USA '14 – The Countdown Begins

So with less than a month to go there is a real sense of excitement in the Thompson household as we prepare to go back to Orlando. Notwithstanding that this is the sixth time that we will have been to Florida as a family we still all really enjoy it and it is a true family holiday where there is something for everyone.

There is definitely something to be said for choosing a destination where it is somewhere that everyone enjoys. I remember the holidays in France that Helen and I enjoyed but dragging two young boys around yet another chateau can be hard work!

Our first visit to Orlando was in 2001 when the boys would have been eight and six. Helen and I were, it is fair to say, pretty indifferent to the prospect but knew that the boys would love it so we decided to go. We came back from that holiday having loved it as much or if not more than the boys.

On that occasion the boys were full of wonder at the cast of characters that they had seen in the films brought to life and we spent many a happy hour queuing so that they could add another character signature to their autograph books. Now they are 21 and 19 and the focus is very different but the enjoyment levels are just the same.

UntitledPlanning is key to a successful trip and for us it began a year ago as we meticulously worked through the flight options trying to find the cheapest day to fly. We are lucky that we are no longer bound by the school holidays and so that can make a £1,000 difference to the ticket price. We also found that by combining the flight with car hire we were also able to get just over £88 cashback pretty much covering the cost of the car hire.

That done it was on to the villa hire. Having been a number of times before we know what we like and where we wanted to be. We tried to hire the same villa as we had been in a couple of years previously but that was already gone 12 months in advance of the dates we wanted to be there. Fortunately there are no shortage of sites offering private villas for rent. We eventually found one through Holiday Lettings, which is a part of TripAdvisor.

iStock_000020861023XXXLargeMake no mistake about it a family holiday to the States can be expensive so anything that you can do to reduce or spread the cost is welcome. When I tell people about the next tip I have had many laugh at me but for us it really makes a difference. We start getting our spending money a year before we are due to travel and get a small amount of cash in dollars each month. Which means that by the time we are due to travel we have built up our holiday spending money but not noticed it while building it up.

The advantage of this is that you can put a little aside each month much more easily than having to find, say £1,000 just before you are due to depart. The disadvantage could be that the rate changes over the period and that you end up getting fewer dollars than you might have but I would rather that than having to find the money in one go. Of course you could just save the sterling amount in a saving account too until you are ready to exchange.

Screenshot_08_03_2014_10_58We also always get our park tickets before we leave the UK. We do this for a number of reasons. Firstly because you don’t want to be standing around at the ticket office of the park when you could be inside enjoying the delights. Secondly the tickets are priced to encourage you to do so. One decision you do have to take is how often you are going to visit the parks as 14 day tickets are the most cost effective but also more costly.

You might think that after spending several hundred pounds per person on a 14 day ticket to the parks that that would be your only outlay but be warned that parking each day at both Disney and Universal will cost you an additional $15 per car. This is valid across all the parks in the same group but is an additional drain on your spending money.

Another thing to remember is that most items for sale are subject to sales tax but the ticket price invariably never shows this and so you can quite often have your money to pay at the till only to find that you are short a few dollars.

Plenty of items are cheaper in the States and clothing in particular. If you intend to stock up while you are away one tip passed on to us was to put a smaller case inside a larger one on the way out so that you have extra capacity for the return journey. Unless you are intending on a very heavy shopping trip that might be overkill though.

So that’s our holiday planning done and now all we have to do is patiently wait three weeks before we can all jet off for what undoubtedly will be the last Florida holiday with the “children”.