai Collection

If you’ve been to Dallas before, but it’s been a while, this will be a new experience for you. The Ann & Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Museum opened this exhibit in 2012, making the vast personal collection open to the public.

This is literally the only place outside of Japan where you’ll find a museum dedicated to samurai armor.

Before viewing the museum’s 1,000+ piece collection, you can grab some eats at the Saint Ann Restaurant and Bar downstairs. It gets more than decent reviews, so hop in if you’re there around meal time. You don’t HAVE to eat in order to see samurai armor, though.

Oh, also, this is all in an historic school building. So good food, local history and samurais. Random, but awesome.

9. The Economy in Action

This interactive exhibit brought to you by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas is literally all about money. Hopefully, since you’re reading a personal finance blog, that makes you giddy as all get out!

Some super cool things you’ll find here:

  • Historical Currency- As in legitimate paper and coins from the 1700s through the 1900s.
  • Cast Your Vote- Unhappy that the Fed is independent of government? Go back in time and listen to the Founding Father’s arguments for and against. You’ll even get to cast your vote after they make their arguments!
  • What does the Fed do? You may have wondered what the Federal Reserve Bank does aside from raising or lowering interest rates. Well, The Economy in Action will break it down for you with five different exhibits ranging from the founding of the Fed to bank supervision to current monetary policy.

Getting Around Dallas

M-Line Dallas

There are a surprising number of ways to get around Dallas for $0.

10. D-Link

Need to get to all of Dallas’ art and culture between the hours of 11a to 11:30p? There’s a free bus for that. Seriously.

You can check out the D-Link (722) route map here.

11. E-Frogs

What’s better than free? How about eco-friendly and free?

E-Frogs uses street-legal, modified golf carts to get you around the city without charging fare. Better for the environment than cars, and better for your wallet than ride-sharing services.

You will have to tip, though. Don’t be so cheap that you turn into a total and complete jerk.

To get a ride, text your departure and arrival address along with the time you’ll need the ride to 469-432-4055.

12. McKinney Avenue Trolley

Also known as the M-Line, the McKinney Avenue Trolley runs seven days per week between the Arts District and Uptown. While there is no charge to ride, the trolley does accept donations.

You can check out the schedule here.

 

Know of any other free things to do in Dallas that should be added to the list? Share them in the comments below!

 

 

How to Save Money at Disney World

So glad I saw this before we leave for Disney World! Going to save me SO much money!

A few months back, we took a road trip down to Florida. We were going to a wedding, and a family member had gifted us a week at their timeshare in Orlando as a Christmas present. We couldn’t have gotten out of going to Disney if we wanted to.

Of course, we wanted to go. It’s just an expensive trip, so it’s not likely one we would have made on our own. We had a bit of a mixed experience once we got down there, to be honest with you, but Disney has worked to make amends for the negative experiences we had.

The positive experiences were great, though. We got to meet a bunch of characters–most of whom were awesome. One of my kiddos ended up being the rebel spy on board our ship on the Star Wars ride. And a live performance of Frozen brought us to tears.

Yeah, that last one really happened.

We did a few things to save before we went. First, the timeshare was free, and we were able to dodge the sales pitch. We also travel hacked our tickets. They weren’t free, but they were insanely cheap.

Once we got there, though, I realized that there was more I could have done to prepare. To save you from making these same follies, I thought I’d share my learned-from-experience Disney savings advice.

Cheapest Ways to Meet Characters at Disney World

Before I had gone to Disney World as an adult, I assumed the best way to ensure the kids met the characters they were in love with was by scheduling a meal with them. So we scheduled a couple of them.

We chose the cheaper buffet option when we dined at Disney restaurants to meet with characters, but it was still pricey–between $30-$60 per person.

Here’s what I wish I would have known before we left.

The Lines to Meet Characters Aren’t that Long

Find out how to meet Minnie Mouse for free at Disney World.

Minnie Mouse at Epcot was so, so great with the kids!

If there’s a designated place to meet your character of choice, you can simply wait in line to meet them and take pictures without paying an extra dime. We met…

  • Olaf
  • Mickey Mouse
  • Minnie Mouse
  • Goofy

…in this way. If I had known there would be so many opportunities to do this, I may have cut one of our character dining experiences, and saved a ton of money in the process.

