My friend Kasey just got back from an INCREDIBLE vacation! When I saw her facebook pictures I noticed that she got to cross off a few adventures that have been on my list for a while.
My response could easily have been intense jealousy BUT comparison is the thief of joy so I decided to switch my mindset! She really inspired me to not give up and to continue to live my dreams. If she could do it, we can do it too!
I asked Kasey to share some tips for how she was able to pull off her dream vacation on a limited budget.
When did you start saving for your dream vacation?
I started saving in 2011. This was supposed to be our “Disney 2012” trip. But I just couldn’t save enough money in one year to do the things I wanted, heck I didn’t even have ½ the amount of money in that time. So, I swallowed my disappointment and kept believing in my dream: that no matter the amount of time I had to save, I would pull this off if I kept planning, saving, and holding on.
What was your saving strategy?
Before I came up with a saving strategy, I planned out all of the things we wanted to do, figured out how much each costs, and started from the bottom. First, we saved for transportation to get down to Florida. I figured, if all we do its get down there, we could pitch a tent. Next obviously, was paying for a place to stay, and our aunt had a timeshare that she let us use for a low cost.
Each step I kept saying, “If all we do is get down there, and have a place to stay and soak up the sun, we will be content”. Having a dream but not being attached to any outcome is the first key in having a successful trip. Seeing that we did everything I wanted plus way more than I ever dreamed, I believe this strategy is successful. Also, I figured that if we were spending money on plane tickets to get down there, we should really maximize this vacation and do it all, so we don’t feel like we would have to save for plane tickets and go down all over again in the near future.
My mindset was, “let’s just do this right”. Once the planning strategy was set, then came the saving strategy. I put a minimum of $50 every two weeks into a separate savings account. The deal was, once that money is in that account just forget about it no matter what. That money was untouchable like it didn’t exist, until parts of the trip were being purchased. No exceptions. And a portion of the extra money that was in my regular account after paying all the bills would be added to the secret savings account as well. It was astonishing how quickly it added up over the years.
What determined your vacation destination decision?
I’ve always dreamed of bringing my kids to Florida and Disney when they were young enough to enjoy it, but old enough to remember. Also, my daughter loves animals so I wanted to incorporate that into our trip.
What adventures/experiences did you determine were worth paying more for?
Discovery Cove. Hands down. With the Discovery Cove package you also get a free 14 day pass to SeaWorld and Aquatica (SeaWorld’s waterpark). The tickets to those parks are around $260 family of four.
What were your favorite experiences during the vacation?
All four of us flew in a plane to get to Florida, went to Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, SeaWorld, Aquatica, Discovery Cove to swim with dolphins, drove to the east coast to swim in the ocean, drove to the west coast to swim with wild manatee, and did lots of adventures right at the resort.
I’m still processing the trip, but feeding tropical birds at Discovery Cove, swimming with the Dolphins, and floating with wild manatee top the list. Animals are just so amazing. Oh! And seeing dolphins in the wild! Oh, and riding the “Tower of Terror” at Hollywood Studios.
Also watching my daughter meet “the real” Ariel at Disney World.
I suppose I have lots of favorites 🙂 I really enjoyed that the first week some of our hometown friends came to stay in our condo with us, and the second week we enjoyed with family who flew down as well. A vacation is much more enjoyable sharing it with people you love.
Can you describe what the experience was like to swim with dolphins? How did your kids react to the dolphins?
Largely the dolphin experience is pretty unexplainable at Discovery Cove in Orlando. Words just don’t do justice. I’m so glad we purchased the photos because as they say ‘a photo is worth a thousand words’.
I didn’t know what to expect and didn’t have a picture in my mind of what it might be like, so I truly did go in fresh. The first time the trainer called to dolphin for us to pet it’s back, I was mesmerized with how smooth and silky the skin was. This dolphin was only 4 years old.
There were other older dolphins we got to interact with as well to hear sing, make burping sounds (which the kids loved, of course), and we got to hug and kiss them. It was really interesting to notice how the dolphins faces looked different. They don’t all look alike! They also have different personalities, just like humans and house pets. One male dolphin had a form of ADD, I’m not kidding. He kept wanting to flirt and swim near the female dolphins.
What is nice is that the dolphins pretty much run the show. If they don’t want to interact with the vacation swimmers, the trainer just called up another dolphin. None of the animals are forced to do anything, and the facility is run so well and everything was so very clean. Everyday is like a day at the spa for these “pets”.
We did 3 dolphin swimming activities. The first swimming interaction we had to hold onto the dorsal fin and take a ride! It’s amazing how strong and fast dolphins are, even with a rider holding on. One memorable moment was when my husband was riding on the fin and said out loud “too cool” with a huge grin on his face. Seeing such free spirited delight fill my hard working man brought me to the moon!
The kids just held on for dear life and looked like they were on cloud nine! The next swimming interaction was where the trainer had the dolphin swim upside-down and we held onto the flippers for a swim. They even had us race each other! What a blast that was! The kids loved the idea of racing each other on a dolphin which added another level of excitement and competition.
