Music Mondays – Nobody to Blame

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Music Mondays – Nobody to Blame

In a few hours, I will board a plane heading for one of the worst places on earth, Disney World. How could I say this is one of the worst places on earth when every other advertisement will try to convince you otherwise?…Because I speak from experience.

Six years ago we tried to convince my four-year-old son to stop sucking his thumb. We employed just about every bribe in the book, but with no success until we finally said that if he stopped sucking his thumb when he turned five, we would take him to Disney World.

The Fantasy

Keeping up his end of the bargain, literally on his fifth birthday, Will stopped sucking his thumb and never turned back; and we booked our first family trip to Disney World for the upcoming summer. We booked this trip back when we were in the prime of our spendy days, so everything about the trip was over the top.

We booked a full week and stayed in the Animal Kingdom Lodge on the concierge floor with a room overlooking the savannah; and I had visions of waking up every morning to see giraffe or wildebeest at our window. In addition to the hotel, we purchased park hopper tickets for every day as well as the deluxe food plans with wine included. We made plans for Will to be transformed into a pirate as well as meet as many characters as we possibly could while we were there. We truly left no expensive option off the table.

One of the only true smiles we saw that week.
One of the only true smiles we saw that week.

Our Reality

We spent hundreds of dollars extra for a room with a view of the savannah yet we rarely ever saw the animals. Very few walked close to the hotel and even if they did, we didn’t spend much time in our room anyway. We also spent extra for the concierge level which again we didn’t enjoy much because we were spending time in the parks.

Our view of all of the wildlife in the savannah.
Our view of all of the wildlife in the savannah.

While we enjoyed the rides, we loathed the end of the rides where we were forced to exit through a themed gift shop based on the ride we just finished. This meant that every ride ended with the three of us in tears as my son whined for more toys and my husband and me just wanted him to shut up.

We spent hundreds of dollars for Will to get dressed up like a pirate only for him to get crabby because the costume was hot and he didn’t like his given pirate name “Sven Cabinstealer.” Within a few hours all of the make-up wore off and my hubby was stuck lugging the costume around.

My happy pirate
My happy pirate

We indulged in our meal plan to the fullest and enjoyed the nicest restaurants Disney had to offer only to overeat and come home with more than five extra pounds on our already overweight bodies; and despite the fact that we paid all of this money for the ultimate Disney experience, my son’s favorite part of the whole trip was the hotel pool that we enjoyed on the last day.

The Promise

So why are we heading back to the fifth circle of hell? Because I made a promise to my son five years ago that we would. While waiting in one of the endless rides for our turn to experience three minutes of joy, my son asked, “When are we coming back to Disney?” If I could have gotten away with “never” and not triggered a complete five-year-old meltdown I would have, instead I responded, “When you are ten.”

Right before I made the big promise
Right before I made the big promise

At the time, this promise seemed so far off that it felt like never to me, after all, in five years Will would be double his age and who knew if he would even want to return to this hell hole. As luck would have it, last summer Will reminded me “Next year we’re going back to Disney, right?”

I don’t make many promises to my son because he knows that when I do make a promise, I stand by my word, so I really do think long and hard before using the words “I promise.” Looking back on that conversation from five years ago, I’m not really sure I used the words “I promise;” however, I definitely know that my son heard it that way and I’ve got nobody to blame but me.

Nobody to Blame

So this time around, my husband and I are definitely more frugal minded and we decided to hit Disney right before a family cruise we are going on. My in-laws are graciously paying for this cruise and paid for our airfare as a part of it; and I churned an IHG Rewards credit card at the end of last year and used those points to stay at a Holiday Inn that is on the Disney property. We really felt like we were in great shape until we went to book the tickets.

It’s mind boggling to me just how expensive Disney tickets are, and how few deals are available to save money on the tickets. I whined and complained to my husband of all of the ways we could spend $980, but at the end of the day, I have nobody to blame but me. I made a promise to my son before I thought about the cost of fulfilling that promise and now I have to fulfill my promise.

The lesson I have learned through this experience is to think through my promises before I make them as all parents should when we make promises to our kids. We didn’t really need to go back to Disney and I could have agreed to take him somewhere else, but I didn’t think it through. How much money do we waste when we don’t think through the costs?

Thankfully, my husband found another credit card to churn and we will be getting cash back now that we booked the tickets and he took on some extra tutoring jobs to cover other expenses, but we both know that no matter how magical our experience this time around, we will reserve the promises for a more frugal family adventure in the future.