From what I saw walking around the parks, the lines for these meet’n’greets weren’t that long. And we were there at the end of May, which I understand to be a pretty popular time to visit.

Dig around on the Disney Experience App before you go. You’ll be able to see where the meet’n’greet opportunities are, and a quick google search should be able to tell you if your character of choice has crazy long lines.

Worst case scenario, you can use one of your Fast Passes for extremely popular characters.

Don’t Overlook Character Performance Attractions

Disney’s attractions include a whole lot more than just rides. For example, we got to meet Belle at Enchanted Tales with Belle.

Catch storytime with Belle at Learning Express Bakery Square.

The upside to this was that our kids got an up close and intimate experience, performing a play while interacting directly with Belle.

The downside was that the line was insane. Even with a disability pass, we waited somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half after we got in line. Granted, this is an extremely popular attraction right now as the new Beauty and the Beast movie just came out, but it was still less than fun.

Arguably worth it once we got inside.

For the Frozen performance we attended, there was also a bit of a wait, though nowhere near as bad. Your kids didn’t get to meet and hug the characters for this one, though we didn’t expect that to happen and really loved the over-the-top performance.

Read the attraction description to see just how up close and personal the experience will be, and then weigh if the wait time is worth it, or if you’d rather pay to sit down and eat a meal while the characters make their rounds to your table.

Don’t Wait to Buy Disney Merchandise on Amazon

Ugh. The biggest money mistake of our entire Disney trip was not buying the kids things they wanted while we were in the park. I did want to get them a souvenir or two, but largely I told them to wait until we got home and then Mommy would buy it cheaper online.

I took pictures of UPCs and everything.

Find out how to save money on Disney Parks merchandise.

SURPRISE! Disney has a separate line of products that they sell exclusively at the parks. The internet seems to be aware of this exclusivity. When people resell items from the line, the price is way marked up.

I had promised my kids I’d get them this stuff, though. We have lots of conversations about sacrifices and trade offs when it comes to money, but this was something I had explicitly told them I would buy later in order to stave off tantrums.

Because I’m not a fan of breaking my promises, I’ve been filling in an item or two for birthdays, and Santa will probably help out a bit at Christmas. The number of presents they receive isn’t as large as it would usually be if I weren’t buying already-expensive-and-then-marked-up-even-more Disney products. But they’re happy because it’s something they really wanted, and I’m happy because I’m able to not be an evil liar.

The Things We Did Right

Central Florida is insanely hot in May. Thankfully, this was one area where I did something right.

Buy Your Own Cooling Towels

Cooling towels absolutely saved us on this trip. We got Frogg Toggs Chilly Pads, and I highly recommend them as they worked amazingly well. I would not recommend their other cooling products, though.

You wet them down and lay them around your neck. As the water evaporates, it cools you down. The water takes a long time to evaporate, too, so we weren’t stopping at a water fountain every five seconds.

Once we were inside Disney, we saw Disney-branded cooling towels everywhere–primarily donning the face of Mickey or Minnie mouse. They were $20/piece. If we hadn’t been prepared, I would have broken down and bought them, price tag be darned.

If we were going to be there, we needed them. Otherwise we would have had to cut all of our days short. Buy yours before you get into the park so you don’t get robbed. Kmart has them for half the price.

Bring Your Own Water Bottles

You are allowed to bring coolers into the park as long as it meets size guidelines and doesn’t contain glass or alcohol. We packed ours full of water. Yes, it was heavy. But so worth it.

We usually had to buy more water about half-way through the day at park prices (I’m a weirdo about fountain/tap water,) but if we hadn’t brought our own supply at the beginning of the day, we would have had to pay park prices twice.

We also found that we had enough room on all the rides to put the cooler by our feet. We weren’t riding any insane roller coasters, but even on the Dumbo and Little Mermaid rides, we had no issues.

Can you do Disney World on a budget?

Absolutely. We did it relatively affordably this time, given that it is Disney. We plan on heading back in the next couple of years. This time, we’ll have some pro experience under our belt to safeguard our budget even better.