The last swimming activity was a trick you see at dolphin performances and shows called a “footpush”. The trainer calls up two dolphins and each dolphin puts their noses on the bottom of your feet. You have to stay very still and as flat as a board and then the dolphins push your feet and you go flying through the water! That was really exhilarating!
My youngest was a bit apprehensive to try it, but that was nothing a little bribery couldn’t fix 🙂 We totally owe her a stuffed animal! She was such a trooper even though it was a bit fast and intense for her being only 7 years old.
The other parts of the day we got to spend feeding sharks, petting rare animals, feeding tropical birds (which was a highlight for my husband and both kids), snorkeling in the water with 8 foot wide stingrays and a variety of fish, and eating from their all inclusive all you can eat buffets and snack kiosks throughout the park.
With the experiences we were having and the lush tropical foliage all around us, we truly felt a piece of heaven.
Being a pro photographer by trade, it was so relieving to have professional camera people everywhere on site to capture the delight and amazing experiences we were having. I was able to just relax and enjoy every moment.
What was it like to swim with manatees in the wild?
I did a lot of research before choosing who to book for the manatee swim. Anytime you are intruding into a wild animals home, you have to be very careful not to destroy or disturb their natural environment. It’s their home! Our tour guide was Captain Joe with Fun To Dive Charters. He has been doing guided tours for decades and is very knowledgable about everything ‘manatee’.
On our boat ride to and back from the natural spring fed cove we saw wild dolphins in the water, a bald eagle and a manatee rescue team doing research on how to continue to save these endangered animals.
Our kids decided to stay in the boat and watch the manatees from there, which was just as well as they were very exhausted from so many activities day after day and really didn’t have a full grasp on how to snorkel (especially without splashing).
At the snorkel site, our guide led my husband and I to where the manatees were and told us to stay very very still. It’s the law not to harass or chase these animals, but staying still is actually to your advantage if you want a manatee to come up to you. They are startled easily because of the sensitive little hairs on their body, so any splashing or swimming will draw them away from you. After about 2-5 minutes of staying very still, the manatees started approaching. It’s not scary or terrifying when they approach because they are pretty slow and have a very relaxed demeanor.
Wow are they curious! Once they knew we weren’t going to startle them, they started swimming closer to get a good look at us. It took me by surprise as they were nibbling on my husbands foot and coming up to us and giving us nibble kisses!
They reminded us of little puppies the way they interacted. They are very playful and even started swimming in between our legs and spinning around! What was so fascinating was the fact that these were not trained animals doing tricks! They were simply being themselves and giving us such a great show.
We got to stay in the water with the manatees for as long as we wanted (no time limit with Cpt. Joe!). Also, Joe used to be a wedding photographer (like myself), so he had very expensive underwater camera gear that he uses to take photos of every customer as they interact with the manatees.
What a priceless gift he gave us by doing that! As you can see in the photos, there is no better way to explain what the manatee swim was like then with photos. When we did finally get out of the water, our guide made us hot cocoa and gave us snacks. He even let both kids take a turn to steer the boat home. What a memorable day.
What were some ways that you saved money on your trip?
Internet research. I can’t begin to tell you how much we saved by getting plane tickets from Priceline.com, searching the internet for the very best rental car deal, getting Disney tickets online, and buying the Discovery Cove ticket to receive the SeaWorld and Aquatica tickets for free.
I also saved lots of money by pre-purchasing souvenir items such as dollar store stuffed dolphins, Mickey and Minnie stuffed animals from Target for $4.99, and so forth. I also found Disney World t-shirts from Once Upon a Child (a second hand children’s clothing store) It really saved us from those impulse buys.
What advice would you give to someone who doesn’t think they can afford the vacation of their dreams?
My advice would be: You can do anything, just not everything.
Will I be going to Hawaii next year? No. Do I own a smartphone? No. Do I shop at Aldi? Yes.
Start with the belief that you can accomplish anything, and choose what that dream is. Then keep a good attitude.
Remember that my 2012 trip turned into a 2014 trip, and that was ok with me because I wasn’t attached to any outcome, and therefore it was impossible for me to ever get discouraged.
Yes it got delayed a bit (a whole 2 years!), but the timing actually worked out for the better and I never quit. Part of our dream was to do this trip all in cash, so throwing a fit in 2012 and “let’s just put it on a credit card” was not an option.
When you pre-pay with cash, the vacation almost feels free, and what feels better than free!?
Now we are home now with money in the bank, our bills paid, and no looming credit card debt over our heads.
Now that’s pretty much a vacation of the mind!
Thanks so much for sharing these great tips Kasey! Kasey is also an INCREDIBLE photographer and you can check out Kasey’s photography skills on her website Posh Photography and at her facebook fan page.
Where would you like to go for your dream vacation? Have you been saving for a Dream Vacation?