Have you ever made an expensive promise to someone? Do you think Disney is worth the price of admission? Are you going anywhere fun for spring break?

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Shannon is a financial planner who left a “traditional” financial services firm to start her own company, The Financial Gym, because she felt traditional financial services firms did not have the tools or resources to help people in their 20s and 30s who are starting out and trying to build assets while also managing debt. She realized that the key to long-term personal financial success is a commitment to financial fitness and making smart financial choices. Through her blog, Financially Blonde, her book, Train Your Way To Financial Fitness, her podcast, Martinis and Your Money and The Financial Gym, Shannon is committed to making financial fitness fun, easy and accessible for everyone.

24 COMMENTS

  1. We have never done Disney World, and I’m not sure we ever will. I just can’t justify spending $800+ for two days just to walk into the park, plus airfare and hotel stays!

    I did go there as a child and I have fond memories.

    • I honestly wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. After this recent trip, though, I think the only thing I might recommend is buying one day at Magic Kingdom. This means only one day of tickets and you can pretty much convince your kids that this is “Disney World” in one park.

  2. I loathe Disney and cannot understand the appeal. Even as a kid, although I liked the movies, I was never into it and have a hard time understanding how kids (and a lot of adults) are so obsessed with it. OK kids I understand, but adults? It’s so overpriced and the rides SUCK! But I do admire you for keeping you promise despite it being a total drag. I think kids do remember parents keeping their word. But be careful in the future my friend. 🙂 How nice of your in-laws!

    • Ha! Yes, I was definitely watching my promises during this trip and did not commit to another trip back. Fortunately, I think this last trip Will wasn’t super into the rides/waiting experience so I think I am saved from another trip back to hell.

  3. Tim hadn’t been to Disney before, so I promised we could go on our honeymoon. Adults find it a lot less enthralling — like you said, the trudge through gift shops sours you a bit. (Although he didn’t mind it in Universal Orlando. Maybe just because it’s not all geared mainly to kids.) I had promised him we could hit all the parks. So we spent a ridiculous amount (bought discounted tickets online) and barely used them. I was pretty unhappy about it.

    Especially with a husband with severe ADD, I’ve definitely gotten careful about not promising things. He’ll latch onto them with alarming tenacity. So I try not to even say things that might be taken as promises. I emphasize “maybe” whenever possible just to avoid any “but you said” discussions. As the CFO, I’m the one who has to field all of them. So I choose my words carefully.

    • That’s funny about your husband. I wonder if my son’s ADHD has anything to do with his obsession or latching on to things I say. I feel good, though, that I upheld my part of the bargain and I look forward to never returning. 🙂

  4. Going to Disney is really expensive but children do get some good memories out of their Disney experience. Having said that, I believe that my wife and I are very lucky with our daughter. She doesn’t like Disney at all. She’s probably one of those kids that don’t like dressing up as Disney princess, like Disney stuff, among others.

    While you are spending a good amount of money for this Disney trip, I think there’s value in what you are doing, that is, you are fulfilling your promise (whether or not you really said “I promise”). Like what people say, promises are promises.

    • You are definitely lucky to have a daughter who is not into the Disney princesses, that is an expensive fascination, and yes, we spent more money than we wanted, but it was for a good cause. I am a big believer in keeping promises and it’s important as parents to lead by example.

  5. We did a big Disney World trip last fall and a lot of what we did was pretty much the same. We also stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge with the savannah room. Our son didn’t do the dress up but we did the full works for our four year old daughter. For us, though it cost a lot of money, we felt it was worth it. Our kids still talk about it and I know it will form into long lasting memories for them. They loved getting the autographs, they loved the rides, and the experiences. We saved for the trip for over two years and we’ve also said that it’ll be a few years until we go back (we didn’t put a timetable on it). It boggles my mind the people that go back year after year. Not only for the cost, but I think it definitely takes away from it being as special.

    • It’s true, we did create a number of wonderful memories so from that perspective, it was a great “investment,” and I agree with you, if you go too many times, then it does take away from the special experience that it should be.

  6. Disney is certainly not worth the price of admission. It will be interesting to see Will’s perspective on this trip now being 5 years older.

    We are planning trip to Orlando next year once last family trip before the twins head off to college. This spring break will will be visiting some of those colleges.

    • Thankfully, after this trip, Will has agreed that Disney is not something he needs to do again. We had a great time but the long lines and crappy customer service tarnished his memories a little and he’s fine with traveling to other places instead.

