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Snowbirding Near Walt Disney World

1 week ago

How 2 Twenty-Somethings Lived In Florida For 2 Months And...

* Spoiler Alert * How They're Going To Do It Again

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snow·bird /ˈsnōˌbərd/ (noun) - a human being that leaves a cold climate in the winter to “fly south” to warmer temperatures in search of a happier life… then returns home after the worst of winter is over. These humans tend to be significantly happier than those that stay in Buffalo, New York during the winter.

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Most people from Buffalo and Florida have heard the term before. But if you’re from somewhere with a less extreme climate, you might not be familiar with the idea of “snowbirding.” In fact, it’s definitely not a real word because every time I type “snowbirding” it promptly autocorrects to “snowboarding”.

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No, we didn’t go to Florida to snowboard for two months. Actually, if I liked skiing or snowboarding that much, I would’ve stayed put right in Buffalo, New York. In Buffalo, we receive an average of 94 inches of snow each year. It’s true, I googled it.

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This picture was taken before Christmas during the two months that snow is welcomed with open arms. After the joy of the holiday season wears off, winter becomes a lot less fun and exciting. Shoveling the sidewalk and driveway and brushing/scraping off your car is a daily routine. Giving yourself an extra half hour before being able to pull out of your driveway is a necessity and you will literally die if you go outside without a coat on. My toes are freezing 24/7 even in my own home. I’m scared to walk down my porch stairs because I might slip and driving is so so much scarier in the winter. Sounds great, doesn’t it? ;)

In all seriousness, Buffalo is great because that’s where my family is and the summers are perfectly mild. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else! … Not permanently at least!

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Leaving Buffalo for the worst two months of winter was one of the best things Caleb and I have ever done for ourselves. And for those of you wondering… yep! We have next February and March already booked to go back down to Orlando.

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Now, I imagine you’re reading this because you really like Disney World pictures or you’re wondering “how on earth could they live in Florida for two months!?” If you’re here for the pictures, there’s about 150 pictures scattered throughout this post, you’re gonna want to make your way through the whole thing because I really packed ‘em in at the end. Enjoy! (And reach out if you'd like to see one as a phone or desktop wallpaper or if you want to purchase any prints!)

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I’m going to spew a lot of information at you to answer all the questions I have received about our snowbirding adventure.

To answer many many questions… we were NOT on a two month long vacation. Sure, we splurged here and there and YOLOed quite a bit. How could you not in Disney World? But we were not on a two month long vacation where money didn’t matter. I bought zero souvenirs, and I am proud of that! Caleb did buy me this orange bird cup, but that’s the only thing I came home with that I didn’t have before (besides a couple thrift store clothing finds! Score!).

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We actually worked quite a bit while in Florida! I worked more in Florida than I would have if I stayed in Buffalo for the winter since most people don't want photos in the cold. More on that later...

Dear crazy people who thought we stayed at a Disney hotel for two months, we did not stay on Disney property! Not even for one night. We found a lovely tiny manufactured home airbnb in a “resort” of mostly retired people, and completely full of snowbirds. We paid $42 per night as opposed to an average of $120 per night to stay at the cheapest Disney hotels. Yep, we kept our apartment back home in Buffalo and bit the bullet on paying rent for the two months that we didn’t live there. Oh well! We didn’t want to lose our apartment that we love so much!

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We learned very quickly that “home” is wherever we are together. [Insert “aweeeeees” here]. We brought just the right amount of things from home to make this new place feel homey and cozy… our own comforter, pillows, a couple towels, 2 sets of silverware, our bikes, and of course our clothes, hygiene products, and mickey ears. We drove our car because we needed full access to a car. Our airbnb was a 10 minute drive to Disney World property. It would take a total of 20-25 minutes to be IN one of the parks (Magic Kingdom took about 45 minutes because of the ferry and monorail).

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We tried our hardest to eat like we do back at home. My rule for myself was that I could not buy any Disney food if I was alone in the parks. It had to be a social reason for me to purchase a meal or snack from Disney World, and I stuck with that until the last day when I did some solo Flower and Garden Festival-ing in Epcot. Oh, and I got an ice cream sundae on my last Magic Kingdom day because I was sad.

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Other than that, we ate 2 to 3 meals a day at “home.” On the days I went into the Disney Parks alone, I brought a lunch (yes, you can do that) and we almost always had a normal, healthy dinner at “home.” Don’t get me wrong, the food bill is where we can improve the most for future years. I shopped at Aldi and Walmart but when we had family and friends visiting in the parks with us, I ate like I was on a budget vacation for those days and it was delicious. Caleb and I enjoyed quite a few meals out, drinks at a nice Disney resort bar, and the occasional fast food run to Culver’s or WaWa because YOLO.

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Here’s how we saved money when we did eat in Disney World… Ever heard of Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe in Frontierland of Magic Kingdom? There’s a delicious and huge meal called the Fajita Platter. It comes with tortillas, chicken, steak, onions, rice, beans, and a whole toppings bar. This is more than enough food for Caleb and I and it costs $14.99. If each of us got our own meal, we would spend about $10-$13 per person. We never get drinks, always tap water. And shoutout to Disney for transitioning away from disposable straws!

