4 weeks.
3 kids.
1 million memories.

This is how one self-employed family of 5 from Ontario spends one month in Florida on a budget. You can too!
cocoa beach
Cocoa Beach is a 1 hour drive from Orlando

Tips for a great vacation

A little preparation can make a big difference. Here are some things to consider…

Book with VRBO

Hotels are expensive. To save a bundle but stay somewhere amazing, we use VRBO.com (Vacation Rental By Owner). Condo owners post the availability of their units, a description, pictures and rates. We have had a great deal of success booking incredible condos using VRBO.com. We used it to book our stays in Reunion, and Southwest Florida. More…

Drive or fly?

We have done both. My husband drives down our minivan no matter what because renting a van for a month is expensive. $300 in gas/hotel gets you from Ontario to Florida in two days. We check out flights from Buffalo airport where we have found flights for as cheap as $70 + tax a seat (don’t fly out of Pearson YYZ! You’ll never get away with less than $300-$400 per seat). At that rate, it might be worth it to you to fly.

Where to stay?

Doing Disney? Stay at Reunion Resort. 15 minutes from the gates of Disney, Reunion offers gorgeous 3 bedroom condos, dozens of pools and 3 top-rated golf courses for as cheap as $100 a night. More… Not doing Disney? We like Southwest Florida. The gated communities of Naples, Bonita Springs, and Marco Island give you access to miles of beach, fine shopping and dining (or not) and more

Do 10 days of Disney

Disney is expensive if you do it for 3 days. Disney becomes much more affordable if you do it for 10 days, or buy an annual pass (which cuts the cost of Disney in half). Don’t forget Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, the two Disney water parks! How can you afford it? Here’s how. And did you know there are lots of things you can do at Disney without paying a cent for Disney? More on that here.

Pack iPads

What?! iPads?! On vacation? Yep! On the plane, in the car, or for homework, you can’t beat what an iPad (etc.) can offer. We loaded ours with (mostly) educational apps so that the time they spend with their faces stuck in a screen is time wisely spent. Here are some apps I recommend.

Apps

Photos are my thing. They lock in your memories. Two indespensible tools I use to take my photos above just-okay are Instagram and Over. Instagram adds filters to your photos to improve them and give them different looks. Over lets you add text and symbols to your photos. Quick and easy to use with incredible results!

Phone

Throw your phone into airplane mode! I found out the hard way that turning off your phone’s cellular data doesn’t actually turn it off. Buy a U.S. Travel phone package ($90+) for texting/data. Or only keep in touch by using your unit’s Wifi signal. Make sure cellular data is turned off. As an extra tip, take out the sim card. That guarantees you aren’t using data!

Homework

Taking your kids out of school for 3 extra weeks in March requires permission. Clear your extended vacation with both the principal and individual teachers. Then, ask for a homework package. And make sure you do the work. 30 minutes in the morning (don’t do it after a long day) will keep your kids caught up.

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Flagler Beach, FL

Flagler Beach, FL

Flagler Beach has an undeniable Old Florida feel to it—a realness that comes from carefully letting things be. Though plenty of communities have gone the way of guarded gates protecting pricey condos, Flagler is tin-roofs, faded paint, and open porches for afternoon cocktails.

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LEGOLAND

LEGOLAND

LEGOLAND is for lego lovers. It is geared for kids aged 2 to 12. Is it Disney? No. LEGOLAND is not Disney, and it doesn’t try to be. Think of LEGOLAND like a great big fair where everything is made out of lego that’s been hit with “The Cragle.” …

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Cypress Gardens

Cypress Gardens

A wild botanical garden planted 80 something years ago on the edge of the swamp, Cypress Gardens is out of place. It’s not the juxtaposition of roses against tangling vines that doesn’t fit. It’s the loud design of the surrounding acres…

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Florida SunPass

Florida SunPass

Florida likes its toll roads. Toll gates loom over every route, like giant metal bottlenecks in your destination game. For years we collected our coins and threw them at the toll basket at speeds becoming only professional basketball players come racecar drivers.

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Hilton Head Island

Hilton Head Island

We are all circadian-geared to enjoy evenings more than mornings, so when we arrived on Hilton Head Island at 9:00pm we walked around the cozy streets smelling the sulphur air and listening to the scratch of palm trees. The chill stripped off like a zipper suit…

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Disney Springs

Disney Springs

photo courtesy of disneysprings.com Shops, boutiques, cafes, live music and entertainment. My favourite place to eat in all of Orlando is Fulton's Crab House (an enormous ship permanently at port with multiple levels of seafood extravagance). But this is not outdone...

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Cocoa Beach—put it on your list!

Cocoa Beach—put it on your list!

Miles of white sand, gentle waves, throngs of people. That's what Cocoa Beach is. For $10 each, we bought 3 body boards (available at Ron Jon but we got ours at a dollar store 5 minutes from the beach) and the kids filled my camera with shutter-priority action for two...

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Ron Jon at Cocoa Beach

Ron Jon at Cocoa Beach

I can't think of Cocoa Beach without linking the Ron Jon Surf Shop to it. When you get tired of lounging on a beach towel, splayed like bacon, frying your skin to a crispy shade of golden-red (I'm not a fan of flaking out), you can take an air-conditioned break in the...

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St. Augustine

St. Augustine

St. Augustine has an oldness to it. And there's a reason for that. It's the United States' oldest city, founded in 1565. Some say it is the most charming city in all of the USA as well. Cobble stone streets, weather-worn stone, and spanish moss hanging from big old...

