Planning a vacation for a military family can be hard. There are deployment schedules and training exercises that always seem to get in the way, but with the right amount of planning, it can be pulled off.
The first thing to consider is who is going with you. Sometimes, it is best to go as just your own small family unit. Other times, it is a great time to get together with your extended family. This is actually the first thing you need to decide, because it will affect all of the rest of your trip planning.
The personalities of your family members can make or break your trip, as well. My husband is “that guy” who likes to ask Cast Members what time the 3 o’clock parade is. My dad is the one who will nudge an unsuspecting family member toward a nearby trash can or spin the teacup fast enough to have everyone squished all on one side. They make trips fun.
On the other hand, we have family members who don’t exactly get along with each other, and a lot of thought has to go into a trip on whether or not they even want to travel together.
Once you know who you are travelling with, you can decide when to travel. School schedules, deployment schedules, training schedules. You name it, it can get in the way, and the bigger your group, the harder it can be to fit in a trip. The other thing to keep in mind is that every unit has its own leave policy. My husband’s current unit wants leave requests no more than 60 days and no less than 30 days out. Our last unit wanted them 90 days out. Because of this, we made sure to mention the trip to the unit commander so that he wouldn’t be surprised when the request came across his desk. Luckily, our commander is very approachable and easily accessible. Not everyone has that luxury. Our previous unit had two very unapproachable commanders in a row and did not want to hear anything until the request showed up on their desks.
Proximity to the World, or Disneyland, can also be a factor. When we lived in Georgia, we took quite a few Disney trips. Long weekends made for easy trips to plan and execute. Now that we live in Missouri, we’re much further away and have to decide between flying a driving, length of stay, and whether or not we want grandparents, aunts, uncles, and/or siblings to come with us.
Whatever you decide, you will certainly have taken the first steps toward a memorable, military family vacation.
Choosing your hotel can always be a challenge. These days, price is almost always a factor. For the military family, this can be an easier question to answer than it is for others. There are three options available to help military families save money on lodging.
The first option, is Disney’s military discount. Right now, they are offering 40% on select hotels. The Disney website says that the discount is available at select moderate resorts in Disney World. It does not say which moderate resorts are included. I find this a little bit disappointing because, when they first started offering the discount, you could use it at all of the hotels, and I got a great deal at the Polynesian. In Disneyland, the discount can be applied at Paradise Pier, Disneyland Hotel, and the Grand Californian Hotel and Spa. There are also limits on how many rooms you can have and the discount cannot be combined with any other discounts.
The second option, only in Florida, is the Shades of Green Resort. Operated by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, this hotel is only open to current and former servicemembers and their families, Department of Defense civilian employees, and a few others related to the military. For specifics, you can check eligibility on their website, www.shadesofgreen.org. Shades of Green underwent some major rennovations a few years ago, and they added a significant amount of rooms. The size of the rooms are comperable to a Disney deluxe hotel and everyone gets a private balcony or patio. The cost of the hotel depends on your paygrade, so that people who make more money, pay more money, but the difference in cost still keeps the room rates lower than Disney’s. Also, since it is considered federal property, there are no taxes.
Each service member and spouse is eligible to sponsor up to 3 rooms each, but the cost for the other two rooms will be higher than the cost of the sponsor’s room. Shades of Green guests are not eligible for the Magical Express from the airport and must find their own transportation, and there is also a $5 a day fee to park your car. They are, however, eligible for free bus transportation throughout the resort, Extra Magic Hours and package delivery from the parks to the hotel.
The third option, is going to the travel office aboard your local military installation, and asking about off-property discounts. Two years ago, I got my hands on a 2 bedroom, 2 bath condo, with a kitchen, dining area, living room, and screened in porch for under $100 a night. They offered complimentary transportation to and from the parks, but had a specific schedule that didn’t work for us. Luckily, we had a car, and could get around ourselves. There was a grocery store nearby, so we were able to save ourselves some money on food, and we were only about a mile from the gate.
One last thing. If you want to use a Disney Travel Agent for your trip, they cannot help with Shades of Green. It is not a Disney hotel, so you would be on your own. Whatever your needs, whether they be based on the size of your party, or price, there are plenty of options for the military family.
Buying tickets can always be an issue. How many days you want, to hop or not to hop, water parks or no water parks. Disney’s current military special in Florida is a for a 4 day base ticket, with the option to add the hopper and the water park and more. In California, the deal is for a 3 day park hopper. Disney limits each service member or spouse to 6 tickets, including their own, and it is only open to active duty. The sponsoring service member or spouse must also be present to activate the tickets at the ticket window if you purchase your tickets ahead of time. If you buy them at the park, the service member or spouse must be present to make the purchase.
Sometimes, though, 6 tickets just isn’t enough. When that happens, you do still have options. Every military installation should have a travel office that carries discounted tickets. This also comes in handy if you want more than the 4, or 3 days that are being offered as part of the special. However, I would strongly recommend doing your research, because the military discount offered by your travel office may not be the best deal you can get. If you do decide to check around, make sure you are getting your tickets from a reputable company that is approved by Disney. You don’t want to buy tickets and then show up at the park and find out you’ve been taken. It would certainly put a damper on your trip right from the start.
Good luck, and have fun!
Guest Blogger Corey Applegate, former Marine and current military spouse.
