Pittsburgh is the biggest city near us, and even that is a two hour drive away. This year we’ve gone up to the ‘Burgh to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Benedum Center, a U2 concert at Heinz Field, a day at IKEA and Dave and Busters with my niece and her boyfriend, and most recently, a day at the pickle festival known as Picklesburgh with an added visit to the Andy Warhol Museum.
Have you ever done a split stay? A split stay is when you stay at two or more resorts/hotels during your single vacation. We did this at Disneyland last year (the Candy Cane Inn and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel) and most recently at Walt Disney World, where we stayed at Disney’s Pop Century and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas Kidani Village.
The big draw to staying at Kidani Village or Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge (the next resort over) is having a view of the animals on the savanna from your balcony. We didn’t splurge on this however. Our view was the front of the resort, near the bus stop. Doesn’t sound too great huh?
Disney vacations are completely doable for most budgets. If you are new to Disney vacations though, the sticker shock for some things could surprise you. (For example, alcoholic drinks are usually never under $10; the same with a burger and fries meal at a quick service restaurant. Buffet dinners and meals with characters are usually in the $40 range for adults.) There are many tips and tricks to getting stuff cheaper at Disney – I’m a bargain shopper myself and I love a good deal. But how about getting stuff for free?
So today I’m going to blog about things you can get at a Disney park for absolutely free. When Gary and I were brainstorming this list we realized there was actually quite a few things that you can get or do for free. Surprising huh? If the free stuff is inside a park, you still have to pay admission. Unless you’re a kid under the age of 3. You get in for free. 😉
Check us out with those “winner” lanyards with our Castaway Cay 5K finisher medals!
I am not a runner. I hated, hated participating in the President’s Physical Fitness Test in elementary school where I was forced to run a timed mile. Actually, I pretty much did a casual stroll until my gym teacher gave me credit for doing it. I knew I wasn’t athletic and it was embarrassing for 11-year old me to even try in front of my classmates, who in my mind were all Olympic marathoners.
And then many, many years later I learned about runDisney races. runDisney races are friendly to walkers and slower runners. The basic requirement is a 16-minute mile pace. I listened to Disney podcasts where everyone just went on and on about how wonderful runDisney races were. Mega Disney fan? Check. Runner? Hmm…
Turns out you have to register for a runDisney race months in advance, and we had no trips to a Disney park scheduled during a race weekend any time soon. But… we did have our first ever Disney cruise booked. And Disney Cruise Line happens to offer a free 5K race on their private island of Castaway Cay, Bahamas.
Despite the fact that I am well into (further than I’d care to admit) adulthood, one of my favorite things about the Disney experience is meeting the costumed characters representing our favorite Disney “stars”. That’s the point, right? We all want to dive into the Disney bubble and feel like a kid again, and this is one of the best ways to achieve that goal. My wife and I, throughout our many trips to Disney World, have become pretty serious “character collectors”, so to speak.
“How does one collect characters?”, you may ask. Well, please don’t jump to any weird conclusions, you will not see us stuffing Mickey and friends into the back seat of our car. Our Disney obsession does not extend to mouse-napping!
“Character collecting” is simply a figure of speech, which means we will go out of our way to meet any characters we haven’t previously met, or to get a photo op with classic characters in a new outfit.
While finding new characters for photo ops can become increasingly difficult when you’ve made as many trips to Disney as we have (poor us, huh?), there are some that we have to meet every single time.
So, without further ado, here is my list of my personal “Top 5 Character Meets” at Disney”
Yep, one day. We aren’t really beach people, but we decided to kick off our trip with a quick stopover at the beach before our jam-packed Walt Disney World vacation began. We wanted somewhere that was a quick drive to get us to Disney the next day, so while scanning a map of Florida I settled on the Daytona Beach area.
The Flamingo Inn was chosen because we didn’t want an expensive place, and the reviews were decent on Trip Advisor. I believe we paid around $65-ish for our off-season midweek stay. No complaints there!
The Flamingo Inn is located about 2 miles south of the Boardwalk area, which is where we drove to that night to eat at Joe’s Crab Shack. (We actually thought we were going to Crabby Joe’s, but ended up at Joe’s Crab Shack by mistake. We stayed at Joe’s Crab Shack however, and it was a lot of fun!)
We live approximately 900 miles from Walt Disney World. We have never flown to Florida, so we’ve driven every one of those miles. While heading down I-95 South recently we stopped in to visit the brand new Georgia Welcome Center. And no trip is complete without my free cup of OJ from the Florida Welcome Center!
The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue is a dinner show located at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground near the Magic Kingdom. The old west theme features singing, dancing, audience participation, and a whole lot of good food.
Gary and I had talked about going to the Hoop-Dee-Doo for a while now, but just never found the right trip to fit it into our schedule. On our most recent vacation this past April, Gary booked it as a surprise for me. Spoiler alert: we both loved it and we’ve already talked about going again on a future trip.
It’s the End of the World As We Know It, and I Feel…….FULL: A Restaurantosaurus Review
If you ask anyone to name my favorite thing in the world to do, they would probably say……..sleep. But, if you asked them my SECOND favorite thing to do, they would probably say EAT. So, it should be of little surprise that we take our Disney World feeding itinerary very seriously.
There are no shortage of food options spread across the parks and resorts and those choices can be a little bit overwhelming at times. They can also add up in price if you don’t sprinkle in some of the more affordable options, or “quick-serve” restaurants, to go with the more high-end “signature” dining experiences that are offered.
Lower pricing does not always mean you are going to get a lesser experience, however. You just need to do your research or, in the case of the restaurant I’m covering today, stumble upon it completely by accident. The quick-service spot I’m referring to is Restaurantosaurus located in the Dinoland area (naturally) of Disney’s Animal Kingdom park.
On our road trips to Florida – we start in northern West Virginia, straight down to Charlotte, over towards Columbia, connecting to I-95 and passing by Savannah and Jacksonville – we have often stopped at a Golden Corral restaurant in Mount Airy, North Carolina. We’ve eaten there at least 5 times now. The servers are so nice and there is definitely southern hospitality on display.
I’ve always heard that Mount Airy was also known as Mayberry – the setting of The Andy Griffith Show. I will admit that I haven’t seen that many episodes of the show, but I work in Don Knotts’ hometown where one can drive on Don Knotts Boulevard and have a photo op with a statue depicting him. One local TV channel still broadcasts the show daily.
So coming back from Florida we hit the Golden Corral per usual, then I suggested we actually take a drive into Mount Airy for an hour or so. Usually we’re in a big hurry to get home and do all the not-so-fun after vacation stuff like loads of laundry so you couldn’t blame me for wanting to extend our road trip just a little bit.