Disney Military Discounts & other Orlando Military Travel Ideas

A few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to take advantage of the 2018 Military Salute Disney tickets. We called it our belated honeymoon since we married the week after he graduated Coast Guard basic training. I hope this post will fill you in on a few military opportunities concerning Disney World and other Orlando theme parks. Feel free to view the table of contents below and scroll straight to the information you are searching for.

Today’s Topics:

1. Disney Military Salute Tickets
2. When to Go
3. Eating at Disney
4. Disney Resort/ lodging
5. SeaWorld (free tickets)
6. Universal Studios/ Islands of Adventure
7. Cheaper Disney Swag for Great Pictures

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Disney Military Salute Tickets

Although it changes every year, Disney has 5- day park hopper tickets available to active duty military for $246. They also offer 4-Day tickets for $226, but what’s $20 more at this point? That’s the price of a 2-day base ticket at the gate. 2018 is also the first year that Disney offers this deal to DOD civilians as well.

One military member or DOD civilian can activate 6 tickets. People accompanying the service member do not have to be dependents. You can purchase these tickets at the travel and leisure office at many of the military installations, although our base in Savannah only had 2 passes left when we bought ours. You purchase the vouchers on base and exchange them for a Disney pass at the ticket booth of the first park you visit.

The tickets will expire on December 19th of the year they were purchased. For example, we only bought our tickets a month ago, but they will expire this December 19, 2018. So, if you want to go next year, 2019, you have to wait until January to purchase them. There are no longer black-out dates for military salute tickets, so you can split up the days and use them however you want within the year.

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When to Go

If you can, try to go during October, January, or February when most kids are in school. Weekdays are an amazing time to go because, 1. Resort stays are cheaper, and 2. The park is much less crowded. We went to Epcot on Friday, and it did not get crowded until 1pm. You may be able to ride everything in the park and explore every country by 2pm like we did.

Try to get to the park at least 30 minutes before it opens to go ahead and knock out your favorite rides while the lines are low. Even on Sunday, we were able to ride most attractions at Magic Kingdom before noon. I’m not sure why. I’m guessing because it’s tough to get out the door early with little ones, but I don’t have any yet so that’s just a guess.

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Eating at Disney

Food prices are not terrible at Disney food kiosks. It’s the drinks that get you. Bring bottled water and refill it at fountains all over the park. In Magic Kingdom, go to Sleepy Hollow Refreshments in Liberty Square before 12:00 and enjoy a ham, egg, and cheese waffle sandwich for $8.99.

Here is an eating schedule option for you while at the Disney Parks:

Breakfast before the park (eggs, cereal, muffins, fruit, etc.)

Light Lunch in the park and a shared coffee for some extra energy

Snacks in our backpack (tuna pouches and crackers, trail mix, fruit, granola)

Late Dinner after we shut down the park at any restaurant still open on the way back to the hotel

It might be fun to splurge one night and reserve dinner in the park ($20-$40ish per plate). Bring something nice to change into that doesn’t wrinkle, enjoy a dinner-date at the happiest place on earth, and end the evening watching fireworks together.

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Lodging for Disney Parks

Disney has several resorts to choose from. They vary from luxury resorts all the way to Fort Wilderness campgrounds. Shades of green is a resort especially for U.S. military and their families as well as DOD civilians. From the looks of their website, Shades of Green is pretty booked for the rest of the year so be sure to plan ahead if you want to go in 2019.

During the holidays, prices jump up to about double, except if you book nights during the week. Weekday prices are very affordable and worth it for the dining options, transportation, character fun, and no parking fees ($25/day)! Prices are different per night depending on your military rank. E-1 though E-6 is the cheapest and officers and DOD civilians have the highest rates.

They have a food package offered as a “special deal,” which can include breakfast and/or dinner at their Garden Buffet into your nightly rate. This seems to only be a deal if your nightly rate is higher than an enlisted rate. If you are E-1 to E-6, it is just about the same price as if you just bought the meals yourself. If Shades of Green is booked, the Disney Animation Resort, Movie Resort, and Sports Resort are often around the same price. But once again, plan ahead for next year.

