It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Universal Studios and Disney World over fall break felt impossible. We travel often, but we do it on a budget. We pull the camper to stay inexpensively. We eat out, but we also eat at the campsite a lot. We see new things but most of them are free or nearly-free. We’re committed to showing the girls all fifty states, but also saving for college and so we do it carefully.
Universal Studios and Disney World felt too frivolous.
Universal Studios and Disney World felt too out of reach.
But then our renters abandoned our rental property, we spent all summer (and all our money) getting it ready to sell, and when it sold above asking price in a hot market, we suddenly had the money to do something we thought could never happen.
So before I share all the fun stuff we did over fall break, I feel it’s important to say we know this extravagant trip was a gift from God. The God we serve was showing off when the house sold and He was showing off with the extra money we were given. This trip was never going to be a reality for us. It’s not the way we choose to spend our money, and I’m too responsible to spend money on a vacation if I know we need to use that money elsewhere.
Being a financially responsible adult is the cross I bear.
God has been showing off in 2018 and this trip is an example of that.
OKAY, ENOUGH OF THAT. WE WENT ON A MAGICAL TRIP AND HERE’S WHAT WE DID:
We pulled the camper 1000 miles to the KOA Kampground in Orlando. (If you can book early enough, Disney has a campground that is amazing: Fort Wilderness Resort). We broke up the trip over two days because travel with a camper, two kids, and a dog is sloooooow. We boondock while traveling to our destination so while we don’t have electricity (or heat…or air conditioning…), we also don’t have to pay for a site. We stay in Wal-Mart parking lots surrounded by other campers and road-trippers in well-lit lots with security cameras. I know it might sound shady, but it’s legit and lots of people do it. Drive by a Wal-mart located near an interstate late at night sometime and count how many campers or semis you see in the back of the parking lot.
We stayed at the Orlando/Kissimmee KOA for the week. Six nights of campground fees cost us $416 which compared to a week at hotel is shockingly good. Before you get too excited though, I’ll mention driving your minivan to Florida costs at least 50% less than what pulling a camper with a giant SUV does. So we save money with the camper, but it also costs much more to get it down there. (But for us, it’s still less than a hotel bill which makes it worth it.)
The Orlando/Kissimmee KOA is about 15 minutes from Universal and 10 minutes from Disney World so it was the perfect spot for a week spent visiting both places.
We got to the campground and settled in on Sunday afternoon then rested up for Universal first thing Monday morning. I feel like Disney people will be insulted to read this, but we were most excited for Universal because of Harry Potter.
The girls knew we were going to Florida for fall break but didn’t know we were doing anything specific. We told them we’d be near a beach and just relaxing, so on Sunday morning as we neared Orlando, we broke the news to them, and Ellie lost her little mind.
She was excited for the trip, but I, having held in this surprise since April, was even more excited. It is not a competition, but if it was, I WOULD HAVE WON.
We did two days at Universal with the park-to-park pass going between Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. (You can check out this post to see why we needed it for all the Harry Potter experiences.) I had prepared so much for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter that I sorta forgot there was other things at the park. I’m so serious–we walked into Springfield home of the Simpsons and I was just shocked that it existed.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is magical. I’m not sure I have words to adequately describe how surreal it is. I’m not a Harry Potter super fan; I love it because Ellie loves it so much, and I love it because of what it does to her, but even I was overwhelmed at times during the Harry Potter experiences. It actually feels like you’re in the books and Hogwarts is real. The attention to detail was inspiring, and I don’t know how to describe the joy I felt getting to take Ellie there and seeing her excitement. It was worth every single penny we spent.
If I could go back and prepare more for the trip, I would have paid attention to all the movie experiences we’d be a part of. My kids rode the E.T. ride with NO IDEA what the movie was about; I was so disappointed in myself. We shot aliens and saved the world with the Men in Black, but my girls didn’t understand why they zapped our memory with a light at the end.
We are failing our children with all the movies they haven’t seen.
If you’re planning a trip to Universal Studios, I’d recommend introducing your kids to
The Blues Brothers (duh, ours already knew this movie really well *high five*)
Harry Potter (I feel like this is a given…)
Spongebob Squarepants (gag)
Revenge of the Mummy
Fast & Furious
Men in Black
An American Tale with Fievel
Okay, so your kids probably know the more current cartoon characters and some of these aren’t appropriate for younger kids, but you get the idea. We came home with a list of movies to watch so the girls could see why the rides and experiences were so awesome.
Going over fall break made the crowds a lot more manageable. We didn’t wait in a line more than 30 minutes and everything seemed to move fast. It was really hot all week–like record-setting highs for October–so that made the days a little less comfortable, but in Indiana it was freezing rain and nasty so I’m not going to spend any time complaining.
Tomorrow: Disney World!
*To see how we prepared for the trip, check out this post.
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