(Note: This blog was posted a year after the actual event. We may not be in total quarantine anymore, but you can always plan a Disney staycation even if travel restrictions are lifted! Hope this is helpful to those who are looking for some Disney magic and inspiration to spruce up your summer!)
Okay, brace yourself. This is going to be a long one. This staycation was weeks of planning on my part and a good chunk of change, but compared to an actual Disney Vacation, it was a huge savings with lots of magic and tons of fun!
With the state of the world being what it is, our family (like many others) had to cancel our trip to Walt Disney World this summer. It was one of the more disappointing moments for me during Coronavirus. I know this disappointment doesn’t compare to what many are going through, but it was one thing I felt I could look forward to when all of this was “over.” Unfortunately, this summer did not quite bring the break we were all hoping for.
To cope with my crushed Disney dreams, I started to brew an idea for making an especially magical week for our girls right here in New Jersey. I planned and plotted for weeks, and ended up spending about $800 for the entire week, but compared to the $4,500 we were budgeting for our actual trip, this didn’t seem so bad.
A Little Spark of Imagination
It all started with an idea to buy the girls those pricey light-up toys that you get for parades and fireworks. I probably would not have splurged on these if we had actually gone to Disney. At least, I would not have bought one for each child, but I knew they would love the bubble blowers and we could play with them outside at night. That turned into the plan of getting them a little gift every day, which sparked an idea to make each day a different theme. I printed out this super helpful weeklong planner so I could figure out my meals, activities, and gifts for the day.
Rather than take you through our week day-by-day, I’ll just list the activities, meals, and extras we did so you can pick and choose which ones your family might like.
A Disney vacation has lots of fun and activities built right into it, but take away the parks and attractions, and you have to get a bit more creative. Luckily, we live in a world with internet and Pinterest! Here are some of the things I included in our week to pack in the Disney fun.
Fun with sidewalk chalk
You can search Pinterest for fun Disney chalk inspiration. I found the Tic-Tock-Croc one on Pinterest but made the Mickey Ballon drawing up myself. Be creative and let your children help you!
Disney Videos on Youtube
Did you know that you can virtually ride basically every ride in Disney by going on Youtube? You can take tours of the parks and hear the music and people as you walk through the different lands. You can ride the best attractions without waiting in lines, or you can tour the hotels and areas around the Walt Disney World Resort. We started each day with a different Disney video that corresponded for our theme for the day (i.e. on our pool day, we watched a full tour of Disney’s Blizzard Beach). My daughter also ended up being a huge fan of the “Disney Secrets” videos on these two YouTube channels: TPMvids and DFBGuide
Disney Coloring Pages
We also began each day with a Disney coloring page to match our adventure for the day. I tried to have a coloring page from each park and we would watch videos from that park that day as well as play that parks’ music during playtime or dinnertime. You can find lots of free Disney Parks coloring pages here.
We do not have a pool at our house, but we went to my parent’s house a few of the days to escape the heat and have a change of scenery. It was also 90 degrees every day that week, so the refreshing water was much needed. The girls’ gift for the day was also new pool toys featuring some of their favorite characters.
Beach Day (if you can)
Living in New Jersey, we spent one of our days on the beach. The gift for this day was this fun Mickey cooler bag that I packed with sandwiches and snacks for the day. Speaking a sandwiches, a huge hit for the week (that has continued nearly every day since Disney week) was cutting out the girls’ sandwiches using these Mickey and Minnie cookie cutters. Such a little detail that went a long way in bringing us joy!
Of course you have to have a Disney movie night during Disney week! Try encouraging your kids to watch something they’ve never seen before- it will probably hold their attention better and create a fun memory of the first time they saw that movie. We watched Big Hero 6 and brought out all the pillows and blankets in our house to create a cozy bed.
You can’t have a full Disney experience without a fireworks show! If fireworks are legal in your state, pick some up and have a little show in your backyard! (Stocking up on these around holidays like Memorial Day or 4th of July is smart because many stores don’t keep a year-round stock of fireworks. This was the day we also saved for giving the girls their light-up toys. We brought them outside for our slightly pathetic fireworks show, but when your audience is under eight, it doesn’t take much to “wow” them.
I scoured Pinterest for Disney food hacks that I could make at home. I tried to think of “vacation food” that we might have been eating if we were there and recreate that in our own home. It was a pricey grocery bill that week, but the extra special food really helped to make us feel like we were on vacation.
I made homemade flatbread, meatball parmesan sandwiches, paninis for three of the nights that week. We also had my husband’s family over for a BBQ one night (chicken, corn-on-the-cob, salad, and homemade mac-n-cheese). Sometimes the smell of BBQ puts me right on the streets of the parks.
We also ordered out a few nights that week (I rationalized by reminding myself that we would have been eating out every night if we were in Disney). Keeping in mind that my kids are so young and most of our meals would have been counter-service in Disney, we didn’t need to spend a ton of money on our eating out that week. We got chicken tenders from PDQ, gourmet cheeseburgers from one of our favorite restaurants, and ordered pizza on the last night when some close friends and their kids joined us for our final night.
Don’t Forget Dessert!
We definitely had some sweets during our staycation, just as we would if we were really in Disney. They sell so many Mickey-themed novelty ice creams in your grocery stores nowadays, and we tried ALL of them! We also went out for ice cream one or two nights, I treated myself to some lattes a few times, and we made these AMAZING Dole Whip popsicles! I will definitely be making these again- and they were so easy!
Going the Extra Mile
One of the many things that Disney gets right is their attention to detail. In thinking about this week, I tried to think about adding extra magical moments throughout the day that would really create the memories and laughs we were missing from a real vacation.
The #1 thing that really helped to make each day special was that my husband and I dressed up each night as a different Disney character. Now, we were VERY fortunate that the children’s pastor at our church is crazy about skits and puts on elaborate skit series for the children at church. He just so happened to do a Disney Princess series this past year and saved all the costumes that he used. This was huge. We spent no money on these and they were literally our daughter’s favorite parts of the week. This can be a super pricey endeavor if you don’t have a hook-up with costumes, but if you’re able to borrow any from friends, you will not believe how far this effort goes in creating hysterical memories. I even called in a few favors from some of our daughter’s favorite people who I knew had some Disney costumes of their own and we got a very special visit from Anna and Elsa!
As many of you with small children know, parenting is EXHAUSTING. Especially when you’re on vacation or have a jammed pack schedule. I never really felt like dressing up at the end of the day, but when I did, I just channeled my inner Disney staff-member and put on the happiest face and spoke in the happiest voice and it really turned around my evening from just wanting to just be done and go to bed, to remembering how special this time is with my family and what a sweet age my children are right now!
Playing Disney Music
Music does so much to create an experience or set a mood. You can find playlists on Spotify or music loops on Youtube that will make you feel like you are walking through Fantasy Land, Epcot, or even a particular hotel resort. I kept my Bose music player charged all week and any time we were playing out back, working on our puzzle, or getting ready for dinner, I would play some music to set the ambiance. It REALLY helps to keep you in the Disney spirit all day long, and it goes a long way in bringing those Disney memories to the forefront of your mind.
Hope this was helpful! The most important tip is to really get into it and have a great time!