Orlando does have hotels that are cheaper than staying on Disney’s property, but the convenience factor is a major benefit of lodging with Disney. Parking ads up for one thing. We spent $75 alone in parking while staying off the Disney property. Also, Disney resort visitors get the privilege of EMC (Extra Magic Hours) at certain parks. Check the days you are going and see which parks you can go early or state late in.

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One military and DOD perk that many don’t know about is Armed Forces Vacation Club. They offer condos and hotels from well-known companies like Wyndham Resorts for a super low price. There are several hotels in Kissimmee, Florida for $349 for 7 nights. The only catch is that each stay is usually Friday-Friday or Sunday-Sunday, so you have to be willing to take a full week of leave or just forfeit a few nights. But for just $50 a night, you may just want to book the week and stay for 4 nights or so. This option is great if you are going to Orlando with a larger group as most of these resorts offer 2 bedrooms, a pullout couch, and a full kitchen.

You might even want to book a stay through Airbnb.com. I found a few apartments that are $70 per night, including the cleaning and service fees. I have a discount code that can get you $40 off your first stay with Airbnb, but I would honestly use it as a last resort option: 40% off Airbnb stay

Staying at Disney or at a hotel with breakfast and a Disney shuttle would be my first two recommendations, followed by Armed Forces Vacation Club.

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While you’re in town… SeaWorld!

I know some people have issues with SeaWorld these days, but if you don’t, keep reading! Each year, SeaWorld gives one free ticket to active duty military and their dependents. You can choose to use your free tickets at SeaWorld (San Diego, CA or Orlando, FL) or Busch Gardens (Williamsburg, VA or Tampa, FL). My husband and I decided to spend Saturday at SeaWorld for half a day since Disney would be busy. If you decide to go while in town, you will only pay for parking, which is $22, and a locker if you bring a bag, which is $6 for all day. If I were you, I would just leave bags in the car. The lockers are a hassle if you don’t really need anything from your bag. SeaWorld has more rollercoasters than I expected, and their shows are incredible. We also discovered a helpful tip. Go ride rollercoasters during the Shamu shows. Half the park goes to the show and the rides are practically empty! Of course, watch one Shamu show because they are so fun! Getting the military tickets couldn’t be easier. All you do is go to SeaWorld.com and either enter your military ID number or log in using your USAA account. They will email you your ticket and you’re done!

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Universal and Islands of Adventure

Universal Studios also offers a significant military discount on their tickets. Once again, you can purchase them at your Travel and Leisure office on base, but the cool thing about these tickets is that the sponsor does not have to be with you at the park entrance. The tickets are about $180 for a 4-day, 2- park voucher. That is the price you would pay for a 1-day, 2-park ticket at regular price.

I hope this helps with your Disney vacation planning! I also hope you have an amazing time with friends and family at the most magical place on earth! Who knows? Maybe I’ll see you in December!

Click here to see some of my favorite items to use while traveling and it will help keep this blog going as I am affiliated with Amazon!

For cute Disney Pictures:

I bought some Disney swag at Kohl’s the other day because they have a junior’s line of Disney apparel for Mickey’s 90th birthday. They also have 20% off your purchase right now both in-store and online. I’m not affiliated with Kohl’s, they just had cute items for pictures at Disney!

Happy Travels,

Katie

 

Middle Georgia: The Perfect Place for Christmas Lights

Main Street Light Extravaganza

While celebrating one of my friend’s return from Study Abroad yesterday, I had the best experience in downtown Macon, GA at the Main Street Light Extravaganza!