  7. Shannon,

    I agree that Disney is the 5th circle of hell. It is OK from a family vacation perspective, but it is WAY too expensive for what you get. You could almost go on two family vacations for the price of one Disney World vacation.

    We also noticed this most recent time we went that the staff was extremely rude with nearly every interaction we had. I think Disney has become less about the “magic” of little kids and more about churning folks through to maximize revenue. For anyone who hasn’t been, I would skip and try for something better!

    • Derek, I TOTALLY agree with you. This time around, my husband and I noticed a huge difference in the staff’s attitudes which really put a damper on the experience. The last trip it was just the parents and kids breaking down, but now you throw in the staff and it’s true that Disney really is the physical representation of the fifth circle of hell.

  8. Hopefully you guys have fun. I have fond memories of Disney…went once as a child. I can see how kids would enjoy it but the lines are tough. It is also very expensive and I think they just raised the prices. Good to hear you travel hacked to save some money but you can’t avoid the price of the tickets. I would take my kids there but I have friends who take their kids annually! No way to that!

  9. I hope you are able to enjoy this trip much more. I’m in a bit of a strange position now that we’ve changed our money mindset and are on the journey to financial independence because I absolutely LOVE Disney. My husband jokes about how much planning I do before we go on a trip but the last two times we went, we’ve never waited more than 15 minutes to ride a ride. Staying at the lowest level resorts like Art of Animation can help, but it’s certainly still not a cheap vacation. I think next time we go we will have also use hotel rewards points to stay in a non-Disney hotel and cash back rewards to pay for tickets. I can no longer justify spending $3-4k out-of-pocket but I definitely still think it’s a vacation worthy of coming up with creative, frugal ways to make happen again. It’s probably too late for you to see the tip but the ride lines are much better first thing in the morning and later at night, so we usually take a break by the pool mid-day to avoid crowds (and you can eat lunch in your room instead of at a restaurant).

    • Ha! Wish I saw this comment before we left and I definitely can see the value of lots of planning for this type of trip. We were up early and out late and enjoyed the ride experiences in those times. We also had a great experience at our hotel which was a Holiday Inn inside Disney World property so there were buses to the parks but with a lot less costs since I used points to pay for it.

  10. We go to Disney every year. We stay at a value resort and fill our suitcases with food from Aldi. This past February we stayed five nights with four day tickets (no park hopper). Total cost was 2800 including airfare. We are a family of four. We love Disney!

  11. Ugh, I am not a huge Disneyworld fan. I suspect it’s because my aunt and her family worked there when I was growing up and we would go every two or three years when we were down there visiting them. I wanted to go to Universal Studios so badly for so many years as a kid and was never allowed since we could get into Disney for free. Actually, my cast went to Disneyland when we were in L.A. two weeks on a day off and when they told me the cost of the ticket, I just laughed and said “no thanks.”

  12. I wouldn’t call myself a huge Disney fan, but we enjoy going, and have made a number of trips over the years. One thing we’ve always done is set expectations. It will be crowded, even if you go in early November (NJ school teachers’ convention time, so kids are off). We have tended to take short trips (3/4 days, with 3 in the parks), which keeps costs down (it’s not like Disney is going anywhere). We also know kids (and us parents) can’t take a super long day in the park without meltdowns, so we always tended to reserve time for the pool. Kids love them, we get to relax, win/win. We never expect to hit everything, so we prepare the kids up front. We set a loose agenda, but stay flexible. I also make reservations for all dinners. Helps to have something reserved, and can always cancel. We have had good luck in Savannah view rooms, seeing all kinds of animals wander by, including giraffes, zebra etc, but it is of course guaranteed. I would also say we did think the concierge rooms are a good deal, as we had essentially a pre-paid breakfast every day, as well as drinks and snacks available all day. We never have taken the meal plan, as you mentioned, too much food that you feel compelled to eat to get “money’s worth”. I understand some people love it there, and some people hate it there. For us, it is an enjoyable vacation. As for the customer service, I’m very surprised to hear of bad experience in that regard. I would have jumped all over it, because Disney usually does a good job of compensating for such events. for example, we had FastPass tickets to a ride, that was shut due to a thunderstorm. I went the next day to the CS booth and asked for another FP, and was given 4 for any time no questions asked. If I’d experienced a grouchy cast member, I’d have complained to CS. I’m sure they would compensate.

  13. I’m with Jason. I think you hate it because you did everything that anyone would do that would make you hate it. Love Disney…but what you did would have sucked. Hope this trip was better.

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