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While on the topic, there’s also a ½ Rotisserie Chicken on the menu at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe in Tomorrowland. This comes with mac and cheese and veggies and is $14.49. In Epcot, the ½ Chicken with beans and rice can be found for $12.29 at Sunshine Seasons in The Land Pavillion. In Animal Kingdom, Pandora's Satu'li Canteen has a DELICIOUS and big bowl-style meal for $12-14 depending on the meat you choose (beef all the way). In Hollywood Studios, there's a Fajita Platter as well for $13.49 at Fairfax Fare near Tower of Terror. There’s ways you can still eat in Disney without totally totally breaking the bank. You're welcome.

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“What do you do for work that you were able to do that!?” Well, my husband, Caleb, is a web developer and works remotely. He can take his work with him wherever he is as long as he has good wifi, quiet, and some sort of makeshift standing desk for his neck. He worked everyday from the “bar” height counter in our airbnb. And as you probably know by now, I’m a photographer! I do weddings, family sessions, engagement sessions, newborns, seniors, I do it all. And I do it in Disney World, too! I photographed my first Disney World wedding while there this past winter and it was such an amazing experience. Read all about it and see all the photos here!

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I also hung out with a bunch of families and couples while we were snowbirding. Here’s some of my favorite family pictures and this is one of my favorite times with an engaged couple in the parks!

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And have I mentioned I LOVE taking these pictures!?

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I can't wait to get to the other Disney Parks around the world! Disneyland Paris will be my first non-Florida park in late October!

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I did not buy a Disney World day pass each time I went into the parks. That would be insane! Instead, we each purchased Disney World Annual Passes. For me, I went to Walt Disney World 6 times in 2018, I have 3 more trips on the calendar for 2019... so it’s a no brainer. My sessions and wedding paid for this. For Caleb, we decided it was totally worth it for our two month stay. Have you ever bought a day pass at Disney World and felt like you were wasting it if you weren’t in the parks fully from park open to park close? We have felt that way, and we knew that Caleb wouldn’t be doing full crazy park days except when we had visitors. I think he only did about 4 days from park open to park close. I did a few more as I had a few more visitors (see Exhibit A) and I'm built for full Disney days. Caleb would pop in fairly often for 3 or 4 hours and then head back “home.” It was great having that flexibility and so worth it in the cost. Total, this cost us about $1,900. Again, the wedding covered this portion of our travel costs, too.

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If you are considering an annual pass, the numbers are very easy to run if you know how many park days you’ll have over the next 12 months. Don’t buy one if it doesn’t add up. But heck, if you have the money… the orange Magicband slider and a fridge full of magnets is worth it. ;) #status

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To touch on the weather for a minute... it was cold in January. We got there late January and left early March. When we arrived to Orlando, Florida we were wearing pants nearly everyday. Especially at nighttime when the sun was down, we wore a jacket, light gloves and a winter hat. As it got further into February, it warmed up and there were many days where I could wear a tank top and shorts. The more typical Florida weather that you would expect greeted us in mid February and March. I made it to Blizzard Beach water park twice and Universal Studios’ (gasp I know, I’m a traitor) Volcano Bay water park once. We had a pool in our neighborhood, but it wasn’t warm enough to swim many days.

It was barely warm enough for dolewhips, but I had approximately 77 anyway because all of my guests needed this classic treat.

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Let me tell you something I learned about myself. It doesn’t even matter if I’m bundled up with a jacket and gloves on… if it’s sunny, if I can hear birds chirping… my soul is 100x more free, cheery, joyful, and plain ole happy. I swear, leaves on the trees are good for the soul. It’s good for Caleb and I to escape the dead of winter and go to where things are living. Did you know there are beautiful pink blooms on Orlando trees in February that last for like the whole month!? Our Buffalo trees don’t bloom for another 3 months after that and they last a max of 2 weeks.

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Disney is obviously really good for the soul, too. But the perfect combo seems to be sunshine + birds chirping + disney = a better winter than all my friends had back home in Buffalo. Sorry.

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I can clearly keep going on and on about this topic. But I want to touch on something we haven’t talked about yet! How grateful I am that Caleb and I not only have the ability to do this, but have the same overlapping desire for this kind of adventurous lifestyle. We’ve been married for 3 years on May the 4th (no we don’t love Star Wars enough to get married on that day on purpose). When we started dating, we would dream about going somewhere warm to escape the winter. The kind of hopeful dreams young couples share to picture life together… you know, those kinds of dreams. Although it took a few years to turn it into a reality, we never lost sight of that goal. There were a few times we brushed it off thinking it could never happen.

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This is our dream for now. Life changes will bring new dreams. I'm sure we will spend plenty of full winters in Buffalo in the near future! But for now, this is fun and we had a blast!

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You’re totally right in thinking, “wow, they are so lucky that their jobs allow them to do that.” We are so so so so so lucky, fortunate, blessed, you name it. And we are so grateful. When I chose this career path at the age of 18, I had my sights set on the flexibility of being my own boss and making new clients in new places. I do feel lucky that my husband and I BOTH have these types of flexible jobs. That’s awesome. We are both college dropouts that never looked back, we taught ourselves, and took the entrepreneur route. We made it happen, and I’m proud of us. We are working on continuing to form the life we want for ourselves. For us, life is too short to not be happy. Even in the dead of winter.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."

- Annie Dillard

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“YOLO”

- Hannah Porzio

P.S. I’m a symbolic person so to remember our first snowbirding adventure, I had a stranger put a nail through my nose. And I paid him to do it.

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P.P.S. If you’re here to see evidence of the Great Seagul Attack of 2019, you’ve come to the right place.

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