Macon Georgia’s Poplar Street has become the talk of the town for an event that just began this Christmas and hopefully becomes an annual tradition. The entire street is filled with lights that climb all the way to treetops. These lights are synchronized to music performed by the local Macon Pops who sing classic holiday tunes all night long. This light show plays three times a night, at 6:00, 7:00, and 8:00pm and the lights stay on until 11:00pm. Find a spot along the road or, on a busy Saturday night, drive around until a spot frees up like we did. Get out to walk down the grass median that has turned into a winter wonderland for the holidays.

Yesterday, the extravaganza was packed! If you want a lively atmosphere filled with all ages, see the lights on the weekend. However, if you want less crowds and a shorter wait at the Rookery (the best burgers in town), go on a weeknight. The wait at the Rookery was 45 minutes last night, so we drove to The Brick, which serves huge slices of delicious pizza. The best thing about the new light extravaganza is that we no longer have to drive 2 plus hours to get in the Christmas spirit. Before the Macon lights, middle Georgians had to make a day trip to either Lake Lanier, Callaway Gardens, or the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Now, these three places have incredible light displays, but they are quite a trek and can be very costly. The Macon lights are something that we can drive to at night and enjoy for free, leaving enough room in the budget to enjoy all of the delicious treats downtown.

Located on Poplar Street as well, with a green awning over the glass-door entrance, is a cozy coffee shop, Taste and See, with drinks and pastries. I saw several visitors stop by and grab a hot cocoa before they walked through the lights across the street. Some of my favorite restaurants around the lights are the Rookery, El Camino, and Ocmulgee Brewpub, which are all within a few blocks of the lights, but some may be better to move your car closer to rather than walk. My favorite burger I’ve ever had was at the Rookery where I ate the Allman Burger, but the Taco Salad at El Camino is good too if you’re craving Mexican Food. They also do $2 Taco Tuesdays. The Ocmulgee Brewpub has yummy truffle fries, burgers, and Buffalo Chicken Salad, which is an appetizer, but is plenty large enough to serve as a main course.

Pate Road Christmas Drive Through Lights

If you have time, don’t just stop at the lights downtown, but continue north for a few more miles to see the lights that are giving other houses a run for their money. 1403 Pate Road – Juliette, Georgia puts on a light display like no other house in middle Georgia. On the weekends, people will line their cars up for an hour just to wait to drive through this beautiful presentation of Christmas spirit. Thanks to a sweet family who wants to spread Christmas joy, people from all over Middle Georgia are posting their experiences on Facebook and Instagram, sharing how much they enjoyed the Christmas lights on Pate Road. I have not visited these lights yet, but have made plans to go and have heard wonderful things about them from friends. One of my friends has gone to the light shows 3 times in a row!

I’m just so excited that middle Georgia finally has a perfect place to celebrate Christmas time with friends and family, in fact, we have 2 places! Take a day trip to Macon, GA and see what the entire city is proud to show off thanks to local Christmas cheer and talent. I hope to see you there!

Lovely Travels,

Katie

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Feliz Navidad! A Christmas in Mexico

This past Winter Break, my boyfriend and I were invited to spend Christmas in Guadalajara, Mexico with our friends and their family for 8 days. The family was so kind, taking us in and treating us as their own. This was a packed trip as we celebrated Christmas, our friends’ wedding, and my 20th birthday! Our friends’ father even took us to the beach a few days. Meeting so many awesome people was by far my favorite part of the trip, but other aspects that I’ll always remember concern the Mexican culture, downtown Gaudalajara, and Melaque Beach.

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Our friends’ beautiful wedding celebration

Mexican Culture:

Unlike Cozumel or Cancun, Guadalajara is more than just a tourist area. We stayed in a “colonia” in Zapopan that was so neat to experience. “Colonia” is the Hispanic equivalent of a neighborhood, but way bigger. There are neighborhood stores, restaurants, and food stands created by the residents. One home would sell bakery goods and another would sell tacos. My favorite food stand sold bionicos, which are fruit desserts that are basically all the good toppings from froyo, minus the froyo. We went there so often that the man knew our order. Although, that could be because we were clearly the only Americans in the colonia- but who knows?