- Strategies for Paying for Disney – Military Discounts (couponingtodisney.com)
- Disney World: 8 Great Money Saving Tips! (onlywdworld.com)
We have all seen the eye rolling from our friends and family who aren’t “in the know.” While we certainly dread the blank stares we will receive and without a doubt we quickly get over it because we are planning a trip to the most magical place the universe will ever know!
No matter where you stay, from the Grand Floridian to a tent at Fort Wilderness (I’ve even been tempted to sleep in my car!); you know that your vacation takes some planning. I know you’ve already researched and booked the hotel in which you will only nap and shower in as close to the 12 month time frame that you can. You may even have 2 or 3 trips you’re planning in the back of your head because, you never really return from Walt Disney World, there are spaces of time that you are working towards your next trip but, your eye is always on the prize.
Dining: I am a planner since the inception of free dining. I want to eat where I want to eat while I’m on vacation. From the magical setting of Cinderella’s Royal Table (dinner is by far the most magical experience in my opinion) to the very few restaurants that can still handle walk ups. I know that I am on the phone with dining as soon as they open the lines 180 days from the date of check in to get those most coveted spots. While I am on hold I am also on the Disney website making ADR’s for less popular places, multitasking ya know. I certainly wish Earl of Sandwich took ADR’s!
Park times: I actually have an Excel spreadsheet that gets looked over 47 times before I leave, regular park hours, extra magic hours. Most of those checks are the night before. Seriously, what commando sleeps the night before a Disney trip? Isn’t that the reason you booked your flight for the first one out of the terminal? Maybe that’s just me but, by the time I am done I have memorized park hours. Thank goodness for that because I usually leave it at home.
Now, when to pack: I don’t think I ever really completely unpack from a Disney trip. It is physically painful for me to do that. If I unpack fully I might not get to go again. (I’m beginning to think I have some serious issues!) But I do take the suitcase down from the closet about 30 days before. So I can look at a mostly empty suitcase 3 days prior to departure in a panic. I am now on Disney overload!
Packing: Sigh, packing. Even after all the trips I have made I hate packing. I am an over-packer. I know I always do laundry (Purex Complete 3-in-1 Laundry Sheets are amazing I also throw in a Shout Color Catcher) while I am there so I’m not quite sure why I need to bring 87 shirts or 5 pairs of jeans, in the middle of August. Really? Is that a sweat shirt AND a parka I have packed in there? What am I thinking? I’m not, I’m just preparing! You never know when or where a snow storm will hit…In Florida…In August. I think I need a personal packer!
So, you have your hotel, your tickets (you go so much you’re an Annual Passholder anyway!), you’re packed, you haven’t slept in 2 days because you’ve been sitting at the airport that long. Now what? Well, no matter how many times you go to Disney nothing beats that feeling you get the first time you see the sign that says “Walt Disney World.” If you’re like me all of the planning just starts to melt away. Learn to relax. Look for the things you have passed by. Smell the roses, no, really, smell the roses! Enjoy your trip with friends or family!
Chip and Co Guest Blogger Sarah Sorg
- Disney World Quick Tips – Don’t waste money on a buffet (chipandco.com)
If your heading to Disney World and want to ditch your purse or wallet you can! Thank fully Disney thought of everything and allows you to charge things to your room key if you are staying at one of the many Disney Resorts. Here is more…
- If we want to dispute a charge it is easier for Disney to remove the charge from the Key to the World than from a debit or credit card. We had an issue on our last trip where they double charged us for our Annual Passes. We used our debit card so it took a few days for the charges to be resolved. If we had charged them to our room the funds would have been replaced almost immediately.
- I feel safer visiting the parks with just the Key to the World. We carry a little cash with us for snacks and other small expenses and then charge everything else to our room. We leave our cash and cards back in the room in our safe. Just make sure you sign your key in just in case.
- It is a convenient way to keep track of the money we spend at the parks. You can get an itemized print out of your charges at the front desk any time during your stay. All of our expenses are listed together instead of paying cash for some things and charging others.
- Almost anything can be charged to your room. Even the kiosks at the parks have the ability to charge items to your room. All Disney owned businesses will accept your Key to the World, even some that are not will. So if you are shopping at Downtown Disney make sure you have another form of payment with you just in case.
Let us know what your experience has been using your Key to the World card for charges. Do you prefer to charge to your room or would you rather use cash or plastic in the parks?
Traveling to Disney World for Jersey Week this year? Pixie Vacations has some great exclusive offers available:
Disney’s Pop Century Resort for $105 per night
Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort for $155 per night
Disney’s Contemporary Resort for $315 per night
Disney’s Boardwalk Resort for $329 per night
Just travel at least two nights between November 3 and November 10 (you may book dates on either side of this promotion based on availability). You’ll also receive 10 percent off on park tickets plus a FREE DisneyQuest or water park admission. This time period is traditionally blacked out for discounts and this offer is limited, so book now to save.
Contact Pixie Vacations for more information.
Chris writes here and at Everything Walt Disney World. She’s also a travel agent at Pixie Vacations and a member of the Mouse Chat Podcast. Email her at ChrisW@PixieVacations.com for free concierge-level vacation planning and for information on how you can get a free Disney gift card when you book a new vacation.
- Exclusive Discounts for Jersey Week. (everythingwdisneyworld.com)
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