Disney Homeschool Days happen two times a year - in the fall and winter. For two weeks in January and October, homeschool families descend upon the Disney theme parks for fun, family time and, of course, education!
Can you think of anything more fun than taking your home school to Disney World? Okay, as a parent, this may or may not excite you (although it does me!), but your homeschooling kids just might consider it the ultimate homeschool adventure!
Disney Homeschool Days lasts for approximately fourteen to eighteen days. The dates for Fall October 2013 run from October 1- 18. On one day during the Disney Homeschool Days event, a specially "themed" homeschool presentation is given; the theme and host park changes for each event. On October 9th, homeschool families will gather at Hollywood Studios at 9:30am for "On With The Show", where K-12 students will learn the "ins" and "outs" of putting on a theatrical presentation.
We put the finishing touches on our Disney excursion last week. The final thing we booked was the rental car. Rental car companies change promotions and offers often; unlike hotels and resorts, you can get away with not booking far in advance.
If you haven't read my other Disney vacation posts... we planned a surprise (yes, surprise - our kids had NO IDEA!) Disney trip during Fall 2013 Disney Homeschool Days. This trip is probably a once in a lifetime opportunity for our family. Our kids are the right age to remember it (11 and almost 7), and Disney is expensive. We may come back one day, but there are a lot of other places in our wonderful country that we want to visit (destinations that cost less too!), if given the opportunity.
My husband almost let "the cat out of the bag" a few times during the planning process, but thankfully, the kids didn't pick-up on his slip-ups... or maybe it's because of my quick recovery! :)
During the Disney Homeschool Days event, you can choose to stay where you want. You can reserve a room at one of the Disney resorts, or opt to save money and stay in a hotel close by. Although we are staying off-property, we considered staying at one of Disney's value resorts because:
=> You get free transportation from the airport to your hotel, which eliminates the rental car and parking fees ($15 per day).
=> Hotel guests enjoy extra hours at the theme parks during your stay.
=> Your family can experience the "magic" 24/7.
From my experience, you never know exactly what you're going to get when booking a hotel room. Hotel rooms can vary from location to location, even at large hotel chains. Although there are hotels in the Orlando area that will fit any budget, I highly recommend reading traveler reviews or getting recommendations from friends, before booking any room.
Choosing a hotel wasn't easy. I researched and read a lot of reviews. You have to consider your family's budget, preferences, proximity to vacation activities, size (many homeschool families are above average, meaning we have more than 2.1 kids), surcharges, taxes, and fees, etc. One money-saving tip I can pass along... most hotels offer the lowest rates directly on their website.
Another helpful tip if you are not familiar with the area you are going to, you can see all hotels located on a map by typing in "Orlando hotels" in your search engine and clicking on "Maps". You will see almost, if not all of the hotels in the area, on the map. Zoom in to see even more!
In the past, I never would have considered a vacation rental, as I thought they were too expensive for our budget. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Orlando offers a wide variety of affordable vacation condos, houses and townhomes. Since I wanted to minimize eating out, we were willing to pay a little more for a hotel with a kitchen; it would help us to save money in the long run.
However, I discovered that you can rent a whole house for the price of a hotel room (and not a very nice hotel room). After searching through ended up with a list of about five units and contacted the owners. We ended up booking a private-owned, fully-equipped townhome 10 minutes from Disney World with three bedrooms, a living room, dining room, two and a half bathrooms, and a small pool for $70 per night - including all taxes and fees! The owner is also allowing us to check out LATE (4pm) with no extra charges. (And... get this... both kids rooms are decorated in a Disney princess and Animal Kingdom theme!)
Meal costs were a concern for me. Although eating out is nice, I wanted to stay in a place with some kind of kitchen/meal-prep area so we could save money on food. In my search, I did come across some blog posts about preparing meals in a hotel room without a kitchen. Some thrifty families bring along a hot plate, toaster, and crockpot to make simple meals while traveling. I was impressed with the creativity, to say the least; it's a wonder what you will and can do to save money! Perhaps I will try this out on a future road-trip.
To save money and simplify meal-planning while away, I created a menu using similar ingredients, to save money and avoid left-over food that will go to waste.
When I was searching for a car rental company, I read that renting a vehicle at an airport was more expensive. However, I found this wasn't true for the Orland International Airport. Besides comparing rates for companies both on and off airport property, I checked out prices of independent car rental companies. Although some advertised cheaper rates, you'll need to decide if the savings is worth the time and effort needed to get to an off-property location.
For our family, the savings were quite significant, however, after reading the many negative reviews of the two independent companies we were considering, we decided to forego a little larger car and cheaper "Pay Now" rate, for a smaller car at the airport. We ended up paying $15 more, but the time we'll save AND the peace of mind, is worth it!
As I mentioned in an earlier post, homeschool families can take advantage of great savings on Disney tickets during Disney Homeschool Days. Our family chose the 5-Day Starter Package. We opted to save money by visiting one park per day instead of the upgraded Park Hopper option. Although there are four theme parks, we purchased an extra day so we could visit Magic Kingdom more than once.
Disney offers a variety of ticket packages because each family is different; if you have more to spend, take advantage of the premium packages. You'll enjoy the flexibility of park hopping and Disney's water parks too, for just a few dollars more!
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