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Neighborhood torta shop and owners

Christmas was celebrated much differently than in my home and was a joy to experience! Aunts, uncles, and cousins lived right down the road so they came over and cooked all Christmas Eve, preparing a feast. That night, we played bingo and opened presents from family members. My favorite part about Christmas in this home was that the family made a huge deal about every present. It made the fun last longer, the person giving the gift feel appreciated, and the person opening the gift feel important. That is something I will use in my home one day with my kids. There may not be one-hundred presents under the tree, but talking up each present can make everyone just as excited.


The city of Guadalajara:

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Our friends had twin brothers our age who were so generous to drive us around town and translate. They took us to their favorite pizza, ice cream, and taco shops. They even took us on triple dates with their girlfriends to the markets downtown. I got my niece a handmade bow and myself a woven bag. We went to the biggest market I’ve ever been to. It was actually somewhat of a warehouse, but once inside, the market seemed never ending. It had everything from souvenirs to knock off soccer jerseys and Coach purses. I got a cute mug that says “Recuerdo la Guadalajara Jal.” because I’m a coffee addict. I found a cool article on Forbes that explains the city markets in more detail. As far as food in the city, my favorite meal was tacos because they were delicious and cheap. I’m talking 25 cents a taco! Plain water was not available to order with food. Instead, restaurants offered sodas, horchata, and my favorite, agua fresca. Depending on the restaurant, most places offered a variety of different fruit juice, all of which were referred to as “agua fresca.” My favorite flavor was Jamaica, which is made with hibiscus flower.

Guadalajara is a city with impressive, old churches and buildings. When the Spanish came across the Atlantic, they built spectacular Catholic churches and prayer centers. We toured inside the large stone building, Templo Expiatorio del Santísimo Sacramento,and were in awe at the intricate woodwork that adorned each door. The Guadalajara Cathedral was the focal point of downtown and was impossible to miss. Around the Cathedral was probably the most scenic area. Filled with ironwork benches and a giant city sign, the surroundings were basically screaming for a photo-op.


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One weekend, the family decided to go on a three-day vacation to the beach. Little did I know that they were taking us to one of the most gorgeous places I have ever been to! I just remember passing miles and miles of palm trees. I’d never seen so many in my life! I quickly decided that Melaque beach is a hidden gem for people looking for the perfect place to soak up the sun at any time of year. The family told me that several people retire and buy homes in Melaque for two reasons: 1. It’s cheap, and 2. Most people speak English. Melaque, although still a tourist area, was far different from my experience in Cozumel because the shops and restaurants dealt in pesos, at the Mexican price. For example, we ate at a place twice that served quesadillas larger than our heads. With the exchange rate, the quesadillas cost us no more than $5, including drinks.

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Melaque had a lively town center, Plaza Navideña San Patricio, perfect for shopping, eating, and enjoying a night on the town. Market tents were set up with interesting merchandise and, for Christmas, there was a huge Christmas tree and Nativity scene.

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The Pacific Ocean water was perfect, even in December. The warm sun and beach breeze combined to make the winter in Mexico feel like July in the states. The next day, we drove to the beach at Hotel Boca de Iguanas. This was my favorite area as it was less crowded and had a cliff with a beautiful view at the top. The pool was cold, but still bearable. There were both tourists and locals at the beaches in Melaque, creating both a new yet comfortable atmosphere at the same time.

As I was writing this blog, I began to reminisce on what an amazing experience Mexico truly was. The family we stayed with was the sweetest, most loving group of people that I’ve ever met and they became lifelong friends of mine. I also started thinking about going back to Melaque this Christmas to enjoy its natural beauty once again. I started browsing and found that Airbnb had some great homes to rent for a Christmas vacation to Boca de Iguanas. Here is my link if you would like to check out the beachfront homes they offer in this area. Melaque and Boca de Iguanas were two beaches that I’ll never forget and I can’t wait to step foot on that warm sand once again!