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Shelling at Playalinda Beach

Shelling at Playalinda Beach

A straight-shot east of Orlando, an hour by car, gets you to Playalinda Beach. Part of the Canaveral National Seashore, NASA launches rockets into space just below the beach. Isn't that cool? (No rocket launches the day we were there!) Open to the public daily between...

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Best vacation toys

Best vacation toys

I'm a technology mom. But the best vacation toys are the old fashioned ones that were around before pixels: crayons and paper. sand and water. These "toys" do not require charging cables. They turn on that part of the brain that gets turned off too much these days....

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Castillo de San Marcos

Castillo de San Marcos

Every year we stop and see something new on our way to Florida. We've explored Givhans State Park, South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia. This year we explored a castle in Saint Augustine, Florida! It is a walk-in park (Adults $10.00,...

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Family Fun in Florida

Family Fun in Florida

We didn't tell our kids that my sister and her family were stopping by for a visit. They had no idea that their cousins were even going to be in Florida. So when the doorbell rang and we opened the door..... it was screaming mayhem! After our ears stopped ringing and...

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Lokai – find your balance

Lokai – find your balance

We went to visit friends in Clearwater Beach earlier this week. While we were there, I got a blue Lokai bracelet. Why did I buy this bracelet? Five reasons: #1. I like bracelets. #2. It was pretty. #3. It is made from some pretty cool materials. #4. It has a good...

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Circle B Bar Reserve

Circle B Bar Reserve

We tried something a little different. We drove to the Circle B Bar Reserve half way between Orlando and Tampa on Lake Hancock. The drive into the Reserve is shady and beautiful because of the huge oak trees draped with moss. Very swampy!

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A quick jaunt to Canaveral and Cocoa!

A quick jaunt to Canaveral and Cocoa!

Escaping to a beach is high on the average person's what-makes-you-happy list. But not all beaches are the same. We hopped in the van, spur of the moment, and drove east from Orlando for an hour until we crossed the bridge to Canaveral National Seashore....

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Our favourite Disney Waterpark because…

Our favourite Disney Waterpark because…

You can get sun anywhere in Florida, but it's hard to beat getting it at Typhoon Lagoon. The beach music surfs into your ears as soon as you walk through the tiki huts at the front gate. The palm trees sway, and there are thousands of pounds of nuclear white sand...

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Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet Cake

Something of a southern thing, red velvet cake has become a Florida tradition. Its bright red colour caught Georgian’s eye when she was little and every year we give it its place in our fridge. The bright red colour comes from a whopping amount of red …

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Savannah, Georgia.

Savannah, Georgia.

Click the picture to go to the Westin Savannah website...   DAY 2 of the drive from Ontario. We stayed at the lovely Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa. Our salt-covered minivan looked out of place amongst the clean, new, un-minivan vehicles...

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Ontario to Florida or bust! 

Ontario to Florida or bust! 

We are away! We are leaving this -12°C behind. Snow is everywhere, everywhere—That unending white sheet that keeps all the branches black and all the flowers sleeping. We are ready for a little green. And a little orange. And a little teal! Our first stop?...

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Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach?

Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach?

Surfer music playing in the background, weathered wood shacks with rusted corrugated tin roofs, sand for miles, palm trees, more water park slides and rides than you think could fit in that space, including George’s favourite, “Crushin’ Gusher.” …

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Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom

  The kids took part in another adventure. This time "Wilderness Explorers," earning badges throughout the park, as they learned about nature and how to take care of the planet. I love this park. It feels like you are hiking in the wilderness (... with thousands...

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Merida at Magic Kingdom

Merida at Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom reached capacity. Sharing Magic Kingdom with 90 000 other Disney-goers dims the magic a tidge for parents. That being said, we worked our fast passes, timed our “Meet Merida” experience—we dashed to her queue at rope-drop! …

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Crush Gush

Crush Gush

"Turtle Talk with Crush" at Epcot took me by surprise. I thought it was going to be a one-way educational film narrated by Crush, the totally tubular turtle from Disney·Pixar's Finding Nemo. But it was interactive! George, Evie, and Grey sat with all the other...

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Mini Golf at Winter Summerland

Mini Golf at Winter Summerland

I wasn't thrilled about the winter theme of Disney's Winter Summerland Mini Golf. But it was hot and sunny so I ignored all of the Christmas ornaments and painted ice and snow. We had an afternoon of fun...  

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Hollywood Studios

Hollywood Studios

We opened and closed Hollywood Studios. The girls got signatures from famous Disney characters, including Chip and Dale, Goofy, Pluto, and Phineas and Ferb! Grey was too shy to get any signatures until he saw Phineas and Ferb. Phineas got a big hug!     We...

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Dead Men DO tell tales (at Disney)!

Dead Men DO tell tales (at Disney)!

  Magic Kingdom was so busy, it felt like we were carving paths with our stroller. What to do when wait times for rides are 1-3 hours? Well, "A Pirate's Adventure" of course! On the far side of Adventure Land stands a not-well-known shack. You would miss it if...

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Cocoa Beach

Cocoa Beach

Stop #2 was Cocoa Beach on the east coast of Florida. Cocoa Beach is just south of Cape Canaveral, where the United States launches rockets into space! We got up our first morning there and it was cloudy but we went to the beach first thing anyway. We were the only...

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Givhans State Park, South Carolina

Givhans State Park, South Carolina

My mom wanted to see Charleston, South Carolina on the way down to Florida. We stayed in a cabin in a park just outside of the city. My mom said she loved the architecture of Charleston. We loved the bunkbeds in the cabin! There were stairs that went down the hill...

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Some of the ways we spend our time
  • Doing homework 10% 10%
  • Swimming 90% 90%
  • Fun in the sun 100% 100%
  • Relaxing and lounging 50% 50%
  • Disney 40% 40%

 

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