Trying to plan my first trip... very inexpensively. Please lend me your thoughts.
Since hearing the recent news of my girlfriend becoming a CM for the Spring '06 College Program, I've put into works a possible plan for my spring break. Normally I will spend about $200-$300 on round-trip airfare to fly home to CT and back to see family and friends, with some additional cash on the side for meals, amusement and the such. But seeing as this year, with the one person I most want to see being only an hour's drive away, I was thinking instead of using that couple hundred buck-aroos towards a stay in/near Disney.
I've got a couple obstacles to fight through before I can really say yes I'm doing this or not. First and foremost, I've never planned my own vacation before, and I'm a bit paranoid of jumping headfirst and blind into this without a real idea of what I'm doing. It always comes back to bite you when you fail to adequately plan for something new. Secondly, my spring break this year (March 18-26, 2006) is during Peak season, which means "Ka-Ching Ka-Ching" big time). Third obstacle... I'm pretty certain that my mother isn't going to be too terribly thrilled to hear that I want to spend my spring break (and potentially a large amount of moola) down here with the girlfriend. But that last one is a problem I will have to work out on my own, and not really a concern of you guys (although I would appreciate any encouragment or help you can give me on this topic!)
Ok, well to start things off, where and how long to stay. I go to school in Daytona Beach. 1 hour 20 minutes exactly from my parking lot to the TTC parking lot (plus or minus a bit pending traffic, but it's not like I time it or anything). So driving back and forth each morning and night is out of the question, with gas being so expensive and myself not having unlimited time and energy. So I began first looking at places to stay on property. My gf suggested Pop Century. It is a value resort, and she enjoyed her stay there last Feb, so i gave it a look-see. The rates page for PC says $109/night during Peak. This seems pretty high to me, so being a bit of an outdoorsman myself, I thought about pitching a tent over at Fort Wilderness, but even there they are asking $62/night.
I am currently a FL resident Seasonal Pass holder, but have every intention of upgrading to an Annual Pass come January. Can I expect any SP/AP discounts to help cut down on one or both of those rates (PC and/or FW)? Or am I just out of luck being Peak season and all? I can afford FW for a few nights I think (probably 3 or 4 nights if I go in on it by myself, more if someone splits the cost with me). My gf wants to stay with me while I'm there, and thinks she gets some sort of a discount on resort stays as a CM, but neither of us are sure on any numbers yet. Anyone know what kind of discout, if any, a CPCM might recieve on resort stays? In addition, my roommate here at school, who is also a seasonal passholder looking to upgrade to AP come Jan, is toying with the idea of going in on this plan as well (although I wouldn't count on him, in all honesty). If two or three of us split this, I might even be able to stay the full week. But that will only be told in time, and once the rest of the costs are factored in.
Of course, the kicker to this is that my gf, a true "princess" in every sense of the word, doesn't want to camp. If she stays with me, she wants a bed (wimp!). So now she's also got me considering a split stay, part of it at FW for cost saving purposes, and part at PC or another of the value resorts for Her Highness ( I say this sarcastically... I really do love the girl). The biggest problem with this compromise (aside from the slight increase in cost), is that if my roommate decides he wants to go in on this trip as well, then we have 3 folks and 2 beds for those nights we spend in a room. No way can we afford a second room, and it is just rude to ask my roommate to join us for only part of the trip. Perhaps now would be a good time to start looking at prices for one or two rooms at a nearby hotel off property? To me staying off property is like an admission of defeat, as I really would prefer to stay on property if it is at all feasible... but this is getting really complex. And this is only the resort/campground/hotel!
My next big conundrum (yes that's a real word, i looked it up) is food. I have no stinkin' idea what to plan for food expenditures. I mean... I have a guess, but I have a hunch I'm way under-guessing (and yes, unlike canundrum, I did just make that word up). I day trip fairly frequently, and get by with a mere $9-$11 per day on food. That's usually one counter service meal, and maybe an additional drink later on in the evening. But that is with a breakfast before I leave my apartment, and a late dinner when i arrive home again. I know that staying down there will present me with some other challanges. If I stay off property I figure I can make due with some non-perishable snacks in the room and an ocassional cheap restaurant breakfast or late night snack. But if I stay on property, is there such thing as a cheap meal at the resorts? Or should I seriously plan on $25-$30 a day for food alone?
I've read posts by DisneyonaDime (Chris is it?) who suggests bringing food into the parks to cut down on food costs. And it's true what they say, that a PB&J carried each day into the parks will help sway the cost of my stay (and if you think I chose to word that sentence that way simply because it rhymed so nicely... you are so right!) But how well will that plan work if I'm living out of a tent for most or all of my stay? I guess I would then have to invest in a nice big cooler. I assume you can at least get ice for free at FW... but then again, it's Disney, and anything free may be assuming too much. And when was the last time a bear, racoon, skunk, wolverine, or rabid attack squirrel was spotted on WDW property? I don't really want to be planning to string my food up from a tree if I don't have to. (Can you tell I've never stayed at FW before?)
Planning on sandwiches and counter service sounds great for the wallet, but when you step back and look at it logically, is a week long sandwich marathon really going to cut it, or will I break down and invest in an ocassional sit-down dinner or buffet, either in or out of the parks? What's the average one of those going to cost me? I've never paid for one of those on my own before, and just plain honestly never looked at prices.
As of right now, with no AP/FLres/CM discounts known to be availabe, and assuming 2 persons splitting the cost of stay, and about $25 each day for food, I'm figuring on spending about $500 if I stay the full 8 nights/9days at FW, or almost $700 if we do PC or something like it. Of course if I want to be realistic, I can't likely afford to stay that full time anyway and would more likely be paying about $425 for a 6 night /7 day stint. But then again, if I plan to spend a couple of those nights in a value resort room for "princess" purposes, that right there brings me back up around $500, even with a shortened stay.
My goodness!... How do you people deal with all this planning/budgeting stuff each time you want to go on a trip? At what point does all this become easier? If anyone who has taken the time to read all this (or any of it really) and not fallen asleep, gotten bored and turned back, or forgotten what the first part of it said by the time you got to the end, has any ideas/suggestions/lightbulbs going off that might help me cut that $500 down to a more reasonable dollar value (remember... I'm a starving college student with no current income mind you), please HELP!
I'll also take any helpful suggestions about how to break my little plan to my mother in a way that she might not take off my head immediately. Any of you other parentals out there who may have gone through this kind of thing with a youngin' of your own, maybe you can give me a hint on what not to say. I really think that if I can convince my roommate to come with us, that will help both in lowering the cost significantly, as well as making things slightly more "appropriate" in that it wont just be myself and the gf. Maybe... just maybe, then can I get some semblence of approval.
Thanks for bearing with me through all that. And also for any help you may be able to offer.